Halong Bay – Malaysia – Nepal

Jan 30. – Feb 1.

This night I have a real hard time falling asleep. I do so around 4 am and 2,5 hours later I get the wakeup call from the reception. I ask them to move the boat trip to the next day and turn around again. Getting up around 11 I take the camera and go out – first target: coffee. I get one at the seaside and recognize it is cold and foggy – I feel tiny and cold drops in my skin when I leave the coffee and walk towards the bridge to old Halong. On the way two security guys stop me and invite me for tea – we have a little chat too and they recommend to me to cross the bridge to see the old town. I do so, look around the local fish market and the bay.
The landscape is really breathtaking and the fog is just the right surrounding for it. While I watch two guys fishing – I try to but in this method I am hopeless – a woman offers a two hours boat trip in a small fishing boat for 2,5U$. I paid 35 for 8 hours on a tourist boat. I am hungry and decide to search something to eat, anyway the trip tomorrow has to be fucking amazing anyway I think. Looking back I can only recommend to everyone to go to the fish market and get a trip there.
I get a snack and the guys where I eat offers to bring me back to the bridge which is a few kilometers way – for free! Hospitality and kindness everywhere.
After this very long and exhausting walk I make a short stop at the bakery and then go to the hotel. The room is amazing so I make a shanty evening at the there. Tonight I fall asleep early and sleep very well.
Next day I finally get up early enough to make the booked trip to the famous Halong bay by water. We go out with a pretty nice boat to make the first stop at an insanely illuminated cave. Second cave costs extra admission (5$). Most of us are a little pissed becaused having paid pretty much (a quarter of what I spent in Vietnam myself) already. Second stop we can hire bamboo boats to make a boat trip (6$ – 1 hour) who does not take a boat has to wait on a platform in the ocean with ships around blocking most of the view. Here I really start becoming friends with a Californian guy called Jonas. While we chat the hour passes quickly.
Even though the tour is mostly a scam I am happy I made it and if it was only to meet Jonas here – and of course the scenery is breathtaking too. I wonder how this might look like in sunlight under a blue sky. Coming back to the hotel pretty tired I catch the next Minibus to Hanoi. I got a ticket for tomorrow, to Kathmandu. Even though the last days had been mostly covered with great experiences with great people I am still a little sick of those who only recognize a walking dollar when they see me. On the bus I meet a guy from Barcelona whom I had met on the boat already. We chat all the way and take a dorm together in Hanoi.
Next day in the morning I find myself walking to the bus stop at 4.30am. The bus is fast because of the lack of traffic at this time and when I get out about two km away from the airport 5 Motorbike drivers jump on me shouting “One Dollar, One Dollar, One Dollar!” I shout back at them not to have terrorist money and avoid touching it whenever I can. Unfortunately this is my last memory of Vietnam. At the airport I have to pay 72$ to check in any luggage. Already having paid 220 Euro for the ticket I feel a little reminded at yesterdays boat ride. Fortunately I buy two sandwiches and drink a lot of water before passing the security check. Either of it is incredibly expensive at the airplane. Air Asia is a scam even the space between my seat and the next one is less than 20cm. Looking at their homepage they argue the luggage price of 72$ with the fast rising petrol prices. That rise must have been so fast that no one yet heard of it I think.

As soon as I get out of the plane in Kuala Lumpur everything is just great. Being surrounded by Hindus and Muslims the questions “whereareyoufromwhatsyourname” become common again and I feel at home. I pass the immigration and make this most southern place (N02°45’) I have ever been to the 50th country of which I have officially crossed the border. By the way it has the most beautiful money since the old dutch Gulden I have ever seen too. After walking around in and around the airport, drinking coffee and buying more sandwiches I leave the country again 3,5 hours later – and feel a little sad about it. I like what I have seen – Malaysia seems to be great!
Finally I arrive at Kathmandu airport around 8pm being surprised by helpful, kind and joking immigration officers. Everything takes ages though and when I leave the airport after collecting my luggage its nearly 10pm. Anyway my friend Bijay is waiting for me – we hug each other being very pleased to see each other finally in Nepal. We jump into the next taxi, go to the guesthouse Bijay had already organized, and finally I get real amazing proper food. I love Nepal!


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.