SAPA- GOLDEN STREAM LOVE WATERFALL!! WHAT?? & ATROCITIES!

Sapa, Vietnam
October 20, 2013

They were renting motorcycles next door, so we picked one up and with our scribbled map in hand we went to check out some waterfalls. The first was Silver Waterfall. After driving for thirty minutes in complete clouds we parked our bikes across the street at a Travel VIetnam Sapa bamboo ricehillside row of stalls all offering free tea if you spend 10,000 Dong to park your bike. Pulling in, every woman was yelling for us to pull into her designated spot, but I made eyes with one and we went right for her. In front of her on a little makeshift stove she was steeping some tea. We said our sinchow’s (hello’s) and sat down on a couple of toddler size plastic stools as she handed us some hot tea. Beside her stove she had a few wicker baskets of snacks: bamboo shoots packed with sticky rice, hotdogs on a stick, squid on a stick, and the teeniest whole chickens spiked on a stick. All finger foods good to give you energy for a good ol’ climb. We drank the tea and told her we would be back for some eats.

Across the street we bought a ticket and climbed alongside a sloping waterfall that ran down the side of a mountain. It was long and fluid without too many crashing breaks. We climbed up and then down and took some photos in between with a couple of Asian tourists we met.

weird

weird

Back at her stall we ordered a couple bamboo sticky rice and looked at all the other stuff she was selling. With my mothers birthday coming up I found a __________ (You thought I’d tell you…tsk tsk tsk) that I thought she might like. If I know her well enough she’ll like it mighty fine. (KT: It’s a chicken on a stick!!! Debby! Debby! He got you a chicken on a stick! CAUTION when you open the box hehe) I asked the woman where it came from and she said that people in her village made it. That was exactly the response I was looking for. Even if it was a lie. (KT: They imported the chicken, them bastids!)

mmm bamboo sticky rice dipped in salt & sesame!

mmm bamboo sticky rice dipped in salt & sesame!

On a wall to our right were about a hundred bags of dried leaves and herbs. What they were I enquired about, and she told me they were tea. I pointed to a translucent bag filled with giant hardened mushroom tops and she made a quick tapping motion over her heart as a big smile crept on her face.

“Could it be? The elusive magic mushroom!” I motioned my two hands to the sides of my head and shook them in a wackadoo disoriented fashion.  She smiled and nodded back.

In a country hell bent on putting a kibosh on drugs we had been offered marijuana almost on a daily basis in Ho Chi Minh City and were now sitting in front of a woman selling magic mushrooms by the pound. We may or may not have bought one, thanked her, and carried on to the next waterfall, climbing a bout of hairpin turns along the side of cliffs through an impenetrable hoary fog.

Fog stickin' in L's beard hehe

Fog stickin’ in L’s beard hehe

Pulling into the grounds, we bought our tickets and made our way through an untouched forest to the ill-named Golden Stream Love Waterfall. We walked along the streams edge Travel Vietnam Sapa golden stream louthen climbed our way past several cascades until our heads caught first glimpse. We pulled ourselves up and stood with our bodies morphing; jaws plummeting, eyes gaping, and arms drooping like an unplugged television cord. Neither of us could believe it. It was unbelievable. The Golden Stream Love Waterfall was a gushing straight drop of one hundred plus feet hugged into the curves of a mountain. The water free-fell into a natural swimming hole; somewhere you’d find Huck and Tom hanging about whilst ditching out on their studyin’.

Travel Vietnam Sapa Waterfall KT

Travel Vietnam Waterfall LOU

 

 

 

 

 
We cruised back into the city, returned the bikes, and went for a stroll through the market. The market was the same in every town we had been. All selling the same handicrafts, the same food vendors, same backpacks and outdoor equipment, and the same fruit stands…except the market in Sapa had one thing we weren’t expecting.

Our new Chinese pals

Our new Chinese pals

Travel VIetnam River KT

Travel VIetnam Sapa Waterfall River LOU

*DISCLAIMER – DO NOT READ, MOTHER (OR OTHER VEGETARIANS)- SCROLL DOWN

We have seen a lot of crazy things at markets so far- everything from the whacking and scaling of a live fish; gangs of chickens, ducks and roosters tied at their ankles and crammed into wicker baskets; skinless headless frogs kicking about; every kind of animal part from tails to snots to knuckles to brains; and as much as I have heard about them eating dogs it has never been in my face. That is…until today. Walking underneath a sky of blue tarpaulin and along an alley of butcher tables sat a severed dog head beside one of its own flanks. Speechless. Truly speechless. I gasped and had to keep on walking. I have a dog at home and even though I’ve walked past hundreds of pigs heads and lips they never once have phased me like seeing that dog’s head. I shook it off and chalked it up to a cultural experience and although I don’t condone it who am I to say that it is wrong.
KT: It was really horrifying. My stomach still gets tight when I think about it…

*GOOD TO READ AGAIN MOTHER AND OTHER ANIMAL ENTHUSIASTS 

After the market we walked around the town on our way to a café that we had peeped the day prior. And to our amazement there was a big ol’ comfy couch. Something that I did not know I missed as much as I do. Mmm…there really isn’t anything like flopping down on a big ol’ couch and letting it hold you captive like an overprotective bear.

Coming down a dark wet road, the sounds of asian flute blew through the mountain air. Draped underneath an umbrella & cut-out from a circle of streetlight sat a man hunched in rags. His melodies fluttering in the night mellowed the grunts and squeals that echoed from a truck bursting at the seems with wicker-capped sows. Three pigs were weighed then uncorked from their wicker cages only to be ushered down a set of damp dark steps. Their bones taught from hours of wet confined travel – a man guides them with a whip of a stick while another man weighs the empty caskets. the flutist didn’t lift his head or break a note. (KT: Neither Lou or I spoke until after the pig sale was over. We were both horrified by the treatment of the animals, and somehow lulled by the playing of the flute that didn’t relent. I tossed the flute player a few dong; his music had helped keep my tears behind my lids.)

We got to the café after and some beyotch was sitting on our couch with a pompous air. At least thats how we perceived it. We sat in a couple of chairs beside her eyeing her down for a couple of hours until she up and left. And can you believe it? She left three slices of a pizza behind. She didn’t wrap them up or offer them to us. Nothing. No respect for this woman. Good thing we’ll never see her again. We hung out writing and reading until it was time for dinner then went to bed. Tomorrow was our last day in Sapa and we had to get ready for another sleeper bus. Yippee!

Travel VIetnam Waterfall laughing

SAPA- BUM RUSH CITY

Sapa, Vietnam
October 19, 2013

I’m not exactly sure what time it was, but I remember waking as we pulled up alongside a lake that had a canopied Tim Burton-esque fog. And before I could wipe the junk from my eyes the bus was swarmed with all life. They must have gotten a call or their blood runs on bus schedules. Either way we weren’t looking forward to getting off. Well you know what I mean.

We collected our shoes in little bags that we had crammed in our shoe cubbies at the foot of our beds and walked with them in hand single file bumping into each other like a chain gang off to tend the fields. Except I only wish I had an empty field to toil away in instead of deal with these slick talking hawks. I hadn’t even put my shoes on let alone popped my head from the doors before heads and bodies started darting in with words and jargon way too fast for anyone that had just woken up.

“Hotel. You need hotel. I have best price cheap hotel for you. Follow me!”
“You need taxi?”
“Taxi…Taxi…”
“Minority village! You come stay with us in our village.”
“Taxi… Anywhere you want!”
“Hotel…Hotel…Hotel!”

All of it at once, circled like I was the main event at cockfight and everyone had their bets placed on me. Everyone prodding me with brochures and business cards. I couldn’t take it. My head was darting & pecking in all directions “no thank you” “no taxi” “no” “no hotel” “its ok thank you” until Katie and I had our bags fixed on our backs and we lit out across the street and down an empty road. Ahh we could breathe. I shook off the morning vibes and the last 12 hours. Sapa here we come.

We started walking into town when we crossed paths with one of the women by the bus. She was scooting by on her bike, empty handed, so she parked it and ran to catch up with us.

“I have cheap hotel for you!”
Broken down and beaten we asked her how much.
“$8. Hot shower. Private room. Come with me.”
We did.

