Sept 29, 2017
Our bus was at 9:30am, I had to eat breakfast, get ready, and finalizing packing. A pretty hectic morning. So don’t reprimand me when I tell you I forgot to check out of the hotel and lost 30,000 KIP (~$3.50). While that doesn’t sound like a lot, for me that’s 2 shots of alcohol, 1 meal, a nice souvenir…oh well, lesson learned. I realized that I’m learning a lot of small lessons every time I’m out here. It’s nice to then reflect on them via my blog.
We said our goodbyes to Hannah, Charlie, and Andrew. Andrew’s going to a nice resort while Hannah and Charlie are going to meet us in Hanoi a few days later. So it was me, Liv, Josh, Nicole, and Ida crammed into this mini bus with about 10 others. It took around 4 hours but we finally made it to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We walked with all of our stuff to the Dream Home Hostel 2, where Mike and Sam stayed the day before. Kevin was in the lobby, he was taking a bus all the way to Cambodia, a journey that would take over 24 hours. He joined us as we searched for food.
Since Vientiane is the capital of Laos, it has more of a city vibe than the rest of the country. Granted, the most “city” like more than anywhere else in the country. It also has more of an international population, with a lot of Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese presence in the capital. So we settled on this Szechwan restaurant. Like everywhere I go, most of the locals try to talk to me like I’m supposed to translate things for them. However, I think they get really disappointed when I answer the in English (*slaps self on the wrist* Bad Melissa, such an ignorant American). I got my favorite, Mapo tofu and was very satisfied afterwards.
Back at the hostel, we just chilled for a little bit. Liv wasn’t feeling well so she just hung out once we decided to leave and explore the Vientiane night market. I was hoping to find more Laos souvenirs, but most of the stalls were rows and rows of fake Western clothes like Puma. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Adidas, etc. I did get to get a fun quick workout in by the Mekong River. There were a bunch of ladies doing aerobics so I naturally joined in. We didn’t stay at the market for long since there wasn’t much for us to really see.
We had dinner at a place close to our hostel. I finally order Larb, a dish Laos is really known for but a dish I normally eat at Thai restaurants back at home. It’s usually minced meat, herbs like Thai basil, cilantro, onion, tossed in fish sauce and lime. I haven’t ordered it yet since it’s usually one of the more expensive dishes on their menu, but it was my last night in Laos and I had to use the rest of my money up. We walked back to the hostel and realized it was during the time they give free vodka (yessss, you know me and free drinks)! So I downed three glasses and walked upstairs. I wanted to sleep a little early, plus I didn’t want to be hung over for my flight the next day.
Sept 30, 2017
I woke up for free breakfast again (before 10). I was a little tired of eggs so I got toast, which wasn’t toasted at all, so I literally ate slices of bread. Our flight was at 2:40pm so we had a little time to kill before we left to the airport. I took this time to FaceTime the parentals. It’s sometimes hard to find time to talk to people back home, since California is 14 hours behind Thailand/Laos. We also had to say goodbye to Nicole, who was going to Cambodia, and Ida, who was taking the “24 hour” bus (I put it in quotes because it rarely ever takes 24 hours, usually anywhere between 30-40 hours). While everything here is “for the experience’, being crammed in a bus for more than a day seemed like an experience we could skip.
The security and immigration airport check in went smoothly. Vientiane’s airport is really tiny (3 gates) so it’s to safe to say we didn’t get lost. I got some really shitty and expensive airport food, but it’s fine I had to finish up my money anyways. The flight itself went by so fast. Liv, Josh and I weren’t able to sit next to each other and I ended up sitting next to this lady who obviously doesn’t fly that often. She kept elbowing me because she had to plug her ears with her fingers, so her elbow was chillin on my arm for a good 20 minutes. She also decided to take a picture out the window while I was trying to sleep and I felt her going over me the whole time. So I finally woke up and moved and she literally was taking a picture with her huge ass iPad and half her body over me.
We flew Laos Airlines, and they actually gave us a nice little meat bun snack for the ride. The flight was very quick, about an hour at most. At Hanoi airport, Liv and I went through immigration smoothly. She’d gotten her visa at the Luang Prabang Vietnam embassy while I got mine pretty quickly (and less costly) online. Josh, on the other hand, was waiting for his visa to be approved for almost an hour. I guess different countries have different visa processes and being from New Zealand made it difficult for him to get an online visa.
Once we were all finally together again, we made our way out of the airport. We needed money so we withdrew a little from the ATM, just enough to get home and for lodging that night. A girl named Luka, from Germany, asked if she could get a cab with us since it was pretty expensive for one person. We reassured her, the more the merrier. It was 400,000 dong to get from the Hanoi airport to the Old Quarter and took almost an hour, but wow was it an interesting hour. The motorbike culture is INSAINE. First off, there can be up to 4 people on a bike. Second, they just go go go no matter if there are people, cars, dogs, you just need to get out of their way. Thirdly, they’re constantly beeping horns at all times, I guess to warn people/cars that they’re coming and not stopping. Lastly, there are thousands on the road at a given time! Going in all directions, beeping their horns, overtaking the streets.
