In Hoi An, the pearl of the Central Vietnam coast

At the end of my last post I was bragging away about being picked up by private car to the Hanoi airport and from Danang to my resort in Hoi An. Part of it was even true!

I did get picked up at my hotel in Hanoi by the company car (probably the private vehicle of the owner of the hotel company). Some brand new Lexus jeep with all kinds of extras. Even the young driver looked very sophisticated. I had booked a 55$ flight with the Vietnamese version of Easyjet. And everything went very smoothly (they confiscated my cigarette lighter at security, though. Smartly, I had the last minute intuition to put my trusted pocket knife, without which I never move or travel, into the checked-in bag). After arrival in Danang the luggage belt spit out my checked-in bag a mere 10 minutes after docking on.

The damper of my good mood came when I entered the arrivals hall and no one was around holding up a sign with my name on it. Sadly, I have been through this before and out of experience I carry all contact phone numbers of my destination handy. I called the hotel and it took a while for them to find someone who spoke English. The lady  said there was a problem but she would contact the driver and I should hang in. I gave them some time to sort things and, after still seeing no one, I called again, explaining exactly where I was at the airport and what the colours of my bags and my clothes were. Eventually the driver came – but it was not a posh car but a trodden down van like many second  class hotels use them for shuttle services. No problem!

We drove along the Danang beach but I could not see the sea once, as everything was fenced off and there were zillions of unfinished apartment and hotel complexes blocking the view. It made Bansko dwarf in terms of unfinished construction.

After a 50 minute ride we reached my “resort” – which turned out a very typical Vietnamese hotel (very little in common with their internet appearance). Squeezed into a tiny plot of land. The pool turned out to be in indoor basin 3 by 4 meters without daylight on the second floor of the building and my room (advertised as being 34 sq.m.) was more in the neighbourhood of 14 sq.m.. Well, at least I don’t have a shared bathroom :) …and I have booked and paid for my room in advance for a whole week!

The Phuoc Anh River Hotel – as seen from the street.

My 34 sq. m. room :)

Because of the delay of the driver it had turned dark and I could not really check out the area. The beech, however, seems to be miles away. I did walk around to get an impression of the neighbourhood, however. The location seems not so bad, as we are facing a romantic looking (in the dark!) river. On my short walk I was greeted by loads of young women left and right of the street who all invited me for a massage in their shop.  I told them “maybe tomorrow”… but I also found an enterprising lady who has a shop and laundry services and provides motorbikes for rent. We haggled around and finally agreed that tomorrow I would stop by to pick up a scooter for 6 days. At 800,000 Dong (40$ or 60 Leva). Which amounts to 10 Leva a day. Fine! This will give me independence and the ability to go to beeches and what have you. I insisted on a bike with gears, not automatic, as I am a heavy character and being able to shift gears will make it listen more to my commands , so to say.

To be able to enjoy travelling in Vietnam you should be very relaxed. And always to expect the minimum. Then surprises will be mainly positive :)

And I did have a positive surprise. When pulling in at the hotel I noticed a restaurant on the other side of the road. Built partly on stilts above the river. It looked very cosy in the dark. A place geared to foreigners (normally not my thing). With a sign saying “Slow food from a slow life”. I checked their menu during my walk and decided to have dinner there later.

My hotel also has a nice restaurant. It’s on the top floor with like a roof terrace and great views (I think, as when I visited it was already dark and I could only see lights). I did not check the menu and prices yet. But when I was there it was 5.50 pm – and no clients.

So, after chilling out with some Cuba Libre I ventured to the slow food place across the street.

Prices were reasonable and they even offered a different kind of beer. In the North they only offered “Ha Noi” beer which I did not really like. Here I found a “Larue” beer (probably introduced by the French during the colonial times as it had a resemblance of “Kroc” – Kronenbourg. Not exactly my favourite but more drinkable than “Ha Noi”

The only thing that bothered me about the restaurant was the huge sign they had next to the street “Reward of Excellence from Tripadvisor for 2012″. But obviously they have been slow raising their prices according to their rating :)   Good for them and for me. Not that they are cheap. But still rather affordable.

I had some “Nem” (Vietnamese spring rolls) made according to the recipe of their local granny. And they were really tasty! And crisp! And the dipping sauce was perfect.

Not being really hungry I just ordered some stuffed squid as a main dish. Stuffed with minced pork and carrots and garlic and other things…

The taste was unique. You could have this on the menu of any French Michelin star restaurant, no doubt. But it was kind of heavy and sweet – something a sophisticated chef had played around with. Too up-market. Very delicious but not the simple, powerful dish I was craving for. But then, I am not so easy to please!

All in all with two beers I forked out 18 Leva (including a generous tip). To be repeated!

And I had great company there. On the table next to me was an Asian couple from Chicago (of all places!). She with Vietnamese origin, still capable of speaking a little Vietnamese to get by. He a giant with Thai roots, mother being from Burma, father from Bangkok. Here on a short American 18 day holiday (including travelling). Lovely young people. I wish the US had more of them!

After paying my bill and drinking the obligatory green tea after dinner I stumbled back to my room to share my difficult life with you :)

Tomorrow the new adventure will begin: driving in Vietnam. In a country where chaos rules on the streets. I consider myself one of the most experienced drivers on this planet. The hardest time I ever had driving was in Cairo – but even there I managed after an hour or so. In Vietnam? It may take me longer to become confident. Driving here is a big flow of egos without concept. No one cares about traffic lights, priorities of way, rules or whatever. Motorbikes, cars squeeze in and through where they see a gap. Most of the participants in traffic simply rely on that the others will see them and will avoid hitting them. But there are so many of them! I expect to have new experiences when driving and to understand the general concept better. Which I will share with you – if I survive it :)

Tomorrow I may give my own hotel restaurant a chance for dinner. Maybe they will fix me some seafood the primitive way I desire. If not: nothing is lost. I just arrived and am stuck here for a week. I will find what I am looking for. I always do :) Eventually :)

Have a good night and see you here again, soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Halong Bay – one of the “7 Wonders of the Word”

23.10.2012

Halong Bay. The biggest tourist magnet in Vietnam. A Unesco World Nature Heritage – like our Pirin National Park. And declared as one of the Seven Nature Wonders of the World. With more than 3000 small and big rock islands and islets. Others claim there are 2000 – but time was too short for me to count them all, therefore I cannot confirm the figures :)

I had dreaded to visit it. Because of the hordes of tourists and boats crowding it. It gave me the anticipation of visiting a kind of Disney World. But being in this part of the world I could not just ignore it. So, I planned it in as the last “feature” of my trip to the North, on the way back to Hanoi.

