Vietnam: Hanoi [Day Nine]

Monday 5th December 2016:

I woke up after a turbulent night, the air conditioner unit was so disruptive and made the whole room very cold.

I reluctantly went to get some breakfast after my shower which was quite poor and I had no appetite. Today was a low day. The difference of temperature was so evidently strong, I could notice the lovely scent of incense burning throughout the hallway downstairs in the reception. I left my room and took the awesome set of stairs to the next level but realised there were 12 levels. I looked all the way up and perceived the ceiling. What an incredible building this was, the architecture made it all special and the air being cold made it feel all so royalesque. The interior was strongly influenced by French architecture.

I decided to take the lift and got to the last floor of the hotel with the intention of getting a beautiful view of the city. As the doors opened, a lady came in, shocked, I said: “Oh hi”. She replied excited: “Hello hello hello”. She introduced herself, her name was Ba Twe from Myanmar, Burma and uttered that it was her first time in Vietnam. I replied accordingly and said that I wanted to have a view of the city so I shyly left the elevator and said my farewell. She took a step back as the doors of the lift closed and said that she wanted to discover Hanoi in a better way. She asked me if I wouldn’t mind her following me on my quest to discover the beautiful spots of Hanoi.

I took the pictures I wanted whilst chatting and replied that I didn’t mind.

The first thing I explained Ba Twe was to be careful of her belonging. She insisted on walking all the way to the Old Quarter.

I suggested to get egg coffee on her first day in Hanoi. One of my notes was ripped so could not be used, I had to pop in to a bank to change it which they did without any hassle.

Today I had planned to go on the perfume pagoda excursion but I couldn’t be bothered to travel again on a day trip. My energy was wearing thin. I was already exhausted and we were blessed with a 27 degrees Celsius weather all day, the weather felt very sticky/humid.

We set off onto the first part of the trip into this madness, the city was waking up. She arrived late in the night so didn’t see much of the city. We took a different route to get to the cafe, we went through a side street and passed a micro-market where people were cutting meat on small metal plateaux and were selling all sorts of vegetables. The smell was very strong.

We could see a huge mist in the air around 10am and the station was packed. It felt like the whole city was already active.

We went through a different way to get to Cafe Giang. We finally reached the café after a great walk. 

We entered the long corridor and the kitchen was in front of us. The sweet smell of condensed milk and roasting coffee beans hit our senses so delicately. Excited I walked up the stairs leading the way for Ba Twe. Ba Twe was smiling so much she was so happy. 

The cafe was not busy at all and what a lovely time it was and everywhere was clean. Ba Twe was so excited. She was so happy that it brightened her day, the coffee was so good.

Ba Twe thanked me at every sip of her coffee and even asked for a second cup.

After a lovely shot of Coffee we decided to hit the road again and not waste any more time. The weather was so lovely reminding me of France in summer.

We walked around the Lake Hoàn Kiem for a while.

Ba Twe wanted to do the rest of her trip by herself as she had to go the Old Quarter. We both went separate ways and it was the last time I saw her.

I wanted to take time around the lake Hoàn Kiem to relax and write some stuff and record on paper what I had experienced so far but my love for photography took over and the heat got too much. I decided to walk back to the district. I was now fully operational in this district of Hanoi and knew my way around.

I was also very determined to finish my roll of Fujicolor 100 which was dear to me as when my friend Takugo gifted me with a roll when he used to live in UK, I used it for my cherry blossoms series back in London. I liked the tones so much I wanted to try more of it.

I went back to the hotel to pray after buying some Kitkat matcha, a bottle of water and lychee juice then hit the spot straight away at Cosiana D’lions restaurant for lunch time.

As I mentioned earlier on in the post, I was feeling quite low today but it was due to the fact that my very good friend Wayne had passed away a week ago and I didn’t get a chance to deal with it due to the intense travels and constantly having to be on the go. Today I guess, was the day I had to face my emotions. I confronted my feelings as I knew this sadness would perdure the more I was putting a plaster on this wound.

My sadness was great as I miss him a lot. I didn’t even get to see him before he passed though I travelled to Wales with the intention to visit him, not knowing that he would pass away the very next day. Wayne didn’t want me to see him in this state but he would have been the first person to read my diary in this beautiful place (Vietnam).

