Cambodia / Vietnam 2019 – Trip Report 30

4 October – Ninh Binh – Hanoi

Eyes open.

It’s light.

Apart from that, I know nothing else about this new day.

And right now, through the haze of a beer and rice wine hangover, I have no desire to actually know any more about it.

I ain’t getting up, yet.

I doze, and then finally, around 9.30am, I make a concerted effort to make a move.

I’m still not great, but I am much better than earlier.  But my other problem is I don’t want to leave.

I would love an extra night, and I would be more than happy to put off that goodbye that needs to be done this morning, for another 24 hours.

But it’s all too difficult, and sticking to the plan; Lisa’s plan; is going to be much easier.

We head over for breakfast, even though food is the last thing I feel like.

Stan and Sabine are already there, and the one comforting thing today, is that they also feel like we do.

But like us, I doubt they have regrets.  And I’m not sure Sabine is going to forget her 53rd birthday in a hurry.

Luong appears, and as usual, he’s very bubbly.  Huong then begins bringing our breakfast of banana, watermelon, passionfruit and pineapple, as well as a baguette with jam, and also a caphe sua da.

It is all seriously lovely, and while I managed to get through a fair bit, there was no way I was ever going to be able to finish it all.

Stan and Sabine head off on bikes to see Hang Mua.  They already know about the ridiculous number of steps ahead of them, but the thinking is that it will help sweat the alcohol out of them.

We bid them farewell, and wish them luck with their plan.  Rather them than us….

Lisa phones the girl back home to catch up on mother daughter time.  Realising I haven’t spoken to her for a month, I decide I better practice a little parenting as well.

It was good to hear her voice again, and it’s nice to know that she’s looking after the house.

Well, she says she’s looking after the house….

We shall see how well in a week’s time.

We head back to the room to pack up, before going for a bit of a walk around the local streets, which are more lane like, than street like.

And I love them.  So narrow, so local, so much character, and so authentic.  And while it is a small town or community, and therefore not a lot of people about, the ones we do see are so incredibly friendly.

Heaps of smiles, and heaps of hellos, and we actually have a guy yell out to us to come into his house to smoke with him.

Not being smokers, we politely decline.  But if it had been a bit later in the day, I might have been tempted to find a few beers to share with him.

There are a couple of small ‘mum and pop’ type shops around, but it’s mainly houses.  Including one where it seems a pigeon, a cat, and a dog, all seem to live happily together, without cages or leads, and seemingly with absolutely no idea of the much known, supposed, pecking order.

We reach the outskirts of the town, and even though it hasn’t quite reached 12.00pm, the rising temperature is making things a little uncomfortable.  That, coupled with the fact that we don’t have too long before we need to leave for the station, we head back to the cooler comforts of An Phu Homestay.

The bamboo lady outside our homestay.

We sit and chat with Luong, and he really is just a lovely guy.  So passionate about his family, as well as his business, and he’s just so easy to talk to.

Which is all great, but he’s making it even more difficult to say goodbye.  Again, I suspect, and hope, it will be more a case of ‘Hen gap lai’ (see you later), as opposed to the more final sounding, goodbye.

While we’re talking, a woman on a bicycle rides past the window with some sort of voice recording playing rather loudly.  Luong stops for a moment to listen, and then translates to us what it’s all about.

Seems she’s in the ‘hair’ market, and she’s looking for people who might have a stockpile of human hair that they may be willing to part with.

Or perhaps if it’s still attached, there’ll be the offer of a little hairdressing, to help achieve her aim…..

Luong’s children arrive home from school for their lunch break, and he gets them to come over and say hello, as well as practice a little English.  Like their parents, they are just so lovely, as well as incredibly polite.

A bit after 12.00pm, our taxi arrives.  And with it, that goodbye that needs to be done.  And yep, easy it wasn’t.

A quick couple of selfies with Luong and Huong, and we’re soon on our way.

Our lovely hosts, Luong and Huong.

Back out into the country roads, the limestone karsts begin to disappear behind us as we get closer to Ninh Binh.  And then, less than 15 minutes after leaving An Phu, we’re on the main road that the train station is on.

Almost there, and as we approach the station, a dog on the side of the road decides he really would prefer to be on the other side.  A quick steering wheel adjustment, judicious use of the brakes, as well as a workout of the horn, and our driver ensures our furry mate actually makes it.

We pull up at the station, with everyone a little more awake than they were a minute ago, and I give the driver 120 000 Dong for the 112 000 Dong fare.  He almost insists I take the 8000 Dong change, but my insistence is stronger than his.

Again, proof that all taxi drivers in Vietnam aren’t the rogues that some people like to think they are.

Ninh Binh train station.

Into the station, and we pretty much have the whole place to ourselves.  Not that I expected it to be overly busy.

I head over to the ticket window, passports in hand, and manage to purchase two soft seat tickets to Hanoi without any issue, whatsoever.

Although the cost per ticket is 123 000 Dong, compared to 96 000 Dong the other day.

Hmmm, maybe it’s a better standard of train?  Or maybe it’s because we’re going ‘up’ to Hanoi, as opposed to going ‘down’ to Ninh Binh, and as such we’ll use more diesel….???