As we had spent the last night in town we went to the port at around 8 am. The perfect time, as most tourists arrive by bus from Hanoi not earlier than 11 am. And those that spent the night on one of the many junks would be on their way back to shore when we would arrive at the islands. A hard blow for “Uncle Scrooge” was that I had to hire a whole boat for myself. After lengthy negotiations I brought the price down to 2,500,000 Dong (125$) – for a six hour trip. I would not have minded to join another group on another boat and pay substantially less – but the opportunity did not exist. At least this way I could travel in style – as befits such a distinguished gentleman like myself.

Here is the interior of my boat, the “Sunrise”. I could have accommodated quite a few friends – if there would have been any:)

And now, off and away…

Here we anchored at an island with a huge cave in the rock. This is a floating shop.

This is the view back down from the cave entrance:

…part of the immense cave (called “The Amazing Cave”) and it was really impressive with its strangely shaped stalagmites and stalagtite, very artfully lighted to highlight the various features of the cave…

…and here another shot taken after the cave exit:

…big enough for one man? Well, it’s not exactly Abramovic’s “Eclipse” – but that would not have been able to manoeuvre the small passages between the islets :)

A last view from the upper deck of the “Sunrise”, heading back to shore.

The expense for this extravaganza was well worth it. I experienced stunning sights that you encounter only once in a lifetime – and I did it the best possible way, being able to soak it all in in peace without being disturbed by noisy companions and doing it at the right time when nothing was crowded :)

Now I am back at my “home” in Hanoi, the Serene Hotel, where I was greeted with cheer and like an old friend. The girls had even arranged some flower blossoms on my bed spread and a plate with fresh fruit was waiting for me. It’s Wednesday morning now and I am being lazy. As we had some heavy rain a while ago I will do a little shopping now to restock my Bacardi supplies for the next leg of my trip. At 1pm a private car will take me to the Hanoi airport from where I will fly to Danang, where another private car will be waiting for me to whisk me to my resort in Hoi An. So, maybe tonight I might be swimming in the Chinese Sea for the first time…

 

Sidetrack – 2

Life, after a certain age, is not about what’s going on around you but about what’s going on in your head. Says Frank

When you are young things are different. You are like a sponge soaking up information. Once you reach your capacity of holding this information – you live on it.  And you judge and experience life by the parameters inscribed in your brain. Absolutely normal (for the vast majority of people).

The same applies to travelling. For most people it’s like observing. And it rarely gets to their core.

In this respect Vietnam is a perfect place to get “touched”. Of course not if you come on a package tour, carefully protected and with no contact to real life (apart from “watching ethnic minorities” in the mountains like animals in a zoo). If you are a package tour traveller whose goal is to mark off sights and monuments and “must see” places, Vietnam does not hold a lot for you. Cultural heritage is limited and/or having been destroyed by the French and Americans.

But the Vietnamese are a people of survivors! They live in so much dirt and rubbish that they can survive almost anything. Which makes them free and strong. Of course, I am simplifying things. There are so many facets to the people, depending on their background. But generally, they are a people that just carry on  with daily life, regardless of how adverse it is.

Vietnam too, like all the other countries in this part of Asia (with Myanmar entering the “race” nowadays), is being “globalised”, “Americanized”. Which gives them problems without ends. It destructs their society based on ancient value codes, without giving them anything in return apart from “capitalism”. Unfortunately, that seems to be the future for our lost planet. Human “social life” is based on values. This is the only thing that separates us from “animals”!!!

But not all is lost yet (it will be eventually, no doubt), There are still “pockets” of unspoiled, real life that will exist for some time to come. The mountain hill tribes are temporary hold-outs. Not those that have the bad fortune to be based near Sa Pa or Bac Ha. Because there Disney world has arrived. These guys are now making their money wearing their costumes and selling hand made baloney to tourists. They are giving up their hard farming life and are turning into kind of prostitutes of commerce…

Well, there are still remote regions where life is at it was. But there are also “Lonely Planet” scouts trying to find and promote them. No escape!

The truth and future of Vietnamese life is in the hands of  the farms. Vietnamese economy is still based on agriculture, fishing and forestry. All efforts to industrialise the country have not yielded the desired results to the socialist government.  And farm life is still nearly as tough as it was centuries ago. The farmers are the preservers of ethical values, they are the ones that hold the country and its national identity together. And nobody gives a shit about them. They have no say in the future of the country. While I don’t have statistics my guesstimate is that out of the 90 million population at least 60% (54 million) are  farmers. A lot!

So, if you want to experience real Vietnamese life go and visit the farms. And you don’t have to go very far. And don’t do it with tour operators! They will commercialise this in no time. Contact me instead and I will set you up. The farm I was on was not more than 50 km away from the capital. And still, I was one of the first foreigners ever entering the village. And life there was so completely different from the big city, like on a different planet.

But I am getting sidetracked from my sidetrack :)

Despite its glorious nature Vietnam is about people and not about “sights”. About the basics of life, seen from a different perspective.

There are so many things that the Vietnamese and the Bulgarians have in common. Maybe it comes from the communist background that they share. I could start now and do the comparison and especially my Bulgarian friends would be surprised..

But I have to be very careful! Because I only know Northern Vietnam so far. My local acquaintances keep telling me that the people in the South are different. So, who am I? Having seen only a fraction of the picture should I judge the whole composition? No! That’s not me. I have to see it all first to render an opinion – never a judgement :)

Maybe, after returning to Europe, I will have the time to reflect. And then I will voice my very own personal impressions of the people of Vietnam.

Anyway, I am not a missionary (my physical circumstances make other positions more rewarding – just joking, sorry). But these Vietnamese women have something I have not seen since my time in New York (at a time of complete “apartheid”) when our black secretaries were the ones I could rely on and gave their heart blood to succeed.

And as the Vietnamese are still giving birth (having 5 children is still the norm) maybe there is still a future for this country – which most of the educated people I have met here in the North don’t seem to agree with. They are as least as pessimistic as the Bulgarians.

But let’s see how the Southerners are.

Before I log off finally (I have to get some sleep before venturing out into Ha Long bay tomorrow early morning) I just want to share with you the kindness of my hosts.

I was running out of my last Bulgarian cigarettes – and I kind of panicked. So, I went downstairs to the lobby (no lift here) to ask where I can buy some fags. The owner couple was watching TV in the hotel lobby and it was surprisingly difficult  to communicate my needs.

However, after they understood what I was talking about, the landlord immediately brought out his motorbike and took me to places to buy cigarettes. Isn’t this lovely!

