16.10.2011 - 23.10.2011
Roz and I decided we would travel down through Vietnam together, and got a flight to Hanoi. Both of our Thai visas were coming to an end, so we needed to leave the country and didnt have time to go to Bangkok and sort out our visas at the Vietnamese embassy, so we decided to fly because you can get a visa on arrival (that you still need to organise in advance). This also allows me to avoid the long, difficult bus trip from Hanoi to Laos, it allows me to cross from Cambodia into southern Laos, and allows me to get the slow boat from Laos back to Chiang Mai.
Malaysia can wait until later, when the weather will be better and I can actually enjoy it how I wanted to before - trekking through the jungles in Borneo, and relaxing on the beaches of Langkawi and the Perenthian Islands.
Hanoi is a pretty cool city. We're staying in a dorm in a backpacker hostel in the old town, with small winding streets full of scooters and taxis beeping away at each other. The traffic here is even more hectic than Thailand - the country grew up on bicycles, and the road laws haven't changed since everything became motorised.
The idea is, you don't stop - that sets off a domino effect of everything else stopping around you - you just go with the flow of the traffic. at roundabouts, junctions, cross roads, you just look for a gap in the flow of the road, and coast through it, beeping continuously to remind everyone else of your presence. Might makes right, so the scooters avoid the cars, which avoid the busses, which avoid the trucks...
It sounds like pure chaos, but it actually works pretty well! In a way its quite beautiful to watch it from the balcony on the 5th floor of our hostel, everything just flowing smoothly around everything else.
The most interesting part is being a pedestrian. the pavements are full of parked scooters, so you have to walk in the road, amongst all the other traffic. Again, you just flow with everything else, keeping a steady pace and not making any sudden movements so that the scooters can weave around you, predicting your future position from the pace of your steps. Crossing the road is much the same - wait for a small gap, then just walk at a steady pace, making eye-contact with the on-coming traffic and watching as it all flows around you.
We booked tickets to Sapa, a small town up in the mountains, home of the highest peak in Vietnam. This entailed getting a vietnamese sleeper bus, which was pretty interesting! the seats were actually more like sun-loungers, and your feet went into a compartment underneath the head of the person in front. They were obviously designed for vietnamese people, so I was about 2 feet too tall. I couldnt sleep with my legs folded over backwards, so I just lay down on the floor in the middle of the bus and slept there!
We spent 3 days and 2 nights there, and the town was constantly covered in fog. it got pretty tiring constantly being hounded by the packs of H'mong and Dzao tribe women, selling you their handmade trinkets. They were all very nice and friendly, but it was jsut a bit annoying after a while. Theres only so many times you can say "no, thankyou"...
I bought some hiking boots, thinking of my future as an itinerant harvest worker in Australia. Turns out that the northern face is a Vietnamese company, so you can buy the official gear (not fake, unlike everything else in Vietnam) at knock-off prices. I also met the only other Human geographer I've met since I've been out here (I have met one other physical geographer, and a town-planner). It was quite difficult to find any shoes above size 8, and near impossible to find any in my size - 10. I didn't see one pair of size 11s anywhere. The few vendors who did have the boots I wanted in my size were well aware of what a precious commodity they held, so I had to pay 45USD for a pair - still a bargain, as I probably would have had to pay at last 60 pounds back home!
We got the night bus back to Hanoi, where I arrived 2 hours ago at 5.30am. We can't check into the hostel because all the beds are still being slept in - I booked a bed for tonight, but we have to wait for people to check out first! So they let us up to the lounge area so we can use the free internet, watch TV, and wait for the free breakfast! This night bus was a lot better - the beds were actually bunks, so there was plenty of space for my legs, and my size 10s.
We also booked ourselves onto a 3-day booze cruise through Halong Bay - a world heritage sight, home to hundreds of limestone monoliths and crystal clear water. We depart tomorrow morning, so I will update when I return!