Published: September 11th 2008September 10th 2008
Vietnam, a mixture of modern savvy and old fashioned charm, as this photo shoot at Hanoi's Temple of Literature suggests.
Unexpected experiences make travelling without a fixed schedule a delight because of the unexpected experiences. Sometimes the unexpected means missing rather than gaining experiences. Fact
: Prior to the Olympic Games, the Chinese Government tightened the visa application process. Applicants were required to apply from their home country or country of protracted residence. It was necessary to showing vouchers for fully-booked hotels, tickets for connecting travel, and international air tickets at the time of applying. Fact
: Tickets for train travel within China only go on sale four days before the date of travel. Outcome
: The Chinese Embassy in Brunei accepted the fact that my Brunei residence would expire before I reached China, and while they did insist on seeing hotel fully-paid hotel bookings, they graciously accepted a detailed itinerary in lieu of purchased tickets. Fact
: The Vietnamese Embassy in Brunei would only give me a fifteen-day visa since I planned to enter by land. Implication
: Having booked hotels in China for specific dates, there was no point in trying to extend my Vietnamese visa. Fact
: The Hanoi-China train trip cannot be booked on the internet (even though the China-Hanoi trip can be). Assumption
: We assumed we would be able
Another mixing of the old and the new at the Temple of Literature.
to book the Hanoi-China train as soon as we reached Saigon. Fact
: International train tickets are not available in Saigon; they are only sold in Hanoi. Fact
: The journey from Saigon to Hanoi spreads across two nights and the intervening day. Fact
: We reached Saigon on August 24th. I had to leave Vietnam on September 4th. Implication
: Allowing one day to book the Saigon-Hanoi trip and two days to complete it, I had a week spare on my visa. We were aware that booking an international train might require more than that. We decided we had no option but to dash to Hanoi and see what we could achieve. Outcome
: We cancelled our dreams of resting on the beach at Na Trang, visiting the old French hill station of Dalat, exploring the beaches of Central Vietnam, the Marble Mountains at Danang, the backpacker haven of Hoi An, and the Imperial Palace at Hue. We left Saigon by train on August 25th bound for Hanoi.
After a night, a day, and the next night we pulled into Hanoi Station on August 27th at 6:30am. We went straight to the International Booking Office and sat in front of the ticket
Our starting point: Ga Sai Gon. Ga from the French Gare, meaning station.
window until the booking clerk arrived at 8:00am. I asked her for two tickets to Nanning on Thursday September4th, my last day. She showed me in pantomime that the trains only run on Tuesdays and Fridays (the internet timetable had not been correct). She pointed to Friday 5th and used the only English word she seemed to know, Full
; then she pointed to Tuesday 2nd and used it again, Full
. We were stunned; we had assumed we would get something. We gathered our bags and, just as we were about to leave the station, one of us said, But what about Thursday 29th?
I went back to the window and was delighted to find myself - after a lot of paperwork - issued with two tickets. At the last moment I mimed the question, seats or sleepers? She folded her hands and laid her head on them. I gave her a double thumbs-up and thanked her very much.
If we had not decided to dash from Saigon we would have missed this booking too. Now we gave up our dreams of going to Sapa and Halong Bay.
So we did not explore Vietnam at all. I just had
Ga Hanoi: our staging spot.
time to discover that Saigon has modernized immensely and that, despite modernizing, Hanoi has not lost it’s personal charm during the last twelve years. I found my friend and classmate Hui, presiding over a new Spring Hotel - still in sound of the Cathedral bells.
We managed to steal one night at the Hanoi Opera. The historic building has been restored. It is next door to the Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel
. The renovation has been very sensitive to the orginal, as can be seen from this video
We attended a performanced called Khuc Giao Mua, The Dance of Autumn. Here are links to two extracts, Bamboo’s Soul
and Burden of Lovesick
performed by The Vietnam National Opera and Ballet on 28th August, 2008.