The only thing I can say at this point in time with certainty is that Vietnamese women are the most powerful species I have encountered in this part of Asia!  Always from the point of an observer, of course. They are self-confident and brimming with power (in general, of course), being in charge of everyday life, of their families and (in the country side) working like buffaloes., no moment of idleness all day long – being in charge, caring, all encompassing. In fact, Vietnamese life is all based on the power of its women!!! And their reward is slim – at the most. Last Sunday we had the Vietnamese Women’s Day. But in the countryside they have not heard of such a thing. Better for them, anyway. And, in contrast to women from Thailand, Laos or Cambodia, they show their power. By the way they carry themselves, by the way they move. To me, as an observer, they are sexy beasts, in full knowledge of their capabilities and desires. And they are more confident and outgoing in their communications than their counterparts in neighbouring countries.

If I would be a simpleton I might fall for that :) But that’s where experience sets in and (hopefully) will save me in the future. I do not believe that a relation/marriage between different cultures can be successful. Maybe if you are very young and willing and able to leave your ancestry behind. In your twenties, maybe. Later you are settled in life and everything becomes a compromise. Which can “work” if your expectations for life are low and you are ready to settle for “peanuts”, convenience.   Even Germany/Bulgaria proved a nearly insurmountable hurdle, that at least Maria and myself could not overcome (OK, the truth is more in me being a strange character than being German).

I would never consider bringing an Asian woman to Europe to spend her life with me. I am not selfish enough. She would miss her family, friends and way of life. And I would always feel guilty of this.

Enough said.

Always difficult to find an exit point when you are drunk – which I am by now. The warm coke and 600ml of Bacardi did it to me Not to count the four beers before. Nothing for a Banskalia, of course. But here the climate is different. It’s hot. And the alcohol gets into your system much quicker and easier than in the cold Pirin mountains. There I can drink a bottle of rakia and the “peak ” only hits me by the time I sleep and is gone by the time I wake up.  Leaving me with only a dry throat in the morning that a “shkembe chorba” and a beer will fix immediately the next late morning. Here it’s more “live”. But  nothing that a Pho noodle soup with chillies, lime, garlic and vinegar wont be able to fix …

Well, I better shag it. Tomorrow I will see one of the seven wonders of the world.

Have a good night…

From Ba Be to Long San and on to the Chinese Sea

From Ba Be we drove, again on endless winding roads to Long San, one of the biggest trading towns with China. It went through a big boom but the Vietnamese economical crisis hit Long San as well and things have quieted down considerably. The area is still in good shape as it is the home of a lot of natural resources and coal mining is also a big thing.

On the way to Long San we drove through an area where all the roadsides in the villages were lined with freshly harvested aniseed, drying in the sun. For kilometres the whole air around these villages was scented with that special delicate fragrance.

Here is a single one. It’s a vital ingredient in any Vietnamese noodle soup (and many Chinese). This type of aniseed is very expensive and farmers make good money with it. They mainly export it to China.Here some more old fashioned rice flailing:

The trip ended uneventful, with the same old beautful scenery repeating itself times and again. Time for a change, hehe!

I stayed at a typical Vietnamese hotel. The windows of the rooms all go out to the corridor (!) which made me feel like peeping Tom trying to get glances inside on the way to my own room.

My room was the only different one, as it had a balcony and windows that faced the lake in the centre of town:

Not bad! In the evening I had a few beers with some local drunkards and we communicated with gestures and smiles. One guy stood out as he could say: “I live Vietnam” :)

In the morning I decided to skip noodle soup breakfast (as I now believe that part of my digestion problems comes from this massive eating: breakfast, lunch, dinner – when my system is used to have only dinner since many years). I wandered around at 6:30 am to find a coffee instead.

Which I did, served with the omnipresent, obligatory and free glass of green tea.

This method produces an incredibly thick but not bitter coffee. The downside is that it drips through the filter so awfully slow that by the time it’s ready it’s cold. I suppose that’s the way the Vietnamese like it. But it was not what I had in mind when I ordered it. I just wanted a “quick fix”. I should have known but my brain was still in standby.

Then I went to the market with my guide to finally get a replacement wristband for my watch (which I have been carrying in my pocket since after it dissolved in the Vietnamese heat and from my sweat two days after my arrival) . I had bought the last one at my Armenian jeweller in Sofia for a whopping 13 Leva a year ago. Genuine leather, of course :) In Hanoi they tried to fleece me and I declined. So now was my chance. We did find a shop and I happily bought an overpriced genuine Spanish genuine leather wristband for 100.000 Dong = 7.50 Leva. Probably made in the same Chinese factory as my one from Sofia.

Slipping through the market I simply had to look at all the spices and herbs. There were so many things I wanted to buy! The aromatic Vietnamese dried mushrooms that add a special flavour to any Asian dish. Or the unique cinnamon they have here and that has so little in common with what we know and use as cinnamon…and so on. But I will be travelling a lot still, so, where to store, keep and how to transport all that stuff?

I made a little compromise. I bought some coriander seeds for planting in Bansko. I have tried to grow cilantro quite a few times there but never succeeded. And I need it so desperately for my Thai cooking and also for my various soups. Life is just not the same without it. They wanted to sell the seeds only kg-wise. Goodness. I said, the most I will take is 1/2 kg (which is enough to plant about 2000 square meters with it). We agreed on a (heavily inflated) price at 100.000 Dong (7.50 Leva) and shortly thereafter the shop owner’s husband came with his motorbike to deliver the seeds. I figure I can carry an additional 500g of weight for the rest of my journey. But I should buy some kind of container to protect my precious little babies from being squeezed and ground into powder. Hehe, one always should have priorities right :) The only other thing on my shopping list is dried shrimps. But that can wait.

The Asians call people like me the “lotus-eaters” (not in the Greek sense!) and so, on my way out of the market, I was rather tempted to buy some lotus buds from the lady selling them on the side walk. But they don’t keep and now I have no use for them…

Then we set off on our route to Ha Long. Where we arrived, again(!), in full daylight. And for the first time I got a glimpse of the South Chinese sea.

Tomorrow I will embark on a boat to see one of the seven wonders of the world with my own eyes (this, in the past, usually turned out a catastrophe and an utter disappointment). We will see.

Today concludes my trip to the North of Vietnam. I will try to draw a short résumé of this a little later after finishing with the descriptive part of today’s happenings.

After arriving at Ha Long my guys/well paid slaves tried to set me up in a place they considered right for me. By now they have a good idea of what I am looking for. The magic word is always “WiFi”. My driver joked that the reason I am so desperate on having an internet connection is that I always want to chat with my girl friend :)

Anyway, after some erring (no WiFi available) they found me the probably best spot in all of Ha Long: outside the tourist centre in a quiet street; fairly new; WiFi; room with a balcony facing trees and the quiet street; 5 minute walking distance to the Vietnamese centre of town (where no tourists ever head). Not luxurious and not cheap (20$ – which probably paid for the room of the guide and driver too) but clean. And the owners, a most lovely Vietnamese couple, ready to do anything imaginable to please me (they obviously never had a foreign guest before ;-) ) The whole combination just  radiates positiveness and it opened my heart. Lucky and privileged me.

