Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

I am mother to two young adults in their mid to late 20's. I work in the medical field as an admin officer/personal assistant. I look forward to the day when I can spend heaps more time taking and making photographs. However, for now, the bills have to be paid. I married a jazz musician many, many years ago. My adopted home is Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. I am originally from North Queensland... a tropical place!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Catch up - Monday 29th October 2012

Well, it appears this blog is going to be a weekly blog instead of a daily one.  A catch up of the last week is in order.

As mentioned previously, we flew from Hue to Hanoi last Wednesday evening and were collected from the airport in a private car driven by a driver who spoke NO English at around 11:15pm.  We were very dehydrated as we could not bring water with us on the plane so when we hit the airport we tried to buy water but the only shop available was closed.  The woman who ran the shop was still there but refused to let us buy water.

The trip from the airport to Hanoi was on freeway most of the way and we could not get the driver to stop so we could get some water because he didn't understand anything we said.  He dropped us at our hotel in the 'old quarter' which did not look like a hotel and we were worried for a moment until the security grill was opened and a guy came out to get our luggage.  We struggled past two scooters parked in the foyer and were taken to our room.  The airconditioning did not work and nor did some of the lights.  Mary was not happy (the room was quite expensive) and demanded another room which we got.  The airconditioning did work in this room but, in the morning, we found that the bathroom was flooded from a dripping hose to the toilet.  The breakfast was nothing fancy but the view from the 6th floor (see photos) showed us a Hanoi which is very polluted, crowded and busy.  The vibes from the people was not good and we could hardly wait for the bus to collect us for our Halong Bay tour.

Part of Hanoi seen from the 6th floor of our hotel.  Visibility was not very far.

Early morning street scene outside our hotel in the 'old quarter'.   People on the street did not want us taking their photos.

The trip to Halong Bay was hot and tiring as the bus was crowded and the air conditioning didn't handle the conditions very well.  The pollution extended all the way from Hanoi to Halong Bay and out over the water.  Our tour guide (Thanh) was very chirpy and young and very good at her job.  She had completed a university honours course in English Literature (I think) and decided she liked working in the tourist industry and certainly seemed very happy in her job. 

We were herded onto a small boat for the short trip to our cruise boat (Halong Dragon Cruise) and lunch, which was nothing special.  After being assigned our cabins, everyone was herded back on to the little boat to go cave walking, kyaking and swimming.  As my knee was very sore, I chose to forego this expedition and stayed on the boat, taking photos, reading a book and snoozing on deck and later in our cabin.  Mary enjoyed the expedition and particularly the kyaking and swimming.

The Halong Dragon Cruise boat which we slept on overnight at Halong Bay.

The foot that steered our cruise boat.

Some of the amazing scenery in Halong Bay.

Some of the locals who live in the floating village in Halong Bay.

Some of the other cruise ships looking their best.

Part of the floating village of Halong Bay.

Free feet and leg massages were on offer prior to and just after dinner which most people on the cruise took advantage of.  The young guy doing the massage was very soft in his technique but wanted people to have full body massages (or head and shoulders).  I decided I'd have a back and head massage and he was very happy.  I said I liked firm massages where I could feel the massage getting into muscles and he said he could do that.  He couldn't!  After buffeting me around with edge-of-hands type massage, I stopped him and said I wanted to show him what I wanted by massaging his back.  He was terrified because he didn't know what I was saying so I had to go find Thanh so she could translate for me.  I then showed him what I meant by massage and he said he had the idea so we swapped back, still with Thanh as translator.  It turns out he had only done a short course in massage and had very little experience.  While I was teaching him massage techniques, Thanh was giving him English lessons.  I told her he had to learn "too soft" and "too hard" for starters.  All up, the experience was funny and enlightening for all of us.

Dinner that night was okay but breakfast the next morning was ho hum.  At dinner, Thanh said if anyone wanted, we could go to another cave at 6am and see the bay in the early morning light.  Thinking of photo opportunities, Mary and I said we'd go and another couple of people on the tour also wanted to go.  I got up at 5:30am and had a shower and while I was in the shower, the rain pelted down.  I thought that was it for the tour but the rain passed and the tour proceeded.  Mary bailed and decided on more sleep but she was up when we left. 

After having camera and lenses in the air conditioning during the night, the lenses fogged up for ages before the whole lot warmed up which meant lost photo opportunities for the early part of the trip.  The cave turned out to have very small openings which we had to crawl through to proceed.  After doing two of these crawls, Thanh decided I couldn't get through the last one so I had to stay with the pilot from the small boat while she went on with the other two people.  By the time they returned and we all returned to the boat, crawling through these small openings once again, my knee was very sore. 

