Km 8772 – Chiang Mai, Thailand
BORDER (Lao Cai) – HANOI
- From the border town to the capital: many people give us a smile. Especially the children constantly shout „hello“ when they see us. Often so loud, energetically and from so far away, that we ask ourselves how they managed to see us so quickly. As soon as we respond to their greeting we can clearly feel the children’s relief. As if the 3 and the 5 year old had waited for nothing else but our arrival. And as if the little fellows could not imagine anything more beautiful than reveiving our attention for a short moment – so much do they beam with joy!
- In Hanoi, we arrive earlier than thought and stand in front of Mike’s door. He is pretty busy. That’s why he hired Thu as a helper. We immediately get along very well with her. A good soul with many dreams.
- Just like Tuh and many others of the young generation, Quy also stands for a new Vietnam. We met him the first time on our way to Hanoi, when he helped us putting credit on our mobile. In Hanoi we see Quy and his friends again. The young students tell us about their hopelessness. Tell us about a system that is corroded by corruption. Uncountable families finance the academic studies of their children. Hoping, that this will help them to find a better job. Reality shows that most don’t find a job despite their good qualification. If someone would like to work for the government, you have to pay for your position. 5000$ for a small position is not uncommon. The only chance to get the invested money back is to take part in the corrupt system. Hopeless? Alex encourages them not to give up, to get involved and to slowly build a civil society (NGOs) which can act as a counterbalance to politics. Sometimes soical change happens faster than one thinks – Alex talks about the Fall of the Wall in Germany, which also was only happening precisely because of social movements.
- Hanoi means mainly socializing for us.
- One night we meet Dasha again. We had met her in Oskemen (Kazakhstan), but in the meanwhile she accepted a job in a hotel in Hanoi.
- On Christmas Eve Ethan arrives. After Marocco and Germany the third reunion. He teaches in China and had a shorter journey to arrive. From now on: three of us in Vietnam.
- Christmas starts Vietnamese: to please his guests, Mike organizes a Christmas dinner the 24th Dec.
- The next day is followed by Christmas lunch. This time Catalan. Guim, a Spaniard, got stuck in Hanoi during his cycle tour from Europe, has married a Vietnamese and greets us with a child on his arm. He is the founder of a bicycle cafe called „Hanoi Bicycle Connection“. His Bulgarian technician is rough, but warm and replaces the spokes of Alex’s back wheel (unfortunately, the Chinese technician made several mistakes).
- Uli, a (university) friend of mine, arrives. As I pick her up at the meeting point, she is pretty exhausted – because of the jetlag, but especially because of the many taxi drivers who tried to sell her an overpriced ride. Starting from now thus: four of us in Vietnam.
- Together with Uli and Ethan we are sitting in the Bus to Van Don. We buy the tickets in the bus and should get 60 Dong change. The collector hands us a 20 note and smiles. As we tell him that some change is missing, he swops the 20 note into a 50 and keeps on smiling. Only as we give him the hint that 10 are still missing, we hands us over the last note – still smiling. Well, you can always try!
- This is not untypical for Vietnam. Although we have to be fair and say that we experienced this and other „special tactics“ only in places where many tourists pass. With a little patience and friendly insisting the rip-offs are definitely manageable. But unfortunately, this occasionally becomes strenous, although it only happens now and then. Here in Thailand, where I am writing these lines, everthing is a 100 times more relaxed. No one shouts, no one quacks. Here the traveller is rather human, there rather money teller machine.
- The hint about the local ferries in Van Don came from a French cyclist couple. Due to this tip we can now experience a very special travelling experience, a „magic moment“ as the journey author Altmann would say.
- Shouldering the backpacks at dawn. The village is already very animated as we walk out on the streets around 6.30 am. Especially the harbour area is buzzing. We sit on the deck of a little wooden ferry and watch the early activities. The workers at the pier, the slightly rocking boats, the steep towering lime mountains, which are densely covered with dark green jungle plants. An orange fire ball rises behind the scene, the morning mist is clearing away slowly. Women with the typical triangle hats sell goodies, carriers carry beer, chairs, construction material, food, fish. Then a sweet corn pastry and a cup of Vietnamese coffee – this perfect coffee! Yes, a magic moment, flushed by energy. The boat is casting off…
- … and docks on the island Quan Lan two hours later. Mass tourism didn’t reach this place yet, no hotel monstrosities yet. The traveller is not drawn into a restaurant, a store, a guesthouse at every corner. We hike once across the longish island (approx. 15 km), stop several times at long sandy beaches. A wonderful travelling day. At night – believe it or not – we meet 5 other cyclists in the only restaurant of „Quan-Lan-City“.
- Halong: the city is rather unexciting and touristy, but there is a French bakery 😉 We relax, play cards and oversleep New Year’s.
- Three of us continue to Cat Ba island (Ethans holiday came to an end). Cat Ba city is touristy as well and the tourist draggers are waiting for us at the last bus stop. They try to drag us into their hotels. But only try. We later check into a hotel in a side street. The Vietnamese friendliness sounds a little desperate in these places of mass tourism.
- We cruise around the island with rented scooters and enjoy the green jungle landscapes as well as the coastal part along the sea. The next day we relax at the beach. Off-season – not much going on. Better that way!
- We try different specialties of Hanoi (e.g. coffee with raw, foamed egg – sounds funny, but is very tasty!)
- During the last evening with Uli we coincidently find a book from Altmann while we look through the shelves of a random book store. Funnily, we find exactly the one book which Uli was supposed to bring us from Germany, but which she had lost during all that hassle at the airport! All’s well that ends well!
- We accompany Uli to the airport taxi (this time the real one 🙂 and wish her pleasant days in Saigon – 10 days just pass too fast!
VINH – GRENZE (Cau Treo)
- Thu help us to book a bus (with our bikes) to Vinh – a funny bus. Although we drive during the day, the seats are rather beds. Lying and looking out of the window. Not too bad either.
- Cycling from Vinh to the border. As we ask the first time to put our tent next to a house, we get a no, the second time we get invited. We are allowed to sleep in the shed. A generous dinner is served. Thanh and his wife Yen speak a couple words of English. They live together with their son Hai with Thanh’s parents (Quy & Lan).
- Thanh’s father opens the liquor – something undefinable swims in the bottle (later in Laos we will see liquour bottles with: preserved (baby-) armadillos, curled snakes, bear paws). With each shot the father shouts the only English word he remembers: „Hello hello!“ and then cheers and downing. Delicious hotpot, tea and going to bed early. After a couple minutes someone knocks at the shed’s door. Thanh gives us a tray full of cookies, sweets, soy milk and says very warmly: „Night, hungry, eat!“ In such moments the heart gets touched – by a stranger!