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Published: August 9th 2007
Hanoi, apart from being a really cool city, turned out to be a great base to go and see lots of beautiful places that are scattered in its parameter.
And so, one day we ventured to Tam Coc - a little place with big rocks dipped in the river. We were sat on a small boat while a couple of locals were paddling around. They spoke some French, so we could actually have some interaction with them as most of Lao and Vietnamese people don't usually speak English (apart from a few necessary words such as: "money", "tip" and "more"). Sometimes I regret we have that interaction though as every single Vietnamese asks how old you are and then if you are married. You can imagine the reaction when they find out I'm 28 and single! I still haven't learned how to explain: "no rush mate!" ;o)
After Tam Coc, we jumped on a night train to Sapa with a couple of Canadian troublemakers that we kept on bumping into. Sapa was a great choice for many reasons but mostly because of its climate: around 25 Celsius and no humidity! It was wonderful not having to sweat all the
time again! One thing about SE Asia is that you can clean your body of all the toxic through constant perspiration - can be a good thing, depending if the glass is half full...
Anyway, going back to where we were: Sapa is a little town in the mountains with lots of beautiful rice terraces and hill tribes that live around the area. They have a habit of hanging around the town and selling their crafts to the tourists. The selling technique they use is mostly hard sell with pretty much the same intro every time: "Buy from me?". Saying "no, thank you" is very much like trying to convince motorbike drivers in Hanoi to stop at the red light - read pointless. The worst bit is that most of these village vendors are children who are really sweet...but they are also children using the hard sell techniques, which makes them slightly annoying. And that's probably the hardest part: trying not to judge them all. All in all, these children were nice and I almost took one home with me, but the selling part can really get on your nerves. I've learned to just smile and then ignore andfind
it's the best way: shows I'm not arrogant because I smile but I won't buy anything, hence the ignorance part. And believe you me, this happens every 5 min when you are out and about, so sometimes, you just ignore them without a smile and you don't even feel bad about it...depending on a day.
Apart from avoiding the street vendors, we got motorbikes and went all around the place to see the nearby waterfall - there doesn't seem to be a place in SE Asia that doesn't have a waterfall. We visited a village and spent some time in one of the tribal huts chatting to the locals. All the villages are nicely nestled in the middle of rice terraces, so the views are incredible! Plus, you are on a motorbike and there just isn't a better thing at that particular moment in time. Shame you can't drive bikes so freely in Europe - you always have to have a helmet, if not the whole set of leathers, and a driving licence of course. Here, all of these things don't matter and as a result, you feel less scared of it all as all of those restrictionscan make
rice field around Sapa
you quite paranoid, I've noticed.
After a couple of days in Sapa, it was time to go back to Hanoi and get ready for the next trip - Halong Bay. Mary decided that before we hop on a local bus to Halong Bay, she needs to try...a cobra snake and dog's meat. Mind you, Mary has been a vegetarian for 16 years but she also likes to immerse herself in the deepest kind of cultural experience and so she went off on her little adventure. It turned out to be blood curling in a literal meaning of the word. The snake was killed right in front of her (I won't get into details now but will be happy to tell you all about it when I get back) and she saw how they drained its blood, which she then drank... She also got to see how they take a still beating heart out and put it in a glass for her to eat (supposedly, it makes you stronger) but she had to draw a line somewhere and left the heart untouched... $80 later (!!!), she got back all hyped up as she still had quite a bit of adrenaline
some just watch
village kids in Sapa
going round. I probably don't have to mention that she felt a bit nauseous later on, I mean c'mon, drinking snake's blood??!! You do have to admire her guts though... It was enough for me to see a street lined up with grilled dogs - I already felt like I was having a deep experience of a kind right there :o)
Halong Bay was exactly what we were expecting: beautiful. It's listed in the UNESCO heritage so there's got to be a good reason for it! Due to our aversion to organised tours, we once again decided to do it on our own and rented a boat for a day and off we sailed away. It was wonderful and Halong Bay did not disappoint at all. The best part was getting to this small secluded beach right in the middle of the sea. It had white sand, amazing shells, clear water and there was nobody there! Could have been a romantic spot but the captain was a minger, so we just played on the beach on our own ;o)
Back on the ground, we tried the floating restaurant catches - it was really amazing food althoughour stomachs didn't
appreciate the restaurant moving after a whole day on the boat. At the end of the day it was a floating restaurant! Doh!
Next day, after a beach stunt on the Cat Ba island where we were staying, I left Mary and jumped on a Russian jet boat to get back to Hanoi and find my way to the tailors' capital of the world: Hoi An. What happened there (and how much money I spent) in the next installment!
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