Some people look for inspiration to start doing something, expecting something, or hoping to go this place and that place. Sometimes, just a line of song, a postcard, a photo or....a book can take us on the journey by inspiring us, and I'm one of these people.....
Well, inspiration, I think it has no expiry date. Sometimes, we forgot about it accidentally or unintentionally, it generously gets renewal without any fee.
started from a place that appeared on the magazine about five years ago. It was charmingly and attractively telling me story about the neighboring country like Vietnam in a tourism documentary, especially a town that lies on the north of Vietnam, Sapa.
The ordinary photos and sentences 'invited me to like' it so much that I almost packed up my bags and started the journey right away. But due to many inconvenience, 'the inspiration and made believe photos' were kept in a box.
........Because I believe that inspiration has no expiry date, so today I have the opportunity to open that very box again...
'Rainy' season is the season that many people feel bored, but it's the season of waiting...and harvesting the beauty of mist after rains, tall mountains, and a far distance lush green and watery terrace rice field.
This past mid-September, I escaped the rain in Bangkok and enjoyed in Vietnam instead. What's the difference? The rain remains the same but the 'view behind the rain' is what makes it all different.
:: Vietnam Trip 10-14 Sep 2015 ::
Day 1 Ha Noi Ha Noi, (GA Ha Noi to Ga Lao Cai)
Day 2 Sapa Lao Cai to Sapa, Sapa
Day 3 Sapa Sapa, (Ga Lao Cai to Ga Ha Noi)
Day 4 Ha Noi Ha Noi
Day 5 Ha Noi Back to Bangkok
We have less than a month to prepare for this North Vietnam trip. We started by booking the flight, searching for tourist attraction information, accommodation, food, and map of Hanoi, enough to know something about this area and won't get cheated so much as we've heard.
We are four people together on this trip. We travel on our own and have a loose plan. We do believe that...the charm of travelling is that when we prepare in a scale of 10, may be six or seven could go with the plan, the rest is left for the adventure like getting on the wrong bus, having not delicious food, losing wallet, ....etc.
:: 10 Sep 2015
Getting the clothes, other necessities and all the cameras (this is a must) with a compact guide book, about 3 a.m. in the morning, we are backpacking with a camera and getting on a taxi to the airport.
:: Don Mueang International Airport
It is about 4 a.m. and people are as many as in the daytime. In order to avoid being in a queue and checking in along with a tour group, we did the online check in already. We just need to fill out a form and go through immigration office and then we can sit and chill with a cup of coffee at Gate 25 to wait for the flight. There's only one round trip each day (departs at 6.45 a.m.)
It is an hour and 45 minutes on board, the sky is clear with some heavy clouds and get lighter when we about to land. The beauty shot along the way that we have help memorable the word "along the way" (arrives at 8.30 a.m.).
:: Noi Bai - Ha Noi, Vietnam Airport
We arrive Hanoi on time. But I have a blurry fingerprint, so I've got to waste sometime dealing with this problem both departure Thailand and arriving Vietnam (finally the immigration had to stamp it on my passport instead).
The WiFi is available almost everywhere for free, it simply makes me smile. I buy the pre-paid sim card with an unlimited WiFi that can call out for 20 minutes just in case I need to call back Thailand. After the sim card counter, it is the exchange money counter, from USD to VND (mainly 10,000, 100,000 and a million bills). I think they offer a better rate than in Hanoi and Sapa (only if they are agency shop). I exchange some Dong (VND) and some USD.
Then, you become the millionaire in Hanoi. When you come out of the airport, it is quite chaotic as many people are waiting there for picking up. We follow a person that showing the hotel sign and then he passed us on to the driver. The pick up car is a 5 seat one. It is an entire hired rental car. We spend exact 30 minutes from the airport to the hotel.
The view 'along the way' now has changed. From the white cloud, it turns to many lanes road that start to get narrower and more crowded with tall buildings from time to time in a strange style. I'm secretly thinking that when other people travel to Thailand, they might have also thought that we have different buildings that they wanted to take some shots.
The closer you are, the narrower the road. The road is turning into small alley and connect to one another. It is full of food and shops that it reminds you so much of China Town in Thailand.
The car we sitting starts to honk more often as we are moving closer to this area. This frequent honking is also from the scooters driving crazily like they are shouting and arguing to one anther. The narrower the allay, the more cars and the more people. And this is exactly how I have pictured Hanoi, the only different is.....now we actually have sound effect.
