A Travellerspoint blog


(Dog) Rose

semi-overcast 29 °C
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Hurrah! My visa has arrived! Life is good again. I am free to leave. Only I can’t, now. I’ve been on a silkbuyfest this afternoon and have ordered some pyjamas to be delivered tomorrow morning.

However, I’m on the bus to Ninh Binh tomorrow evening.

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You see signs outside some restaurants on the outskirts of Hanoi saying ‘thịt chó’. They are advertising that they serve dog meat.

It has not been on the menu in any restaurant I have visited. It is, in any case, inauspicious to eat dog in the first half of the lunar month, and it is now the 10th.

I did, however, stumble across a couple of dogs in the December 19th market. One was bisected transversely through the waist, the other coronally.

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This is, I was told, a dog rose, which I photographed in Sardinia.


Rosa canina grows in Vietnam as well as in Europe. According to Bao Ninh in The Sorrow of War, some NLF soldiers discovered that if they dried the roots, cut them up and smoked them, they produced a narcotic effect. But as soon as the Commissars discovered that the soldiers were on drugs and noticed the reduction in motivation, they banned it. The book is a novel, but it was based on his own experiences, and I don’t suppose he made this up.

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I’m perfectly willing here in VN to forego a main course because it costs £1 too much. You get used to different prices, and it is sensible to do so.

Yesterday I was walking around the West Lake and stopped to buy a bottle from a pavement vendor. I asked the price for a 500ml bottle, and the old lady paused and clearly made up the answer: “mười nghìn”, 10,000 dong. About 30p. I said “mười nghìn, my arse” and walked away, irritated, muttering. Who did she take me for?

Sure enough, around the corner I got a bottle for 3,000 dong.

Obviously, it’s only a few pence, but it is a pain to be quoted ludicrous prices all the time for something as basic (and homogeneous) as water.

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Property prices are falling in London, hurrah. A lot of people have wanted to talk about property prices. They all quote prices per square metre. When asked about prices in London, I can’t answer: the only prices I have ever heard quoted per unit area are rents for commercial property, and my knowledge of these is years out of date.

Anyway, the information I have been given is that property prices in Hanoi are comparable to those in London. Rents are cheaper. Earnings are far lower. Something does not add up. If rents aren’t covering the cost of capital it’s because people are buying with the expectation of capital gains. That’s one classic definition of a bubble (Bagehot’s?).

Posted by Wardsan 18:43 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)


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Just got back to Hanoi from Hạ Long Bay, to discover that the visa I had expected to turn up tomorrow is not due until Friday. But I paid an extra $20 to avoid this. I am pissed off and very tired.

Vietnamese has six tones. Like all European-language-speakers, I find it hard to tell most of them apart, and impossible to reproduce them at speaking pace. (One, however, is easy: it starts high and goes higher, with a glottal stop in the middle, as if Vinnie Jones had grabbed your vitals.)

Nouns come with ‘classifiers’, of which there are many. There is one for ‘thing’, another for ‘fruit’, another for ‘animals (which includes knife), another for paper, etc.

There are at least ten words for ‘you’ depending on the relative age of the speaker and interlocutor.

On the other hand, the tense system shows just how much redundancy there is in, say, French. It consists of a tense marker, plus the (invariant) verb. English is pretty similar in the future tense. Thus:-

Ðã – past (the tilde denotes the strangulated shriek tone I just mentioned)
Ðang - present
Sẽ – future.

Food is pretty simple, too. None of your lovingly hand-crafted reduction of free-range Lincolnshire jus, or whatever. Stir-fried squid with lemongrass and chilli, for example, is squid fry lemongrass chilli – four syllables in Vietnamese.

Posted by Wardsan 21:39 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hanoi Hilton

or Hilton Hanoi

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I lunched at the Hanoi Hilton yesterday. Not the infamous Hanoi Hilton, obviously – more of that later – but at the Hilton Hanoi next to the Opera House. For obvious reasons it does not call itself the Hanoi Hilton. In fact I only went in to escape the attentions of a persistent taxi driver. Half the restaurant is outdoors on a terrace – out of the question in a baking 38 degrees – and half inside, under a glass ceiling but air-conditioned.

It was perhaps the best meal I have had in Hanoi, and the best part was the starters. A mix of fresh spring rolls, with pork, shrimp, green banana, pineapple and rice vermicelli; fried spring rolls, with crab, carrot and mushroom; and a salad with crabmeat, onions, chilli and peanuts. All fresh, subtle, and harmonious. Glorious.

This was followed by farmed crocodile with young galangal and shallots. This merely out of curiosity, of course. I expected to eat interesting things all over southeast Asia, but apart from the bamboo worms (actually caterpillars) and the sparrows, and the hundred-year-old eggs, I suppose, nothing has cropped up.

The crocodile was listed in the fish and seafood section of the menu. The same judgement has been made by the Catholic church, which adopted its own taxonomy to define the categories of flesh comestible during Lent and at other penitential times. Thus turtles and alligators have been classified as “fish”. The distinction is made, according to theory, on the basis of the temperature of their blood; the element in which they live or oviposit (if that isn't a word, why not?); or a distinction between pesce and carne in Latin languages. Or all of the above.

The flesh was completely white, and very soft, but also rubbery, so the meat was difficult to cut. It tasted of galangal. So that’s that – not worth bothering with again.

