Day 178-181 – Hanoi 11th-14th Mar 2012

11th March 2012

We were going to a wedding breakfast this morning, and so we were up early for a normal breakfast before waiting patiently in the lobby for Tuan to come and collect us. He had been back to his village the previous evening and had downed more than a few rice wines, and it was a rather apologetic and tired looking Tuan who arrived ½ an hour late. We jumped into a taxi and drove out of the city towards the his apartment block.

When we arrived there was a large marquee set up in a tarmac area between the blocks. Rows and rows of tables were glimpsed through the doorway and lots of people were milling around waiting for the bride and groom to arrive. The groom’s family had set off at 3am to collect the bride’s family and had not yet returned.

We climbed 5 flights of stairs up to Tuan’s apartment – the groom lives opposite him – and waited with the rest. Green tea flowed like water and sunflower seeds were gnawed on by all, even the boys developed a liking for them, probably because they are considerably messy to eat. Half an hour later they arrived and we were introduced to them and the families before they disappeared into their apartment to pray to the ancestors.

Eventually it was time to go down to the feast and we descended to wait outside the door for the happy couple to arrive. The boys were instantly drawn to some giant party poppers and managed to blag their way to holding them ready to set them off when instructed.

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Into the marquee we went and settled ourselves down at one of the many tables groaning with fizzy drinks, beer and vodka. The guests tucked into the refreshments, and checking our watches we tried to decide whether 11 o’clock was too early to start drinking – ah well, when in Vietnam!! Cheers. Plate after plate was brought out (or passed through the walls of the tent) and the table was groaning under the food and it was a real problem finding enough place to put them all.

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It was excellent food, and the company was very congenial too. We had an excellent moment, privileged to be invited to enjoy the happy couple’s day.

At around 1pm the party wound up and we climbed back up the stairs to Tuan’s apartment. Here we were shown into the spare room and invited to to have a little afternoon sleep. What a splendid idea and we took up the offer readily – although Mateo and Oskar could’t sleep and went next door to watch TV.

At around 3pm we awoke and went with Tuan to see the Museum of Ethnology. It was dedicated to the various ethnic tribes of Vietnam and displayed houses, tools, jewellery, clothes and descriptions of their daily lives. There was also an activity room where there were traditional games to play as well as printing blocks.

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It was thoroughly enjoyable, and we were sad that the time had run out and we had to leave. Walking back to the bus stop with Tuan, we bade him farewell and jumped on the bus back to town. It dropped us off at the south end of the lake and so we had to walk a little, but the lights around the lake were very pretty and we had to take a few photos!

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We met up again with John, Debs and family and sank a few glasses Beer Hoi at our favourite street seller. And then it was off to bed.

12th March 2012

During the course of the previous evenings discussions, we had become convinced that we needed to change hotel. John & Debs had found a place around the corner from us that did a proper English breafast, with eggs cooked to order and bacon and sausages. It was a little more expensive that Elizabeth Hotel, but the temptation was just too strong!

We packed up all our things and then made the short journey around the corner. It was difficult to say goodbye to the ladies at Elizabeth. They were all very sweet and adored the kids. There was a lot of hugging before we finally managed to leave!

We arrived at the new hotel only to find that the room we had been promised by the night porter the previous evening was not available due to a flood. Ably assisted by John we negotiated the price down on the room we ended up with – a large double bed and extra single camp bed, but we also got to have breakfast too – it was excellent! Settling in quickly, the kids quickly made themselves at home and spent their time flitting between our room and John & Debs’ room.

Eventually we got ourselves moving as we needed to buy some jeans and trainers for the boys, and maybe some warm coats ready for Sapa – it is much colder up in the mountains than in Hanoi. So we traipsed around the shopping streets and after several hours we had found the jeans and the trainers but drawn a big blank on the coats.

We returned to the hotel and went out to dinner with John & Debs, followed by a few beers at the beer Hoi bar we called our local. It was such a popular place that we drank them dry and had to call it a night, well after a nightcap in the bar just opposite the hotel!


13th March 2012

A new dawn, a new day. We assembled the families and went over to the main hotel for another splendid breakfast – just what we needed to set us up for another day of shopping. We were still in need of coats, and John & Debs were after trainers for their kids.

