Monthly Archives: May 2013

Day 24 Sapa and the H’mong

Not a bad night’s sleep and a filling breakfast. Then the Responsible Adult wanted to meet Mai at 9am to give her another $10 and ask her about buying some indigo dyed fabric. We have found that while the H’mong have pretty good English, they are so focused on their sales patter that they don’t listen. So Mai went off to buy but came back with trousers and coats. So we ended up with a pair of trousers.
Then we had a general walk around the town. We were heading back for lunch when two H’mong woman started talking to us and telling us we had promised to buy from them today. To get past them, I agreed to look at a ring if it fit me. No rings in Vietnam have come close to fitting me. They said they would have some after lunch. The Responsible Adult agreed to come back at 1pm. Crikey! One walk back from town would do me for a day.
Lunch at the hotel and the Responsible Adult bought a jacket from the resident H’mong lady. She also bought a belt even though she doesn’t think she will use it, but my advice was that if she changed her mind in Oz, then it’s a bit far to pop back.
We went back down at a bit after one and sure enough our ladies found us. They had four rings my size. Why wasn’t I surprised. We bought all four – mainly because of the H’Mong law – you bought from her, now you must buy from me. Seems fair enough.
On the way home we noticed that a cafe on the way is a learning centre for disadvantaged children. So we stopped for a juice and pastries. Pretty darn good.
We decided to go back for dinner. We started by ordering two cocktails. After a couple of minutes we were told they didn’t have the ingredients for mine so I swapped to beer. But then they came back to say they didn’t have the ingredients for the other one. So we left to go back down town to a cafe that sold lamb chops. Their cocktails were bloody good.
Of course we decided to sit on the street so we had a share of H’mong ladies approaching us for sales. One was a lady we had taken a shine to and I was keen on her own purse so the Responsible Adult got it for me. The starting price was a tenner but we got it for six.
Our third walk back up the mountain was broken by a stop at the youth cafe for more pastries and a coffee.

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Day 23 Sapa

Today when we woke up, it was pissing down with rain. As we are high up, the clouds were all around us. We were tossing up whether to go on the trek, but Mai phoned and we said yes. So we met Mai and Chi at 9am. They were talking to a tourist which had me wondering if they were gathering a big group but it just was the one girl. We headed off to the market where they asked for some suggestions for lunch. We went for beef and tofu. They also wanted us to try bamboo.
Then we started the trek.
The girl was Manu, a social worker from France who had arrived in Sapa at 8am and phoned Chi on the recommendation of a friend.
We walked a lot and admired the scenery before arriving at Lau Chia village for lunch. Along the way we had seen some major infrastructure development and at the village we stopped at what may have been a new community centre. Lunch was prepared and was delightful. Way too much food. The bamboo was served with mushrooms and was great.
After lunch, we visited a little building where local work can be seen. There was a water mill hulling rice, indigo dying, weaving, a rice mill and I had a go on the local bamboo instrument. On to a distillery where I sampled the rice wine and then a visit to the school.
We walked through a couple more villages and arrived at the gift shop. It was time to buy from Mai and Chi. They started by giving us some small gifts. Then the Responsible Adult started negotiations and bought a few bits. Her main prize was a skirt that will be hung on a wall at la studio. My main prize was Chi’s necklace also to be a wall hanging. The Responsible Adult got it for$60. Starting price in the market was$100 for a far less impressive piece. Then I took Mai aside and gave her $40US for the tour with her decision as to what Chi would get. Mai and Chi had a small discussion but after Mai told me that she had split it. Then we got more gifts and the Responsible Adult bought one more cushion cover.
Time to say goodbye. Manu was heading off with Chi for a homestay. We got the minibus back to Sapa.
At cocktails we said goodbye to Jackie from Oz as she was heading back to Hanoi.
Cocktails and dinner were odd.We ordered some things we had before were different by a long way and the chicken with curry sauce came without sauce. When we asked we were told that there was no sauce. Hmmm.

