A Travellerspoint blog

November 2009

Fantastic Sunday in Hanoi

sunny 90 °F

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Students love to practice English with the foreigner

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Walking home from the Foodshop, I came past this park fountain

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Students coming from school at St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hanoi

What a day! It started early with breakfast at the Rainbow Cafe on Hang Hanh, continuing with bike races around Hoan Kiem Lake, and an iced tea at City View Cafe. Off to a shower at the Especen, and a very relaxing foot massage at Van Xuan on Ly Quoc Su (80,000VND for 70 min - bargain price). Then back to the Lake to get a shoulder bag and converse with several English students for 2 hours. By this time I'm half starved (17:30), so another half hour to find a Mai Linh taxi (the most trusted company in Vietnam) to take me to Truc Bac Lake for dinner at Foodshop 45 (Indian). Did I ever pick the right place to eat - a most romantic and relaxing atmosphere in a room open to the lake breeze. Best waitstaff I've yet encountered in country, and the food was sensational (onion fritters with 3 dipping sauces, Chicken Biryani rice and Prawn Curry - all with Halida Beer on ice, and to top off this fantastic meal I chose fresh fruit slices (banana, mango and watermelon) - 204,000VND, but well worth every Dong! I walked all the way back to Hoan Kiem Lake (2 miles) since I couldn't get a Mai Linh car, but it was very colorful - this town is abaze with lights on a Sunday, and at least 1 mile of the walk was through the Night Market.

I'm off to the Especen to pay my bill and an early bedtime - have to be up at the crack of dawn for the Haiphong train and then on the hydrofoil for Cat Ba Island. Just a day or two on the island and then back here and on to the NW Highlands next weekend. Diep generously gave me free train tickets RT to Lao Cai for the trip - can't beat that for generous!

More next time w/a few more pictures. I'm adjusting to the heat better now, and only sweat by the pint instead of the gallon.

Posted by Daawgon 05:12 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Monday, Monday...

Why did I pick Cat Ba?

sunny 85 °F

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Cat Ba Town on Cat Ba Island

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Cat Ba Town harbor from my hotel

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Hanoi traffic from my perch at the City View Cafe

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View from breakfast room at the Amazing Hotel, Hanoi

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Another view from the breakfast room

All went well as far as the Haiphong docks, but then my Mai Linh cab was met by these 2 ladies who misrepresented themselves as the official sellers of the Cat Ba Tourist jetboat tickets @ 300,000VND one-way!!!!! I did think this an outrageous price, but I guess my guard was down, because that's the price I paid. After ca fe and a cake, I looked at the ticket and guess what - 120,000VND was clearly stamped on it. I then confronted the ticket sellers and asked for an explanation - "oh, but that includes the jetboat + 2 bus rides". Still sounded a tad fishy, and I voiced my displeasure. An Aussie couple then showed up, and I warned them about the fishy prices. They then asked the ticket sellers for an explanation, and when no reasonable answer was given, they decided to walk down the dock and see what other boats were headed to Cat Ba. They soon came back, and said they bought tickets on a slow boat for only 80,000VND. As it turned out, as I was sitting on the bus for the ride to the jetboat dock, one of the ticket sellers came up to me and gave me 150,000VND??? What's going on here??? She just said something about my complaint, and left.

I finally made it out to the island and Cat Ba Town after one bus ride from hell on the Haiphong side, one fast but wet jetboat ride, and a rather interesting bus ride from the west side of the island to the southern tip at Cat Ba Town. I walked around town for 30 minutes dodging hotel offers, and was somewhat unimpressed with the lodging scene that I saw for flashpackers. Then I walked into the Huong Cang Hotel on the waterfront, and settled on a simple but cheerful room for the sum of $8. (could have been $6., but I thought I'd better get AC just in case). Cat Ba Town was sad - looked like a town in dire distress (damn few tourists on the street or in the hotels or restaurants). I asked for 2 nights, but then revised this plan and thought - " my God, I'll have trouble lasting 24 hours in this place". I did find a decent evening meal, and at least it was cool and breezy on the island.

Next morning, I had my pho bo with ca fe and watermelon juice, and headed back to the hotel to settle the bill. I thought, well, what else can go wrong, I'll just head back to Hanoi, and just forget Cat Ba ever happened. The desk clerk could not find my passport - she looked in several drawers and cabinets, and this went on for a good 10-15 minutes. Naturally, by the time she located the document, I was fuming!!! I grabbed the passport, and raced upstairs to get my things, and when I returned, I threw the damn key at the unoccupied desk. The owner and desk clerk ran out to the lobby and started giving me the business, but I was furious, and promised them I'd tell the world to avoid their establishment at all cost!

