“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” ― Henry David Thoreau.
So the trip was almost over. We had the last meal at a rice place near the bus station. First time I tried sour soup with a strange fruit. I had to ask for its name. Turned out it was called plum mango or mango plum in English which is a species of flowering plant native to Southeast Asia.
Then at noon, I took a xe om to the Cat Bi Airport. The electric board let me see a lot of flights cancelled due to the weather. The airport was as small as the bus station which made me surprised. I thought it would be larger as Hai Phong was considered the 3rd largest city of Vietnam. But I was wrong.
Luckily, I got on the plane just a lil bit later than expected.
I got home around 5 PM and waited for my sis news. At midnight, she told me she was home safe and sound.
The sleeper bus reached Hai Phong City 15 hours later. The day before must have been the longest day of my life. I thought it was no better when a “xe om” rider showed us a place which I thought was worse than a toilet. Luckily, we decided to get out of it and checked in into a hotel which was also near the Nem Nghia bus station.
It was cold outside but we still decided to take a taxi to the Hai Phong’s Opera House. From then we walked and found a place called “Bánh đa cua Bà Cụ” (famous for Hai Phong type of noodles).
After lunching, we went around to visit some temples and pagodas at Le Chan District.
In the evening, we had some snails for dinner, and enjoyed the hot dessert “sủi dìn” (a type of “chè trôi nước”, similar to the Chinese’s tangyuan).
Unluckily, my sis’ plane from Hai Phong back to HCMC was cancelled due to the weather. She was told to depart from Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi. Hope she would be fine on the bus back there.
This must have been the worst day of our trip. In the morning, we had a terrible bread breakfast at a cafe nearby.
Just when we got on the sleeper bus to depart Dien Bien for Hai Phong, everything went from bad to worse. The coach reached the passes right away, and we had to endure a severe motion sickness. For my sis, it didn’t stop until she vomited twice. I had a severe headache.
The worst thing was that, at the first stop on the go, the coach left us behind. I had to phone the bus for them to come back. Dammit!
I swore to myself I would never get on a sleeper bus for such a long journey. My advice for people who would choose to travel by a sleeper bus is that never take the upper level where your vision is limited and motion sickness is enhanced.
As we saw almost everything that was worth seeing in Dien Bien, we decided to go back to the A1 Hill to visit the Museum of Dien Bien Phu Victory.
When we were back, we enjoyed “chè bưởi” (grapefruit sweet soup) on Nguyen Chi Thanh Street.
At lunch break, we saw that the Him Lam Hill was under restoration on Dien Bien TV. So we forced the taxi driver to take us there even though he (just like the 2 riders the day before) insisted that there was nothing to see. In fact, we saw some fixes on the make, and trekked up to some historic sites of the hill. We found no way to reach the memorial stones on top of the hills, but at least we could reach a place where Phan Dinh Giot covered a loophole with his body.
60 years ago today, Vietnamese troops fought the first battle here at the Him Lam Hill. I felt so proud to be here at this historic moment.
In the evening, we had another rice dinner at the place we ate yesterday. Another delicious meal.
Then we went back to the hostel to enjoy watching the “Ban Flower Festival” on TV.
My sis and I woke up very early this morning to catch two “xe om” to Muong Phang where we would visit the General Vo Nguyen Giap’s Headquarters. The riders took the shorter way and we could really enjoy the different culture compared to the Dien Bien Phu City. We also passed a few suspension bridges; the last one made me scared a bit as it was on the fix.
Turned out that we needed to trek up to the Vo Nguyen Giap’s Bunker on the hill. Fabulous trekking for me!
After that, the riders took us back to the Dien Bien Phu and headed to Hong Cum and Thanh Ban Phu (also called Hoang Cong Chat Temple). We also paid tribute to the heroic martyrs at Doc Lap Cemetery.
Unluckily, Hong Cum only had the memorial stone.
Later, the riders took us to Nguyen Chi Thanh Street (which is called the 15m street by local people) to have lunch. In the evening, we also headed back here for our first rice dinner of the trip. They offered a delicious meal with a lot of vegetables. I liked it.