Sadly, no one in the hotel speaks even one(!) word of English (adding to its charm and authenticity, of course). which for the millionth time drove home  to me the importance of languages and communication. The real “king” is the one who can communicate with everybody.

Shortly before darkness set in I ventured out on a walk to suck in local life. I went to the local centre and, despite the fact that Ha Long is chock-full of foreigners I did not see a single long-nose. In fact, I even found I liquor shop (after only three tries) that sold Bacardi – and only 10% more expensive than in Hanoi (still cheaper than in Bulgaria and much cheaper than in the rest of Europe). I bought a bottle and some cokes and carried on.

After all the rice and rice noodles of the last three weeks I am more than ready for some sea food  – and just that! No silly side-dishes, no rice. Just bring on the crabs, shrimps, cotton-fishes and what you have! My system craves for it!  My initial plan was to invite my guide and the driver for a sea food dinner. Not completely out of altruistic motions, but also to make sure that we would find not only a good place but also one where I would not get ripped off. Because this is the national sport here. To rip off rich foreigners (and all people, not local, are considered rich).

But my guide went “oh” and “ah” and excused himself that he had friends in Ha Long and they would be dining with them. But there are plenty of restaurants with sea food and I should not have any problem finding what I wanted. Haha.

So, on my walk I discovered only two places. And they did have fresh stuff. Everything live and in different basins, fed by oxygen. And the restaurants were empty and staff acted as touts. And there were no prices. One of the two did have a menu in English – again, no prices. And as much as I love seafood I am a weary old badger, a Bansko farmer who does not part with his money easily. I don’t mind if it is expensive (OK, I do mind, but when I am in the mood I am ready to spend without limits (remember, Maria, when we were in that Japanese restaurant in Greenwich Village in New York and after I had a full, happy meal and learned that they accepted credit cards I ordered and ate every bloody item on their menu?)).

But I HATE to be taken for a ride.I never do that to other people and I don’t want to be subjected to it. Matter of principles. It gives me stomach cramps. So, in the end, I decided to forego the seafood and I settled on a liquid diet in the form of “Bia Hoi”, the fresh beer, near my hotel. Some guys at the next tables had loads of snacks coming to them all the time but as there was no menu and I could not communicate I had to settle on a bag of peanuts…:(

Four of those light beers gave me the strength to carry the heavy bag with the Bacardi bottle and the cokes back to my hotel.

On the way back I saw to my surprise they have some kind of garbage collection in Ha Long:

The thing I liked most, however, was the fact that some local dudes had blocked off the little street just before my hotel, put their net across it and played volleyball:

I hung my plastic bag with the drinks on a tree branch and watched the match, cheering both sides when they scored. And the players were not teenagers. They were family men in their thirties. I thoroughly enjoyed that! There is life here! It reminded me a little of my time living in New York in 1979. When I was advised never, ever to enter Harlem – which I did nonetheless (at the beginning, OK, with my first (white) NY girl friend, a weed smoking street worker, working with the niggers). In Harlem “our” law did not apply either. I think, Natasha, you will remember this (I don’t expect you to have spent a lot of time in Harlem, though :) ) But there I encountered similar genuine things.

Back at my hotel there was, as expected, no glass in my room. The coke was near boiling point by then. So, I tried to communicate to the owner that I needed a glass (in perfect Vietnamese: coc) I even showed him my bottle of Bacardi and made the necessary gestures (pouring a bottle into something) and sounds (raising the imaginary glass to my lips, going: “gluck, gluck, gluck”). The sweetheart’s face lightened up and he gestured me to retire to my room. Shortly later he came with two(!) Vietnamese rakia glasses, holding about 20 ml each :( When I pleaded him for bigger glasses he panicked and went to my guide’s room (who had returned from his dinner – or maybe not even left for it) – and we finally managed. I even extracted a tray of ice cubes from his family fridge!.

That’s where we are now. The ice all gone the coke still boiling, the thirst unquenched, 500ml of Bacardi left – and only 9 pm! No chance to get any ice, also no coke in a nearby shop as everything is closed and “normal” people are in bed. Warm coke with Bacardi then? Well, I never had that in my life – but there is always a first time…

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This blog becomes quite lengthy (which wears down on readers and they loose interest, I know). The most successful publications are those with short, sensational articles. But my trip is not a “sensation”. Nothing that uncountable other people visiting Vietnam have not gone through. But everyone experiences things in his own personal way. Dependent on background, education, intelligence, character and what have you. So, this blog is an ego-blog as well. And I better shut up now not to loose you all (all? 5, 6, 7 followers :) ) And maybe to start a new chapter…

 

 

At the Ba Be Lake

The Ba Be Lake is about 8km long and surrounded by jungle mountains that are part of the Ba Be National park. This gives it an extremely peaceful and secluded atmosphere – a place where you would like to take some time out if you lead a busy life.

As my life as a “Bansko farmer” and manager of (most of the time rather deserted) Pirin Lodge is not as busy as my previous ones I don’t feel this urge to retreat to pristine, remote nature as much as in the past (also because I have a lot of it at the front of my doorstep) I still very much appreciate the feel and quality of such a spot. And even I thought how lovely it must be to spend a week there with a little boat, fishing on the lake.

As there is only one village facing the lake directly (and it is without hotels) I decided on a “homestay”, a guest house that caters to tourists. In our case the home of the retired communist party chief of the area and his family.

 

The setting was remarkable. A view from the patio onto the rice fields surrounding the village and the beginning of the lake with the mountains in the background.

The accommodation was also out of the ordinary. At least for a spoilt guy like me who was never used to share his quarters with other tourists. After having experienced the lack of privacy during my stay at the rice farm it came easier for me :)

The whole living floor was one big open room:

To the backside on the left you see the kitchen area – which looked like this:

To the other end of the big room were the guest quarters:

…basically part of the room separated by plywood boards reaching maybe 2 meters up into individual “guest rooms”.

Here is my own cubicle:

The two combined toilets/bathrooms were in a little outhouse.

As in such Vietnamese houses the roof does not sit on the walls you always have an open space connecting you with nature – and its creatures that may be looking for a home for the night or so. Here the use of the supplied mosquito nets was a must (and not only because of the mosquitoes :) ). On the positive side you also had some birds visiting the inside of the house and chanting away merrily…

So much about the setup.

As to the lake: I rented a boat from my very shrewd landlord (for “only” 45$) and my guide and I set off on a three hour boat tour.