The return trip to Hanoi was quite pleasant (and that bus-jetboat-bus trip only cost 120,000VND this time), and I actually walked about 2 miles from the Hanoi bus station to the Hoan Kiem District. Stopped at the Tamarind Cafe for museli, tropical fruit and yogurt and ca fe sua da (iced). Then on to the Old Quarter, where I looked at a few lodgings before settling on a new place - the Hanoi Amazing Hotel - because it was so cheerful, friendly and just plain nice @ $20. for the first night, and $25. the remaining 2 nights for a balcony room. Enough of my rambling for one day.

Posted by Daawgon 04:40 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (3)

Northwest Highlands

Sapa Town and Bac Ha Market

sunny 80 °F

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All of the above shots taken at the Bac Ha Sunday Market

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Two Dutch friends that I met on the Bac Ha Market trip

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Diep seeing me off at the Hanoi Ga (train station)

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The View from my hotel - the Cat Cat View Hotel, Sapa

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Banana blossom in Sapa

I caught the 20:35 King Express train to Lao Cai, and my namecard read:
Cat Cat View Hotel welcomes John Wagner, so on to the hotel in the wee hours. The room was nothing special, but the view was very nice, and I even had a balcony. I had developed a cold, so most of the day was spent in bed trying to knock it out, after buying tickets on the Pumpkin tour to the Bac Ha Market (leaving at 07:00 the next am).

The tour turned out to be fun, and I did lessen most of the discomfort of the cold by the next am. It was quite a long drive to Bac Ha (via Lao Cai), but we took several breaks in Lao Cai and at the Chinese border gate.

Posted by Daawgon 18:45 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Muggy day in old Hanoi

sunny 90 °F

Back to Hanoi, and extremely muggy weather this week (Tuesday, Wednesday). I'm back at the Especen, and off to Hue on tonight's train. My sweating is somewhat uncontrolled in this weather, and the cold certainly does not help. Just stopped at the pharmacy for some Belgian-made cold tabs, and next to meet Diep for lunch and to get my train ticket.

I've experienced major computer access problems here recently - just trying to pay a few bills has been very difficult, and this blog has been of lessor priority. I checked the weather on the Central Coast, and while it looks pretty typhoon-free this week, it will be warm. (I'm seriously thinking of trying to fly into Nha Trang or Dalat instead of training all the way. At least Viet Air tickets can now be bought online.)

I just can't get enough of Vietnamese coffee - you must try ca fe sua da (iced coffee) - like a triple espresso with filtered Viet coffee beans and sweetened condensed milk over ice (a real experience not matched in the West). Viet filtered coffee is almost syrup in consistency (these people love their sugar, diabetics beware!)

Posted by Daawgon 19:16 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Hanoi to Hue

Livitrans (upper) sleeper, first class

sunny 90 °F

Time to leave Hanoi, and Diep promised to collect me in front of the Cathedral at 17:45, but instead, his right hand man came on motorbike. Diep knows how I hate to ride as a passenger on a Vietnamese motorbike, but it was then too late to argue, and I prayed for success. To make matters worse, it was rush hour, and streets were packed. If you've never ridden as the #2 man on a Honda scooter with a good size backpack + shoulder bag + small bag of tangerines in hellish traffic on the streets of Hanoi, you've been blessed. I was taken to another hotel where we were to meet up with a Canadian/Vietnamese couple (Montreal) who would be my compartment mates on the train. We went by Mai Linh cab to the Ga, and it did work out well, and the company was much appreciated. We shared the 4-berth compartment with a Japanese guy from Nagoya, and his English was rather good - a very interesting group all the way to Hue (the Japanese guy was headed for Danang, and Hoi An.) They had the AC blasting away on the train, and it's possible it might have worsened my cold (had to keep under the covers most of the night).

Arrived in Hue a little early (about 07:50), and I thought the Canadians were sharing a cab with me to a hotel (I waited and waited outside in the sun - bad move!) They never did show up, but I got a pretty bad sunstroke, and the water works started again. Guess my guard was down, because I accepted a ride with a non Mai Linh cabbie, and we all know how that turned out (that's right, taxi scam # who know's ?). I asked for the Amigo Hotel, but I was delivered to the Century Star instead, and I was not a happy traveler. I more or less threw 40,000VND at the driver, and started on my way. I didn't find the Amigo immediately, but since I knew Hue quite well the second time around, I headed for the main street, and checked into the Binh Minh Sunrise (I stayed at their sister hotel last year). For $25. I got a great room on the 4th floor complete with oversize teddy bear on the bed.

I hear it might cool down tomorrow (must be at least 90 now, and the place is very muggy), and that's fine with me. I catch the state train to Nha Trang at 01:07 Saturday. This time I'm in a lower berth, soft sleeper 2nd class. I've never slept on the regular state train B4 (how bad can it be?) It's dinner time, so guess I'll go a-hunting.

Posted by Daawgon 03:13 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

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