I must say, first of all, that I am feeling lazy about writing about this place. Things are busy and I am losing the interest of writing and recording things. It’s been a while since I was feeling like that. It must be because my story in Hanoi didn’t start well.
I hopped off a night bus to get in a taxi that tried to rip me off. He used the meter, as I initially insisted, but there was something wrong with it and the driver tried to charge around 4 or 5 times more than he should, according to my calculations. He even dropped me just in the corner instead of the doorstep of my hostel. I argued and argued and after a bit of a rough fight I paid him a price I considered more than fair. Then, I arrived to the hostel to get an hour of sleep in the reception. And with that, I had to go out and explore the city, not without auto-inviting myself to the hostel breakfast, thing I considered more than necessary given the circumstances on how the day started.
On my first impression of the town, my goal was to get a few things done so I got socks and a nice warm jacket from North Face, typical Vietnam. I also arranged a day tour for the following day to the famous Halong Bay and organised a visit and a trek to Sa Pa. With so much done, I was more than satisfied for the day!
Next day, I woke up early after a good catch up with my sleep and went on my tour to Halong Bay. This will be remembered as the day I ALMOST get to Halong Bay. Because after an hour drive the bus crashed and I basically end up waiting for police, waiting in a car deposit, waiting for being collected… Waiting and waiting I lost the whole day, basically. During this experience, I observed a few things: I didn’t really care of these kinds of things, I was okay not seeing something or to miss the must-see. I was only happy that the accident wasn’t too bad and everybody was okay. Because I actually became a bit scared of the buses and the road and more conscious of everything that could happen taking so many buses so often. I also had a laugh at the solutions proposed by the tour guides, knowing that they were trying to fix everything but that they would have a bad time and we probably will end up not going to our destination. Finally, I got to compare myself with a group of Spaniards that were freaking out about everything that was happening and I had a laugh when one of them asked me after a long while waiting at the car deposit: “but, do you think they actually are coming to collect us, I think they are actually going to leave us here”. My answer to his question was “Aw yeh, they will collect at some point of the day”. His face to my answer was like ‘Are you f*cking kidding me, at some point?’. Funny, I didn’t have any stress or was making any fuzz about it and was chatting away with Maru, an Argentinean girl I instantly clicked with. We finally got picked up and Maru and I got a refund/rebooking for the tour, went for a walk, agreed she would stay at my hostel and therefore went for the happy hour where there is free beer and went to the night market for food. We just chatted away about India, about feelings, about travels, about experiences…about everything!
Next mornig I would wake up even earlier to go to Sa Pa. Once I got there, I realised how horrible it was. The weather I mean, the weather was horrible, it was super cold and supper foggy. I had taken the morning bus with the intention of adventuring myself a bit in the surroundings and doing some short trek by myself before meeting the Mama I would be trekking with the following day. But with that cold I wasn’t feeling like anything, you could see literally nothing and all I was wondering is what on Earth I was doing there, if I wanted cold I would have come back to Ireland for the winter! But I met a Spanish girl in the hostel and she was going to meet some Spanish couple she shared a horrible bus ride with and I joined them for the sake of doing something. We walked a bit, they got clothes as it was too cold, we ate and had coffee. I think that is pretty much all you could do around. I liked them but they were too pessimistic about the horrible bus ride they had, the dusty blankets, the disappearance of a towel of one and the toiletteries of the other… It just wasn’t the kind of vibes I was looking for and they were in points in their trips quite different to mine and we separated when they left to get train tickets because they didn’t want to come back by bus. It didn’t matter much because I had my own plans for next morning.
I was meeting a Mama, belonging to the Hmong ethnic, to do some trekking and a night stay at her house. And I also was meeting Maru, who would be joining me up for just the day. It was just fantastic to share it with her, we chatted all the way while trekking with Sa, the daughter of Shu Shu. Sa was 14 years old and quite shy, but soooo nice. It was strange to have lunch at 10.30 am and arrive to the homestay at 1pm. I felt a bit disappointed but also, the climate conditions were not as its best and I was relief my feet didn’t get wet as I thought they would.
The cold was more than I could take. I was not used to it anymore. But, besides that, I wasn’t ready for it either. I had 2 leggins on plus a baba pant on top to act as the wind stopper. On the top, I had all my “winter” belongings on. Plus two pairs of socks. The spare socks I was carrying just in case my feet got wet, ended up on my hands. While walking, I realised I was having a tickly feeling in my hands and when I pulled them out of the pockets I could see my fingers all purple and got super scared. The solution proposed was the socks in and I honestly didn’t care at all about how it looked. I wanted to keep my fingers.
