My actual plan of riding into Vietnam from Laos did not pan out as unfortunately they did not allow me to cross with the bike as there is a restriction for motorcycles above 175 cc. Hence I rode into Cambodia and later to Bangkok and took a flight to Hanoi.
I had to leave the hostel by 3:30 am. I was shocked to see the airport really packed with tourists at such early hours. Most of them were Chinese and were too loud and chaotic. I landed in Hanoi around 8:00 am and the ride to the city was a good one hour through the crazy traffic. The chaos for me resembled Indian riding conditions so I was quite comfortable, but for the other travellers, especially Europeans this was a shocker. With no consideration to any sort of traffic rules, we had two wheelers coming from all directions. I was introduced to Venky an Indian back packer who later decided to settle in Hanoi. I got to know Venky through a French acquaintance with whom I shared the hostel in Bangkok. Venky took me around Hanoi and helped me filter down the locations I should visit.
I was clear that I didn’t want to run around too much, rather visit places that I enjoy. The top four on the list were the visits to Halong Bay, Trek at Sapa, spending time at the Old Quarter and a visit to the Museum of Ethnology.
I was lucky as Halong Bay had reopened after a catastrophic storm, as the island was closed prior to this, owing to the high damage caused by the storm.
There are enough and more tour operators and a good research can lead to a good deal. As confirmed by the tour operator, the bus picked me up from the hostel at 8:30 am. The distance was approximately 180 kms and took us a good 4 hours to reach. We had a restroom and refreshment break in between the journey.
On reaching Halong Bay, we had to squeeze our way to the small boat which would take us to the bigger one. The weather was uncomfortably hot and we did have to spend some time at the bay before our boat reached. This was truly a great experience for me as I have not seen such a landscape earlier. The cruise took us to the Hang Bau Cave, one of the most beautiful caves with amazing limestone formations. Post the cave tour, we headed back to the boat and headed for kayaking and swimming in a more secluded place. I took a one night package so headed back the next day. There are packages for 2 nights 3 days and more.
The next on the list was a visit to Sapa, which was North West of Hanoi. It was an overnight journey and was a welcoming sight as we reached Sapa, especially having spent time in the hot and humid city of Hanoi. The first sight as you step out of the bus is the Hmong tribal ladies surrounding the bus to sell trekking and homestay packages.
I was surprised to hear them communicate well in English. They had their standard few questions – What’s your name?, Where are you from?, How long in Hanoi?, and so on.
The group was very dynamic and varied – French, German, Dutch, American. We trekked for 12 kms through mountain valleys and it was truly a mesmerising sight. The tribal ladies accompanied us extending a helping hand through the tough terrains. Have to mention about their aggressive sales pitch as they ensure that you end up buying some of the local hand made stuff. Every time we pass a new village, a new set of women will accompany and end up pushing you to buy the merchandise. At times this gets annoying.
The tribal women are very enterprising and multi talented. They adapt and keep learning so as to improve. They are the bread winners to the family. The males predominantly run the household.
We trekked for about 30 kms in 2 days through all terrains and tribal villages. I cherished the experience and would have loved to spend more time with the locals.
I spent the rest of my days in Hanoi visiting the museums and one that really got me interested was the Museum of Ethnology. It was a very engaging experience and I got hooked on to the interesting facts about the culture, construction styles, traditional wear, etc. There’s more to Vietnam and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Will sign off, hoping to explore this amazing country that’s gone through one of the toughest times in history.
As cliche as the story behind my South India trip sounds, the fact is I was truly done with living my life like a droid and wanted to just break
Warrier's Trail is a crazy dream of a simple guy that was inspired by a desire to travel, meeting people, see places and live life full of uncertainty.
The dream is to travel 40 countries, in over 500 odd days in 5 regions (S.E.Asia, Australia, Middle East, Europe & Africa)
A journey of exploration!