Here are a few pictures from the peaceful excursion:

Setting off into the misty world: …women rowing home after tending their fishing nets – and chatting :)

 

Our guest house is obviously very popular as different groups of guests arrived.

On the first evening there was a “family reunion” of three sisters from Saigon with their families. 10 or 11 people. They had flown from Saigon to Hanoi, rented a van and driven the 6 hours from Hanoi – all for the weekend.

I was having my dinner for one on the first evening.

And I watched with disbelieve what was put on the tables of the Saigon people. Uncountable varieties of meats, fish, vegetables and I don’t know what. I tried to take a picture but it turned out to be unfocused and I had to delete it.

The Northern Vietnamese all say that the Saigonese are happy-go-lucky people, not much concerned about the future but enjoying life. There even women drink alcohol! Well, “my” Saigonese certainly had a great time and after dinner they invited me over to their table.

This is already at a slightly more advanced stage when some of them had gone to bed already. The sisters were drinking French red wine out of the box (always “bottoms up”) – and the men banana liquor.  The one next to me (Loan was her name) made sure that my glass was always full with the banana concoction and ready for the next round of “one-two-three-go” as they shouted out before gulping the stuff down. Here husband seemed to become more and more “relaxed” – but also rather tired :)

Suffice it to say that I impressed them very much with my Bansko drinking capabilities (in fact, I barely felt tipsy) :) Communication was “a bit” difficult, though, as only one of them had about 10 words of English. No problem. I am invited to Loan’s house when I go to Hanoi. That should be fun and I am planning to take them up on it. They also have three restaurants in Saigon – of what kind I do not know. It scared me a little, however, when Loan told me she loved German hotdogs very much 8)

The next day I was invited to share lunch and dinner with the owner’s family. I have to say that I had the tastiest Vietnamese food there so far. The granny is a genius! Extra special was the fresh bamboo shoot vegetable with duck, the bamboo having been cut in the jungle just a few hours earlier. A fragrance that few of us have ever experienced!

Here is the granny, just having cut the bananas she will serve for breakfast (with pancakes and honey, the honey of an exotic fine taste like orchid that I had never encountered before)

All in all it was a great break at the Ba Be Lake and I am now in Lang Son, on the way to the Halong bay. No time to continue as my boys will pick me up in ten minutes…

 

 

On the Way to the “Ba Be National Park”

19.10.2012

Our trip today from Meo Vac (one of the Vietnamese “outposts” at the Chinese border) to the National Park of Ba Be and its stunning lake not only took us through some breathtaking scenery (and on roads that are comparable only to the one from Belitsa to the bear park – with the slight difference that on one side you had the mountain and on the other side the terrain fell steeply down hundreds of meters!)…but also through some villages with local markets in full swing.

As this is “ethnic territory” big time (there are 54 different cultural ethnic groups in Vietnam) here you can find mainly tribes of the Dao, Hmon, Tay and Nung (and their various “ethnic sub groups”). They all live in separate mountain villages, fairly secluded and have not assimilated to Vietnamese life (yet), all with their very own different gods, rites and traditions…

The different tribes come to the weekly market in the nearest “centre” to sell their products and do their own shopping. Here they all mix in a very colourful way. The goods they sell are basic food stuff and hand made tools, accessories and clothes. No tourists ever come to those place where we were at as they are not “listed” in any tour guide (and are rather difficult to access from the tourist hot spots).

For me the most funny thing was that I looked at them a little like at strange animals in a zoo – and they looked at me the same way as I was just as exotic for them as they were for me :) That took my shyness away – and when mothers made their children aware of me and they all started giggling I brought on my biggest grin and we all had a merry laugh :)

Here a few snapshots:

Livestock trading at the entrance to the village

I will spare you more landscape pictures. Well, here is just one that I particularly liked:

We arrived at the Ba Be lake in daylight – where we spent two days – and I will report about this experience in a separate entry.

At the Edge of Vietnam – continued

So many impressions and experiences and so little time to share them – especially since I did not have any internet in the “Wild North”.

Here is the continuation to the first part (I had written it in Word) and copy it here now. There is more to follow – but we travelled all day and I am tired and exhausted and there is no way I can write this up now. I hope I will be able to catch up after the 25th when I will be having a break at the beach in Central Vietnam…

October 18th, 2012

This morning I decided to skip breakfast in the hotel – not to become too sentimental when parting with this homely place. We continued to Dong Van, the most northern place in Vietnam – a stone throw from the Chinese border. It took us 2-1/2 hours to cover the 42km of  meandering mountain passes – where sometimes the road seemed narrower than the car. But we were not in a hurry as our total road for the day was only about 100km.

 

We  passed lovely sceneries and many people, animals and motorbikes. Unfortunately on the whole trip it was always misty and my photos cannot do justice to the landscapes.

 

What happy little pigs!Farmers flailing the rice by hand…

…a village very near the border. Big Chinese influence on life there..…uniqute architecture for Vietnam……a woman spinning hemp – that’s what most of their clothings are made from……a local “petrol station”……black rock……endless mountain roads – we drove them all!

In Sa Phin we stopped at the interesting palace of  the White Hmong (a dominant local minority). The French had it build in 1901 to bribe the Hmong warlord (commanding 70,000 people) who had fought them for 15 years into cooperating with them. They even made him a General of the French Army :) That worked well – but after 1945 the warlord changed sides shortly before his death and his son started the liberation of the Ha Giang province from the French. These Vietnamese are not to be underestimated – Hmong or Kinh…

At the palace we stumbled onto a Hmong funeral. The relatives and friends gathered with food and music to mourn the deceased – who usually is displayed at his home for 11 days and all the time kept company by a relative, being fed a portion of sticky rice to his dead lips three times a day. One of my companions told me that the last few of the 11 days the house usually becomes quite “smelly”…

And the relatives and friends come from far and wide, meaning mountain villages accessible only on foot by trekking several hours…

…in the basket of the man to the left you see smoked corn. This is a present to the immediate family of the deceased. The corn beads are used for planting…this way securing a continuation of prosperous life for the deceased’s family.

