03.05.2017 - 09.05.2017 31 °C
Vietnam airlines was on time and we arrived in Hanoi at 2pm. We were met by our pre arranged transfer to our hotel.
It was quite a long drive to the Hanoi guesthouse on MaMay street in old town. We are on a narrow tree lined street and it is quite lovely. Our room is very large and clean. The first room we were shown did not have a window so we were moved to one that did have a small one. Not sure why we needed one really, we aren't going to open it or anything, it just seems weird not to have one.
The women were still cleaning our room and had some roses, one of which goes into a bowl in the room as decoration. Jane made a comment about leaving the roses for us as a joke, and they came back with 4 long stem roses in a jar of water for us. We find that the staff at all the hotels and restaurants are all so great.
Later on Jane went out for a street food tour which she said was okay but incredibly hot. I wandered around old town and made my way to the lake negotiating the traffic. We found that waiting for someone else to cross the road and then just walking beside them works best. At one time I hooked up with a mom and stroller. Just don't stop. It screws everyone up if you get all nervous and cautious
I needed to replace my camera battery charger and luckily found a camera shop and mission was accomplished for $10
I am so hot and thirsty I stopped at a small coffee shop for a cold drink and also ordered a salad which was delicious. A young couple beside me was heading for HoiAn so I told them about our hotel and gave them some tips. They had just come from nin binh so gave me some information and showed pictures of their trip which was great.
On the way back I stopped to buy another small suitcase for all my purchases. At the hotel I packed it up and the side of the suitcase ripped open. This morning when I packed up one of the new north face back packs the zippers broke off. So note to self. Don't buy knock offs, they are just cheap crap.
I went back to the luggage shop to exchange the suitcase and could not remember where I bought it. Of course I never got a receipt so could not check the address
Finally I found it. It was the opposite direction from the hotel. I changed to a different kind of bag , for more money of course, and fit everything inside. It just needs to survive the plane trip home.
I will leave it here at the hotel in Hanoi as we are back a forth between trips and I don't need dress shoes and silk jackets anytime soon
Day 10, Thursday , May 4 th
Our breakfast was lovely with fresh fruit and you could order something hot. Jane chose bacon and eggs and I decided upon French toast. I got eight pieces of white bread lightly egged and fried. Eight pieces! I didn't eat it all
A couple from Sydney Australia was sitting beside us and they come to Vietnam a lot so had great advice to share with us. He suggested we visit the woman's museum in Hanoi.
Jane wanted to find some prescription glasses so we set off walking in the direction of the street that had many optometrists on it. It seems streets specialize in goods for sale. One has all luggage, another food and this one glasses.
A cyclo driver saw us looking at our map and asked us where we were going and suggested he take us. We said we wanted to walk for a bit but perhaps later. We stopped a while later to check the map again and find that he is slowly following behind us. He came up again and said he would take us for free to the glasses stores so we hopped in. We knew we were going to hire him at some point anyhow as he spoke English.
We each found a pair of frames and then had Tran, our driver, take us to the woman's museum. It could not have been easy for him to cycle the two of us all the way there. We stopped at the lake for some pictures, he offered to take some shots of us, and then at another high end optometrist shop in the French quarter and I found a very nice pair of frames. It seems every time Jane wants to buy something I am the one who ends up spending the money!!!
Tran offered to come back for us in two hours after visiting the woman's museum which we agreed on. The museum was fantastic. Five floors, all small areas but packed with information.
Clothing and fashion from various tribes, marriage rituals and farming technique. But my favourite floor was how women were involved it the resistance army at various times through out history. Brave heroic woman had a huge part in the various wars. The American war was really interesting which surprised me. I now want to read up more on the war from the Vietnamese point of view.
Tran was there as arranged and we travelled back on the opposite side of the lake stopping at the red bridge for photos. You can rent costumes to have your picture taken on the bridge in them. We did not do that.
Am amazing lunch was enjoyed at Blue butterfly which was a couple of doors down from our hotel. Fine dining that seemed so decadent. Jane enjoyed spring rolls and two beer while I had an eggplant ginger dish and coconut water drink all for $14 USD for both. They also have a cooking school there as well. The food so far has been great
Our bus collected us from the hotel just before 7AM. It was too early for breakfast so the hotel packed us some food. Two pieces of white bread, jam and a banana
The bus negotiated these narrow little streets with no problem. We transferred to a bigger 28 seat luxury bus, the sapa express, and started our 5 1/2 hour journey north.
