Days 38- 41 12th-15th February

Sitting down to write about the last few days, so much seems to have happened.  Looking back at the last entry seems an age away as so much has happened. I’m sitting in a friend, Colin Macfarlane’s, lovely apartment in Hanoi feeling very lucky that we have a great place to recuperate.

So to back track. The last blog was written before the evening of 11th. We went round the market in Sam Nuea in the late afternoon to stock up provisions for the next couple of days.  Fresh fruit and veg – avoiding the rats, mice, frogs and goodness know what other unmentionables that were on offer. We went out to eat for our final meal in Laos and bumped into some other tourists and we all joined together for a meal – a German couple we had met on the bus, an Israeli political scientist and a Belgium family with their 2 children.  However the evening felt uncomfortable and rather negative and after eating we made our excuses and left.

Returning to the room we started to pack up for the next day and David went to boil up the eggs as we usually do. We had an incident with the petrol stove that we think became faulty after bumping around on the bus. Bernie got a knock to the head that required some stitches at the local small hospital and we both had minor burns.  

The next day we were not sure that Bernie was 100% right and was a bit concussed so we sorted things out in Sam Neua and decided to take a few days off the trikes and move to Hanoi.  Our unease in staying Sam Neua was compounded by the fact that the whole situation at the hotel was extremely odd. There seemed to be a whole family of children there sleeping on a bed and sofas downstairs with no sign of any adults. The oldest child, maybe aged 16 (at most), was in charge and conveyed messages.  We were the only guests.  Goodness knows what was really going on.

Bernie did not feel up to cycling to the bus station (up a steep hill), so took a taxi to the bus station (with all the panniers) and David towed her trike the 2km and 70m climb up to the bus station.  The taxi driver thought this was highly amusing and chortled with laughter all the way.  One of the lovely things about Laos is how much the people laugh so although with half her brain she felt irritated that this was no laughing matter, the other half of her brain knew this was a cultural response and the taxi driver was very kind.

We arrived at 7.15, having been told to be there 7.30am and ready for an 8.30 bus.  David folded the bikes and brought the tickets. We met an American woman, Miran, who ran a business buying hand woven silk fabric and running weaving tours. 8.30am came and went but about an hour later the bus rolled in and the trikes were loaded onto the roof. It was a few stops later in the town before we were properly on our way an hour and a half late. The bus is not just for people but was clearly also for deliveries as we picked up various boxes and packages.

The bus made its way slowly to Vieng Xai – the place of the hideout caves of the Pathet Lao.  The was the centre of operations for the Lao fighters who took on and beat the might of the USA forces in the period up to 1975.  We stopped at a hotel and reversed round to the back for the next packages to pick up….. which included a live pig, all trussed up in a sack.  Even in our predicament we could not help laughing as the pig was winched up onto to the roof, squealing at top volume (sorry animal welfare enthusiasts, I know we should have not found it amusing and it must have been objectively awful for the pig).

We reached the border about 12.30, but this was such a small border crossing that it closes between noon and 1.30 for lunch. We were highly anxious about the border crossing because when we came to print out our visas we saw the David’s stated that he was female rather than male. Objectively the visa had been issued but he was objectively male!  We were terrified that a border official might highlight on this issue and object to his entry into the country – perhaps he should have worn a dress. It seemed to take an age for our passports to be stamped. At last the poker faced official gave the last stamps and handed over the passports and we were on our way.  The relief on David’s face as we sped into Vietnam will stay with Bernie for a long time.

The transformation into Vietnam was instantaneous. We realised we had become inured to the poverty of Laos but suddenly the road was good, the houses were proper houses, everything was vibrant and colourful, even the trees seemed greener. 

Suddenly the bus seemed much jollier. Our fellow passengers were chatty and laughing – only the American lady was a little irritated as, entirely understandably, we were running on “Lao time”, namely very late, and she wanted to get to Hanoi that night.  We had already decided that this would be too much for us and we would stop in Thanh Hoa.

