As with travel, hiccups can occur, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing all the time. It was our second full day in Vietnam when we found ourselves starting to wonder if our tour was going to come pick us up in our hotel lobby. Both of us were excited to go on this particular tour; it was a chance for us to leave Hanoi and learn about making rice paper, a staple in many Vietnamese recipes (especially in one of my favorite dishes: spring rolls!). Finally (and luckily), a consultant for the travel company (Viet Dan Travel–Travel More Asia) arrived and explained the mix up. She was very apologetic, but told us our tour would go on once the driver came. Duong now worked in the office of the tour company, but was once a guide, and so she would guide our half-day tour. The drive to the small town of Tho Ha was just about an hour outside of Hanoi; it probably wasn’t even that long. It was nice to get out of the hubbub of Hanoi and see some of the other towns. The farther out of the city we went, the streets weren’t as filled with motorbikes or cars. Soon, we got out of the car and proceeded to follow Duong down a small hill to a ferry. I wasn’t sure how old the vessel was or if it would even hold up, but other people (who were staring at us…okay, me) were trusting it to get them across the small river so I figured I would do the same.
Two minutes later, we got off the ferry (not before a couple of men on a passing boat whistled and yelled at me) and walked along the small path leading through the center of the village. Duong told us we had to first walk through the villages gates to be welcomed into the village properly. Next, we took a right and then left, passing rows of machine made rice paper drying on straw grids, before reaching the traditional Vietnamese home of a couple who would shower us with warm hospitality.
Our enthusiastic hostess welcomed us into her courtyard. In the corner was a stove of some sort, with a pedal and pulley system hooked up to it. Sunia and I watched intently as the woman demonstrated the method she uses to make her rice paper. She uses the pedal to lift the lid, takes a ladle of rice milk (I think it was rice milk), spoons the liquid on the bottom of an upside pot that is on top of the concrete stove, lowers the lid by lifting her foot, and counts to 10. At 10, she lifts the lid—pushing the pedal—and takes a wooden roller to catch the edge of the congealed circle of rice milk. She then lays it on a straw screen to dry. After one more demonstration, our guide took a turn to try her hand at it. She did well! Next up was me! I was excited to try this. There is something to be said of an old tradition, especially in an era where machine produced items reign.
I felt like it was my chance to take part in a traditional custom of Vietnam. I sat down on the tiny stool and followed the steps. The woman was very encouraging. And I have to say, if teaching doesn’t work out, I may have a future in making rice paper. Sunia took a turn before we were ushered into the woman’s home where we met her husband.
The moment we sat down, we were offered a shot of some rice wine. We all downed our shots and then we were offered tea as the husband grabbed some traditional string instruments (they looked like a banjo and small guitar). He played and sang for us. He had Sunia tap a beat with a wooden frog with a thick dowel. I simply watched because I have no rhythm and didn’t want to ruin this moment. Soon, Sunia graduated to the banjo looking thing and I was allowed to try keeping the beat. I am happy to report that I did NOT ruin their musical interlude.
But like all things, our time with the Tho Ha rice making couple came to an end and Duong took us back to the ferry so we could meet our car and make our way back to the city. Along the way, Duong asked if we would be interested in a complimentary food tour to help make up for the snafu earlier in the morning. It was a gracious offer and we decided to take the company up on it, even though everything had worked out.
Around 6pm, Emilie, a manager with the tour company, met us in the lobby. She informed us that we had three stops on the tour, the first being a popular place with the locals for pho. We followed her through the streets and traffic. The three of us sat down, and Emilie ordered our pho. I’m telling you, I was never a fan of pho thanks to the one restaurant I went to in Shenzhen, but I was quickly becoming one during this vacation. It was great. Instead of chicken, this pho had beef and was just as flavorful. Our next stop was for a tasty treat! It was like a frozen fruit cream (sorry, foodies, I know I suck at remembering some details!). Mine was watermelon and delicious. The night was warm in Hanoi and this certainly helped cool us off. As we ate, we sat on low plastic stools in a dark alley, watching people go by. It was a nice serene moment, even if it was in the center of Hanoi’s pulse, or Old Quarter. And our final stop on the tour was one Sunia and I had been to before. It was the place that served egg coffee! Knowing our way up to the seating area on the second floor, we climbed the stairs and sat at the low table once again. I asked Emilie if I could perhaps try the egg with chocolate this time and she said that would be fine. I am telling you, if there is one thing I must insist anyone try in Hanoi, it would be the egg with chocolate. It is one of my most favorite things I have ever tasted during any of my travels. I hope I can replicate the taste of the egg cream one day. It was creamy, and frothy, and so so smooth. Clearly seeing how much I was enjoying the warm goodiness of the egg with chocolate, Emilie asked if I wanted to try it with green bean. Now, I know what you are thinking: green beans? Yes, green beans. I was skeptical at first, too. But on both days, Sunia and I had been offered sweets made from green beans so I knew they had potential. So, I agreed to try the egg with green beans drink. And it was okay. Not as good as the egg with chocolate (again, it is a must—I mean, seriously, it was like a liquid Cadbury egg), but still sweet and creamy. Once we were done with this last treat, Emilie walked us back to our hotel.
I would personally like to thank the hospitality of the tour company, Viet Dan Travel—Travel More Asia. The services they provided, plus the warmth, were wonderful. I would not hesitate at all contacting them for tour services if I ever find myself in Hanoi or northern Vietnam again. And so for a day that started out with a few bumps, it certainly ended on a sweet note.