Day 41 & 42- End of an Era! Bring on Laos!

Sapa, Vietnam
October 21-22, 2013

I guess we’ve known it all along. I mean, we weren’t hiding from the fact. We did the same thing back in Canada. I’m talking about being creatures of habit. We find a restaurant or Travel Vietnam Sapa Bookstorecafé and we shut the place down night after night like your Uncle does the all-you-can-eat breadsticks at the Olive Garden. So it’s no mistake that we went back to the same place for breakfast and then waltzed back through the market, sans le chien, and back onto the couch, and back to the same pho xao restaurant for dinner we’d been at the night of last three nights. We had seen all the Sapa we were going to see. The same fog hung in the air. The same cool drizzle. The same women were on the hunt. We had already bought a ticket for a sleeper bus to take us to Dien Bien, which was a drop off point for our venture into Laos.

the likeness is uncanny!

the likeness is uncanny!

Waiting in front of the station the 7pm bus was right on time. So much on time that we watched the bus roll right passed us.

“Was that our bus?” We said. We were both pretty sure it was even though we had been sitting around for the last hour saying that about every bus.

I jumped up and ran to the guy in the booth and motioned that I think our bus just passed. And it had. He made a call while the two of us threw on our bags and hustled down the street while the guy motorcycled ahead. We caught up to it beside the lake we woke up to just three days before.

This mist never let up - but we embraced it

This mist never let up – but we embraced it

We slung ourselves into our own single beds, Vietnamese size beds. Actually Vietnamese children sized beds. Behind us sat the only other foreign couple. Two Argentinians, Jimena and Bruno, whose leg hung off the sides like flapping chicken wings. It was going to be a long ride.

Travel Vietnam Sapa Sleeper 2

while we still thought the tight quarters was “funny”

I threw on Dumb and Dumber and rattled around for a couple hours; listening to Vietnamese phone calls underneath a flood of disco lights while a woman covered up like a hygienic ninja outstared me in a contest. The whole time stopping to pick up fruit and motorcycles and midnight trailblazers which are all shoved into the buses compartments or tied on the roof and off we roll thumpiddy thump thump through the night.

KT chillin' with Lloyd and Harry. & L's knee

KT chillin’ with Lloyd and Harry. & L’s knee

Katie, on the other hand, clung to her pillow for safety. Not being able to sleep, she was forced to endure the treacherous battles of the eroding and rutted cliff-side midnight hustle, fourteen hours of it in total. I heard it was actually used as a torture method to scare information out of prisoners of war. Now it’s turning a profit in the tourist racket.

DAY 42- Our Last Day In Vietnam

We woke up to find out our connecting bus had already left. We were four hours late. Now I understand why they operate on a sliding scale – we have seen plaques that read such and such bus ride 6-10 hours. That’s no stop-to-fill-up-gas-and-a-smoke-break. That’s more of a take-your-lady-out-to-dinner-and-dancing kind of break.  So, alongside the Argentinians, we walked into town and found a couple of rooms with big windows and comfy beds. Then we went and bought bus tickets for the next morning and rented motorcycles to explore Dien Bien. Which was the only thing really to do.

The cursed sleeper bus

The cursed sleeper bus

So Katie and I took off 50km down the road towards the next town that was popping up on the little stone placards that sit in the grass like mini tombstones. I can’t recall the next towns name, but we passed a rickety suspension bridge, a million oblong rice paddies, women with long black hair coiled on top of their heads like a sleeping snake, fuzzy Travel Vietnam Dien Bien KTpatchwork mountains that looked as though the range was draped in an oversized plaid thrift store jacket and everyone holding something; whether it be logs or buckets or kindle or fruit or children or tethered gerbil. The countryside was as peaceful and refreshing as it gets after being trapped inside a rolling deathtrap commissioned by a junked up madman, which truly are the only people in the world capable of operating buses through all hours of the night.

Travel Vietnam Dien Bien bridge lou

Drive-by shirt sales

Drive-by shirt sales

Travel Vietnam Dien Bien riding oxen

No More Bikes & Sleeper Bus to Sapa!

Hanoi, Vietnam
October 18, 2013

We woke up expecting the best case scenario. The best being Robert pops by and pays Katie and that the bus to Sapa isn’t full by the time he shows up. Fortunately, the women downstairs were nice enough to let us book our tickets and said that if the bike fell through we could cancel. It relieved the tension. We ate eggs and baguettes for breakfast and then chilled at a café until it was time to meet Robert.