So en masse we left the hotel to search the streets once again for what we needed. We walked and walked, eventually arriving at the central market, an enormous rabbit warren of stalls over several levels – but there was nothing there that we really needed. We continued back towards the hotel and to the shop where we had bought the boys’ shoes for John & Debs to make their purchases.

Then it was back to the hotel and off again to Kangaroo bar for our last supper together. John et al were off to Phu Quoc at 3am next morning. The food was once again superb and we retired not to the local beer Hoi place, but to the bar across from the hotel where they had a 2 for 1 offer on Hoi beer.

As they were leaving early in the morning we only meant to have one or two….. which turned into three or four and more. Tuang, the night porter from the hotel joined us for a drink and asked if we would meet his boyfriend. We spent a very nice evening together, the kids in the hotel watching TV and then sleeping, whilst we spun yarns and chewed the fat into the wee small hours. Midnight came and went and we kept trying to head for bed, but it seemed silly to leave since they would be taking the taxi to the airport in a few hours time…..

14th March 2012

And so we stayed up keeping them company. Tuang was very definitely sloshed on rice wine, and were all pretty merry by the time we called time and settled the bar bill. The table was stacked with more than 40 empty bottles as we staggered happily back to the hotel. Tania and I helped them wake their kids and we bade them a very fond farewell, and bon voyage before we headed up to bed.

No sooner than we had brushed teeth and got into bed when there was a great commotion from the street below. Thinking that it was just John & Debs off into the taxi we popped our heads out of the window to shout goodbye. The scene that greeted us was ugly to say the least. John was trying to load the bags into the taxi and Tuang was trying to pull them out and back into the hotel.

I dressed and went down to offer some help, and some calm and was confronted with a scene that was completely surreal. The front doors of the hotel were smashed, one had broken in half, its handle hanging by a bicycle lock from the other door which itself was badly cracked.

Tuang was screaming that they could not take the taxi until they had paid $1,000 USD for the doors. Debs and John were both upset but it was the children that looked the most shell shocked. It transpired that Tuang had locked the front doors just before he had fallen asleep at his desk, even though he knew that John & Debs were leaving at 3am. When John had come down with the bags he had tried to wake him, and eventually when he did wake up he couldn’t find the key to the lock. All this with the Taxi waiting outside and an airplane to catch. In desperation, John had rattled the doors and voila, the doors smashed.

Tania joined us and we tried to sort it all out. Tania took the children back to their room and Tuang insisted on being paid in cash. It was an impossible situation! Eventually after several hours of going back and forth Tuang agreed that John could pay by visa and the transaction was completed, with a 3% service charge!! The taxi came again, and they were off at last. They missed the plane, but caught their connection in the end arriving in Phu Quoc as planned.

We retired to bed and slept and slept, missing breakfast, but that didn’t really matter. We packed our things for Sapa into Oskar’s rucksack and put the rest into the other bags. The hotel agreed to look after them for us until we returned but they had still not replaced the doors.

Suffice to say, Tania and I did not feel comfortable about returning to the hotel after Sapa because of the previous nights events and the way it had been handled. Tania had made enquiries at Hanoi Backpackers Hostel, a lively establishment just up from the hotel. When we came back from Sapa, we would stay there instead, and we took our bags there instead and crashed in front of the TV whilst we waited for the Sapa train. I’m not sure that the choice of film was appropriate for the kids, but most of the gags passed them by – however there were a few moments that we had to explain, much to the amusement of the other backpackers in the room!

Eventually the appointed hour arrived and we left Hanoi behind and boarded the sleeper train to Sapa.

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The bunks had a thin foam mattress and were quite narrow, Tania had the short straw of sleeping with Mateo, however the compartment was relatively clean and there were sheets and blankets, and air conditioning too. Settling ourselves in for the night we awaited departure. Soon enough, the train jerked violently and we were off. The rattle rattle of the train soon lulled the boys to sleep, Tania and I took a little longer and I for one woke every time the train stopped and jerked away again.

No matter, we had all night, well at least until 5am when were destined to arrive in Lao Cai, the closest station to Sapa.

It isn’t often that you click with another family in the way that we did with John, Debs, Brooke and Luvina. From a slow start in Nha Trang the friendship developed through our shared experiences and we spent a truly wonderful time in their company. I am very glad that we met and shared more than a few beers together, and I hope that we will see them again when we return to Europe. Cheers guys, a bientot, and thanks for a smashing time!!!!!

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