"Hanoi'd" was the name of my last blog post that was randomly deleted when I went in to edit it. Thanks to the Squarespace app, there's no way to go in and get an original draft; for some inexplicable reason, the copy deletes and the document saves, so there's no way to get it back. Very, very annoying.
I thought it was apropos to keep "Hanoi'd" as the title because that is an apt description of my life over the past week. Thanks to some lame planning on my part, I gave myself a little more time in Vietnam than was necessary, and won't be flying to Singapore until Tuesday. This means that I've had loads of time in Hanoi, despite side trips to Cat Ba Island and Sapa. Way more than needed. And I already wrote about my trip to Cat Ba, but thanks to Squarespace's stupidity, I'll do a quick recap to get all ten of you readers up to speed.
I got to Hanoi on the night train and spent the first day wandering around, in between napping at my hotel room. The next day, I braved the heat and set off to see the Fine Arts Museum and the Hoa Lo Prison. The Fine Arts Museum was well worth it, with large collections of antiquities and more contemporary Vietnamese art from the 1800s onward. The French influence is clear (they opened a L'Ecole de Beaux Arts in the 1930s), yet the art does not lose its Asian/Vietnamese sensibility and aesthetic. A lot of the art was painted on silk, which I found very impressive, as I have trouble enough with watercolors on paper, let alone a delicate piece of expensive fabric. The silk gives the paint a luminous quality, very lovely to behold.
The Hoa Lo Prison was built by the French to deal with political prisoners; later the North Vietnamese Army used it as a POW center for US Pilots. Yet again, the captions here were filled with a lot of bombastic patriotism, honoring the brave insurgents for their heroism against the evil imperialistic oppressors (some truth to all that, but again, definitely odd to see the captions drive the message home so emphatically ... I do think in other places the language in the captions would be a bit more detached). The best captions were for the propaganda created to show the amazing treatment of the POWs by the NVA; one was like "with the tropical air and fruit, you might think you were in California." Sorry, but if you don't have burritos and fresh air and, you know, freedom, it's not really like California at all.
Anyhoo. The next day I set off for Cat Ba Island, which I did in part because Lonely Planet said people with more time (me!) often opted for Cat Ba instead of croweded Halong Bay (which looks very similar). Forgetting my sketchy past relying on Lonely Planet for advice, I bought a ticket from the bus company they recommended, and off we went, twenty minutes way ahead of schedule. So ahead of schedule that this girl who was waiting for her friend at the station had to run alongside the bus pleading for them to stop and let her get her bag off; all the bus would let her do was slow down to about 5 mph so she could jump on. Which sparked all the Westerners on the bus to concern and conversation. Why wouldn't the bus people just stop for a sec so she could grab her bag? Why was no one helping her find someone who could translate? Why were we leaving twenty minutes early, anyway?
These were questions we all asked, and as a result, I ended up striking up conversation with a really nice girl from the UK who I ended up hanging out with for the rest of the weekend. She was the same age as me, which meant we had a lot in common to discuss: work, boys, love, life, etc. Given that I have alternated from either being annoyed with the overly social (and young) vibe of the hostels or getting lonely from the self-imposed separation, it was a welcome change to find someone to hang out with who could hold an interesting conversation. We opted for a boat tour on Saturday, which was super fun: lots of motoring around various limestone karsts, with a 2-hour kayaking stretch, then lunch, more boating around, a bit on a beach. It felt like an easy, cheaper alternative to the Halong Bay overnight cruises (which can be pretty expensive).
We got back to Hanoi on Sunday and she made her way to the airport. I spent Monday taking care of some errands (mailing some postcards that I've carried around since Siem Reap, for one thing) and making arrangements for Myanmar and writing a blog post by the same name that has since vanished thanks to Squarespace's stupid app. (Grrr.)
On Tuesday, I met with my free tour guide, courtesy of Hanoi Free Tour Guides, a service that pairs university students with tourists. It gives them a chance to practice their English (or German or Chinese or whatever language they're studying) and us tourists the chance to see Hanoi with a local! We had a busy day, starting at the Ho Chi Minh Museum, followed by a coffee, then the Temple of Literature, lunch, and then the History Museum. The best part was realizing that my guide had been the same guide for the people who'd recommended Hanoi Free Tour Guides to me in the first place -- a couple I'd met on my Silk Road adventure in Kyrgyzstan last September. Small world.
On Wednesday, since I had time to kill before taking the night train that night to Lao Cai, I booked a day trip to Hoa Lu/Tam Coc. Hoa Lu is an old temple; Tam Coc is a beautiful stretch of limestone karsts with a river running through them. I have to admit, I found the temple boring (I've seen a bunch of temples at this point) and Tam Coc looked similar to Cat Ba/Phong Nha. Plus like everything in this country, it's just an opportunity to be pestered by a million people trying to hawk stuff at you. Which has grown very tiring at this point.
Wednesday night I took the overnight train to Lao Cai, and had a much better night's sleep than my train right between Dong Hoi and Hanoi. After a shower at the trekking office, our group of six set off with our Hmong guide and trekked all day through rice paddies and jungle paths, up and down many many hills, the terrain quite rocky and trecherous in certain parts. We stayed at a homestay, where we enjoyed some good home cooked food and few beers before passing out around 10 pm. A huge storm passed over us during the night; the house was literally shaking from the thunder and the sound of the rain on the corrugated metal was outrageously loud. But still it was a cool experience, probably because I was dry and warm.
The next day, we hiked another 17 or so kilometers, much of it on even more trecherous terrain (some if made worse by the previous night's rain), and much of it on a dry road baking in the sun. We got to our next homestay around 4 and were passed out in bed by 9 pm. Today, we got up and set off on a hike to a waterfall which was really beautiful (and I think we were all grateful the hike was a lot shorter). Tonight I head back to Hanoi on the night train and will spend two days Hanoi'd there before heading to Singapore on Tuesday. Vietnam has been great, but I'm ready for a change of scenery.
Sorry this post is not more witty and lively and amazing, but it's annoying to have to rewrite something I've already worked on. Whatever, if you didn't like it, blame Squarespace!