On the road to Hue

Day XXVIII – April 15

Another early morning, packing up my things again; it’s becoming a routine, and I’m getting better at it every time, it even seems like my bag’s getting lighter. Breakfast and goodbeys again.
hb
On the way back they dropped us at that shopping centre again. I gave in and got myself some sweets. They’re disgusting though.

I’m getting a little itchy about catching my sleeperbus to Hue tonight; it leaves Hanoi at 6pm, or so I’ve been told, so I have a pick up at the hostel at 5.30am.
And though it started out with them telling us we’d arrive at 4, they’ve already stretched it to 5pm. It’s definitely getting tight.

This trip to Halong Bay was cool.
Very touristic though, and I think I expected more of Halong Bay. I’ve seen too many limestone’s on the mainland to be completely stunned by these.
And it is too easy to capture it’s magic on picture, the real deal doesn’t add a terribly big lot to that… Plus the blanket of grey that just wouldn’t go away.
All in all, I’m not sure if I’d recommend it, especially for that price. But I had fun.

[I’m now back about a month, and am still obligated to live extremely low budget as I’ve had next to no income since then, but I seem to have settled well enough back into our pricerange. And I remember I really thougt it was a very expensive trip, 2 days all-in for €45,- but I now realize it really wasn’t that much. So to come back to the recommendation; make sure you set that amount aside in your budget. It ís worth it.]

I jump off the bus around the corner from the hostel, back in bustling Hanoi at 5.35 and rush down the street, panting as I arrive at the reception, where they tell me to sit down and wait a moment. The wait turns out to be 45 minutes.

The guy behind the desk is the guy that was bartending the other day, and with a giddy face he asks me if I had fun with David, making me blush while I tried to be cool about it, and then makes it worse by noticing the hicky that’s still sitting there plumply in my neck.
I sit down behind a computer to check my mail, and find a message from David.
I ran in to him this morning; he got on the exact same boat I’d been on, but there was no time for actual words. Now in this mail he tells me his travel plans have been altered so he won’t be coming after me, and we most likely won’t meet up again.
Behind me I hear a few girls babble and catch something about a boy and a little affair and hear the name David. A very common name… But I’m just going to go ahead and assume this boy really wasn’t as gentleman as he made believe, but in fact was the ladiesman I first made him out to be. Well, whatever. Nothing less than to be expected anyway.
bus ticket
When I’m done at the computer and check again at the desk to make sure I wasn’t forgotten, I get to talking with two Israeli also waiting for their pickup but heading for the opposite direction; Sapa, who try to convince me to come their way.

One of them, Alon, begins: “I have a story I want to tell you,” and ducks down to grab something from his pack. It’s a little photobook. “I took this plastic toy horse from home, and I traded it. I hope to eventually trade to a real horse, to travel my last destination, Mongolia.”
He has some pictures of the guy he traded for a sweater with, and some others, and then with the man that traded to a fishing rod; his last trade. Cool concept right?! Check it out on fromhorse2horse.blogspot.com Hope he makes it!

I realized on the boat I’d forgotten to pack my sarong again when I left here yesterday morning. So I ask if they found anything on that bed I never really used. They didn’t, but offer me one of their towels instead. Isn’t that sweet?

Five minutes before the bus is said to depart the station, a minivan comes to pick us up, and has another stop to pick up some more so we’re properly crammed in the back. Then the driver pulls over, gets out and another one gets in without any passing of words whatsoever.

I think this was the absolute oddest thing that happened during my entire trip.

Two blocks later we stop by the side of the road. Looks nothing like a bus station. But when I ask, the drivers points at a single bus that just pulled over. The others are told to sit and wait for their Sapa bus.
I ask what time we leave and after a lot of effort understand it’ll be another half hour.
So I decide I need a smoke. Sorry David (the German who lid my potentially last cigarette in Vang Vieng)
Oddly enough none of the streetvendors or shops there are selling those. But the next lady I ask, who doesn’t have them on her cart, asks me which brand I want and tells me to wait. She comes back 5 minutes later with two packs, asking only 2000d commission.
bunkbed
Here I am, one little Dutch girl on an odd bus with bunkbeds for seats – luckily I don’t have the size problem the other westerner on this bus does.
Nothing is explained to us. “Just go with it and don’t worry,” I tell myself. Of course it all turns out fine and we’re back on the road about a half hour later and eventually I even fall asleep.