To him we belong and to him is our return.

My friend Hernan contacted me and told me to go out to change my mind. I broke down in tears at the receipt of his message as his kindness touched my heart, I walked to the mirror and spent 10 mins staring at myself seeing so much of him in me. He helped me become the man I am today. Thank you Wayne….I miss you…. I wiped my tears and made my ablutions.

Hernan still insisted that I should go out so I grabbed my bag and left. The weather was incredible, he was right and the feel of this pastel amber setting wintery sun made me feel so at peace.

Perhaps that was my gift from الله عز وجل that even when things are difficult there is still beauty in this universe. My heart felt calmer. Verily our hearts are wild creatures, perhaps this is why our ribs are cages.

My pace slowed right down the more I was walking. I was trying to absorb the wonderful pace and energy of this insane territory.

I just couldn’t believe that I was in South East Asia in the middle of Hanoi. I was pondering about life a lot, this entire chaotic environment allowed me to concentrate on my life and focus on what really matters in life. It’s amazing what travelling does to your heart and brain, it’s like a drug that completely opens your mind. You get to know about yourself and you get to know about the world around you. I learnt so many new things about myself and most importantly I became more aware of the wonderfully breathtaking world around me. – MS

After some time walking in the city, I spotted a few guys with film cameras but I was obviously too shy to approach them. I went back to the Vintage Camera Shop around 17:00 and I asked the guy where the photo lab was as I was adamant to not leave Hanoi without finding it.

He left the shop and asked me to follow him to the place which was kind. He showed me the sign of the lab on the side street. I thanked him and went there. I had all my rolls with me so I could enquire about the processing time and price. I walked up the stairs with excitement. The interior of the flats were incredible.

I got to the top floor and found the guy who ran the lab. I asked him about the processing time for a few rolls. He replied to me that it could take more than 24 hours for processing and scanning. Disappointed, I had to decline the service as I was flying to Ho Chi Minh City the very next day and this wouldn’t give enough time to come and pick them up. I sent a message to Tayne to convey my disappointment but he boosted my morale by letting me know about his lab in Saigon.

I left happier and went onto taking more pictures. Time for salah was approaching so I missioned to reach the masjid in time in the other district. I experienced the intense rush hour and it was so overstimulating. My senses were all over the place.

I managed to get into the masjid and sought refuge within from the incredible rush hour madness. It was already getting dark and I rushed to the bathroom to perform my ablution and got ready.
I met some brothers from Vietnam, Indonesia, UAE. I stayed in within the masjid until Ishaa. Feeling tired and drained, I knew that good food was needed. I left the mosque and went to the Old Quarter to find a restaurant. I felt like eating vegetarian food again so I visited Viet Village again to enjoy a beautiful mushroom steak cooked in soya sauce with chips and eggs. Topped with a wonderful cup of Jasmine tea.

There were no more shots to take as the night masked the sky and the city quite quickly.

I thanked the staff and returned back to my hotel, happy of what I had achieved. I arrived at the hotel after a 20 mins walk and confirmed with hotel the time for the pick up the next day.

Bed time!

Vietnam: Return to Hanoi [Day Eight]

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!

 

Vietnam: Moc Chau Part II [Day Seven]

Saturday 3rd of December 2016:

I woke up to the sound of the ladies discussing things. The ladies were getting ready, I went to make my ablution and I prayed Fajr. It was still so very dark outside and the rural cold was slightly kissing our skin. I could hear no car passing; just pure silence.

I had no idea how the place looked nor felt like as I only arrived yesterday just before midnight.

I got ready for 7am as the breakfast time started at that time. I walked out of the dormitory to the balcony and what I saw took my breath away. My eyes were never ready for what was in front of me. The early morning fog gently rested over the hills on this magnificent landscape and the air never felt so pure.

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I went down the stairs and made my way to the restaurant for breakfast (the walk took me approximately three minutes). Oddly, I was the first one there. I asked the chef what was on the menu but he couldn’t speak English. I tried to ask if they had fish but I gathered that they only did chicken for lunch and dinner.