We arrived at our hostel, the Hanoi City Backpackers Hostel, at around 6:30pm. We immediately saw Mike and Sam out the window. The staff at this hostel was amazing, they brought our bags in and gave us a fancy drink and told us that we could join our friends for beer hour (free beer 6-7pm). We joined Mike, Sam, and their friend from back home, Jess, for some beers. This hostel was definitely the most fancy we’ve stayed at so far. The beds were so big and comfy, the staff was super attentive and nice, and it was super clean (a big, big plus here). After dropping our bags off, we headed out in search for food.
At first, we stopped at this really crowded Vietnamese restaurant that we thought would be good. But after looking at the menu we saw that it was pretty pricey, it also didn’t help that most of the dishes were things like pig intestine, stomach, gizzards, feet and other different body parts none of us were used to eating. So, we settled at this outside restaurant with little plastic tables and chairs. Most of the people in this restaurant were not Western and it was a little hard to communicate with the servers since they didn’t speak any English. We just pointed to the thing that seemed the best Josh and I split this really delicious beef with celery and carrots dish.
After we went to explore more of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Let me tell you, the streets were incredibly packed, like packed to the brim. I was getting very overwhelmed since I hate crowds and tend to get claustrophobic in these situations. We settled on a side restaurant where we ordered some beers. Finally, we ended up at Prague Pub, where we got to smoke, had some wine, and balloons filled with laughing gas. It was definitely a good time.
Oct 1, 2017
I woke up for breakfast again (before 10) after getting a really shitty sleep. While the beds were comfy and private (curtains), it was so cold because they blasted the AC and we had a merely a sheet to cover us at night. I didn’t get much sleep because I was so freaking cold. I had some cereal and banana for breakfast. We only booked one night at the hostel since we were planning to do a trip up to Sapa the next day. Our overnight sleeper bus wouldn’t pick us up until 9pm, so we had the rest of the day to explore.
Liv had a spa day, so the rest of us went on a search for this infamous egg coffee. We stumbled upon this place called the Note Cafe, where we ordered the egg coffee. This cafe was so cute, it was decorated in sticky notes filled out by people who pass through. There were thousands of notes everywhere: on the walls, on the windows, chairs, tables, anything that had a surface. After a bit more exploring, we got some Banh Mi at another cafe that was delicious! Banh Mi is a traditional Vietnamese sandwich made with meat, carrots, cilantro and basically anything you want.
We met up with Liv back at the hostel. I wanted to check out the Hoa Lo prison, a prison first used during the French Colonization period as a prison for political prisoners. It was later used as a prisoner for American pilots during the Vietnam War who were shot down. I guess it was dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton” by the Americans because of how nicely they were treated there.
We went back to the hostel and chilled again until we were ready to eat. Our goal was to get some pho, and we randomly stumbled upon a food stall on the side of the street. Most of these stalls only serve one thing, the dish they’re most famous for. We got some really delicious chicken pho (although I’m unsure of the actual name of the dish since they don’t speak any English here). We ended up at Prague Pub again because the boys wanted to watch the Aresenal football (soccer) game. One balloon and 2 glasses of wine later, we left in search for Banh Mi. Josh and I split a pork banh mi that had deep fried pork and fries, yuuuum.
Back at the hostel, we waited for the bus to pick us up. The bus picked us up around 9:30pm to bring us to the actual sleeper bus. We didn’t manage to get on the first one, so we waited another half an hour for the next sleeper bus to come. It was a mad dash to the front of the line – you want to get the best seats possible since you’re gonna be sleeping on it for over 6 hours. Luckily we were the first few in and picked our seats. I had one at the top. It’s basically a seat that reclines all the way back into like a bed. It wasn’t the nicest, but it worked for what it was. The only gross part were the little cockroaches, running around the back and on the sides.
I really wanted to sleep on this bus, it would be around a 4-5 hour journey ride and I didn’t want a repeat of the sleeper train. So I blew up my inflatable neck pillow, put my eye mask on, stuffed my ear plugs in, popped 2 ibuprofen PMs and fell fast a sleep.
Oct 2, 2017
While it wasn’t the smoothest ride, I slept very peacefully. I guess I was the only – the others either barely got any sleep or only got a few hours. I slept the whole way, which was much needed. I think we arrived in Sapa around 4:45-5am, but they let you sleep in the bus until 6. However, this bus driver kicked us off around 5:45, saying that the police were outside and we needed to get off the bus…thanks a lot. We were all sort of confused since the guy literally just stranded us in this new town and didn’t give us any information of what to do or where to go. He also kicked us out early, so the people who normally wait outside weren’t there to guide us where to go.
