Time with Abi
02.04.2010 - 18.04.2010 19 °C
Getting off the bus tired and exhausted I was engulfed by the usual throng of taxi drivers, usually associated with the Asian bus/train stations, with the people I had met on the bus. On leaving Vientiane a guy from the hostel I was planning on staying at, had been handing out flyers and had booked me a pick up from the station, so I was now looking out for him. Unfortunately he was nowhere to be seen, after 10-15mins of drivers grabbing and trying to take us away our pick up “Michael” arrived, on a bike which as you can imagine isn’t enough to carry 9 people and luggage on so after me and an English girl talking to him for 10 Minutes and haggling with 20 different taxis we piled into 2 teeny tiny taxis bags stacked on top of each other and followed Michael on his bike weaving in and out of traffic with us trying to keep up. After a short cramped drive we turned into a small back road and saw the sign for “The Drift”, finally we had made it to a bed.
Ok Hanoi I was meeting Abigail but not staying in a hostel so I had a few missions to complete before she arrived in a couple of days while avoiding seeing the sights as I wouldn’t want to do them twice, obviously. Number one was to make sure the reservation I had made two months previously, at the hotel we had agreed on, was actually there and still had our reservation. After much studying of a free map from the hostel I worked out where is was and headed out to find it not knowing the map wasn’t even slightly to scale and on the other side of the city. So I entered the world of Vietnamese traffic. Now after meeting people previously on my travels I had warning that it was crazy, but what a place, red lights are an optional extra and those good old zebra crossings we paint over every road in the UK do not exist, so taking the advice of a past travel companion I stepped out into the traffic moving like white water rapids and was immediately forced back onto the kerb by hundreds of scooters and the odd car. So attempt two, deep breath in and go, I stepped out again looking straight at the flow of traffic and walked, step by step and the bikes just drove either side of me without a care as if I wasn’t there so the rest of the walk was just taking in the city for what it was. A strange mix of French renaissance type buildings modern western city buildings and plain run of the mill housing with street vendors all over the place on every corner selling almost anything you can think of from all sorts of food to sun glasses, clothes, jewellery and many, many other things. Eventually I came out of the side and backstreets onto the Lake at the city centre “Hoem Kiem Lake” which is beautiful, the lake is surrounded by a busy ring road with nonstop flow of bike traffic circling it like sharks. As I walked along the lake there were people running, doing Thai chi type exercises, along with badminton and people just sitting chatting on marble benches. The lake itself is huge with two islands at either end one a small circular mini tower in white and then the other an island with a small temple/monastery on it linked to the side of the lake by a red wooden bridge, a site beautiful by day and even more spectacular in the twilight and evening. After taking in this sight I worked my way into the old town of Hanoi Where the hotel was and after a bit of confusion I found it an odd sight, a brand new glass fronted building with a fancy sign reading “Rendezvous hotel” back lit the works surrounded by dingy dark buildings. Shocked but glad the place really existed I walked up the steps and had the door opened for me. Now walking into such an establishment wearing cut off track pants a singlet and “Fosters” beer branded thongs (flip flops) I felt a little out of place, as I’m sure you can imagine but never the less I was greeted with big smiles and Hello’s and after a bit of searching the manager an Australian came out and sorted the whole scenario and mission one was complete.
Mission two, was to try and get my camera fixed as it had broken in Vang Vieng this was to prove, at first, to be easy as on my first walk around I had seen an Olympus shop so on my way back I headed into the shop to find that it wasn’t going to be as easy as I had envisioned it instead was going to be a nightmare, so left it for the time being and tried other places. Long story short though I sent it home and am seeing what can be done back in the civilised world where people actually try and help and things can be explained without shouting a lot of arm waving and pointing.
Mission three was to arrange Abi’s airport pickup and get me there to actually meet her and after a lot of hassle with the hostel and taxi companies I went back to The Rendezvous hotel and had it all arranged within minutes. Now except for scouting out places and getting myself orientated plus practising my road crossing technique I didn’t do much for the following couple of days.
