A little break from our adventuring to do a little bit on our life in Hanoi.
Our days run pretty much similarly in that, after our first coffee, we go (OK most days it’s just Ivan that goes) off to the gym – as mentioned, earlier our apartment block has a gym on the roof. It is no Virgin Active gym, but has the necessary for us to workout. We then have a nice healthy brekkie – muesli followed by health toast with marmite (at the moment, Bovril).
With the heat here (and, at the moment, the rain) we tend to get the housework done etc and head out later in the day. We often end up at a Bia Hoi or coffee shop before heading back home.
We don’t often eat out and I cook most nights as the kids work day and evening jobs so I try and have a meal ready for them to eat between jobs, otherwise they eat at 9:30pm. I do tend to cook western food – and before I get shouted down – this is the food we would eat at home. When we go out at lunch time we sometimes eat at the local Bia Hoi’s (direct translation is “Fresh Beer”) and eat local Vietnamese food. If we were on a short holiday we would pretty much exclusively eat Vietnamese but seeing as we are living here, we eat as we would at home.
Shopping can be challenging in that there are so many places to buy food (as in ingredients). Due to the sheer number of westerners living in Tay Ho (the area we live in) , there are more “expat” shops opening every week. General groceries will generally be cheaper at the main supermarket chains (Fivi is a bigger supermarket but the VinMart and Circle K – although small shops – almost t-room are also large chains). We are starting to find our favourite expat shops for certain items e.g. pasta is definitely cheapest at the Mini Market on To Ngoc Van, I have found Lipton Tea at the little 365 Mini Mart close to home for 20 000 VND (for 25 bags) cheaper than the main supermarket. There is an abundance of bakeries (proper French Patisseries) due to the French involvement in the area and we are spoilt for choice when it comes to baked good but again the Fivi store is a good bet for baguettes although if we want rye or wholewheat baguettes we will pop in to one of the bakeries – our favourites being St Honore, Le Salsa and Oasis which is not strictly a bakery is a great little shop that stocks all kinds of home comforts – including Marmite – I never thought I would pay over R50 for a small jar of Marmite!
On the up side some things are really cheap in comparison to home – Nescafe, Milo, Ovaltine – all around 60 000 VND a jar (for my South African mates – R40-ish). But shampoos etc are really expensive. We are trying to build up a bit of a list so we can plan shopping to get the best prices at the various shops – the joys of being retired and able to cycle around to find deals.
We have also done some serious investigation of where to find the cheapest beers – of course. Generally, a 450ml Bia Han Noi will cost between 15 000 VND and 20 000 VND at a sidewalk pub and a draught Bia Hoi beer will be between 5 000 VND and 8 000 VND.
I learnt early on that when buying dairy you need to always check if it is sweetened or not – even the milk comes in a sweetened form – bearing in mind that most coffee with milk in, in Vietnam, is sweetened (cà phê sự đa– is iced coffee with milk and sugar and is normally made with condensed milk providing the milk and sugar component). The unsweetened (Không đường) version is normally in a container with blue writing and the sweetened version (có đường) normally has green writing – this applies to most dairy. Interestingly the milk does not come in a 1 litre container but rather anything from 750ml to 900 ml and a few in between so you need to watch for that when comparing prices. Another shocker is the price of margarine (Flora – 75 000 VND for a 250g tub) but on the other hand I have found a really nice butter (yes there are some really bad butters as well) that only costs 30 000 VND for 200g. I must admit I have still not been to the fresh veggie market (literally 150m from home) and I am sure that will make a difference in our eating patterns if only that we eat more fresh veg – not that we aren’t already eating healthily. I plan on doing a post on the food and flower market at a later date.
Another little thing that Candice pointed out to me is to look out for the term “whitening” on deodorants and creams – the Vietnamese believe that the lighter your skin the better and you will almost always see the women covered from head to toe when out and about during the day.
Vietnamese classes are going really well and I am amazed at how much Vietnamese I am now recognising – they say “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” never more so than when you try and be smart by asking prices and starting negotiations in Vietnamese and then the seller proceeds to rattle of long sentences and you are lost!!!!! Very amusing though.
I have to admit, the best thing we did was bring our bicycles with us – they have been a blessing. But I am now a huge fan of Uber Moto (motorbike version) when I need to travel further than a bicycle ride away and on my own, in this traffic it is much easier than a car.
Another great thing here is the free delivery services – you can get anything delivered from meals – from virtually every restaurant in Hanoi – to medicines and booze – you can order everything online and get it delivered. We ordered 2 weeks worth of fresh meat and it were delivered within 3 hours!) Lazada is my new favourite website – similar to Amazon but Asian. I have discovered that you can even go shopping at Metro (cash and carry) and after you pay you can take you shopping to the delivery desk and they will deliver it home within a couple of hours – I imagine that is due to the fact that most people only have motorbikes and therefore they can’t transport a lot of groceries. It was really difficult to find a bread knife !! Searched for ages and eventually bought a small serrated knife.
I have got used to cooking with chopsticks and only having a tiny work top oven – but these are small sacrifices and I can still turn out a pretty decent meal.
All told life in Hanoi is amazing and we are loving every minute of it.
I will post about our recent trip to Halong soon – just wanted to fill you in on our life in Hanoi. Have a great week.