With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

New Shoes & Obama Combos

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 30, 2017

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mark loses his smartphone, then turns to drinking.

Back in Hanoi

Mark and I got back to Hanoi Wednesday evening. We returned to our hostel and asked about Mark’s smartphone at the reception. Mark described the phone and explained when and where he left it behind. But, there were no smartphones in the lost-and-found. The receptionist promised to check the CCTV and get back to us. We figured that was the end of that; no more smartphone.

I Need New Shoes

Thursday was our last day in Hanoi. My Merrells were soon becoming more holes than shoes. I was amazed at how quickly they were falling apart. Just one week ago, in Japan, they were perfectly good shoes. But now I found myself constantly running away from touts trying to repair my shoes on the street. If I stood anywhere for too long, someone with a shoe repair kit in hand would be bent over my feet squeezing a tube of glue and saying, “Fix, Madam? Quick fix!”

Online, I found a normal mall in Hanoi without stores like Versace or Prada. The Vincom Center was a 30 minute walk from the hostel and near a restaurant Mark wanted to try out.

We left the hostel early that morning and as we pass the reception, the guy at the desk apologized for not finding the phone after checking the CCTV. We assured him that it was, in no way, his fault. We hoped, but only somewhat expected, to be reunited with the smartphone again. We thought about buying a new smartphone at the mall if we found a cheap one.

On the walk to the mall I saw a fresh new hole forming on one of my shoes. I told Mark, “I might not make it to the mall. Go on without me.”  But I did make it to the mall with some semblance of foot covers left.

In the mall, I found a Sketchers and looked through the shoes they had on display. I was in luck; they were having a sale. I picked out a few pairs I liked. There were many suitable athletic-casual shoes to choose from.

“Do you have these in 42?” I asked the clerk.

“No, the biggest size we have is 35,” she replied.

“What about these?”

“The biggest size is 32.”

“And these?”


I went into an Adidas store, a Nike store, and several other stores and they all said the same thing. There weren’t any women’s shoes in my size. My only options were the Converse and Vans stores, mainly because their shoes are unisex. But I didn’t want any of those; I wanted comfortable shoes that didn’t need to be broken in.

I walked past a store with several brands of athletic shoes. The manikin wore a lovely pair of retro New Balance that were brightly colored. Mark says that I like ugly shoes, which I guess I do. But, they have to be the right kind of ugly. These were the right kind.

I went in and asked if they had the manikin’s shoes in a 42. They didn’t. Their largest size was a 39. That was the largest women’s shoe size I had heard all day. I asked if they had any women’s shoes in a 42. They did; flip-flops.

I sat next to the shoes I wanted. They were on sale at 50% off and they came in 3 different colors. Mark picked up a pair of men’s shoes and walked over to me. He looked at the shoes closely. “What’s the big difference between men and women’s shoes anyway?”

I huffed. “Seriously Mark, you know nothing!” I tried to explain to him, the pedestrialy uncultured, all the integral differences between men’s and women’s shoes. “Men’s shoes are wider for one. For example, find a pair of those shoes in a 42.” I pointed to the men’s version of the shoes I wanted. “I can get the right size, but they will feel too big, because they are wider,” I announced.

Mark found me a pair of blue ones. I took them from him. I sort of liked them, but thought, “too bad they are for men.” I put the shoes on and laced them up. I walked around in them for a bit. I wanted to proclaim, “See, they are too big,” but they fit.

“Well?” Mark stood there waiting for the verdict.

“I think… I guess that maybe… They fit.” I walked around in the shoes, disillusioned by gender specific shoes. “Has my whole life been a lie!? Could I have been buying men’s shoes this whole time?”

I picked up the smaller women’s left shoe. I looked at it and the corresponding men’s shoe. They were quite similar except in size and color. The men’s shoe was not vastly wider than the women’s, only proportionally so. “I’m buying the men’s shoes.”

They were on sale at 65% off. The women’s shoes, which started out at a higher price had a smaller percentage off. I gave the sales clerk 35USD in Vietnamese dong and took my men’s shoes. I then sat down somewhere, put on my new shoes, and placed my Merrells in the New Balance box. Then a few blocks away from the mall I placed the box on a trash can on the side of the road.