It was a very comfortable ride and the scenery got more and more pastoral with various shades of greens and yellow terracing on the large hills. The road to Sapa is new and in great condiction, but as we got closer it became more narrow and winding. Many switchbacks with large trucks busses and motorcycles coming towards us. Our driver would pass on blind corners and we decided to just not look. There are no guardrails and the drop off is miles to the bottom.
But we made it. As we pulled into the main square area we see women dressed in the ethnic dress and selling some of their handiwork. One spies Jane from out side the bus and does not take her eyes off her. She has found her lady! When we disembarked they she was waiting for Jane.
Hello, where are you from?
What is your name?
You are my friend? You buy from me.
"Not now, thank you"
How long you Stay in Sapa? Maybe later?
They never forget you. She finds us every time we come into the main square area over the next few days
Our bus driver said that our hotel, Sapa House Hotel, is just up the stairs. 3 minutes walking
We have our main rolling suitcases and really don't feel like dragging them up the stairs, which by the way are lined with women selling goods on both sides.
A taxi was parked near the bus and we asked him to drive us.
" it's just up the stairs"
Our ladies told him that we have these suitcases and need a cab, so he said okay. 30,000 dong ( 1.60). Oh yea.
It was not just up the stairs but up a big hill and around the corner too. Sapa is on the mountain, so everything is up or down a major hill. It was $1.60 well spent!
Our rooms is quite big and very nice. We have swans and hearts made from our towels on our bed
After a rest we walked into town and had a bite to eat and tried to figure out what we are going to do for the next couple of days
Sapa is not a pretty town, to me, there is a great deal of construction going on, lots of huge hotels coming in which wil change everything I am sure.
We had arranged , we thought, a trek to a couple of villages through the hills but apparently it wasn't going to happen. A discussion back and forth and all of a sudden we do have a trek and the car is here. Ok
The trek was led by a young Black H'mong woman of 29 years old. She had never been to school but taught herself English from the tourists which was amazing. Girls marry at around 14 or 15 in the villages and start having children at around 17. They don't have as many as they did before because there is not as much land to pass on anymore. Girls will live with the boys family's who are given land from the family. Girls don't get any land on their own
Women are grandmas before the age of 40
We were joined by a man of perhaps mid 50 years from Stuttgart Germany, a young woman from Frankfurt and another from Switzerland. We had a great time together and all got along very well.
The trek involved getting into a van and driving for maybe20 minutes, getting dropped off at the side of the road and then hiking through the mountains through small villages and rice paddies.
A half dozen black H'mong women were sitting at the side of the road and we realize that they are going to accompany us to their village in the hope we will buy from them when we get there.
Well naturally they stuck closely to Jane and I as we looked like women who will buy.
I threw my back out yesterday, doing nothing, and today it is really bad. But two of the women took me by the hand and helped me up and down the hills. I had my entourage. One of the woman was my age and had a baby, her grand daughter on her back, and she is helping me. Demoralizing
The hike is described as flat with a few small up and down.
Steep hills. Going down was harder with my back the way it was, but I did it.
The scenery is breathtaking. All of the farming is done by hand, no machinery . The rows are perfect. There is lots of corn growing but it is not in neat rows, just covering hills etc. Most of the corn is animal food.
There are a number of other groups trekking with other guides, all young people, we were definitely the oldest. Yeah us!
We stopped for lunch and the women , my entourage, were leaving us here, did we want to buy something? Well we bought lots of little purses that we don't need but had to buy from them. They were all so very sweet.
Some more trekking and we were shown how they make the indigo dye, do batik fabrics a lot of which are made from hemp, and grind rice into flour. This water trough fills with water and then when it is full it dumps out and the post smashes int the rice to make flour.
The tour took 6 hours and was not what we thought we booked, we did something different but that was okay, we still really enjoyed it.
This ladybug was the size of a quarter and brilliant red.
We said our goodbyes to everyone and had a rest in the room before venturing out to the main square for dinner. I found a cab driver who spoke English and arranged for him to pick us up at 7AM tomorrow to go to a market out of town.
Dinner was great and on the way home we came upon a performance on the main stage with traditional dancing and singing.
These little girls were dressed up and dancing in the audience and we so precious and attracting quite an audience
A woman came and took her picture with Jane. A man came and sat very closely to me and had his wife and six year old daughter on his phone on FaceTime. He asked if I would talk to his daughter and wave etc.
