13th of February, my birthday! A day on which I missed my dear ones heartbreakingly much, but this year it was one birthday I will not forget quickly. As a result of Marcels hard work to make it into a great happy day! It started with some cake at 12:00pm in Hanoi, and a Skype call to my sister and afterwards a Skype call to my mommy and daddy. Great to hear their voices, and the comforting words of Marcel were true: "don't be too sad honey, Roos, your dad and mom are only a call away" he keeps saying if I'm nagging about missing them too much. And it really sounded as if they were closer than 13.000km away. The following day, my actual birthday, was spend partly in a bus to Ninh Binh. But day was great, we had a great time together on the road and in the evening we ate a huge Vietnamese cake with the new friends we got to know that day (two Italian men, one German girl and two Vietnamese students). It wasn't without a bump in the road though; during our dinner my phone fell into my 'pho' (noodle soup with all kinds of other drifting ingredients, depending on the maker's creativity). Horrible, because we just found out that I had a dictionary and all kinds of maps on my phone that I could use to navigate us through the country, always knowing where we were and all without using any internet connection. This all seemed to come to an end when my phone took a dive into my liquid meal. Sh*t! The whole thing ended up to be just a good lesson of not using your phone above watery stuff (or while eating, sorry mommy, I know you always thought us so), because after a nice bath in a bag full of rice and an intimate date with a blow dryer, my phone came back to life. Pfieuw.
We decided to explore Ninh Binh by motorbike, so we went cruising through beautiful Karst scenery (on land this time) and took a boat trip over a river taking us to the limestone caves of Tam Coc. The boat was one of the main attractions in this area, but still a very good way to see the different sides of nature that this place has to offer. In the late afternoon we were the only ones driving between lots of fresh rice fields surrounded by enchanting mountains in the golden 5 o'clock sun and people working in these fields standing knee-deep in the watery lands, creating a quiet and peaceful scene.
After picking up our backpacks back in Hanoi we got on the last train to Vinh. We decided not to go to Ba Be Nature Park because the weather still hadn't cleared up there. Sadly, the Vietnamese New Year (mainly on 10th of February, on which we were in Quan Lan) meant that the public transport was all corrupted for an entire month. Because just before the 10th the story was "people have to go to their families, therefore the price has tripled", but still a week after the 10th the story hardly hadn't changed; all people had to get back to work or their own homes, so the prices would be sky high for at least two more weeks. This was very frustrating for us, because it became very hard to get cheap transportation and all kinds of people used that same line to try to get as much money from us as possible. Another side effect is full busses and trains, this was the case with tickets Hué. After some mental exercise of the ticket lady we got ourselves a train ticket to Vinh (8hr), half way between Hanoi and Hué. And after another all day bus ride afterwards (10hr), we got to Hué. And what a great welcome we had there. It was warm for once!
Hué was a fantastic place. We met our German friend again (Johanna), we embraced the warmth and tried to flee from it at times by going on trips by motorbike. By motorbike we went to deserted beaches, passed through some jungle-like nature, explored mountain hills and took dives into waterfalls. We saw very basic villages, stunning views and had fun with local children. Traveling by motorbike proved itself to be the best way to see this country!
After Hué we went to Hoi An, a colorful, beautiful and charming city mid Vietnam. But all old houses are now clothes stores, who take over the entire outlook of the city. In the bus ride from Hué to Hoi An we met two eastern European people with whom we had a great evening and shared some traveling stories. Always nice to exchange some traveling tips and tricks, and it feels great to be able to give some helpful advice to other people! In Hoi An, like the majority of the people there, we got ourselves some clothes made. Marcel treated himself with a custom-made suit, and I got a pair of custom-made shoes. The most interesting thing besides the city itself, was a place filled with old propaganda posters. Very intriguing to see the posters that were posted all over the country during the Vietnam war activating its inhabitants to stand up against the Americans or anyone for that matter, who was against Communism. This is still the first and foremost belief, so it seems by all communistic flags everywhere.
Just two days after arriving in Hoi An we left for Da Lat. Da Lat, a place that was supposed to be beautiful because of its waterfalls and gorgeous nature. For us it was mainly a place for Marcel to get better of his strange recurrent fever. We found Da Lat to be a very kitsch and hardly 'natural' place. All mentioned 'beautiful' places were over populated by tourists, and was very static instead of some sort of 'flow' you expect of nature. For example the waterfall we visited had a rollercoaster all around it, and all temples and Buddha statues are freshly painted in kitschy colors. Ever since Hué the warmth has not left our side, what has made some places we visited, like Da Lat for instance be a nice place to stay anyway. As soon as Marcel got enough energy we went to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). Here the heat was suffocating on days when there was not even a slight breeze (over 35degrees). On the 28th of February we found out that our thirty day visa was not actually a thirty day visa as much as a literally monthly visa. This meant we had to get out of Vietnam in no more than two days! So we decided to walk around the city as much as we could, find the pretty spots as described by our friends we met earlier on this trip and the Lonely Planet and leave the city. On the 1st of March we got on the night bus towards Ha Tien, a town near the border with Cambodia. Sadly this meant we couldn't visit the Mekong Delta anymore, but hopefully we could make up for that in Cambodia or Laos.
Good bye, interesting country filled with national flags and communism flags. Countless, small, different shops selling anything from chainsaws to clocks, jewelry and grocery all run by complete families. Both friendly and deceptive people. Stunning nature. Temples and Pagodas. Motorbikes. Minibuses driven by crazy, life challenging drivers. Spider web of electricity cables. Trees wearing white socks against some sort of mosquito. Squatting people. Always cooking and sweeping ladies. Mouth caps. And conical hats everywhere. Vietnam was a very beautiful, embracing and enchanting country. A country filled with breathtaking nature, crazy traffic and mostly traumatized people. The latter might be the cause of why the people who deal with tourists are acting two faced, almost mean in negotiation. Weather it is about not wanting to buy something or actually bargaining a price. But the people in smaller villages are kind, friendly and always ready to help you out. Vietnam has gotten a special place in our hearts for sure. In many years we will come back here to see how the country has carried on getting back on its feet after the wars it has constantly been in and out off until recently.
Cambodia here we come!
Love and Light always,