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Day 22 Sapa

After being dumped by the bus driver we walked up the hill to our hotel. It was difficult not to notice the magnificent view. We checked in and went down for an acceptable coffee. After unpacking and a rest we tried their lunch. Both meals were extremely good. We noticed that there are rooms at the front with balconies so got swapped to one of those for two nights.
Then off to the square for a look. On the way a H’mong woman started chatting to us. Pretty good English. At the square we had more and more women coming up.Their work is lovely but it’s hard to see it because different women continually push things forward.
At one stage we separated ‘Mummy’ took most of the crowd as I had shown them my empty pockets. ‘Daddy or Happy Australian Buddha’ stayed with two women to look at a shoulder bag. Settled on the best one and was happy with the price around$16.
Mummy came back and was a bit peeved that I don’t let her bargain. But she had a stack of stuff and would have done a bit of bargaining so it was all good. By this time it was getting to be too much. The women would not give us a break so we left. Short walk to a drink stall for beer and coke. A H’mong woman started talking and I was a bit worried that Mummy may get extremely annoyed. But instead Mummy offered her a drink. So we chatted with her while her friend joined us together with a young girl and her baby. The young girl was married at 14 and had her baby at 15.
Bottom line is that we agreed to a walking tour tomorrow.
Dinner at the hotel not as good as lunch.

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Night 21 Hanoi to Sapa

It started well with our hotel giving us a surprise picnic to take on the train but went downhill soon after. The taxi ride was 36k and in a fit of generosity the Responsible Adult handed over 60k. The driver wanted more, which didn’t happen. Then when our train was called a young guy grabbed our bags and headed off at quite a pace. This caused a mix of concern that our bags were being hijacked and relief that we were being guided to the right place. I asked the Responsible Adult to find a small note for a tip but she only had hundreds so we gave him a hundred. He then demanded another note for the two of us. As we were disoriented, we just gave him another hundred. Big tip from two suckers.
We sat hoping that nobody else would come to take the top bunks but two young guys turned up. Thankfully they were quite. The train wasn’t. It was very loud. The matress was made from an extremely hard substance. Concrete?
Despite this we actually slept a fair bit but not very well.
Next problem was at Lo Cai where we would need to find a bus to Sapa. No worries plenty of people want you to get on their minibus. The price started at six hundred but we knocked it down to two. Still turned out to be about double what we should have paid. The bus went up to the traffic light and stopped. After about ten minutes, it went up the road and stopped again. I got a bit stroppy and asked for our money back. No response but after about another ten minutes a guy turned up and we got going. At Sapa we were left to the last. The driver dropped us off about 200 meters downhill from our hotel.
What a prick.

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Day 21 Hanoi – stormy weather

This morning was good and hot. Early walk straight to Puku. We saw Viet along the way. Two coffees then on to tobacco road to try and find a ciggie holder for the Responsible Adult – no chance. Then on to silk road to order pants for the Responsible Adult. I decided to get a matching waistcoat. They have another shop around the corner with screen printed T-shirts. Great designs but of course Vietnam sizes. After they tried to sell me a size too small, they agreed to get bigger ones while we are in Sapa. We got a bit turned around but managed to get back in time for lunch having scored some trinkets on the way.
After lunch we went to the PO. Took a cab (ABC is the good one here) and it was just as well. 45 minutes to send a parcel the slow way home for $50.
Almost immediately after the PO, a rather substantial storm hit just as we were looking forward to a good walk home. Packing now for Sapa. For some reason the train runs at 10pm. The mob at the hotel decided they would pack us a picnic breakfast – no charge. Here’s to another adventure.

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Day 20 Hanoi and loving it

We headed off after breakfast to Puku for a coffee taking the long way via Silk Road – Phu Hung Dien. Got stuck at some shops and did a bit of damage to the treasury. The Responsible Adult got a nice top as well as a silk dress. I got a couple of cushion covers plus some bits and pieces. At some point we decided that we’d better move on to Puku and got there for lunch. The Responsible Adult did very well with the bargaining. I know when she has got a good price because I want to give them a few bob more after the price has been set. But then they can always say no.
After lunch we headed off to the Temple of Literature and I’m glad we did. Apart from the magnificent Temple, there were a lot of Uni students all having a hoot and giggle. Two girls wanted their photo taken with the Responsible Adult. We figured they were fascinated to find a Western woman who was smaller than them.
Thought we’d take a peddle powered chariot home. The guy wanted 150k dong – say 1k per kilo – 100 for me and 50 for the cutie. The Responsible Adult knocked him down to 100, but when we got back, I agreed that 150 was a fair price but we think that we gave him a 100 and a 500 by mistake. Hope he had a good feed tonight.

