A Travellerspoint blog

honk honk goes the motorbike


sunny 31 °C

i should begin by saying that i was in hanoi during this trip 3 seperate times and this is just a blog explaining in general my time in hanoi, so there may be some chronological gaps from when i went to halong bay and sapa. so some of these things happened over a week ago, such as anything having to do with alison as shes currently setting fires to the kitchens in australia.

kelly (a lassie from england), alison and i set out one morning in search of the prison museum. we managed to navigate the crazy streets of hanoi fairly well considering they intertwine often and there is a moto bike almost running you over everytime you step off the sidewalk. the Hoa Lo prison was created in the 1800's by the french colonists and used on the vietnamese. later this was used as a POW camp during the vietnam-american war. the propanganda on how well the americans were treated here was a bit much as photographs showed prisoners amiling and laughing with gaurds, decorating christmas trees, cooking supper together and having basketball tournoments with smiles so big one might think your face would freeze that way. interesting how every country during the time of war wants to be viewed as ruthless and full of terror and then after the war they change their tune to wanting to be seen as very humane and gental. every country does this and this was just another example.

from here we headed out to the temple of literature, the first university in vietnam. it was EXTREMELY hot this day and its a bit of a walk so by the time we got here we were drenched in sweat! but the gardens were beautiful and had lots of interesting vietnamese architecture and symbolism represented throughout. we learned that during the time of this universities reign the king himself would test each student by interviewing them and decide personally whether they passed or failed, talk about pressure! we sorted out bus tickets to come pick us up to go to sapa, and then the lady who does our laundry took off and were were left without clothes and forced to abandon our sapa plans together, after a struggle the hostel finally took responsibility for this and paid for our bus tickets. this made it so alison couldtn go to sapa so i waited around with her for a few days before heading there myself.

on alisons and mines last day together we decided to celebrate our trip and mourn our parting of ways, her visa had expired and she was headed to bangkok to catch a flight to australia to begin her next adventure and i was headed to sapa to enjoy some reprieve of the laid back north. we went for pizza and beer at a decent pizzeria and finished it off with a banana split and reminisced about our travels before heading back to the hostel and watching coneheads. now, saying goodbye is just not fun but if you have to do it i think we nailed it! at 430 she walked me to a moto taxi and i cruised off into the sunset in search of my night bus.

(went to sapa and returned from sapa)

i got off the night bus from sapa to hanoi at 530 in the morning and took a cab to my hostel, i had been up since 230 because of the constant honking of the drivers and was looking forward to sleep, but i wasnt able to check in until 9 so by then i was wide awake. i met up with a girl named suzy from america and we went out to explore the town and do some last min shopping for gifts and souvineers. soaking in the ambiance of the street culture. as always there was the constant honking of horns as moto bikes weaved through traffic, often collidng causing an accident where they stand up yell at each other for a while then hop back onto their bikes and take off. we passed by many street barbers who literally have a chair on the sidewalk a small mirror and people can come and sit and get their hair cut, never manged to get a picture of this but its quite neat to see. ladies chased us up and down the street yelling "madam, you buy from me!!" trying to sell mostly timbit style baked goods. we ate some traditional food, however the stench of the sewage that downtown smells like kind of kills your appetite but we manged to get our hands on some spring rolls anways.

the next day suzi and i went off in search of the dong xuan market, a massive 3 story structure full of most things you could imagine. it was a ful place to test out our bargining skills and escape the heat, however not the crowd. this market had less tourists then many and was full of a wide variety i got a set of probably 8 chopsticks for $2, and a white porcelin tea pot with blue painting on it that the locals often drink from for $5. starting to get hungry we followed our noses out to the food vendor street and settled down with the locals to eat what they translated into "noodle and something". it was like a noodle soup with various types of green lettuce, stewed tomatos and tofu in it. it was ok but hard to explain vegetarian so i had to eat around the peices of mystery meat floating around. we went to explore the east side of the lake as neither of us had muched went into this area of town and filled up on delicious fresh fruit smoothies from the street vendors. after sending suzy off to the airport i met foster and his friend lyndee (i had initially met foster in sapa) for fresh beer on plastic chairs on the side of the street about forty cents a glass while we played cards before heading for one last good beer at a pub.

today is my last day in vietnam which makes me sad as ive really enjoyed it here but excited to move onto malaysia. i finished the last of my shopping walked around and organized all the boring travel stuff that isnt worth blogging about. probably will head down to the bar townstairs to take advantage of the free beer hour later today. oh vietnam, you will be missed.