One o’clock rolled around and Katie sold her bike without a hitch. Robert had come through and the two of us, for the first time in almost three months, were left with our feet planted on the ground. It was bittersweet. We had a lot of ups and downs on those bikes. From Katie’s accidents to my battle with mechanics to the 3000km we spanned along beaches and mountain tops and through fog and pouring rain to all the people and places it brought us in between. We did Vietnam. And we did it without a single regret. It was Katie’s first bike. And I know how hard it is to say goodbye to your first bike. We wish nothing but safe travels for all the future owners, but now we are onto our second leg of the journey and our first overnight bus.

Saying goodbye! :(

Saying goodbye! :(

The bus was picking us up at six pm which gave me a lot of time to help out one of the women working at the front desk. She had asked me for a favour early in the morning. Seeing that I was wearing a North Face jacket she had asked me where I got it.

“I got it in Ho Chi Minh.” I said
“How much did you pay for it?” she asked
“400,000 dong. So around $20 US. They wanted 500,000 but we talked them down. Katie and I both got them.”
“Can you do me a favour?”
“Yes of course.” I said, meaning it.
“It is my husbands birthday coming up and I want to get him a North Face jacket. They are very popular. But they sell them too expensive.”

I knew the store she was talking about. Just the day before I had popped in to compare prices and they were in the 800-850,000 range, although the jackets were made with a stronger material. Perhaps it was real Gore-Tex instead of the Gore-Tex logo that was fixed to ours. It was definitely of better quality.

She continued, “They won’t give me discount. They only want to sell to foreigners. Can you help me buy one?”
“Of course I can. What colour does he like and what size is he?”
“He wants a yellow one and large I think.”
“If I cant get a discount are you OK with me spending 800,000 on one? I mean I will try to get it for the cheapest possible, but I just want to know!”
“Yes that’s ok!”

I reassured her that the jackets are better than mine and worth more money to boost her into thinking she was getting a good deal. I even told her North Face jackets in Canada around the same quality go for around $120-$200 and she was spending $40. So, to me it’s already a great deal. She agreed and the two of us walked down the street. She didn’t want to get too close incase they saw her. So she hung back on the other side of the street while I went up to the vendor.

“Hey how are you today?” I said, always trying to butter up the worker. “Do you have that yellow jacket in a large?”
He went into the back to check and came out with one in his hand. So, to play the role I tried it on and searched the seams like I would on a jacket I was buying for myself. Everything checked out.

“OK. I have money with me and I want to buy a jacket today. What is the best price you can give me?”

He starts delegating with his wife or mother or sister. It’s rather hard to tell because everyone looks so damn youthful. They reached a decision.
“800,000. But we can do for you 700,000.”
That was a savings of $5 but I wanted to do a little better. I knew this woman doesn’t have a ton of money. Hell, none of us do. So I tried to work them a little more for an even better deal.
“Can you do 600,000?”
“No…no…no…”
I knew I hit a nerve. Which is a good level to reach. It shows the real value of a product when they say no…no…no…and begin to put the product away.
“Ok. Ok. How about 650,000?”

He retaliated with 690,000 so I hit him one last time with 680,000 and he forked over the jacket. I was happy. I had a small victory. I had saved her 120,000 dong, only $6 US – but that means a lot when you’re making $1.20 a day. I ran back across the street and pulled out the jacket when we were out of view. I handed her the change and she tried to thank me by giving me a 20,000 Dong tip. I refused and told her over and over that it was no problem and I was happy to help out.

Our last meal in Hanoi. Pho, of course. Mmmm

Our last meal in Hanoi. Pho, of course. Mmmm

Back at the hotel everyone was trying on the jacket and laughing and in no time the bus was waiting for us out front and we had to part ways. We promised to promote Alibaba Hotel on TripAdvisor.com for them and hopped into the bus for our first sleeper bus.

So cozy!!

So cozy!!

The ride was uneventful. We luckily slept the entire way. The bus was filled with double beds stacked two high and fitted with blankets and pillows. It was pretty cushy compared to the pillows we had for beds on our next bus. But we will get to that later. For now we were destined for Sapa. The land of the rice paddies, soaring mountains, minority villages and cool fresh mountain air. We had been looking forward to it the whole trip and when we wake up it all begins. What a concept the sleeper bus is…wake up in a new city, refreshed and ready to start the day. Sounds peaceful right? Uhmmm yeah!

Does it get any cozier than this??

Does it get any cozier than this??