Dong Van was the perfect place for lunch and the three of us got duly ripped of. We paid a hefty 280,000 Dong (21 Leva/DM, 14$) for less food than we paid 160,000 Dong for (in a better restaurant) yesterday. My Vietnamese guys told me that they, even without me, would have gotten creamed – as the locals know (by the car or the different accent) that they are like “foreigners” too. But their attitude is so fatalistic that they seem to find this quite normal and are not bothered about it. Funny people! The food, however, was impeccable. The lean pork slices as tasty as the “Schweinebraten” my mother used to cook in the old days and the kohlrabi leaf vegetable, dipped slightly in fish sauce, had nearly the full of taste as the roots. The fried, obviously home made, tofu was one of the best I ever had. Everything fresh (harvested or slaughtered the same day), nothing processed (OK, apart from the fish sauce) or whatever…by the way, here so close to the Chinese border people usually have soy sauce on the table. We had to order our fish sauce and chillies additionally…

…watch the floor (after people eating)…:)…the “central serving station”…

And my driver, a man in the know, obviously, told me that the opium from this area was the absolutely best inVietnam! Sadly the socialist government cracked down on them and now you have to go to other places, even more inaccessible, to find the same quality :)

 

After checking out Dong Van we continued to Meo Vac. A beautiful, beautiful landscape! After every bend you had new surprising, gorgeous views. And the fact that it was misty since we entered the North did not belittle the impressions. On the road we were several times overtaken by a Spanish guy doing the road to Meo Vac (26km) on foot, as we stopped many times to admire the landscape.

Here some more pics:

…Hmong girls walking about 10 miles from one place to the next (but not without their mobile phones!)…:)…farmers bringing dried plants home from the mountains…to be used as fuel for cooking the food…now, that’s a life!…boys on their afternoon task after school: to cut some elephant grass for the family buffaloes……the road continues…and continues……locals harvesting beans……and drying them…

For the first time on our trip we arrived in full daylight at our destination Meo Vac – only  3 pm! Unbelievable. Despite that the driver slowed down to a max of 20kmh for the last 5 km. Arriving is obviously not his strength! A “bustling place” as you can see:

…birds and cages on sale!……even a clothes department store…

…and a flower shop……these was the complete night action in the centre of this thriving town Meo Vac…and it finished by 9pm sharp…

The initial plan was to stay in a private home. But as the hotels of the last three nights had put a bit of strain on me I told the guide to put me up in the best available – provided they had WiFi.

Which they (claimed) they had. The room was big and clean, no spots on the walls, crisp towels (Bulgarian bathroom again but I don’t mind) and I felt like paradise. The price of 25$ was also acceptable. There was only one small difficulty: we could not produce the border permit that they required to accept guests. Now, last night in Qa Bang we had been told that this procedure was abandoned – but here they said that was only for one month and that it was in force again since August. Tired of going and finding the police in this place I ordered the hotel staff to arrange procedures for me and forked out 15$ for the pleasure. I hope the permit will give me a memorable (if expensive) souvenir by tomorrow morning :)

Well, here it is for whatever it may be good for:

Everything nice and dandy now. My boys set off to stay at the private house as the hotel was too expensive for them. Being an experienced Vietnamese, I immediately plugged in the fridge and turned on the boiler before unpacking my laptop to check my emails. Haha. “No connections available” was the friendly greeting. So, instead of relaxing I had to investigate matters. The fact that no one in the hotel speaks English did not really help.

As it turned out they have a router at the reception but its signal is too weak to reach my room. So to use the internet I should sit in the reception area (full with a load of noisy Chinese nouveau riche – I thought at first but they turned out to be Vietnamese group from Hanoi with money). F..k!!! I asked them to give me a different room closer to the router but was told that the rooms closer to the reception were “staff rooms”. Haha. This is the way the Vietnamese do it: they are always smiling and world champions in excuses. Too tired to call my guys to come and pick me up and find me a different place I gave in!

I went to buy some cold coke to have my stylish Cuba Libre. Back the reception I asked for a drinking glass and some ice. After some unsuccessful attempts of communicating the friendly and smiling lady in the end made a drawing on a piece of paper to verify if we were talking about the same thing. As I did not recognise her scribbling I drew a glass myself (Leonardo da Vinci could not have done it better). Obviously she had meant the same thing and a lot of giggling between the staff started. She assured me “room, room” – and here I am one hour still waiting…I did find a small glass in the bathroom now (that’s probably what she meant), which I thoroughly rinsed under hot water and wiped with some paper hankies. So, at least the drinking is secured…:)

My first attempt to sit at the reception and log onto the internet to publish this failed miserably. Because I stick out like a sore thumb here. End everyone tries to strike up a conversation in whatever foreign language of which he/she knows a few words or more. And everyone invites me to drink green tea with them – the regular social thing. The Vietnamese have no shame, it seems. They will ask you anything about yourself, no bars held. The usual questions (in this order): where do you come from, how old are you, how many children do you have (your age and social status has a certain implication as there is kind of a hierarchy which determines how they should address you (also in language terms) and where to put you in their universe. Then comes their bottomless nosiness: why are you here (me, personally, they usually ask if I am here to find a Vietnamese wife), what’s your profession, how much money do you make…and so on. One should not be offended by this. It’s part of their social culture. The main thing is to be polite (never RUDE!)…and I usually answer them in a joking way (which they seem to appreciate even if they don’t believe me exactly). Like, when they ask me if I want to find a local wife I tell them that my mission is to find a rich Vietnamese husband for my poor Bulgarian women and so on…:)

I will definitely need some time for the fun part on this blog getting from the travel descriptions into Vietnamese life details. Which, after all, brought me here :)

Tomorrow we will be driving endless mountain roads again to the “Ba Be” lake. I reckon another 10 hour drive. Sightseeing is not easy in such vast countries with basic infrastructures. Even when you do it in style. On this trip to the North I have not encountered another person travelling alone with his personal driver and guide (no wonder when I consider the price for this). Grand Luxury! On the other side I am seeing places off the beaten track that very few other tourists ever will and I “live” in a completely Vietnamese environment with direct contact to the people. That’s what I wanted and that’s what I am paying for: the real thing  (as far as it can be on such a short trip).

Here in this area life is very Chinese, so close to the border. Only one TV program (Chinese). Even the language is not true Vietnamese (or so I am told by my guys). Everything is more colourful and kitschy, the Chinese way. In some restaurants you have to order Vietnamese fish sauce as otherwise they only put soy sauce on the table. Even people’s faces look more Chinese (especially women’s, much less beautiful than the Vietnamese ladies).  And, in contrast to the greater Hanoi area, where all the motorbikes are Japanese, here they are all Chinese :)

OK, I was planning to visit the most Southern Chinese province (Yunan) as well, so I have no prejudice against Chinese, but due to the visa difficulties (and the rather steep Chinese prices nowadays) I have given up on the idea. I can find enough Chinese people in Sofia, around our super-huge market Ilientsi that supplies all of Bulgaria with cheap junk. China is too big a task to take on for me now, being here only for such a limited period of time.

One factor that drives me to this is that I do not see much beauty in China. It’s undoubtedly a country with an unfathomable heritage and old culture. But it is torn up between tradition and commerce. And I moved to Bulgaria to evade the commercial part of life. China and I, I have found out on this trip now, are not so extremely compatible. When I moved to Bulgaria it was a quest for real life. And when I look at myself now, 13 years later, this has not changed. I don’t need riches. I had plentiful in a different, previous, hard-working life – and they did not make me happy.