Posted by karen_411 22:55 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

hellos and goodbyes

wonderful Sapa

all seasons in one day

alison walked me to a moto taxi in hanoi on may 24th were we parted ways and said goodbye for who knows how long. however, we had one last indulgence together before parting ways; watching coneheads, eating pizza, drinking beer and finishing it off with a banana split. if you have to say goodbye i think this is the way to do it. i climbed into my bed on the bus and prepared for the long windy 12 hour journey to sapa.

it was cold in sapa when i arrived and raining, so i hired my first female moto driver to take me to my hostel. she balanced my small backpack between her legs, and i held on at the back with my large backpack also holding onto the umbrella she gave me to hold over us as she drove, im sure it was a hilarious sight. i checked into a room and crashed, later i went to explore the town which reminds me a lot of banff. the cold mountainside mist had moved in blocking the spectacular view of the terraced rice paddy's below. every second store is full of gortex hiking gear, sticks, socks, shoes, northface jackets etc. i knew i was in for a real treat when i seen a service advertising a "steam room" and "shoe drying service" i was ready for the change into a cooler climate. i daresay i felt giddy when i could see my breath on the air! finally a break from the sweltering sun!

i headed up to the pool (as in snooker) room in our hostel and met foster from calgary, dan from the states and a gal named jaa from thailand. jaa was on a short holiday from school where she is a professor and is planning on openinga tourism business and was reseraching vietnam she was so welcomming and we all pitched in for ingredients for her to cook us pad thai!! when i looked at the pool table i seen a few 15 yr old hmong girls, a minority culture who live in the surrounding villages of sapa. the girls spoke incredible english and were dressed in traditional garb as they had been out guiding tourists on hikes. i noticed right away the influence of the western culture and the theme of globalization as the girls had underneith their traditional costumes guess t shirts and cell phones ringing every 2 mins. the girls turned out to be ruthless card and pool players beating us at every game we tried. the girls came back everynight i was in sapa and told us stories of their days and asked us about ours, not trying to sell us anything but just being good friends, welcoming us with hugs and dragging us outside when they thought they seen a falling star. when dan lost his wallet the girls helped translate to the police what happened and took him out for supper. out of all the people i have said hello and goodbye to on this trip they have been the hardest to leave, however we swapped facebook addreses.

my second day here foster jaa and i headed out to check out some of the minority villages. we planned to do this on our own without guides but were soon adopted by 2 hmong women (one with a 2 month old baby strapped to her back), who led us to their village of lao chai. its a good thing they adopted us as we got to take the backroads to the village that had much better views then the paved road. we walked down very muddy roads, in fact i fell not even one foot into the trail. along narrow passageways, down the slopy side of the mountains and balancing on the edges of the rice paddies. it took us about 2 hours of hiking to get to their village. we had originally intended to walk to the cloests village only 3 km's from sapa and soon found ourselves 17 km away....oops! we ate at a restraunt in the village and then the older guide za led us to her home to buy some handicrafts from her in lieu of paying for the hike. i bought a belt, foster a bag, and jaa an assortment of goods! they gave us bracelets in thanks and led us to the village of ta van to hire a moto bike for the road back.

the following day Dan and i rented a motorbike to explore the countryside. he drove and i rode behind. we drove about 25 kms south of sapa on shit roads then turned around and drove about the same distance north east towards lao cai. we stopped at many times to take pictures and soak in the ambiance of the sapa landscape and culture. it was an amazing day but i must say i was abit suprized to get my worst sunburn on the back of a bike in the coldest area of my entire trip. figures. we finished the day with our ushual shooting pool in the common room with the hmong girls who have adopted us.