I had my breakfast which consisted of cabbage, steam rice rolls (called Banh Cuon) and bread and eggs (it was delicious especially the Banh Cuon which really opened my mind to new flavours and some new culinary discoveries). It was the best breakfast in a while since I arrived in Vietnam, minimalistic but great in flavours. I finished just in time before the place became crowded, I left the area and embarked on an expedition on my own in the tea plantation. It was just out of this world and I couldn’t get over the peacefulness of this place. I had read the reviews but nothing could match the description of what was before me.

000016-copy 000045-copyThese were the little container flats with full view over the plantation. Taken from the balcony of the restaurant through the window.

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000056-copy I went far into the tea plantation and walked up the hills until I reached the top but the climb became difficult and I could notice some of the wildlife on the hills. I arrived on a plateau and saw some sugar canes everywhere.

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As I reached the top I heard the vegetation move (see the picture above) so I decided to walk back just in case I would come face to face with a predator but also because I was on my own I didn’t want to play brave.

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I managed to reach the main tea plantation after an accelerated returned walk. I passed a lady picking up tea leaves in her bag. That was exactly my dream to see someone do this, the original way.

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Someone had left their Non La in this little open bamboo shed. I saw a few Asian giant hornets. I walked back the other way so I wouldn’t get in contact with any as they are notorious for inflicting excruciating pain.

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I became tired and I realised that I forgot to return my friends messages so I walked back to the dormitory to get some Wi-Fi, to answer my friend Mike from Hong Kong and Takugo from Japan.
The receptionist came and said that my room (that I initially booked for the night before) was now ready. I got so excited and grabbed all my stuff and followed her into the complex. I arrived into the room and checked in.

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I had to speak to the receptionist via google translate for the complex questions. It was quite funny.

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I checked in and had a look around in my new found room. I decided it was time to sleep for a while to regain energy until Dhuhr. After praying and preparing my cameras with the right equipment I decided to go out again. The receptionist wanted me to book a taxi and was really pushing for it. I refused as it was way too expensive. She showed me the map and I saw that it was near where I was picked up yesterday which means it should have cost me around 60 000 VD but she said it was 250 000 VD.

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Ì politely denied but was also saddened by the rip-off-attempt, I made my way by myself out of the complex and onto the street. I ended up going for a 10 km walk on the main road (no towns around) just houses and small villages.

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It was insanely rural and the smell of the livestock and cows was quite dominant. I had only my XA with me and it felt so great walking with so little things on me.

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It was rather strange to walk on the main road as everyone was either looking/staring at me or waving at me which was also adorable. They must have thought: “Why is a there a brown dude here?” haha.

000042-copy 000048-copy 000047-copySome of the houses were really beautiful and the passing cars were beeping their horns waving at me.

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I stopped at this butcher. The meat and vegetables were on display. People came a picked up some meat, paid and left.

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After a long walk from the main road, I decided to return to the room as I didn’t want to get lost. I couldn’t eat any of the food they had to offer at the restaurant as I didn’t know how it was prepared, there was no vegetarian meal neither so I bought two packs of crisps on the road and a few cans of 7UP.

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Due to tiredness from the intense walk, I relaxed watching this view.

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I then took advantage of my relaxation time to write my diary.

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After a last walk out, a trip to reception was needed. I asked the receptionist if she could book a taxi  for me for 7:30 am.for tomorrow. She kindly did.

I retired back to my room as the sun was setting already. This day went so quickly it was surreal. I looked at the sun set. I decided to not eat anything.

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I called my mother to tell her about my adventure. Dad was away with my brother so she was by herself at home. We stayed almost three hours on the phone. Then it was time for me to go to bed because of the intense ride to come the next day.

This post was more photography than words.

 

Vietnam: Moc Chau Part I [Day six]

Friday 2nd of December.

I bothered Da so much about finding out how to get from Tam Coc to Moc Chau with one bus. I had so many questions and because Vietnam is such a big country it is almost impossible to know it all.

I even asked some shop keepers on my outings if they knew a direct way to Moc Chau from here without having to go back to Hanoi.

In the end, I didn’t want to indulge in over stretching myself. I accepted that I had to travel back to Hanoi.

