HoiAn to HaNoi
Over a month in Vietnam and I'm still not ready to leave this place. The past two weeks have been just as wonderful and exciting as the first two, if not more so. After leaving the sandy oasis of Life's a Beach, Rose and I settled ourselves in Hoi An for a week of shopping and relaxation (a theme of my trip perhaps). I knew Hoi An would be my favorite city as everyone I've met has raved about it. It is a picturesque town with lanterns lining the streets and the friendliest locals I have met so far. With tailors on every corner of course I took full advantage and spent the majority of my days shopping. Tapping into my childhood dream of being a fashion designer, I designed some rompers and dresses and met the most lovely tailor to make them for me. I felt like I was on an episode of Project Runway, zipping around the streets looking at fabrics for my designs to come to life. Rose and I were lucky enough to meet Mie on our first day in the city. Not only did she make us beautiful clothing, she invited us to spend the day with her and her husband, taking the boat across the river to her hometown where we were invited into her mother's house and cooked a huge Vietnamese lunch. The generosity of locals never ceases to amaze me. It really is true that those who have the least give the most.
Hoi An is one of those places that I could see myself getting stuck for awhile but after a week of pretty much just shopping, eating, and going to the spa, Rose and I were itching for a little adventure again. We sent our bags to Hue, rented a motorbike, and headed North. The journey from Hoi An to Hue requires driving over a mountain range and along the Hai Van Pass, made famous by Top Gear. It is a stunning landscape to drive through and I'm happy I got to sit on the back of the bike and take it all in. As always with Rose and I, there was no shortage of excitement along the way. We stopped to fill up on gas along the mountain and after the woman already filled our tank she told us it would be 50,000VND ($2.50). We are well aware at this point that the price for 1liter is only 15-20k so we tried to argue this point and things escalated quickly. Fast forward 30 minutes and I have been pushed and slapped, Rose has been hit, bitten, and dragged off of the motorbike. This woman was an all out psychopath. I managed to stay out of the fight since I could hardly contain my laughter. In the end, the lady siphoned the gas out of the bike using her mouth and a plastic tube and we drove off.
We spent only one night in Hue as there isn't much to do and it was just a halfway point between Hoi An and Phong Nha. There is one main attraction in Hue which is the Royal Palace (I think?) so we figured we might as well check it out. We got to the entrance and had a serious conversation about whether or not the entrance fee was worth it. If its possible, I think I'm becoming even more of a cheapskate than before I left home. We walked up to the ticket booth and Rose non-chalantly says "one adult and one child please". Apparently I can't pass for 12 anymore, the lady laughed and shook her head. We took a picture and left.
The next 2 days were spent in Phong Nha, visiting some of the largest caves in the world. Hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, zip lining, and getting head to toe covered in mud. Mother Nature is one fascinating lady! Per usual, Rose and I ran into some issues on the day we rented a bike to drive to two of the caves. We were originally given a scooter that was so tiny, Rose was more or less sitting on my lap while she drove. It broke down on a hill so we found ourselves sitting on the side of the road for 30 mins waiting for a new bike to come. The second bike was normal size and worked much better...until the sun was setting and we tried to head back to the hostel. The bike wouldn't start and we once again were waiting on the side of the road for a new one. The third bike was another baby scooter and as we were finally driving home, enjoying the beautiful sunset, we realized that the lights didn't work. I almost had to pull out a flashlight as a make shift headlight but we managed to stay close enough to other cars and bikes that we had some light and made it back. Then we dropped off the bike and the guy showed us the switch to turn on the lights...which worked perfectly. Oops.
I am now in Hanoi, the bustling capital in the north of Vietnam. Rose and I parted ways this morning as she's off to China and starting her journey home to Amsterdam via the Trans Mongolia Express. It was sad to say goodbye but now I can look forward to Amsterdam in the fall :)
I am surprised by how much I like Hanoi. I thought it was going to be dreary and freezing but the weather is the perfect mixture of hot and cold and the city is overflowing with action. The streets are packed with cars and bikes and food stands and locals selling everything you could possibly imagine.
Tonight I head to Sapa, a northern village with famous markets and stunning rice paddies. I'll end my time in Vietnam with a cruise through the infamous Halong Bay before returning to Hanoi and boarding a 30 hour bus to Laos. I don't know that I'll ever be ready to leave this country but there are more places calling my name and for the first time in 6 months, I have a limited amount of time left. I finally bit the bullet and booked a flight home! I'll let you all wonder when it is for a little longer though :)