 

OK, I am in a transition period. The last 40 years or so (an incredible figure) centred mainly around two women.  Now I am “free” again. Whatever that means. For me it certainly does not mean to go back to money and to young women. It means to try and improve quality of life even further. My sole own choice now. And if I should encounter a woman along this way that is “compatible” with my view of life (chances like a “snowball in hell”?) I will go for it. If not? Who knows :) ))

 

… enough philosophy in the “Tonkin” mountains (that’s how the powers called this part of the world in the old days). Tomorrow is another day and I will now, after finishing my umpteenth drink, go to the reception to share all this baloney with you. Whether you want

 

At the Edge of Vietnam – Ha Giang province (part 1)

I had awaited the morning in Sa Pa with anticipation. Looking forward to seeing the “Bansko of Vietnam” in all its beauty. But like in real Bansko – the weather is not always your friend and it was foggy and raining. As it did not make much sense to sit around and wait for things to change or to visit some close-by hill-tribes on those unpaved paths that get immediately muddy and slippery when it rains I decided to write off Sapa and to continue our expedition to the most Northern part of Vietnam, the Ha Giang province, next to the Chinese border.

That’s me at the Chinese border. <no desire to cross…

We mastered the 290km to Qa Bang in only 9 hours (as the first part was a big and easy road) including a delicious lunch on the way in Rang, before we turned from the river valley into the mountains again. Lunch was in a popular local restaurant with a nice atmosphere and a simple affair: freshly roasted peanuts, dried shrimps marinated in a lime sauce, beef with greens and the obligatory extra plate of vegetables (can’t see them as they arrived late) plus steamed rice. It’s very pleasant to eat a bit of this and than that and so on. The dried shrimps were delicious. And this was maybe the first time in my life when I ate loads of peanuts – one by one and with chopsticks :)

The restaurant:

Some backs of houses facing the restaurant – the fronts to the street all contain shops or small businesses.

People utilising every inch of space – growing veggies on a raft in the river…

Everywhere in this country (even worse than in Bulgaria) people believe in the healing quality of this or that and that’s why they sell Ginseng roots and all other kinds of “will make you strong” to all kinds of concerned Vietnamse and foreign men. Here it’s freshly dug out ginseng roots, on the next picture it’s a “level higher”, with all kinds of potions (I suppose, that you use if you failed to consume the ginseng on time :) )

The further we progressed North the more beautiful the scenery became. Views, however, were poor. Unfortunately, haze and mist abandoned all the time.

A pig being transported to or from the market. Difficut to tell…

Here even three on one motorbike:

Here are some impressions from the road.

Timber country. producing veneers. Low quality, unfortunately… out drying…

Buying the most delicious bananas imaginable from farmers at the roadside. Harvested in the morning, sold the same day. Nothing in common with what you have EVER eaten in the West. A sweet fragrance with the hint of apple (these particulate ones). Ripe to the point! As you can see even the Vietnamese rejoice. No better banana on this planet!

Not a “road side kill” but a piglet being grilled for a couple of hours for a birthday celebration, much like in Bulgaria (here in the mountains). I felt sorry for the boy having to turn the spit continuously…

A joyful Hmong woman, getting the hemp ready for spinning…

Another Hmong woman harrowing the field next to her house while her husband is far away working. Watch the baby on her back :)

Kids playing around with the “Chinese buffalo” (that’s what they call these machines in Laos)

Coming back from the field with food for the buffalo:

“No comment” pictures:

As our timing is impeccable (we always arrive at our destination a few minutes before nightfall) we managed to finish the last mountain pass, which the Vietnamese call “The Gate to Heaven”, shortly after five before entering the Qa Bang district. What a beautiful scenery and what a peaceful and relaxing setting! Undoubtedly the most beautiful of those parts of Vietnam that I have seen so far.

The weather report talks about god weather tomorrow, so we will stay around and explore the wider area. I hope to be able to please you with nice pictures.

Our destination was Tam Son, the only provincial little town with a few hotels. But, of course, no internet here at the most remote part of Vietnam.

We checked into the government hotel where the muftis from Ha Giang (pronounced: Ha Siang) city come for weekends and hold their conferences. No surprise that it is the only place wide and far that has tennis courts and a swimming pool (which only works in summer, though). The building is decaying, much like one of the run down, unmaintained big ex-Balkantourist hotels as we still used to have them when I came to Bulgaria (my very first impression was: oh, an outlet of the hotel Rilets in Rila, hehe.. .). Rooms are big, the floor is clean (but that’s about all that’s clean), there is even an air conditioner and a TV (no remote controls, however), tea cups and a tea pot – all filthy, Bulgarian bathroom with two used towels…and so on. The difference between here and Bulgaria is that here we still have the real existing “sotslager” and change is not in sight :)

The funny thing was that we had to check ourselves in alone – as the receptionist (the hotel being empty) had just left to go to the market :)

We also ventured out again – to find the police station. As this is border territory every tourist has to apply for a special permit to be allowed to roam around. At the station was only a young rookie – who had no idea how to go about the permit, so we had to postpone this till tomorrow morning.

But we found a nice restaurant in the “centre” where we indulged in  bacon and pork ribs as the area is famous for its supposedly tastiest pork in Vietnam. And it was finger-licking good – and inexpensive in addition.

Now I am in my room drinking Vietnamese rice brandy out of a thoroughly rubbed small tea cup and writing these note in Word to be able to publish them quickly the next time I have internet (which will not be tomorrow as we will be staying in a private house).

Good night and till soon…

…I got the stuff for the next day ready. But to publish this took me more than 4 hours. And I don’t have the nerve to continue.. see the continuation whenever it happens. Sorry :) ))

Northern Vietnam – Part 2 – Son La to Sa Pa

It seems I was a bit hasty yesterday when I criticized our slow progress. Today we only managed 270km in 9-1/2 hours! OK, OK we went through the highlands and the mountain roads were partly in conditions that would make most of our Bulgarian roads stand out as being first-class. For a change I had taken the back seat (which saved me much from listening to my guys’ conversation). The bad side was that my view was limited and was bolted around with all the wholes and bumps and endless turns. Not good for my stomach condition! But I survived.

Before leaving the hotel I took a few snapshots of some interesting room features.

Like the boiler wiring next to the shower head:

I hope the black spot on the bottom of the boiler was not related to the previous inhabitant of the room.

The bathroom door had sliding-locks on both sides. That sent my imagination spinning :)

And the view from my room to the restaurant was very practical in judging when to go for breakfast:

After setting off we quickly went to see the old French prison in Son La that also used by the Vietnamese later to re-educate untoward citizens. Despite all the propaganda visible it was not a pleasant place to write about.