The city square was crowded by people gathering to see the big rehearsal before the “Lễ hội hoa ban” (White flower festival) was aired live on television tomorrow. It seemed interesting with so many cultural events.
I hardly slept on the coach. It reached the Pha Din Pass around 3 AM. I looked straight forward and it made me a bit scared. I admired that the driver could skillfully navigate the directions when the fogs limited my vision to 1 meter or so.
We reached Dien Bien Phu City around 6 AM. We checked in a hostel opposite to the bus station. After relaxing a bit, we walked to Muong Thanh Bridge and De Castries’ Bunker. We saw many white flowers along the streets. Such a beautiful scenery!
When we passed by the A1 Hill, it was closed for lunch break. So we had lunch at a place nearby (where I tried “sữa chua nếp cẩm” for the first time and thought it was not different from the yogurt with black sticky rice I used to make), then went back in the early afternoon.
Unluckily, the A1 Cemetery seemed to be closed. We didn’t dare get inside.
On the way back, we walked up to the top of D1 Hill where there was the Statue of Dien Bien Phu Victory. Then we walked back to the hostel around 4 PM.
In the evening, we went grocery shopping at a small supermarket.
After having breakfast at the hotel, my sis and I checked out early and walked to the nearest bus stop. Just when we reached the Gia Lam bus station then we realized that we should have taken the other way around. So we paid an extra bus fare to reach the My Dinh bus station.
Sadly, the earliest coach from Hanoi to Dien Bien only departed from 4:30 PM, so we had to stay at the station among the overwhelming solicitation of many companies. To my surprise, they offered a better price than the one the station sold.
After phở (noodles) lunch, we decided to get on a Thong Lan coach as the station sold tickets from this company. This was my first time experiencing a sleeper bus and it was kind of fun at first, scary at later. They let more people in than the number of beds, so there were people lying on the way.
Today, we had to endure smelly men who smoke a lot, at the bus station and stops on the go. It was cold and windy, and the smell traveled far. It was terrible for my sis and I. We always tried to hide from the smoke.
My plane took off from the Tan Son Nhat Airport a lil bit later than expected. Though my flight was with VietJetAir, I went to the Hanoi’s center by the JetStar bus. I checked in the Hanoi Sports Hotel (the one I stayed on the last trip to Sapa and Tam Coc) and took a leisure walk around the Old Quarter while waiting for my sis’s flight to come. She booked the tickets late so her flights didn’t depart at the same time with mine.
While walking around, I found out that I never set foot into the Bach Ma Temple (because it might have been it was closed before). This time, I saw a couple of Westerners walking inside so I followed them.
I was starved when my sis came to the hotel. I had chatted with a friend from HCMC who happened to be in Hanoi too, so the three of us met for “chả cá Lã Vọng” together. To my great disappointment, it appeared that this fish paste dish was worse and more expensive than before. The environment was bad, either.
We stopped by Hang Bac Temple and luckily, they let us in (at 9:30 PM or so). They were so nice.
Then we headed to the night market, and had some “nem chua rán” near the hotel before going to sleep.
After breakfast at the hotel, we took the bus at the Sword Lake to the Uncle Ho Mausoleum at Ba Dinh District. Then we had lunch separately (one of us had rice while the rest ate “bún chả”). Taking a long rest, we checked out of the hotel around 4 PM and had an early dinner at a sidewalk. Then we took a taxi to the VietJet Air bus stop.
And then, the Noi Bai airport was where we had a lot of problems. There was something wrong with the check-in system. We were supposed to depart at 8:45 PM but there was two long lines around 8 PM at the 2 check-in booths.
Our baggage weights were not the same, but in total there was no violation of transportation rules. The time we spent to take the coats out and put them back at the check-in booth and customs control gate (due to a fake warhead that made us nearly miss the flight). Luckily, everything was fine and we could depart Hanoi on time. And around 11 PM, we were home safe and sound.