The train to Sapa

It’s been a long time since I slept overnight on a train. I was actually looking forward to the prospect, but mildly fearful of exactly what “tourist class soft bed” might hold.

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I actually slept quite well, especially on the way back from Sapa. I took our early arrival at the station as a chance to try some long exposures of our green and yellow carriages.

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You buy me

The ladies in the market were chatting among themselves when I started examining their wares. I was noticed a few minutes later and the swarming began.

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I led the swarm around thoroughly examining what seemed like every indigo dyed Black Hmong blanket, pillow cover, and tunic in Sapa, all offered with the phrase, “You buy me.” Eventually I settled on one that caught my eye. It wasn’t until I walked away that I realized that my hands, into which had been thrust all those embroidered handicrafts, were bright purple with indigo dye.

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Motorcycle tour around Sapa

Over a glass or two of Bia Hoi, our Fansipan guide talked us into hiring him the next day for a motorcycle tour around Sapa. It was definitely worthwhile.

He was willing to rent a motorbike for me to drive, but not for Kyle to drive. After a year of living in Vietnam and not learning how to drive a bike, I wasn’t about to learn on the steep hills of Sapa. I’ll fully admit to being chicken. As we were having this discussion we watched from our little plastic chairs as some other foreigner wiped out on his motorcycle in front of us. The guide’s advice was, “Front brake is no good for hills.” That put an end to the discussion, and Kyle rode with a friend of the guide.

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We toured a number of villages that were very interesting, if not slightly touristy given their proximity to Sapa. One of the highlights was a stop at a school.

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I was slightly shocked at the idea of randomly disrupting a classroom, but our presence went largely unnoticed and certainly wasn’t the cause of all the commotion in the classrooms.

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The lesson of the hour was adding a single digit number to a two digit number. I have no idea how that compares to Canada for kids of this age, but they were working hard.

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Our lunch stop was at a local restaurant for a feast of roast duck.

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Mount Fansipan

I’ve wanted to climb Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam, since I arrived over a year ago. It’s definitely a holdover from climbing volcanoes in Indonesia.

Getting to the top of Fansipan was an occasionally rough climb mostly through bamboo forests. Sometimes a cloud would roll through putting us into a mysterious fog and completely obscuring the view.

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We arrived at the second campsite after about five hours of climbing. The porters took their time making dinner as we relaxed.

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The quality of the feast they put on was absolutely amazing considering it was done in a couple of pans over a wood fire. No one was going hungry on this trip.

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The next morning we hiked upward in a torrential downpour. Our path followed a quick running stream for a long section of the climb. There were occasional breaks in the foliage but we were completely encased in grey clouds and couldn’t see anything.

Given that Kyle and I have a propensity to sleep in, we had set out 45 minutes after everyone else. We met some of our camp mates as they were coming down the hill who said that they couldn’t see anything. Beyond the small glory of getting to the top, they seemed quite discouraged. Needless to say, we pressed on through the rain, eventually reaching the peak at 3,140 m.

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It was actually tough to hold on at that point. Just as we were saying to ourselves that there would be nothing more to see and that we should start heading down, there was a slight break in the rain.

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Within minutes, the sky started clearing and the rain stopped. We had unobstructed views for miles in all directions. Our guide said that in the five times he’s done this climb, this was the first he’s seen anything other than the inside of a cloud. The lesson to be learnt here is that it pays to sleep in. I’ll remember that for the future.

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The hike down was much more pleasurable, but still work. The effort was regularly interrupted by spectacular views that we had no idea existed during our climb up.

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The view from Bia Hoi corner

The joy of Bia Hoi corner is the combination of 3,000 dong (20 cent) beers and the showcase of life on the streets. We sat on our little plastic chairs and watched the world (and a lot of stuff on motorbikes) go by.

Grocery run:

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This is thirsty work:

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Duelling pyjamas:

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Food stall setup time:

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Stopping for a quick pint for the road:

As a side note, I think there’s a market for making motorbike attachments that transform your Honda wave into a cute character.

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Grilling a squid:

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Beer delivery:

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Frog balloon anyone?:

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The ice cream man your parents warned you about:

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Seriously Dad, do I have to hold this the whole way home?

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Water delivery:

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Your daily blast of propaganda

Just before sunset these loudspeakers fire up to blast Hanoi with the daily news. I can only visualize a Vietnamese Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger reading the news.

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Kyle visits the Temple of Literature

Kyle definitely looks more literate for having visited.

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We were confused by the money crumpled and thrown on the roof, although we liked the money folded into paper airplanes and flown onto the roof.

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Street concert and the mother of all traffic jams

In celebration of National Day, a concert stage was put up in the middle of one of Hanoi’s busiest traffic circles. I guess the take off your shoes to stand on your motorbike type event is analogous to the take your shoes off, sit on the grass, and watch the show Canada Day events.

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Of course, a concert held in the centre of a major traffic circle leads to the mother of all motorcycle traffic jams. If one photo could capture the pulse of Vietnam, it might look something like this.

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Needless to say, it was a great time.

Future Hollywood star

I have no idea who this girl is, but she was waving like crazy to the crowd as her taxi passed by. She’s clearly Hollywood star material.

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Revenge of the Water Puppets

It wasn’t quite a revenge, but titling sequels with roman numerals seems so Rambo / Rocky. So instead, we have a revenge of the Water Puppets.

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If nothing else, I’m inspired to buy a gong. Seriously. I’m not joking. I want a gong.

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Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

Kyle enjoyed a grilled cheese while we watched the traffic around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.

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As the girl is pointing out, it’s September 2, Vietnam’s National Day.

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Eventually we wandered around the lake; circumambulating it, if you will.

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Being a national holiday, the parks were packed and everyone was out wandering the streets. This led to the mother of all traffic jams

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Undeveloped paradise in Phu Quoc

This little bungalow is what qualifies for development on Phu Quoc, a little island of the Southern coast of Vietnam.

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The food was great, as were the sunsets and the cold beer that went along with them.

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The only things to do involved napping in a hammock, reading, or going swimming.  Kyle had a clear preference for the hammock.

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Hoi An sunset on a boat

At first glance, fishing boats like this look like they’re on the verge of falling apart. The wood is rotting in places, someone is usually struggling to bail out the bilge. Up close however, you start to notice that the guy on the deck is sending text messages on his mobile phone and the helmsman is surrounded by the newest of electronic equipment: charting GPS plotter, fish finder, VHF radio, etc.

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I’m told that the lights on these boats are used to attract squid to the surface at night at which point they’re scooped up in a giant net. I’d be more amused pulling up alongside people sleeping and flashing the lights.

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If only my lens wasn’t completely filled with dirt and causing all kinds of crazy flare on the full-size image, otherwise this could be my iconic photo of Vietnam.

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Hoi An

Hoi An is like Vietnam’s version of Niagara on the Lake. It’s quaint, packed with tourists, but the Vietnamese aren’t sure why foreigners like it so much. It’s one of the few places in Vietnam with buildings that have survived for a few centuries.

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The main activities in Hoi An are wandering around the old quarter and getting clothes made. I came home with three pair of custom shoes.

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I don’t think these geese would be so docile while riding on a motorbike from the market if they knew where they were headed.

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