Draft extract from my travel memoir
Hanoi in between SaPa and Dong Hoi
We had got up in the dark at four-thirty am but by the time we left TaVan it was light. In SaPa it was damp, drizzly and a bit cold. We wandered around looking for somewhere open; most places were closed as it was still early. We found a coffee shop that was just opening, a woman opened the door and served us wearing smart silk pyjamas with a coat over the top. We ordered hot drinks; cacao and ginger tea.
We arrived in Hanoi early afternoon, we had decided to get a room to use for the wait before our overnight train to Dong Hoi that evening. It was hard to find a place, nowhere looked that great- places were run down, too expensive, or turned out to be nonexistent from the map or people’s directions. We got tired and stopped at a cafe, which turned out not to have any food. We ordered orange juice and sunflower seeds but left most of them; neither of us had the knack and the amount of food didn’t seem worth the effort necessary. Afterwards we walked back towards the train station and found a hotel on the street. It had a restaurant downstairs which was empty.
It was a small room but just fine, with our own shower and loo with free toiletries, a nice bed and clean white sheets. To have a room to base oneself in, to have a bed to stretch out and lie down on just for the afternoon, felt luxurious to us. In the room was a mini bar, a fridge with beer, 7Up, Lipton Ice tea, water, and on top of the fridge a basket with Oreos, (famously vegan and available everywhere, I have become obsessed with Oreos since giving up animal products whereas I didn’t even really like them before!) crisps, cacao bars, instant noodles, with everything at reasonable prices; if we didn’t find anything else we knew we’d be able to get snacks and drinks for the train journey from there.
In the hotel in Siem Reap we had seen Western travellers hanging around downstairs all day after checking out, but for six pounds (US$ 7) you could have a room for the day, or ten, (US$ 12) here in Hanoi, which in my opinion was totally worth it when there was a long journey ahead. It was a level of comfort we afforded ourselves and was sensible, making allowances for how tiring travelling was especially when in your forties and fifties not teens or twenties! Plus like a lot of things I do, it’s also about looking after the hour by hour day to day experience not just doing everything as cheap or as basic as possible. I would not enjoy wandering around without a base*, and even though it seemed a bit extravagant to get a room just for the afternoon, I appreciated it so much. *I mean wandering about all day between travelling. If I won the lottery or this book gets published I would very much enjoy wandering around without a base, a few weeks in Ho Chi Minh City, a few weeks in Phnom Penh, a few months in India, a few months in the UK etc etc! Just saying, dear Universe!
Although at first the menu in the SaPa hostel had looked good, after five days we had grown bored with it. Anthony found a vegan place to eat on Happy Cow that was within walking distance. As we left the hotel the restaurant downstairs was getting busy, some tables were full, one was covered with fresh coriander with a woman preparing it. We thought about trying to eat there but there didn’t look to be any obvious vegetarian options. We walked for a while, eventually we came to a sign for the vegan place, as if everyone comes looking and gets lost. A woman on a street stall directed us down an alleyway and there it was.
The food was cooked outside in the alleyway, there was a big frying pan of oil, the room where we sat was the downstairs room of a small house with a concrete floor, bare walls, two or three small tables, a staircase and a big fridge with a sticker of ‘food’ and ‘non food’ animals on. There was a woman and a man, they greeted us warmly and gave us a menu. They used seitan, a high protein meat substitute I’d only just started hearing about before we left the UK but is now in wide use. We ordered Banh Mi (rolls) and samosas/parcels. Just when I’d messaged a WordPress friend (Hi H) to say that we were struggling to find vegan food in Vietnam we found this place. Delicious fried parcels like delicate samosas, big full baguettes with seitan fake meats, salad and sauces.
A man and a woman who seemed like a couple and another man came in and sat at the next table, we heard the first man talking, he said he’d been in Hanoi for a month and had been to every vegan restaurant in Hanoi and that this was the best one for value and variety. He said that you can go to ‘the pretty places’ but ‘there’s no food,’ whereas the big cities are fine but you’re in a big city. Exactly, in TaVan our diet of vegetable spring rolls, French fries, plates of cabbage, and bread and jam had worn thin after a while and left us with gnawing hunger for proper food, even though the scenery and setting was wonderful. The man mentioned Tet, and how there was, ‘Nothing for a week.’ ‘Ten days,’ his girlfriend said. Yes, I said to myself. I thought about how there was tofu on menu in TaVan but was not available as the person who made it had gone home for Tet.
We ordered a second lot of parcels to eat there and more Banh Mi for the train. We got back to the hotel with our bags of rolls and our tummies full of delicious nourishing food, feeling grateful to have found that oasis. The hotel restaurant downstairs was super busy, we walked through to the back and up to our room.
Thank you very much for reading
About the author
Sold house, left career, gave away almost everything else. With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India. Here are my India highlights. Now back in the UK, living on a narrowboat, and writing a book about the trip, a spiritual/travel memoir, extracts from which appear regularly on this blog.
About vegan stuff: for in jokes and mutual support as well as devastating arguments see Instagram @vegansarcasm and @vegansidekick