Monday, 23 July 2007

Hoa Binh

I had a lovely weekend away from Hanoi this weekend with my friend Fiona. Unfortunately I forgot my camera so have no pics. So I will have to try and paint an (unsatisfying, as Telly Savalas said 'If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can't I paint you?') picture with words. After a pleasant couple of hours on the Wave with some smashing views, karsts, greenery and a good tarmacced, not too busy road we arrived in Hoa Binh.

Hoa Binh is a quite attractive town about 75 kilometres away from Hanoi, so could be done in one day. However, I managed to get the weekend off and wasn't working until 5.30 Monday, so we went for two nights in the pink palace which was the hotel in the centre of town we chose as our temporary abode. Which was had for a bargain price of only $30, a 33% reduction off the asking price. For $15 a night we received a huge room with en-suite, air-conditioning, tv (without satellite or cable) two big beds, nicely decorated in light blue, friendly, helpful service, including room service peace and quiet, with a view of the river behind and an attractive town, with indoor and outdoor market and a dam to explore.

The first thing I could say about Hoa Binh is that very few local people like to eat out. The choice of restaurants available to tourists is pretty spartan and need to be searched out. After a wander around town on foot upon arrival and seeing most of the side of the town which is on the left bank of the river we hadn't come across anywhere we fancied for food. So we returned to the hotel picked up our mechanical steed and wandered over to the seedier side of town on the other side of the river. Where we did manage to find quite a nice restaurant, with pretty twinkling lights, catfish in a pond, edible food on the menu and delicious bia hoi available. So with full bellies we returned to the hotel satisfied and a little tiddly, ready for tomorrow's journey.

At 8:00am prompt we awoke, for a few minutes, fell asleep again for another hour or so before eventually struggling out of the pit, to set off for Ba Vi hillside. The hill with a temple at its peak, to be climbed because it is there. We decided to search for an egg place for breakfast and eventually found a pho shop doing eggs too, so in stilted Vietnamese, with hand signals aplenty we asked for pho with eggs, which duly arrived. We hadn't realised the eggs were vit lon, those disgusting duck eggs with a part-grown chick inside, which we chose to feed to the friendly little cafe kitten and puppy, rather than eat. but the soup was adequate for breakfast and kept us going on our journey, onwards and upwards to Ba Vi.

Here I should have scanned in the map of the countryside around Ba Vi, with its bridge over the river clearly shown, but as I don't have a scanner and am too lazy to go to a scanning shop, then you will just have to take my word for it. But we travelled along this road for an hour or two, til we got to the area of the bridge, stopped for a coffee and asked directions, from the smiley and happy three generations of Vietnamese ladies and the guy who spoke a little English who happened to to be in there, being told it was about another 15 kilometres then turn right, so we didn't bother to get out the posh, hard-backed map, we just continued on our way. After about 20 odd kilometres, we stopped, thinking something must be amiss, and we had missed the turning. So we got out the map, saw that the bridge was more like 20 kilometres back, somewhere near the cafe we had stopped in on the way. Turning around, we thought it was odd but somehow we must have missed the turning. For our ever patient readers, to cut a long story, semi short, there wasn't any fucking bridge! up, down, up, down, nothing! It was clear as Pi-pi Island seawater, on the map, but in reality there was nothing there, so we had to return to the outskirts of Hoa Binh and drown our sorrows in local Bia Hanoi at a very nice little restaurant with a huge Anchor Beer sign, with no Anchor beer of course, with no chairs and an unrushed, almost Lao atmosphere, before heading back to the hotel and a snooze before dinner.

We went for another walk like the first night, but this time with a little more determination, knowing that there must surely be a good restaurant in the centre of Hoa Binh. And it paid off. There it was, right along the main street, but quite a way down, the Anchor restaurant, with real draught Anchor at 4 for a dollar, excellent Hai san (seafood) type food. So we had giant prawns, squid, rice and vegetables plus several beers for the princely sum of about $7 for two. Some excellent coconuts were also drunk/eaten around town and the shopping, including the markets, looked quite fun if we had had a little more time. After dinner we popped over to the Pho Cafe, and elegant little upstairs establishment with powerful cooling 'steam' being emitted through pipes and blown around by fans to cool the almost non-existent customers of this Vietnamese version of the 'Turkish bathhouse' down. But now it was time for bed

After an excellent night's sleep and another early morning start (which went from me telling her we were getting up and going for breakfast at 8:30 to actually decamping at 10:30, we made our way to a cafe with a limited menu we had spotted the night before on our travels. The Jackson cafe. With egg, pate, beef, chips (4), spring onions, sizzling away in oil on a metal plate, with a bread roll and a plate of cucumber to accompany it, one of only three foods on the short menu, with one of the others being sugar and butter on bread. Food fit for a king! and what better way to set ourselves up for the return journey to Hanoi. We did the return in very bright sunshine, 35C, slathered in factor 50 and a Jesse James mask mainly keeping the rays at bay, in a little over two hours, with one pair of dead sunglasses, one minor battle with a lorry and no bones broken.

Altogether a very enjoyable weekend and next time we might even get to Ba Vi.

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