She was persistent. That she was. She ended up winning us over and we ended up staying at her hotel for two nights. We made our way over, unpacked, and left our passports at the desk before we left to go explore the foggy town.

Sapa sits at an altitude of 1200-1800 meters and this October morning we were almost completely blanketed in a sheet of fog, or hell, we might have been in the clouds. Either way, the air was fresh and it was nice to get back to mountain life. Whatever that really means. I mean, I’m not a goat or anything. But over much debate and travel, I’ve come to an understanding that I prefer the mountains over the sea. Although I’d prefer to have both (Vancouver, Vietnam, Peru…).  Walking along, the bum rush continued.

Travel VIetnam Sapa Market

The women were dressed in the most colorful naturally-dyed fabrics bursting with deep purples, bright reds, woodsy emeralds and sky blues all handmade in their villages, if not themselves, by ancient techniques, precision, and generations of hand-me-down knowledge of the loom. The women pulled out a map and detailed the three hour walk we would trek and the H’mong villages we would suss out. They wanted $20 US for the day and $45 if we wanted to sleep in their village and trek back. Since we had just got to Sapa we wanted to check into everything before agreeing on the spot we thanked the ladies and carried on. Our plan was to get a map from the tourist office and see what they had to say then grab some breakfast. On the way out of the office the women met us at the entrance. They had followed us there.

Travel Vietnam Sapa ladies

I had heard from the Italian couple Frankie & Katia that a couple ladies from a minority village had followed them for a couple hours along their whole trek, and they weren’t even a part of the group. They felt guilty so they ended up giving the ladies a bit of money. But that can’t be the future for these women. It’s no way to earn a living and it’s already starting to shape the future of their culture into one that solely relies on tourism. It needs to be quashed. As much as tourism has boosted Sapa’s development and trade sectors, it needs growth on a level where it works with tourism and is not solely dependent on tourism. Which is why we cannot condone being followed around just to be guilted into buying something we don’t want.

We thanked the ladies and wished them a good day.

The whole walk to breakfast it didn’t stop. Dozens of women from minority villages followed us down the street at the brink of friendly eye contact, all trying to sell us clothes, bracelets, and treks. It’s a tough racket out there and I wish them the best. At least it is good to know that they are all working together. We heard from Blui from Lang Biang Mountain in Dalat that the villagers pool their money together and it goes towards the community. I hope it’s true because it would be extremely difficult for any one person to make money when everyone is selling the same stuff. But aside from the racket, they truly were the sweetest women and joked with us the whole walk. There was never an ounce of pressure and they were all smiles our entire time in Sapa and it’s unbelievable how much English they had picked up just from dealing with tourists on a daily basis. We wish them the best.

We ended up in a restaurant without power and learned that they shut it off periodically. To save energy I could only assume. We got eggs and baguettes.

Afterwards we walked around the town in a light cool drizzle and ended up in a bakery, also without power, to eat some snacks, have some tea and read. Yah I know ehh…some life.

Uhhhmayzing

Uhhhmayzing

The dense fog never quit and the light rain continued into the evening and it gave the vibe that we better get used to it. We decided against the minority village because, well, it was impossible to see anything. But still wanted to see what Sapa was all about we decided to rent a motorbike in the morning, $5 compared to $40.

And that is exactly what we did.

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??

SELLING THE OL’ BIKES & CHANGING HOTELS & PUPPET SHOW

Hanoi, Vietnam
October 17, 2013

We woke with a vengeance; packed with a vengeance; and walked down the stairs with a vengeance, until we cornered him behind his desk like the rat he was.
KT: We didn’t even get our token picture of the room! We’ve gotten pictures of every single guesthouse room across Vietnam, but not this one. We were too set on getting out of there. Whoops!

“We’re checking out” we said with sternness in our faces.
He was quite. Then asked if we drank anything from the room.
“No. But the fridge was missing a bottle of water which I told one of your staff yesterday.”
I thought he was going to play the ol’ $18 a night trick. But he stuck to his word.

Then he started to add the $4 for parking our bikes for two nights and that’s when we chimed in.
“We saw you pull the bike underneath. We’re not paying for parking.”
He came back as if he had rehearsed his lines already.
“No…I park yours underneath. I pay for parking for mine.”

We weren’t stacking what he was chopping – buying what he was selling; if you know what I mean. I know it was only a few bucks, but the point was this guy rubbed us the wrong way from the start and it was a matter of principal.

We read the night before that there was a free parking lot around the corner, and one of the workers told us that they would drive our bikes over to Violet Hotel 1 and then ride one of the bikes back to our hotel. And the downstairs lobby could have easily fit four bikes and we were the only ones staying there. So instead of unleashing the rage that I was full of I hit him with a dose of realness.

Instead of trying to make a few dollars off us, it would have been nice of you to tell us about the free parking lot.”

His smirk went away. We had 700,000 dong ($32) in our hands and we were set on not paying a penny more. The payment even included parking my bike, which we let him have a small victory. He accepted the money and we walked off without another word.

We loaded up our bikes as he stood there in guffaw. We had our justice. After cruising around the block we rolled up to Alibaba Hotel which gave off a feeling that was the polar opposite of Violet 2 and right then we knew that we had to go with our gut, something that we had been doing thus far until comfort skewed my vision.

Dingy, oddly shaped, and perfect!

Dingy, oddly shaped, and perfect!

We dropped our bags off in our new $13 room and had a little chat downstairs with the women about how relieved we were to be out of our last hotel. They knew exactly what we were talking about. They even described the man to me.

“He is very thin man. Short. A little bit darker skin.”
“Yes yes yes! That’s him!” I blasted
“Ahh! He sometimes stands in front of our hotel and tries to steal our customers.”
“Are you kidding me?”

The horror goes on. We were just happy to be out. And we couldn’t have found a nicer pair of women. We went to a café to check our emails and wait around for Robert to drop off the remaining money.

Photo on 2013-10-18 at 5.41 PM

We all played on my Macbook haha -KT

We ordered Americano’s and opened our emails. I had a bite and it was about time. We were leaving tomorrow and I couldn’t afford to be out a couple hundred bucks. It was from a 50 year old who just arrived and was obviously looking for a bike. After a little back and forth action we had set a time to meet. Katie wished me luck and I took off for the hotel.

I first have to mention that it had been raining nonstop for the past four days and had flooded my engine so the electric starter wasn’t working, but the kick start got it running just fine. I know the bike and I have been through hell over the past three months but as of late it had been running just fine aside from the recent popped tire. I knew Michael Douglas would get the last laugh. The man showed up and it turns out he was also a Canadian and we’d shared many of the same travels through Asia and South America. With the rain coming down I had to get the kick start going for him, which wasn’t a good start, and he took off around the block. Ten minutes had passed before I saw him putting up the street. Motherfuckersucker!! I had already known he wasn’t interested and I don’t blame him. He said the bike died on him a dozen times. Yadda yadda goddamn Michael Douglas is all I thought! I wished him a safe trip and no ill will. Now it was crunch time.

heheheh

heheheh

That morning we stopped to put air in Katie’s tires because she woke up with a flat tire that occurred from Robert’s little accident. While we were getting it patched we popped into a hostel to use their internet. The woman behind the counter said she knew a mechanic that might be interested in buying my bike. I thanked her but told her I was holding out for a tourist. This woman was now my last hope. So I started my bike up easily and cruised on over. She wasn’t there but another woman was. She knew the same mechanic. In fact it was her brother. She put him on the phone so I could talk to him.

“Where were you yesterday?” He said “I showed up at the hotel.”
You have to be kidding me! It was the same mechanic from yesterday.
“I am so sorry. I was five minutes late and they told me you left.”  Which was true.

Having already seen the bike he offered to pay me $150. I knew this man was my last option so I dropped it down to $200. He came back at $160 and eventually we settled on $170.  Which was $80 less than I was asking, but $170 more than nothing.

I handed the phone back to his sister and he told her to pay me. I, being an idiot, forgot my blue registration card at home, which he insisted upon, so I got back on the bike in the rain and flew back to the hotel to pick it up.