Obama and Bourdain

Mark is a fan of Anthony Bourdain’s shows. I am too. Mostly, I’m envious of Bourdain. He flies all around the world on someone else’s dime to eat food and then they pay him. He gets paid to travel and eat!

In one episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, he and President Obama go to a bun cha restaurant in Hanoi. This was where Mark took me.

We found the restaurant and went in, but there was no place to sit. It was crowded, but there were stairs. We took the stairs, but still there was no empty table. But, there were more stairs. We kept going up until we reached the last floor for dining. There, we finally found an available table.

This place only serves one main dish, bun cha, and two types of sides, seafood rolls and crab rolls. The menu is very sparse. But let me tell you a little secret. Most of the time, when a restaurant only serves one thing, it means they are really good at making that one thing. And, the ingredients are more likely to be fresher.

Waiting for the rolls to arrive

We ordered the Obama Combo with the seafood rolls. It was so meaty, so flavorful, so good! The bun cha tasted like barbecued soup. The fried rolls were great too, but the soup out shone them. I loved how vegetable heavy the meaty soup was. At some point in the meal I realized that I could not eat it all. I abandoned my roll to give more stomach space to the bun cha.

Got to stay cool in this heat.

After lunch we walked around the streets of Hanoi trying drinks and eating ice cream. We tried fancy ice cream at Fanny. They had many flavors, some we hadn’t heard of before. Then we tried ice cream sold on the street from a cart being pushed by a young man. His ice cream was green, but we couldn’t tell what flavor it was. Maybe, it was matcha?

In the evening we went to a water-puppet show. It is more interesting than it is entertaining. It’s all in Vietnamese, so I’m not sure of the details of the story. I saw this show 9 years ago the last time I was in Hanoi, and from what I can remember the story is the same.

The great thing about the water-puppet show is that it is indoors in an air-conditioned room. But there was one old lady who thought it was too cold. There was an empty seat next to Mark. I don’t know where she was before, but about 10 minutes into the show she plopped herself into the chair and demanded Mark’s attention.

Mark looked at her as she gesticulated wildly. She pointed to the cord hanging from the fan. Mark, feeling that the theater could do with some more cooling, told the lady that the fan was at its max setting. “I can’t make it go faster.”

The lady mimed that she was cold and continued to point to the nearest fan. She pulled on an invisible cord and pointed to Mark. Mar,k realizing what she really wanted, concluded that the woman must be mad. Not only did Mark not want to make the place warmer than it already was, he had no desire to mess with things he ought not to touch.

Mark turned his head away from the lady and pretended he could not see her. “Fine,” I imagined her saying to herself. “Can’t send a man to do a woman’s job.” She got up and walked over to the fan. She stretched her short arms up as far as they could go. She was too short.

To be fair, Mark would have been too short too. It was out of the reach for any human. I’m sure they did that on purpose so people would not keep yanking on it during the show. This little old lady was not the first of her kind.

“Whatever,” she probably muttered to herself. “There are plenty of tall foreigners around. She did not return to the seat next to Mark. She moved to an empty seat in the next row up.

By this time, I was completely ignoring the water-puppet show. This woman was far more entertaining. I kept peeking from around Mark’s shoulders to see what she would do next but not wanting to be seen.

She found a French guy. He was tall. She tapped him on the shoulder and gestured her delight of his height. He nodded a thank you, but clearly wanted her to sit quietly so he could enjoy the show. She tapped his shoulder again. “Wow, you’re tall!” she said with her eyes and out stretched arms.

He whispered something in French. “Yes, I know,” or maybe “I’m 193 meters.” She said something to him but he waved his hands at her cutting her off. Then he pointed to the puppets.

She pointed to the cord dangling from the nearby fan. The man thought she was pointing to the entrance to the theater that most of us walked through before the show started. He got up and went over to the door. Thinking that she couldn’t open it, he opened it for her. There was no difficulty in opening the door.

He looked at the woman. She got up from her seat and stood under the fan. She reached out to grab at the cord to demonstrate that she could not do it herself. He looked at her as if just noticing her insanity. He reached up to the cord. It was far beyond his reach. The woman squealed with delight and encouraged him to get him to try harder. He shooed her away with his hands and mumbled, “Leave me alone,” in French.

Not deterred in the slightest, the old woman moved another row up. There was another empty seat next to another tall guy. This one had seen what she was up to and actively ignored her. She tried waving at him and saying, “Hello, hello, hello.” But, he blocked her out.