Who knows, and I suspect I’d likely have been wasting my time, if I’d decided to question the reason.

Will have to Google it one day….

We take a seat, and begin the waiting game.  And that waiting game is now longer than I initially thought it was going to be.

Seems the train is actually due at 1.30pm, and not 1.00pm, as I mistakenly thought.

Might explain why we have the station to ourselves…..

I fill my time taking in the rather boring scenery around me, writing a few notes, and attempting to take photos of things that really aren’t interesting enough to actually be photographed.

Also waiting for a train….

As well as trying not to think about the fact that we are now beginning the final leg of our journey.

Seriously, where has it all gone….

Finally, after what felt much longer than the hour and a bit that it was, they open the gate to allow us to get through to the platform, so we can wait in a different spot.

But it ends up being a nice change, seeing as there’s more stuff to photograph here.

Here it comes!


Now to find our carriage.

The train eventually makes an appearance just after 1.30pm, and as we prepare to board, I notice grumpy guy and his wife from yesterday.

I assumed he mustn’t have been a morning person when I saw him yesterday, but judging by the look on his face today, he doesn’t seem to be an afternoon person, either.

The train pulls up, and we find carriage three, which is what our ticket says.  It’s the third last carriage, of course, with the first carriage on the train being something like eleven.

Makes sense, I suppose….

Onto the train, and the first thing I notice is that it’s rather full.  Depending on which direction our seats are facing, this could be a problem….

The second thing I notice, is that the floor feels like it’s had six cans of Coke poured on it.  Seriously, I was in real danger of losing my thongs.

Grumpy guy’s wife then notices we’re also on the train, and gives us a “Hello again!”, before making it clear to anyone within earshot – which happened to be the whole carriage, that she too had noticed the sticky floor.

We eventually find our seats; numbers 59 and 60; which are fortunately up the non-sticky floor end.

But even better than that, they are forward facing.

I’m not sure who was more relieved about that….

The train is soon on the move, and not long after, a girl appears with the food cart calling out what she has available.

My lack of Vietnamese means I don’t really know exactly what she’s offering, but that’s rarely a problem anyway, seeing as I have working eyes as well as fingers that possess the ability to point.

However there is one phrase that I do understand, and that is bia lon, which is beer can.

Now when I woke up this morning, having a beer was quite possibly the last thing I felt like.  But now, sitting on a train with two hours of that ahead of me, and seeing as I’ve never had a beer on a train before, it now just somehow feels right.

So, with that being the case, a beer, along with a Coke for someone else, is duly purchased for 30 000 Dong.

Just because I can.

It’s not quite as cold as I normally prefer it, but the experience is overriding any temperature issues I have at the moment.

I sit and watch the world go by outside my window, and as usual, it doesn’t disappoint.  Farming areas of rice, as well as bananas, whizz by.  Past a ‘timber street’, with some of the biggest timber slabs and posts that I’ve ever seen, and then a paddock filled with hundreds of brand new Mazda cars.

And then there was the guy who’s call of nature just happened to coincide with our train’s arrival along the particular stretch of train line he was riding his bike beside.

It was interesting timing, as it reminded me that I should perhaps do the same, so I headed off to find the toilet at the end of the carriage.  Knowing that this train had left Saigon some 33 hours ago, there was a certain amount of apprehension as to what awaited me.

And yep, it wasn’t great.  Although, the fact that it’s a squat toilet on a moving mode of transport, that has a fair bit of rocking and rolling involved, probably isn’t the best of combinations.

I was just pleased I was able to do what I had to from a standing position.

Chore completed with no major mishaps, I opened the door to find a girl waiting patiently for her turn.

Deciding I should do the right thing, I mentioned to her that if she actually had a choice, then it might be a good idea to put it off until we arrived in Hanoi.

I’m not sure she had that option, and she implied that she would be okay.  The audible, ‘Aaaargh….’, I heard from her as I walked away, suggested her initial findings were not as she hoped they would be.

I headed back to my seat, both relieved that my ordeal was over, as well as just that bit more appreciative that I’m male.

The rest of the trip involved more world watching through the window, as well as dealing and putting up with the ridiculously loud volume of the televisions hanging from the ceiling of the carriage.

They’re mainly for entertainment, as well as a little information, but when the noise actually makes your ears hurt, it tends to lose some of the entertainment value.

All part of the fun, I suppose…..

We pull into Hanoi station just before 4.00pm, and then attempt the disembarking thing.  Eventually out on the platform, and then over to the stairs that will take us up over the railway lines.  All very simple, but not always as simple as it should be, when people decide to stop dead in their tracks halfway up, to look for something in a bag that they are carrying.

Yep, it doesn’t take a great deal to make me grumpier than I normally am…..

Our train getting a much deserved wash after its long journey.

Hindered several more times before we finally get out of the station, we begin our walk down towards the Artisan Lakeview.  Even though we did this just a few days ago, the direction challenged one is quickly lost.

“Just follow”, is the instruction given.

