Matthew's News and Gossip

Matthew's News and Gossip

A man with no talent, but armed with a digital camera, can waste lots of bandwidth

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

So to bring you up to date....this missive covers my time in Tam Coc, Hanoi (twice) Halong Bay, Sapa and getting to Vientiene in Laos, where I'm writing this. After leaving Dong Hoi I was awakended on the sleeper train by it stopping. I asked the guard where we were as Vietnamese stations don't bother with niceties like signs. "Nimh Binh" he said. That's me, I thought, and rushed off to get my bags, but before I got to the door the train rolled off. "Stop" I shouted, the guard sprinted off up the train to see the driver and they ended up stopping the train and depositing me on a bank 500 metres up the track from the station!

After a quick brekkie at the Queen Minihotel and meeting classy guide Thuong who was one of the best people I met in Vietnam, I rented a bicycle for a very pleasant ride down to the Tam Coc river, known as Halong Bay on the Rice fields. Of course being the sucker I am, I was intercepted by this charming young girl who told me that she would take me in the back way to the river avoiding the massive fees. Of course she instead wanted me to pay a bunch more to look at this cave, and then wanted me to pay even more to go to another one, all in her very dodgy and very uncomfortable tiny boat....I eventually twigged that this was a scam and explained to her in my best French that if she wanted to take my money she had to tell me the truth. I got out of the boat, went and got my bike from her house and left asking her to follow me. She stopped being so charming at the that point, but she wasn't brave enough to come face the music at the official boat stop to Tam Coc. That trip though was quite beautiful. Here, here and here (including me!) are some of the photos, which include some of the very dodgy and amusing English "couple" Wayne and Vanessa (check out that hair!) who joined me on the boat.

The full Tam Coc selection is here

The next morning, apparently unrelated to the rice wine Thuong had foisted on me the night before, my foot hurt, and it hurt alot for the next week or so. This was a pisser as it meant that I couldnt really plan on any significant trekking in the Sapa region or really getting too active in Halong Bay, the other great beauty spot in north Vietnam. I spent some time in Hanoi, including going to see Uncle Ho just back from his refresher in Moscow (no photos of him dead but this is his Mausoleum and here's me pretending to be lying in state). He looked exactly like Colonel Sanders in the window of the KFC on El Camino in Palo Alto, although he glowed a little more. Allegedly he lived simply in this house and probably resented being turned into a God-cult by his followers, but then Lenin probably used to buy his mother flowers...

The other fun thing I did in Hanoi, where I stayed in a nice hotel in the Old Quarter for $10 a night after some vicious bargaining, was to go see the water puppets. This is a great hoakey traditional show with Vietnamese music and puppets appearing out of the water (the puppeteers are knee deep in water hidden behind a screen) and charging around. I forgot to take the camera inside, but here are what the puppets look like. Now imagine the dragon with fireworks in his mouth breathing smoke in a dark theatre and you're part of the way there. Here are the rest of the Hanoi shots I've now added a bunch more which I took after returning from Sapa, mostly of the opera House and early morning work-outs (I'd taken the night train in, no I hadn't gotten up specially!!).

After a day or two in Hanoi (including seeing Chelsea stuff Everton, Wayne Rooney et al) I headed off to Halong Bay with the gang who had been in Dalat earlier (Heidi, Vicki, Geordie Chris, Ronnie, Lynn, plus Ian and Kiwi Angus [with Chris here]). This was not one of the warmer trips. Halong Bay has some lovely karst cliffs but was moving fast into winter, and although we had a nice trip on the Bay
and saw a beautiful cave (Sang Sot or Surprising Cave) with many fine features, and a rock that looked like a willy and hence had lots of stupid photos taken of it, it was a brisk afternoon. We arrived on Cat Ba island allegedly to do a long hike. I knew I wouldn't make it, and when the rest of the gang started playing drinking "games" and ended up showing up the locals in the very strange Star disco, it became clear no one else would either! Instead Ian, Chris and I took a very, very cold motorbike ride, and we spent one more drunken evening showing how karaoke is NOT an art form, before we headed on a very rainy morning back to Hanoi. The full Halong Bay set is here. I will be back one day with better weather, a junk with a folded sail, and unlimited supplies of beautiful women or booze or perhaps both!
What followed that night was the end of an era. I arranged my escape for the next day, but not before meeting some more random people on the boat (like Rowan the soon to be New Yorker with the big arse, another Israeli called Roni and this French girl standing a little too close to Angus) and getting together with all of them at a Jazz club. We ended up at the Acopalypse Now bar, where the bartender had a good go at breaking my nose because I wouldn't let him shortchange me. Discretion would have been the better part of valour there, and I snuck off quietly into the night leaving the gang behind! Anyway, if you were there on "Big Wednesday" you might be interested in these photos, although I have no idea who took most of them!

All that was left in Vietnam was to go up to the hill country of Sapa. There I spent several very foggy days getting harrassed by little girls and old Women from the Hmong and Red Zao tribes wanting me to buy their various blankets! It NEVER cleared up enough to see the mountains properly or to see the rice terraces in all their glory, butI'll say a little more about Sapa when I get the photos up> Now it's midnight in Vientiene, and I've just had dinner with the lovely Lisa (vague friend of Scott Summit's) and her parents from Austria and must make preparations to go south to Pax Se (bottom right of this map) tommorow and to meet Lish, Anne and Gabbers here next week!

posted by matthew  # 7:33 AM
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