At the homestay, two Israeli girls arrived and the family prepared the fire to make dinner quite early. It was nice to have the fire to around it. We shared dinner with the family and then Maru had to leave. Time to say goodbye. It’s amazing how in just one day you make a strong connection and by the second day, this person is already your friend. We spent the night around the fire, between the family and surrounded by kids and babies.
I had a huge blanket to sleep warm enough and by the next day, I had breakfast twice: Vietnamese breakfast and pancakes after a couple of hours. The other girls decided they wanted to get back to Sa Pa and I decided that I had nothing to do in Sa Pa and wanted to go to the next village to see another ethnicity, the Sai People. Shu Shu herself took me with her as her daughter had an accident feeding the pigs. It was just me and her and the landscape got better and a bit less foggy, which was great to take a few pictures and enjoy it more. We quickly got to the village and I was offered lunch but was too full to eat anything else and waited for Shu Shu to eat her pink boiled eggs and get a mototaxi back to Sa Pa, together. The views from the mototaxi were definitely the best and completely worth it. Despite it wasn’t the rice fields season. Back in Sa Pa, I made sure to have enough food for the coming journeys, collected my bag and when I was about to check my bus tickets I realised I had lost my tickets for the famous Halong Bay tour the following day and also the bus ticket to Vientiane, Laos, my next destination. Altogether was like 50 dollars plus the hassle caused. Nightmare! I contacted Maru to ask her if she had seen me doing something with these tickets and asked her if she could get back to the tour office to inform them about my situation, as I would be arriving too late that night and next morning I was supposed to depart early to Halong Bay. She, as wonderful and great she is, got it sorted for me. Happy days.
And that’s how next day I finally got to Halong Bay. Although one of the minivans in our tour had a flat tire and I thought we weren’t meant to see Halong Bay, even once there. But the situation got sorted and we took our boat, had lunch and did kayaking! The kayaking part was super fun. I met Martin, a guy from Chile, and we shared our kayak. We had the happy idea of not to follow the bamboo boats and try to go around. But to go around, the water is only a couple of centimetres deep and we got stuck. We went back as we could and simply enjoy trying being as adventurous as possible, trying to pass the kayak between two rocks before get it back. It was funny the moment we took the kayak, I implied he would seat behind and be the captain and he got to ask me if I was not a feminist. Haha. I was shocked, I just did it because it was a first time for me and didn’t feel comfortable being captain without any prior experience, not because he is a man. I will be captain next time!!
Back to Hanoi, only to discover that my suspicion were right and the place was crowded with bedbugs. I tried to sleep the best I could, covered in my own bed linen, but it didn’t matter. Next morning everything was itchy and I had been eaten alive. I still got to find another surprise in the hostel: Dorian, the Canadian guy I trekked with in Myanmar, was in the very same room! We had breakfast together, catch up for a bit and get separated as he was going to Halong Bay and I… I was figuring out what to do with myself. I ended up in the Vietnamese Women Museum, which I found super interesting and enjoyable. Even though I am no feminist, apparently. In the afternoon, I just checked my next steps. It is something that is getting harder and harder. I am running out of easy destinations and I am quite tired of Asia. I am tired of haggling, of arguing, of watching out because everybody tries to cheat you or rip you off. Enough is enough, almost 5 months of my life like this… I need a change. And that’s exactly what I dedicated for the next morning. It took me 6 hours, but I managed to get sorted flights to Sydney and New Zealand! A new continent to discover!
It bothers me how difficult it gets with the visas. I found a super cheap flight from New Zealand to China, which I would love to visit and in my head the Transmongolian route started appearing more frequently than it should, as an idea to finish my trip and a way to get back to Europe. But China visas are not easy and I do not have time or resources to get it at the moment. Plus, it would be impossible to combine it with two more difficult visas to get. So it was just settled that I would be back to SEA and see what I can do or I feel like doing from there.
After that, all that was left was to catch my bus with destination to Laos. The bus was chaos and even the pick up was weird. A guy in a motorbike was picking up people that were meant to follow him up the van, where we would be taken to the bus station. A girl had an accident on the motorbike, then she realised she left her phone on her hostel and when she left, lots more of people hopped on the van, with no space for all of them. In the bus, more chaos, people going to Luang Prabang were kicked out and that gave me the opportunity to change my horrible seat with no space for the head or for being seated indeed. Bags were taken out, then nobody was sure about the bags, I couldn’t see mine, I got paranoid… They ended up taking all the bags out, making people get off the bus to identify their bag and put it back and like that…everything was weird. I