To add another level of bizarreness, this transaction would never have been possible had it not been for the whores who returned my wallet in Ho Chi Minh. If you haven’t read the story already click here. Well if it wasn’t for me getting my wallet back, blue card intact, it would have been extremely hard to sell a bike, even if the registration is not in my name. It is just like a right of passage. So even though those two whores stole $130 from me, by some divine act they had also given me back $170. I picked up the registration card and flew back to complete the transaction. And with a huge sigh Michael Douglas was off my hands.

Robert had messaged Katie and apologized for not being able to make it, but he said tomorrow he would be there definitely. They set to meet at one o’clock, which didn’t leave a lot of room for us to buy a ticket for a bus to Sapa if he decided to back out or switch to another day. Our Visas were coming to an end and we wanted to spend a couple days in Sapa. The timing was getting extremely tight, but first we have a water puppet show to attend.

The play was very interesting. A live Vietnamese folk band sat to the left of the stage and narrated, sang and strummed along with the puppets. The stage was a bed of water with a bamboo backdrop. And alongside the music puppets came to life singing, fishing, chasing fox, planting rice and boating around in lifelike form. It was truly a wonderful show aside from, and there seems to always be an aside from, a Chinese woman that snuck into the seats right ahead of us with an iPad size camera screen and wanted to film the whole damn show. It was as though we were watching a play through her lit up camera. It was just another example of how people feel like they are the only person in the room.
KT: I always enjoy a good theatre show, and The Water Puppet Theatre was incredibly impressive! I didn’t expect to laugh so hard to puppets splashing around in water and imitating catching fish. It was really amusing, definitely recommend it if you’re ever in Vietnam! Apparently Water Puppet Theatre was a cultural past time when the monsoon season would drown the crops.

BIKE CRASH & HORRORS OF HANOI HOTELS

Hanoi, Vietnam
October 16, 2013

We woke up and walked the old quarter looking for a breakfast spot. After scouring the backstreets ogling menu after menu until our bellies were concave with hunger we ended up at Gecko. The breakfast set said: tea, buttermilk pancakes, crispy bacon, toast, real French butter, real homemade jam, and fruit salad. What I got was: a cold paper-thin crêpe, soggy wilted bacon, salted New Zealand butter, and average everything else. But hey I’m still healthy and life is good. But it was becoming apparent that the meat in this country has continuously been letting us down and the sanitation conditions have been on the lower end of orthodox. We were a couple of sudo-vegetarians in the making.
KT: I got eggs, bacon and a baguette and other than the let down of the bacon, my meal was alright. Trusty ol’ eggs & baguette ;)

KT: After our delicious breakfast (heh) we went to seek out someone to clean our bikes for us, or a tap for us to do it ourselves. Gotta pretty up the wheels before hockin’ ‘em! We Travel Vietnam KT bikestumbled upon a guy who had a little bike cleaning service set up beside his mothers hair salon, and he got to work, telling us to come back in an hour. We used that hour to wander around, in search of cheap Bia Hoi…but apparently it was too early in the day as no one had it stocked yet. Instead, we stocked up on some toiletries, and wandered as we’ve gotten so good at doing. Returning to our bikes, our jaws dropped. THOSE are our bikes?? They’re so beautiful! I don’t want to sell it anymore! We dropped our pretty puppies off at the hotel, with a couple awkward smiles with our hotel manager, and killed time at a neat cafe nearby.
Travel VIetnam Lou Bike

Afterwards, Katie had scheduled a meeting with this dude from Brooklyn to come check out her bike so we made our way back to the hotel to do some biddings. Waiting out front the hotel manager began pestering us about our bikes to a level of uncomfortability.

“How much you sell bike for?”
“I’m selling mine for $250.” I said
“And I’m selling mine for $400.” Said Katie
“Ohh so expensive. You sell me.” He said
He walks over and inspects Katie’s bike.
“I give you $200 for Yamaha Nouvo. You take $200”.
“No. I’m sorry. I can’t. I have someone coming to look at it now. I need to get what I put into it.” Katie said
He does a wrap around my bike and says I cannot get more than $100 for my bike and so I should sell it to him for that much.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t. I’ve put too much money into it.”
Katie and I look at each other with an ok, buddy just give us our space look.

The manager loomed over us with a sly grin on his face. Neither of us have trusted him from the start. When he showed me the room yesterday he rubbed me the wrong way, and it was my own blindness that confused me into accepting the room. It was just too damn nice to pass up. After agreeing on a price. He had dropped the room from $28 to $15, which was nice of him, but we simply couldn’t have stayed there for any more and would have had to simply turn down the room. So after showing me the room, he says…
You are Canadian. You have lots of money. You pay $18.”
“I’m sorry, we can’t.” I explained. “We are sleeping in hotels everyday for six months and it is over our budget.”
But you are rich. $18 is no problem.”
“You agreed to $15. If it is more, I am sorry we cannot stay.”

He followed me down the stairs and I could tell that he was sizing me up. It was an odd feeling. A feeling that I just didn’t want to be in his presence. I got downstairs and he finally agreed to $15. And since then every time we pass his desk he’s been hell bent on selling a tour, trip, bus ticket, or buying our bikes. Its been nothing but money, money, money and neither of us trusted him. He even charged us to park our bikes. He said that there was no room inside the hotel so he had to drive them to a parking garage and that it would cost 20,000 dong each. Which was a lie that we caught him in the act in the evening.

Now where was I. Ahh yes, we were waiting for the dude from Brooklyn to arrive to show him Katie’s bike while the manager was looming about. The guy finally arrived amidst the manager pressuring us to book our bus to Sapa. We left him to greet Robert, the dude from Brooklyn who rode up on a motorbike with his friend.

He took a look at both our bikes and we both did our schpeel, but it seemed like he was leaning towards Katie’s bike since it was an automatic so I gave them their space to get down to brass tacks. There was no issue with the price, he just wanted to give it a spin around the block to see how she ran. Of course Katie obliged and handed him the keys while his friend hung back by our side. Robert saddled up on the bike and got comfortable before putting the keys in the ignition. It was an extremely busy one way so it took him a couple minutes before he could ease out onto the street. When he did, with the slight twist of the handlebar the bike shot out like a bullet jerking him back until he let go- similar to an Olympian bursting off before the bang only to have to restart.

“Woah. I didn’t expect it to start so fast”, Robert said catching his breath.
“Yeah it has a little kick. Just take it slow. Ease into it”, Katie said.

He waited again for the traffic to subdue before giving the gas another try. This time the bullet left the chamber and he shot out wildly, wobbling out of control with his body clung to the back of the seat and slammed into the side of a bus leaving a giant scar along the busses glass as well as lacerating his shirt from neck to belt buckle. Traffic stopped and we all ran over to lift the bike and him from the asphalt. Robert was shaken and alive in more than one sense. Miraculously, the bike came out unscathed aside from a nick on the handlebar. The bus driver stood there with a scowl written on his face that read “are you fucking kidding me?” Eventually he saw that Robert was avoiding him he started up and trolled off.

Almost at the same time as the crash I saw through the window of the bus Eva and Luca on the street corner opposite to us so I made a mad dash while Katie and Robert’s friend were taking care of him. His booboo’s weren’t too bad so he opted for round number three on the bike after Katie made it adamantly clear that she has $400 invested in this bike and she needs to get it out of it. Robert agreed that he would take responsibility and off he slowly rolled this time.

KT: I was shaking. Seriously shaking. He was fine, so I wasn’t concerned about his well being. I was concerned about my bike! She had been between my legs for the past 3 months, I had shared intimate and serene moments with her, and here was a stranger dumping her in the middle of the street for all to see. I got very serious with Robert, and after a few minutes of friendly debate, I let him try again.

I grabbed Eva and Luca and briefed them on the chaos that had just ensued and the five of us hung around until Robert returned. He ended up giving Katie an $80 deposit and said that he would come by tomorrow to pony up the rest.

Robert and his friend left and the four of us went for a coffee before they had to reach a train for their trip to Hoi An.

I still hadn’t found any buyers for my bike and was beginning to get a little desperate. We were leaving in two days and I was yet to nab any full-paying interests. I had my bike up on three forums and no bites. One of the workers at our hotel, who also wished to purchase my bike at $100 said he knew a mechanic that might be interested. Although I knew that would mean I would be getting middled. The mechanic would want to buy it cheap and then sell it to a tourist. I agreed to meet him at out hotel at six which I missed because we bumped into our German friends. I wasn’t too bent out of shape about it because I was putting all my faith in selling it retail.

