26th May 2017 midnight Hanoi
I’m in a cab to Lan’s place, my host for two nights in Hanoi.
It feels unreal as I think about finally having set foot on the country that had always been on the top of my travel list in South East Asia.
My journey in Vietnam has just begun and I feel all too excited as I sit in the cab scribbling some notes before calling up my host Lan and looking around the streets of Hanoi as the cab driver drives me to the Old quarter in the midnight hour.
27th May 2017 9pm
I’m sitting on the bed in Lan’s little guest room jotting down on my notebook as I remember the unfolding of an eventful day in Hanoi.
I saw Hanoi finally through my eyes and not on instagram or on the internet. I am thankful for this.
I remember sitting behind my super cool motor bike driver who took me through the chaotic Hanoi streets, visiting the St Joseph cathedral and getting my pictures taken, having lunch with my driver at a local street food stop – a lunch that included trying out silkworms, a cuisine in Vietnam. I remember walking along beautifully paved pathways with pretty yellow and red flowers by the calm Hoàn Kiếm Lake passing through beautiful French architectural buildings, watching people paint live portraits of other people.
I remember gobbling down two glasses of the best egg coffee with chocolate in town along side Lan in the famous Giang cafe of Hanoi and setting out on an evening sunset view across the Long Bien bridge with her.
I remember being very scared as I crossed the railing on the road on to the raiway tracks on the bridge, snapping a few pictures on the railway tracks, all the while reminding Lan and telling myself how dangerous it was what we were doing.
While Lan in her casual and calm manner kept concentrating on getting those railway track shots captured in her camera.
And I remember an entire green field full of banana trees, corn plants, sweet potatoes, etcetera as we both ran across those green fields chasing sunset and watching drones take over the sky, all the while taking pictures and recording a few videos before finally heading back for a dinner of the best porridge with pork in some local restaurant suggested by Lan and finally heading back here at Lan’s place where I lay now.
I smile and tell myself “My first day in Hanoi has been too good”
28th May 2017 (on the bus to Sapa) 11 pm
It’s a Sunday evening. After biking on the crazy streets of Hanoi for about 3 – 4 hours, my host Lan books an uber motor bike for me from her home. I carry my backpack behind me and we maneuver through the busy streets of Hanoi on the motor bike.
I keep asking my driver if we can make it on time for my 9.30 pm bus to Sapa. He keeps looking over the crowded street at the beer corner and shows me the traffic ahead, hastily shaking his head meaning a no.
My heartbeat races as I curse myself for the poor planning and for underestimating the Hanoi traffic. A few things like losing a day at Sapa because of missing my night bus tonight and having to travel by the next day bus comes to mind. I pray to God in between that I don’t miss the bus. Yes the atheist in me remembers to pray in times of trouble.
After being stationed at one point for almost 10 minutes, we finally get moving and the motor bikes and two wheelers ahead start clearing. I heave a sigh of relief as my driver gives me a heads up maneuvering carefully through the chaotic beer corner towards my bus stop. I manage to reach the bus stop just on time. After thanking my driver, I order a dinner of Pho from a nearby restaurant as my host Lan sends across a picture of the best Pho in town on messenger, something we had planned to have that night but didn’t quite get the time to do so.
I console myself “Maybe Sunday when I get back to Hanoi”
29th May 2017 ( 6 am as I sit waiting for my pho with Mamalili)
After a rather uncomfortable night bus journey from Hanoi, i reach Sapa. I say uncomfortable because I spent the entire night trying to get some sleep next to my fellow traveler who was constantly keeping me awake with his loud snoring sounds. I got down from the bus and was greeted by Mamalili, my Hmong hiking guide. The wind that is sweeping across the Sapa valley is quite a welcoming one providing me a much needed relief from the Hanoi heat. I slowly pull out the pullover from my backpack smiling and telling myself “Sapa is going to be wonderful”.
29th May 2017 5.30pm
I come out for an evening walk near my homestay along with Chi and Mamalili. And i witness a sunset so pretty that it makes me want to cry. I see the sun’s last golden rays falling on the face of little Chi, the grand daughter of my hiking guide and it just seems so glorious and looks so beautiful that I’m filled with an overwhelming feeling. The image that lay in front of me is just too pretty that it makes me want to cry. I turn around and witness endless rice paddy fields spanning across the entire village. I’m grateful beyond words. I am so overwhelmed that it almost feels unreal. And I think to myself that I must have done something right in my life to be able to witness such ever changing landscape so full of beauty.
7.30 pm – my first night in sapa : I’m called out by Mamalili from my comfy bed as she laid out a delicious looking meal on the dinner table.