Finally arrival day came so I packed up from The Drift, which had been a great place keeping me entertained and meeting people etc I headed back up to Rendezvous again having the door opened for me this time looking more like a bum than I had the first time still in my torn off tracksuit bottoms a dirty white t-shirt and still my fosters thongs and sweating like a pig. But again I was greeted with smiles and taken to my room which was amazing especially compared to the places I had been staying in for the last few months with an en-suite, TV, AC, supplied towels the works. After my usual bag emptying I chilled out, in luxury, until having to head to the airport.
The Journey out to the Airport took about an hour with the taxi driver trying to scam me at a toll booth indicating I had to pay the parking fee but as this guy wasn’t taking me back and because the hotel told me I didn’t have to pay as I had paid them for the Pickup so with a few choice words he got moving and dropped me off. Once in the airport I found where Abi would be arriving through and set up camp and eventually she made it through and it was great to get a hug and see a familiar face especially hers anyway after plenty of talking and a drive that seemed a lot shorter on the way back I moved her into her room.
For the next few days me and Abi relaxed in Hanoi exploring the streets which were really interesting each street selling different wares from kids toys down one road, handmade metal ware in the next, to fruit shakes all the way down the next street. While walking around we visited the lake and experienced all sorts of food me eating better than I had my whole trip and found, to Abi’s surprise, that my appetite was a lot smaller than it had been when I had left and Abi often ate more than me. While on the topic of food we also went out for our belated one year anniversary meal... erm now let me think what else had my travelling caused us to create belated celebrations of? Oh yeah! New Year, Christmas day, Easter, Valentines and I think that was it but lots of celebrations and nice meals in a short space of time and on the end I suppose a congratulation/ thank you meal for Abi’s first solo flight(half way around the world) and coming all that way to see me.
Anyway Ha Long Bay was the next destination for us to visit and due to talks with travel buddies I knew the place with the best suited tour for us was the one that ran out of “Hanoi backpackers”, a place I would stay at after Abi left, and well we booked on spent the night before in dorms so Abi could experience the life of the ‘Backpacker’ (inverted comas intentional) minus the backpack as she had her delightful pink suitcase. Then early the next morning a group formed outside the reception with us included, roll call was –well called – and we were off piled into two buses and told what was going to happen. So long story short we drove a while stopped for a bit as all Asian busses do at their arranged places to suck money from these strange groups of apparent walking ATM’s then moved back on got stuck in traffic, arrived at Ha Long Bay harbour (which was misty) and Taxied out to our boat for the night.
The boat was impressive, a huge 3 floored junk type thing hard to explain but I will let pictures show you later, and we were taken to the top deck to look out into the mist of the bay just making out the occasional silhouette of a huge rock stabbing out of the water and to be given the keys to our rooms. After an amazing lunch we were taken out kayaking around the Bay weaving through the maze of (I think) limestone, giants, to some caves that were beautiful like well the rest of the entire place. After kayaking back we had some down time before dinner before the drinking began but this night we sat out and only had a couple chatting to group of people who didn’t want to be hung over for the small boat over to Castaway beach early the next morning so after seeing the party move around the boat with guys in dresses the works (missed out I know) but had a nice night with Abi floating in Ha Long Bay under the stars.
So morning came early for me, let alone the rest of the boat who hit breakfast in drips and drabs as you tend to after a heavy night of drinking games. We boarded our taxi boat to the island (the next part of the trip), shortly after eating, the island being about 45 minutes away was something most of the people climbing on didn’t want to hear and 20 minutes into the journey when we hit waves the sight was not too attractive. The journey however bad was improved 100 fold when approaching the beautiful Castaway beach. A small stretch of white sand surrounded by dense jungle on all sides climbing up to the top of the surrounding cliffs, with little bamboo cabanas on the edge of the jungle and beach looking just as imagined, beautiful and like a castaway beach should look. Well until you get onto it and there are showers (hot and cold) flushing toilets music system etc so not totally castaway but a type of castaway I can appreciate especially the bar with weekly beer deliveries, Paradise some might say, Instead of castaway? We were welcomed as soon as the boat hit the beach by Anderson, a rep from Hanoi backpackers and wakeboard instructor and later to become a travel buddy as I Travelled south, who explained what little rules there were on the island mainly involving things like; enjoy yours self, drink as much as you want, do what you want, with the one No of not ringing the dinner/emergency gong unless you were willing to buy a round of beers for every one there, simple things to do and abide by.
