Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A few firsts

As I walked with my 15k bag around Hue, Vietnam today, all I could think about was how great this train ride would be! Sleeper train north to Hanoi. It was all the hype from tourists. Should be like Amtrak right? I suppose it's a nice train for the area, but just getting into the train was next to impossible. When I boarded, there were already families on, spilling into the hall on tiny red plastic chairs. Oh yeah...we don't have seats and somehow my room of four beds is already full of three adults, a teen, and 3 kids. And everyone is just staring at me. Wish I could fake a smile but at this point I just needed a corner or something that's my own space. When I finally got a bed, the introvert in me can chill.

So yes! I made it to Vietnam! Barely...

After Pai I returned to Chiang Mai for a night. Rough night of sleep with paper thin walls and noise outside my window. The next day just happened to be a flower festival. There werent many tuk-tums or taxis available, so I walked to the airport. First time I can say I've done that! Just a few miles I think.

I flew back to Bangkok and spent the night in the airport. Some friendly French folks invited me over to chat, guessing that I'd be spending the night too. We exchanged tips on where we'd been, since they were on their way to Chiang Mai, and I'll be going to islands they saw. 4am rolled around and I was able to check in. Inside the terminal were BEAN BAGS! This totally made my morning for a couple more hours of zzz's.

I got into Hanoi and would transfer to Da Nang in central Vietnam. Except when I presented my passport, the woman said I booked the flight but hadn't purchased it. And by now the purchase time is expired. Crap! Luckily the flight wasn't full so I was able to buy a flight, though I think it cost me $50 more per flight.

I got money from the ATM...turns out I can be a millionaire here, as US$1 = VND$20,000. That's a lot of zeros to translate.

Da Nang was just a typical city from what I saw. It's along the water and I could barely make out some mountains across the water in the fog. Everyone was driving moto-bikes, aka scooters. I walked to the bus stop and was trying to cross a huge street, not at a cross walk. A college age fella asked me 'taxi?' And I motioned that I just needed to cross. He got up and started walking in the street. I insisted that I didn't need a taxi but thanked him anyway. Then he motioned me to follow him...he basically stepped out in traffic for me so I was comfortable crossing without getting hit!

I caught the city bus to Hoi An, 45 minutes away. I wasn't too impressed riding through Da Nang. People on scooters were wearing doctors face does smell like burned broth...prob from all the garbage people burn in this area. I can't imagine having to wear one of those on my bike, and not enjoying what 'fresh air' really is. Again, I'm blessed. I hope we can keep America as clean as it is.

Ok, back to the bus. So on this bus is a driver and a 'doorman' if you will. The doorman stands in the exit door in the middle of the bus, calling riders at stops, then helps with bags and pulls and pushes people on board to help the flow. It's a harried mess and funny yet stressful to watch. Thankfully Hoi An is the last stop.

What a town! Taxi drivers were waiting for I caught one for US$2.50 to my hostel. He took me to his scooter. I definitely had a moment of panic when he put on my helmet. He put my bag in front of him, I hopped on behind him, holding on for dear life to the bar behind my seat and away we flew! I survived...lets do that again!

After dropping my bags at the hostel, I rented a bike and cruised to the beach a few miles down the road, then rode back and rode through town, another few miles. This town was the perfect size for me! Beautiful glowing lanterns everywhere.

Since I did regret skipping out on surfing when I was in Ecuador, I decided this time I wouldn't make any excuses. I saw a sign for lessons and things got real! My instructor, Ruslan, was a Russian transplant...moving here only a couple months ago and taught himself how to surf. And he told me at the end of the lesson that I was his first student! Ruslan had limited English so drew lots of pictures in the sand and demonstrated movements as he could. I knew this would be a difficult thing to pick up, even with my snowboarding. So at the end of the day I was able to balance on the board and catch a few great waves while kneeling. Next time maybe I'll stand up! I think the hardest part for me was just signing up for the lesson...I love the water and didnt mind getting knocked over by the waves as long as I was progressing. It also helped that Ruslan was encouraging. At the end I was even able to speak his language! Thank you Grandpa N. for that catchy jingle 'Спасибо и до свидания' or 'thank you and goodbye' in Russian :)

I met a French guy on the street and turns out we stayed at the same hostel. He had found this hole in the wall restaurant with authentic Vietnamese food that wasn't Pho (the most popular dish), so I joined him for dinner. Apparently all the Vietnamese dishes have a plate of greens on the side. This dish was like a fajita of parts to put together into an egg roll. Not sure what the parts were...meat, spices, eggs, greens?? Very good! We also enjoyed a glass of US$0.15 beer...apparently most restaurants have a batch of beer they brew for the day then sell it this cheap until its gone.

I had to switch hostels because my first was overbooked with the huge upcoming tet holiday...the Vietnamese new year, and a huge deal for families to get together! So at my next hostel I heard my first American accent in Vietnam and called him out. Hha. He was from San Francisco, had bought a moto-bike and shared where he'd stayed in Cambodia and Laos. Looking forward to seeing some of those!

For now I'll be in Hanoi for the next couple days. I spent today in Hue, a lot of historic stuff, but I think I got most of it in the half day, so didnt stay. I'd love to see Halong Bay but travelers who have just came from there said it was constant fog this season, so not sure it'll be worth it. It might be nice to stay in one spot until Friday though...lightning tour!

'Til next time...

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