Day Trippin’

We like to explore Hanoi and the surrounding villages, especially now that we have 2 motorbikes. Yes, Doug bought a used bike and I rent one. A quick jaunt around town and the breeze can lower your temperature faster than you can say whenthehellwillmypersonalthermostatworkagainmaybeweshouldmovetoiceland.

It’s hot. Hote. Heh.

Recently we signed up for a guided ride as a fundraiser for a local organization that helps foster young girls, called Blossom House, part of Humanitarian Services For Children in Vietnam. It’s a good cause, and we would be escorted to places we might not find on our own. We took off with 20 others, and within 10 minutes, Doug and I were on our own, separated from the group. It’s funny; months before we moved to Vietnam I had a recurring dream. It stemmed from reading about the traffic here, that you enter the stream of motorbikes and swim along like a school of fish; these dreams always devolved to being trapped in the flow, getting parted from each other and not being able to stop or find each other for years (YEARS) because we were unable to exit the flow.

Can you say déjà vu?

We were headed down the highway in a giant glob of motorbikes and cars, aiming for the Nhật Tân Bridge, fondly called the New Bridge because it was finished 2 years ago and links Hanoi to the airport. We’ve never driven motorbikes onto this bridge before.

Turns out the onramp from the road we were on is a left turn, not a right turn. I got stuck in the right side of the mob and couldn’t maneuver over to the left. Swimming. There was a left-turn light for the onramp to the bridge (yay!) but alas, no way to get to it from the right side without cutting across 3 packed lanes of swift-moving traffic which never had to stop because that part of the road continues straight through. I finally did it (oh boy you should’ve heard the horns honking at me) and there was Doug waiting on the bridge for me. Swoon.

The Nhật Tân Bridge feels enormous.

This bridge is 2.5 miles long. After a thrilling, noisy ride across, we realized we had no idea where to turn, and no one was in sight from the group.

Luckily, we had a general idea of where we would rendezvous for lunch, so we spent the morning exploring the villages and their temples along the one-lane rural road. The road is similar to Seattle’s Burke Gilman bike trail except with cows, water buffalo, chickens and goats meandering along the way.

A few hours later, we found the Lại Đà Temple and waited for the group to appear. An enormous wedding surrounded it so the wait was fun. It’s impolite here to take people-photos without their permission, so you’ll have to believe us when we say it was loud, lively and beautifully colorful.

The Lại Đà Temple is in the center of the village.

Carved dragons adorn each corner.  The corners are up-turned to deflect evil spirits.


The back door to one of the buildings in the Pagoda complex.


The group finally arrived and we all enjoyed this delicious vegetarian lunch at the temple, prepared by the buddhist nuns and monks. Tempura seaweed-wrapped mushrooms, tofu spring rolls (fried and fresh), young bamboo shoot soup, noodle salads, mung bean rice, and lots more. My favorite condiment was a thinly sliced root, fried and spiced, that looked like beef jerky, to sprinkle on everything.

Our lunch sampler.


Afterwards we all cleaned up and went our separate ways. Our goal of getting out and exploring was a success.

We passed this mural project, about a mile from our house, on the railway wall. This wall surrounds portions of the Old Quarter.  The artist is holding a paper drawing as her painting guide.

Mural painting on the elevated train track wall.


Coffee shop sunset, with a fishing pole attached to the railing.


A simple dinner of fried rice, caramelized pork and garlic sautéed  water spinach at neighboring Mậu Dịch.

back to bún chả and bum guns

We have happily returned to the chaotic energy, noise and beauty of Hanoi. Adventures are piling up and we will be sharing more soon. Until then, here are a few shots of our recent 3-day excursion south to Ninh Bình. We took the Reunification Express, of course.

We rented motorbikes and found a place to stay tucked in between limestone cliffs and forest. This area was 5 days post-flood. Sandbag dikes were still in place, water was receding but fields were still flooded. The rice had already been harvested, but the sweet potatoes and other tubers were ruined.

We visited pagodas and interesting sights, got off the beaten track, practiced our Vietnamese and relaxed.

Good place to learn how to ride a semi-automatic.


The countryside was breath-taking.


Rorschachs everywhere.


Hundreds of monk statues in the Bai Dinh Pagoda, the largest temple complex in the country.


We found Black Power monk.


Strolled through Thung Nham Bird Park, home to 1000s of herons, egrets and storks.