On August 29th- we took another night train. Our first companion, a pregnant young woman, tearful at leaving her husband in Saigon and suffered from morning sickness, was replaced by two giggly undergraduates. Actually, we were in the company of two carriage loads of college kids returning to university in China. Now we realized why we’d been unable to get the tickets we wanted: the Chinese college year starts in early September.
Our destination: Nanning in SW China.
The train pulled into the last station before the border at 10:30 pm Vietnam time. To do the Vietnam border honours we had to pull all our luggage into at an old mahogany station, which had lots of glass and polished wood, big tables, and glass-fronted desks for the officials. We left the station on China time, so it was after midnight when we observed a new train had pulled into the platform. It had different staff and different carriages. There was thick red carpet on the floor. The mattresses had inner springs, protectors and under-blankets. The bed linen was fine quality white. The quilts were thick and light. Everything was clean. I said that I loved the Chinese. The girls reminded me that I loved the Vietnamese too. I quickly agreed.
The Chinese officers were already on the train. It moved slowly along towards Pingxiang and stalled there until they had finished their job. The girls flirted with the immigration officers, asking if their pictures were pretty, so I did the same. The customs inspector was more serious. He took one look inside Graham’s bag, went away to get some plastic gloves. Later he organised a much more
In some respects Saigon has not changed since I was there twelve years ago ...
thorough unpacking of my bag. In the process I found two little koalas to give to the girls. They squealed with delight.
At 7am we all the passengers were disgorged into a very swank soft seat waiting area, complete with garden, marble pavements, and goldfish pond. The station official seemed reluctant to let us leave the building, but in the end we convinced her our tickets were for Nanning and she unlocked the exit.
Our crazy dash to China had succeeded.
Travel Notes In SAIGON (aka Ho Chi Minh City) we stayed at the very central Spring Hotel. 44-46 Le Thanh Ton St. Email: email@example.com. Their website, http://www.springhotelvietnam.com/, is very user-friendly. The reception staff were very helpful with vehicle hire, buying train tickets, and finding alternative accommodation when they were fully booked. It is a bijou place, in French fin-de-siecle style. Recommended. cUS$45.00 for a double/twin. We did not check out the cheaper options which are available.
A nice, tourist-friendly but Asian, restaurant nearby is Lemongrass, 56-66 Nguyen Hue Blvd.
Sax n’ Art, 28 Le Loi street, is good to hear local jazz players.
Also nearby, and nextdoor to the [B]HSBC Bank[/B], is the
[B]Tourist Information Center[/B], at 4G-4H Le Loi St. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
... I remember floodlit French colonial buildings, although they were not so pristine.
We went cheap again in HANOI and took a US15.00 double room at the Nam Phuong Hotel, 26 Pho Nha Chung. http://www.namphuonghotel.com. In the same price range is the Spring Hotel 1, at 8A Pho Nha Chung; but for a little more comfort Spring Hotel 2, 38 Au Trieu Street, on the other side of the old cathedral, is recommended. Email for both: Spring.email@example.com.
We recommend the [B]Bon Mua Café[/B] is in a building opposite Hoan Kiem Lake. 38-40 Le Thai To, http://www.haprobonmua.vn. [B]Pho 24[/B], a good value noodle chain, in Saigon as well as Hanoi. They sell their own brand of yoghurt and Tiger beer too.
How I’ve been
Writing about Vietnam when I’m in the midst of experiencing China is an interesting thing to do; we have only another four days left in China out of a total of forteen. It will be good to settle down in Graham’s flat on Lamma Island in Hong Kong for a while and travel nowhere! This may be my last internet opportunity in China.
I have some great video of the Vietnamese Ballet. I'll add
The market has freshened up too, but remains a fantastic place to shop.
it as soon as the technology allows me to. Azam
: I can't get your new blog up; did you give the address correctly? (What a season to start blogging about food!) Dick and Debbie
: It's never too early to start on Geography. Wen
: or too late. LOL
There are more photos below