Sunday 4th December 2016:
The night went very quick in this beautiful paisible tea plantation. It is not everyday that one can relish resting in such a place.
I got ready quite promptly knowing that my taxi was booked for 7.30am.
I went to get my breakfast as I knew the return to Hanoi would be very long and tedious, I returned to my cabin to pick up my bag so I could check out. I made my way to the reception with my backpack and my Non La hanging from the top side of my backpack. I sat quietly in the reception area waiting for my taxi to arrive whilst watching the sun rise in the horizon and sipping on some artichoke tea which was quite unusual …getting ready to leave! The landscape was so beautiful.
The taxi came as expected at 7.30am. I thanked the receptionist and to my surprise the taxi journey was approximately 10 mins long. The taxi dropped me to town, where I was originally picked up on my arrival a few days ago. It was rather odd seeing so many people leaving at such an early time on a Sunday.
As I finished paying the taxi guy, an old lady opened the door of the taxi, grabbed my arm, directed me to a bus and asked me to jump on the small local bus in front of me. I was very reluctant and tried to explain that I was expecting a sleeper bus due to my previous experience but failed with no avail. AH! anyway my aim was to get back to Hanoi no matter what. I confirmed with her that the local bus I was about to get on was going to Hanoi and she nodded.
As I was making my way on the bus, I saw that the rate was 110 000 VD and I knew that the duration of the trip would be just above 5 hours. So I agreed and 5 mins later, the bus departed.
We took off and the driver stopped every 5 minutes on the way on the first hour to beg people to get on the bus. Moc Chau being a very rural place there were not many people on the way. After a few minutes drive, the lady asked me for the money to pay. I was ready to give the 110 000 VD but she said 250 000 VD. I looked at her and showed her the 110 000 VD sign. She laughed and got shy as she knew she got caught. I try to give 110 000 VD but she refused saying more. I was in need to get back to Hanoi so I gave 200 000 VD and she accepted smiling. At that point, I didn’t care anymore. This journey was hard enough.
Although they were quite nice to me (being the only foreigner on the bus), there were only 5 people on the bus, they did make fun of my beard.
It wasn’t hard to move on to something else with such beautiful scenery. I was incredibly shocked about how beautiful Vietnam was, travelling through some of its rural provinces. The greenery was astonishing and the bamboo-like houses found on the way were incredibly beautiful. I was so happy, my dream of seeing all this came true. My dreams in life are quite simple and I am glad Allah swt has given me this gift.
I didn’t want to sleep because of the crazy road and in case I’d miss my stop. After a difficult climb, we took a break at some place to replenish on food. I bought some cakes made of Durian. Oh my days! What a mistake, never again!! I quickly traded it for water and chocolate.
After 5 long hours, we arrived in Hanoi but at the Be Xe station which is one of the many major bus stations within Hanoi. It was crazy. I was shocked that I got dropped there. Be Xe was quite far from Giap Bat. A driver begged me to go on his motorbike but I refused explaining to him that I couldn’t have my backpack on his bike in the city. Another driver asked me but again I refused. He kindly showed me the way to the stop so I could take the bus 21 to Giap Bat. I thanked him.
I got on bus 21 and no one was on it, a feeling of amazement and rest came over me as I was focusing intensely on the old but beautiful brown leather sits on this old bus. I tried to place myself far away from where people would sit so I wouldn’t disturb anyone. I was experiencing the real commuting in Hanoi and for that I felt like a local.
So the bus journey was approximatively an hour long, the more the bus went from stops to stops, the more I realised I was getting lost as I couldn’t locate the area on the map. I realised that the map I had was only covering the Old Quarter which I was very far from.
A young girl was looking at me looking at my map intensely. She came towards me and said: “Can I help you?”, I replied: “Oh yes please”. Her name was Hai and she asked where I wanted to go. I was trying to locate the Le Duan road as I would know how to make my way back to the Quarter from there. She said I was going in the right direction and that we needed to jump off the bus (not literally!). We came off the bus and crossed the crazy streets of Hanoi outside the Old Quarter which are even more crazy. Bear in mind I had my huge backpack with me running on a 100 meters crossing – so much fun! (no sarcasm).
We made it to the bus stop and she taught me how to use the bus stops as they work quite differently compared to other places in the world. The bus stations are on the front of the panel and all the stops at the back of it (pay attention here!).
