So it seems it's been more than two weeks since the last blog. That went fast. Very fast. I've also been relatively busy but still lazy in those two weeks.
I ended up staying in Hoi An for another few nights - making it 10 in total. Really not what I expected when I first arrived after that bus journey. It's a while ago so I can't remember much about it, but I did meet a new bunch of people over so-called family dinner. That turned into another fun night, but while we were still in full control of our thoughts, we arranged for all of us to head to the beach the following day.
That was a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing day, and the beach was surprisingly good! The weather also decided to be perfect for the day, which was also a great bonus. We stayed there most of the day before heading back into town. I can't remember exactly what followed, but it did turn into another night out and late night!
The next day, a few of us went out of town on bikes. I still don't ride so I was on the back. Me & the guy I was with set off late, so we caught up at a pre-defined meeting point. The meeting point was ludicrously poorly planned because it was effectively in the opposite direction. Our ultimate destination was Golden Bridge / Ba Na Hills. I knew in advance that I wouldn't pay the entrance fee (too much for a backpacker!) but the ride was cool anyway, and the bridge I would imagine is spectacular (google it). That was my final day in Hoi An.
The next day, myself and a friend booked onto an easyrider - you pay for a guy to take you somewhere via motorbike - from Hoi An to Hue, via the Hai Van Pass. It is also known as the Top Gear road because it was featured in the Vietnam special a few years ago. Clearly there is no element of cashing in involved. The whole day was an enormous amount of fun, but to be fair, the Hai Van Pass was definitely the highlight. Superb road to drive (or be driven) on and some spectacular views! We were also taken to a waterfall with natural swimming pool. Whilst over touristy, it was a nice way to relax for a while! We arrived in Hue later afternoon, but had already decided to get straight on a night bus to a place called Ninh Binh.
The night bus was like any other, but due to fatigue from the day and the late nights, I slept very well! We arrived at Ninh Binh way earlier than officially scheduled. But we still got a taxi to our place and ended up crashing on the floor for a while!
After breakfast, a few of us went out to explore the area around Ninh Binh. It's quite beautiful naturally. But the scourge returned in spectacular fashion. Chinese tourists - obviously. There was an astonishingly disproportionate amount of them compared to tourists from other countries. And it had the unfortunate consequence of turning something of great natural beauty into something of an eyesore in certain places. And that isn't even to mention the obligatory narcissism and disrespect for anyone in their vicinity.
One of the spots - Bai Dinh - is an immense and massive temple complex. It's fantastic to look at, however, a lot of the complex is quite modern. Which has to make one wonder if it was built for true religious purposes, or for the intention of making money. Oh, wait.
It was still well worth the visit though, despite it being a tourist trap. The memory is now blurred, but it may also have been there where I saw something for the first time that I hoped wouldn't exist. A selfie tripod. It must be the next evolution of the evil selfie stick. And yes - it was being operated by someone who appeared to be Chinese. I'm also confident that the tripod, like a selfie stick, would fit snugly in the only place it belongs.
We had a slow cruise back into town for that and didn't do much for the rest of the day. I also made the following day a designated, full on lazy & relaxation day, in the peace and tranquility of where we were staying. And it was exactly that!
The next day, I got the bus to Hanoi, which is the capital of Vietnam. I think I got lazy on arrival! Or at least I can't remember doing anything, but I could be wrong. Later on, I met up with the same friend from Hoi An (and their friend from home). We had another good night out!
The day after that, I had a night train to Sapa. But since I had a full day to spare, I did some tourism and discovered Hanoi a little bit. I walked some miles and ended up at an old prison turned museum. Unsurprisingly, it was full of propagandistic language relating to French colonists (it was the French who built the prison) and heroes of Vietnam. But, in fairness, they probably can't be blamed given the history. In spite of that, it was well worth a visit and was quite informative. I didn't do much for the rest of the day, prior to taking the night train to Sapa, which was part of a trekking tour in the region!
