Tuesday 29th November 2016:
I woke up with one hell of a struggle to eat, appetite was at its lowest but I had to force myself to eat. I just had to do it as I knew the day to come was no joke. Just like yesterday, looking over the beautiful view of Hanoi from the hotel’s top floor.
Thoughts of the numerous conversations I had with my friend in London resurfaced. My friend is one of the main motivator for my visit to Vietnam as travels happened there on adventure to South East Asia and was so patient and passionate about sharing that experience with me. My planning would have not happened without the input from my friend.
I was anxious as I knew that I knew nothing about Hanoi, looking at the horizon and the rising sun through the clouds. I could tell the cold of the morning affected the rising city. Yet, the sun was so strong and looked like a winter fire ball. After managing a few bites here and there, I made my way back to my room to pack my bag with cameras and the adequate films for the day to come.
I then went to the reception and asked the receptionist about how to get to Ninh Binh for tomorrow’s trip and the map of Hanoi. She kindly assisted me with the requests. I had to buy the map of Hanoi but it wasn’t that expensive.
I said to her that I wanted to go a specific area of town. The hotel was located on the border of the Old Quarter taking roughly 10 minutes walk to get there. I pointed out the area and she said: “Oh I went to that mosque before”. “How could she know?” was my initial response, I was taken aback by this, to say the least. I asked how to get there and she explained the quickest way to it and also circled the good spots of the city on my newly bought map. Happy, I thanked her and started my way into the urban jungle of Hanoi. Yesterday I had broken the lower zip of my Eastpak bag, I may have forgotten to mention it, the receptionist assisted me with trying to find somewhere to fix it.
The Old Quarter is an odd place. Each street has a theme in the trade they are selling, so you will tend to see several of the same shops on one street.
I left the hotel and was already so scared to cross. I literally was on my own. In the end after much hesitation in crossing I finally found courage to do it and I began to understand the technique behind. If you find yourself in Hanoi, if you cross the street, do go at a steady pace, people on the motorbikes will be dodging you but you must NOT stop at all, carry on until you finish crossing and beware of the buses, the buses won’t stop nor will see you.
I walked from Cosiana Hotel to Ha Trung. Ha Trung is where you can find all types of shops regarding sewing, cuttings, knitting, replacing the leather seat of your Vespa etc….
I crossed the street and followed the way to Pho Hang Ga and was pleased to have found the Ha Trung street. I stopped at a corner couturier and asked if she could fix my Eastpak bag. It was then 10:40am and she said to come back in two hours. I couldn’t speak any Vietnamese. I communicated with her via sign language supported by words in english.
I took advantage of the situation to change my itinerary and made my way to the Mosque. I knew it wasn’t far but it wasn’t close neither.
I found and adventured into the ever-so-famous semi-used train tracks that Hanoi boasts so well. I spent a good 40 minutes taking pictures on the tracks and trying to absorb everything from this intense place. The train track was located on the doorstep of the people houses. It was surreal!
People had their kitchen just outside on their doorstep.
I saw a few photographers along the way standing on the tracks equally excited and blown away by such experience. I already had to change my roll. I put my XD-7 away for a moment and used my Olympus XA to capture some of the places.
I walked quite far and stopped at each junction to make sure I was on the right path using the map. The noise of the city was surreal and the constant beeping of the motorcycle became background noise the more I was walking. The weather got quite hot due the sun being at its Zenith.
I found a very cool looking cafe and entered. The lady spoke to me in excellent English (I was so surprised). I asked her if they did the Egg coffee that everyone talked about. It is a coffee that is made with egg (such an unusual blend of ingredients). She replied that they did not do it but knew of a famous cafe that did it. She wrote on a unused receipt the address and the name of the cafe. I thanked her and wished her a nice day. I was thrilled of the new addition to my list of things to do.
I couldn’t find the cafe so I made my way to find the mosque. After 45 minutes of intense walk in the heat, I finally found the mosque.
I entered and a brother guided me to the right entrance. There was no one in the mosque as it was only 11:50am. The lovely scent of the beautiful carpet gently hit my nose. I took notes of the prayer times for future reference later on the day. I spent time by myself to recuperate from the long walk and enjoyed reading Qur’an for a while.
