Off the bus I catch back up to the guys waiting on a busy street corner holding their bags. No sign of Leo for any sort of direction so I guess we’ll just have to wing it. The foot and vehicle traffic here in Hanoi is heavy and hectic. Our backpacks make maneuvering through vendor-lined sidewalks and scooter bee-beeping roadways a little tight. There are some white folks here and there in the crowd though so hostels must be close.
We just pick a direction and go, Hosdar on. In about a block I spot a sign for Discover hotel. Ok but where is it (that`s a good name). We close in on the sign when this leathery middle-aged dude comes right over to us from outside a restaurant, “Cut your hair you curly fucks! hahaha I used to be just like you!” He starts poking at Drisdelle with his lobster claw hands. This guy looks like he’s been around the block. Around all the blocks. In reverse. He is so weathered and wiry, he could be Iggy Pop’s more tanned twin brother. “Best food in town right here. Come on you fuckin hippies come in and have a drink with me. I`ll buy you a beer. I`ve got a tab. 40 bucks. My dad owns the place.” This guy was a case.
“Look we`ve got to drop our bags and find a hotel.” At this moment we notice Discover hotel is down the narrow alley beside the restaurant. And as if he failed to notice me before, Leather Man is jabbing at me now, “Look at this fucking hair dresser here. Madonna over here, right. Total Madonna, am I right. Eh Madonna?”
We kind of have to push passed him to get to the alleyway. “Check in and come have a drink with me!” We duck down the alley and discover the reception area. There is a nice lady working there while her kids color at the little table next to her. She has a room for us. She takes us up to it. Pretty nice, we’ll take it. There’s a dude fixing something about the balcony. “Just five minutes.” The guy is finished before we finish talking to her about flights to Luang Prabang.
We’ve decided to skip the capital of Laos, Vientienne. It looks pretty sleepy with not much to do. So in the interest of time we are going to jump right into what we’ve heard is the magic spot in Laos and just take it from there.
Of course it is the day before the flight we want to take and we end up paying about double what you’d expect. Alas, this mode of day to day travel can be expensive and we feel it with this $180 purchase of a one way, one hour flight.
We chill in the room for a bit, tired from our early kayak session and the humidity. But its getting on dinner time and weve decided on a new food mission. We’re on the case!
Drisdelle has looked up a place that seems to specialize in the dish we’re after, so we hit the streets towards that heading. Fortunately Leather Man was not outside the restaurant when we left Discover. Man, that guy was a total whacko. Hope we don’t run into him again..
We mission strut back out into the busy Hanoi streets. Its wonderfully chaotic. Its hard to describe the mosaic of lives that we witnessed for block after block while on this walk. There’s just so much going on. We walk passed a cool old gate and the mission is on.
In the streets are swarms of scooters like insects. We’d heard that the best way to cross the street is to not be afraid but to just close your eyes and cross. This actually is the truth. Barring any major vehicles like buses or trucks, you can just start to walk out into the street and the throng of scooters will adjust to swerve around you, like dropping a large rock in the path of a string of leaf cutter ants or a stream. It’s amazing. The best method is to simply keep a constant momentum and allow the scooters to curve around either side of you. Its like you have a force field.
The beep beeeeeeeeeep beeping of horns in the streets is so thick it almost turns into one long droning of horns. At first this is annoying but it soon turns into a white noise that you dont notice until youre suitably far away to not feel it anymore.
Along the sidewalks we’re constant dipping in and out of the way of food and goods vendors of every sort, as well as little pop up restaurants everywhere with those mini stools. These are filled with locals eating and having beer. Unlike other places, people don’t seem to pay us any mind or stare, they just go about their days. Most notably, no one was hassling us or trying to force sell us anything. That was nice.
