16.07.2010 32 °C
We arrive in Hanoi at about 9am. After walking all over the airport car park (it is quite big) I convince Matt to get on the bus that costs a bit more but is comfy!! They said that they would take us all the way into the Old Quarter but it seemed that when they realized we were the only ones left on the bus that it really terminated outside a busy local café just outside the Old Quarter…….
Having no idea where we are we start talking to a cyclo driver who shows us where we are and offers to take us in. We load in. And I mean load. Matt and me, both our packs, plus our daypacks and it was so hot! I felt so bad for this guy. At the traffic lights he had to get off the bike and push it to get it going. You think someone would have introduced gears for cyclos awhile ago.
Getting off track – We had a very broken time in Hanoi due to the fact that our Sapa and Halong Bay trips both departed from there. We were only here one night at this stage so off we went in the hopes of finding a hotel. It was really hard. The hotels were expensive and apparently all full (When I looked on the internet later it would let me make online bookings for the ‘full’ hotels so maybe they just didn’t like the look of us). After walking into about 10 or 11 places we finally found a room that would do. We snapped it up and went out to look at the town.
Hanoi is an amazingly beautiful city but not a very friendly one. It has the lake and the tree lined avenues. The traffic doesn’t seem as bad as Ho Chi Minh and it has areas of the city dedicated to selling shoes!!!! – its all very pretty.
Now I have had some trouble buying clothes from stores in Aisa because everyone here is a size 6. I am not. Matt and I were walking down one of the clothes streets when I found a t-shirt shop that looked like they would fit me. I was excited (they were really cool tops) and started looking around. One of the sales girls looked at me and brushed me aside saying ‘Not for sale’ I looked at Matt.. ‘You cant be serious’ I stammer. The shop is packed with people. ‘Only one size and not for you’ she says as she is pushing us out the store. These things would fit me!!! I was gobsmacked. I didn’t know what to do. They had really just looked me up and down and decided that they didn’t want to sell to me. I was furious and a bit embarrassed as we continued down the street.
We had a pretty lazy afternoon, visited the lake and much to our shame went to the movies… Luckily our travel agent called us and let us know that our train to Sapa was early and they were picking us up 2 hours earlier than we had arranged. We made it back just in time and were whisked away to stand around in the incredible heat that Hanoi has to offer.
Finally the train arrives it is scheduled to leave at 7 and as everything in Asia runs behind schedule we pulled away at about 7:45. We had a 4 berth sleeper that we were sharing with a lovely Malaysian couple who we chatted with for a few hours before settling in to a deep sleep in the amazingly comfortable beds provided. We were jolted awake at 4am when the train stopped. I look outside the window. It is dark and raining.. We all head out to find our tour guides to take us the last hour up into the mountains. It is pouring and there are people everywhere trying to convince you that they only way to get there is with them. We battle our way through the crowd and finally find someone with our names on their list. They inform us that they will have to go and get the minibus and to meet them back here at 5:30. It is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Nothing is open, its raining and we have just woken up. Not the greatest thing to hear. We go for a walk and decide that it would be quite a pretty town when it was awake and dry and finally take refuge in a Pho shop that is amazingly open.
We get to the bus on time and still have to wait for another ¾ of an hour before we actually go anywhere. I am pretty determined to stay away for the drive so I can get my first glimpse of the stunning views that Sapa has to offer. So true to form I fall asleep immediately. I wake when we get to the hotel and are told that we were not allowed to check in for about 4 hours and that we should prepare for a half day hike leaving soon after breakfast. This all sounds terrible to me until I wake up a bit and then I am gunning to go. We go and meet our tour guide who is a lovely girl in her early 20’s. We start out from the hotel and immediately surrounded by a group of ethnic women ranging in age. They all seemed very interested in us (just so that they could sell to us later) and joined us for most of the walk. The views in Sapa are incredible. It is as every bit as beautiful as Phi Phi but in an entirely different way. We make our way down to the ‘Cat Cat’ village and they take us through their houses that don’t have plumbing, electric cooking or refrigeration but they all seemed to have a big tv with satellite dishes and a bunch of kids all watching the world cup. At least they have their priorities straight!
