We left the hotel and walked down the alley to the main street to look for a cab. In Hanoi, even this was intense: relentless honking, the smell of sewerage and meat, constantly dodging people, proposals, animals and motorbikes. We found the main road and looked up and down, straining to spot a cab among the thousands of bikes. One drove past, pulled over, then took off quickly. Bastard, I thought. Hanoi is one of those places where you never quite feel welcome. There’s a strange undercurrent of animosity, undoubtedly festering since the war. Arrogant tourists don’t help much either, but that’s another story.
Another cab pulled over, and we were greeted by a smiling Vietnamese woman, who would have been rather attractive back in her day. ‘Where you wan go?’ she asked, with a raised eyebrow and an air of suspicion. We had decided to try and find one of the fishing lakes in the area. ‘Can cao!’ we said, as we showed her our fishing magazines and gestured. ‘Ah…ok’, she said slowly, before pulling out quickly into the stream of motos, causing young men with un-done helmets balanced on their heads to swerve violently. ‘MEE MEE’ went the horns, as we accelerated through the chaos.
We drove out of the ‘Old Quarter’, which was well-documented in the pirated Lonely Planet we had bought on the street for a few dollars. Cruising across the Red River, named after the huge sediment load it carries, we began to realise we were getting a long way from ‘tourist town’. Looking around us, we noticed more and more houses made of corrugated iron, clothes strung up on wire, chickens getting beheaded, boys welding motorbikes with no eye protection, disabled people with growths on their heads crossing roads, prostitutes slinking and smiling in alleys, snotty children washing clothes, mothers yelling and gesticulating, men sitting around, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.
A few kilometres past the bridge over the river and we pulled off into a dusty street, children and dogs scrambling to get off the road. Driving through a large, dilapidated concrete archway, we arrived at a large lake. On exiting the taxi, I wished that it would stay, just in case we needed to make a quick exit. It took off quickly, the woman grabbing the cash, which we thought was the right amount. Surrounding the lake were a series of small bungalows; each one a rickety bamboo structure perched precariously over the muddy waters. We sat down and waited.
Within a few minutes, an attractive Vietnamese girl arrived carrying two cane poles and a tray of beer. We gleefully accepted both, and thanked her using our limited Vietnamese, both smiling broadly, chests protruding, and wondering whether she might be interested in joining us.
There were some men on the other side of the lake, who appeared to be using what could be considered ‘coarse’ fishing gear. They had hooked up, and we witnessed the fight as we cracked our beers. Excitement ensued, and they had a few nervous moments with the net before snaring their fish; a healthy looking carp of around 5kgs. We clapped and gave them the thumbs up, to which they responded with a thumbs up, before settling down and considering our gear. They had given us the typical cane poles, fixed with old nylon and rusty-looking hooks. We had some small pieces of bacon, and threaded them on before lobbing the baits into the water.
I was getting frequent bites, but suspected it was tiny pickers. After a second beer, I decided to have a stroll and find the water closet, as they’re known in this part of the world. Meanwhile, Graham hooked up to a good fish. I heard him yell out: ‘Lee! I’m on!’, followed a few seconds later by ‘Fuck’. I quickly returned to our waterside bungalow, to see Graz holding the rod in one hand, line dangling off the end, and taking a long swig of beer with the other.
‘What happened?’, I asked, to which he hastily replied, ‘Broken off’. In hindsight, I don’t know how we were expected to land what were obviously big fish on cane poles and old line, but it didn’t really matter in the end. We had a few more beers, some small bites, and watched the blokes across the lake catch another few fish.
We decided to call a cab, whatever that meant, and went to wait near the concrete archways. We had bought a Vietnamese hacky-sack, and were kicking away, and two young lads joined in for the fun. We spent the next 20 minutes or so pretending we were Pele, trying to impress the agile teens with our skills. I think it worked…they were loving it, as were we.
Sweaty and feeling slightly tipsy, we jumped in the cab and made our way back over the river, past the corrugated iron homes and smiling, poverty-stricken humanity, back to our hotel in ‘Vietnam-meets-western-land’. I’m glad we made the effort to get ‘off the beaten track’. With fishing, it’s often as much about the journey as the destination.