We had to get luggage out of cabins so the cabins could be cleaned so congregated on deck.  After breakfast we were taken to a pearl farm which was fascinating.  However not many people bought pearls and once again, the push was for buying. 

Pearl Village - the oyster farms very impressive main building.
Staff quarters for people working at Pearl Village.
There was a swapping of people from other boats and our boat as some were going on to Kat Ba island for another night and the rest of us were returning to Hanoi.  We returned to Halong Bay land by around lunch time and were packed into taxis to be taken to a restaurant where we received very ho hum food once again.  The bus was again packed and I had to sit in the front beside the driver where I got the hot afternoon sun.  I was tired and cranky but did manage to get some more photos of Hanoi on the trip back to the city.

The smog over Hanoi on the trip back from Halong Bay.

Mary and I were dropped at the tour company's office where we left our luggage while we went and found a recommended restaurant and had dinner.  If anyone is ever in Hanoi and wants a fantastic meal, go to the Blue Butterfly restaurant where Minh (the manager) will look after you very well.  Feeling somewhat more human after good food and a cocktail (very strong), we arrived back at the office just in time to be put onto a bus for the railway station to go to Sapa.  We were sooooo pleased this happened when we realised how difficult it would have been to first find a taxi with a driver who spoke English and could take us to the railway station and then find where the train was that we needed to catch and get on it.  The tour guide was invaluable in making all this happen with a minimum of fuss.

We shared a four berth cabin on the train with a young girl and a 30's something guy.  The girl kept her light on all night which made it very difficult for Mary to sleep as they were both on the top bunks. The railway is in as bad a condition as the road system I think given the jerking that occurred throughout the trip overnight.  I had a roaring headache by the time we arrived at Lao Cai.

We were met at the railway station by a mini bus person who collected another 10 people and luggage and jammed us into a small mini bus for the trip up the mountain to Sapa.  This took a bit of time but by the time we reached Sapa it was day and we had great views up the mountain. The hotel had one room ready when we arrived so we dumped our luggage and went and had breakfast while another room was prepared for us.  After sorting rooms and luggage, I fell into bed and slept for 9 hours straight.  After waking, we went out to explore Sapa.

There is a large christian church near our hotel opposite a large square.  This square was full of mountain women selling their wares.  As soon as we appeared, we had women coming and asking "Where you from?" "How many children you have?" "You buy from me?"  They just don't want to leave you alone.  We had to get very firm with them and say NO many, many times.  "We're just looking, not buying."  After finding somewhere to eat, we were wandering back to the hotel past the church and discovered an event taking place at the church.  Many women and children were performing dances and singing and they were a wonderful sight.  Unfortunately the music was so loud it was distorting and difficult to listen to.  After taking many photos, we moved off back to the hotel and bed.

The Saturday night church event at Sapa.

Sunday morning did not loom sunny but very, very rainy as a consequence of the typhoon heading for the northern coast of North Vietnam.  Even so, we hit the streets and markets and had a lovely day exploring and saying NO many, many times.
A rainy Sunday in Sapa.

Some of the hill women working at the market who wouldn't let us take their photo unless we brought something from them.

We had booked a trek for Monday but it was cancelled because Monday was expected to be another rainy day.  However, the weather turned out not too bad so Mary and I went for a walk to Cat Cat village, about 30 minutes walk from Sapa.  I had to bail on Mary for the walk all the way down to the valley as my knee was playing up so I waited at an art gallery (where I bought a lovely painting) while Mary completed the expedition by herself.  She arrived back totally exhausted and I did not feel like undertaking the trek back up the very steep valley track, so we caught a taxi back up to Sapa.

The valley that Cat Cat village is located within.

Some of the rice paddies

The Eco Tourism and Environmental Education Centre of Hoang Lien - nothing seemed to be happening here but it looked good!

Looking back at some of the buildings of Sapa from the track down to Cat Cat village.
After a bit of a rest at the hotel, we went to the Tourist Bureau and booked a bus and rail ticket out of Sapa tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday 30th October) at 5pm (bus) and 8:10pm (rail from Loa Cai) back to Hanoi where we arrive very early on Wednesday morning.  We then booked air tickets from Hanoi to Luang Prabang for Wednesday evening.  We have a day in Hanoi before the flight at 8:40pm.
After doing a little more shopping, we found a restaurant to have dinner, ate and returned to the hotel where I have spent the last few hours compiling this update.  I hope you enjoy reading it.

Another couple of photos for Debbie - the local hotel cat... very pretty.


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