She tried to move another row up, but there were no more empty seats. She went to a seat in the front row. I kept an eye out for her. Five minutes later she popped up again. She had the attention of a theater usher. She whispered her complaints in his ear and he nodded in agreement. “Oh no,” I wondered. “Is he actually going to turn off the fan like she wants.

The usher stepped out the door for a split second. He re-entered with a long pole. It had a hook at the end. With the hook placed into the loop at the end of the fan’s cord he gave the pole a sharp little tug. The old woman looked pleased. Then the man did the same thing for three other fans up the walkway.

The lady’s smile drained away when she noticed that the fans had not been turned off, but turned up. There was nothing she could do. The usher continued turning fans up and then left the theater. Mark and I laughed. This was exactly what Mark wanted. It was a little cooler.

After the show we had dinner and headed back to the hostel. We picked up our backpacks and waited for the receptionist to call us a cab to take us to the train station. As we waited, a staff member, came over to us. He was the receptionist from the night before who we had ask to check the lost-and- found for Mark’s phone.

“I want to apologize again,” he started. “Yesterday, I told you someone would check the CCTV to see what happened to your phone.”

“Yes, we know,” Mark told him. “Someone already told us the phone was never found. It’s okay.”

“Oh no,” he replied. “It’s not okay. You need your phone.”

“I do, but it’s alright. I’ll…” But Mark was cut off.

“Let me finish,” the staff member said. “We looked at the CCTV, but did not see your phone. But, I looked at the staff log and there it was.”

The guy told us that a new employee found Mark’s phone. But, he didn’t know where the lost-and- found box was. So he wrapped the phone in paper and wrote a message about it in his shift log. This is not how things are normally done, so no one knew what the paper-wrapped item in the desk drawer was. But when this clerk read the new employee log to check up on him, he knew that the thing wrapped in the paper and Mark’s phone were one in the same.

“Is this your phone?” the guy asked pulling Mark’s phone out of his pocket?

It was!

(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
    • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
    • Or you can apply for a visa online if you do not live near an embassy or consulate.
    • Remember if you enter Vietnam on a single entry visa then leave, you must wait 30 days before returning to Vietnam on another visa.





  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the bank in Vietnam. (DO NOT get money at the airport. You will never get a good rate. Use an ATM/bank.) Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
    • Also, asking the average Joe on the street for ABC hotel will do nothing. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so they don’t remember hotel names. But Mr. Joe will know where 123 Hanoi St. is.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
  • There are companies that charge 10USD to take you from Hanoi to the airport. They are all around Hanoi. Use one of those instead of jumping into a random cab.

Mark enjoying free Fresh Beer

Old Quarter View Hostel Hanoi

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 21.034730, 105.851142


  • 42 Hàng Giầy, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam


  • +84 94 321 65 89



  • booking@oldquartviewhanoihostel.com


  • 5-9 USD / night


  • Check in – 13:00
  • Check out – 11:00


  • Free Breakfast
  • free “fresh beer” from 18:00 to 18:30.
  • Towels & sheet are provided and changed everyday.
  • I recommend ordering an airport pick-up through the hostel.

The Vincom Center

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 21.010995, 105.849888


  • 191 Bà Triệu, Lê Đại Hành, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội


  • 04 3974 1919



  • 9:30AM–10PM


  • This is a normal mall in Hanoi.
  • There is a really nice game center here.

Bún Chả Hương Liên

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 21.018043, 105.853976


  • 24 Lê Văn Hưu, Phạm Đình Hồ, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội


  • 008443.9434106
  • 0084904493322
  • 0084966962683




  • 10:00AM – 7:00PM


  • From my experience

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
(Múa rối nước)

How to get there:

  • 21°01’54.3″N 105°51’12.9″E

It is very near Hoan Kiem Lake. Ask anyone in the area and they will be able to point you in the right direction.


57b Dinh Tien Hoang Str., Hanoi – Vietnam


  • 84 4 38249494
  •          38255450
  • 84 4 39364335
  •           39364334



  • 60.000 – 100.000 VND (3-5USD)


  • Shows last for about 50 minutes.
  • 5 available shows a day weekly:
    • 15:00,
    • 16:10,
    • 17:20,
    • 18:30,
    • 20:00


  • It’s has air conditioning.



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