Dessert was a medley of cubes and mousses that sounded more exciting than they tasted. Coffee mousse, lemongrass ice cream, green bean and strawberry bavarois, Dalat red wine jelly, that sort of thing.

A blow-out beyond my normal budget on this trip, but great value for $42.

The other Hanoi blow-out was at Bobby Chinn’s. The owner-chef is Chinese-Egyptian and went on a rugby scholarship to Millfield School in England. He is a former banker, stand-up comedian etc and is, I imagine, someone who would describe himself as ‘larger-than-life’, a ‘bon viveur’ etc. The catering business is full of such extroverts.

Anyway, the menu is full of self-indulgent but largely amusing comments. The wine list enumerates the stages of drunkenness:

1. Witty and charming
2. Rich and powerful
3. Benevolent
4. Clairvoyant
5. Forget dinner
6. Patriotic
7. Kenny G is a genius
8. Witty and charming, part II
9. Invisible
10. Bulletproof.

There I also learnt a new cocktail. Karber’s Frenzy: Bombay Sapphire, tonic, codeine, lime. I like the sound of it.

The location is great: south side of Hoàn Kiếm lake. White tablecloths sprinkled with rose petals; a pumpkin soup amuse-bouche; huge wine glasses; great service. Warm seafood salad (excellent), lemon-scented poussin (over-nutmegged), whisky sour and glass of red wine, $49.

I did actually intend to write about the prison at Hoa Lo – another time perhaps.

Posted by Wardsan 19:23 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Intellectual property

38 °C
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Lots of tourists go mad shopping in Hanoi. I have found the lure resistible but I have bought some CDs: Champion Jack Dupree, le poids lourd du piano blues; Tomatito, Aguadulce; Andras Schiff, Well-Tempered Clavier Books I and II, Decca; Rubinstein, Schumann Piano Concerto, Liszt Piano Concerto No 1, Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No 2, RCA; Nathan Milstein, Prokofiev Violin Concertos 1 and 2, Sonata No 2, EMI; Du Pré/Barenboim, Elgar Cello Concerto, Pomp and Circumstance, Enigma Variations, Sony; Vienna/Böhm, Bruckner 4. And The Carpenters’ Greatest Hits (well, I don’t know the songs, and one’s supposed to). All for a few shillings.

The CDs look legit - they even have anti-piracy badges - but there are some curious mis-spellings. Piano, for example.

Vietnam, the 150th member of the World Trade Organisation, is required to enact laws that protect intellectual property. If it has any, it doesn’t seem to enforce them. Vietnam is pretty much the world capital of counterfeiting (this is a factoid I think I got from The Economist a couple of years back). If you want to pay royalties here by buying legitimate goods, forget it. Gresham’s Law: bad money drives out good. The same with consumer goods.

Even my copy of The Economist turns out to be photocopied. The wonder of it is than any countries do actually protect intellectual property.

At least one of the CDs won’t play, but I’m not keen to take it back. The guy who sold it to me, while very polite, had a preposterously long nail on his little finger, which made him look like a Chinese gangster.

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Last night I went to a concert at the Hanoi Opera House. The Opera House itself – built in 1901-11 - is constructed in classical style, with boxes and a circle, but in miniature. Indeed, it is said to reproduce the Palais Garnier in Paris. It is a lovely venue, actually.


It was the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra playing Ravel, Messiaen and Svendsen, conducted by Pierre-André Valade. Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin did not grab me, even though I have it recorded somewhere. To my surprise, the Messiaen Le Tombeau Resplendissement was a lot of fun (I like Messiaen when he is loud and bashy, less so when quiet and introspective), and the finale spellbinding. I’m going to buy it. After the interval, The Waist by Vietnamese composer Trần Kim Ngọc was also, as far as I could tell, excellent and certainly interesting, but my concentration was shot.

The audience was slightly smaller than most at the Wigmore Hall. About a quarter looked European, in a broad sense. Blessedly, not a single mobile phone rang during the concert. I have had one concert in London ruined by the person next to me snoring all the way through; that didn’t happen either.

But a lot of people strolled in after the first piece had started. Much worse, quite a few people seemed to think it was acceptable to talk during the playing, as if the orchestra was their personal band playing divertimenti for them. To my left, some people held a long conversation at normal speaking volume during the piece by Kim Ngọc. Even during the quiet parts, they neither paused nor whispered, but just carried straight on with their property deal, or whatever it was that was more important.

Not to mention the overenthusiastic applause. Not just between movements, but even within them.

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Tomorrow, the Perfume Pagoda.

Posted by Wardsan 22:42 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Pigs, mainly

Being a city boy, I like to take photos of animals whenever I see them. We only get rats and pigeons in Elephant and Castle. Around Laos and Vietnam, you see a lot of pigs, goats, chickens and water buffalo. It's time for some photos and I don't have much time, so here are some animals.

This was a huge moth on the floor at Lao-Vietnamese border.


This was a large ant above Càt Càt. It may not look like much, but it is not easy focusing on a moving ant.


This is how they carry pigs around on bikes in Cao Tre. The pigs could not move a muscle.


Pot-bellied pig and terraces in Cat Cat.


Pot-bellied piglets in Cat Cat.


Pigs sleeping at Cau May.


Feeding frenzy.






A bug's eye view of the Old Quarter, Hanoi.


Posted by Wardsan 13:28 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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