It seems funny that we are taking pictures of them and they are taking pictures of us
Day 13, Sunday
Bac ha market
Ouch my thighs are yelling at me. good morning Vietnam!!!!
Our driver was here right on time and we started off on our two and a half hour journey to the mountain area where the Sunday market takes place. Very narrow winding roads with lots of busses trucks and motorcycles all taking over each other on blind hairpin corners. A few close calls were seen today.
All the vechicles are newer, great shape with no dents or scrapes. I am not sure where the old cars go, and you must have to fix any fender benders right away. It's nice That there are no trucks spewing black diesel smoke
We finally arrived in the small town and he let us off at a hotel on the Main Street and said we would meet again around two hours from now.
After a short walk we find ourselves in a busy market area with goods of every description. Locals come to barter and trade thier various produce, livestock, cooking utensils, and fabrics. The women of the Flower Hmong group are in very colourful and ornate dress and are both buying and selling goods. We arranged a cab at a fair expense in order to miss the throngs of tourists who come by tour bus. It seems it was a slow day because even when we were prepared to leave there were very few tourists and we would have been fine taking the tour after all.
We wandered about taking pictures, bought some fresh pineapple, some street food, sticky rice coloured purple by cooking it with a leaf, and then rolled into a ball and deep fried then covered with sesame seeds. We tried another purple rice dish too but the deep,fried food is quite greasy, you can't eat too much of it.
I bought a wall hanging and a bag. There we so many beautiful and colourful things, but I am already way over my limit.
It was time to meet our driver so we walked to where we thought we should go. We were all turned around and got lost. Arggg
It is getting hot out and we were not happy about having to turn around and retrace our steps. Where the heck did we start off?
We were completely stumped so asked a fellow if he could phone our cab driver for us. He did and spoke to him for a bit, then hung up and says " he says just go back to where he dropped you off"
Well yes captain obvious. We don't know where that is!!!
He pointed us in the right direction, we hope, and took off. We realize that we are in the area of the livestock market so took a few minutes to see all the chickens and water buffalo for sale.
After walking a bit we came to a crossroads! Which way!? We asked a fellow if we could borrow his phone to call our driver as we are lost again. We show him his card and he says " I know him, he is my brother from differnt family"
He says, "no he is right over there"
No, he told us to meet him at the hotel.
Sure enough there he is. This guy was in fact his uncle. What are the chances?
We made our way back to Sapa, dozing off on the way but the crazy roads made it a bit s a challange. The sceanery is beautiful with the bright green hills of terraced farm land.
The market was not quite what we expected but nice to see some other ethnic tribes.
Day 14, Monday may 8
Our trek was to Ma Tra and Ta Phin, two villages outside of Sapa. We were supposed to start at the hotel and upon closer reading figured we would be walking through the town of Sapa for the first 40 minutes. Not my idea of fun, dusty dirty busy streets walking on broken pavement and dodging motorbikes,
No. We will pay extra for a cab to take us to the trail head. Our guide is a 25 year old young woman , black H'mong and very sweet but does not have a great command of English. It was quite painful at times getting our questions answered and trying to start a conversation with her.
We had a completely different idea of what we were going to be doing. We started off on a concrete road that was " only used by motorbikes". (but did have cars and trucks as well )
Never ask someone who lives on a mountain side if the trail is flat or hilly. It is all subject to your own reference point. The other day was " small up and down hills "
Straight up a mountain side and then back down again
Today was flat. No hills. Ha!
It was pretty hilly walk for a flat hike. But to them this is flat. It was hot, 30 degrees but 97./. Humidity. There was a great breeze most of the time however, sometimes blowing our umbrellas inside out
A couple of other trekkers were in small groups. One Australian couple in their fifties passed us going the other way and he said
" what were we thinking?"
It did get better however. Our attitude changed, this is what it is, and the scenery got better We saw many people out working the land. Rice is only planted once s year and they stock pile it to last until the following year. They are planting a different kind of artichoke, not to eat, but to boil the leaves for heart medication.
Potatoes, corn, beans, and cabbage are all being tended. Some families are working with hand pushed rototillers and others are using water buffalo. Most are tilling by hand, baby's on backs
The first rest stop we were supposed to have lunch but we weren't hungry yet so kept going. Every time we stop we seize up so want to keep moving
When we reached the main area of Ta Phin the local Red Dau women were there to greet us, handicrafts in hand. We sat down to eat and were surrounded by grandmas with babies on their backs and mostly older women. The younger ones were probably working the fields
A decision was made this morning not to bring our wallets only a couple of Dong. We tried to explain this but they weren't buying it.