When we got back to the hotel I apologized to the man and it turns out I missed the mechanic by five minutes. The manager and worker were sitting around and worked us with another round of money, money, money.
“Book your ticket to Sapa.”
“You want trip to Halong. One day tour.”
“Sell me your bike $100.”
Give me your bike. Souvenir. Souvenir.”

All to the point of extreme annoyance. As we were walking back to our room to drop some stuff off before dinner we told the manager that Katie had sold her bike so perhaps he would drop all the chatter. As we were about to walk up the stairs he says to Katie…

“You sell anything else?”
“Uhh No? What do you mean?” Katie replied.

With a seedy grin on his face the manager said, if you could really call him a manager, “You sell…you?”
We were overtaken with uneasiness and questionable brows “could he mean what he just said?”  We walked upstairs knowing that we had to get out of this hotel. That was the last straw. I was about to go downstairs and tear into him, but we decided to just forget it and move out. He could easily just say he was joking and it wasn’t worth the effort on our part. What a slimy piece of shit. We went upstairs and decided to check out tripadvisor.com and you wouldn’t believe what it had to say.
KT: & this wasn’t the first time he had made this kind of innuendo. When we were first moving in, he made sly “jokes” about “buying” me. We laughed it off, as two friendly Canadians will, assuming all is well and friendly. But this time was too much.

First off it was difficult to find anything about Violet 2 Hotel, which was because the hotel had recently changed its name! Oh I wonder why? On our nightstand there happened to be a price sheet for the beverages in the fridge, which, aside from the point, were three times more than the going rate. The pricing sheet happened to have the name AuLac Hotel on it – a couple of detectives we were typed that into the search bar and it came back with nothing but 1 out of 5’s. Oh GOD what did we get ourselves into? The search came back with headlines “SCAM HOTEL” “DO NOT STAY HERE” “DO NOT BOOK ANY TOURS THROUGH THIS HOTEL” Then we started reading through each one. It was everything that we had experienced although we hadn’t succumb to the pressure of manager.

We left to get Indian food from a little joint around the corner and tried to avoid him on the way down. That night we just walked around the town sticking to old quarter. We really didn’t get to explore Hanoi. We were too fixed on selling our bikes and spent all of our time in café’s posting and reading over emails. But our walk that night was nice. There is a lake in the middle of the old quarter and we went out for a walk in evening drizzle. After making a loop we went to get snacks to bring back home when we walked past the water puppet theatre. We had wanted to go in Ho Chi Minh City but never got around to it. So we bought a couple of tickets for the next night, 4th row and center at five dollars each. On the board outside it was posted that for an extra two dollars you could photograph the show and for a few more you could video tape. Not thinking much of this we carried on.

That night back at our hotel we sat on our balcony catching up on our blog until midnight. Our bikes sat outside of the hotel which we peered down on every time we heard a sound. Like I said, we didn’t trust this man and knowing that they were for sale we didn’t know what to think. I knew what I wanted to say to him. But I wasn’t sure what was going to come out when we tell him we are checking out a day early tomorrow morning. I heard some fiddling around downstairs so I peered over the edge. He was gearing up my bike revving it pretty good and then he took off down the street until he disappeared. I crossed my fingers. An hour or so later he had come back and we watched him pull Katie’s bike into our hotel. BUSTED! It made our blood boil. That sneaky S.O.B doing anything to make a buck. We slept with a little less comfortably that night as thoughts twisted through our heads.
KT: We got so worked up over this guy. A lot of the TripAdvisor reviews mentioned violence when he was confronted negatively, so we knew we had to tread lightly. At one point while we were sitting on the balcony, Louis’ bag fell off the counter inside the room and Lou JUMPED up and assumed fight stance. Our nerves were shot lol

Heading to Hanoi

Cat Ba Island – Hanoi, Vietnam
October 15, 2013

The next morning we packed and got ready to head for breakfast before catching a ferry to mainland, but Michael Douglas had to have one last tantrum, yep another fucking blown tire. Make that 17 mechanics now…or 18…I’ve honestly lost count. Whatever really. Another five dollars down the drain and with a deep inhale and exhale I calm myself and avoid taking an axe to Mr. Douglas. He’s one sadist son of bitch, that Douglas, and I’m counting the days until I unload him on another foreigner half enthused and half saddened by the completion of part one of our journey.

Travel Vietnam Cat Ba KT and room

View from our balcony

I pulled up to My Way and dagnabbit, the only two people there were the Italian couple, Frankie and Katia. We sat next to them and ordered our farewell breakfast on the island. It was too good to pass up. Especially since we have a long day ahead of us.

I was mid hash browns when the two Germans came moseying down the street and into the café. The six of us just laughed. Our party had closed down the restaurant last night and now here we were the only six at it once again. We all just rehashed our plans for the day. Each of us minutes or hours from departing the island.

Luca and Eva had read our blog the night before and paid us a wonderful compliment on its layout, look, and how the stories read with the exactitude of my speech. At least I took it as a compliment! I think?

Goodbye to our new friends!

Goodbye to our new friends!

The ride off the island was nice and so was the ferry ride to mainland. Although the ride from mainland to Hanoi was about as bad as the ride out of Ho Chi Minh City. What can I say? I think it’s only fitting that the first and last days of our trips are just shit. We got into the old quarter around seven and pulled over on the side of the road to look at a map and search for a hotel. We weren’t even parked for a minute when a motorcycle rolled up to us.

“Hello! You looking to sell your bike?”
“Uhh yah! But we’re looking for a hotel right now.”
“I have a hotel! You want to see! I can show you right now.”
“Thank you, but we want to drive around the area and get comfortable with it to see where we want to stay.”
“It’s ok! No problem. I think you came from Ho Chi Minh riding to Hanoi right?.”
“Haha…yah we did! It’s such a beautiful country. But how do you know?”
“I see your ad on Craigslist. You were on Cat Ba, yes?”
Katie’s eyes rotate out of her body and onto me. Which I can now feel, because mine are gravitating towards hers. What the fuck we both mouthed to each other!
“Excuse me. What’s the population of Hanoi? How many people live here?”
“11 million” he said.
“Wow!”
“So how much are you selling your bikes for again?”
“I am looking for $250 and for the Yamaha $400”
“Oh so expensive.”
“I know. I know. But that’s what foreigners are paying for them.”

And it’s true. Craiglist.com, expatblog.com and travelswop.com have hundreds of bikes posted daily and we did our research before posting our bikes up on the sites. We were asking the going rate for our bikes; nothing more, but hopefully nothing less. But somehow I felt that Michael Douglas would be getting the last laugh on me. Ahhh and he did.

The Old Quarter of Hanoi is where we ended up. It’s a mix of one way streets, lakes, café stacked on top of cafés beside more cafés inside hotel after hotel after hotel with tourism pop-up shops all with the name, Sinh Café or some twisted variant. On one street back-to-back-to-back sat three shops “Sinh Café- Formerly Known As Sinh Tours; Sinh Café- Official Hanoi Headquarters; and Sinh Café- The Original Sinh Café”. There are without a word of a lie 130 or more Sinh Café’s all scrunched into a considerably quaint and affable backpacker district; each and every single one of them offering the same package. The same bus trips. Same locations. Same poorly translated English on their signs. And the same eager worker trying to hustle you in for just a quick trip… just one day Halong Bay… come inside. No…No sir, just out for a walk. No…No mam, not interested. No…No, not even tomorrow. No…No…No!! Leave me the fuck alone (insert aneurysm). That is the chaos of touristy backpacker Vietnam. And if you don’t get that in you immediately, it will take a toll on you. As you can read from just fourteen seconds and 35 words ago.

That night we spun through the cities webs in search of a hotel and ended up at Violet 2 Hotel with vibes that started off bad and ended up worse. It’s too bad, too. The hotel itself was the nicest one we had stayed in for the last 35 days on the road;

35 days translates into 19 different hotels. And even though our hotels were definitely not dreamy or spacious or well kempt or on anyone’s must sleep list- we enjoyed them all.  So it was the only time that the odds would catch up with us, especially since we are on the final leg of our Vietnam journey and the only hitches we’ve had have been with goddamn Michael Douglas. We slept like babies that night and woke to a nightmare.