The train was very comfortable - 4 berth sleeper cabin - and thus I felt like I had a very good sleep! It arrived quite early, but we had to be transferred by mini bus to Sapa itself, which took about an hour. Sapa is a very hilly region in the north of Vietnam, full of valleys and rice fields. It's also still home to a quite numerous amount of tribes, who have their own dialect - it was a member of one of the tribes who was the guide for the trek.
Trekking in Sapa has become very touristy, but I selected an option which for the most part kept one away from other tourists. It's also the end of wet season in north Vietnam. So with Sapa being in the north and at some altitude, nature can very much play it's part! Unfortunately, it wasn't entirely favourable for my time there. The first day, it rained on and off, but the clouds were high enough so that the views were still pretty amazing in places. Although it was never fully clear at any point in the day. At the end of the day, we arrived at the homestay for the evening. I was surprised to receive something of a luxury - a double bed! With a memory foam mattress no less.
The evening was a fun one. We ate very well - we were served with way more food than it was possible to eat! We were also given copious amounts of the local delicacy - "happy water". It is homemade rice wine - which can be quite potent! Unfortunately, a drinking buddy happened to be amongst the group, so it's fair to say the happy water didn't go wasted! Amazingly enough, I woke up feeling fresh. My drinking buddy didn't. The normal routine is to move onto a different homestay for the second night. But I was too attached to my double bed, so I decided to stay there again.
The visibility during the hiking on day two was non existent. Whilst it didn't necessarily spoil the day, it definitely made it less rewarding than it otherwise would have been. During an almost full day of hiking, the clouds didn't lift or clear once! The second night at the homestay was more or less a repeat of the first, with less happy water involved on that occasion!
I woke up on day three to identical weather as day two, so I decided to be lazy and skip the hiking! I was eventually given a lift to a cafe, which served as the pick up point for a further life back into Sapa. There was time to have a quick look at Sapa before taking another lift back to the train station for the ride back to Hanoi. It was another night train and was just as comfortable as the first!
The weather definitely had an affect on the ultimate enjoyment of Sapa, and as with most places in Vietnam, there were too many other tourists (although at least not Chinese this time). Still glad I did it though.
I was back in Hanoi for another couple of nights. I did more tourism. I went to the military museum (can't remember the exact name). Like the prison, it contained a lot of propaganda. This time, it also contained military hardware, some of which are designated "national treasures". They were Russian built fighter jets and tanks etc. The scourge also returned, although to a lesser extent than Ninh Binh! I also witnessed something that's always fascinated me a little - people having their picture taken in front of instruments of war, which in the past were used to kill fellow people. It seems odd to me that someone would want to be associated with that, but anyway!
The following day, a bit more tourism happened. We ended up at something called the Temple of Literature. It was very nice to be fair and from my impression, it appeared largely untouched from whenever it was first built. We then ended up at the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. I actually didn't know it was that until I just googled it. But, that was my guess whilst I was there. There's also numerous government buildings and a lot of grass in the surrounding area. There's also a very wide road which doesn't allow access to vehicles - I assume it has been used for military parades at some point previously! It turned out to be well worth the visit. And part of it was closed, so I may end up going back before I leave Hanoi.
The next day, we booked onto a cruise in Ha Long bay. I knew in advance it would be very touristy, but was happy to do it in any case because it's a special area in the natural world. Yes there were too many boats and too many Chinese people, but it was well worth it in the end because it was a thoroughly enjoyable day. The highlight was probably kayaking into more enclosed areas, which actually were spectacular to look at. We also took a quick walk through a cave. That I didn't like because it was far too busy and was clearly modified for purposes of tourism. There were man made water features in there. Some people were taken in by them. I wasn't. After that, we cruised back to the dock and we spent the night in Ha Long city itself.
That finally brings this thing up to date! Other than today. I went to Vietnam Women's Museum. Perhaps with some irony, it was incredibly boring. Joke. Like most if not all museums, it was boring in parts, but the majority of it was interesting enough and it explained a variety of things such as belief, marriage, war, fashion (very boring) and probably a few other things.
That's it for now. I'm probably in Hanoi for the next 5 nights until I meet up with friends from Pai. Which is no bad thing because I do rather like this city.
But I am ready to leave Vietnam and Asia in general. Until next time!