Many caves in this land of limestone. But only 3 choices?


Binh Dong cave temples. Lust-worthy floor tile.


We had one of these 12 cabins. Hot outside shower, soft beds and electricity. And lizards. And echoing morning rooster crows.


The view from our cabin. Yes, two hammocks.


Watching the light change was magical.

Atop the stairs at the Bai Dinh Pagoda complex.


Oh.  Why bún chả and bum guns?  We missed them SO MUCH this summer. Come on out and you’ll see why.


A video clip of ducks on a road.

Don’t fall in


After one week back in the city we wanted (needed!) some beach time.  This coincided with our friend’s existing plan to visit An Bang Beach and Hoi An.  Off we went together.  An hour-long flight got us from Hanoi to Da Nang City.  This sprawling city, 3rd largest in Vietnam, is situated on an expansive beach.  This is looking north.  See Lady Buddha in the distance?  At 220 feet tall, she’s the tallest buddha statue in Vietnam.


Flying in to Da Nang was emotional.  I couldn’t NOT think about the American War (called the Vietnam War by the US).  This was the major air base for the US and the South Vietnamese air forces.  On average, there were more than 2500 air traffic operations every day during that war.  That’s something every 3 seconds.  This area (called China Beach, but only by the US) is where US troops were sent to relax.

Looking south.  Our destination, is 15 miles down the coast.  And yes, all that water is warm and swimmable.

Da Nang City beach


Before leaving Da Nang we met up with a friend at a fancy bar on top of a fancy hotel with a fancy infinity pool.

infinity pool A La Carte DaNang – Version 2


An Bang beach is a traditional fishing village that is on the brink of change.   Guest house and restaurant/cafe construction is booming as tourists (from inside and outside Vietnam) opt for beach vacations.  We stayed at a friend’s 4-room inn.  Quiet, close to the beach, and relaxing.


First, Doug needed something to swim in.

trouser swimming


The beach 2 blocks from our inn.  Yes, the water was heavenly.  Yes, that’s us out there .  And a local fishing boat.

an bang boat douglas beth


An Bang beach is 5 minutes away from a UNESCO world heritage site called Hoi An.  This beautiful port city is loaded with old buildings, canals, temples, and has become known for paper lanterns that light the walkways at night.  Tourists visit Hoi An in droves.  And then they shop.  10 years ago, there were 20 tailors in town who could make you anything.  Today, there are over 650.  It’s hard to keep track, because as soon as someone gets reviewed on Trip Advisor, another new business opens up next door using the same name.  Anyone who speaks a little English can open up a tailor front, so things change fast.  Did we know this before we went there?  No.  But that’s ok.  We gave ourselves a day of shopping and just dove in.

This is a typical tailor’s shop.  They will copy any clothing item you want, or create for you whatever you desire.

tailor shop hoi an


She took all the measurements, then he created 2 pairs of linen pants, using my favorite pants as a pattern. $20 each.



child seatThat was fun.  We sat down on a stair step to rest and observe things, like baby seats on motorbikes like this one.

Then, before we knew it, we were in the “tailor hustle”.  A friendly young woman struck up a conversation.  Soon, she locked arms with us, friendly chatter turned into telling us about her sister’s shop, then she was dragging us to “just look”.  Sure, why not.  After getting tugged through a maze of shops in a cavernous marketplace, we arrive at number 46.  The iPads come out, latest fashions were flipped through, measuring tapes waiting, with fabrics stacked all around.  You need? Come on!  A new shirt?  Pants?   Dress?  My eyes lingered on some photos of linen tops and boom, I was hooked and the 4 personable women standing around us knew it.  Sure, why not.  While I was being bombarded, Doug was, too.  Of course he needs a new shirt and how about some shorts, too?  We stopped for a moment to breath and talk about what was happening (we truly could just say thanks and leave) but we thought, why not?  It’s their livelihood and we really did need some clothes.


We made our choices, and picked the fabrics (linen!).  One person quickly drew the designs in a notebook while 2 others measured us and chanted out the numbers.  We were told to come back in 5 hours for a fitting.  Here’s my one (blurry) photo of the indoor tailor shops.

