Montag, 1. Oktober 2018

Vietnam 2010. Overland through the South. To the Hmongs in Sa Pa. On the islands of Càt Bá (North) and Phú Quốc (South)

 The titel of my first visit in Vietnam was: Vietnam - Discovery of Charming Nature

1.3.2010 Berlin > Bangkok > Sài Gòn (1) > Mỹ Tho (2) > Vĩnh Long (3) > Sài Gòn > Hà Nội (4) 
> Lào Cai > Sa Pa (5) > Hoàng Liên Mountain trekking > Hà Nội > Cát Bà island & town (6)  
> Hà Nội > Sài Gòn > Phú Quốc island (7) > Sài Gòn > a week in Bangkok  > Berlin

Saigon: Stopover and recover in my favorite Kim Hotel, Bùi Viện

That's the narrow alley of Bùi Viện in the middle of the tourist district. In number 40 you'll find the extremely friendly, family operated Kim Hotel which I have already presented at the very end of 2008-09 Cambodia & Vietnam. 2000 km asiatische Gelassenheit. Teil 2. A room (with all-round view) - like this - on the 4th or 5th floor should be booked well in advance.

Who knows, how long these small family hotels will survive? 

With several views from the small "balcony". 

By bus to Mỹ Tho

The ride with the normal bus from Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho is nearly two hours (8-10 Euro)

In 2007, I already visited Cần Thơ, the floating markets of Cai Rang and Vinh Long. This year, I wanted to experience life along the river Mekong and the landscape along the river.

Scooters are cheap and gasoline costs almost nothing. You just have to choose one in peace, which works well (attention to the brakes!) and is comfortable. No fear! On the way, everyone will help you, whatever happens.

On the river, many boats pass, which take the tourists to the floating markets. Everywhere on the riverside you will be greeted with wonder and great cordiality, because there is never a foreigner along.

There are still many bridges missing. The ferry crossing costs only pennies.  
Below: whole pack of motorcyclists waiting for the ferry.

Vĩnh Tràng Chùa is a Buddhist temple - one of the best-known temples in the Mekong Delta.

As in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos students wear a kind of (school) uniform here as well.

Imagine a ferry across the Elbe near Dresden (Saxony), where an elderly Chinese and four German students drive to the other shore. Do you think that the photos would look like that?

Rang Dong Riverside Hotel in My Tho has 3-star accommodation with a garden, free WiFi, the spacious guest rooms are fitted with a seating area and a flat-screen TV. Some rooms offer a balcony. 
The accommodation offers a continental or buffet breakfast. In 2010 there the breakfast was only rice soup (unusual! ... in German: sehr gewöhnungsbedürftig)

Around Vĩnh Long by motor bike

By bus it is a good one and a half hours from My Tho to Vinh Long. Nearby is the much visited Cai Be river market where I was already in 2007.

The city itself does not have much to offer, but from Vinh Long you can take (boat)trips to the Mekong Delta.

A road along the river is an impassable construction site, so all traffic is ferried past construction sites.

I found a small "restaurant" somewhere in the countryside where I got to know a Vietnamese who had been working in Dortmund for ten years, who built a house here from his savings in Germany. Five men and women sat around us and listened to our unusual language.

Vietnamese people are very open-minded, kind and curious about everything foreign. Away from the tourist centers, they are helpful and sociable, even if they speak only a few words of English. In the South several older Vietnamese can still speak American English. All over the country, many younger people speak (some) English.

 A little bit skepticism is appropriate:

2010: There are no beggars in Vietnam, not even in the tourist centers. The offer of meat, fish, vegetables and food is very large, also on household goods and all kinds of products. It seems, the mass of people suffers no shortage. Officially, the unemployment rate 2010 is 4.29%, from 2011 onwards it will fall by half - permanently. The economic development is still growing and positive - also in 2018. But many people still live under extremely primitive conditions. I also suspect (!) that the lack of affordable housing still remains significant.

