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Tracy's Journey

Hanoi

VIETNAM | Sunday, 24 April 2011 | Views [486]

I arrived in Hanoi, North Vietnam by taking a 12-hour sleeper train from Hue; thinking that would be better than the bus. Well - maybe I did have a little bit more room but it was an old musty train that made alot of noise and was much bumpier than the bus. I tried to think that I was being rocked to sleep but it was more like being shaken to sleep. I shared my cabin with three Vietnamese men and tried not to think about how many people have laid on my sheets & blankets. I really wonder how often they wash the bed linens! People are getting on & off all the time, so as soon as one person gets out of the bed it is filled with another person. Uugh! The joys of traveling. But really, actually I have been really lucky and haven't had any unbearable moments! I hope to keep it going that way. 

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and another very busy city with a nice lake (Hoan Kiem) in the centre of the city. You have to be very careful here with the taxi & cyclo drivers because there are a lot of them taking advantage of the tourists. I was well prepared from reading about it online and in the guidebooks but I talked to several travelers that got scammed. I mainly used it as a home base to do tours to Halong Bay and Sapa. Hanoi is also famous for the Water Puppet Theatre. Water puppetry originated here in the Red River Delta area when the floods came. The puppets dance on the water and tell stories about rural life and historic events. Instead of the puppets being manipulated at the top with strings, these are controlled underneath the water with long poles that you can’t see. It was really pretty cool! 

Halong Bay was breathtaking. It is a body of emerald green water with 1,969 limestone islands all different sizes and shapes. Some of the islands have magnificent caves. The one we were able to go thorough was called Surprise Cave. The locals are not allowed to live on the islands because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so they live on floating fishing villages around them. It is quite a different lifestyle! Some of them even had dogs on their little floating house, which really is a small shack floating on bamboo.

I stayed one night on a houseboat and another night on Cat Ba Island. The first day was very misty but magical and mysterious.  The next day woke up to a beautiful day of sunshine. We cruised for about an hour through many spectacular small islands and then went biking on Cat Ba Island and later took a small boat to Monkey Island. This is a small island with a nice beach and a good hike up to a viewpoint. And yes, there are monkeys! I wonder how they ended up on a island surrounded by water?? And be careful, when swimming they might run off with your stuff. I had met an Australian family and we were swimming and all of a sudden Hunter, their 10 year old son, said “Tracy, there’s a monkey trying to get your bag!” So we all ran up to shore and chased it away. Luckily, I had locked it. Because that is what the monkey was trying to do – was open my bag. Whew!! 

Next, I went back to Hanoi and rested for a day then took the night train to Lao Cai, where you then drive for an hour to get to Sapa.  Yes, I did do the train again but this time I was on a tour package and they use a nicer tourist train.  And it was nicer with clean bedding but I still wasn’t able to sleep much. We arrived at 6:00 in the morning, boarded a mini-bus for an hour ride up the mountain, had breakfast and started hiking by 9:30 am.  We hiked about 6 to 7 miles the first day and another 3 to 4 the next day. It was so beautiful hiking amongst all the terraced rice fields and bamboo forests. We went thru many minority villages, one being the Black Hmong and stayed overnight in a home stay in one of the villages. It was a stilt house with a large loft with mattresses on the floor and a mosquito net. The Hmong women (some very young) would hike all day with us talking, laughing, and helping us along the trail; which tended to be quite muddy in areas. They actually spoke English very well, better than a lot of the Vietnamese people in the city. They could even crack jokes; which is hard to do in a second language. I had a shadow for both days showing me where to step and holding my hand on steep parts. It was funny how when we stopped at resting points and started out again, she would always end up right by my side. Then at the end of the day, they want you to buy their goods (handmade bags, bracelets, headbands, shirts). They would say, “I walk with you, help you. You buy from me now, then I go home for dinner.” The Black Hmong migrated from China over 300 years ago. Most of the women marry between the ages of 12 and 15. If they are married, they wear large silver hoop earrings. The tradition is when a man finds a girl he likes and wants as his wife; he kidnaps her. He keeps her in his house for three days and after the three days the girl will decide to stay or if she is unhappy will go out into the forest and find the poisonous flower to eat and take her life. The government has now made this illegal that after the three days she is allowed to go back to her home if she is unhappy. However, within the last month a girl was found who ate the poisonous flower but luckily she was found in time and did not die. It was a really nice two days but towards the end of both days my knees were giving out. My knees don't like going downhill. I am a little disappointed because I am wanting to do more trekking in Laos & Thailand, but now I don't know if I should.

After my second day of hiking, I took the night train back to Hanoi and one day to relax and then off to Laos. I decided to fly because the route the bus takes is very long and then I would have to back track, so I am go to fly straight to Luang Prabang.

Wow! I forgot how luxurious it was to fly. It was an hour flight compared to a 20-hour bus ride. It was well worth the extra expense. Luang Prabang is very nice. It's a small, quiet country town with lots of Buddhist temples and monasteries to visit. Whew! I am really worn out. I am going to take it easy for a few days and try to get rested up. I even found a little coffee shop that served bagel sandwiches. I thought it was appropriate to have a ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce, and the best cream cheese since it was Easter and a large ice tea. It was soo good! Tonight I had dinner along the Mekong River at sunset and had a very delicious Lao dish that was a Mekong fish & vegetables in coconut milk. Tomorrow I will visit alot of the wats (temples) and ride around town a little more on a bicycle. Oh yeah, I know longer have to fear for my life while crossing the street or even walking on the sidewalk! 

 

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