So I got ready in the morning with a feeling of melancholy. Having so much fun with Marc and Maddie and all the other people I had met. I wanted to stay but of course I had a journey of my own to make. After missing the time for breakfast [due to oversleeping]. Da kindly asked me if I wanted something to eat. I was surprised and I asked him for a simple omelette and toast.

I went to sit down. Marc came and we were discussing the next step of our trips. I told him that I needed to leave soon. My clothes still needed to be delivered and to my surprise they had been washed and dried! I was very happy to finally have some fresh clothes to wear despite the suffocating heat.

Marc and Maddy were so excited about their trip the day before and told me everything about it.

I knew that check out was going to be in 2 hours. I went to see Da to ask him one last time about going back to Hanoi and he assisted me with it. Da offered me to drop me to the Ninh Binh station which is 10 minutes away from the homestay. Time went by quite quickly.

Da got ready and placed my bag on the front sit of the motorbike waiting for me as I was saying my goodbyes. Marc hugged me and I realised that I lost my ability to give good hugs leaving on my own. Perhaps I will learn again one day.

I was confused as how to put a 70L backpack on tiny scooter? But of course, in Vietnam this is not a problem. I was amazed at their problem solving skills. I jumped on the bike behind Da and we left. Again a feeling of sadness took over as I was absorbing the last portion of the landscape I was seeing.

We left and I asked him where the station was, he said that he didn’t know. I stopped utterly confused. He stopped the motorbike on the junction and we crossed in a very hurried manner. He said to me to wait by him as the traffic were flowing alongside us. He said: “There will be a bus coming soon around 12:20pm (it was 12:18pm) and when I say go, you have to go”. I nodded all shaken. A few seconds after, a bus approached at traffic pace and Da waved to the driver and the bus slowed down but didn’t stop. Da said: “Go”, I quickly hugged Da and I ran towards the moving bus with all my luggage and Non La. A guy jumped out and helped me get on the bus by grabbing my backpack, once safe on the bus I sat down and I showed my receipt that Da previously gave me when I paid for this journey. I had to remove my shoes, it was a sleeper bus. I sat next to the guy and showed him the receipt and said: “Hanoi”, he nodded and told me to at the back to find a bed. I managed to find a bed and rested for a few minutes to recompose myself from this craziness. There were no bus stops on the way, it seemed that I had to be at the right place at the right time if I wanted to get to my destination.

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I prayed and fell asleep a few minutes after for a few minutes. I woke up again and changed my films.

The journey was not that long, the bus took me to Giap Bat. Two hours later and asking myself where Hanoi was, I finally saw the cityscape. I went to the driver and asked him. He signed with his hand 10 minutes. I went back to sit down and got my backpack ready just in case I had to do a crazy jump out.

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We arrived at Giap Bat, straight away, guys from everywhere came to ask what I needed. I didn’t have the time to ask or debate so I made my way to the kiosque. I asked what bus stop it was for Moc Chau. The lady at the kiosque wrote on a piece of paper, the number of the bus and the stop I had to take the bus from. I went to line 13 at the kiosque and realised it was the line 16 for departure for Moc Chau or West Vietnam – I realised that I was at the wrong station altogether. I asked another lady and she wrote on a piece of paper that the bus I had to take was in My Dinh. This is another main station within Hanoi.

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-16-35-42That was one hell of a challenge. The ticket was 7000 VD. The bus to my shock took an hour to go from Giap Bat to My Dinh. I tried to be patient. I was also running very low on cash so I needed an ATM to replenish on money. Not knowing where I was going, I was praying that the place I go to would have an ATM very close to me. I waited until the end of the journey to make my decision on where to go. We arrived at My Dinh – at 15:24. I made my way to the main station. I asked a lady receptionist for the Moc Chau bus and she said 15:30 [bearing in mind that it was 15:26].

I still had to go the ATM and the lady assisted me saying that it was out of the station on the left. I ran out trying to find it and couldn’t find it at all and crossing this busy junction was no joke. I felt stranded. I managed to cross after 15 minutes of struggling knowing that my bus was gone.

I managed to find an ATM which was quite. I was relieved after getting my money because I knew that I wouldn’t have been able to run this distance and back to catch the bus. I accepted the fate.