I said I would look after lunch, so they hung out with us for an hour or more. One of the woman spoke great English, which she learned from the tourists. She was a hoot.
I only had 70,000 dong but bought a very small zippered bag that is quite different from the others. Jane bought a small bag too.
I then asked her to dance with me, which was lost in translation, apparently this tribe does not dance. I gave a demonstration and two of them joined me and we had a hoot.
Our car came to bring us back to the hotel where the manager graciously gave us a room to shower in, brought us coffee and water while we waited for our bus to the train station. Hospitality here is exceptional. They just can't do enough for you.
Our transfer came at 5 to take us to the train station one hour away. We had to wait for four tardy people but were on our way at 530PM Our driver is a psycho maniac. The worse driver ever and sadistic as well. He would try to run motorbikes or pedestrians off the road and then laugh. He passed anyone in his path, hairpin corners were not an issue to consider. We had a few close calls with large trucks and busses almost hitting us, and we were on the cliff side of the road.
We are glad to be Alive! Longest one hour drive of our lives. It pays to sit in the back where you can't see anything,
Dinner before the train and then we board the ' Orient Express' which has seen better days but still very comfortable. Our private cabin had two twin beds and despite the dramatic rocking and rolling of the train all night we were able to,get some sleep. Arriving into Hanoi at 4:30AM the city is already alive and has been awake for quite a while by the looks of things.
Food sellers and markets are in full swing already.
A taxi deposited us to our Hanoi Guest House and we entered a dark quite lobby at 5AM. Two young men were sleeping on a mat on the floor in front of the reception desk. Waking from a very deep sleep one gives me our key and we head upstairs to grab s couple more hours of welcome sleep.
We had arranged at free walking tour with a student through the website. Ten emails later !!! And our guide Thanh met us in the lobby at 10AM. She was a very sweet 21 year old Econmics student in her third year of university. We discussed what to do and decided to hop into a van and go to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. Her English was great and walking around she gave us so much history and information about Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh. He was so revered by his people.
Unfortotunatly however, when he died in his late seventies, his wish was to be cremated and his ashes divided so as to be spread over the south, the north and the middle of Vietnam.
The government instead decided to instead embalm him and have his body on display in a glass case for his people to see him forever. I dont think he would be happy.
The park and grounds where his house was closed at 11AM so the guards were rushing us to get in there. His palace was built by the Chinese and was very grand, however he decided to live simlply, as his people where struggling, and had a very small and modest home built close by that he lived in.
There was a museum as well but we decided not to go there. Instead we walked to the Temple Of Literature Which was a school built in the year 1070
It is a temple of Confucius and built when Vietnam was under Chinese rule. It was quite beautiful.
A kindergarten class was having a graduation ceremony to first grade and outside a girls school was also having pictures taken for thier graduation ceremony.
A cab was called and we went to a resteruant by the lake that we had seen, and ordered 3 iced Cafe mochas which cost 300,000 or $16 which was outrageous but nice to have a relaxing moment by the lake. From there we walked back to our hotel and said goodbye to Thang. We were going to take her to lunch but she needed to go. Jane and I went back to Blue Butterfly for another delicious eggplant dish and some coconut water.
Later in the evening we wandered down the street to Red Bean resteraunt which was highly rated on trip advisor. We walked into what looked like a very fancy high end establishment, and were met by some young well dressed waiters. There were a few other people eating, dressed very well, but otherwise the place was not very busy.
They showed us to a booth at the back with high backs,
"You will be comfortable here "
Hiding us away at the back because we are not dressed well. The waiter came and talked to us for a bit and we thought he said
"And this is very expensive here "
But we realize he actually said " It is a great experience here"
Jane ordered a lycée martini and I a Triopical Breeze drink before dinner. Another young couple from California were seated in the booth next to us, and made comments about feeling like the mafia, being hidden away at the back out of sight.
We spent the next couple of hours having great conversation and laughing all night. I love meeting people when we travel, it makes it so interesting.
Well tomorrow morning we will be picked up at 7:45AM and start our two night cruise aboard a junk on Halong Bay.
I will post again in a week.