I am writing from Sapa, a town in the northeastern part of Vietnam. It has been quite cloudy and cold the past couple of days, but that doesn't affect my sense of wonder. My first night in Hanoi, after a 24 hour, sometimes unbearable plane ride, I arrived late in the morning. I caught a taxi (which took me to the wrong hotel by the way) into the heart of the Old Quarter, in Hanoi. Of course I did the obligatory thing and left my camera in the cab as it sped off. Luckily, Peter (hotel owner's son) was able to have it returned to me about an hour and a half later. My trip almost ended before it began. The way most people get around in Hanoi is by motor scooter. Lines dividing the road don't seem to mean much here. Traffic goes both ways on both sides. Best way to describe it? Cluster fuck, but there doesn't seem to be many accidents, though I did witness a minor one. After booking my tour, I walked to my hostel (owned by an Australian ex-pat) and checked into the bottom bunk of a 10 person room. I then proceeded to
St. Patty's Day
my first night in hanoi, all u can drink beers, spirits, and Australian BBQ for under $10!
head upstairs for the St. Patty's Day party. Ten US dollars bought me all I could drink and an Australian BBQ. I met tons of fellow backpackers. We all got along extremely well. We swapped stories of our past/current travels, music, world politics, etc. It was certainly a well deserved treat after such a long flight. After having a few dance contests and singing some songs, a bunch of us, including the owner, headed to another bar for the continuation of our party. Needless to say, I ended up blacking out. The last thing I remember is buying shots for everyone.
So I woke up fully clothed the next morning. How I wound up in my own bunk I do not know. Of course I was late for my two day excursion to Halong Bay, a mystical body of water that is spotted by a series of over 3,000 limestone islands in calm, pristine water. After I delayed the trip for the other travelers, we headed on our way for a 3 hr. drive to the boat we would be spending the next 2 days on. I met 3 English blokes, Pete, Alex, and Tony. We hit it off
instantly and for the next 2 days, I spent most of my time with them. They were traveling together for a year. They were half way through their trip and were ending it in the States in November. Coincidentally, they were flying out of DC, so I invited them to stay with me when they arrived. They decided to take me up on my offer.
I also met 2 recent HS grads from Holland, Jos and Jules. They were winding down their trip, but had been to many places. I also had the pleasure of meeting a recently retired, 67 yr. old literature professor from NY. We also hit it off famously, though I spent most of the first night with my English friends. I said goodbye to them after the first night because they were staying an extra night and their itinerary was different from my own. It was a bit sad because I had grown close to them, especially Tony, since we had shared beers, cigarettes, and food the night before. We talked about many things, including of course, England, America, our respective governments, and history. Chuck was there for a lot of the conversation as well.
I made sure to let the English guys know that they were welcome to stay with me when they arrived in America.
After they left, we picked up a few more people on the boat, including two recent HS grads from Norway, Elen and Erica, two beauties with a very friendly air about them. So, the fellas from Holland, girls from Norway, Chuck and myself spent the rest of the day together. We danced to stay warm, visited the floating elementary school, and took a tour of some of the islands and caves by motor boat. Halong Bay is a beautiful place, even with the clouds and cold weather. There are island formations as far as the eye can see, and floating villages, fishing boats and tour boats that dot the Bay.
During our trip back from Halong Bay, we decided to meet back up in Hanoi for a few drinks. The Dutchies and myself were leaving for our respective destinations that evening. The girls and Chuck were staying at least one more night. We met up for drinks at a bar not to far from Hoan Kiem Lake, in the heart of the Old Quarter. The Dutchies
left to go South, the rest of us went to have dinner. After talking for quite a while, we parted ways, but I knew Chuck and I would see each other again, since we were both from NY. He made a point of telling me to keep in touch. I certainly will. Because the girls and myself had a similar itinerary, we decided to possibly meet up in Hoi An, about 16 hrs. south of Hanoi by bus/train. But first, I had to goto Sapa, where I am now, for a 3 night/2 day trip. I told the girls that I would e-mail them my itinerary after Sapa to see if we could possible meet up. They were very agreeable with the idea.
We parted ways with hugs and kisses and I headed back to the hotel in order to depart that eveing for Sapa. Peter escorted me by taxi to the overnight train. When I arrived at the station, I met up with an American traveler from California, Adam, who was 4 months into a 2yr. trip throughout the world. I was envious. I had met Adam on my first night in Hanoi, at the hostel. He was
one of the fellas that I partied with that night and it was quite a coincidence, since he was staying in the same car as I. He wasn't sure where he was staying in Sapa, or how he would get there after arriving in Lao Cai. I told him that he could ride with me to my hotel and possibly stay in my room if I had 2 beds. We drank a beer and talked about what we had been up to since we last saw each other. We also talked about my first night there and how drunk we both were.
We arrived in Lao Cai after a 10 hr. train ride. I found our driver and we headed into the heart of Sapa, about a 32 km ride. We checked into our hotel and then almost immediately began our first tour, a 30 min ride, 2 hr. walk into the ethnic minority towns of the Red Zhao and Black Hmong (spelling is probably not accurate). There is no way photos can capture the beauty of my entire adventure up to this point. The term that best describes what I have been feeling is "a sense of wonder."
...me and the English blokes.
Trips like these always puts things in their proper perspective and I hope my friends will join me on some of my future excursions. However, traveling alone is something I definitely love because I am never truly alone. I meet people, travel with them, become friends, part ways, and then start the cycle all over again. There is always someone to meet and befriend because backpackers have a common bond, one that cannot be shared with "tourists."
I learned much about the ethnic people and about their respective cultures. They welcomed us into their homes and let us observe how they lived. I learned that the differing dialects were closer to Chinese, because of our proximity to China (approximately 30-50km from where we were). They lived off of harvesting rice, among other crops. The women contributed by selling craftwork to visiting tourists. I admire thier fortitude and way of life, as they hack their survival out of the wilderness.
Adam and I returned in the early afternoon and decided to take a walk after lunch. We walked about 6km away from town, got lost, and backtracked to the hotel. We walked around downtown Sapa, but it was so
...ascending from the cave.
cloudy, we literally could not see 5 feet in front of us. We decided it was too cold and cloudy to do more, so we bought a couple of bottles of local wine, turned on the tele, drank, and passed out. I fell asleep around 7:30PM. It was the best sleep I had while in Vietnam.
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