We select the hotel based on the review saying that they provided excellent service which is what we experience too. 700 THB is not so expensive for having a room to store the luggage and taking shower before moving on our journey tonight.
For the hotel in Hanoi, we booked via website for the first and fourth night and then we asked the hotel to help arrange the round trip train ticket of Hanoi-Sapa and we got free service to the Hanoi train (the taxi is about 3-5 USD). For the convenient and to be sure, we dealt the train ticket with the hotel via email and we paid upon arrival which is quite convenient for us.
:: Prince II Hotel
It is located in Old Quarter, the area that is famous for accommodation and it seems to be a center for many things like eating, relaxing, and shopping. Some sell street food, putting small trays on the street to sell fruits, baguette, or some sell them by cycling. For the shopping lover, this is a good place to spend your money. More importantly, you can also walk from here to Don Xuan Market, a shopping center like Bobe in Thailand.
The pick up car takes us to the hotel about 10.00 a.m. While we are waiting for checking in, the reception serves us tea and coffee as well as confirms and clears the expenses as we have dealt in the email (room, tour, and the train ticket which all are in USD). The staff can speak English, very friendly and explain the map in Hanoi for us as well us give us some advice about taxi that the green-white taxi will go by meter.
Note The water in the hotel is not free, it is 10,000 VND which is close to outside price but in the restaurant it could be a bit more expensive.
Note Most of hotels in Hanoi, regardless how how tall they are, they have no elevator. So if you don't want to walk high up, please book in the lower floor.
:: Check In
After a first glass of Vietnam tea, we take a short rest and get ready to explore the area. Now, it is 11 a.m. and we have some time before the car takes us to the Hanoi Train station (Ga Ha Noi) at 19.30 p.m.
Every reviews already provided us with the recommendation of how to cross street in Vietnam (crossing with full certainty) and the cars will either stop or drive around us. We do just like that but in reality, it can get a bit more nervous. Crossing in groups will definitely be safe.
Then, we walk out of the hotel with the map and Google Map. We didn't get lost by using them two together but could get a bit confused when going into small alleys and sometimes it looks close from the map but turns out to be a different story, let's go together!
:: Hanoi, the Chaotic Culture...
Looking at Hanoi via the lens of congested traffic where people are driving crazily, turn whenever they want with not so many traffic lights, the people also just cross street whenever they pleased. A lot of shops and a big crowd in the area, like shop sellers, tourists and the local Vietnamese. The daily life in this area is just....a bit not in order and a bit mass...
Below picture is the roundabout close to the lake. Here, you can clearly see Hanoi. The opposite is the five-story building which is outstandingly situated near the roundabout that goes around the fountain with some lighting. I think they use pace wisely. The lower floors are for brand products shopping and upper floor is for restaurant that has a strong location advantage as you can oversee the beautiful view of the lake.
This area seems to be the teens center (may be?), especially at night, there'll be a lot of scooters parking around. People are going out and sitting around the fountain in the middle of the congested traffic and horrible honking. To avoid such chaos, I think going to enjoy coffee at the cafe on the building seems like a better answer here.
:: What should we eat for our first meal?
Walking not so far from the hotel, there's many types of restaurants to choose. For instance, American breakfast like fried eggs and toast bread or the Vietnamese food offering in regular tables or small tables sitting style. We choose a small local restaurant which has few menus like Fer (noodles soup), Khao Man Kai (rice and chicken), and the appetizer that every restaurant must have, Spring Rolls (we will see them roll in front of the shops). The look and taste is quite good, the price is also similar to ours, the starting price is 30,000 VND.
Suddenly the rain is slightly falling. This is quite common in Vietnam. One minute it rains, the next minute it stops so we didn't have to use an umbrella or a raincoat. The weather is changing fast. Once the rain stops, the sky is clear and the sun is out again. From the map, now we walked from the roundabout to a large lake that is surrounded by shady park. This park is a relaxing place for Hanoi people. Some are walking, sitting, chilling, jogging and some are making their living by selling souvenirs.
:: Hoan Kiem Lake
This lake seems to be a public must visit place that whoever comes to Hanoi will come visit. From here we can go to the middle island of Ngoc Son Temple by The Huc Bridge. To support for maintenance fee, the admission is 30,000 VND. Although there's not much to see, they have interesting history that is worth a visit.