I can tell that the food has been cooked with so much love. I almost can’t believe my eyes as i see the dinner table all set for me. Thankful and grateful are the words that keep hovering in my mind that day. I sleep peacefully in the cold pleasant night looking forward to my next days there.
31st May 2017 8.30 pm ( Sapa bus station)
I wake up on a comfy bed at the Sapa bus station after an hour’s sleep. I was offered to sleep on the bed by the travel agent who was at the reception when I arrived there. He had offered me rice with pork for dinner which I had politely declined. My thoughts raced back to two hours ago when I was sitting in the cab that would take me back to Sapa valley with Mamalili, my Hmong guide. I kept taking pictures of the ever changing beautiful sceneries as we drove past beautiful mountains and green rice paddy fields.
I felt as if I was leaving a home away from home. It always feels like this when you leave a place you love so much. I knew that I was leaving a part of me somewhere in those villages. I wasn’t quite ready to leave the place as I remembered my three days of stay there among the Hmong tribes at Hao Thao village.
I spent three beautiful days hiking around the village, playing with the grand daughters and sons of my guide and getting lost in time wishing time would stop right then.
I spent days watching the life of the people in the hills, them working and making friends with cows, buffalos, pigs, ducks, goats yellow pretty buttefflies, birds of different kinds and Nung, the owlie at my homestay. There was so much I loved at Sapa that i didn’t want to return back. But with hopes of coming back again another time, i left with a heavy heart hugging my Hmong guide Mamalili one last time.
1st June 2017 12am (Halong Bay)
I’m sitting on the upper deck of my cruise in the middle of the ocean as the ship slowly passes by hundreds of islands that looked like they were floating in the sea, surrounded by nothing but darkness, quietness and calmness . It’s a little too hot and humid but the winds sweeping across the sea makes up for the humidity. Halong Bay is beautiful, the emerald green sea is dotted with hundreds of small islands with secret hidden caves all around.
It almost feels like magic being there at the moment. But I also feel a little disappointed and a little lonely if I may add, to be completely honest, because it was way too touristy and not the kind of experience I was looking forward to. And sometimes that kills the magic but this moment as i lay on the stretcher with no one in sight, i can feel the Halong Bay magic wand sweeping across my cruise making me feel like I was transported to a fairytale world. I’m grateful to have seen such a wonderful sight.
2nd June 2017
I just got back from a kayaking morning in the vast open emerald green sea and the beautiful monkey caves feeling so awesome that i have no words to describe that feeling.
My mind is filled with colorful kayaks moving slowly together against a backdrop of caves and mountain high islands. I took enough pictures from my kayaking on my gopro and i am dying to see the pictures.
3rd June 2017 7.30 pm (waiting for food at Tam Coc)
I’m sitting at a local eatery in Tam coc amongst farmers and locals waiting for my garlic sauted spinach and pork noodles enjoying a saigon beer in the dark evening.
I had gone biking the entire evening until sundown after I decided not to return back to Hanoi the same night and decided to stay back at Tam Coc for the night and explore the village biking the next morning. The boat ride through the rice fields and through those three caves was indeed beautiful but i wanted to do it my way the next morning hence i stayed back.
4th June 2017 11 am (Tam Coc)
I just came back from an amazing 4-5 hours bike ride plus a boat ride through Tam Coc. I returned back with lotus seeds plucked by the lady who peddled the boat through the rice fields amidst beautiful hidden caves and lotus flowers and banana leaves and numerous buffalos and ducks.
I ran and cycled across yellow and green rice paddy fields , chanced upon never ending ponds with pretty lotus flower plants with about 100 ducks maneuvering their way through the pond. I hadn’t seen such a pretty sight in a long time and once again I’m so filled with an overwhelming feeling that i want to cry.
4th June evening (Hanoi International airport)
I’m sitting on the bench at the airport looking at my tan lines and watching myself in the mirror in front of me noticing how much I changed colors in the past 10 days. I am leaving Vietnam in about an hour and I almost feel like crying sitting and recollecting all the beautiful memories I made during my stay there.
I get up and grab two Vietnamese hats for 50 hkd as I just realize that i had left one of the Vietnamese hats I bought at Lan’s and another at the travel agent’s place in old quarter from whom I had booked the Halong Bay cruise.
30 minutes later, with a promise to return back to this beautiful country again, i look down one last time from my aircarft window and bid a final goodbye to a land so pretty, with it’s even more beautiful and warm hearted people.
I feel thankful to have had the opportunity to see such beauty in my life and to feel so much emotions at the same time.
Vietnam you are so beautiful. Someday I’ll come back again because i have left a part of me there, in all the places I’ve been to.
I can’t be more thankful for the hospitality that i received during my entire stay there. Feeling so much grateful.
I promise I’ll come again.
Jen who fell for you hard.