We eventually reach the bottom of the lake, and then walk up towards Hang Hanh street.  Our banh mi lady is there, and seeing as we pretty much missed lunch, it’s decided a banh mi isn’t a bad idea.

Once again, they are very good, but even better is the fact that we now have a relationship.  We’re always greeted with a smile, and she now knows our preferences.

Lunch done, we head around the corner to the hotel to check in for the second time this trip.  Bag retrieved, we head upstairs and back to the same room we had.

A quick unpack and I’m out the door and on my way up to beer corner by 4.50pm.  The streets are in the process of being closed off for the weekend, and the night market is starting to be set up.

Through Underwear lane, and then up to Ma May street.  My beer lady is there, and I’m more than a little happy about that.  It’s a good start to the final six nights.  There’s already a few around, but as usual, a seat is found for me, and I’m soon chatting with a couple from Sydney, and two guys from England, one of which is actually living here teaching English.

There’s also a couple of guys from South Africa who have ridden motorbikes all the way from Saigon to Hanoi over the last four weeks.  While they loved the experience, I’m not sure the whole adventure completely lived up to the expectations.  Lack of safety and driver courtesy by other road users, coupled with numerous bike issues, impacted their enjoyment, somewhat.  Not to mention their finances, as well.

One of them, after paying $230USD for a bike, ended up leaving it by the side of the road after it broke down one too many times.  He managed to later recoup a small amount of his money, after the second bike he bought for $180USD, he was able to sell for $200USD, once they reached Hanoi.

So yeah, quite the adventure, but not without its issues.  And knowing a bit about the driving habits on Vietnam’s roads, as well as an idea of the annual road toll, it could have been a whole lot worse.

Beers done, it was time to get reacquainted with the balcony.  Back down through beer corner, then into Underwear lane, where I probably should have stopped and paid to use the toilet facilities.

But knowing I could do that for free back at the restaurant over the road, I pushed on.

Finally there, and relief is quickly attained.  But in my haste, I forgot to lock the door, and of course when that happens, it usually results in someone walking in on you.

She was very apologetic, as I was too, and mental note was taken about future comfort stops and door locks.

Upstairs in my favourite spot, and Lisa is soon over to join me.  We get chatting to a German guy and his wife, and while he was incredibly friendly and easy to talk to, the same couldn’t be said about his wife.

Hopefully she was just having a bad day, otherwise the four months they are about to spend travelling through Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia, could be the longest four months of his life.

Couple of beers had, and we head back to get ready for dinner.  Out, and up towards St Joseph’s Cathedral, and apparently Bun Cha is the preference tonight.

If I walk past it, I just have to photograph it….

This proves to be somewhat difficult; bun cha seems to be a little rare in this area; but that doesn’t stop us from looking.

And looking…..

Eventually I suggest our plans may need to be altered, but it seems she really, really wants bun cha.

Hiding my rolling eyes, I humour her a little with some more walking, before making the decision for us both, by choosing a very local bun bo Hue place, opposite the pho place we went to the other night.

While it wasn’t the greatest meal I’ve ever had, it was still pretty good, and at 35 000 Dong each, with Hanoi beers at 15 000 Dong, and non-touristy feel thrown in for free, I could quite happily do this every night of the week.

Bun cha, it ain’t.  But that’s okay.

Dinner done, we head up to beer corner, and then on to Ma May.  Being a Friday night, it’s absolutely madness with people everywhere, and while it has a great vibe, it can become a little annoying with the sheer number of people about.

We find our beer lady, who quickly finds us some room, and the people watching begins.

There’s a few about.
Balloon man.

It’s so busy that we end up moving several times to accommodate new arrivals, and after a number of beers, the time arrives to brave ‘that’ toilet.

Down the long, dark and narrow corridor, turn right into the toilet, and once again my thong wearing foot meets the water on the floor.

Yep, slow learner…..

Task almost completed, I hear a noise outside and wonder if it might be the screaming kid again.

I turn to see if I can see anything, and no, it’s not him.  Instead, it turns out to be a girl holding one of those helium filled balloon character things, and who is now apologising for walking in on me.

Yep, again, slow learner, but to be fair, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the door actually doing what I required it to do.

And if it did, I wasn’t convinced I wouldn’t somehow be trapped inside.

Leaving apologetic balloon girl to tackle the toilet, I head back down the corridor to resume the beer and watching thing.

Lisa’s had to move again, and we now find ourselves sitting with a guy from Siberia.

He’s here teaching English, and not having ever met anyone from Siberia, I don’t know how common it is for Siberians to speak English over there.  Regardless, his is excellent, and we end up talking for ages.

Getting a bit late, and seeing as we’re coming off a fairly big night, we head back to the hotel a bit after 11.00pm.

Another beer or two on the bed, as well as some Trip Advisor, before pulling the pin about 12.30am.

Which was probably an hour later than it should have been….

Not much in the way of plans tomorrow, apart from perhaps finding someone to do something about the length of my hair.

Oh, and hopefully the possibility of finally catching up with Mike, who I’d spoken to through Trip Advisor, who, all going well, is now back in Hanoi after being up North.

So yeah, bit of a nothing day, but at the same time, one that could be a bit of fun.



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