Our journey began in Ha Noi the evening before, but that was just a fly in, check in, sleep in and spend half a day wandering about.
From Ha Noi we took a train to Sa Pa overnight. One of those old sleeper trains with four people to a sleeper car. So why didn't I take a photo of that? I have no idea except it was late, we were tired, and it was dark and dingy as can be.
Our sleep mates were a young French student who was doing a tour to wherever his wandering heart would take him. Viet Nam was a must for him, given that the French had invaded this country before we did. The Vietnamese called it the "French War". Our other cabin mate was someone who walked in, hopped in bed, and that was it. He looked Vietnamese but hard to tell.
NAIVE JOE: When we got to the train station we were told to look for a certain van. Mind you now it is about 5 a.m in the mornin. We spent a fitful night sleeping as the train was on a milk run with stops here and there. We find the van, hop in, clutching our valuables to our chest. The side sliding door is open and there's a light coolness in the air and people scurying about to and fro. A guy walks up to the van, looks at me and asks me for money. I reach in my pocket and pay the fare.
He walks away.
I think: Who was that masked man? Turn to Sue and say:"Y'know...some guy just asked me for $10 and I handed it to him questions unasked." It could have been anybody. Luckily it was the van helper who said to me when he saw me looking askance at him: "Okay. Is Okay. I work with van. You okay." I was. But I wasn't.
There's almost a full moon....the mountainside is serenely lit....the journey is long and slow, gears grinding to their own tune.
Arriving at the hotel, we're glad we're in the older section of the hotel. It has that lived in charm.
An area to walk was told to us. As we're walking down I'm getting "Grand Canyon Hike" flash back: Long time ago I hiked down into the Canyon. Lots of fun bouncing down the switchbacks. Hey. Only took an hour to get down. Took 3.5 HOURS to get back up. So I'm saying to Sue: "It's downhill, but we're gonna have a nice hike back." She says not to worry..we can do it.
All the way down locals on motor bikes are vying to ride us down for a fee. Our standard answer: "We like walking".
The ubiquitous: "Where are you from?" So I say "I'm from China". Well it's true. That's where I'm living. Without missing a beat he says: "Guess what? My name is China". Quick guy. We'd see him later.
The area was absolutely beautiful and although feeling like an interloper, walking through the local villages turned back the pages of time.
As we started to walk back up yup "Grand Canyon Flashback".
It was steep.
It was hot.
The motor bike guys kept asking to ride us up for a fee. We kept saying as the sweat poured off us: "No, we really like walking."
You guessed it. So how much to take us back to the top? $10? No way...we'll walk.
Later: So how much to take us to the top? $8? No way...we'll walk.
China came upon the scene with his friend and offered to take us to the top for $1 U.S. How could we say no? We ended up giving him $3.
In the afternoon, we did the tourist walk around town to the local outdoor markets, the Radio Tower Tourist Park, and then sat in a park with the sun beating down and gladly thinking how nice it is to worry about sunburn in the middle of December.
Dinner ended up being a Mama Hoo Hoo. That's Chinese for "Ah..so so".
Second Day Remembrances:
Breakfast at a small family tucked away restaurant.
Noticed a guy by himself and thought: "...what's it like to travel alone..?"
Village Trek: We hired to do a hiking tour of a local village. The trek was down a mountain road, across rice paddies on narrow built walls, fjording streams, all with the aid of Hmong ladies who held Susan's hand the whole way and smiling all the time.
"Slip & Fall" is not a new dance. It's what each of us did on the slippery narrow rack walls of rice paddies
Tai and Jay our two Hmong lady "Helpers". Yes we knew they were doing it for tips...but their company was worth more than we could pay.
"Walking stick". I bought one. Found out why. In one of the pics you can see how steep the climb/descent could be
Village life with a "bride room".
Many women working. We ask "Where are the men". The guide replies with a sly wink: "getting wood". In other words: "Nothing"
Hemp: The Hmong ladies were constantly spinning hemp as they walked. We learned it can take 1 year to make enough hemp cloth for one garment
Jeep trip back. Lunch. And who should be sitting next to us but the "lone guy" from breakfast. Quick hello and find out he's an ad exec from NYCity who had been thinking of doing this for 7 years. His parents recently deceased and as he said: "...I just decided it was time to go.."
Train ride to end the journey. Bunk mates are a man and his "wife", who looked to be no more than 17 and who we heard crying into her cell phone throughout the night. What was the real story?
Sa Pa...your journey ended far too soon
LEFT click on an image to enlarge it in a separate window.
After SaPa we returned to spend a few days in Hanoi, which is a fun, interesting, and eclectic city. What was especially nice was seeing the French influence in the architecture giving the city some tucked away charm behind the teeming mass of humanity on the streets.
