Thursday, February 28, 2013

SE Asia Days 20 & 21 - Hanoi again and again

So chalk it up to poor planning, or as I like to call it "free traveling", but we had another almost two days in Hanoi. That means we would spend a total of about 5 days in this city. My first post about Hanoi was titled "I love Hanoi". This post could be "I tire of Hanoi". I like the city a lot, but we've seen as much of it as we need to for now. For our last two days in Vietnam, we pretty much just caught up on sleep, ate some good street food, at good restaurant food, and took pictures.
After we got off the train at 5:30 a.m., we wandered around for a bit because nothing was open. Finally, Highland Coffee opened.
If this is the"Starbucks of "Vietnam" as the guidebook said, then Starbucks needs to charge more and never clean their bathrooms.
We went to the hotel to see if we could check in early, and I think we were the only guests, so they let us.
We had booked a room at this hotel before our trip to Sapa because of the very cool decor in the lobby and because it was a little nicer than the low budget places we had stayed all along - going out in style we are.
The owner collects antique bicycles and motorcycles, and they had a turtle and koi fish in their pond. Plus rocks! It called to me.
The room was nice too. Very spacious and with a private balcony.

The roof top garden was a lovely place to catch a turtle sunning himself or, as we found out later, to drink a beer.
The view from the rooftop garden was ok.
We didn't do much this day except get caught up on computer stuff and go out to a really fantastic dinner at Namaste Hanoi. Yes, I know it is un-Vietnamese-y to eat Indian food for our last night in Vietnam, but we really wanted something yummy, the restaurant got great reviews, it was close to our hotel, and to be totally honest, we were not in love with Vietnamese food. The food at Nameste Hanoi was better than any Indian restaurant we have in Utah! We sat next to a group of Austrailian expats. They knew Christine, the woman we talked to in Ching Mai who gave us recommendations for HaLong Bay and Sapa. Small world.

We had to fly out at 5 p.m., which gave us plenty of time to have one last look around the city. We went to the Duan Muan market, a traditional market. Mostly, there were a lot of clothes for sale, but the middle was full of herbs
And dried fish. It really smelled.

That took a good hour. Then we stood on a street corner for about 20 minutes and logged all the huge loads being transported by scooter.

This guy was especially crafty; we watched him load up the bike and speed away - nothing tied down, just balancing.
There were lots of big things
And long things

When you are delivering things, you need to call ahead to confirm the delivery address, right?
Good grief!
How many people can a scooter carry? Earlier in the day, we had seen two adults and two children, but this afternoon the max we saw was three adults.

I think the baby in between these two was sleeping.

I will probably have to come back and take a master zen scooter driving course in Hanoi.

After scooter watching, we walked around Hoan Kiem Lake again. There was a cool looking pagoda, but we had only 80,000 VND left, not really even enough to buy lunch, so we didn't buy passage across the big red bridge to the pagoda.

Eventually it was time to catch our flight back to Bangkok. We will have two nights there, and then back to the USA.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

SE Asia Day 19 - Cat Cat village

We were unable to get a train ticket back to Hanoi on Sunday night, so that meant another day in Sapa. We lazed around until check out time, then took a short, 4km walk to the town of Cat Cat.
Here is a better picture of a rice mill.

At the bottom of the village is a pretty nice waterfall.

Everyone says there is no slow season for The Sapa region, but we saw few tourists along this walk that was obviously made exclusively for tourists. In fact, the whole Cat Cat village seemed to be geared toward getting tourists to buy a hand sewn purse or blanket. There were stalls lining the paved path for much of its length.


Anyway, the walk was a good little bit of exercise and we had some nice views.


A few of the shops were selling stone carvings. One of them had some of the raw material out front so I took a look. This looks suspiciously like an asbestos mineral. Not a good thing to be carving with a Dremmel tool! I hope I am wrong.


On the way back we stopped at our favorite cheap beer joint where we had gotten to know the owner a bit. She said that there was a big market at Cat Cat yesterday. Arghhhhh! If we had known that, we would not have ridden 6 hours in a van to go to Bac Ha.

At 5 pm it was time for one last van ride down the mountain to catch our train. Drew was more forceful about where he sat on this ride. Knee room!


In Loa Cai we had a few hours to kill, which we did by visiting with a Dutch student who was doing anthropology research on home stays. He had some good information about the economics and impacts of tourism in the region. He also pointed us to the best BBQ stand in town. Pork on a rotisserie is shaved off and stuffed in a baguette with cabbage and then grilled. It was very tasty, although I worried about the fresh cabbage not being cooked. Oh well, we are nearing the end of our trip.


Our night train back to Hanoi at first seemed less comfortable than the train we took to get here, but it turned out to be quieter and rock less than the other, so I actually was able to sleep. Drew didn't because it was too hot.

Next stop, Hanoi again.


SE Asia Day 18 - Bac Ha Sunday market

On Sunday, we paid $12 each for a van ride over to the village of Bac Ha to take in the Sunday market. What I didn't realize was that the van ride was 3 hours each way and that we would be with a group of anoying tourists most of the day. Not our idea of a fun day, but too late, we were on the van now.
The market was very colorful! This village is home to the Flower H'mong people, who wear very colorful skirts and shawls.
In addition to the usual chili peppers, vegetables, and unrefrigerated meat, the hot item at this market seemed to be sugarcane.
People were walking around chewing on it. No wonder so many of them have missing or bad teeth. Well, that and the fact that there are no dentists.
Piles of yarn are sold to be used to make the Flower H'mong clothes.
We came all this way, so why not buy a few things, right? Buying anything here involves bartering. I probably ended up paying too much, but I didn't have the heart to pay just $5 for an item that took 3 days to make.


Up the hill from the food and handicraft stalls was the area for trading or buying animals. Apparently, a water buffalo costs $1000 USD.

The stalls are under the blue tarps. Behind them was the area for trading small animals.
This person bought three pigs, which were being loaded into a basket on the back of his motorbike, kicking and squealing.
A lot of dogs and puppies were up for sale too. We think they keep the dog as a pet for a while. Then...
After the market, we were herded back onto the van again and drove a little way to the residential area of the village where we walked around in a loose group, peering into "the natives" homes and lives. It felt very weird. I tried to be discrete about how I took pictures.
They Flower H'mong live in mud houses. Up to ten people may live in a small house like this.


This house has a door with flags on it put there by the shamen as a blessing. The branch in front is a warning to passers by to not bother the inhabitants. It could be that they have had a death in the family or maybe they are just sick of tourists peering into their home.


Here is a woman making corn moonshine.


After our cultural tour, we got back on the van for the 3 hour ride back to Sapa. Ugh.

We stopped once in the bigger city of Loa Cai for everyone to walk a few hundred meters to see the Chinese border. Jean Luc was safe in my pack this time.


Of course, near the border is a major import market, so even if a regular sized car isn't practical for your family, you can buy a small one made in China and take it home on your scooter.


We were glad to get up to Sapa again and relax in our nice room before a tasty dinner ending with fried banana cakes and chocolate.