As we arrived so early in the day we had a whole day in this paradise beach so after choosing our bunks in our open sided bamboo shelters me and Abi went swimming around the bay climbing into and looking in caves in the surrounding cliffs. Anyway we spent the day playing on beach playing volleyball badminton with “high quality equipment”, rackets were the shuttle cock would pass straight through and if going for a smash shot the head and arm would fly off at your opponent leaving you with standing there holding just the grip and making sure your opposition wasn’t dead, this produced some impressive matrix impressions while people avoided broken rackets flying towards their heads, good times. In the afternoon we had the option to wakeboard, so of course I jumped on the chance, what great fun it is. Abi went first and made it up first time, briefly, coming up to the surface smiling she kept trying, until her time was up, clearly happy with her ride. I went next and it took me a couple of attempts to get up but once I was up it was just like snowboarding fresh powder my only problem was getting to cocky and heading out of the wake and when it came to crossing back except for on one occasion I face planted and had to start again but still got some god long runs out of it which were awesome but after that I lost it being too tired to get back up so switched out to the next guy, Ben. Now Ben, a fellow Brit, was annoying as he has his own board and knew what he was doing so was up straight away jumping the wake doing butter slides and spins riding one handed and also making sure his boardies and hair were neat, all annoying but impressive to watch from the boat. Now after this Chris, Ben, Jonnie, Abi and I (British, British, Canadian respectively) decided it was beer o’clock so went to the bar for a few cans and swam out to a pontoon floating out in the middle of the bay. Now four lads (and a lady but she stands adamant she has nothing to do with this) Plus beers usually creates immaturity and mischief and sitting on a pontoon in a bay in Ha Long Bay was no exception and out of nowhere we decided trying to flip the Pontoon would be a Great idea, it wasn’t. it was an easy a task and quite fun all of us rocking it and then leaning it to one side until it flipped (Now this is why is wasn’t a great idea), once flipped the great idea became a really bad idea and a 30 minute mission to flip the pontoon back and fix it, as the barrels on the thing had fallen out and kept floating away but eventually with a lot of team work, drowning of each other avoiding really sharp barnacles and way too much laughing for something not, that, funny we lashed it all back together and left quickly back to the beach knowing we had done a better job than the original builder but still getting away from the crime scene as soon as and decided after all that hard work we needed, More Beer! and well that commenced the rest of the night more drinking, games, arsing around and well a big blur...(along with all this I apparently pissed off girl by not letting her use my torch but don’t remember that and I will come back to this later).
Ok waking up the next morning sucked especially realising it was last day of the Ha Long trip and would be all travelling, not to mention the HUGE hangover. Today was something Nobody wanted to do so, the taxi boat back to the big boat, Sucked, the big boat back to the harbour, Sucked, the standing at the harbour waiting for our bus without shade or seats, Sucked, the bus from Ha Long to the same stop as we went to on the journey out, Sucked, the stop, Sucked, the bus from there to Hanoi, Sucked, arriving back at the backpackers, Sucked, climbing 4 double flights of narrow steps to our room, again, Sucked, then the door to our room not being able to open, also Sucked, then going back down and carrying our bags back up, majorly Sucked, but then Abi being an Angel went to get Pizza (the best I had had since leaving home by a long way even good by home standards) while I laid not moving still being hung over then I slept very happy due Abs. (Now I bet your thinks how many time did I say ‘sucked’ in that paragraph well I said it 11 times just thought you should know).