I ran the second time and somebody came to help me. They said 16:00. Unfortunately the moving bus (local bus) was already on its way out. I couldn’t board it. A guy saw me and asked me for my help, I told him where to go. He showed me the bus and it was him the driver. He took my purchased ticket. I asked him if I could have a receipt as I had no idea if he truly was the driver. He gave me a receipt and asked me to come back in a few minutes. I didn’t leave the premises and only bought a few biscuit for the road. The whole place was immense and so busy and noisy. I asked the driver if I could board the bus whilst waiting. It was now 16:10 and I was informed that the bus would leave at 17:00. I had another 50 minutes of wait to do. I was defeated already. I had been on the bus since 12:00pm.

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The hour went by quite quickly. I took advantage of my time to write my diary.

The bus departed and the hustle bustle never stopped. It got dark quite quickly and we were hitting the motorway in no time. I knew that the trip was going to take five hours but had no idea on where to stop.

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For the whole way I was making dua that I get to arrive in Moc Chau with no problems.

A lady was violently vomiting at the back of the bus during the whole way. The sleeper bus was so packed, people were sleeping on the floor in the aisle making it difficult for people to leave at their respective stop. This was an insight into the South East Asian culture. I was in love.

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The journey was long and I realised how patient I was as this was a serious test but I wasn’t feeling bored at all as I was contemplating life and figuring out my problems and resolving them one by one al hamdullilah. I was also wrong on so many levels on how I was living my life. Capitalism had driven us mad, sucked in a rat race not even worth running for.

I was a stranger in a land.

I stood out so evidently but people paid no mind to me. They looked at me and smiled. One of the guys sat next to me was pulling his cover over himself an to my shock I saw that he had a gun. He noticed that I saw it. I looked away and try to avoid eye contact for the whole way at all cost. When he had to pay for his ticket, he had a stack of money with him. It was just so interesting to see the dynamics between everyone.

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I fell asleep for a few hours, When approaching 21:30, I became a little unsettled as to where and when I should get off. Then all of a sudden after making dua, the neon lights left room for the normal lights and a guy shouted: “Moc Chau”, I grabbed my bag and my Non La and my small green bag (where I had put my shoes in) and jumped out of the bus.

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Initial reaction: Where am I?!!!!!!!

An old taxi man came to me and said: “Where do you need to go?” I replied: “Moc Chau Arena” showing him the plan and the hotel address.

He said to me: “60 000 VD” I accepted as there was no bargaining to be done at 22:20 in the middle of nowhere. He drove me to the place and his English was excellent. It was so dark outside, I could see no lights and the stars were so beautifully visible.

He gave me his card after I paid him should I needed him again.

I entered the place and I wanted to check in. I could sense that they were being weird. I asked straight away “is there a problem?”, the lady laughed nervously and said: “because you came late, we had to give your room away to someone”. I was like….say what?? but I looked at the time and said to myself: “Don’t argue, show respect, it’s too late and they look tired too”.

She then said: “We can give you the dormitory room for free and you don’t have pay for this night”. I got myself a deal. All I needed as a place to sleep and I couldn’t careless where it was. I got given a bed in the dormitory and went to bed straight away after praying. The dormitory was occupied by a Chinese family. 

I fell asleep after almost 12 hours of bus journey. Vietnam I was never ready for this!

 

Vietnam: Trang Ang [Day Five]

Thursday 1st December 2016:

I woke up to the lovely sound of cockerels and crickets. The very soundtrack of nature gently warmed me up to what was going to be a wonderful muted sunrise in the quiet town of Tam Coc near Ninh Binh.

I slept well on my lovely bamboo bed and the beautiful silence of the country side put me at peace.

I got ready taking my time and made my way to the cafe area to have my breakfast. I had omelette and toast. I met Marc at 8.30am as agreed last night.

After breakfast, one of the members of staff came to see me and said that my guide would arrive in 15 minutes. Shocked by the promptness, I rushed to my room and packed all the stuff needed for the day.

The guide arrived and I introduced myself to him, his name was Loa. I couldn’t speak Vietnamese much and he couldn’t speak English much neither but communication wasn’t difficult somehow. Before taking off, I quickly asked Da (the member of staff) about the washing I needed to do as it was so much of it (I had to pay 92 000 VDG).