NOTE: The lack of photos is because there was a lack of scenery between Cat Ba and Hanoi. It wasn’t the worst drive, but not one worth pulling over and snapping photos. It was a “let’s get there” type of driving day, not much of a scenic one. Sorry friends and fam! But you’re not missing much. More pics next time, promise! ;)

Kayakittyyakkityyaking & Hanging Out With Real People!

Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
October 13-14, 2013

We took the day off from each other to do our own things: biking the island, reading, writing, and sneaking off for our beloved breakfast, which was open (they had closed the previous day for a wedding-so we let it slide). But we ended up meeting at The Noble House in the evening. A hotspot for long haired and scruffy backpackers jonesin’ a taste of home. I’ve had a lot of bad luck with burgers across the country…but I always feel like my luck’s going to turn around. Optimistic? Ignorant? Who knows! I ordered the burger anyways. Bam! It came on a real bun. The patty was actually hand packed like a pressed baseball. The cheese melted and stuck to the top of the bun. Tomatoes. Cucumbers?

KT: My day took me climbing this random staircase for a  decent view

KT: My day took me climbing this random staircase for a decent view

Ok…I’ll give them that one- but hell it adds a nice crunch. I bit into it. The burger was spiced perfectly. Salted too. Ahhh my mouth is dancing! And it only took 2500km and just over a month and hopping two islands. And you know what? I wouldn’t do it again. I’ve already done it. There’s plenty more land to travel and shitty burgers for me to sink my teeth into and immediately regret…but hell, with shitty burgers comes great distance and utter beauty and amazement in between. So bring on the shitty burgers and sugary sweet ketchup and glorious mountainsides and cucumbers, wilted lettuce and ancient citadels and bread for buns and hidden lagoons, ’cause world…I’m coming to fuckin’ get you! And eatcha too! (KT: I’ll apologize for Louis’ dirty mouth. I wouldn’t dare try to censor his writing, so just close your eyes over the swears)

The Noble House is two parts restaurant and one part tour shop that it’s sandwiching. We walked downstairs to the second floor and had a little chat. We were looking at going on a kayaking trip. Bam! Done! We talked to a Malay for about a minute who was as stoked as we were and she told us that she’s even the guide for tomorrow. So we were pretty stoked. The itinerary ran like this:
8:15- meet and drive to harbour
8:30- boat out to pick up our kayaks in the middle of Lan Ha Bay
9:00- Kayak like motherfuckerssuckers through bearded mountains that jutted from the sea
12:00- eat a badass lunch and dive off the boat
2:00- kayak like mofo’s to hidden bays and deserted beaches
3:07- slice my dang finger on coral while a snake crawls up a cliff
4:00- lazy ride home through hundreds of these bulging islands
6:00- land a’hoy

We signed our names and threw it on visa… something like 52 bucks for the both of us. We’d travelled from the complete south to the farthest north and this had been our first booked trip. So we were both in balls deep. Just as we were leaving, the Italian couple we had met in the National Park popped in, along with their German friend Fabio. They signed up on the spot and kayaking was looking to be even more fun.

DAY 34- Kayakittyyakitty

We woke up at something like seven. Set off for breakfast at our favourite breaky joint “My Way”. Ate some banging breakfast. I have no clue where the chef learned to cook with such western flair, but the hash browns were out of this world. Fried julienned potatoes served in a birds nest. They even had real catsup. We scarfed and raced off to join the tour. (KT: When I asked him for Maple Syrup, he was perplexed. But he wrote down my strange request, so perhaps the next Canadians to amble through might get some good ole Maple Syrup on their French Toast!)

We slunk into the tour bus and turned on the Vietnamese air conditioning aka slid the windows open. The ride was short and soon we stepped onto a wooden vessel. Upstairs we plopped on some cushions and just basked. Drawing away from shore the seascape was just as hopping as land. In the bay, we cruised past a floating neighbourhood that mirrored one on land. Bobbing shanty’s strapped to dozens of barrels fixed with corrugated tin roofs and patched with tarp wherever fixing was needed, around the perimeter planks created networks of walkways that led to hatcheries, docks, and lounge areas. Scrappy sea dogs made the width of the plank home. Loafing on a pile of fishy nets or barking at each boat that passed at the edge of their world, foreign of grass or sprinting through a plush field with flying tongue and drool.

Travel Vietnam Cat Ba boating villages

We saddled up to this floating restaurant-cum-kayak rental and we all paired off into the battered school bus yellow kayaks. The water was still and blue and our path was surrounded by bushy lime mountains in the sea that we would have to navigate. We got Travel VIetnam Cat Ba boating KTcomfortable and started cutting through the water catching up to the guide then passing her as she kept a soft eye on the reckless gang. There were a total of  eight kayaks in the water all flowing at our own leisure. Steering alongside the jagged karst mountains the water had eaten away at the base creating a mushrooming effect that allowed you at times to glide under and through the prehistoric aquatic mountain-range. After paddling for a good while we came to the edge of a mountain. From a distance you could see shimmering blue piercing through a speck of rock and as we paddled closer the speck turned into an opening fit for a flightless canoe. It was a crescent opening that had eroded that led to a hidden inlet. Travel Vietnam Cat Ba kayakingMost of the people hopped out of their canoes to swim with it in hand, but I slid my body into the cavity and Katie swam me through. Passing under the jagged and bubbling limestone my face was mere inches away but I slid through unscathed. My eyes drew long and wide. My jaw followed. My body frozen. It felt as though I made it- all the while unknown that I was even in search. It was paradise. An unblemished paradise. Without an exit this 360 degree cove was our playground. I hopped out of the canoe to swim free with the others. Hedonism at its finest hour. (KT: The swimming was unbelievable. Using our life jackets as makeshift seats we floated, splashed, laughed, and dropped jaws.)

Travel Vietnam Cat Ba Kayaking KT

We left at our own leisure. Swimming our canoes through the small incision in the mountainside and back out to the Mysterious Lan Ha Bay that stretches out deeper and farther removed than the infamous Ha Long Bay. The scenery was pure magic.

After a few hours we ended back up on the boat for some good ol’ deserved eating and a dive off the second deck of the boat which took me a good measure to talk myself into. It’s an awkward feeling tricking your body into letting it jump 12 feet head first and that everything’s going to be just aces. I did though. And I got a few claps from the upper deck. And damn it felt good. Afterwards I thought about how I’d like to become a better diver and that it is something that I would really like to work on. It’s a beautiful and wild feeling being free and letting your body fly over an edge. It is very empowering. (KT: I didn’t dive. I’ve never truly been good at jumping into water without getting mass amounts of it up my nose, and now with my nose ring plugging my nose it’s that much more difficult. I did jump though! Exhilarating!)

Travel VIetnam Kayaing lou

The second bout we chugged an hour further north in the whooshing vessel and then slipped back into the kayaks to the sound of simplicity and the hues of cerulean.

After a good five hours of enjoying mixed water-sports the two of us were excited to be pampered by cushions and the ease and ingenuity of powered steering. The two of us sat on the lip of the boat and Katie read me Kerouac’s On The Road as we passed pureness in its most natural form.

Travel Vietnam Cat Ba boat chillin

Synchronicity On the Road

We haven’t met too many people on the road so far, well not many that we have really clicked with, aside from Max, Alex and Emily from Phu Quoc but that was only for one night and was about two months ago. I chalk most of that up to us not being partiers or club/bar goers. That, and we are usually just hungry and tuckered by the time we end up in a city after spending the last 8-10 hours on an eight inch wide piece of plastic. Plus the comfort of traveling with a partner always adds a little to the “I just feel like staying in” category. Or maybe it’s just us. Could it be? No!