on fosters last day we spent the day eating and lounging. moving from bar to restaraunt and thento the street vendors, as this is mostly catered towards people who eat meat my only option was purple potatos and roasted corn, it wasnt too bad. we played countless card games laughing and discussing life. when i got back to the hostel i was bombarded by the 54 hanoi university students that had checked in to learn about tourism. i think they were excited to ask me questions as i am a tourist and practice their english. it was a good way to meet some more local people.

yesterday i got up at 630 to catch a bus to Bac Ha market, 3 hours away. here the flower hmong tribe sells their goods, so it was interesting to see the differant garb of the tribe compared to the black hmong tribe. most the booths sell the same thing and so i opted for a bold of indigo dyed fabric (they grow and harvet and use indigo here which is pretty neat to see, and as a result their hands are often dyed blue as well). the market was absolutely insane, full of people and crowdedpeople pushing and shouting and tugging on your arm to buy things. the less hectic way to get here was via tour guide, ours happened to be quite entertaining. he talked a lot about his girlfriend whom he is saving up to buy a bufflo for to ask her to marry him as its traditionto do this instead of a ring. he made many buffalo jokes and we learned that to buy one worth giving as a dowery it costs around $700, so he is torn between this and a new motobike. he then sang us a song he made up about buffalo that was quite entertaining and went something like " i am buffalo, i am ring, i am motorbike, i am tractor, i am hamburger.."highlighting all the uses of the buffalo. he explained that during weddings vietnamese people drink happy water, go to party, sing kareokee, take pictures and sleep with each other. so i suppose tahts not real far off from canadian weddings. we stopped for a quick walk through the blackhmong village where we learned about plum wine (46%) and seen more indigo harvestsing. we also seen tofu bean plants that i had never seen before growing on the rice paddies so that was neat. i returned late in the day and had supper with the guys from spain who i share a room with and then star gazed and chatted with the hmong girls. how sad to say goodbye as i probaby wont see them again.

today i catch the night bus to hanoi, so i spent the morning browsing in the bookstore and then sitting in a coffee shop reading and indulging in french pasteries and vietnamese coffee. a nice way to end a fabulous trip in sapa, one of the highlights of my trip.

Posted by karen_411 23:54 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

second star to the right and straight on till morning

Halong Bay

sunny 25 °C

we were very pleasantly suprized when we arrived in halong bay and the boat in the picture from the tour guide we booked through matched the boat in front of us! we climbed aboard, 16 passengers in total and began our voyage through the knobby islands. we docked at an island where we did a 40 min stroll through a massive chamber cave. the cave was beautiful but unfortunatly lit up with technicolored lights and so we dubbed in 'disco cave'. we climbed back on the boat and went to a floating fishing village of 2000 people where we were loaded into small boats and taken through a small entrance into a giant open cave where we were able to go for a swim! we got back into our main boat and cruised into the sunset before dropping anchor and settling in for the night. our room was amazing and for a night i got to pretend i was a rich person on a cruise!

the next day we woke up early to watch the sunrise over the craggy cliffside. after a quick breakfast we were swapped onto another boat and were taken to cat ba island. we were shuttled to the national park and did a 120m incline hike up to the viewing tower. it was well worth the trek as the view from here was amazing. from here we checked into the sunflower hotel and most of the group went on an excursion to monkey island (which is exactly what it sounds like). kelly and i (an english gal i met in hanoi) opted out and instead hired motos to take us to hospital cave. it was a stunning 40 min drive through rice feilds, mountain sides, and ocean scenery, for the most part our drivers drove side by side using one hand to steer and one hand to talk on their cell phones.

