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Nicola and Christopher's Grand Adventure! This is a little story of our 3 month journey through, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. We hope that you (our friends and family) enjoy reading about our trip!

Chicken club sandwiches in Ha Noi

VIETNAM | Tuesday, 10 August 2010 | Views [295]

It has been a bit of mission to get to Ha Noi but we finally made it after three days of bus travel. We are finishing up our third night in the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It is quite a contrast to the last capital we were in, Vientiane, in fact the two countries( although both flying the communist flag) are quite a contrast for us, something we noticed almost immediately we crossed the border a couple of days ago. You last caught us relaxing in the very laid back capital of Laos.

We opted not to go for the `easy' option, which involved taking a tourist bus for 20-24 hours from Vientiane to Hanoi. We did not want to be ferried around with a bus load of other tourists and again attempted to make the journey using local transport where we could. We were rewarded with lots of contact with locals making the journey, but challenged in other ways. The bus trip to Lak Sao, a small border town about 36kms from the Vietnam border was uneventful, an actually one of the more comfortable trips we had taken in Laos. The road for the first six hours was good and we had some leg room, not another westerner on the bus. In fact when we turned up at the bus station (about 10km from the centre of Vientiane) at 6:30 in the morning, folks seemed a little surprised to see us boarding a local bus. We should mention that local buses in Laos get going at ungodly hours in the morning, this was the third bus of the day to Lak Sao and the last (leaving at 7am).

Lak Sao is set in a beautiful part of the Laos although the town itself suffers from border town blues. There is little tourist infrastructure, which is nice, but poses challenges for us that are Laos linguistically challenged. We managed to get by, the stroll around town before dinner was rewarding as we were greeted with lots of hello's and smiles from the local children.

The next morning we checked out of our basic hotel and with some smiles and nods managed to get some snacks for the onward journey. The Vietnam border was in our sight. We boarded a local mini-bus for Vinh in Vietnam. Although the visa process was a relatively straight forward procedure, there was still some anxiety on Christopher's part about being let in. We reached the border, and the generally unfriendly Laos border staff were, well, unfriendly and unhelpful (We were sure they were just upset that we were leaving so soon). We cashed out the last of out Laos Kip for Vietnamese Dong and proceeded to get our exit stamp, only to learn that we had to pay several thousand Kip for the privilege. Hmmmm, a kindly Japanese man offered to pay for us, and after some negotiation on Nicola's part we paid in Dong. Nicola was all stamped and through, our mini bus had exited the country and Christopher still had to get an exit stamp...the border guard pointed him to another counter, where the gentleman manning it then proceeded to get up and wonder off to have a chat on his mobile. Christopher stood there with border officials wondering around in a generally disinterested fashion, eventually the chap in question finished his conversation and proceeded to deliver the much needed stamp... Christopher left, swearing that they would receive the same treatment the next time they try to enter the UK!

The Vietnamese border guards were charming by comparison, 10 minutes later and we were all stamped up and heading down a windy road with a mini-bus of old ladies and lots of goods to be sold in Vietnam, that by the looks of things came from Thailand. It was all a bit of an adventure really. The scenery was spectacular. The first small town we reached was so much more developed than any of the small towns we had seen in Laos. We had read that Vietnam was pretty full on, so we had our guards up a little more than usual. The bus pulled up outside a market and all the Thailand goods and aforementioned ladies got of. We watched someone having his ears de-hairified by the side of the road by a barber and were told that we would be transferring to another bus. Suspecting we would have to pay another bus charge, we were a little concerned but what can you do. Nicola received a little more attention that either of us cared from a local chap. Being his usual supportive self, Christopher told her she should have worn her burka! 30 minutes later and we were on another bus to Vinh, picking up locals on the way, screaming through traffic at scary speeds, only scary because of all the traffic on the roads. All the vehicles in Vietnam from scooters up have been fitted with horns which we were sure had been stripped from oil tankers, they are used almost constantly by the drivers, making for a cacophony of noise!

Not to be outdone on this leg of our journey, sensing Vinh in our sights, the mini-bus picked up a puncture. No worries, the driver continued on at break neck speeds, we had four tyres on the rear axle, we could go on. Eventually as the whole rear of the bus shuddered, he decided to take another course of action and proceeded to pull over and change the tyre. Folks mostly stayed on the bus, a couple of the chaps got off and stared in awe at the state of the tyre that had been shredded and the state of the slick racing tyres that were on the front of the vehicle. Christopher could be seen muttering something to our Japanese companions about the fact that the tyres were yokohama ones.

Finally we made it to Vinh a little later than we had hoped and the driver proceeded to drop us off about 1km from the bus station (even though we'd asked him to drop us at the station, which you would think would be the best place for a bus to end its journey)... a brisk stroll... ie a sweaty trudge with swearing about the driver, and crossing of some of the scariest roads either of us had had seen (NYC has nothing on this) and we found a hotel for the night. They decided they wanted to keep a passport as security... you can imagine how we feel about that. It seems to be the norm in Vietnam though as the hotel in Hanoi wanted the same.

We hoped to be in Vinh earlier to explore a little but our trudge around the city and a quick search for dinner would have to suffice, as the next morning we were off to Hanoi. We must mention that pork is very popular in Vietnam, probably the most popular meat. Christopher is almost in heaven, we all know how much of a fan anything piggy he is. First meal in Vinh for the poor boy was fried pig liver with onion and steamed rice. He seemed content. Other than the chicken club sandwiches we had for lunch yesterday he has had pig at almost every meal for the past three days.

The bus to Hanoi was another adventure... we inadvertently ended up on the local bus instead of the VIP bus to Hanoi... we managed to have a little melt down concerning the yelling aggressive female bus conductor, our seating arrangements and 36 people on a mini-bus that had seats for about 24. Again we were the only westerners, lots of fog horn action going on here, and stops to pick up locals as and wherever we could. It was quite the experience, luckily about two hours from Hanoi a mechanical engineer got on and with a modicum of English we managed to strike up a little conversation. We were relieved to get off the bus in Hanoi and to make our way to the old quarter in a nice a/c taxi (the taxi's in Hanoi are some of the best value taxi's in the world, modern, but small, and they cost about 70c NZ a km). We couldn't understand a word the taxi driver was saying but efforts on Christopher's part at the language resulted in a lot of smiles.

The Old Quarter of Hanoi is a vibrant and interesting place to see. Vietnam is a loud, brash and in your face country. The touts are a lot more aggressive than anything else we have encountered and we have quickly got into the habit of ignoring them, we feel that it is rude but it feels necessary really. The country in some ways appears to be going through the industrial revolution in about 20 years. We went on a walking tour of this part of the city yesterday which was fascinating, and a look at the fine art museum and the museum of Vietnamese revolution today were good insights. This country and its people have been shaped so much by the people that have occupied the country over the past several hundred years.

We have signed up to an overnight trip to Halong Bay tomorrow, another UNESCO world heritage site. Hopefully the typhoons that hit this part of the world at this time of year won't show up. It should be a relaxing time for the two of us after the last few days. We head south to Hue (an ancient capital) after that, with an overnight journey on the Reunification Express that heads to Saigon. We will let you know how we get on with the journey south, we are both hopeful that it will be a little quieter and less eventful than the last couple of trips we have made.

btw. for those of you up on their Vietnamese lunar calendar will already know that Nicola was born in the year of the pig... Good morning Vietnam!

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