Another thing I love about cities like this is that you can "walk" and find almost anything and everything you need. It's nice not to have to get in a cab or car to get from there to here. Of course in Hanoi, as in many other parts of Asia, the ubiquitous motor scooters cause a din of "putt puttting"all around you. It certainly appears that the scooter is/has replaced the bike for carrying everything from its human cargo to flocks of chicken or a pile of boxes or even a half dozen sheep hanging from their canvas holders bleeting downt he street.
A most wonderful and pleasant surprise was a visit to the Hanoi Cultural Museum. This was incredibly done with full size exhibits of a life past, rich in history of the tribes of early Vietnam and the cultural impact on a modern Viet Nam.
Strolling the grounds led us onto scenes typical of those we've found elsewhere in Asia: Favorite settings for wedding photographs. Unlike in the states when the majority of photos are done on the wedding day, Asian weddings seem to book way in advance to have their photographs taken in beautiful settings, often months before the wedding. In our short visit we came across no less than six wedding parties being photographed in about a one block area on the museum grounds.
An evening at the Water Puppet Show with more information here. The art form goes back to the tenth century where farmers used what media they had to create entertainment.
Had to visit the Hanoi Hilton, the prison where John McCain and hundreds and hundreds of others were imprisoned. And as always to read more, do the Google or internet search for "Hanoi Hilton". The Vietnamese present their "side" of what happened in the "American War" and as many U.S. publications tout: "Don't believe everything you read." Now that Murdoch owns many U.S. newspapers, that sounds like good advice, even at home.
The evenings were a big bright spot as we found a great place for Vietnamese food down the street and you know the kind of place where the food is always the best: A mom and pop operation, complete with beaten up furniture, the head of the clan counting cash and the days receipts a few tables over, the door open to a kitchen with a quick glance might make you want to walk out, but the food was so Viet Damn good!!!! Where else can you have dinner, a beer, see what life is really like and for U.S. $5? No, sorry, a Burger King or McDonald's just doesn't come close at all.
LEFT CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE IN A SEPARATE WINDOW
Hoi An: Shoulda spent a week here!! Alas, we only stayed about 1.5 days but what a time it was and a time it was.
Our hotel was tucked in a corner down a street but had world class charm at carriage class prices. The name? Right. I'll get that as soon as I get that.
If I ever go back to Viet Nam this IS the one place I'll return to:
Meandering streets full of interesting places and charm
Colorful interesting buildings
Doors. I love to photograph doors. I did this long before those multi windos poster and door posters were made. Yeah, I had that idea but did nothing with it. He who hesitates is....
Boat people. Hoi An is on the water and I loved watching the migration of people, wares, animals back and forth from the islands
Arteests. Saw some of the best lacquer and art work here. So why didn't I gather up a horde and take some home? Slaps self
Food!! Scrumptous food at the restaurants we visited and those were only a few
Shoes!! You'll read about Sues Shuz later.
Beaches....nice. I think they looked better than Phu Quoc island.
Going to write this in Hemingway fashion..yeah..as if I could write like Hemingway.
Bike ride around Hoi An. Leisurely and fun. Dinner walk. Met a couple we met before and then again. Small world. Recommended the "Cargo Club" for dinner. Awesome Cao Lau food. Superb.
Breakfast at the hotel to die for. The presentation was better than the food. One of those times I shoulda taken pics.
History and Cultural Museum. Love the misspelled stuff: Chinese "cooper"coins. Carpenting. Genuis of Cultur. to name a few. However, there was this quote from long ago: "In the coming time, Hoi An will surely be an attractive place for tourists, especially those who want to live in the rightousness of the old town once so merry prosperous and well known." Only written a hundred years ago.
Some remembrances of Hoi An:
Each boat has an eye painted on the bow for the boat to "see".
HAIR PICKING: Saw many women doing this. As one woman said: "Sometimes a curly hair that itches or we pluck out the gray."
BOAT PEOPLE: Packed boats of people coming from the islands to work.
HORSES: The protect the temples and are the guards.
YELLOW HOUSES: Soooooo many yellow houses. One native said "tradtion", but none I could find could tell me from whence tradtion came.
KAO KAO: As Sammy said "..the candy man can.." Many of these men selling candy all around town.
LACQUER: Got a "no no no" from Joe, but I shoulda.
SUEZ SHUEZ: At the last minute Sue decided she wanted a pair of boots because they were so inexpensive. "Boots ready next morning" says woman. Sue says okay and pays. Well, the next morning came....had to go get boots....we leave in what 2 hours. Right boots very, very tight. "I go fix". Boots come back as we're leaving. End of story? Sue gave the boots to her daughter.
Long, long, long bus ride to HUE.
HUE. Eh!! After Hoi An. Major let down. Didn't even take a note.
Get thee to Hoi An..you'll love it.
As for Hue? Fawgedaboutit. Shoulda spent more time in Hoi An.