We returned, tried on the clothes, adjustments were made for fit, and we were sent away for a few more hours and the clothes were motorbiked back to the sewing center outside town.  At the end of the day, we had new shirts, shorts and a simple dress.  And an understanding that if we really want perfectly fitting clothes, we should spend a lot of time (3 fittings instead of 1), find someone of our own choosing, and avoid the “touts” and commission buying that we were tugged in to.  All in all, it was a good day, we practiced our Vietnamese and we helped the economy in Hoi An just a little.  And one of the shirts is my new favorite.


Hoi An is both peaceful and bustling.   Authentic wooden architecture from the 15th century, a structural and cultural mashup with Chinese, Japanese, French and Vietnamese influences.  Temples, pagodas, humble inns and now large, modern hotels are there, too.  A little bit of everything.

Hoi An canal


Baskets of pasta drying in the afternoon sun.



Fishing boats line the canal.



Incense and alters are everywhere.

horses incense


Doug and Douglas along the canal.  Probably discussing politics.



Temple courtyard looking out at the street and the wires, which we don’t even notice anymore.

temple wires


Back to An Bang Garden Inn, the hammock, fruit for breakfast, and best of all, wave-diving at the beach.

An Bang Garden


breakfast fruit plate

an bang beach with chairs


Hoi An Tailoring insight

…summertime and the livin’ is (was) easy…

We are back in our lovely little apartment in Hanoi.

True Bach apartment

Autumn is racing in, dragging the temperatures down to 85-90 degrees F.  We’ve adjusted our days so that we rise early, return home by 1:00 pm, siesta (play music, study Vietnamese, obsess about climate change, try not to succumb to the US political mania), then back out after 6:00pm to scour the city for food and drink, soaking it all in as we go.

We want to share a little about our summer on Lopez Island.  This count-down is as close to an annual Christmas letter as we’ll ever get.


#5  Upon returning to the US, Beth visited Whistler Mountain in the Canadian Rockies for a week with Kathi.  This beautiful distraction was the ideal immersion back into western civilization.  Fresh air, blue skies and endless people-watching.  A remarkable contrast to Hanoi.

Whistler gondola

Whistler Rendezvous

Whistler Peak to Peak


#4  The future is bright in our single-wide because we

  • can now wash laundry  (dug a dry-well and carted up a billion rocks from the beach to fill it)
  • repaired the washing machine by taming the agitator dogs and motor coupling (thanks, youtube)
  • re-caulked, re-hinged, repaired, painted, planted and toiled
  • finally moved mini-moby (after 30+ years)

pull mini moby  passing  push it      mini moby

  • continued the repairs (thanks, Alex) after a march windstorm deposited a tree on Moby
  • now have free firewood (thanks, windstorm)

timberrr     tree


#3  We started building something.  It’s going to be a 16′ x 20′ shared studio.

Had gigantic stumps removed, hand-dug trenches for underground utility lines and holes for 12 pier blocks.  Materials arrived.  Hard to imagine this orderly load of lumber can become our shop.

img_6510              wood


Dug.  Swore.  Leveled.  Tamped.  Leveled.  Untamped.  Shoveled.  Leveled.

img_6554       img_6556 img_6570


Lured friends over to help when possible.  Labor day.  Heh heh.

floor   floor


Later there will be two windows in the east side and two windows in the west side.



South facing front will also have two windows.  Scored two fire-proof dutch doors from a neighboring job site for free.



It’s starting to look like a saloon.  Slanted shed roof.  Ideal for collecting water.

front rafters


Battened down for the winter, awaiting plywood sheathing and a new metal roof.

almost a shop


#2  Family and friends came to visit.



Doug Cary seestor-and-fam

We ate from the local bounty, and played music as often as possible.  Lopez has a lively music scene.

oyster dinner

come back crabby lady

img_6378     3 crabbies


#1  Annie, the reason we came back early.

She died August 8, the day before her 11th birthday.  She taught us a lot over the summer.  Slow down, take long walks, don’t hurry.  Do what you want.  Don’t do what you don’t want to do.  Listen to the birds.  Relax when the opportunity appears.  Play music.  Sing.  Stretch out on the couch.

annie couch

low tide annie



Thank you all so much for the visits and help over the summer.


Now think about a visit to Vietnam!