All the people in the town seemed to be friendly (Although some of the ethnic women had pretty strong sell tatics). The kids were gorgeous and shy which was refreshing after kids everywhere else and they had the most beautiful ethnic fabrics. Matt had to really put his foot down when it come to how much we bought. We ended the downhill section of the walk with a stop at a waterfall. It was gorgeous. The settings of these villages are just perfect. I cant even explain it. We were in Sapa for 3 days and I spent all of in absolute amazement.
We made it back to the hotel and had a nap before heading out into the town. It is the perfect alpine village (that never gets any snow). They have the most beautiful lake in which you can hire a swan pedal boat.
We were pretty tired and went back to the hotel for dinner. The food was incredible. Every meal that we were given was enough to feed 4 people.
After an early night we were up at the crack of dawn to get a head start on our day. We were going on a easy 10km hike down to one of villages in a valley. We met our group outside and off we went. I soon regretted losing my umbrella and forgetting to get some more sunscreen. The sun was fierce but the scenery yet again beautiful. We stopped at a rest place for a cold drink and ran into Taylor (The guy that we did our motorbike tour with). After a quick chat and drink we were out in the sunshine again. I really cant explain how pretty this place is. You can sit on a hill for hours and just look. We were picked up at the bottom of the hill by a minibus and taken back into town.
We were back at the hotel early enough to get cleaned up and head out to the ‘Love Market’. It is an old traditional market in which young men and women from villages all around come together to find a partner. It is quite a bit touristy but it still has a festive feel to it. You have people from lots of tribes there selling things made in ethnic fabrics and styles. You also have the usual market merchandise. We walked around for a while and bought the most gorgeous scarf. They had a stage set up and a man in a tux singing in a ethnic dialect. After he was done there was some young girls go on stage and do a traditional dance that involved umbrellas. I was a perfect night in the mountain air.
Day 3. We decided to forgo the days tour and explore the town a bit more. After a lazy breakfast we went out in search of the perfect dessert (It is the first time that Matt has ever been interested in desserts and cakes and I am making the most of it). We spent the day eating and wandering the town. Matt had a bit of bother in the afternoon after trying to find a pool table and a beer. Oh I have forgotten to mention that Matt likes beer with ice in it!!!!! He has said that he is going to deny it but ITS TRUE!!!!!!
Then once again we are back on the bus heading down the mountains to the train station. As soon as we arrive we are told that we are catching a different train to everyone else and yet again it is early. They rush us over to the booking desk and we make the train just in time. This time we were sharing with a couple of Vietnamese blokes who thought it amusing to talk amongst themselves while we stood there with all our luggage asking if they wanted us to take the 2 top bunks (they were on my bed) and then when I dumped everything on the top bunk they finally got up and showed me their ticket… I gave them an exasperated look and they backed off. I think they could tell that I wasn’t moving. Oh and also when it go dark enough to sleep they didn’t so much talk as yell. And when one of them got on the phone, well you would think he was talking to his deaf grandmother.
After finally getting to sleep we were woken up by a bang on our door at 3:30 am saying that we were here now. As we got off the train there were taxi drivers in our face wanting to take us places. We had nowhere to go. It was 3:30 in the morning.
We lug all of our stuff sleepily over to a Pho stand and have noodles and coffee with the locals. We sat there until the sun began to rise and then decided to move on. We asked the woman to pay and paid 15,000 dong for my coffee (this is ok) and then she demanded 100,000 for the 2 bowls of pho. Now this is something that normally costs between 15,000 and 30,000 for a bowl so you can imagine a grumpy irritated Matt in this situation. He starts arguing with her and then we notice 2 you Vietnamese girls laughing and giving Matt the thumbs up (the shop keeper is a bit of a troll. I don’t think the girls liked her either) behind the woman’s back. They clearly spoke English and understood what was going on. They motioned to us that they were only paying 20,000 dong each. Matt ended up giving her 50,000 and we walked away. She was not happy. It really annoys me – the fact that they get so bitter and upset when they don’t manage to rip you off incredibly.
We make it to our hotel at about 6am to find the doors not open quite yet so we take a walk down to the lake. This is the only busy part of the city! There were hundreds of people around. Playing badminton, running, stretching, doing the bum shake (There is no other name for it). We sat and watched. It was as if the whole city was out and about. I even saw a man in a wheelchair being pushed around the lake.
We finally convince the hotel to let us check in at 7am and head upstairs for a well deserved shower…