Driving soon became cumbersome as we went from mountain pass to mountain pass with uncountable bends. The scenery, on the other hand, was very beautiful with enticing  views and lovely little highland plains and valley sprinkled in.

Here we passed an area where they grow coffee and my curiosity made me get out of the car to check how ripe red coffee “cherries” taste. I prefer the black brew in my cup!

A few farms on the way:

And here a new artificial reservoir – with huge dimensions and very picturesque.

Such projects are easy to realise in Vietnam. The government simply builds new basic houses/shacks in some unoccupied territory and orders all the farmers living (who knows for how many generations) in the area that is supposed to be used for the project to move to the new place. Police and military assist the farmers in moving :) As it looks farmers (which represent the largest part of the population) are the most underprivileged group in Vietnamese society. They are pawns in the hands of the powerful – who (according to the locals) often start new (and sometimes gigantic) projects for personal enrichment.

Here is a very shy local lady distilling rakia for her husband :) Of course, she never drinks of it :)

As a generous employer I decided to invite my team to an extravagant lunch in the most posh restaurant of a bigger village that we passed on our way.

The fare was steamed rice with my favourite vegetable, some wonderful, juicy pork-ribs and some sliced pork with rice-spaghetti and greens. Simple but absolutely fabulous. My guide, being concerned about my stomach had even ordered the owners to wash my bowl with hot water and obtained a new pair of chopsticks for me. Something very uncommon here as everyone washes dishes, glasses and “cutlery” with cold water, or rather, rinses them…

Another hydro-power project on the way. This one “temporarily” abandoned. Maybe the initiators had filled their pockets already sufficiently and left the country to enjoy a peaceful life – as seems often the case.

The road is the goal…

Now we are nearing our destination for the day (well, another short hour away). This is the highest mountain in Vietnam (3143m): Fansipan. Unfortunately it had just stopped raining and the peaks were in clouds.

Here is, what I find, a rather dramatic view a little later…

…and the continuation of our pass.

When we finally arrived at our destination Sa Pa it was about 10 minutes before nightfall. It might as well have been later as everything was covered in fog – and visibility not more than 10 meters. Absolutely nothing to be seen. I hope tomorrow morning will be better as my hotel room is supposed to have a gorgeous view to close-by Fan Si Pan, the highest mountain.

“Sa Pa” has become one of the “pearls” of Northern Vietnam and together with the Halong Bay one of the two biggest tourist magnets in the North. At 1600m altitude it has become THE mountain resort, the Bansko of Vietnam. Due to its climatic conditions it had its first blossoming period during the French colonial times. After the French left, the little town crumbled. Now it is packed with hordes of foreign tourists and in summer in addition with Vietnamese that try to escape the heat of the plains and seaside. The area is dominated by various colourful ethnic hill tribes and the foreigners come mainly for that exotic experience.

Sa Pa’s main street is lined with restaurants, shops and massage places. Reminds me much of our Bansko Pirin Street in winter – at peak time.

After checking into my  hotel and setting up shop I had to wait for the rain that had set in momentarily to stop to venture out and take a walk on main. Still no chance for any pictures. I had dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant recommended to me by my guide Hung, who told me that the owner was a good friend of his, food was good and prices reasonable.

As it turned out nearly all restaurants offered foreign food – from T-bone steak to pizza – and they were quite busy. My choice seemed to be the only completely empty one. Hmmm.

As I am still suffering I decided on something small, so I had fried flour-coated duck with garlic and some steamed rice. The duck was as tender and juicy as it could have been. An excellent choice for 6.70 Leva/DM. As no Vietnamese ever seems to order only one dish I had some “Sa Pa Spring Rolls” in addition. Not overwhelming but also quite tasty. The local Lao Cai beer was better than the Ha Noi that they sell at most other places.

When I came back to my room I was greeted by a huge black bug sitting on the keyboard of my computer. He disappeared as quickly as normally only cock roaches can do. So, I wonder who will be sharing my room with me. Maybe I won’t keep the window open tonight then. Who knows what other creatures might crawl in.

I am stuffed and tired and will now go to bed, rather early for a change. Tomorrow at 8 am is sightseeing time…

 

 

 

Sidetracked 1

If I won’t be careful this supposedly straightforward travel-blog will dissolve in complete chaos in no time as I am making new experiences by the minute, which I feel like sharing.

After arriving at the hotel in Son La I went out to buy some Coke (as they did not have any in the mini-bar). Obligatory for my nightly Cuba Libre (I bought two bottles of Bacardi in Hanoi last night). To a small around the corner shop bar with an owner inviting me to come again, maybe in the morning for some real coffee.

After finishing my last blog entry I left the hotel again with the intention of going to the night market. But I felt neither hungry nor in a shopping mood. So I went back to “my” place for a beer, as the lady did not charge me the “foreigner price” for the Coke earlier.

Here she is in all her glory as the proud shop owner :)

We carried on a very interesting and intense conversation while I was having my Hanoi beer, having about three words in common :)   Still (and I don’t know how), I understood that she is divorced having one grown up son. He showed up too (in some kind of uniform shirt) but I did not understand if he was in the police or some other government agency.

Our main point of connecting was my package of Bulgarian cigarettes which immediately made her utter the words CCCP :) What can I say?  Thank you, Russia, for connecting people?! It reminded me another time how important communication is in life! Without it we are amoebae!

While she had no problem leaning her knee against mine under the table we could not make much more progress. Maybe because I was not looking for it? For me it’s wonderful to meet new people. OK, women too :)   But I have spent the last 30 or so  years with mainly two women and my mind is still not free for any kind of new relationship – and, maybe sadly (maybe not), I am beyond the “butterfly years”.

Having said that, I greatly admire Vietnamese women. They are the toughest cookies in this part of Asia. As strong (or maybe even stronger) than the black women I encountered during my life in New York in 1979. Being obliged to hold the family and life together (as most of their men are not very reliable). And they seem to do it with much more strength and devotion than women from other countries or continents I have been to. I have great respect for them.

This whole trip is a great lesson in understanding people more. Vietnam is truly different from the other countries in this area. And it’s absolutely no surprise to me that neither the French nor the Americans could break their spirit or make them surrender. Maybe there is a reason why they used to call the Vietnamese the “Prussians” of Asia. But this, of course, is only an impression from Northern Vietnam. Because the Northern people consider the Southern people easy going and irresponsible, not thinking about tomorrow, just enjoying life and spending their money as it comes in. So, maybe, I will have an even better time there? Who knows?! Travelling progress will tell!

In any case, I am always open to new experiences and keen on listening to the pulse of local life.

See you here again soon :)