Fortunately this guy in a taxi got out and showed us a list of names, it was all of our names. He put us in his taxi and took us to Linh Trang Hotel, where we were to drop our stuff off and eat breakfast (included). I got some fried noodles for breakfast because I am SOOOO tired of eggs. Chao came to greet us and said we should be ready by 8:30am and that we should only bring the things we need for one night.
After getting ready and packing our bags, we finally set off. Chao, our tour guide, said that we’d be trekking to lunch, and then our homestay. It was a 7KM journey (I don’t know how many miles that is, I’m so bad with metric conversion and realize that the system we use in the US is essentially useless outside of the country…WHYYYY). As we were making our way out of the city, more and more ethnic Hmong ladies joined our group. They are all so cute (and small) and they know the basics of English like “What is your name” “How old are you” “Do you have any brothers or sisters”. Chao by far knew the most English, and I asked her how she learned. She said by talking to tourists, that’s it.
Our trek was a little hard in situations, you could slip pretty easily. So, the nice Hmong ladies who make it look easy (and do it in freaking slides) would grab your hand for assistance. We walked up and down mountains, through villages, farms and rice patties. There were water buffalo everywhere, along with pigs and piglets, chicks and chickens and of course doggies. At every rest stop, there were little Hmong girls that would sell you bracelets. They said it in the most sad way, knowing the right tactics to pressure tourist in giving them money.
We trekked for about 3.5 hours until we got to the valley where we would eat lunch. Once we sat down at the restaurants, the nice Hmong ladies that were helping us (only during the first half) of the journey all took out their merchandise from their basket backpacks and asked if we wanted to buy anything. Chao helped translate. It sort of took us all off guard, they were all really nice and helped us down the hill. They gave us a cute flower/plant heart that they made and took the time to talk to us. I was pressured into buying a scarf and bracelet for 300,000 kip ($13), when I surely could have gotten it for cheaper. I wanted to help them out and their families so I reluctantly bought it from them. We later find out that this is a tactic to get tourists to give them more money. It was such a coincidence that there were 6 of us and 6 of them. We didn’t know it before but we knew now why so many of them joined us while we walked. Lesson learned.
I got some noodle soup (again) for lunch. After an hour and a half we walked on the road to Ta Van, the location of our homestay. The village was really small and full of homestays. Our homestay was so cute! It was a orange house with a straw roof. The lady running it was so cute and sweet. They had a puppy named Bin, some type of Corgi mix who was definitely young. I notice out here that they chain the dogs up if they’re actually pets, to I guess make sure they don’t run away or nothing happens to them. Bin was a very hyper active dog. I guess sitting on a chain all day makes a dog go stir crazy, especially one that’s 7 months old and teething. He was very bitey but just wanted love.
We got to the homestay around 3pm, so we had 3 hours before dinner to explore and hangout. So all of us except Liv (to keep you updated it’s me, Josh, Mike, Sam, and Jess) went down to the river. We got a beer, roamed around a bit, through some rocks into the river and just enjoyed the surroundings. Sapa is absolutely beautiful. The mountains are all carved to make for rice patties, the kids run around enjoying life, dogs wander with their tails wagging, and people hum by on motorbikes. It’s such a nice pace of life, and I was just in awe of everything. When we got back to the homestay, I couldn’t just sit inside on my phone. I went outside to enjoy the view and just appreciate my surroundings. I took time to reflect my thoughts and my trip.
My time here has been nothing but positive. The food, the people, the cultures, the landscape everything has been beautiful. The people I’ve met along the way have been lovely. Everything has gone so well so far, and I can see why people spend like a year here. I wish I had more time to travel and see more, but I need to get back to my career at home.
Dinner was served at 630pm. They made us a beef dish, chicken dish, cabbage, a tofu dish, and spring rolls. There was so much food and I stuffed my face until I was almost sick. When we went out earlier, Jess, Sam and I all split the cost of 2 bottles of wine, so we broke that out during dinner. There were others who were doing a similar trek as us, just with a different guide. We all played cards and drank. It was a great night. When we wanted to go to sleep, the second floor housed all of the beds. They were comfy mattresses all on the floor, with very thick blankets (Sapa is much cooler than Hanoi and valley regions, it can get really cold at night), and a MOSQUITO NET (we all know how I feel about them). I tucked myself in with the very heavy blanket, and fell asleep.
Oct 3, 2017
The roosters call woke me up around 5:15am. The homestay had open windows, bars were the only thing that covered the outside from coming in. I put on ear plugs then fell soundly asleep until around 8:25, when the sound of my roomies woke me up. We were supposed to be up and ready by 8:30am for breakfast, but it was a long start for all of us. They made us very thin pancakes, and gave us bananas and honey. The consistency of the pancakes were almost like crepes, so I made my own banana crepe.
