We had another couple of days in Hanoi before heading to the Vietnamese Highlands of Sapa. In these two days we had to try and obtain our Chinese Visa that we had applied for a couple of days earlier.
Again, we arrived first thing in the morning and wandered in. Thankfully our visa was approved, we just had to go to the Chinese Bank to pay the fee directly into their account. It was a 45 minute walk each way so we decided to jump on the waiting motorbikes to drive us there and back. Originally, we were both going to squeeze on, but the drivers demanded two bikes for two people, so Sarah stayed behind and I jumped on the back.
It was great fun zigging and zagging in and out of all the traffic, and before I knew it I was at the bank, had paid and was on the back of the motorbike again. Going to the bank was fun, but heading home was another matter. It started with my driver not wanting to wait for a red light, so went the wrong way through an eight lane intersection at full speed before turning against another flow of traffic from the other direction. What we had mentioned in a previous post about Vietnames sidewalks being overrun with people and parked bikes plus anything else, it did not matter to my driver, as he decided to add to chaos but riding down it. I tucked my knees in to avoid children, ducked under a ladder and narrowly avoided a pot of bubbling pho tipping over my leg. But in the end I made it, and we had our chinese visa.
That afternoon we had booked into a cooking class at Hanoi Cooking School. It had quite good reviews and is now owned by Gordon Ramsay, so we were really looking forward to it. We met the other participant, Dana, and headed out for a walk around the market. As we wandered through, our extra excited guide told us about the different products and what they use them for. We had been to quite a few markets at this stage but there is always something new to see. As we headed to the back of the market we could hear a consistant popping noise. As we turned the corner we saw a lady in the process of swinging toads over head and down onto a concrete plinth. The noise was horrible. We moved on.
One dish that we had fallen in love with Vietnam is Pho, and our lesson began with tasting Pho Bo, the beef version. Unfortunately, there was not the time to make it, but it has to be said, the Pho at Hanoi Cooking School is by far the tastiest Pho we had and probably ever would have. Thankfully we got the recipe, and we cannot wait to get home to try it.
The lesson was good and we learnt a lot of new techniques watching the knife skills of our teacher, but the rest of the food was not great at all. We looked forward to the vietnamese crab cakes, but it tasted of two day old fish. Thankfully, we could wash them down with a couple of their complimetry beers. Overall, I would still say the lesson was worth doing, if not for the tasting of Pho.
The other reason to do the lesson, particularly in December, is the cooking class was teaching some local ladies how to make christmas treats. This obviously made Sarah happy, as the ladies gave us all some mince pies, reminding her of christmas at home.
We finished the lesson, raced back to hotel to grab our bags and jumped on the overnight train up to Sapa.