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I jumped on the motorbike and made my dua. I was incredibly excited about the day to come. One thing that completely made the whole experience extraordinary was the beautiful wintery sun (warm there!) that blessed our skin.

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We embarked on a road towards Trang An. On the motorway I asked Loa if he could stop as the speed of the motorbike, the  passing motorbikes and the morning dew was making the weather quite cold. He kindly accepted and we parked on the adjacent bridge. I quickly searched my bag for my jumper, found it and put it on. I took opportunity of the small break to put a roll of film in my Olympus XA. Loa was shocked to see that there were still people using film. He was happy to see young people still doing it. We got back on the motorbike and set on our quest again, this time I had my XA carefully wrapped from my wrist.

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The first destination was not far from the Hoa Lu complex which was a place where the Vietnamese dynasty stopped. It was quite interesting and part of that excursion was to climb a crazy 80 meters mountain which wasn’t expected and was rather difficult as the weather was really hot.

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I finished my trek and went down to the base of the mountain to find Loa waiting for me patiently. We passed Trang An and Loa said it would be on our return.

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It was so amazing being at the back of the motorbike for so long, I was able to absorb the whole experience from a passive point of view and take pictures whilst travelling.

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We went really far and reached Bai Dinh after 25 minutes of ride. Bai Dinh is a massive Buddhist complex. We didn’t spend much time there as the place was way too big for only our 40 minutes walk/visit.

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We walked far into the complex and saw many beautiful buildings with interesting architecture.

I asked Loa if it was ok if we could leave as there would not be enough time for the rest. He agreed and we left under the scorching sun.

On our way out, Loa stopped to drink some tea and I replenished my films. A random guy joined us and wanted to eat with Loa. They took us to a street restaurant but all they had was meat. I asked Loa if it was ok to go back to Trang Ang as on our way here I had spotted some nice restaurants. He agreed and we left, the random guy departed from us somehow confused. Haha.

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We got on the bike and drove to Trang An and hunger was at its peak just like the sun (at its zenith). I found a very touristy restaurant and decided to try their food. I ordered a Sweet and Sour Fish and Rice dish. I asked Loa if he wanted something but refused. He then left and said he wanted to go to the toilet. The food came and it was nice (the food reminded me of rougaille poisson). Loa came back 30 minutes and I figured out he had eaten.

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I was well full up. I needed to relax so we departed to go on the boat ride. I purchased my ticket and passed the ticket into the machine. Loa surprised me by buying himself a ticket too. We passed the gates (electronic gates??? – in the most rural part of Vietnam!). We were joined by an Argentinian guy and a guy from Frankfurt. We introduced ourselves and we really hit it off nicely.

We started the journey into the past. It seriously looked like Jurassic Park.

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The more the boat was going through the caves and along the savage landscape, the more it took my breath away. It was as if King Kong lived there and the sun rays were piercing through the mountains.

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We went through a total of 8 caves. I shot 5 rolls just on this day and I was worried that I perhaps had to go buy some more films in Hanoi before I go to Ho Chi Minh City.

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So far everything about Vietnam was beautiful and the rural aspect of it blew me away. Some places were so remote that they had a dozen houses and 3 shops and nothing for like 3 kilometres. I got to row a bit which was a good experience. The sun was very strong and I drank a lot.

The tour was indeed 2 hours and I got quite fond of the lotus flowers along the way.

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We got off to the pier after a lengthy time on the boat and proceeded to the last leg of our trip; the famous Mua Caves. We rode the bike towards this gorgeous place and let me tell you! This isn’t for the faint hearted, it was one hell of a climb. The entrance fees were 100 000 VD. I paid and entered the giant complex. I walked quite far and enjoyed the initial walk and in the background I saw Loa running after me. I think he changed his mind and paid the entrance fee too. He started the climb and he put me to shame! Loa was 47 and he climbed better than I did. We laughed it off , me obviously being very embarrassed.

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The whole place looked like a scene from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

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We arrived at the top and strangely I saw the photographer I had seen in Hanoi! What a small world.

I took pictures of the ever picturesque Tam Coc.

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We stopped there for quite a bit just to recover from the climb and absorb this magnificent view. Loa was so silent and so humble.