Temples, stupas and pagodas are also found here like sand by the sea. I can not find out where this one is ... It was a small town that also houses the following museum, which was opened only for me.

Tai (the vietnamese meaning of this first given name is "talent") personally led me to the local museum.

Vinh Long is on the Co Chien River, which branches out from the Mekong River at the narrows of My Thuan about 10 kilometers upstream, only to meet it later downstream. 

Below are some impressions of Vinh Long: the river bank, a chinese temple, the city, the modern Vingh Long museum (one pic / once again I was the only visitor), the busy market and my hotel.

The only pic from my visit in the museum:  
The French invention Guillotine, of course, also used the French colonial masters in Vietnam.

The huge, overflowing markets of South East Asia are always a terrific experience for Europeans - and you just can not stop taking similar pictures over and over again.

Some views from my hotel room.

Vĩnh Long > Ho Chi Minh City > Hanoi

Buses from Vinh Long (some pictures of the bus station) to HCMC (= Saigon) need a minimum of 3 hours (mini buses are faster, but also much more expensive), because the National Road No. 1 is totally overcrowded and on their way there is a stop in a huge restaurant with a huge shop. 

Attention! You will end up in Saigon far way out of the center - you can then just take a taxi to go - for example - to the airport (negotiate price !!! In these places taxi drivers are often rather outrageous towards strangers !!!).

 I recommend: Do not get into a taxi on the bus station (or railway station), but go out onto the street and stop any taxi.

Short Stay Hanoi

The cozy small JASMINE hotel with its enchanting staff and excellent breakfast, only a few steps from the Hoan Kiem Lake, is unfortunately not there anymore. Above - the house altar in the staircase. From my room window I could see over to the lake.

Lào Cia > Sa Pa > and trekking in the Hoàng Liên Mountain

A few important advice for buying a train ticket to Lào Cai (Sapa)

1) Tickets can be bought at the normal price at the counter in the railway station Ga Trần Quý Cáp, 120 Lê Duẩn. Everywhere else are they more expensive, much more expensive or excessive overpriced.

2) The ticket offices are a bit hidden in the left side wing of the railway station, especially in the evening surrounded by a crowd of people.

3) When looking for the ticket counters ask only travelers with suitcases. Others will not tell you the place, but offer to get the (than extremely expensive) tickets for you.

4) Patiently join the queue of those waiting - it is amazingly fast.

5) There are both daytime and overnight sleeper trains between Hanoi & Lao Cai, and on the sleeper trains you can choose between the normal Vietnamese railways sleepers (the cheapest ticket for the night trains is a sleeper chair) or a whole series of privately-run sleeping-cars of a higher standard aimed at tourists (sleeper prices vary depending on the number of beds in the compartment).

6) Not every counter-agent understands or speaks understandable English. Therefore you write your wishes (train number, days, departure time, round trip, place request etc) on a piece of paper (see below). The agents are very friendly and helpful - also other travelers in the queue will help you.

7) Sapa has no railway station, but it's about 38 km (24 miles) from Lao Cai railway station and easily reached from there by bus in about 50 minutes. Enough buses wait in front of the station.

In such a wagon it is quite lively during the first two hours. Many Vietnamese people have no problem with closer body contact to their neighbors (in busses, trains, boats and planes). That was my only problem on this train ride ... When he fall asleep, he fall unabashedly at my shoulder ... but as a stranger I use to remain always polite ...

The city center of Sapa is a single HUGE tourism hype (what I hate) and as much as I understand the Hmong women from the countryside in their costumes, who also want to benefit a bit from tourism, so much does the multitudes of Hmong souvenir traders annoy you.

The Golden Sun Luxus Sapa Hotel, permanently closed now

As soon as you leave the old city center with its tourist hustle and bustle, you will not find a single foreigner in the rest of Sapa.

