Sapa – Tam Coc, Day 6: Uncle Ho Mausoleum (Hanoi)

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 VietJetAir 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.

Sapa – Tam Coc, Day 5: Tam Coc – Bich Dong (Ninh Binh)

We came back to Hanoi very early, so we stayed at the train station for a while before catching a taxi back to Hanoi Sports Hotel.

We walked to the Sword Lake and enjoyed seeing people exercising for a bit, then searched for the place where a bus would wait for us. Around 8 AM, we started for Ninh Binh province where we would visit Hoa Lu (the old capital of Vietnam under Dinh, Tien Le and Ly dynasties) and Tam Coc (which is dubbed the Ha Long Bay on land).

Hoa Lu architecture looked like Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam to me, so I wasn’t so interested. But Tam Coc was exquisite beyond description. I preferred the Ha Long Bay on land to the real Ha Long Bay.

All of us loved the boat trip on Tam Coc. What a majestic scenery!

And I also liked the buffet with local specialties.
Back to Hanoi, after dinner, we went to Dong Xuan night market very late. Then we found the delicious sweet treats on a sidewalk to enjoy before we called it a night.

Sapa – Tam Coc, Day 1: Hanoi

Because the VietJetAir plane to Hanoi was delayed several hours, we landed at Noi Bai airport quite early in the morning. We only reached the Hanoi Sports Hotel around 3 AM. We were all too tired and went to sleep right away.

The alarm woke me up around 7 AM. We headed downstairs for breakfast. Around 9 AM, we walked to the Sword Lake. After visiting around for a while, we took the electric car for a 35-minute trip around center districts (should have picked option no. 1 around the Old Quarter instead).

We checked out the hotel and wheeled our baggage to the Highlands Coffee near the lake. We had lunch and spent almost the afternoon there. It was quite sunny outside.

Then around 4 PM, we wheeled out baggage to the Hanoi railway station. The streets were so terrible for walking that we all sweated out a lot (should have taken the taxi instead). So we decided to rent a room for taking shower before we got on the train. There we called KFC for dinner. (The chicken had a lot of fat and tasted worse than in Saigon).

We checked out of the hotel and went to the station on time to take the 8:30 PM overnight train to Lao Cai. We spent the evening playing cards. Often I was lost, but today I won. So lucky! Then we called it a night around 11 PM and went to sleep. (We booked a 4-berth cabin with soft sleepers so we felt quite comfortable.)

Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Day 15: Chengdu To Hanoi, Transit In Guangzhou

I didn’t have a good night sleep so I felt a lil bit tired after waking up. Alex said that he didn’t wanna miss breakfast. Alex looked forward to a Western breakfast, but they served a Chinese one. Ha ha! But I liked this kind of a light breakfast.

We rent a bike next door, at Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel, to cycle around the city. It was great to ride in Chengdu because there was no rain nor shine. I realized that the Chinese girl style of riding bicycles and e-bikes was a lot different from the Vietnamese ones. They rode bikes like guys did. No exception! It was raining a lil bit after our 3 hours of cycling.

Checked out of Angelica Hotel 5 mins before 12 noon. I liked the advertising panel near the hotel that says, ‘Red is the new attitude.’ At last, I bought some cookies as a gift for our colleagues. We had a simple lunch in a near-by store with vegetables only.

Because we still had a lot of time, Alex wanted to try a real coffee. In a building, we found a coffee shop which looked normal from outside but was of high class inside. The expensive Italian coffee here cost a lot more than what I ever tried in Vietnam.

Again, we got on the wrong bus 300 to the North Bus Station instead of the airport. At last, the bus made it to the airport soon enough for us to board the plane. We had a lil bit of trouble because Alex used his name to book my ticket, so we needed help from the China Southern Airlines for some changes.

There was no delay, but we still ran at Guangzhou Baiyunport again because I wanted to be sure we could be on time for the next international plane to Hanoi. I had a fever and was afraid of the health check and customs clearances at Guangzhou and Noi Bai airports. But turned out everything was okay. We arrived at Noi Bai airport at 10:30 PM.

Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Day 1: Hanoi To Chengdu, Transit In Guangzhou

Got the boarding pass long ahead of time, but I was still late for the boarding time because I thought that the time on the paper was the beginning time of boarding. I heard the last call for several times and realized that I was late. My French friend and I had to run at Noi Bai airport. But that wasn’t the only trouble of the day.

Filled in the immigration quarantine form on the airplane for H1N1. Though the outbreak of H5N1 was severe, but I just needed to pass a simple gate and there was no special control as far as I knew.

However, the wait to clear customs at Baiyunport in Guangzhou was quite long, but I was impressed at the largeness of the airport. It’s too big that they use horizontal escalators to help people move from gate to gate.

Alex had a problem with Chinese customs because his Omo detergent pack. Maybe they thought it was heroin?

As we reached Guangzhou at 9AM and the next flight to Chengdu is in the afternoon, we decided to spend our transit time at Guangzhou downtown. So, we got on the bus No. 2 or so which stopped at the President Hotel in the city center.

We went to a Chinese restaurant with an all-Chinese menu. After several times explaining the dish, we had a claypot of chicken rice for lunch. It tasted good!

What I did in 3 hours in this city: viewing the metro (just the ticket system and not the trains), having lunch in a restaurant where everybody stared at Alex, getting lost, and buying a brand-new camera at the technology fair, a Canon IXUS 100 IS. The salesgirl’s English was kinda limited, but she was very good at her job. She confirmed that the camera was made in Japan, and gave me a discount after convincing me for a while. The camera was also equipped with a 4 GB Kingston memory card.

We had a lot trouble catching the bus back to Baiyunport. We waited for the bus in vain in front of the President Hotel but no bus seemed to pass by. We had a lot of problem asking around as we couldn’t speak Chinese while other didn’t understand English. All the signboards were written in Chinese without any Pinyin. At last, a nice taxi driver understood what Baiyunport meant. We took the taxi to the Baiyunport bus stop about a few hundred meters away from where we thought it should have been.

Got in time for checking in at Baiyunport, but the boarding machine didn’t recognize Alex’s online tickets. Luckily, we got help. But unluckily, we had the meal on the plane before it departed because of traffic jam at the airport. I did a quiz on the plane but didn’t finish it. I knew that my English was limited.

Because of the plane delay, we checked in at the Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel at about 11:30 PM. I walked a lot today: at the airports, around the Guangzhou downtown, walking to find the hostel (under the rain), specifically getting lost several times. When we found that there was a shuttle car at the Old Sim’s Cozy, I found so relieved. And luckily, it was a free ride. Such a long day!

We haven’t booked the hostel in advance, so we were lucky to find that there’s still a room with 2 separate beds in this Sim’s Cozy. It seemed to be a well-known place in Chengdu for travelers.

Even the day was long and we were tired enough, we still watched the Italian movie Gomorra (part 1) together from my Dell netbook before sleeping.