Ethno – Tourism

Ta Van

If you visit Vietnam, you will be told to visit SaPa. To see the endless natural beauty, to rejuvenate yourself via the fresh air, to hike through the local villages, experience the sounds and smells of this unique landscape, and to explore new cultures.  Of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic minority groups, there are 9 in this area alone.  This breath-taking mountainous area 380 km northwest of Hanoi is near the Chinese border, and can now be accessed by the newly completed toll-highway.  6 hours of driving.  1600 m (5250 ft) high.  The SaPa District has about 55,000 people;   over 50% Hmong, 25% Dao, and 10% Viet Kinh (lowland Vietnamese), the balance Tay, Giay, Thai, Muong, Hua and Xa Pho.

sapa from Dave's

Brochure sunrise photo (above) of the terraced rice fields.   Starting in May, there is only one rice crop planted per year due to the high elevation weather conditions.  As early as possible, seeds are sewn in the lowest beds, then when the weather is warmer and the upper beds have been prepared and flooded, the seedlings are transplanted.


Second brochure photo (below) taken in early summer, of a mother and daughter (Black Hmong) walking and working along the growing rice.  We’re told these fields are brilliant shades of yellow and green beginning in July, until the harvest which starts in September.  We are hoping to visit again the end of August.  Join us.

SaPa from muonghoa


The true original inhabitants are unknown, but left rock carvings thousands of years old.  Over time, land has been illegally taken, villages bombed, indigenous peoples forced out, and repeatedly resettled by invaders. From the 1920s-1950s the French built villas and used the area as a hill-station, which is a resort area in the mountains created specifically to escape the seasonal lowland heat.  After they were ousted, many ethnic minority tribes returned from China, Laos and Thailand, using SaPa as a meeting and market location.   Sa means sand, pa means village so SaPa loosely translates as the place to trade goods and services.  Agricultural collectives were offered in the 1970s-1980s by the government.   After that, collectives were scaled back, perennial crops were encouraged and land rights were doled out.  In 1993 the first foreign tourists (since the French overthrow) were allowed up there.



In February, we had the chance to hitch a ride up with an agency car that was going to SaPa to fetch clients, and we wanted to get out of dodge.  The landscape became rural as soon as we left Hanoi.  It was misty and overcast, strikingly, like the Pacific NW.  Except for the rice fields, the water buffalo and the palm trees.  These low-land rice fields were recently flooded and readied for seedling transplants, the first of 3 annual rotations.  Here’s the scene from the car outside of Hanoi. When we came back through here the following week, all the fields had been planted.

north of Hanoi


The final 60 kms from Lao Cai to SaPa is narrow, twisty and congested.  Crazy commute to school.

Lao Cai to SaPa


SaPa bustles.  Hotels, restaurants, schools, banks, bakeries, North Face outfitters, massagers, trekking companies, hardware stores, auto shops.   You name it.  The trick is to try and find what’s locally owned.  Responsible tourism can be hard work but is essential.

Sa Pa Town


Our morning phổ restaurant in SaPa.

SaPa pho house


Local Red Dao women, our talking companions on the edge of SaPa.

Beth Doug S and S Red Dau – Version 2


Near Lai Chao.  See the 2 people walking up the terraced hill?


hill climb


Mama Lili, a trekking guide and homestay provider, with her phone number.  We are the same age.  We shared stories and entertained each other using pantomime, truncated English, and Hmong.  Ua tsaug (wa chow) means thank-you.

Mama Lili


The villages are all connected by hiking trails.  Passes are purchased before entering the villages.  The foot bridge in the center was built by a neighboring Dao family.  They charge 5,000 VND per person (US 25 cents) to use it.  When it’s warm enough, locals avoid the fee and wade across instead.

outside TaVan


Take the time to hire a local guide and directly support the local economy.  We were lucky to connect with Zu, the best guide ever (on the left).  She spent the day with us, made us lunch at her house, and answered (and asked) more questions than you can imagine.  She is Black Hmong, and lives in Seo Mi Ty, her husband’s village. While taking a break, we ran into her sister, who lives in a different village and was passing through.

Zu and Sister


This is Doug’s hiking helper, Mai.  We all had someone to help us navigate through the mud and over the steep terraces.

Doug and his helper


Family photo.  Jenny and Steve came to visit from Seattle!

family photo outside TaVan


Ubiquitous water buffalo.

water buffalo outside TaVan


We had lunch at Zu’s home.  Yes, that’s a sharp machete and a (skilled) 5-year-old.

machete and dishes


Corn grinder at Zu’s house.  She says they grind corn every day.

Version 2


Jenny gets a corn grinding lesson from Zu.

