Sunday, February 10, 2013

The rest of 'nam and some of Laos

So long, Vietnam. Of my couple days in Hanoi, I saw that it was the craziest busy city I've been to outside of India, so I headed towards Ninh Bihn. My hostel concierge warned me that I might find inflated prices and that I should book a $30 tour package with him. No thanks, I think I got this. After a long walk to the bus and waiting 3 hours for it to even depart, I questioned my decision. No one on the bus spoke English, but some women were friendly enough to share their snacks. We piled person after thing after person on the bus for the two hour ride. I thought I did get the white girl price of double the normal $3 rate, but felt better seeing the girl next to me pay the same amount... Increased for the tet holiday (their new year celebration: A HUGE weeklong event with family) I still didnt understand the bus system. We were taking people's packages like a delivery truck, and there were random unmarked bus stops along the highway on the way. Whatever the case, my stop came and the bus assistant grabbed my bag and tossed it to the curb for me!

The town was the original capital of Vietnam, yet not much was in the city. So the next day, after my hotel manager refused to lend me a mountain bike to see the sites outside the city because it was too far, he taught me how to drive a scooter. Same price too. A few prayers later, I was off in crazy scooter traffic! I thought the girl at the hotel said the Cuc National Park would be better than Tam Loc, so I headed that way...45 km away with a rough map. Turns out my sense of direction got lost somewhere along this journey! I made it half way then none of the roads lined up to the map and everything turned to jibberish. Three hours later I decided to turn around, even though a few men on the street told me I was now close to the park. There just wasn't enough time. The drive itself was beautiful nonetheless. It had turned into country roads, with endless rice fields and small villages between grand hills. I passed a few other scooters, and the ones that past me gave me a 180 glance...probably thinking...was that just a white chic driving that scooter?

I made it back in time for the bus back to Hanoi. The concierge talked with me a bit before I left. She excitedly rattled off facts she just learned about America. About how there are 50 states, the biggest cities, and pop stars like Justin Bieber and Britney Spears. I was surprised, but I guess America is the Mecca of places to live in their dreams! I asked if anyone here had negative feelings towards America and she said that most disliked China. She was personally upset that the Chinese would buy produce cheap from Vietnam then sell it back, with preservatives. She's no farmer but even she understood that preservatives that make something last a year or more is not healthy...and to blame for cancer and diseases. Granted, she's just one girl I spoke with, who's parents I'm sure gave her some influence. Felt better than a guy who yelled at me when I was waiting curbside on my scooter...whatever that was about.

After riding past the cute (meat) goats and hearing pigs squeal and seeing people carrying chickens in plastic bags on their scooters...I realized these were all going to be FRESH dinners. So that day, I was vegetarian.

I didn't find much to do in Hanoi besides fight scooters for possession of the streets. Drivers would even be shopping from their scooters stopped in the middle of the road as they ignored the honking of other scooters who were now stuck behind. Madness! There were some historic sites but I think I'm done with those for the moment. Off to Laos!

I flew into Vientiane. First thing I noticed on my $6 cab ride from the airport. Silence. No honking whatsoever! My driver also didn't know a lick of English, and dropped me off at some random hotel. I walked around for an hour, almost booking at other places if they hadn't been full! But finally found my hostel.

There were a couple girls hobbling around our dorm room...turns out they had gotten in a scooter accident and were being sent home. They were pretty bummed since they were only halfway through their month trip. A good reminder to take it easy :)

Vientiane itself was a nice city. A lot like Paris with the Arc de Triumphe and the French pastries and dishes. Can you believe after all this time I still felt a craving for Vietnamese pho?! Perhaps because I had pizza my last night in Vietnam :)

Since there wasn't much to do in Vientiane, and since it didnt offer hammocks either, I have headed south to Pakse, per a recommendation from a fellow backpacker. Nothing here either, but the town is walkable, there is Italian food to choose from (Indian too but I'm still gonna pass for awhile), and my guesthouse is right along the river. $6 a night and its not even a dorm...but I do share it with a few ghekkos! And after 3+ weeks I'm going to do my bus mates a favor and wash my clothes! By the way, the sleeper bus that I rode in on this morning was awesome. There were no seats, just cubbies with beds. I shared mine with another solo girl traveller from Austria. Who was actually 34! She gave me tips on Thai islands, and I told her where to stay in Pai. In the middle of the night I recall hitting a big bump and smelling some fumes, but it faded, along with my thoughts of it. A girl next to us told us the bus assistant had 'stomped on the floor' and stomped whatever fire out. She was still in amazement how something like that could happen and he just fix it by stomping on the floor! Ha! Only in SE Asia!

It smells like incense here too. I guess at this point the countries and cities are starting to look alike. More mosquitoes and its more humid here, but the people are just as friendly. No one hassles me to buy their clothes or ride in their tuk-tuks either! Maybe what I pull from this experience is how to sell my produce...ride it around on my bike to show it off, but not harass people to buy it.


  1. so many new words.. tuk tuks.. ghekko.. ect You should include a "key" for all these new words introduced into my vocabulary :)
    -mark g

    1. Tuk-tuks are the bike taxis...and gecko...well, I'm giving spellcheck a vacation too :)