Hanoi Old Quarter

First, the streets.

They wind across the entire area in a beautifully haphazard manner, with no real sidewalks nor pedestrian- friendly paths. On certain sections, you share broken pathways with coffee drinkers seated in rows and motorcycles randomly parked. When it rains, grayish water pools in the many potholes along the streets, cleaning out days of accumulated dirt. Even so, Hanoians sun odd herbs and rice at the edge of pavements where the grey puddles once stood, oblivious to the dust and soot settling on their edibles. Honking is part of the charm of Hanoi where lane discipline and traffic lights are blatantly disregarded by the motorcyclists notorious for doing so. Thread around with care, keep your pace steady and don’t make sudden movements they said. I followed suit and crossed the roads just fine.

Then, the lush setting.

The greenery around the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake provided respite from the sun and exuded a certain calmness and tranquility that is juxtaposed against the cacophony of sounds just one lane away. Encapsulated within the lake is a pretty red bridge leading to a temple which lent to the peace of the surroundings. Early morning taichi practitioners, joggers, strollers dot the perimeter of the lake engrossed in their own craft. The vibe is good and much like home.

Last, the fun haggling.

Some love getting lost along intertwining streets. But I like to know where I am going, straying often. Armed with sufficient info, I wandered into the streets. The walk was wonderful, people friendly and bargains fabulous. I did not feel unsafe on my own and did not have to be overly watchful of my surroundings. Coffee was great and cafes most interesting. I spent 6 hours walking the area without feeling the time pass. Once I had the map of the area drawn up in my head, it was easy.

Useful nuggets of info:

A list of street names and what you will find there:

Cau Go (women’s accessories)

Dong Xuan St (market)

Hang Bac St (silver)

Hang Bo (sewing bits)

Hang Buom (candies,wine,weasel coffee)

Hang Can (stationery)

Hang Dau (shoes/night market)

Hang Gai (silk)

Hang Hom (lacquerware and bamboo)

Hang Ruoi (artificial flowers)

Nguyen Huu Huan (coffee street)

Thuoc Bac (tools)

If you’re looking for cute souvenirs, this place (Phuc Loi along Hang Gai) sells wooden stamps that are customizable. Pick a stamp with a picture you like and he can carve out a name in minutes at USD3 or 67 Dongs each. Very popular with Japanese tourists:

Oriberry Cafe (several branches in Hanoi) sources coffee beans from the tribal villages of Vietnam. It functions as a social enterprise that also takes care of the farmers who produce beans for them. I had the egg coffee with cinnamon – smells like pudding with coffee, but is fragrant. It comes with lotus green tea to help wash down the lingering eggy taste.

Vietnamese Escargots!

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What else to see in Bandung?

Bandung is often associated with cool weather, good food, golf courses and factory outlets. While these have earned their places in peoples’ hearts, there are other things that need to be experienced here. We ventured beyond to find out.

#1 Kawah Putih or White Crater

Located in the south of Bandung, this crater lake is filled with blue-green water that is highly acidic (pH 0.5-3). Sulphurous fumes escape small vents and surreptitiously inch their way into your nasal passage, irritating your throat. The smell isn’t that pungent so you don’t notice this until you start coughing. This is why the recommended length of stay next to the lake is a mere 15 minutes. Face masks are usually worn but if you tend to pose a lot for photos, then don’t bother. This is a popular location to have wedding pictures taken because it is picturesque. But it would be tough to keep wandering tourists out of your shots.

#2 Stink beans or Petai

Encased within these pods are beans that stink and taste bitter. A fully developed pod contains about 8-10 beans the size of broad beans. These beans, wild or cultivated, are considered a delicacy and are usually prepared through stir frying with prawns and sambal chili. They are rather popular in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore. The ones in the picture are grilled so they taste a little raw and are crunchy. It’s like eating edamame except that it makes your pee smell odd like how asparagus stalks do.

#3 Kampung Daun Sundanese Resto

IF you fancy eating in an al fresco hut while enjoying the coolness of a rainforest and do not mind flies or kittens visiting mid-meal, this is the restaurant. The area is pretty large and is in a private space found after you enter a secure area past several large houses. They have little shops at the entrance and a pretty, winding path leads you into the compound. You will be directed to your own hut upon arrival and can choose to dine in a traditional setting (on the floor) or the regular way (sit at a table on chairs). When ready to order, you call for the waiter using a bamboo drum – it isn’t loud so you have to keep at it until someone decides to saunter over. It takes about an hour to get there from the city and it is touristy (i.e. higher prices). But it is worth the one visit, particularly at night.

#4 Driam Riverside Park

Frankly, there isn’t much here other than being a very scenic rest stop for decent coffee and chilling out. If you are up for a stroll, pay IDR10,000 (S$1) to go take a look at the river running through the establishment. There are swings set up by the river that you can use – definitely fun!

#5 Walini Tea Terraces

Tumbling tea terraces dominate the landscape here much like Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka. It seems the tea here is cultivated for the domestic market so we don’t hear much about it in other countries. Tea is mild and fragrant.

So there!

Tree-lined paths in northern Okinawa hide good soba

Bise Fukiji paths are lined with trees and makes a pretty sight. It is also a village community of old houses with a small number of residents. One of them runs a B&B cum cafe, Kokko Shokudo, that serves up noteworthy chicken broth Okinawan Soba. We hunted it down.

The few signs put up were in Japanese, pinned to trees and so the cafe was not too easy to spot without understanding where we should be headed. The buzzing mossies were also an unwelcomed distraction. We walked past it a few times before realizing that it was a house we should be looking for and not a cafe.

Kokko is a small and cosy living room where diners seat barefooted on the floor and lean over a nice wooden table to slurp noodles. It is air-conditioned (which is surprising and nice) and has a grand total of 4 long tables. There are only two items on their menu so ordering is a breeze. The owner, previously from the poultry industry, whips up your order in the kitchen not 5 meters away so you experience the home-cooked goodness of the meal you are having.

I thoroughly enjoyed the soba noodles with chicken broth (vs. the usual pork broth) and gooey egg in the middle so I highly recommend going to this place for lunch if you are in the area (of the Churaumi Aquarium).

Sashimi!

Whenever we visit Japan, Sashimi is always on our minds. We make a point to go to the fish markets because you cannot get them any fresher. Price-wise, I found Okinawa’s fresh catch to be cheaper than other parts of Japan.

Any 3 nicely sliced and wrapped up packets of regular cut salmon or octopus or tuna or white fish or squid go for 1000 yen. Sea urchins, scallops, lobsters, crabs, prawns are priced higher but are reasonable.

Little eating places selling sashimi and sushi typically pepper the immediate area around the market. A stroll around would allow you to assess prices and goods so as to pick a suitable place to settle down to feast. Long queues indicate specialty and best left to early birds if time is not on your side. I find some of those a little gimmicky; other than bragging rights, you don’t really have to eat at these establishments unless you are hunting for something quite specific.

Fish markets in Okinawa, perhaps because the touristy side has yet to blossom, has less of those. It has just good old sashimi at any eating spots. Having said this, there is a place at Payao Seafood Awase Fishing Port where you can get a half lobster with sea urchin sauce and sashimi set meal for 2900 yen – cheap and good. No gimmicks. Tea and water are on the house. You clean up after yourselves with cleaning tools provided too – as with many places in Japan.

Other Ports we tried that are worth the visit:

Tomori Wharf for breakfast

Osakana Centre Itoman Fishing Port also for breakfast