(This video is visible only if you view the post from the website, not from the emailed version.)


Here come the kids, running up the path and yelling something we never figured out.

here they come


Animals roam the villages.



The pig pack followed us for a while.



Surprise meeting on the road with friends we had met the previous day in town, 20 km away.  Ma is due in one month, and explained how her husband will help deliver the baby.  It was hard to say goodbye.

Mama on road


Ma’s village, down the hill and up the ridge.

Ma's village


Congestion at an intersection outside the village of Lai Chau.

bus scooters cars


Bamboo and ankles.

bamboo road Doug


Bottle section of a barn wall in Ta Van.

barn wall in Ta Van


The mountains outside SaPa were cloud-covered and hidden except for this brief moment.

mountain sighting


Making a note of the hotel in the foreground to check the prices.  EcoPalms Hotel.  $115 US/night.

Ối Giời Ơi !  Expensive.  Still trying to find out who owns it and where the money goes.

beth hotel notes


I would love to live and work here.  These state schools are all painted yellow.  Why?

school near Bac Ha


I spy water buffalo grazing, slash pile burning, brush clearing by hand, and a horse.

I spy


Watching, as we walked by a Flower Hmong village, outside Bac Ha.



30 minute walk north of Bac Ha.

Bac Ha


Buy from me!  Seriously, we could’ve talked for hours with these 2 young women.



Her mother told us about this sweet baby’s ear piercing ceremony at birth.

Kim's baby





Something is in the air.


SaPa and the surrounding area is magical.  And complicated.  Responsible tourism is hard to recognize here.  It’s a free-for-all.  The new road will bring even more people, expanding the impact with no end in sight.  Of course there is a move towards reviewing current social and economic development plans but there are so many conflicting factors and obstacles.  New construction is booming and there’s even a cable-car to the top of Fansipan Mt, above SaPa, that just opened in February.  It’s imperative that growth occurs in conjunction and cooperation with the local people, so that their rights, customs and privacy can be maintained and not exploited and their livelihood be preserved.  SaPa O’Chao is a social enterprise organization that I hope to spend some time with in the future, and I’m looking for others.  We’ll keep you posted.


Hunger makes a great sauce, quotes Doug, religiously.

hot steam   Doug steam


Sa Pa The Beauty That Has Turned Beast

Here’s a blog with descriptions and photos of the different tribes in the North part of Vietnam.

xe ôm (translation: motorbike hug) OMG

Hey, we got a motorbike.

We spent six weeks learning how to walk through the traffic and now we want to become part of it.  You ask what Hanoi traffic is like?

Here’s a video of the steady flow in an intersection in the Old Quarter on a typical evening.  Two perpendicular currents moving through each other without substantially stopping.

It took a while to absorb the rules, which are different from the law.  One way means one way unless you need to go the other way.  Stoplights mean stop unless there’s a break in traffic that your bike can get through.  Drive on the right side of the road unless you’re only going a few blocks and you have to cross over anyway.  Sound your horn to let them know where you are.  Don’t look back.  Concentrate what’s in front of you and don’t worry about what’s behind.  The traffic regulations are suggestions to be used or discarded as the situation develops and as you, the driver, need to shape it so that you can keep moving. There’s no screaming, no anger, no tantrums, and no loss of face.  Just a focused calm, constant beeping and an awareness of the flow:  pedestrians, children on bicycles, city sanitation workers who actually sweep the street gutters daily with their special hand-made brooms and toss the garbage into their rolling push-bins, vendors in conical rice hats with two baskets hung from a bamboo shoulder-yoke carrying anything from hot food to scrap metal, quiet electric bikes, the occasional ego-fortifying Ducati or Harley wide-ride, cars, taxis, minivans, city buses, huge touring buses, and utility vehicles.  And filling in the gaps is the eternal river of motor bikes.  U-turns that stop traffic on a major artery are okay.  If the road gets too crowded, traffic moves onto the sidewalk.  And, yes, it’s okay to take a phone call while driving.  The power of patience is remarkable.

It’s difficult for foreigners to get a valid license but the police don’t like to stop them anyway because their English is limited and they might lose face, so foreigners drive without a license. There’s a box on the rental form that says License and you write yes or no. You can answer either one but it doesn’t change the outcome. It does protect the leaser if necessary, proving that he didn’t break the law, you did.