It was time to leave, as I walked towards the stairs, I misjudged the steps height and fell on my behind. A Chinese guy, shouted: “Are you ok?”. I laughed nervously and replied: “yes, thank you?”. The climb down was as challenging as the climb up.

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We went to the Mua Cave and Loa was very silent, almost as if he was spiritually connected to the place. I think he was very happy to have joined me on this trip. We decided it was time to wrap up and go. Loa agreed and he dropped me back to the homestay. The ride back was just breathtaking, riding through the golden sunset of this magnificent landscape made me sad on how much we are missing on the most important gifts in life; nature. I almost cried because of how precious this moment was. I felt like time stopped. I never could prepare enough for this day. I felt so blessed.

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I arrived at the homestay safe and sound, I thanked Loa and wished him well for the future. Bigh appeared behind me and said: “how was the day?”. I replied with so much contentment and excitement that she hugged me. I was shocked. She then reached into her bag and got a corn on a cob, fresh out of the kitchen and offered it to me. She just had prepared it for her family but insisted on me having one. I was so touched.

I met a few people from Brazil and Germany. Then a well deserved rest was needed. I retired to my room and got ready for bed after a beautiful day!

The Heygate Estate

In June 2012, my good friend Leon James and I decided to go on an expedition in London. After researching about many interesting things to do within the London perimeter we opted for The Heygate Estate which appealed to us as it is/was an iconic estate in the story of South London.

The Heygate Estate is located in Elephant & Castle and was the home of nearly 1300 families. The whole estate has been left vacant for various reasons (such as violence, gangs and drugs) until only one family was left leaving there. This is very interesting and attracted so many people around from different countries. Leon and I met the people leaving there and it was so strange. The whole neighbourhood looked like a post-apocalyptic scene from a movie or even scene from Jumanji (with the leaves).

On that day I was equipped with my “at the time” Yashica Mat 124g which was my first working medium format camera. Before heading to Heygate we took a trip to Calumet UK to get some rolls. I bought a pack of 5 Fuji Reala 100 (a film that has been discontinued by Fujifilm).

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On our way to Heygate I was anxious of not being able to get in Heygate as the perimeter was protected by fences and it looked like they had already started the renovation.

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After a few minutes of circling the Estate we managed to find an entrance into the Estate. We jumped the 3 feet high barrier and started walking around in absolute AWW.

What surprised me was the fact that there were so many people within the Estate. We ran into Free Runners, Painters, Graffiti Artists, Music Directors and also a few photographers.

After approaching the buildings, Leon and I saw a little grilled door that was damaged and led into the buildings. We sneaked into it and started out expedition into the Urban Jungle.

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Adventure in the chaos of Heygate! Hazardous environment

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After carefully avoiding the “non-climbing paint” that would stain the clothes forever and the needles on the floor we made our way to the symbolic roof top where we took pictures of London. Unfortunately I shot a roll of Fuji Pro 400H (you guys know how much that stuff cost so I ain’t even gonna go there!!) and after taking it to the lab it came back blank! I was devastated as I took some amazing shots of Leon James and the surroundings. Oh well it wasn’t meant to be.

After that we went down to the lower floors and started exploring the balconies and tried to find an entrance to some abandoned flats. It looked so raggedy and beat-up.

We geared up with medium format cameras and new rolls and started shooting.

I got carried away so many times Leon kept on telling to watch out for the needles. Thanks Leon for looking out for me 🙂

This building had so much character

We carried on to the balconies on the left hand side

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The inside of the flats and balconies were a bit spooky and we started to feel quite uncomfortable so we decided to leave the building to go to the next place. The sun was blasting on us really badly so we had to take cover under the trees. It was like walking into an post-apocalyptic movie, it was just unreal, concrete jungle with leaves everywhere. We started touring in the abandoned of what used to be playgrounds before.

After all this we were shattered from the climbing and the descending we had to go to the shop to take a break. We decided to leave the Heygate and come back another day.

Unfortunately after this (June 2013) we never manage to come back to Heygate to shoot Part 2 of the 5 Parts but it will always remain an amazing experience.

We are now December 2013 and I went to Heygate with Wojtek Mszyca to take pictures but it was under demolition, I was devastated that we will never be able to experience such a thing again.

The end.