we finally arrived at the caves and were told it couldnt be opened until more tourists came because they dont want to turn on the electricity for 2 people. to kellly and i climbed up to the top to wait for more people to show up. no one did, and after half a hour he felt bad for us and did the tour anyways. we were led through sophisticated cement chambers that were used by patients, soldiers, and medical personel. over 200 people lived in this massive complex and throughout the war the americans never found it. on the first floor were rooms for living quarters, the second floor had a cement foundation and natural high cave ceiling, it was breathtaking to think people lived here for months at a time. there was a swimming pool on this floor for exercise and a movie room for entertainment as well as a training station to keep the soldiers on their toes. we looked up to the 3rd floor to where secret meetings used to be held but were not allowed to tour here. however we were shown a small pool on the first floor that was used as an emergency escape. people on the 3rd could jump into the water below to escape in a hurry if they ever needed to. after this kelly and i got a ride back to the hotel and wandered around cat ba town. we met a load of canadians for supper and then caught a beer with our new friends.

on our last day we took a bus through the rain to our boat and began the journey back to the mainland. we stopped at the fishing village and rented kayaks for about an hour (which also happened to be the only hour the rain stopped) and kayaked through the arch ways and caves, very surreal. we got back to the boat and landed on the port and went and had a drink with our guide while waiting for the bus to come take us back to hanoi. it was a great 3 days!

Posted by karen_411 21:54 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

tailor made life

Hoi an

sunny 28 °C

an expensive hovel of a hotel complete with mouse shit on the pillows and bed spread became home for the few days we spent in hoi an. the city is reminiscient of a crumbling french colony, all buildings tericotta in color with thick wood shudders. it is completely beautiful and feels a little out of place in asia. we went on a mad hunt for tailors as soon as we got here as custom made everything is what hoi an is famous worldwide for. and in a small block there could be up to 15 differant tailor shops so it was a bit overwhelming to say the least. so we decided before our quest began to have a 25 cent fresh beer and decide what we were exactly looking for. after a bit of shopping around we found a great shoe store and we all (alison, ashley and i) had a pair of leather boots made, ranging in price from $45-$73. in the tailor shop next door alison got a leather jacket and plaid shirt and i got a new shirt and shorts made. however, this tailor wasnt very friendly and didnt listen to our instructions so we didnt use them for any more of our tailored goods. instead we found a group of ladies who were much friendlier and cheeper. and we went to town on the tailored goods! so in total i spent $180 and got a pair of shorts, a dress, a tank top, a t shirt, a button up shirt 3 silk scarves, over the knee leather boots and gladiator sandals. however we were so shopped out and im sure when the 3 of us left the economy in hoi an collapsed.

to take a break from shopping we took a bus to the my son cham ruins. it was like a small more quaint angkor wat. not much is known about this society either as only a few words of the ancient language can be deciphered. the language however looks like some form of elvish and the ruins are very 'lord of the rings' style so i felt in heaven!! there was a tour guide from north america leading another tour group and we could hear him saying he loves comming here because where he is from we have no ancient history...i guess the native americans dont count?? it reminded us to take all tour guides with a grain of salt.

Posted by karen_411 21:36 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

mud - its not just for children

Nha Trang

sunny 25 °C

we made a quick pit stop for the night in nha trang where we met up with ashley again (a northbattleford girl we met at angkor wat). we hired a moto to take us to the Thap Ba Hot Springs. and for $5 we were treated like royalty for the next 4 glorious hours! first off we were led to a pool which they filled up with sulfuric smelling mud in front of us. we slothed around in this mud for a good 40 mins covering ourselves completely! the mineral mud is supposed to be great for your hair and skin and id have to say my hair and skin have never felt better since. from here we were directed to what i like to call "the car wash" a tunnel full of high pressure sprayers comming at us from all angles to wash all the mud off. then a 15 min soak in a mineral water pool where a man of around 70 informed us we all look like jane fonda after that mineral pool did its wonders, we returned the compiment saying he now looks like george clooney, all in good fun. next we went to the main swimming pool for a dip and sunbathe. we ordered lunch by the poolside and felt like we were rich people on a spa holiday! but all good things must come to an end and we headed back to the market to buy pearls and other backpacking essentials. and to top the day off we stopped at a grocery store that had DORITOS! so we bought a bag to share for the night bus to hanoi. mud baths, pearls and doritos....id say it was a pretty good day!

Posted by karen_411 21:27 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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