We tried out three bikes before deciding what to rent; a Chinese Vespa knockoff, a new Honda scooter and a Yamaha automatic motorbike.

The fake Vespa model called Elizabeth, was definitely the cutest.  This is Doug not liking it.



This is Doug continuing not to like it.

not the bike


Here’s the winner.  A 2009 Yamaha Nouvo.  We rent it by the month so we can trade up.  The automatic transmission is definitely appreciated.



Vietnamese kids grow up on motorbikes, the family station wagon of the country.  It’s not uncommon to see mom on the back, dad driving, one kid standing between dad and the handlebars and the baby sandwiched between dad and mom, as they weave through the traffic. Kids ride bicycles during rush hour, completely comfortable.   Not me;  the first time out on a run to buy gas, I was acutely focused in the moment by the terror.

This is Beth liking it and hoping the white knuckle grip will soon relax.

beth bike


Tucked into alleys and nooks are these bike piles.  This one would be fun to clean up.  Right?!

bike pile


And for the foodies.  Since landing in Vietnam we have tried outdoor street food, indoor street food, average restaurant food and above average restaurant fare.  Most of it was good, some really good and a few were great.  The kind of food that is centered around flavor, where every bite is fun.  Nearby, down a small unmarked alley is a restaurant called 1946.  It’s based on the conditions in Hanoi and the food available in 1946 when the world war was over and the war for Vietnamese independence was gathering steam.  Fried salted field crabs, banana flower and marinated beef salad, grilled spiced pork, sautéed garlic and morning glory, sour pork soup, beer, and corn water.  $17 US.  Expensive for an evening meal but worth the occasional splurge.

dinner 1946



Here’s a 2012 article from the NYTimes featuring the traffic in Hanoi.

Happy Lunar New Year! Chúc mừng năm mới!

Tonight is the eve of the Lunar New Year (Tet).  It is the biggest holiday here in Vietnam.  Consider it a combination of modern customs, ancient traditions, religion and superstition.  It’s been interesting and fun to see some of the traditions in action.  Here are a few that we saw over the past week.


Some streets are dedicated to red and gold decorations.  It’s a little like that street in your neighborhood that goes all-out at christmas time.

Most homes put up either a blooming peach branch or a fruiting kumquat tree.  They’re called kumquats but they sure look like orange trees.


I wonder if people rotate from year to year, similar to rotating between, say, noble fir, scots pine or douglas fir if putting up a christmas tree?

There are peach blossom stands everywhere.

tet peach blossoms


It’s also time for photos taken in the park.  There are many photographers offering their services.  These are from our nearby Hoan Kiem lake.

tet photo


tet photo


The kitchen god Tao must be celebrated.  To do this, 3 goldfish (representing the 3 legs of the kitchen, translated into 1 wife and 2 husbands) are released into water to swim the prayers to heaven.  We saw this continually the week leading up to Tet.  Yes, sometimes people just slowed down on their scooters and tossed the bag with the 3 fish into the lake.  But most stopped and ceremoniously let them out.  Then threw the bag into the lake.

tet fish


Lucky money and ornate paper artifacts are burned all during Tet to send good wishes to ancestors for many reasons.  Some to get out of hell faster, some to honor the newly deceased, all as a means of sending love and respect to the dead.  We saw fires all over the place as we walked about, including outside our kitchen window, every night.

tet fire


Altars are also cleaned up and replenished with new offerings.  This is the altar at our favorite neighborhood phở place.


As I understand it, people believe that what they do on the dawn of Tet will determine their fate for the whole year, hence people always smile and behave as nicely as they can in the hope for a better year.  Not a bad practice, actually.  It was definitely a nice day for us.

tet sugar cane

This year Tet is celebrated from Feb. 6- 14.  Many shop owners decorate their doors before they leave.  She is putting up sugar cane on her shop.

Doug and I are planning on taking advantage of the reduction in traffic to practice driving a scooter before the crowds return.  Wish us luck!




Bamboo Street (how to solve a 1st world apartment problem)

Zoom Cafe, which hosts tours for photographers, as well as makes a great cà phê sữa nóng (hot coffee with sweetened milk).


The small cups of coffee are served in dishes of boiling water to keep them hot.  Coffee always comes accompanied by diluted herb tea.  These were lemongrass.



Drinking our coffees and contemplating the complexities of the world.  Here’s the view from across the street.

zoom view


A bicycle vendor stops to buy some produce from the basket vendor, and wins “best home-made kickstand” award.



