Vietnam: Hanoi, Sapa, Hanoi
Saturday 3rd March
We left Cat Ba island and the wonderful view from our hotel in the morning, taking again minivan, boat, minivan, big local bus back to Hanoi. We arrived in Hanoi in the afternoon, checked in an hotel and went for some late lunch.
Then we went to the headquarter of the bus company where my dad had bought the return-tickets to Cat Ba and had paid 250,000 dons instead of 190,000 dons for each ticket (3 dollars more per ticket, so 12 more dollars). He recognised the woman who had sold him the tickets and told her that he was not happy that she had made him pay that price and that he wanted to get reimbursed. I was ready to get the Lonely Planet out and point to it and point my thumb down and tell them that I was going to tell every single person I knew and every website how bad they were…But, surprinsingly, they did give us the money back and quite quickly! I suppose they are used to scam tourists every day, but maybe not that many people come back to complain.
After that, we walked around and then met with David and Lung again. David took us to a local beer place where there were only locals and where we had great beers and dinner.
Sunday 4th March
We took an early train to Sapa, at 6:10am. My dad thought the train was at 6:40am, so we arrived there only 7 minutes before the departure time! The night before, Lung had warned me about another scam, some guys who wait at the railstation’s entrance for people who are late and ask to see their tickets and then tell them they cannot access the platform anymore but that they can buy another train ticket from them quickly for another train.
When we arrived, there was a guy at the entrance of the station who didn’t look like part of the railstation and asked to see our tickets and we refused and went straight to the woman in uniform at the departure’s door. And she informed us we were late and had to run, so we kind of ran and got in the train. Pfiou.
The train ride was 10 hours to Lau Cai and arrived there at 4.30pm. It was 10 very productive hours for me as I typed most articles about Vietnam. I actually spent most of the time sitting in the sinkroom where there was a wonderful plug for the netbook charger. I still looked a bit at the landscape sometimes, and there were some gorgeous little mountains.
There was also sometimes some nice lakes like this one
My neighbour was Huyen, a really cool Vietnamese girl who was going to Sapa to teach for a week some police school.
We arrived on time and looked for a minibus going to Sapa. There were a few of them waiting for people arriving from the train, but they were asking 300,000 dons per tourist while only asking 50,000 dons for the Vietnamese people. We refused to pay that and luckily there were 2 Swiss girls from Zurich and 2 German girls from Munich who also refused to pay that price. They took it down to 200,000 dons, but we kept refusing and asking for 50,000 dons and walked away in the direction of the local bus station 200 meters away of the railstation. The 2 guys who followed us and kept telling us to pay 200,000 dons were really aggressive verbally and even pushing us. I had never seen such aggressivity so far in all my travels! We kept refusing, they kept following us, and finally proposed 60,000 dons, which we accepted too. Again it is not about just a 12 dollars difference on the ticket…It is more about that feeling of being unrespected and considered as a wallet on legs all the time.
We arrived in Sapa around 6.30pm and looked around for an hotel for about an hour, as a lot of them were full. Got an hotel, went for dinner, and bed.
Monday 5th March
We were lucky to have some great sun, as apparently the weather in Sapa had been rainy and foggy for the last 2 weeks. Here is the view we had from our hotel room in the morning.
Alright…Here is the complete view we had…I guess that’s why the room was quite cheap. 🙂
Sapa was “created” by the French in the 50’s and has a “French touch” in its architecture and restaurants and atmosphere. Here is one of the streets.
While going for some breakfast, we saw a lot of Hmong and Dao women in the streets, dressed in the traditional way. These women are very friendly, and smiling, speak really good English and let you photograph them without asking for money or to buy stuff from them. Something different from the ethnic women of Northern Thailand or Northern Lao with who it was impossible to communicate and asked immediately money for a picture or simply refused them. I became “friend” with three Dao women, Tsa, Nahè and Tiomaè.
These women are very smart business women. They don’t pressure you to buy anything from them firsthand. They first chat with you, and smile, and offer you a bracelet, and reach your heart. They are so lovely and so much not pressuring you that after spending a day running into them, walking with them, chatting with them, I really wanted to buy something from each of them.
I had a really good vibe with Tsa.
I talked with her about trekkings and going to her village. I felt the most beautiful would be to come back one day to Sapa and spend 2-3 weeks walking around the mountains from a village to a village, possibly with a guide like her. One day, maybe…
But for the moment, we simply walked to Cat Cat. It is a small village just below Sapa, very touristy and nothing special, but the landscape around was gorgeous.
We stopped for lunch in a place nearby that waterfall. There was no menu, so we just pointed to carrot, tomato, green pepper and mushrooms and the white rice the woman had and asked if she could cook it all together. She came up with something really really delicious!
Then we kept walking around and came back to Sapa where I met with my Dao friends again and sat with them, had a cool chat, and bought some gifts from them.
We went to visit the Museum of Tribes where there were some informative panels about some traditions of the ethnies. For example, for the Hmong, if a man wants to marry a woman, first he kidnaps her!
We ran again into Jean and Ginette we had met in Quy Nhon and had some beers together in the evening.
Tuesday 6th March
We decided to go walking alone with a map instead of paying for a walk with 8 people and a guide.We started walking around 9am.
There was a really cool armchair on the way. Wish I had some time to just sit in it and watch he landscape for hours.
and were “followed” by 2 Hmong women who were friendly and not pushy, so why not.
They took us through very small paths, it was gorgeous.
In one of the village, I ran into a grandma and three grandkids.
After 4 hours and half of walking, I was happy to thank them by buying some goods from them. We then came back by motorbike whose price they negotiated for us, had some late lunch and waited to be picked up at 4.30pm to go back to Lau Cai to take a night train.
Of course, the minivan only actually really left at 5.20pm! On the way to Lau Cai, there was gorgeous landscape too.
We arrived 20 minutes before the train, got inside and it departed on time. For the first hour, we were three only, sharing the 6-beds compartment with a Vietnamese who is the director of the Geology Museum of Hanoi. He was a very friendly man and shared bread and beers with us.
Then a guy and two women, the three of them Vietnamese, joined us and took their sleeping bed. We didn’t really talked with them.
It was a great time for me again to write a bit, edit some photos, before we would arrive for only one last day in Hanoi.
Wednesday 7th March
We arrived in Hanoi around 5am, on time, and this time we took Mai Linh, one of the two reliable taxi companies (the other one is Taxigroup) to go to the old city. Hey, yeah, you get scammed once, not twice! 🙂
Slept a few hours then went to the French institute for lunch, great exhibition there of very very funny art, apparently from Cua Plonk and Replonk..Couldn’t find more info.
Didn’t do much for the rest of the day except paying a visit to the great turtle of the lake.
Tonight going for dinner with Lung, David and Audrey-Laure and Olivier that we had met in Hoi An and who were also leaving Hanoi tomorrow, back home.
Last day in Vietnam, tomorrow (8th March) Bangkok!