After almost an hour, I felt that it was time to leave and go back to Ha Trung to pick up my bag. It took me (no lie) only 15 minutes to reach the shop. My memory didn’t fail me and my strong determination made it easy.
I really wanted to try the Olympus XA’s focusing mechanism with this shot. I am so impressed.
I arrived at the shop and I asked the lady if she had finished, she answered yes. She finished some of the touches on it and I was done with it. I paid her, thanked her and I left to go back to the restaurant to have my lunch. I ordered Chicken and Rice. This meal was incredible.
After finishing the food I went to pray and slept a little until afternoon so I could replenish on energy to get back to the mosque for Maghrib (17:11).
I got ready and left at 16:30 just in case I would get lost again. The weather got darker quite quickly. I knew that Maghrib was approaching but it was such a dramatic change. I sped up the pace so I could get there on time.
I absolutely fell in love with these little houses and the plants were gigantic.
I wanted to walk back onto the tracks once again to enjoy the experience one more time.
The sun was setting quite quick but this did not decrease the traffic nor the amount of people.
I managed to get to the mosque at 16:57 so just a good 10 minutes before salah. I waited and waited and only one brother came to pray. He prayed and spoke to a sister that wanted to pray as well and then left. I was a bit surprised that no one had turned up so I got up and just as I was about to being my prayer, I heard the door of the mosque open and turned round. Another brother entered the mosque making its way to the main hall. I went to him and asked him if he knew about the congregational prayer and asked him how come no one was there. He replied that he didn’t know as he was new in town. I asked him and his friend who just turned up too where they were from and they said from France, Paris. I was overjoyed to hear that. We began speaking French. We spoke for a while but realised no one was coming again so I suggested that we should pray otherwise we would miss the salah. We prayed and sat chatting about life, dunya, France, London etc…until time for Ishaa came. I was so happy. I asked their name and they told me Hamza and Elias.
They suggested that we could go and eat after Ishaa. I actually had in mind to go back to D’Lions to eat but it wasn’t too hard to choose their company over the restaurant. We completed Ishaa and left for the restaurant adjacent to the mosque. Hamza and Elias led the way. We were laughing a lot and trying to realise that we were so far from Europe سبحان الله.
We finished our delicious meal and set off to a night trek through the city. I was really happy that الله عز وجل joined our paths 10000 km away from home in the middle of such an insanely big city and allowed us to meet.
We walked back to their hostel which was two minutes away as Elias wanted to change into something more comfortable. I waited in the K-Mart with Hamza. We bought more water as we were all dehydrated.
Elias fancied some Dunkin’ Donuts badly and the idea of it kinda grew the more we were walking towards the centre of town. We then reached one of the busiest junction of Hanoi when suddenly both crossed the street without prior consultation with me (haha) and joined the madness of traffic, leaving me behind because I was too slow. We laughed.
We ate the donuts and enjoyed the beautiful conversations about Islam. Hamza wanted to go for a lovely night walk around the Lake Hoan Kiem so Elias and I followed. I started feeling thirsty again (I couldn’t believe how much water I was consuming daily) and stopped into K-Mart (again) to get water but opted for a nice Lychee juice and introduced Red beans Mochi to Hamza and Elias around the French architecture district. It was Elias and Hamza’s first time trying those. They absolutely loved it, I was so pleased that they did.
It was time to go home and I was beginning to feel tired. Hamza and Elias had to leave as they had a flight the next day to Indonesia. I told them that I would still be in Hanoi in the morning as I had to travel to Ninh Binh but their flight was so early that we decided to not bother.
We exchanged numbers on the doorstep of their hostel and said our salaam. It was quite an emotional moment. I felt like we knew each other forever.
It was now 11:47pm and I was walking by myself in Hanoi. Avoiding the dogs at night and dodgy streets. At one point a guy on a motorbike did a three point turn and made his way towards me. He came by the side of the street alongside me and showed me his phone. I couldn’t see properly but it looked like he showed the picture of a naked lady and said to me: “do you want to see nice ladies?”. I walked away disgusted as I understood that it was a prostitution thing.
I managed to reach home safely making dua. I hit the shower because of the intense heat. Then wrote my diary until 2pm.
End of the day!