Glancing down alleys as we go I catch snippets of Hanoi life on drive by. An old lady washing clothes, a dad walking his kid, teenage love on a scooter, clothes being hung up to dry, kids throwing a ball against the wall, some poor deformed guy begging, a lady carrying a cage of birds on her head… and we are darting in and out, sidewalk to street back to the sidewalk, wherever there is room to walk, these mini scenes flashing passed us amid the colors of the street markets.
We decide for a mid-walk breather and slid into a coffee shop for a beer. We sit on some mini stools out front and relax for a minute. I take a guess at the wifi password, 12345678. Nope. Drisdelle asks, its 1234567890. Daaaaaah, I should have known (I have the same code for my luggage). The street we’ve found is quiet, away from the busy main drag and the thrive of the night markets. Really enjoying this walk through Hanoi. The city is crazy and fast but vibrant, alive and colorful. There’s a good vibe here and I’m glad we didnt miss it by just leaving tonight for Laos.
After our beers we reassess the travel time for our mission to this restaurant. Its still a ways to go so we switch to taxi mode. We find ourselves down by the waterfront and it is a really nice area. Quiet and quaint, filled with little cafes and restaurants pointed out at the water. But none seem to be serving what were looking for.
We hail a cab. Wait are those bunnies. There are bunnies just hopping around a small patch of lawn by the roadway. There are ducks too. Some ducklings start to waddle out into the street, oh no! Mama comes running out and flaps her feathers to bat them back in towards the grass. What is this whole little patch of grass about.
We hop in the cab and show him the directions. Ah ok. It takes about 20 minutes to get there. We come to the address Drisdelle has looked up. Hmmmmmm, looks kind of abandoned. Yeah this place is caged up, not even a sign showing anything resembling a restaurant. Well shit.
We decide to just walk about the area and see if we can stumble upon a place that has what we’re looking for. We end up on a dirt road up above the river. Pretty sketchy looking. We walk down it towards some lights. Maybe this is a short cut. Maybe this is stupid?
It comes out onto a small boardwalk by the river. It’s pretty remote, not much traffic or people, but we do see some restaurants so we head towards them. Go in to the first one and get the attention of a server there. MacKay starts trying to describe what we want. She has no idea. He starts mimicking the animal with noises, making little ears, trying to act like it (wish I had a video of this). She looks mortified and starts waving her hand at him, “No, no, no, no, no…” and she basically leads us out the door with an open palm.
Hmmmmm… we grab a taxi. MacKay goes through the whole routine again. “Ah yes!”, my man. It’s on. The cabbie zips around the river back up to the main road and drops us off outside an Argentinian steak house. Ahhhh.. maybe? We go up to the menu on the wall. Looks amazing, like the meat feast we had back in Salta a couple years ago, buuut nope. Not what we’re looking for. There’s a bull on the sign, “MacKay you really gotta work on your animal mime.” Damnit. Why is this so hard? Spin around and the cab is already gone. Alright, well let’s look around this area of town. We’re getting a good tour of Hanoi at this point at least.
We walk down the road passed the steak joint. There is a good stream of bars along here. Lots of Euro looking peeps hanging at them. We crack up over one called O’Douchers. And we’re out down by the river again.
We cut into a place called Dockers to gather some intel. It’s a rock and roll themed place with some dudes playing pool. Big spot but mostly empty. We decide to take a break from the mission and grab a few beers. We also get a plate of German sausage to tie us over and some green olives. The server brings peanuts. We fill the pimento whole in the olives with peanuts just to try. Pretty good actually.
The bar is playing real old timey music like Jailhouse rock and doo-wop stuff. Classics with four part harmonies and simple lyrics, you know all of them. Good stuff, it’s pretty chill. We throw back a couple of beers called King Malt Blacks. It’s a nice change.
Fueled up again we’re back on the case. I have a long overdue epiphany: Google translate. “Yeah, I could just type it into the phone and have it translate to the cabbie. Don’t know why we haven’t been doing this the whole time.” Derp.
Back on the street we get a cab and I show him the translation on my phone. He knows exactly where to go. Google translate = epic win!