09.06.2012 - 19.06.2012 94 °F
So who's jealous of our TWO 24+ bus rides?? I know Swhite mentioned our "rest stops" on the mountainside but how about a trough style ladies' rest room? No stalls, no walls, no barriers of any kind just a row of elevated tile (or concrete) with angled blocks to guide the stream the same direction. Yikes is right! Every once in a while when I get really awe struck by the scenery or overwhelmed by how fortunate I feel to be where I am seeing what I am seeing and doing what I am doing I get to pee at the trough. Then I remember that travel in developing countries is as far from glamorous as you can possibly get and lots and lots of things don't go smoothly or happen easily and you're not always welcome or treated fairly or even nicely but that is part of the adventure, yes but also just the reality of the situation. Our last week in Vietnam hit us with the "ugly side" of travel a few too many times but we rallied and finished off our trip like champs visiting Cat Ba Island, Sapa and Hanoi.
After our week in Laos we stopped overnight briefly in Hanoi and then headed out again the next morning to Cat Ba Island to see the Halong Bay area. Cat Ba City was a cute little place that consisted of one main drag along the water and lots of vacationers. It was unique however because the vacationers were all Vietnamese people on weekend getaways from Hanoi or somewhere else on the mainland. It's nice getting recommendations from other travelers and all but you definitely feel a little more legit when the locals choose to vacation in the same place too.
We took a bus, boat and then another bus to get from Hanoi to Cat Ba and saw some nice scenery, questionable driving practices (but what else is new) as well as a creative haircut on this young lad!
Our first afternoon in Cat Ba we swam at the local beach with some serious waves, talked to a friendly local woman, and posed for a few pics with our fans (some young Vietnamese boys). It was also a lovely evening so we wandered around and took some pics while on a watermelon hunt. We have tried to buy an entire watermelon before and the people always slice it up and give us two servings worth anyway but the woman in Cat Ba just filled a small grocery bag worth of slices and gave us the whole thing! When its that hot and muggy sometimes all you want to do is drink water, or eat it in this case.
On day two we took a boat trip to some hot spots around the island including Halong Bay and Sung Sot Cave. Its the off season for travelers so besides the crew, there were only 4 other people on our trip so we got to spread out on the top deck or nap down below as we traveled from place to place. We made about 4 stops to kayak, swim, walk through the caves, and swim some more!
Swhite's underwater camera is awesome but truth be told; looking cute underwater is tricky!
Our boat was pretty darn slow all day but towards the end we probably could have floated faster so we weren't surprised when another boat came up to us and our guys tied us up to be towed. I don't think the boat was equipped for a tow however because the wood was cracking and snapping around the beam and we putted along back to the dock!
After a couple of days in Cat Ba we headed back to Hanoi to catch the night train to Sapa. We arrived at the train station around 3 pm looking for a spot on that night's train and were told only the 3rd level berths in the "hard sleeper" car were available on the 10 pm train. We went for it and though the mattress was cushy enough, no complaints there we could have used a little more height!
Sapa is an absolutely stunning place up in the mountains full or rice fields. You couldn't even count the shades of green on the landscapes and it smelled so fresh and wonderful! Swhite and I took a 2 hour motorcycle ride just to see the area and it was simply breathtaking!
The little town of Sapa is pretty cute too! There are tons of hill tribe women constantly harassing you to take an overnight walking trek to their village with them which we had originally intended to do but after all the of bad luck we had been having lately we decided just to wander around on our own. We checked out the market, ate some tofu in tomato sauce with a lovely view of innards a mere 6 inches from our plates and got to sleep in a full on princess room with a balcony and everything!
Unfortunately I got pretty sick and was out of commission half of the time we were there so we didn't get to do as much exploring as I would have liked but we were close enough to the end of our trip that we both welcomed the excuse to lay around in the room and watch TV online for a day. Swhite was good to me and went out and got me food and medicine so when I finally went downstairs around 6pm our friendly hostel owner was eager to give me a cup of the most disgusting tea ever that was supposed to make me feel better. It did not. And I wasn't expecting it to especially because we ate in his restaurant the night before and he kept giving us shots of some nasty liquor out of a bottle that had some kind of snake in it. Needless to say we have different tastes in beverages!
We splurged on the train ride back to Hanoi and got beds in a 4 berth car and "soft sleeper." The 9 hour ride went quickly and before we knew it we woke up in Hanoi around 5 am. As we wandered around Hoan Kiem Lake near Hanoi's Old Quarter trying to find a hotel we were pleasantly surprised to discover we were just in time for morning workouts!
We had heard that Hanoi had some good shopping and since everything we buy needs to fit in our backpack and be carried around we had been patiently waiting to get rid of some scuzzy travel clothes so we would have room for some gifts and new treats. For the next two full days we combed the streets of Hanoi and shopped til we dropped! One day we realized we were walking for 10 hours!
I always marvel at how differently other countries handle work zones or construction sites. In Korea, they seemed to have all of the same equipment yet you could walk right under the cranes or right along side the trucks, nothing roped off and definitely no hard hat signs and in Vietnam its even less invasive, I guess you'd say to pedestrians. These guys were working on some power lines but swung around on them so much you'd think they were monkey bars! No harness, no ladder just a nearby tree and an impressive vertical.
After strategically spending the last of our Vietnamese dong on treats for the road, packing up our new treasures and doing our best to look presentable we headed to the airport for our 36 hour journey home. Swhite stopped in LA to hang with her sister and I am home safe with my family in Washington. Thanks for reading our blog and look forward to a new one coming next month from me as I head to Ecuador for 4 months to volunteer and work on my Spanish! Until our next adventure...