Friday 20th April 2012...
The taxi from Hanoi railway station ripped us off. Charged us $5 for a $2 ride. Anyway, got to the Golden Time Hostel and it was closed. It was about 6.15am. The taxi driver wanted us to go with him, he knew of a 'good place for us to stay'. In unison, we told him where to go. About 1 minute later, the owner of the Hostel opened the door and welcomed us warmly as he had said he would in his email to us when we advised our arrival time. Our room wouldn't be ready till 8,00am so we stowed our luggage in the foyer of the Hostel and went for a walk around the centre of Hanoi, specifically around Hokiem Lake. It was on the lake we came across what looked to be a western café but it was actually Vietnamese and we both dined on a lovely bowl of Beef Pho for breakfast. It is to be recommended.
We then dawdled around for a while until 8.00am when we could get access to our room and a shower. Done that and then went on the obligatory ‘reccy’ of the neighbourhood. Found a couple of paintings we liked and went back for a quick nap and booked a tour to Tam Coc the next day. Dinner that night was quiet and we had an early night.
Saturday 21st April 2012
Bus picked us up after a breakfast supplied by the hostel which consisted of a baguatte and a dollop of jam with a cup of green tea.We decided to go on the trip to Tam Coc as opposed to going to the very touristy HaLong Bay. We'd had good and bad reports about it however the photo's we had seen could well have come from Phang Gna Bay in Thailand where we were a few weeks ago. So with the help of the wag that said, 'there will be you and 500 other boats on the bay' made up our minds not to go there.(it was 170klm from Hanoi) The bus trip to Tam Coc was uneventful except for the obligatory bad Vietnam roads and buses made for Asian people with short legs. We had to of course visit two temples along the way just to drag out the tour and show us some of the Vietnamese history. After the temples we went to a restaurant that was included on the tour for what was a very good buffet meal. We ran into a couple of diggers who had been up in Laos for the last couple of months doing volunteer work for the victims of land mines. They work predominantly on infrasctructure (water, power etc.) They were making their way down south to Lon Tan for Anzac Day and were doing some tourist things first. One was from Cairns and the other Sydney.
We eventually reached Tam Coc
where we were escorted onto little tin boats for a ride up a river. The propulsion was provided by a driver with both feet in the air. Out 'skipper' who we named 'Gertude' was the same as the rest of them although she seemed to have an enormous temper.
YES..she paddles with her feet....a smile a mile wide.....
After about an hour of leisurely paddling,(Wendy and I grabbed a spare oar each and helped her a little) we reached the end of the line where a number of boats line up to try and sell you something you don't want or need. This happened to us. After a bit of jostling between boats and Gertude being shoved around a bit, she let fly with every expletive know in the Vietnamese language. We weren't sure what it was about but we think she had a go at a couple of the hawkers for pestering us and of course they retlaited and the verbal stouse was on. It was good theatre.
Of course on the way back, Gertude pulled over to the side of the river and tried to sell us all her various wares. We did buy a couple of things that would fit in the backpack. Then it was back onto the goat track back to Hanoi. We asked Tony the guest house owner where their was a good cheap local Vietnamese diner. He gave us directions to one that was 6 minutes walk away. It was a Pho only diner but the food was good. The locals looked surprised we were there.
Sunday 2nd April 2012 depart Hanoi.
Had a taxi take us to the bus stop to pick up the bus to Nanning China. Tony told the driver where to drop us. He did. It was on the footpath outside a closed travel agent. Alarm bells rang. Allan walked a few shops down to a mobile phone shop and asked the lady to ring Tony for us to clarify that where we were standing, in the middle of nowhere, was the right location. He sent his offsider over on a motor cycle to establish the situation and why we were there. The Offsider made numerous phone calls. Our bus was due away from the bus depot at 9.30am. He we were at 9.10am on the footpath of a very busy street with not a bus in sight. More phone calls from The Offsider. At about 9.20am he hailed a taxi and said that we get in, he’ll tell the driver where to go, he’ll pay, and the driver will follow him. After 20 minutes of a cab driver trying to follow a motor cycle through the streets of inner Hanoi, we did a full loop and drove past ‘Ly Thai To’ Street
where we spent last night, we went another 2 blocks, turned right, and there was the bus waiting for us. We could have walked there, with back packs, in 7 minutes. Anyway, that drama dealt with, the bus pulled out 10 minutes later after waiting for others who were probably told the wrong thing. Our bus trip from Hanoi to Nanning was uneventful. About 100 minutes out of Hanoi we stopped for meal and a toilet break. After that, we noticed the scenery began to change. We started to ascend mountains and look at beautiful scenery. The road got better as we got closer to the border.
We reached the Vietnamese border and the process was different to any other we’d been through. The Vietnamese bus dropped us off at a central bus depot, we then collected all out luggage and climbed into a very large golf buggy. Luggage stowed in the back. We were to be transferred about 1 klm down the road where the passports and visa are checked.
We jumped into a cart driven by Mark Webber. He did not like anyone in front of him and sped past everyone at will. In approaching the immigration point, he came to a very rough halt after going over some rough road. Wendy’s backpack was lost about 20m before the cart finally stopped. Mark Webber could not have cared less. Not sure what would have happened if something was seriously broken, probably nothing.
We queued up at the immigration stalls, the Chinese did their normal thing and barged in and jostled for position and cared about no-one but themselves. Wendy was able to get her passport to the officials while Allan hung back a looked after the luggage.
They took Wendy’s passport. One official looked at it, didn't like what he saw so passed it to the next official. He didn't like what he saw, or didn't see and he passed it onto the next official. There was something wrong with Wendy’s passport/visa. Apparently she wasn’t really in Vietnam. There was nothing in the passport to show that she entered at Chau Doc on the Mekong river about 2 weeks earlier. The immigration officials examined it several times. Wendy examined it another 50 times, nothing to be found, she wasn’t legally in Vietnam. Wendy was getting a little worried. Meanwhile, Allan had had his passport processed without a hitch. He was legal. He then gave his passport to the official and told him to compare them. It was quite evident we were travelling together and something had gone wrong at Chau Doc. The official went away, took the obligatory 15 minutes that seemed like an hour, while Wendy sweated away. He then came back and with a wry grin said to Wendy ‘next time you come to Vietnam, get it stamped’. A most relieved Wendy agreed.
In recalling the Chau Doc Vietnamese Immigration process, the tour guide on the boat, took everyone’s passport + $1 and disappeared into immigration, only to emerge about 30 minutes later with a handful of passports. He gave them out. Nobody checked to see if they had actually been approved for entry into the country. A lesson learned by us all.
We cleared Vietnamese Immigration and Wendy’s passport still only shows she left there, she didn’t go in.
Passing though the Chinese immigration was without incident.
The border area between Vietnam and China is about ½ klm long and it seems no-one owns it. The only vehicles there were the motorised carts.
The remainder of our trip from the border to Nanning was uneventful. The coach was excellent and the ride on very good Chinese roads was great. The trip from Hanoi was supposed to be about 7 hours. We left at about 9.45am and arrived about 5.45pm…
Arrived the Dia Jia Jun Gong Hotel in Nanning. No wifi and Allan can’t get the LAN to work. Bugger.