Vietnamese city to Malaysian island in 1 day
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Eric and I left Hoi An after a short, but sweet, two days there. Eric managed to have three suits (among other things) made and I left with a couple new skirts and dresses. This time around Hoi An has completely redeemed itself...I had forgotten what a quaint little town it is. During our short stay we befriended a woman who sells beer down by the river and spent quite a bit of time talking (or at least trying to talk) with her. Went out on a tiny canoe with another local woman and got some up close pictures of the local fisherman (which was fun!) and relaxed the rest of the time.
Eric and I were both eager to visit Sapa (far north of Vietnam next to the China border) however when we went to book our train tickets we found that the trains to Hanoi were full. Since I was short on time, we ended up buying plane tickets to Hanoi (only $20 more than the train!) and here is where the adventure began.
Starting out in Hoi An with our airport taxi coming too early for us and then leaving, I should have known this was going to be a rough trip. We made it to the airport and up to Hanoi without incident, however when we got to Hanoi it took us about an hour to catch a ride from the airport. "no problem, our train for Sapa doesn't leave until 11:30pm". We had to pick up our train tickets at a travel agency in Hanoi and lo and behold, when we arrived there at 8:20pm the guy there informed us there had been a mistake on our ticket and we were now an earlier train...that left at 8:40pm! Somewhat panicking at this point, we get a taxi and did the mad dash to the train station. We arrived there at about 2 minutes before the train was due to leave and were met by a Vietnamese man who excitedly told us we had to hurry! He led the way...we must have made for quite a sight the little Vietnamese man in the front running and waving his arms, Eric with his backpack running behind him, and me bringing up the rear with my backpack with random sh*t hanging off of it, knocking down whoever was in my way (and after a full day of no food, feeling rather sick from the unexpected exercise!) We finally make it to our car to find that the train hasn't even boarded. More than that - the electric wasn't even on. Hmmmm. We stood around looking very confused while the little Vietnamese guy stood next to us looking very proud of himself. This was the point where it hit me. I turned to Eric and whispered "We just fell for the oldest scam in the book". Sure enough, within minutes the guy who "helped us" catch our train was demanding $10 from Eric for his assistance. He settled for about $.80 and a cigarette. Needless to say we made the train.
Without going into too much detail - the train ride was long and was made even longer due to numerous landslides which covered the tracks. We ended up getting dropped a couple hours south of Lao Cai and from there we took a nightmarish ride stuffed into a minivan with 20 other people to Lao Cai (Eric bargained the ride to VND 20,000 but halfway there the guy changed his mind and demanded VND 50,000 - ahhhh yes, this is the Vietnam I remember). From Lao Cai we made it up to Sapa after a couple more hours and I have to say it was entirely worth the trouble. Home to many, many ethnic minorities and hilltribes, Sapa is set up in the mountains near China and is absolutely breathtaking. Constantly surrounded by a thick layer of fog, it's definitely on the chilly side (at least for someone who's been living in SE Asia for the better part of the past year and a half!) and I actually had to bundle up and use blankets at night. How cool!
The hill tribe people are absolutely beautiful in their traditional dress..even the old ladies who try to sell you opium and marywaaaaaaana. Like Cambodia, the children are always out selling stuff on the streets, but the kids here seem cuter (maybe it's the clothing that makes them so cute?) and definitely cheekier than the kids in Cambodia. A little girl (accompanied by her hilltribe clique) trying to sell Eric some nonsense started yelling at him and telling him he's "very bad boyfriend" for not buying some earrings from her for me. She then made it very clear that her brother would buy me gifts and I would marry him, while Eric would be stuck marrying her old grandmother who has no teeth. I was almost in tears laughing when we finally escaped.
The town used to be an old French resort area, so the architecture is really nice, though the coffee sucked. Eric and I rented a motorbike for a couple of days and drove outside of town, with me asking him to stop about every kilometer so I could take pictures. Love it, love it, love it. Unfortunately, we only had a few days there, as I had my flight to Malaysia on the 30th...but I will be back!
The trip back to Hanoi was a lot less painful than the trip to Sapa and we finished out my last day/night in Vietnam sitting on a street corner at a Bia Hoi (fresh beer) stand drinking $.20 beers, followed by a water puppet show (I liked it, I think Eric thought it was stupid) and finally ending at a jazz club in the Old Quarter where they had great music and really expensive drinks. A perfect ending to an amazing trip.
And finally, a big 'thank you' to those of you who have donated to my 'travel fund' over the past couple of years (you know who you are). A little bit goes a long way over here and every bit has been most appreciated and used wisely (for the most part anyhow!) ;o)