Vientiane (Laos) – Ninh Binh (Vietnam) – Halong Bay

Jan 26. – 29.

The following day I spend mostly at the sand bank in the Mekong and enjoy the river. In the evening I am picked up at the Indian restaurant by a minibus a 5pm taking me to the bus stand. Way there takes us an hour because of traffic and another hour we have to wait for the bus to leave. The guys who manage the bus are very rude telling me where I have to sit and what to do but I ignore them as several other foreigners do to (later I find out the guys are all Vietnamese). I sleep not bad in the bus and we arrive at the border to Vietnam (not even half the way to Hanoi) at half past 6 next morning. Border procedure takes 4 hours only and is not very relaxed – bus is a sleeper bus so again we lie down around 11am and continue the journey. Aircondition is blowing directly on my head and I get a bad nausea in the following hours so I decide to jump of the bus at Nimh Binh around 100km before Hanoi after a journey of 650km – at 7pm(!).
After 26 hours shuttle, bus and border. I am done. I get of the bus and a taxidriver tries to convince me that I need him to get to the hotel – my GPS tells me there are 4 hotels less than 250m away one of them being directly opposite side of the street. Thank you but no thank you. I don’t feel like playing games at the moment I need a bed. The first hotel is to expensive and the second one is run by a guy who smile and takes out a flute when he sees I am carrying a guitar. Around 7U$ are within the budget and the room is okish so I just fall over into the bed even though it smells like alcohol in the lobby.
Next day in the morning I start exploring the town looking for breakfast – I can get soup with noodles and chicken or pizza. After running around searching for something more breakfast like for an hour I decide for the pizza…. On the way back to the hotel a guy just around the corner of my place invites me for a tea to his restaurant. He knows a soccer team from Vienna and Mozart – I am impressed. Lonely planet says Tam Kok just around the corners, also called Halong in the rice paddles is a beautiful sight. Kiem Dang, the guy who invited me for the tea organizes a motorbike for me to take me there.
Its really amazingly beautiful. It’s a canyon with rice fields around the river and there are several places where the river flows through caves under the mountains. The entrance fee is high and I either had to rent a boat with an old looking young girl to row it. She rows with her legs like she is in training for the Olympic games in leg rowing. I am pretty sure such a discipline does not exist and after some time I take a paddle in the boat and start braking her by rowing in the other direction which slows her down. Still we pass the amazing sight much too quickly to really enjoy and take proper pictures. A little before the small harbor she slows down two times to point out a dog and a goose for me only a moment before she asks me for a tip. I give her a short laugh and say good bye as we reach the harbor a little before sunset. I walk back to town through the rice fields and enjoy the sight – in the evening I take the guitar and go to my new friend Kiem who is really amazingly kind. I make some music next to the noise street and then we go to his computer to chat using google translate which works amazingly well.
I sleep very well the following night, have pizza breakfast in the morning an jump on the next bus to Hanoi not without having another tea with Kiem. I am lucky to catch a very fast bus so arriving in Hanoi bus station I am still motivated enough to catch the next bus to Halong Bay – a sight I really wanted to see in Vietnam. The bus to Halong Bay takes ages and makes many detours to deliver and collect people. It’s a local bus, scam free, kind people and enough space for me to move my fingers and my toes. When we make a stop after about two hours I am really happy to be able to move a little. The bus driver laughs a lot when he sees me jumping around and invites me to sit in the front where I can really move! Away from the tourist track again, people are incredibly nice again. A little later I get off the bus close to Halong Bay.
There are a few taxis at the bus stand and a guy who speak a little English. 2 seconds later a couple stops asking if they can help to translate. Wat thé phúc? I think and immediately start loving the people here. The taxi to the hotel area is offered to me for 60k Dong and even though the Meter shows 72 I only have to pay 60. Again I am surprised not having seen the hotel rooms yet. When I see them I think “way to expensive” with huge beds really really clean, nice furniture, sat TV neverending very hot water, free WIFI, fridge, a nice view… Well its 8 Euro per night and I accept in the second. Making a little walk through town I recognize everybody smiling and joking with me. I ask a guy who I selling mussels as a snack if he has a coffee. Of course he says, jumps on the bike and comes back a minute later with a great smile and an even greater coffee. Hospitality here seems to be the best. After the coffee I get dinner at a bakery and soon return to the hotel. I quickly book a Halong Bay tourist boat trip at the reception for the next morning before going to bed.