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Day 19 Halong Bay to Hanoi

Up for breakfast and the new chums who were staying longer disappeared off on the small boat. We headed back a different way to collect some 3 nighters from Cat Ba Island. All very relaxed and pleasant. The Responsible Adult joined in a spring roll making class. The spring rolls were included with a rather nice lunch. Then back to the harbour and onto the bus. As the oldest people there, we got to the bus last and got the worst seats down the back right over the wheels. The road was in poor condition and we were bounced around a fair bit.
A bit over 4hours later we said our goodbyes to Hung our guide and checked back in to the Moon View. Lovely welcome. Gave them our washing which was done in about an hour.
Then down to Puku for cocktails and dinner. Finally found a girly bar but didn’t go in. Walked to the lake looking for the night markets but couldn’t find them. Taxi back to the hotel (Bloody expensive here but still cheaper than Brisneyland) to find out I had the wrong lake. Oh well, might try again tomorrow.
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Day 18 Halong Bay

The day started badly. The Responsible Adult had wine flu and was very unwell. The Irishman and Kiwi joined us on a smaller boat while the big boat took the one nighters back. We picked up some French couples and headed off to Magic cave. It is rather small in parts but well worth the crawling around. The Responsible Adult didn’t make the trip.
Onto a cove with lots of small beaches for kayaking and swimming but the Responsible Adult was still crook so I just had a little paddle. Lunch was terrific and I got an extra share of the seafood.
Next stop was a pearl farm where the Responsible Adult was finally able to get up. No purchases as the settings were a bit old fashioned. Back to the big boat for a shower then 16 new chums joined us. Squid fishing after a good feed and an early night.

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Day 17 Hanoi to Halong Bay

Up early to checkout and jump on the minibus to Halong City. No stopping for 3  hours which was pretty hard on the bum. Then a half hour at a tourist trap. Looked at some marble statues which were about 10 times the price in Saigon. Another hour and we got to the bay. Once we got on the boat we recuperated quite quickly with a welcome drink and fruit. Small cabin as you would expect but rather pretty with our own bathroom. Small group with two Italian men, two Italian brothers, two Germans(Johnny and Gerry), a Kiwi with an Irishman (Kate and Leo) and two American kids (Arslan from NY and Courtney from California).

Halong Bay is rather beautiful. First stop was Surprise Cave. It has three chambers and was well worth the visit. Then the Responsible Adult surprised me yet again by jumping into a kayak with me We had a good paddle around the floating village, hassled by boat touts before returning to the boat for dinner. Apparently the current floating village mob are decendants of the original inhabitants from the last ice age.
The boat has Peter Lehman wine so we knocked a couple of bottles over with some cocktails and ended up a bit pissed.

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Day 16 Lazing around the streets.

We have the hang of local streets so walked a different way to Puku. It’s great to have a good coffee in the morning. Our walk took us past some Government buildings. Really nice streets and I guess we should thank the French for the nice big trees. The Responsible Adult bought Vietnamese clobber which really suits her. The walk also took us past the bad puppy stall. Had a good look to make sure I knew what I was looking at and even though I had said I’d try it I just couldn’t eat man’s best friend. Instead, the Responsible Adult tried Lotteria(McDonald’s) while I had a sensational soft shelled crab at a local seafood restaurant. The Responsible Adult went into a little shop with a no shoes policy so I waited on the kerb. I was watching a couple of girl fruit vendors on the other side of the street settling down for an arvo siesta when they jumped up and moved sharply to the building. I hot footed it away from the kerb. Something was playing ‘Happy birthday’ It was a truck spraying soapy water. Lesson: if you hear happy birthday, head to high ground. Home for pastries then back out for ciggies from the only honest street vendor we have met in Hanoi. Then cocktails, pizza and an early night. We have to be up early for Halong Bay.
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