To our surprise we met two couples…and on the same freaking day have you. Cat Ba island turned out to be a hotbed for us. A Cornucopia of couples. A delicacy of duos. A plethora of pairs. A goddamn hotbed I said! The first was Italian couple which I already introduced to you. Both full of life and world travelled and with cigarette in hand they threw out stories and cursed and laughed and whooped it up. Real genuine folk. And the other a tender couple from Germany. Sweet natured, worldly, and well spoken with eloquent tongue and trustworthy. And we can’t forget Fabio. Even though he hasn’t said much more than a few sentences. The seven of us were all aged within six years of each other and clicked immediately, all engulfed in the travel talk that spanned globally to each continent as if set with sail and precise winds. It was the beauty of travel all pieced together like origami- each fold working with exactness like the natural flow of uninhibited conversation.

“Did you know they have machines in Japan that dispense used panties?” said Eva with excitement in her eyes.
It caught everyone’s attention over the hum of friendly table-side banter. I had known about the machines. I had travelled to Japan twice for visa renewals during my tenure as an English teacher in Korea.
“I know! It’s wild isn’t it?” I said.
“On the machine”, Eva continued, “there was a picture of a woman wearing panties with a little stain on it.”
We all sat around discussing if we thought the stain was real or what the smell was or how they made all intrigued with discerning scowling squeamish grins.
“Imagine the factory that makes the smell for the panties” said Frankie in his tonguey Italian “scientists searching for just the right smell to match it with used panties.”
We all let out some sort of ooh or cringe.

It’s some visual isn’t it. A lab full of Japanese men dressed in white gowns with furrowed brows and noses sniffing vials with quick short nods knowing how close they are to nailing that pheromonal scent. They call their wives and say they are going to be late for dinner

To give you a visual...

To give you a visual…

because they are so close to perfection and they must keep working. Oh, you know that strong Japanese work ethic. Perfection cannot wait. And can you imagine the joys and cheers when they add a dash of cat urine and splash of oyster juice and they bury their noses deep into the vial and whiff and their eyes light up like Japanese storefront. They drop everything and burst through the doors of their perfume factory and rush out, white gowns flapping in the wind, full sprint to the closest bar for a round of Sapporo and a bout of celebratory karaoke.

The restaurant was closing so we all said our goodbyes. Each couple heading to a different corner of Vietnam. Us to the mountains of Sapa. The Italians to a typhoon currently hitting the land of fabric and tailors that is Hoi An. And the German couple to hunt for Caves 50km outside of Dong Hoi. And a lone and silent German who we never found out where his journey was to take him.

His name was Fabio. That night while saying goodbyes he came back to our room and purchased one of my hats. It was my first sale and it emphasized that there are people out there that dig my hats. If a backpacker on a budget spends his rent and food money on one of my hats then I’m doing something right. I walked him downstairs after taking a congratulatory first sale picture and handshake. I thanked him and assured him that after I make my first million I will send him a hat on the house for being the first to support my independent venture.

L is officially in the hat business!

L is officially in the hat business!

Freaking Keys, Opulent Hash Browns, 70 Year Old Bear Hugs, and a Hike

Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
October 11-12, 2013

Do you have a key that fits into anyone else’s lock? How about a car key? Imagine trying it in a 1996 Dodge Stratus one day and BAM it unlocks. Then you put the key into the ignition and off you go with a sweet set of wheels. What would you do if someone just up and stole your 1996 Dodge Stratus?

I don’t know the odds, but I was under the impression one key for one lock, with an immeasurable grey area of chance or error. Meaning one key opens two locks. I don’t know what the statistic is, but I know that I have put the wrong key in the door hundreds of times, probably a thousand in my life and it’s never worked. Think of all the times fumbling in the dark. Coming home drunk. Stupidity as a child. Then you have the senile and bling thrown in the mix as well. If I’ve done it even ten times in my life and there are shy of seven billion people on this planet that have done it as well (which averages out all the people who have done it in the hundreds to the people who live in far regions of the world where ox are vehicles and houses made of mud and sticks are yet to be padlocked) then we are sitting at 7 billion times 10= 70 billion times. Yah. I know!

Our first room on Cat Ba

Our first room on Cat Ba

Well this morning. And it’s always this morning. There is nothing like starting the day with a hiccup. And my hiccups these days have been brought on continuously by Michael Douglas. Over the last two months Michael Douglas has brought me to the highest peaks and the lowest lows, ya dig!

I lost my keys. Like a fool. I scorned myself for the child I am “you idiot”. That was meant for me. But if you feel like you’ve done something stupid lately- then lay it on yourself too, my brother.  I lost my key. Fast forward twenty minutes to one fatty sweated t-shirt; one room flipped upside down; two cadavered bags gutted on the sidewalk like a 1920’s Chicago massacre. Which is exactly how I felt inside. And like the cynical untrusting man I am I was hooked on the hotel manager pinching the key from my bike after I had left it in the slot accidentally over night. Which is a fool thing to do in the first place. But as soon as those thoughts popped it I forced them right out with an internal apology. It was my fault. And after I painted him guilty he came to my saviour.

The manager, who by now has witnessed my stress and sweaty t-shirt, runs into his hotel to grab his set of keys. Coming to my aid he put his key in my slot. I don’t know what kind of bike he had and it really doesn’t matter because the key didn’t work. He grabs his friends set of keys, who’s now a bystander, and fiddles with it in the slot. Nope! Then he grabs Katie’s key and puts it into her ignition, which it obviously rev’s up, and then he takes it out and magically it stays running and then fiddles the key into my ignition. And would you know it my Honda kicked in shining that beautiful green neutral square. I turned the key and BAM it started revving. How the hell did that just work? I drive an early 2000 Honda Win and Katie drives an early 2010 Yamaha Nouvo. I’m still enamored. I’d love to know the statistics of this feat occurring. I don’t want to do the research or math myself, but if someone knows it and you want to contact me that’d be wonderful and appreciated. Louisstroud@gmail.com

Travel Vietnam Cat ba us smile

So the bike is running and the guy offers to run down the street to get me a copy. Ahh this is where he gets me I think this was his plot all along, to make a few dollars off the key. Aha!! I’m getting too suspicious for my own good. How the hell would he have known that her key was going to work. I guess I’m just destined not to trust this guy. Which is good because he turned out to be an asshole the next day. Well maybe I brought that on too.

We left the hotel after I got the bike working in search of breakfast. And what a breakfast. Our morning soon turned into an obsession. Taking a break from the eggs and baguettes we found a restaurant serving up western style breakfast and great coffee. None of that syrup or corn replacement we’d begrudgingly sipped to quench our parchment. Vietnam has great coffee, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that they don’t always serve it to you. Like I’ve said to Katie a handful of times “Vietnam is the land of great food prepared without love – and the same goes for coffee”.  The night prior we found a restaurant-cum-café on a walk and made plans to head then in the morning. So we did.

We ordered a couple of ice coffees, com dung com sua, without sugar or milk, which I have grown accustom too. Pure black gold. Waiting for the coffees we flipped through the breakfast menu. Our eyes lit up to stacks of pancakes & French toast & hash browns & crispy bacon, oh GOD crispy bacon & Denver omelets & everything looked holy and

Only a delicious breakfast can achieve this dopey grin ;)

Only a delicious breakfast can achieve this dopey grin ;)

wonderful and they were all laid out in little neat combos that had bites of everything all in the range of three bucks. A splurge from the buck or two we had been used to for our routine eggs and baguette, but hell, we’re on vacation. Even if our entire life feels like a vacation. “When in Rome” I believe is the saying. We conquered our meals like we had just been given a clean bill of health. Which is probably far from the truth since we’ve been living off eggs and bread for the last three months. I think I’ve lost twenty pounds already. It’s a wonderful diet if you’re looking for one and you don’t think the whole carb-free Atkins or the don’t eat anything with a shadow diet will work for you. Eggs and bread. BAM! Do it! Perhaps consult a physician first seeing as though I am just a backpacker and not an actual bankrolled doctor.

