Final days in Hanoi

I shared the night train from Sa Pa to Hanoi with an English guy. While talking we discovered that last November he had been to the caves and the same hotel where I was headed. He told me it had been his best experience during his month in Vietnam. Sounded really good to me!

We only stayed the two of us for the first minute of the train ride. Once the train moved our compartment door opened and five people stood in the door. Not for long though because the grandmother and the oldest soon were sitting already on my bunk before I could say hello. The mother with the youngest on her arm and the middle one next to her kept standing but asked in halting English if we could move up so that the she and kids could stay on the lower bunks.

Of course we acquiesced in the move, what else was there to do? Once on the upper bed though I noticed that the AC was so cold that I got a brain freeze just from lying underneath it. I had to move my pillow from the window to the door with the result that I now had the light in my eyes. But it was at least less cold in my face. The mother apparently felt cold too and got the conductor to fix the problem. This was done by taping some paper over the AC outlet. The conductor though must have also done something else because within 10 minutes the compartment had sauna temperatures.

We removed the paper from the AC again but with no success, the heat wave continued. The little one didn’t like it either and started crying which she did continually during the short night. The AC finally decided to work again about 30 minutes before our arrival in Hanoi. Then it was again on frost modus.

The night from hell ended at 4:30 in the morning with our arrival. I couldn’t have been happier than when I saw the face of the bell boy who had also accompanied me to the train station. He put me in a taxi and I was back in no time at the Golden Sun Suites Hotel, installed in a room that had been vacated sometimes during the night and fast asleep.

I missed breakfast that morning but this was also managed in grace by the hotel. I left the room with all my luggage after 10am and the staff got me some coffee and fruits while I waited for my room to be ready.

While sitting in the extended breakfast area/lobby I met Dudley again, a South African I had seen and talked to shortly before going up to Sa Pa. He basically followed in my footsteps and was going there this evening.

We started talking about good places to see in Vietnam (I find this is the easiest way to decide on where to go. Talk to other travelers if you are as lazy as me and don’t want to read the guide book). He had a couple of suggestions, later even brought his notebook down, showed me the pictures and provided me with contacts. So when my room was ready we had agreed on a dinner date before his departure to Sa Pa.

I spent most of my day in my room and just loved it. With the AC on low it was cool but not cold while outside the heat and humidity made tourists look like puddles of sweat. I worked on the blog and restored some pictures on posts from Nepal (I had a lot of trouble with the blog on my trip so far) and while there are still pictures missing on some posts from China, I am getting there. I also uploaded a couple of new posts, all in all a very productive though lazy day.

Around 5pm I eventually left the hotel; it’s really bad if one doesn’t get outside at all, and strolled around a bit. I was unsure if I wanted to buy something; I had been eyeing some loose pants but in the end I decided against it. I really had enough stuff with me already, there was no point in adding more.

Shortly after 6pm I met Dudley and we settled on the highest building around the lake to have a great view with the dinner. I chose Bo Luc Lac, a dish I knew from Vienna. What came then had nothing to do with the dish I knew and also nothing with the original (at least according to Google). Again I had landed in a tourist trap around the lake. At least it tasted good, that was already more than at the last place.

  

For the next morning I had booked a city tour, again very lazy of me since the afternoon program was around the Hoàn Kiém Lake and the Literature Temple. Both things I have seen. But the morning was at the other end of the city, at the West lake and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. As it turned out it was a brilliant idea after all since I met some Indian guys who had great tips for Saigon and Cambodia.

We started at the West Lake with the Tran Quoc Pagoda. In front of the entrance you could buy small turtles to let them free in the lake.

  

After a short visit to the temple inside and a closer look upon the pagoda we left for the Ho Chi Minh Complex. Not only can you visit the mausoleum but also, his house on stilts, his cars, the One Pillar Pagoda and the president’s palace. All for the price of one ticket and a line up for only 45 minutes. Inside the mausoleum there was no lingering allowed, one had to be quiet and respectful and just move along. No pictures were allowed of the great man.


