I thought stepping out of Hanoi's airport and smelling the sweet smell of monsoon rain, awakening nice memories about Delhi during the monsoon, was a good sign of what to expect in the next couple of days. As it showed, I couldn't have been more wrong.
Waking up the next morning in the hostel, all the magic was gone. Although the day started with a simple but good breakfast, stepping out in the rain felt like a bad accuse. I haven't experienced much of rain in the months before, so to me it felt quite depressing though more so the atmosphere in the city: Loud, dirty swarms of motorbikes, people in pairs constantly approaching and asking me for donations, a young woman wanting me to take a city tour with her on her scooter and not taking “no” for an answer, as well as a motorbike driver/guide scam which made me bargaining hard about his actual performance, including his waiting time – luckily I felt jet laged and wanted to return to the hostel early for having a nap (a pretty long one indeed) and planning my getaway, so I skipped additional driving costs.
Sapa, the northern mountainous region sounded like a good getaway but before that the hostel staff talked me into going to Halong Bay and although not the cheapest option around, I wasn't eager to look for other offerings than theirs.
The trip wasn't too bad. I could learn a bit about the “culture” and tourism industry. It seems like a lot of people are studying tourism at university – whatever this means. Moreover going to the temple to pray for money and disrespecting local traditions for economic growth (communist state, anyone) seems pretty common and of course according to most some people, all the people of different ethnicities live happily together.
Halong Bay, although kind of pretty, is more interesting because all sorts of diverse people (and not so diverse western tourist crowds) get attracted by it and seeing what this tourism does to the surroundings (although they proclaim caring about the environment). The coast is dominated by building sites for grand hotel resorts and some of the major islands getting packed with people everyday. Despite this I enjoyed the bit of beautiful scenery I saw and also met some nice people from Europe and Southern California on the junk.
Going back to Hanoi the day after, I was happy to take the night train to Sapa in the late evening. As soon as I arrived there, I was again eager to explore.
There were more people than I had expected but I realized just a few days later that it had been weekend when I arrived.
The best part, despite the village you had to pay an entrance fee for visiting, was a two days trek with Sapa O'Chau, a local organization focused on the education of H'mong children and their training as guides. Although the scenery around the town is impressive, we had rain most time of the first day. So it was kind of an adventure to walk along the paddy fields on muddy paths. The actual homestay looked simple but nice and after roaming around the village and playing with some boys,
the next enjoyment was the offered herbal bath and plenty of local food. The next day after the breakfast (pancakes for the french and me, rice and leftovers for the locals and me) the weather cleared up, the views got better and we walked back in a slow pace. Having had arrived in the city, I shared a tea and some sweet potato with the guides before I went on to book my bus to Dien Bien Phu and an ongoing to Laos at the “Sapa Hostel”, where I stayed. After having woken up early the next morning I waited for the bus in the lobby, when the manager came to the front very sleepy, exchanging a few words with me before getting to the back again to throw up. All while his wife did the necessary work in the hostel.
One hour of tiring waiting later he told me the bus won't leave this morning because of some engine damage which had to be repaired (was it the truth or was it just overbooked?) and I'll have to take the evening bus. Asking them about the connecting bus I had already paid for, they assured me multiple times there won't be any problems, but of course there were.
Getting in the evening bus, it didn't take long for it to be fully packed. Next to me there were sitting some spanish (and catalonian) men and women, as well as some locals on the floor. The ride started a bit bumpy and the road wasn't to get less bumpy till the end, which lead some local, a young men undecisively clothed in some western style mix, to throw up in the middle of the bus and night. People here seriously enjoy the freeing feeling of a good throw up, don't they? Luckily I sat at the window side but shoes, bags and jackets of my neighbours were less lucky. Before we finally came to an halt, the spanish cursing had already started and the boy, probably not knowing what to make out of the situation, had a look on him which was somewhere inbetween indifference and remorse. Unfortunately this delayed our already slightly delayed ride even more and while the people outside were cleaning their stuff or having a smoke, I just tried to relax telling myself: In such places, such things happen. What I was unprepared for was of course the connecting bus which was handled by some young hair-styled “dude”, pretending to be cool and wealthy by showing off his iPhone (original?) in every instance which allowed him to do so. I don't like these sort of people actually because a lot of them are just eager to squeeze money out of your pockets, not only in Vietnam. So of course he didn't accept my ticket (which just stated I had already paid for both buses, but earlier ones), of course he wanted cash, of course I hadn't enough Vietnamese Dong left, of course he didn't want to give change back for my five dollars – it's not that it's a big amount of money, just the fact that this man I feel disgusted about keeps it for himself. But I was just too tired to keep on arguing. Not the Catalonians who complained about their ever shrinking leg room. Answering these complains the dude yelled at them, threatening to throw them out of the bus. What a morning. I sure was reliefed as I was finally passing the border to Laos and asking myself what's in for me next?