After our breakfast we set out for a new room. We heard about a secluded bungalow on the beach that was said to be cheap and rundown. It sounded perfect. We lit out and found the land we were looking for although it looked a lot nicer than how it sounded. We got off our bikes and went up to the reception. She pulled out a pricing sheet. It was somewhere around $60/night and we were under the impression that it was in the $10 ballpark. It turns out all the comments had been outdated and the bungalows had been redone and thusly re-priced. What a flop. (KT: I couldn’t believe it. I was so bummed! I was looking forward to some little craphole bungalow with a beach setting for backpacking prices. Not a beachside resort with flat screen TVs! Who needs a TV when the sea is at your feet??) So we turned around…away from the beaches and found a new hotel on the same strip as the night prior, but larger, cleaner, and closer to the beach. We talked the guy down to $10/night for four nights. We unpacked, jumped back on our bike and went straight back to the bungalows which were located on the most beautiful cove and set up camp. It was magical. A hidden treasure. A beach that you see in movies on tropical deserted islands. An oasis where people slave the entire year just to dip their toes. We swam. Yes, swam. And it was glorious. (KT: & of course neither of us snapped any pics. Dopes.)

DAY 32- breakfast melt down, oh and climbing an awesome mountain

We woke up with breakfast on our minds. I couldn’t stop thinking about those damn hash browns, I had to have them. So when we pulled up in front and saw that it was all locked up, you can guess how upset we both were. We actually stood around for 15 minutes with guffaw looks on our faces like we had no clue what to do next. And to be honest we didn’t. I knew the restaurant next door would be shit compared to our heavenly plate we chowed down on just yesterday. And guess what? The food next door was shit. I’ve told myself many times to travel without expectations because if you build yourself up – you can easily be let down. And boy were we low. Eggs and baguettes just didn’t seem the same. (KT: Turns out the owner of our breakfast joint was at a wedding that morning, so we forgave him hehe)

With indifferent bellies we went to trek through Cat Ba National Park. A mountain range with the slogan “Save The Langurs”, an endangered monkey which is  apparently tastier Travel Vietnam Cat Ba Hospital Cavethan it is cute. On the way there we pulled over at an entrance to a Hospital Cave which is exactly as its moniker sounds. We paid the seventy cents and climbed a makeshift staircase to an opening on the side of a mountain. A “guide” showed us the lights to switch on and said for us to turn them off after we exit. Inside was the equivalent to any horror movie setting; dark, eerie echoes, creepy shadows, a dozen completely empty concrete rooms except for one with a ladder that led to nowhere, and an unnerving feeling that you weren’t alone. Aside from its spooky air it was extremely interesting that it was once in fact an actual functioning hospital inside a mountain. People shot in combat were stitched up in these rooms. People bled on these floors. People died between these walls while some people were healed. Although everyone that found their way into this hollowed mountain had been affected one way or another by the war. We crept out as another group walked in so we left the lights on for them.

A kitty we met

A kitty we met

We got back on our bikes and zipped off.  About one kilometer from the national park a couple of men were having bike problems and waved me over. I assumed so one could hitch a ride. I was correct. A man in his seventies hopped on and without any Travel VIetnam butterflycommunication I just drove. He was wearing a green jacket that had Vietnamese on the back so I assumed he worked at the park. Maybe a concession booth. As I closed in on the park entrance he pointed for me to make a left, so I passed the gate and kept rolling. For the next twenty minutes I drove this man from one end of the island to the other, some twenty kilometers weaving along the Cliffside. Halfway into the ride I got the feeling that he was in pursuit of reaching the ferry. The one we came in on. Well it was his lucky day. It was a beautiful day and with his seventy year old arms wrapped around me I took him all but one kilometer from the port and swapped him onto another mans bike. Climbing off my bike he Travel VIetnam butterflieshad the biggest smile on his face. Not knowing what to do he stuck out his hand and kissed me on the cheek. We had not spoken a word to each other the entire ride, but he left with a thank you. My shirt had become damp from the grip he had around my waist, with one of his hands resting ever so close to my cough. I wonder if it occurred to him that I drove forty minutes out of my way when I was at the park entrance? Where did he think I was heading? As he climbed onto the other bike I saw that his jacket had three gold star lapels.  I wondered if they were accomplishments from the war and what he had to do in battle to get them. I thought about all the horrors he has seen. As I rode away I saw another man riding in with a jacket fully decorated ten times over. (KT: It was quite hilarious watching Lou tow this guy around the island. Then when the guy kissed Lou on the cheek…I thought I would die laughing. What an adorably cute and hilarious thing to witness. The man was so grateful and he just wasn’t sure how to show it – a peck on the cheek does it!)

Ribbit

Ribbit

The ride back to the mountain was just as beautiful. We parked, paid the fee, and started Travel Vietnam Ngu Lam Peakclimbing. The point of the climb was to reach a peak sitting at an arguable 1200 feet. We reached the top easily with a few skipped heartbeats. The peak opened up to unbelievable 360 degree views of mountains, mountains and more damn mountains. On top of the peak was a looming tower with a dated wooden plaque reading “Dangerous No climbing” which are the exact words that stir the adventure in me. I slipped through a metal bar and onto the staircase to Katie’s chagrin, although I know it was purely out of love (I amTravel Vietnam Cat Ba lizard loveable you know), and climbed the rusted iron steps up five flights to a deck that was more of a work in progress. It was like they ran out of planks to finish the top so they just said fuck it and threw up a danger sign instead. The view though. It was worth the risk. Alone at the top of the world free to think about what all men think about. (KT: Yeah, I did NOT want him climbing up there. “There’s a sign for a REASON, Lou!”. Then I dropped it, and let him do his thing with a promise to be careful while I sunned myself like a cat on a rock. It was great.)

Trave Vietnam Cat Ba Peak

When I climbed down the group from the hospital cave had arrived. This time we actually introduced ourselves and traded travel stories. Frankie and Katia were an Italian couple traveling with Fabio, a German that had linked up. They had just came from Laos and told us about their route, the absence of a culinary experience, and the unrivalled countrysideTravel Vietnam Peak US beauty. We all snapped photos and descended together just as a lengthy and garish group were arriving, and then another, and another, and even another. The peak had snug room for ten and that’s generously allowing everyone a few feet of space to do what you do at the top of a mountain – enjoy the view. We had passed 20-30 all within a span of four minutes trying to snake ourselves down a set of shifty and unhinged ladders. Our timing couldn’t have been calculated more perfectly. We all walked down together and parted ways at the entrance. But that wouldn’t be the last of them.

Travel VIetnam Cat Ba National Park

We’re in Cat Ba Beaches!

Heading to Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
October 10, 2013

Have you ever heard of Halong Bay? It’s east of the capital, Hanoi, and rests as a port-cum-destination spot. Rich in beauty, tranquility, and one of the reasons that swayed my decision to visit Vietnam. At least that’s how all the pictures on the computer portray it to be and today was the day that it was all coming down to.  After travelling 2300km across the country we had another 150 and we’d be there. All across the country we talked to folks doing the same journey- a mere fraction of them on motorcycles, but scaling the entire country North to South/South to North nonetheless. Although not quite as badass as us. We asked and received a lot of feedback about the famed Halong Bay and a consensus came out that it was a filthy port, touristy and over priced. Wow! Dreams just came crashing down on me! Well, not really, but taken back a little. After looking at a map, you can see an island further out past the bay of Halong. An island that was surrounded by a Roy Litchensen painting of untouched islands. It was like Halong jacked up on steroids.  I had to go there. And to make matters even more in our favour, an even closer port took us to this new island. It was cheaper, less touristy, and less of a drive on the AH1. Fucking jackpot! So in the morning we had a new destination, one that included hopping across two islands and riding the span of each until we came to the farthest eastern tip. To a land of exotic langurs, white sandy beaches, national parks, 360 degree sea views, and a network of newly paved roads that mirror that of any Italian backstreet raceway.  A land called Cat Ba Island.

The road out from Son Tay to Hanoi was straight forward. 50km on a straightaway that lead to the south of Hanoi. Then since motorcycles aren’t allowed on the highway we had to skirt the perimeter and ride underneath the underpass stopping at every red light for 30 to 50 seconds only to be held up at the next. Lovely. Quite the dynamic from the past month on the road, but it’s all part of the battle. And in order to get the pie you have to buy the ingredients.