Our guide let us line up alone but waited for us after the mausoleum. The rest of the complex was done in group modus again.

I missed the president’s palace while I was talking to the Indians but at the garage we caught up with the group. The cars in his garage were all gifts from communist countries I think.

 Moving further into the complex we passed the house on stilts and the pagoda.

Next stop after the Ho Chi Minh complex was a 20 minutes halt at a handicapped workshop right across the street. It really annoyed me that we went there, it was the same as at the tour to Ha Long Bay. After 10 minutes I was bored and asked to be taken to the bus. I rather wanted to sit down there and read my book. Almost all other passengers followed my lead and eventually we left earlier. (Maybe I should start a revolution?)

After this unscheduled stop we went to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups and a lot of them were introduced here. The museum had also a large outdoor facility where the different housing structures could be visited.

                

Then it was already time for lunch which we had somewhere in the old quarter and was again not great. After the meal I said goodbye to my group, lots of valuable information in hand. I spent the rest of my last day wandering around in the sweltering heat, hopping in between in cool cafes for a refreshment stop.

My train south left shortly after 8pm and sometime in the early morning I would arrive at Dong Hoi. I was praying for a quiet night and no kids in my compartment. Yours, Pollybert

Bac Ha market

My last day in the Sa Pa region was a Sunday. And the reason I stayed the extra night was a big local market in Bac Ha. Pick up was suddenly way earlier and at 7:30 After I had my usual Pho for breakfast

 I was downstairs waiting for the guide. I met Marsha from the long trek in front of the hotel and the off we went, collecting other tourists along the way.

It was a three-hour ride to get to the market and once we arrived at Bac Ha it was clear that it was very popular.

Our guide led us through a side street to the market and walking there we passed the horses and the birds.

    In this busy side street was our restaurant for lunch and from here on we explored the market by ourselves.

Marsha and I walked around together and we had our first stop after two minutes to a bean drink/dessert. It’s basically ice with red beans and then all kinds of jelly, shredded and toasted coconut, peanuts and more, topped with bean juice. Very tasty!


Other impressions from the market.

                

Look at this variety of greens/herbs.

  

When we passed the fish market we saw a customer choosing a fish. So if you’re squeamish please look away.

                    

And here is one who got away. I didn’t know if we should say something but then I could see that the sales lady had already noticed the runaway. When we left the stall it was still alive.

At this market you get everything from buffalo to your next dress.

                     I tried one of these fried balls, it was not overly sweet and filled with a yellow bean paste. Yummy!

And other food stuff I didn’t try (so far).

  

Then we went back for lunch which was boring and bland after everything that we had seen at the market. So let’s just forget about it.

After lunch we stopped at a local minority village to see how the tribal families lived in the area. The house that we visited had one room, the sleeping area was quartered off by curtains but the rest was one big space in which they worked and watched tv. There was a small table, probably for the meals and homework, but only one chair.

 

 

Here child safety was not an issue.           

A short bus ride later we got off at the Hang A Tuong Palace just north of the market in Bac Ha. It was swarming with the tourists but you still see the beauty of the building. Designed by a French and Chinese architect and built according to Feng Shui guidelines, the palace was the home of the ‘Kings of the north’. Father and son from a Tay ethnic people ruled the north with a 70% H’mong share. They exploited what the could but at least the palace is still left, now for everyone to see.

      

There was a small shop in the palace where I saw an old woman weaving.

Back on the bus we made our way to Lao Cai to catch the train. One last stop in Lao Cai for all though. What I hadn’t realized when I had arrived here three days ago was how close the Chinese border was. It was just across the river.

  

After the last stop three other girls and I got off at a small hotel near the train station, shared dinner and then took the night train back to Hanoi. Yours, Pollybert

PS: The food tasted how it looked, boring and bland again.