Friday, February 12, 2010


Ha Noi is the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam(SRV). Ha noi is in the far north and is surrounded by the countries best sights and adventurous type of places. Also a place for cheap bia(beer) and cheap shopping in the Old Quarter where you can still bargain and negotiate a price that fits your budget. There are basically three main sections of Hanoi. The Old Quarter, the French Quarter and a third section that I like to call the “Westside” as there is no name to it but it is geographically its own area. As Katie has already mentioned, there is lots to see and do around Ha Noi. We were able to visit many of the best places and still there were a couple that we did not get a chance to see because of time constraints. As I said there is so much to see in the north. So much vast beautiful areas and so little time to see it all. I would say that 2 to 3 weeks in the north alone should be enough time to see it all and soak it all in. Nonetheless, we saw plenty. Halong Bay, Sapa, were wonderful places to visit. Halong Bay, as Katie already described was a series of limestone cliffs surrounded by the ocean. Nestled in the Gulf of Tonkin(Part of the South China Sea) it was a surreal kind of place. The best way I can describe it is felt like we were at Skull Island. For those movie aficionados out there who saw the movie King Kong, remember how it looked when they first pulled up to Skull Island? That is exactly how HaLong Bay looked in the foggy mist that surrounded us. The “junk” boats were really nice. We were told that we got a preferred room on the boat(the only one with a window), but I’m not sure I believed them. Anyway the boat was good fun. We went canoeing though tunnels, coves, etc. and partied with the new friends that we made on the boat. The caves were nice too but I guess if you have seen the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico a few hundred times like I have then the phrase “Seen them once, seen them all” might apply.

After a couple days of good boating, we headed back to Ha Noi to catch a train to Sapa. The train turned out to be an interesting ride as well. Why is it that on this trip that of all places we have managed to meet some of the most fascination people is on the trains!?? Go figure. On the way to Sapa we were in a compartment (4 beds to each compartment) with a grandmother, her daughter and the daughter’s 2 babies. The father who was either on the train in another compartment or was just making sure that his clan was safe was issuing Katie and I around before the train took off. I thought at first that he was a train worker making sure everyone got to their seats ok. But I soon realized he was just another passenger trying to bully us around. He asked to see our tickets, grabbed both of us by the arm and pulled us back so that we entered one at a time. I had to check in with him to make sure it was ok to leave our bags under the lower bunks as we were on the top bunks. He reluctantly gave me a nod and issued a gesture that we scurry up to the bunks right away! Geez, talk about a protective father. After all the commotion, of course, the old lady hands Katie something to eat as if nothing even happened (Hmm? reminds me of a similar train story in India) . Katie proceeded to taste it and then gave the woman a warm smile and a signal that it was very yummy. Truth was that it was not even close to tasting good. We still to this day do not know what it was that she gave us. It tasted like dirt, only a chewable version. I think it was a root of some kind. In the end, we waited for the opportune moment to stuff it in my shoes without the old lady noticing so we could discard of the evidence perhaps on a bathroom break somehow. Whew!

Sapa was a splendid place as Katie as already mentioned. Nestled in the highest peaks in Vietnam, there were lush trees, mountains and rice fields as far as the eye could see. It was well worth the 7 hour train ride to get there. We trekked the hills and valleys until we got our fill. It was especially nice to see the tribe women wearing their vestigial clothing as if time had not passed at all way up here in the mountains. Never mind that they followed you all the way on your trek hoping that you might say two words to them so that they could sell you something at the end of the trail. Or hoping that you might slip a bit and fall so they could pick you up, put your bag or shoes back in order and walk by you again just in case you might slip or lose something that they could help you with. It’s hard not to buy something from them because they were so persistent. And how could you resist the words “You buy from me, you buy from me, you buy from me” when you were given a little animal made out of bamboo halfway through the trek. I must say they were very good saleswomen. Of course I relented and ended up buying a wrist band made out of cloth they weaved themselves. That was not such a bad idea as they were not asking for much money for them. The mortal mistake I made was to buy it from the wrong woman. As soon as I bought it, the woman who had followed me the whole way proceeded to get in my face and say to me “you buy from me, I follow you and talk to you all day, you buy from me?” So as you might imagine, I ended up buying one from her as well because, yes I will admit, I am a sucker for these kind of situations. At least it left a smile on face and it made me feel good in that her trek with us was not in vain.

As for the birthday I had while in Sapa, it was one that I relished thanks to my sweet girlfriend. She went out of her way to let everyone know that it was my birthday. So it was because of her and only her that I had such a memorable birthday. Thank you Katie. I only hope that your birthday was as enjoyable as mine was.

As Katie said the staff at the hotel were very kind to us as well. We had good fun with them as well karaoke’ing with them well into the night. It suffices to say that Katie definitely won the best act prize and took home the trophy. She ended up wowing us all, including the hotel woman who was convinced she had met her match. Big surprise there, duh!!! In the end, we were both sad to leave Sapa because we hung out with friends we met in HaLong and because we made some new friends while there as well. But we both knew that it was time to go so we said goodbye to our new friends, wished them well and headed back to Hanoi to catch a plane ride to Danang.


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