Our bus was due to depart much earlier than hers. WHen it came in and they started loading, we put our bags on board and went in to secure our seats, hopefully towards the front, since David and Amy now realise it is more likely to get sickening in the back. It was a double-decker sleeper bus, which is really a normal single low-deck bus with 2-level bed frame kind of things afixed to it. The lower level was just a floor, while upstairs had a reclining seat, though the ceiling was very low and it was not possible to sit up without having to bend your neck. We were just setting things down and waiting for people on the aisle to clear so we can go out and have a bit more chat with Martina, when the bus started moving. It was not the departure time yet. I pushed my face against the glass window, but it was tinted and had some colourful design on the outside so she could not see us on the inside. I saw her standing there, lonely, blowing cigarette smoke into the morning air.
We were munching on biscuit and whatever we brought on, and we got to the border control in 3-4 hours, in a thick fog. We got off on one side, to leave Laos, then some people seem to have had a ride on the bus but we ended up walking about 200 metres as the bus just went ahead.
The bus picked up the speed even more, quite a bumpy ride and a lot of noisy annoying horns. They use horns to tell incoming traffic on the other side of the bend that the bus is coming. They use it to tell drivers of slow vehicles that this vehicle is about to overtake you. Those horns are there to ensure the other drivers understand your intension. I can understand that it would help reduce the accidents. The drivers are more attentive, compared to place like Melbourne, definitely.
When we stopped for a toilet break after a couple of hours, it was just a quiet part of the winding road. All the boys went to one side, and the ladies – a few of them including Amy – went to the other side of the bus, to refresh in the bush.
When we finally began to see houses and shops, the bus came to stop. A lunch break. Everyone went into the same restaurant. It seems the rule was everyoen eats the same thing and pays per head.
After the feast, we were back on the bus. After a full day of the bumpy ride, we got to Vinh. Pushing away the tuk tuk and taxi drivers, I invited David and Amy to a typical road-side cafe and ordered 3 vietnamese coffee with milk. It tasted so good! With the help of one of the aunties in the shop, and discussing with the taxi driver we stopped, we managed to explain that we wanted to go to the train station, and it was a little far for a walk. It was a metred taxi, and we pushed ourselves inside a tiny taxi that did not quite have a boot space for 3 backpacks of ours.
This cafe, like many others, offered a cup of tea when we ordered coffee. It helps refresh our tastes in between sips. Where and when was the last time we ordered a drink and had a glass of water or tea to accompany it? We realised we were back in a more civilised city.
Inside the waiting room, we were told that the train is now about an hour and a half delayed. Train stations around here, as in many other countries in the region, you cannot go to platform until just before the departure time. So the delay meant we were to wait even longer in the waiting room. There was really not that many other places to go.
Finally, the passengers of our train left the waiting room from the front door which we came in from, to the front courtyard, then went to the gate to the side of the building, which opened up for the passengers of the same train.
It was still a bit early and it did not look like we could find a bed easily. So I suggested that we ate first. I spotted a pho restaurant that looked promising. And that turned out to be the best pho I ever tasted in my life. The noodle was so smooth and silky, soup just right, no trace of MSG. It was just amazing. And of course, normal market price.
We came across this hotel on the street just behind the Cathedral, and we agreed to have a few days of relaxation, a bit of break from the cheap and tight guesthouses. Still compared to the western money, it was a very reasonable hotel. I took this room all to myself, with an ensuite, that comes with shower over bathtub.
After freshened up with shower and change of clothes, we went out for a walk and tried a nearby food stand for lunch. It was really yummy! Did I get anything disappointing at those street food so far on this trip???
Though they were getting used to the tables and chairs being so low to the ground here, they were more comfortable up here, at the terrace overlooking the lake. My friend’s brother who used to live in Hanoi took me here last time. I only vaguely remembered how to get here but we managed without a problem, just had to ask once when we were nearby.
Next day, I went out for a walk on my own. I did not really have a plan but went to museums (and remembered I found them boring last time) and came to the Temple of Literature, which again I remember I came in my previous visit. But it was different this time – there were lots of young girls walking around in almost theatrical traditional Aozai outfits.
Soon I realised it was a graduation photo shoot. But how pretty are these girls!
If you want to look as cool as I did from this point on, this is where I got that haircut. The massage on the shoulder to neck to sculp was long and very good. I practically fell asleep towards the end.
On the way back, we came across a bar where a band with a vocal was playing Hotel California. We sat down and soon it was the last song. But we were just happy to chill out, the beer tasted good and it was not expensive.
Sunday the 1st of December
I was going to stay in China for 2 weeks, with the departure of the 15th of December out of Shanghai. So according to the math, it was time to move on. I was walking around without much purpose, and I hit this. Another jackpot!
Bun Cha was a grilled pork paddies, served with light soup, fried spring rolls (optional), dry rice noodle (which you dip in the noodle, obviously), and some crisp veges. It was so good, each floor was full, and I had to take a very narrow staircase up to the 4th floor, I think.
That’s where I met Raghu from Bangalow, India. He just arrived in Hanoi for a convention. He was a bright young man with strong technical expertise. After seeing him sitting alone in another table, I’d invited him to join me, and we ended up walking around a bit together after that.
Back at the hotel, the young man there was giving me a lift. I was not sure about getting on the back of a motorbike with a big messenger bag and the backpack behind me. But he did not think of it as a problem at all, and soon I was enjoying trying to give him the best balance into the next corner, also clicking away from behind him.
After a couple of nights, I am heading out of Vietnam, to China now.