The Sapa Town Square with the "Love Market" is a permanent souvenir market. In the city of Sapa itself, many of the Hmong women in their costumes ask for money when trying to take photos of them. In the countryside, does this bad habit not exsist.

2 days trekking tour with an overnight stay with farmers in a small village (2010 = 40 US$)

Our young guide waves to me - - - I had two problems of this hike. 1) My five companions were between 24 and 30 years old - I was 66 years old. These five and the guide were walking fast, and they rarely stopped to enjoy the grandiose spans for a few moments. 2) Most of the trails were ok, but the day before it had rained and often the loamy soil was dangerously slippery. It does not matter to young people, but at 66 you get your problems.

That was one of the funniest situations when we arrived at our accommodation. All hikers are accompanied by souvenir sellers on their tour. Here - close to their own homes - is their last chance to sell something. The two boys and the eleven girls haggled for over half an hour with a huge fun before getting any sales.

Here our host still cook the meal.

In the gallery are the sleeping places, separated by sheets.

My own exploration tour north of Sa Pa

Cat Cat, more like a show village for tourists

The Cat Cat village is just a few steps from the Sapa town. It is quite a nice day trip, but I took only some pictures here, the whole thing was too touristic for me. At the bottom of the village you reach the Cat Cat waterfall.

The railway station of Lao Cai.

If you book the trekking tour in your own hotel, then this has the advantage that you do not have to book/pay for the absent days. That's why I had - before/after - two different rooms.

5 very gray days on the island of Cát Bà.

Cát Bà is the largest island in famous Halong Bay. It belongs to a biosphere reserve established by UNESCO and is home to the Cát Bà National Park.

Squeezed together in a minibus, the first part of the route - 120 km - almost two hours drive - took us to Haiphong. There we had to change to another minibus, just as closely squeezed together that took us (see above - 16 km) to Pha Binh Port where we went on board of the ferry that takes about 45 minutes to get to the tourist pier in Cát Bà town. Recommendation: get advice about the tour beforehand and better pay two/three US$ more for some comfort.

The ticket for the ferry is already being bought in Hanoi, it also includes the shuttle bus. Usually it takes three and a half hours. We needed a lot longer, also on the return journey, because the road (16 km) between Haiphong and the jetty was a complete horror construction site.

On arrival you will first see a long chain of colorful high-rise concrete houses with up to 10 floors, behind a „chic“ green shore promenade. That deceives the newcomer ! because it is only the tourists part of Cát Bà town. One hotel sticks to the other (predominantly simple hotels for Vietnamese tourists,  backpackers and people like me), restaurants, shops and travel agencies.

About 13.000 people live on the island, 12.000 of them in Cát Bà town. I do not know how many people live on the water (there are many!) and whether they are included in these numbers.

In the harbor overlooking the tourist’s part of the town. In the Cát Bà archipelago, fishing is predominantly near the shore. It is an important coastal fishing ground for North Vietnam. There are still hundreds predominantly traditional fishing boats in use.

My first tour into the interior of the island.


a traditional hearse

Pics from that big part of the city inhabited by vietnamese people and in which i did not meet a single tourist during my whole stay.

 my hairdresser salon


Pics of my second tour along the west coast towards the Ben phà Cái Vieng ferry terminal, from where you can reach the mainland, mainly on the road.

My third tour, 23 km across the island (Inter Island Tourism Road, past the entrance to the National Park), to the ferry terminal Gia Luan, where buses are also transferred. A pretty sad gray day because it was drizzling a lot.

 I was the only guest at the Yen Thanh Hotel. From my room on the 4th floor I had a great all-round view of the promenade and the harbor - to the right in the direction of the city - to the left towards the southern tip of the island


The island of Phú Quốc follows soon.

Once again a week in Bangkok and three new discoveries - follows soon.

Under Construction!

Sorry! Two more stations are missing on this trip, 
which will be added as soon as possible.