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Published: April 5th 2008
Cattle getting in my way during the bicycle ride through the rice paddies.
Rain or shine, we were on our way to ride through rice paddies and villages outside Hanoi! Unfortunately for us, it was rain. No matter. Getting a little muddy is a good thing, right? Umm, the key word is little
I'm back in Bangkok now, but there is a lot to cover from the rest of my trip to Vietnam...
My last update was on Friday, March 28 from Hanoi, Vietnam. So that brings me to Saturday...
Saturday consisted of more wandering through the streets of Hanoi. The Old Quarter isn't big, but it's a confusing maze of streets, and there is a fair amount to see. I went to a couple of markets (Hang Do & Dong Xuan). Both contain food, apparel, silk, dishes, etc, but Dong Xuan is substantially bigger. There were mostly locals there when I visited, which is not surprising since there really isn't all that much for the typical tourist. Still, kind of interesting.
Sunday morning in Hanoi translated to Saturday afternoon in the U.S., which meant it was time to watch the NCAA college basketball tourney (Elite 8). My team, UCLA, had the early time slot against Xavier (5:40 a.m. Hanoi
Watching the Elite 8
game between UCLA/Xavier on the sidewalk in front of Moca Cafe.
time). Being the crazy fan that I am, I was up. After turning on my computer, however, I soon discovered the internet wasn't working in my hotel room (previously the internet service at the Golden Lotus had been very, very good). Oh oh! I quickly checked downstairs, but unfortunately, there was nothing they could do. The problem wasn't on their end. The game certainly wasn't on TV. The internet was the only option. So I ventured outside the hotel to see what I could find. Not much. By 7:15, though, I found a wi-fi connection in front of the Moca Cafe (they were closed but in the process of getting ready to open at 8:00). So there I sat by the window of the Moca Cafe near the St. Joseph's Cathedral watching the last 7 minutes of UCLA/Xavier game (Bruins won!).
Since the Golden Lotus
was fully booked for Sunday night, I had to change hotels later that morning. My stay at the Golden Lotus
was a good one, although I would recommend staying in a front room (facing the street since they have balconies and more natural light; deluxe rooms $55). The back rooms (I was in room 502; superior
My hotel is down here?
Yes. The Tung Trang hotel is down this "street" somewhere...
rooms $45) are pretty dark. I had previously arranged to stay at the Tung Trang hotel for the remainder of my stay in Hanoi.
So off I went to Tung Trang
. I found the place...although it wasn't easy. The street where it's located is small, and the street sign can't be seen if coming from the east. I was dropping a level or two in quality with the move, but I would only be paying $20 per night for one of their best rooms. On arrival at 12:00, I found that the electricity was out (I got the impression this was common in Hanoi; it came on again around 5:00). My room (501) had a good view over the surrounding buildings (large windows on 3 sides) plus some amenities (hot water, A/C, refrig, cable TV; soap & shampoo) while not venturing out of the budget category (no sheets or pillow cases; just a comforter and towels). Unfortunately, it also had no water that evening. My bathroom was the culprit, and they ended up tearing open the wall to fix a broken pipe in the early evening. Fun! Still, that's got to be an anomaly. I found this family-run hotel to
Tung Trang Hotel
Room #501. Small, basic room but with views from 3 sides overlooking the Old Quarter. $20 per night.
be a good option for the backpacker type traveler. The staff are really nice, and it's interesting to see the multi-generational family hanging out in the back portion of the lobby, which doubles as their dining room.
Sunday was also the day for me to make arrangements for an overnight boat trip to Halong Bay and a 1/2 day cycling trip outside Hanoi. I booked the 1/2 day cycling trip through Wide Eyed Tours
(researched prior to my departure from Bangkok), but I wasn't sure which company I would use for the Halong Bay trip.
There are travel agencies everywhere in Hanoi, many operating in hotels and restaurants (often 5-10 travel agencies on a single block in the Old Quarter). On top of the large numbers is the confusion over names. A common business model is to copy the name of a successful business, and fake that you are that business. Thus, it's not uncommon to see the same name for hotels, travel agencies, restaurants, etc. in multiple locations. Quite a scam. Which one is the real one? Sorting through this mess isn't easy. Having a guide book is critical so you can get addresses. I went on the internet
don't try this at home...
(travelfish.org and message boards) for additional help. Handspan
was one of the travel agencies with a very good reputation for the Halong Bay tour. It also was one of the most expensive. I opted to use Ocean Travel, which offered a mid-range package (reasonably priced with a good reputation). More on that later...
Let's get to my cycling tour. This was offered, as I mentioned above, by Wide Eyed Tours
. The 1/2 day tour started at 2:00 on Monday afternoon. Joining me on this adventure was the tour guide, Hang, and an Israeli guy, Shalom. Hang has worked for Wide Eyed Tours/Culi Cafe for approx 3 years (2 years as a waitress in the Culi Cafe associated with Wide Eyed Tours, and 1 year as a Wide Eyed Tours sales person and 1/2 day cycle tour guide). Shalom has been traveling for several months primarily through SE Asia.
The weather, unfortunately, wasn't cooperating. It was drizzling (a very light rain). But that wouldn't stop us. We grabbed a taxi for our trip outside of town where we would find our bikes.
Wide Eyed Tours has around 70 bicycles (which appear to all be well maintained). We got dropped off
Our guide Hang getting on the boat to cross the Red River.
at the storage place where the bicycles are kept, and Hang provided us with rain gear to help protect against the rain and mud splatter from the trails. We got our bicylces, and off we went.
Our first obstacle came quickly. It was the Red River (starts in China and empties into Halong Bay). We took a small boat across to get to the area where we would be doing most of our cycling. There we would find plenty of rice paddies (interestingly, small cemeteries are within some of these rice paddies), cattle, and small villages. I don't usually spend much time on a bicycle. It was fun, but I have to admit, there were a couple of times where I very nearly toppled into a rice paddy. We rode for about 2 1/2 hours, not including breaks. Our only significant stop was for frozen yogurt at a small village. It was essentially regular yogurt that was frozen (not your soft-serve variety).
Afterwards, another taxi took us back to the Wide Eyed Tours
office, and we ate dinner at the upstairs Culi Cafe. How much did all of this cost? $25 for everything (transportation, use of bicycles & helmets, snack,
Cemetery amidst the Rice Paddies
Lots of rice paddies outside of Hanoi
dinner, tour guide, etc). Overall, a great experience.
Ok, that's enough for now! I'll cover Halong Bay and the rest of my trip later.
Look! There goes Dave!
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