It seems like this city is never short of food. Like I said earlier, there's a wide range of choices. Another mission of us is to taste coffee here. Soon, we stop at a place for coffee and resting. We go to Coffee Club Cafe' which is located opposite to the building that situated Highland Coffee at the roundabout. We order soft dough Pizza, Fried Spring Roll (a must have for every shops), 2 scoops of ice cream and coffee. What is strange about this shop is .... Iced-Coffee comes without ice-cube.
Well...it's like Iced-Coffee was made with cold water and served in chilled glasses. So, we get a bit puzzled.
The coffee shop is at the fourth floor and the best thing about here is they have a terrace for overlooking the lake view. But it's too expensive when compared with the taste and coffee. Well, we weren't really super 'bad luck' for this, at least, the staff speak English, well service and lovely.
P.S. The taste of Fried Spring Roll at Coffee Club Cafe' tastes better than the first shop, the atmosphere is great, the customer is allowed to smoke which might be convenient but might also disturb the next table.
:: A Day in Hanoi
Well, I didn't have to adapt much, except...the buzzing sound from the honking. The taste was less flavorful than Thai food and got a bit excited of speaking English again after all these years....
From the previous reviews, it might not get us an impression to visit Vietnam as someone was cheated by tour company, cheated meter taxi and many thefts around. Some even said that they will never return again.
It is understandable. If we have the first impression then we are likely to be a second or a third timer visit. If a bad thing happen and we lost our feeling, it will go deep into the memory. So I choose to anticipate about each trip not so high like the actual hotel might look 60% older than the photo, the service might not be so pleasant, the food might not be our taste, or they might be many unexpected incidents happen.
I just like to think it simply that 【if we don't expect too high, it won't hurt so much when we fall】. If lucky, in a reality, we might find the hotel beautiful, the food is excellent, and for that I consider it a fortune of the trip.
......And at least, I like the night, the beautiful light of Hanoi tonight....
In the evening, we will continue our journey to Sapa, the place that brings us here. The hotel arranged the Soft Sleep/Speed Train for us (1 room for 4 people). The price for a round trip Hanoi-Sapa is 60 USD each and the pick up car will come to the hotel at 19.30.
Time left in Hanoi is not much, we walk around the lake in the evening and have a dinner at a place that looks like Thai Porridge Shop where they will have ready-to-eat food placing in different trays. The look is not different than Thai food, the taste is good but the price is a bit expensive. When the food arrive "Jae", the owner will come using her calculator to calculate the price. It is a prepaid food service. The water is a bit more expensive than outside. After that, we find some snacks and breads to eat on the train.
:: Ga Ha Noi
Hanoi Train Station is not so far from the hotel. The pick up car also picks up other tourists who will come to the train station. When our car arrive, we are waiting for the hotel staff who will take us to the bogie, what a service, so excellent! The luggage for train transportation is much convenient in backpacking style as we will need to walk quite far.
:: Train Ha Noi - Lao Cai
The train takes off at 21.50 p.m. and will reach Lao Cai station tomorrow at 6.00 a.m.. An approximate travel time is 8 hours.
This is an air-conditioned sleeper train. When you slide the door in, you will see two story beds on both sides with a free space in the middle which a small table and a compact lamp is situated. For the facilities, there are two plugs underneath the table, a reading light at the bed, free drinking water, a hot water kettle, washing hand sinks and public restroom.
While we are waiting for the train to move, we are not lonely as many sellers come up to sell instant noodles, tea, and coffee in case somebody is hungry before bedtime.
This train will slowly take us far from Hanoi accordingly to its speed. 8 hours from now, 'the view along the way' at the window will gradually change. From the densely packed tall buildings to the crowded white mist and mountains, from a congestion to openness, from a chaos to the tranquility and calmness....
I'm not sure if that's going to be the case, what I know is.....now Sapa is waiting for us.
Hanoi in brief
:: Hanoi, the Chaotic Culture... ::
- The crowd, scooters, honking noises and congestion are the easiest found things.
- Means of transportation, 'walking' is easier than taxi.
- The food is easily found, start with Spring Rolls in almost every meal.
- To arrive 'Hanoi', we must go 'Highland Coffee Cafe' ☕ (but we have yet gone today).
- It takes about one day trip at Old Quarter (similar to China Town in Thailand).
- And for tonight, Good Night...
Stay tuned for Episode 2 here: Vietnam Trip : Ha Noi - Sapa ตอน 2
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GOOD NIGHT MY TRAIN...