Our next trek was to the waterfall. We were going to come back to the homestay, so I left most of my stuff except for my wallet and phone there. Since we got off to a late start, there were a lot more groups on the path than yesterday. Our pace was quite fast compared to the others, so we found ourselves stuck waiting for other groups to move faster. At each of our rest stops, there were more Hmong ladies, waiting for a group to follow. They followed us at this particular part, where the bamboo was dense and thick, and the path was muddy and treacherous. I had my vibrams (five-toe shoes) on, so I was able to easily hop from place to place. I did get my foot stuck in the mud though, but my shoes can get in the water with no problem, so I wasn’t worried about it.
We finally got to the waterfall, the place we were trekking to all morning. Chao warned us that it’s very slippery and to be careful. I washed my shoes off and slipped a few times in the waterfall. The waterfall sat on the side of the mountain, so it was very steep where we were. I thought I was confident, and walked around (and slipped and fell) in the waterfall’s little pool. I gave my stuff to Jess, who had a backpack, in case I slipped and drenched myself. After like 15 minutes, we told each other we should get back. When I was walking back, there was this one stream that I needed to cross before getting to the main part of the cliff. Instead of jumping over like most people, I decided to try and walk through and my foot immediately buckled and slipped. I was whisked away, sliding down the waterfall, when a man caught me and helped me up (there were a lot of people around this waterfall). It was in front of everyone, and if this man didn’t help me up I might’ve been washed all the way down. I thanked him, embarrassed, and said I was ok. I should have thanked him more, because I think he basically saved my life now thinking about it. If he wasn’t there, I’m not sure I would have been able to stop myself from the strong current. I was really embarrassed, and wanted to walk it off like it was no problem. Chao looked really worried, she had warned me before that it was slippery.
So, drenched and embarrassed, I walked down the mountain with the rest of my group. There were more Hmong ladies who tried to help Jess and Liv down, but we knew what their intentions were. We walked to this restaurant, where we all got pho. It was cloudy and a little cold. While we were waiting for our food, it started to rain. Like coming down cats and dogs rain. We got a little nervous that we’d have to walk back in the pouring rain, but when we finally finished it was coming down a little less intense. I was already wet from falling in the waterfall, so I just put my drenched sarong over me for cover.
It was about a half an hour walk in the rain back to our homestay. There I took a shower and charged my phone (that luckily didn’t get wet from when I fell into the waterfall because I’d given it to Jess). We say goodbye to Chao and all gave her a tip – she was 7 months pregnant, walking all those miles in the heat and putting up with us. You could tell she was so humble because she didn’t want to except it at first, but after more encouragement she finally gave in. The lady who ran the hostel would accompany us to Sapa and our night bus (that departed at 4pm). She gave us all a snack for our journey – a baguette, banana, condensed sweet milk, and a water. We took a mini bus back to Sapa where we picked up the rest of our luggage from the hotel.
We got onto the night bus no problem and said goodbye to the sweet lady who ran the homestay. We actually didn’t depart until 4:30pm, but this time we sat in the front of the bus. The road was really windy from Sapa, and I was writing my blog and watching outside when all of asudden this bus came from around a turn. Our bus didn’t stop and that bus didn’t stop and we ended up crashing the left corner or our bus into the side of their bus. After being stopped for about 30 minutes (and stopping traffic), we finally went on our way and I was able to see the extent of the damage. Our bus smashed one of the side windows of the other, but we all carried on as if nothing happened.
I tried to blog a bit, and ended up sleeping for a few hours when we finally ended up in Sapa. I did feel a cockroach run across my face, and had a bit of a problem with them. But after I flung it off my chair, I didn’t get have any problem with a damn cockroach. We made it to Hanoi around 9:30pm, where we took a taxi (who definitely went an extra long way to drive the meter up) to our new hostel, Vietnam Backpackers Hostel Downtown. When we walked in, it immediately looked like we were in a club. Apparently this was the biggest party hostel in Hanoi and we def felt that when we walked in.
Later, we had some 5,000 beer across the way ($.20) – I had about 4 before browsing for food. I guess everything closes at 12am here because the police were going around blasting their siren and the locals would look like their closing their shops. When the police passed some of the shops would open back up. We were able to get some kebab, which was so delish! After a wander around old quarter I headed up and went to bed.
I really enjoy Hanoi for some odd reason. I appreciate the culture, the different atmosphere than the rest of the Southeast Asian countries. I’ve also enjoyed being on my own and meeting people at my own speed. This experience has been nothing but positive and I’m trying to savor every little bit from it. I write extensive, detailed posts because I want to be able to come back and read my thoughts and memories. So, thank you to everyone who’s going through this journey with me. I’m trying really hard to be as descriptive as possible. Stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA ADVENTURE!