Monday, October 3, 2011

Hanoi to Sapa

We had several hours to spend wandering around after checking out of our room; the train left at 8:30, so we walked back to the lake. It was relatively crowded in the late afternoon, filled with tourists and lots of Hanoians out for walks, or a bit of exercise, or posing for bridal photos. Older women seemed to enjoy exercising by doing vigorous arm swinging, and older men were strolling in their pajamas. Not clothing that looked like pajamas, actual cotton PJs. Kinda cute. We sat for a while and watched people pass by, and a young guy sitting next to us struck up a conversation so he could practice his English. I found him endearing; he was so eager to speak English, and to talk about the Statue of Liberty. I think his teacher suggested some interviewing techniques that would make it easy for him to engage with tourists.

basket vendor on a bike

bird market; they seem to adore tiny little birds in cages. also at this stall: a cat in a cage, which prompted Marc to suggest that the cat was miserable....all those little birds, so close.

lots and LOTS of staged bridal photos being taken everywhere. charming.

statue of the old emperor who got that magic sword to drive out the Chinese

sweet little spa where we got foot massages. may go back there....

market stalls -- vegetables and random meats, plus fans. everywhere, fans.

night shopping in Hanoi

We found a little spa where we got delicious foot massages, and then wandered over to the restaurant we'd picked for dinner: Madame Hiên. OH MY. It was as fantastic as the previous night's dinner had been awful. Everything we got was just perfect, beginning with our table in the quiet corner of the courtyard. I started with a green papaya salad with peanuts and dried beef, and then a classic (but kind of fancy) Hanoi street food -- Bun Cha, which is a grilled pork dish with rice noodles and fish sauce and veggies. Even today, while we were driving around Sapa, I was daydreaming about my salad. Marc started with avocado and soft shell crab spring rolls, followed by duck three ways. It was amazing.

The train to Sapa was a little different than I expected. During the night -- the long night -- I kept thinking I was in the back of an oxcart. The beds were quite hard, but that was ok. The ride was not smooth, but starty-stoppy and bumpy. The train seemed to be making the milk run, stopping at every little village to pick up people. And I kept thinking the engine might not make it up the mountains. The train attendant told us, before we closed our door for the night, that he'd wake us about 20 (or maybe 30) minutes before we pulled into Lao Cai, but he woke us when we stopped there, so we had a shocking scramble to dress and leave the train.

our train compartment -- out the window is the train station
the compartment came with 4 room temperature Ha Noi beers -- thanks but no thanks
Lao Cai at 5am -- that lit-up building is KaraOke!!!! Flashing lights at 5am, they must love it. Also, it listed a hotline, which was something nutty like  First, why do you need a karaoke hotline? And second, that many numbers, really?

the square was so festive, with lights draping everything
We left the train exhausted and confused, but looking foward to Sapa.

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