We had this to look forward to

We had this to look forward to

Along the side of the highway waves of women were perched on the railing like crows, all scrolled out for miles, all selling the same fruit. Something that resembled a lime. I didn’t really get it. It just seems a little trite to sit around all day, day after day, with no way of standing out from your competitor. It was a crapshoot that someone’s tires would stop in the 20 feet of highway you occupy, one foot further and it’s someone else’s limes they are going home with. Not one person had a sign. No one had a deal going on. At least no visible deals. And no possible way to know anything about the said limes unless I pulled over and asked. But then I’d feel compelled to pull up to the next and try to get a better deal.

And this!

And this!

Eventually we exited at a roundabout and found ourselves on the right path after being lost and grumpy for an hour or more. And would you believe it, as soon as we turned off the highway the lime salesladies morphed into baguette salesladies but the technique was the same. And on it rolled for a few kilometers with a dozen vendors all selling the same buns. We passed them too. Then a stretch of restaurants with workers all standing street side with fans in their hands causing a big stir and waving people on in. We zoomed right past. The road was another straightaway – 80km in 30 kph traffic. You do the math. I had my eyes glued on every marker counting the seconds it took to complete a single kilometer. Hai Phong was the name of the port we were to catch our first ferry and it seemed like we would never get there. But we obviously did.

The town of Hai Phong was a refreshing break from the monotonous escape of inner city blues and battling trucks, traffic and pollution. We probably couldn’t have spent more than a day there, but it was still refreshing. We navigated the town for thirty minutes trying to find the port swerving through back roads, uwee’s, and on and off  and on and off the bike

Our babies waiting for the boat

Our babies waiting for the boat

fixed on the cursed GPS until we finally found the road. A road that turned out to be pure shit. We were under the impression that the road to the ferry would be paved with gold, saddled up right along the sparkling blue waters filled with flapping birds and flopping fishes the entire way until we rode our bikes onto our maiden voyage that would sail us to our deserted island. NO! It was nothing like that. The road to the ferry was an industrial wasteland. Surrounded by huge factories and ship yards with mountains of colorful shipping containers pieced together like children’s Lego blocks. I once saw a home built from twelve pieced together shipping containers spaced together like two T’s pointing outward and an open family room in the center covered by a corrugated tin awning. A true work of art in sustainable development. Driving past, I thought about building my own container home in nature. Three stacked, one on the other, with a spiral staircase running from the ground on up and access to the roof to gaze out at the tops of trees  and sliding doors that open up to your own environmental oasis and full windows on each end to let in buckets of natural light. But my reality was dust blinding our faces from the debris from a thousand and one trucks schlepping product A from country Z and every letter in between. We pushed on until the road died at the water’s edge and then found our ferry by gazing down the shore.

WE MADE IT! ...to ferry #1

WE MADE IT! …to ferry #1

It was cheap. Three dollars would to get us to the first island of Cat Hai. We docked after a short effortless expenditure and geared up to cross the island before boarding another ferry to our destination. We drove across in one slug and saw everything the island had on display. It was an island that was on the brink – but I couldn’t tell of what. I felt like they Travel Vietnam making friendswere building the whole island over although it was still in its primary stages. Which is odd because the island wasn’t born yesterday. I had an eerie feel that the island could never sustain growth because every time they got ahead, a natural disaster occurred that set them back to ground zero. Cat Hai is filled with grandparents that look older than the island itself all sitting around like containers of paint. That, and a bunch of workers in fields and in floating tubs at sea tending to their tendables. We found the ferry and boarded for $2.50.

We docked at Cat Ba and road off climbing the forested bluffs with bleating mountain goats, then dipping to sea level to cruise against beaches and then zigzagging up and up

Gross bug that got stuck behind Louis' eye

Gross bug that got stuck behind Louis’ eye

along those sexy s-curves that skirt mountains like the brim of a hat. We rode for thirty minutes until construction brought us to a halt. They were blasting mountainside to give way to wider roads and an antique crane was using its arm to sweep boulders off to the side. We played cards and waited. When it finished we passed and cruised into town and found an $8 hotel after the manager hailed us on the street. It was on the 5th floor and overlooking the harbour. We saved $2 by cheaping out on the AC – we figured the breeze would be just fine. It was. We ended up at a restaurant filled with foreigners. The most we had seen since Hoi An. It was called the Noble House and we would end up there for dinner almost every night.

Travel Vietnam Cat Ba clearing roads

We had been riding since 8am and hadn’t stopped until 7pm. So we dedicated that evening to sleep. Only to have Michael Douglas screw me in the morning. And it wouldn’t be his last.

On the road again…see ya Dong Hoi!

Dong Hoi, Vietnam to Tan Ky, Vietnam to Son Tay, Vietnam
October 8-9, 2013

I’m not going to say it’s about time…but it was about damn time. If you have been following our posts you’d know that Michael Douglas and myself have not always been on the

See ya Dong Hoi

See ya Dong Hoi

greatest of terms – but as of late he has been the eggs to my baguette. No problems. No hiccups. Just pure cruising. Which is why it was about damn time for Katie’s bike to hiccup. And in my kind of fashion. She had begun to strap her bag on for our extended day on the road when the hotel manager came out and pointed to her flat tire. BAM! BAZINGA! OOOOH! OOOH It was sweet! I mean, I’m sorry baby…really, honest and sincere. Ok is she gone? Yes? Well damn I take it all back! WOOHAA! Michael Douglas high-fived me while Katie unstrapped her pack and left to get her tire patched. All in all it was a dollar and a twenty minute set back, but it was sweet. A beautiful day to start a long haul on the road.

KT Edit: Yep, I finally knew what it felt like to wake up to a flat tire. I was annoyed. I didn’t wan to deal with it. Ohhhhh bike problems, curse you!

Since we fell in love with the ease and simplicity of the Ho Chi Minh Highway over the chaos and bedlam of the AH1 – we hopped at the chance to get right back on Uncle Ho and ride his ass all the way north. For the first hour it was all the beauty we expected from retracing our tire marks from lore…and the seven hours that followed were possibly even more majestic.

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The whole trip long I’ve battled the battery game with my camera and every time I reach the epic most unbelievable view – the ol’ camera says sorry folks this one is for your eyes only. Either way, I saw, lived, rode & experienced the pure enchantment that is the HCM Highway. All the roaring climbs and gliding descents, the hairpin turns, forests so lush andSAMSUNG CSC never-ending that they all eventually blend into one immense emerald ocean. Passing villages that consist of only two neighbours and towns that rest their heads along fulcrum of a mountain. And millions of everything between here and your ideas of civilization. And as you ride past these slow, other worldly towns you wonder how anyone ever settled here and said this is where I am going to live…and actually did it. It’s unbelievable beauty. I just couldn’t imagine the obstacles of creating a world in the middle of nowhere. It’s surreal. Perfect. Calm. It’s everything I have been searching for. The entire day was filled with wonderment. All 350 kilometers of it.

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We ended up in the stop over town of Tan Ky after checking out a couple creepy hotels SAMSUNG CSCwith child drawings on the walls, cobwebs so large I thought the room had already been occupied, and stucco replaced with wallpaper. We apologized and found another. We ate dinner for the sake of it. It had been 9 ½ hours since we had last eaten and I think I ate the freshest chicken in town. Behind me the next batter up was being beheaded as we ate. He didn’t sound too pleased.

The next morning we woke up and could only find a coffee joint. Neither of us were really hungry so after taking out some money from the bank, we hit the road. Yesterday we hadn’t hit a single stop sign in or along our eight hour drive and today seemed like it was going to follow suit. Our destination was an unknown town called Son Tay. It was 50km from downtown Hanoi and 300km from Sapa, a mountain town that we heard had an SAMSUNG CSCamazing stretch of highway leading up to its mouth. The ride was, well less. It was still beautiful. And the day was great. But we had began to emerge from the untouched landscape. You could begin to tell we were heading for the nations capital. The ride was nice though. No traffic and the two red lights we approached turned green before we got to them. And then it happened. Our first red light. That mother scratcher. Over 500km without being forced to stop and bam it hits you. Well after that 17 second hiccup we got back on the road and eventually made it to Son Tay found a hotel and hung out in a café chatting with family and writing postcards until it was time to settle.

We also changed our flight. We decided to head to the island of Cat Ba over Sapa. A plan that would save us two days of travel and a smoother plan of execution out of Vietnam before our visas expired. So after being landlocked for the past week it was back to the beach.

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