A Travellerspoint blog

Hanoi Tuesday AM

I walked my sandals off yesterday, so I think I'll take it easy today. I checked out of the Kangaroo a few minutes ago to the tune of 1,119,000 VND (I believe this is 75. or 80.). I tried withdrawing extra Dong this am (the ANZ bank ATM said up to 9,500,000 VND was possible) but then would only give me 2,500,000. I need extra cash since I'm off to Sapa in the Highlands on tonight's train, and no ATM's in that area (so the book says).

Just came back to Hanoi Windows again, and they very kindly reconfirmed my Asiana return flights for me (never did figure out the VN phone system let alone coin operated ones).

I'll be living high off the hog when I return to Hanoi from Sapa at the end of the week. I booked into the Gia Thinh Hotel at 19 Hang Bac St. (much closer to the lake). The Gia Thinh is brand new, and at $35. is a little out of the flashpacker range, but I did see the room and it looks like a VN Hyatt (beautiful rooms with in-room DSL, flat screen computers and such.) I just hope I can get some sleep on the sleeper tonight (King Express 4 berth, superior class out, and Livitrans/King Express 4 berth first class on the return) - for a total of $55. for the train tickets.

I have had one great vacation here, but will be very glad to see my Spud soon. I show his picture to everyone, and always keep it out at my hotels.

A new record for shoe shine offers this am - at least 12 hawkers so far. They're much more polite here than in Saigon, and just walk away after a wave or 2 of the hand.

I'm eating too darn well here, and might have actually gained some here in Hanoi? It was cooler this am (in the 60's) but it's now warming a little, and I'll predict a high of 78 - 80 here today.

Posted by Daawgon 12:05 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Sapa town, 09:25 Wednesday

fog so thick you could cut it

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(the Hmong guide for the Cat Cat Trekkers)

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(half of the Cat Cat Trekkers)

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(the other trekkers from Antwerp, Belgium)

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(a small Hmong village - on our trek)

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(trekkers enjoying sugarcane, delicious!)

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(The Cat Cat Trek - it's a long way down, and even longer going up)

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(celebrating after the successful Cat Cat Trek)

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(the Sapa school yard)

Took the train last night to Lao Cai, and arrived right on time at 05:30 in drizzle. The Hanoi train station was confusing to say the least, and when I saw Westerners, I went over and asked them if they knew what the deal was. I was talking to Don and Pat from Toronto, and since we were both on the King Express to Lao Cai, we ended up talking half the night away with their compartment mates (another guy from Ontario and his Aussie wife on a RTW trek). My compartment mates didn't show up till the last second (for a moment I thought I had all 4 berths to myself). They were a Vietnamese/Belgian family, but we really didn't converse much till the early morning hours. The train was excellent (a tad warm since it was heated, and we were headed to the hills).

When we arrived, there must have been 50 name cards held up, and mine was among them. We were herded aboard a large bus, and sent on our way to Sapa (Don and Pat among the passengers). My hotel, the Anh Dao, is wonderful - for $13. I get a beautiful room, balcony, fireplace and breakfast included. I chose to eat down the hill the first day at the town's bakery - wonderful apple tarts with my mini fried eggs, fatty bacon, bread and 2 cups of milk coffee.

After the feed, I started walking round town - looking in handicraft shops, etc. This is the minority, hill-tribe section, and the women still wear traditional costime. They also know the tourist trade well, and if you look at the handicrafts longer than 30 seconds, well, you'd better buy or else they will follow you down/up the hill. I'm now high in the town at the city tourist office where I bought a town map for 20K VND, and I'm using their great, wide-screen computers for free. It's in the 50's here and still very thickly fogged in at 09:40. I think I'll sign up for a one day trek for tomorrow - just hoping that it clears. I did glimplse a few rice-terraced hills as our bus came in, and perhaps I'll have pics in the near future.

Who knew there was San Francisco weather in tropical Vietnam (I'm sitting here in nylon rain jacket, long sleeved T, shorts and my ever present Viet flagged hat.)

They just brought me a nice hot glass of tea - very nice of them.

Posted by Daawgon 12:03 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Spud, just 4 more days!

I just hope my Spud remembers me?

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(Spud at Day and Night Dogs, Oregon City)

I was beat today, and just tried to rest a little. Had a really nice lunch at Huyen Huong at 20 Bao Khanh St. I was looking for Bun Cha (highly recommended by Thuong), and it was very very good. Bun Cha is a Hanoi speciality of pork patties eaten with cold rice noodle, a thin flavored broth of some sort, the ever present salad/herb assortment - all mixed together. I had to ask how to eat it as it was only my second time, and this senior has a terrible memory. I also had some yummy crab spring rolls with fish sauce dip on the side + Hanoi beer. I asked for ice with my beer, and they came back with a mini-champagne bucket. I just picked this place at random after rejecting all those tourist haunts along the lake that have mostly Western food, pizza or fancy, fancy VN places that look too plastic for me. This place was empty, it was super clean with flowers on the table, etc., and those fancy cloth napkins folded like birds of paradise. As I ate, I was entertained by city electrical workers trying to guess which of the thousands of wires overhead were responsible for doing their job correctly (Vietnamese street wires are something to wonder at - you never saw such a mess of ugly wires - looking like some 10 year old put them up 30 years ago).