At the end of the street we spy bamboo.  Walls of it.  A light bulb goes off.  We can’t put any holes in our walls.   We need a place to hang things, instead of dropping them on the floor (not naming any names).

Ladders.  Yes.  That could make a nice hanging rack.  And they’re beautiful!

ladder 1


This place?

ladder 3


or that?

ladder 2



ladders 4


Sold.  For the bartered price of $200,000 VND ($8.50).

1.5 mile walk home.

ladder walk 1

ladder walk 3



ladder walk 3


Made it.  Yay!






We’re legal.  Here’s the top of our lease.  For some reason, I love this piece of paper.

Here’s what it translates to.  A sweet, one-room studio apartment on the 2nd floor with a little balcony.


And a cool bathroom door.  Even more cool than the bathroom door is the bum gun.  Heh, heh.  Who knew we needed one of those?  If you don’t know what that is, you’ll just have to come out and visit us.

bathroom door

The outside of our apartment, with the  abandoned building next door cut out of the frame.

160 Tran Vu

We have our own little alley to get to the street behind us.  It’s the “good acoustics” alley.  Every day the same food stand is set up at the other end.  Each day we all smile and repeat, xin chao.  Hallo.



Our market run for the day.  The green leaves are morning glory, called rau (which translates as “vegetable”).  They’re stir-fried into everything, or sautéed as a solo dish.

The big purple thing is a banana flower.  Take the leaves apart, roll them up, then slice super thin.  Soak in lime-water, then toss in a salad and dress with lime, garlic, fish sauce, sugar and chili.  A little crunchy, like a cross between an apple and a daikon.

banana flower and carrot


This big dude looked too good to pass up.  Gac fruit.  Turns out, it cures pretty much everything.



Also new to us were the little, round, reddish fruits.  Fresh passion-fruits.  Their aroma is heavenly.

gac and passionfruit


Outside our gate a vendor walked by with the 2 baskets hanging from a pole, with these freshly baked sesame crisps.  The smell was as good as the crunch.



Just another day in the country of independence, freedom and happiness.  So far, so good.

Hoàng Hoa Thám aka Plant Street

The desire to spruce up the balcony took us in a new direction today.  We wanted some live plants to alter the forsaken, empty pots.  Could we find herbs?  Other edibles?  Occasionally, bike vendors peddle by with plants, but they’re large, ornamental houseplants.  Not what we want.  Where should we look for a nursery?  Shopping here is concentrated by product and street.  There’s guitar street, wok street, bathroom street, shoe street, muffler street, pet street…the list goes on.  These  “streets” can be anywhere from 3 blocks to 15 blocks long.  I had read about Plant Street, so we headed westward to find it.  We strolled along the boulevard on the southern side of Hanoi’s big freshwater lake, called West Lake.  The lake is over 10 miles in circumference.  It seems to be the lungs of this city.  It’s beautiful, yet scruffy.  There’s an odor that permeates the area, a mixture of earth, dead fish, runoff, garbage and fresh air.  Visually, at times it felt a little like standing on Alki beach looking towards Seattle.

nguyen dinh thi


Swan paddle boats.  They’re out everyday…not sure if it’s tourists or locals.  Probably both.



Many coffee shops line the street.  Like this one called Xương, which means bone (bone?) which is decorated with stacked tire tables and beer bottle lights.  The forlorn looking pooch caught our eye.



Also along the street is a famous high school, called the Chu Văn An (10-12th grades).  It is one of 3 hard-to-get-into magnet schools in Hanoi.  This (gorgeous) school library is an example of  the French influence, built in 1908.



Fishing.  Always people fishing, either on the banks, or from boats.  Netting, too.



Grin House coffee house, complete with coconuts for sale outside.



Getting closer to Plant Street.  Street vendors set up anywhere and everywhere.  This one is selling bird cages.  Chickens and roosters seem to appear out of nowhere.



We made it to Plant Street.  Over 10 blocks of greens, plants, trees, bonsai, birds, planters, tools and soil amendments.  Browsing while walking requires  a lot of concentration.  I’m certain we missed a lot.  We’ll definitely go back another day.

plant street

plant street


We found some starts for shiso, cilantro, mint, basil, chives, and thyme, along with a little shovel.   I can add them to the cuttings I’ve been surreptitiously nabbing on our walks.  Yay!