Just another UNESCO World Herritage sight

Day XXVII – April 14
flag
A quick kiss goodbye, a paper with my e-mail address on it, the promise of meeting up again somewhere later, after convincing me to postpone my Halong Bay trip didn’t work – he’s going there tomorrow and wanted me to come then.
It might be nice to have a travelbuddy again, a boyfriend on the road… As long as it is just short term though, otherwise it’d start feel like cheating the guy back home who’s NOT supposed to be waiting for me. No string attached and no waiting is one thing, one-night flings are fine, but an actual relationship? Meh.

At 8.30 we’re still in the morning madness -though I doubt it has much to do with morning anymore- in Hanoi, picking up people, most of them asian, no backpackers, and the bus isn’t half full yet.
In the city it’s smoggy and not even hot, but we have a 4-hour drive ahead of us, so it might clear up out there.

So, Vietnam. A constant flow of motors -at least they’re wearing helmets- that only quiets down in the darkest of the night. And I guess I notice them more now because where I was the past three weeks it was an absolute taboo, but everywhere I see cutesy couples.
Most of the city is about 4 stories high; a shop at ground level and 3 individual looking shacks atop of it, the highest open on 3 sides. Every now and then a taller building breaks the skyline, but those wouldn’t even be scrapers. And ALL of them waving flags; the national golden star, but also all sorts of different colours from purple to yellow, on silk.
The style of driving we’d call agressive at least, honking at anything, flashing lights, tailgating. Not at high speed, but crazy nonetheless.

We have a stop over at some shopping mall halfway, but I don’t fall for that trick.
hb cruiser
The groups are split when we get to the harbor, Vietnamese to one dock, international tourists to another.
I get on a boat, the Halong Bay Cruiser, with 6 others: a Dutch/Greek couple, two French girls, an older UK lady who’s travelling all by herself and an Aussie girl that lives and works in Jakarta.
I’m the odd one out who get’s a room all to myself. And sweet mother of jezus! It’s just a little room with wooden floors and tacky decorations, but also my own private bathroom and all! Love it!

Other than us 7 there’s 10 men staff aboard. Most of them speak too little English to interact with us, but our guide, Thang, and a few more of them aren’t shy of practicing.
disco cave
Lunch is served upstairs in the main room of the boat. A mixture of continental and local. Not amazing, but good. We get to roll our own fresh springrolls, always a treat!

After sailing for a good hour we get to our first stop: Dau Go cave. There must be a hundred boats moored there and the shore is as crowded as the streets of Hanoi. Good thinking to choose a weekend for this trip of course… I guess sometimes it’s a good idea to check what day it actually is.
The daytrippers are as pushy here as they are in traffic. We shuffle down into this cave lid in orange and green and blue and pink; it’s more like a disco than like a wonder of nature. Not my sort of cave, with that paved road to follow everywhere, filled with tourists and their guides shouting over eachother to be heard.

We embark again and go deeper into the maze of islands, where we stop at a floating village to go canoeing.
Again, being the odd one out, I get a kayak to myself. There are still a few diesel-powered touristboats floating around. But I hang back a bit, so I go through the hole in the hill only after the last of those left the lake inside.
Being in there and having that lake all to myself, with the mumbling of the motors far in the distance, but the chirping of the birds and the calm quiet of the high hill close around me… amazing!
lake1
Then it’s back to the Halong Bay Cruiser again for a few more hours of humming to only the zoom of our own motor, the mouthharmonica of the captain’s kid and the chatter of birds in the forest that is all around us. Appearently the crew’s big fans of Bruno Mars; they’ve put on the Lazy Song twice already. But left it at that, luckily.

It’s so beautiful! Every corner we turn treats us on another stunning view!
I’ve shot a 100 pictures already and have no clue what to do with all of them, but I just can’t put my camera away.
hb
Eventually we moor in a sort of valley with a few other boats,
Before dinner we dare eachother at jumping of the highest deck into the cold water. Good fun! *Too bad I forgot to get contact info to get the pictures and back this one up.
After dinner we go back on deck to play some cards, laughing at the horrible karaoke we hear coming from the other boats.
And then the Dutch guy invents this rule where the loser has to sing one.
Naturally, he ends up losing himself. So we go downstairs, hook up the system and indulge in over and hour of karaoke-folly; it actually was fun! Some of the crew joins in to show us how it’s done with some Vietnamese songs. And as it is the 100th anniversary of Titanic precisely tonight we have to perform My heart will go on all together.
At 12am we call it a night and turn in. Hopefully the other boats will soon too; tomorrow breakfast/checkout is at 8am.