Hai wished me farewell and I thanked her ever so much. She departed and Bus 41 came. The pollution level was very bad but I knew Le Duan was near. I came off the bus and managed to locate the address of 292 Le Duan, I found my way back to the Cosiana hotel (92 Le Duan) elated about my success. The walk was intense but so good. I was so in love with Vietnam at that point. Writing this makes me nostalgic.
I had food and prayed and left to find the Landmark Hotel nearer to the Old Quarter for check-in time. I checked in, dropped my bag and went straight out so I could dive back into the madness of Hanoi. It was then 3.30pm and I had prayed Asr already.
The first thing that hit me was the incredibly beautiful warmth of the city on this post Asr weather. The winter colours of the sun could be felt on the buildings as it begun to set.
My mission was to find the X-Lab and the Vintage Camera shop so I could buy or process some films. But on my way there, the pollution got so intense that I started to feel physically/mentally tired and unwell. I tried to find the X-Lab first that was originally at 6 Phuong Lien but was apparently moved nearer to Vintage Camera.
I gave up, feeling quite sad that I couldn’t even find this shop. I decided to settle down for the notorious and lovely ‘Egg Coffee’ at the Giang Cafe; Egg Coffee is a speciality and is only made in Hanoi. I sat at a table with three chairs not thinking much of the dynamics around, The air was stale and the smell of smoke overtook the air. People from everywhere around the world gathered here, it was beautiful. I ordered my coffee and was eagerly waiting for it to arrive. In the meantime I took my camera out of my bag to document my findings.
It was weird, the cafe looked so rundown and chaotic. Peanuts everywhere on the floor, coffee mugs everywhere and strong smell of cigarettes which was due to people being able to smoke within the premises. I didn’t pay no mind to it and was eager to get a shot of that coffee to boost me. I was totally knackered. I never drank coffee in my life so this coffee was my first coffee ever.
I connected to the Wi-Fi and 2 guys approached me and asked if they could sit next to me. I of course agreed. I pulled my bag away from the seat and they sat down.
They ordered egg coffee too and they turned towards me and asked me where I was from. I kindly replied: “London”. They became so happy as they love to practice English.
Their names: Vuong and Tuang An, both vietnamese, Vuong is a radiography doctor and Tuang An is a radiology engineer. Working together, they became friends and Tuang wanted Vuong to try egg coffee. I was shocked to hear that because it was Vuong’s first time at trying egg coffee.
We laughed a lot and often spoke via google translate when communication became difficult. The more we were speaking the more they were laughing. Then all of sudden, Vuong said: “Let’s go restaurant, do you want to eat dog?”. I replied: “dog?”. I laughed declining saying I couldn’t push myself to eat dog. I believe it is a delicacy in Vietnam (correct me if I am wrong).
I asked them if we could get some Jasmine tea and enjoy a beautiful evening. Vuong knew where to go. They fought over whom I should go behind on the motorbike. We rode through Hanoi at traffic time. It was insane. As we were riding, we were speaking at the same time, it was so much fun. Zigzagging through the traffic was so exciting and dangerous at the same time. We nearly crashed a few times.
I felt so alive and it is so difficult to describe this intense feeling of excitement into words.
After arriving at the other cafe, we bought some jasmine tea from a corner shop and only ordered boiling water in a tea pot. Vuong insisted on paying for the tea pot. We enjoyed speaking about everything. We exchanged emails and I felt so happy.
We departed and Tuang really wanted me to have a beautiful time in Hanoi so he insisted on helping find the shop. We spend a good 30 minutes trying to find it. I screenshot everything just in case. After a while I managed to find the shop and I ran back to Tuang who was waiting for me. I thanked him so much and said I was going to email him later. I did.
I spent a wonderful evening. I bought a lovely new strap for my Minolta XD-7 that I found at the Vintage Camera Shop. I also bought a roll of Fujicolor 100 which was expired of 2014 and made my way to a vegetarian restaurant where I met Victoria from Lyon, France. I always wanted to try Lotus tea so I ordered a cup and it was beautifully subtle, not as strong as green tea but still gorgeous enough to enjoy. It felt like life had stopped. The madness of the city outside the restaurant and the calmness inside of the restaurant was contrasting heavily on this warm night. I felt like I was alive and every minute counted every time I placed my lips on my cup to take a sip.
On my way home, I also treated myself to a lovely bubble tea.
I went home and showered, prayed and went to bed. I was gone!