So back to Hanoi Abi now only had a about a week till leaving and so it was time to shop and do the tourist sites Abi having done her research more than me as it’s something I don’t really do we went off to see the sites the Temple of Literature (a must, Abi being a librarian), the local church (St James’ I think?), the Hanoi Hilton (not the hotel, the pilot POW prison), Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The temple of literature was an impressive site no doubt their which stunning oriental gardens with pools/ponds (with turtles in them) huge twisted ancient trees and obviously the ancient temple itself which ok for was yet another temple but this one still had something extra that was interesting with works of literature carved into huge stone Tortoises with what looked like tomb stones upright on their shells where the writing was actually carved lined up in rows going back from the central courtyards pool. Again like all temples there are the tourist traps commonly known as shops and shows where you are extorted for every dong you have but hey what do you expect?
Next we went to (well I don’t remember if it was next but it’s what I’m going to say was next), the Hanoi Hilton. What an eye opener for a start I didn’t realise it was originally used way back when the French had control of Vietnam and was used for some sick, sick torture methods of locals. This was until the French left and the Vietnamese took it back over until the Vietnam war kicked off when the communists took control and used it as a place that well was quite ‘nice’ to all intense purposes compared to other POW camps/prisons and the Pilots who were sent there weren’t treated all that bad, well, after the Americans had realised what was going on. That is because before they intervened conditions weren’t too great and men were used to extract information that only Pilots as officers would know. But later as the name states they had all sorts of luxuries as long as they, the prisoners, stuck to the rules.
Ok, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was an impressive site but that is all I can say about it to be honest as it was closed when we arrived so we took some photos sat and starred from the kerb and then got some lunch and ice cream. But on the way back we did see the Hanoi war memorial and the flag pole thing, again I'm not entirely sure what was so special about it as we saw it through a fence as the entry fee was ridiculous. Now on the other hand the church near to where we were staying was very impressive and something not expected in the middle of the old town of Hanoi but walking around that was pretty spectacular almost similar to St Albans abbey but smaller but yet beautiful none the less with amazing stained glass and font area including a huge organ with pipes popping out everywhere.
Like I said the rest of the week was chilling and shopping we visited the night market which was along a closed road just off the lake and went on for ages it took about 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other and that was without stopping to look at what was being sold which included almost everything from phone covers to traditional gifts and clothes of all styles traditional or modern, obviously few things in my size but we still looked.
Anyway the end of Abi’s time came up far too quickly and it wasn’t before long I was arranging to get us to the airport and pick me back up and plan the next stage of my solo trip to Hue. So after packing up and moving myself back into Dorms *sigh* I was getting used to comfy beds, en suites and TV, but all good things must come to an end and that night they did we got into the cab in the evening with just Abi’s bags which now included a new one for her expanding collection similar to mums Shoe Collection. We had a nice ride out but getting to the airport we were told that flights back to Europe weren’t happening due to a volcano. Now I had been told about this but I did my research and as of 4 hours before heading to the airport and literally just before leaving for the airport all flights were still a go. But anyway this volcano, mainly its ash, meant Abi could get stuck for weeks in Korea or would have to stay in Vietnam until it cleared up equally a long time and not really viable with my visa running out and having booked my next part of my solo travel for the next evening. Thankfully we ran into a fellow Brit doing the same journey and got chatting and there is where my part in Abi’s story ends she got onto the plane with lots of difficult “goodbyes” and “good lucks”.
Well that is Hanoi for you to conclude and finish off Abi made it safely home without too many problems sneaking onto a plane ahead of hundreds of others after only a few days at Seoul airport so bad yes for a first time solo journey but she made it. I the next afternoon ran into Anderson, from castaway beach, and it turned out we were both plus two others, Mark and Henry, from the backpackers had finished their work there and where heading south too so would be on the same bus as me to Hue and there we go. We jumped on the bus selected out bunks and hit the road to Hue stop number Two in Vietnam.