Deliveries started to be dropped off when we came to the place where ‘Mrs Pig’ was being dropped off.  Mrs Pig was actually a very smartly dressed, slight woman with a young child. Just before her stop she leapt off the bus and picked up a wicker tube.  It soon became apparent that this was for the pig, which was not getting off at this stop. Amidst further squealing the bus guy tried to get the pig into the basket without success so Mrs Pig kicked off her flip flops, rolled up her sleeves, climbed onto the roof of the bus and worked with the bus boy to wrestle the pig into the basket….she’s clearly done this before. And this was all done without disturbing her lovely attire.  Oh that we had that skill!

The bus journey droned on and although it got very tedious, the good news was that Bernie was feeling somewhat better.  At last about 7pm, 12 hours after starting our journey in Sam Nuea, we arrived in Thanh Hoa. We checked into the nearest hotel opposite the bus station, got something to eat and collapsed in bed. 

The following day David slept in and was woken by Bernie at 8am – an almost unknown occurrence in our long marriage.  We then battled to get a new sim card for the phone so that it would work in Vietnam, and made our way to the northern bus station that served buses for Hanoi. That was about 8 km out of town and, when we arrived, it was very confusing as to how we worked out what was the right bus to Hanoi, whether it would take the trikes and how much it would cost.  Eventually we found a bus that claimed to be going to Hanoi and said they would take the trikes and us for the exorbitant fee of 1.2M dong – about £32.  We should have haggled but did not have the energy and so just agreed.  

Once on the bus, we realised it was a “sleeper” bus with sleeping seats.  These were pretty comfortable and made up for the fact the bus went mega slowly, looking out for passengers to pick up all the time and avoiding the toll roads.  It took about 4.5 hours to get to Hanoi and, once there, the bus drove around the outskirts rather than going into the centre (as Bernie had been promised).  No one else seemed to be getting off at Hanoi and we were “dumped” at an unscheduled stop on the outskirts with the trike and all our panniers on the side of what felt like a motorway.  We had 8km to cycle to the city centre and this was the nearest we were going to get to being dropped in central Hanoi.  

Needs must and so we loaded up the panniers and went out into the traffic.  At first it seemed complete chaos – but we began to learn it was organised chaos which, after a fashion, worked.  The cars and motor bikes streamed past us (on both sides) and traffic on the main road gave way to traffic coming in from the right.  Hence, those joining the main road never looked to see if there was a gap in the traffic – there never was – so they just drove onto the main road and expected the existing traffic to give way (which it did in its own manner).  

After 8km we reached Hang Bong Street and met Bien and his wife, Lan, and their two children.  who are our hosts.  They have a sick son at the moment and so were wonderful to host us as well.  Bien provided supper to us and we learned what a lovely chap he is.  The apartment is owned by an Australian friend, Colin, with who we worked in the Walk for Life charity (providing services to correct club foot babies in Bangladesh).  We spoke to Colin in India on the phone – and then finished supper.

To say we were relieved to be in Hanoi was an understatement.  Travelling is different from normal life at home, and there is far more opportunity for things to go wrong.  The stove incident was an unexpected event  and we were hugely conscious that the outcome was not too serious for us.  It interrupted rather than ended our trip and we feel we will  back on the trikes in a few days.  We also got through the border without incident when, with a stricter border guard, it could have been far more difficult.  

Our first impressions of Hanoi are that it is a city in South East Asia with rich and poor.  There are plenty of well dressed people and plenty of people scratching a living on the sidewalk.  All life happens here – good and bad – and there are some things for the tourist, but this is not New Delhi or even Bangkok.  It is a crazy, humming, functional metropolis where there are tourists and there are facilities for us, but tourism is at the margins, not in the centre of what defines the city.  And in many ways we feel far more comfortable being in a city like that.  

It will be a great place to recuperate for a few days, to regroup and start again.  We went to bed expecting to sleep and were not disappointed.

4 thoughts on “Days 38- 41 12th-15th February

  1. What an adventure. So glad you have both made it through. Do hope the next phase goes a little more smoothly. Looking forward to hearing all about it. Xxxxx

    Sent from Outlook for Android ________________________________

  2. Well done for successfully extracting yourselves from a difficult situation and getting to Hanoi. Hope you both can relax for a few days and regain strength. You two are very tough and resilient!

  3. So pleased to see you’re both back on net once more. 🙂. Whatever you do seems to be something of an adventure!

  4. Wishing you both a good rest and recovery, and hoping that the next part of your trip in Vietnam goes smoothly (and for your new stove).

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