I had just enough energy to crawl back to my hotel and hit the sack. It's now 2130, and I'm wondering how I should spend the rest of the evening. Guess I'll enjoy my in-room fruit plate: mango, apple, banana and tangarine. I finally figured out how to drain bathtubs in this country (a real mystery to me - left the one in Sapa full - actually thought it was broken). One does not flush paper down the WC here - VN sewer systems are somewhat delicate, but no problems at all finding places to go here, and most are modern, Western style. These people are poor, but actually extremely civilized. I have avoided no foods at all, but rather take my 2 daily Pepto tablets to coat my stomach, and it seems to work. I CAN NOT LIVE WITHOUT ICE, as many tourists do in Vietnam.

Tomorrow I'm treating myself to another foot massage - no doubt about it. Can't decide if I need to buy more pieces of art here - it's cheap and very nice. My apartment is so small, where the hell would I hang it? Many shops have a resident artist who copies other artists' work, and very well! Laquerware is another beautiful item here - I saw very unusual, modern-style pieces starting about $7. today - made me wish I liked modern styles! Even some of the cheap souvenirs are unusual and worth looking at.

I'm off to my fruit, and then to bed. Good night.

Posted by Daawgon 12:01 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Saturday in Hanoi

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(Hanoi, electronic billboard near Hoan Kiem Lake)

I got back to Hanoi at 0430 this morning (my compartment mates were 2 men from China and a very attractive magazine editor from Amsterdam). After taking a one day trek to the minority villages in the valley below Sapa, I was exhausted. I rented thin rubber boots for the trek from a guy called Sonny, and went with a group of 2 Belgians, an Irish guy, and a lady from Japan. Our Hmong guide spoke perfect English, and we were accompanied by 5 or 6 native ladies all eager to peddle their handiwork.

The trail was almost non-existant by American standards (just mud, stones, piles of buffalo dung, several streams, and more mud). It was beautiful in a rugged sort of way, and 99% of the people in the tiny villages still wore native (indigo and embroidered) clothes. The problem was that my group had no one older than 33 (except myself), and they went too damn fast for me (so fast I barely had time to get a few photos taken). After it was over (we left at 1000 and finished at 1700) I came back to the hotel, showered, had dinner (excellent beef curry at my hotel), and tried to walk around a little (it was difficult!) I met up with my trekking partners, and we did a pub crawl of 2 bars until 2230 (very romantic at night since the whole town is lit by candlelight).

Yesterday I just took it easy, took an early bus back to Lao Cai, took a taxi over to see the Chinese border to snap a few pictures, and headed for the Lao Cai Ga (train station). Since I had 2+ hours to kill, I wandered down to the excellent Pineapple Restaurant where I dined on Thai salad, Pho Bo (beef) and Hanoi beer - a great dinner!

The Livitrans train was a bit of a disappointment - very clean, but hardly the first class experience that I was told to expect. At least it was right on time, but arriving at 0430 gives one a great deal of time to waste in the am. I walked down to Hoan Kiem Lake and sat on a bench amid hundreds of Hanoians doing morning exercises to some awful recorded music. Then I walked over to a cafe and had VN black filtered coffee, a pineapple shake and 2 fried eggs with the smallest piece of ham I've ever seen! I met some Germans there who I had met just before the trek in Sapa, and then tried to get into the Gia Thinh Hotel at 0730 (told to come back after 0830) - so I'm here at Windows once more, and after another coffee at the City View, I'll attempt some sleep at my new abode.

I have pictures to show, so come back later, and you might actually be able to see shots of Hanoi and Sapa.

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(The terraced hills surrounding Sapa, Lao Cai Province)

Posted by Daawgon 12:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Sunday in Hanoi

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(Happy people of Hanoi, taken from my table at City View Cafe)

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(my view as I ate lunch at a small cafe near Hoan Kiem Lake)

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(these kids yelled "hello" as I walked back to the hotel this afternoon)

A really lazy day in Hanoi. I got up, fooled around on the computer, went down for breakfast about 0900, and just walked, ate more, and shopped for things I have no real use for. The buffet breakfast at the hotel was super: fried noodles, bacon, breads, cheese, the greatest fresh mango juice (I had 3 glasses), coffee, butter and jam, and then they asked if I wanted eggs to order (I had a ham and onion omelette).

Just came back, took a shower, and have been trying to upload a few pics (WinXP works much differently with USB connections), and I almost gave up, but alas success!

Good hotel here - they give you a free fruit plate each day as well as do a complete daily room service - fresh towels, fill the mini bar, and make the king size bed, etc.

I went out again browsing the Old Quarter and reading the menues of the nice looking places, and then wandered down to the end of the lake to find out about the Vietnam Airlines airport bus for tomorrow's flight . Turns out it stops running around 1900, so either go then at 25K VND or wait till later and get a cab for 150K VND? (My plane leaves at 2330 I believe). On the way back, I passed an outlet of the famous Pho 24, and had a pretty good bowl at 38K VND (or $2.15). Pho 24 is VN's largest pho chain, and you can see it here at their website: http://www.pho24.com.vn/index.php

When researching this country, I heard reports of $ .90 bowls of pho - I just knew prices like that might be true, but darn hard to find.

No sooner did I finish my noodle soup than it started pouring out, and I was without a hat or anything else to keep me from getting soaked. I ducked into the large mall across the street to wait out the rain, and spent an hour exploring a pretty boring, 6 story mall of medium size (by our standards). Pretty dull since Hanoi is overflowing with excellent street shopping, and pretty empty too. I walked out into light rain and made my way back to the Gia once more.

I guess I'll watch a little TV and start to pack. I just turned on National Geographic - story about bird flu (so glad I avoided almost all poultry). VN cable is quite interesting: Korean, Japanese, Australian, American, German, British, Chinese, Russian and many VN stations. Who knew you could watch Animal Planet here! No wonder the Vietnamese are so very hip and up to date.

Bye for now.

Posted by Daawgon 11:58 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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