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!

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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: Ninh Binh [Day Four]

Wednesday 30th November 2016:

I woke up and was already feeling more relaxed thanks to the wonderful experience of the day before. I was just about getting the hang of it in Hanoi but unfortunately today, I had to leave this wonderful place. I had breakfast which was lovely and returned to the room to pack everything one last time.

I went to the reception to confirm that the taxi was indeed coming for 11.15am as the time for the bus departure to the city of Ninh Binh was at 12.25pm.

The manager of Cosiana Hotel saw me and came to speak to me about my experience at the hotel and wanted to know if everything went well. He was from Malaysia.

I returned to the room and felt a bit dehydrated so I drank as much water as I could. I Did a bit of Yoga (more like stretching haha) to relax and gradually my energy level went up. After all, I was on holiday.

I made my way down and waited in the hotel lobby for the taxi to come with my big backpack. I checked out and I was really excited to finally see what Vietnam had to offer from a nature point of view, even though Halong Bay filled my satisfaction. I gained a certain level of confidence. I guess it took me a while to adjust to this culture shock. I was now over my anxiety and my jet lag was wearing off slowly.

The taxi arrived quite promptly and on time (11.15am). There was no real rush for this trip as Ninh Binh was only two hours away from Hanoi. It was my first taxi in Vietnam and the receptionist said that it would cost no more than 90 000 VDG. I was nervously staring at the mileage on my way to Giap Bat (one of the main bus stations in Hanoi).

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The traffic became mildly strong, admiring the beautiful sights of Hanoi that I didn’t get to visit. We arrived about 30 minutes later at Giap Bat. It was surreal and so fast. The taxi driver parked inside the bay and all of a sudden 3 or 4 guys opened the door from both sides of the car asking me where I was going.

I was slightly perturbed. I asked if they could close the door whilst I paid the driver who laughed at my inexperience of dealing with the situation. I realised I was alone in this! I paid the driver and I came out and a guy took my bag with him and directed me to a moving bus in direction to Ninh Binh. What a chaotic immersion into the South East Asian world.

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It reminded me so much of Mauritius. I boarded the moving bus (health and safety?) and it was only two guys and myself on it. They placed my bag at the back of the bus and we had to wait for an hour for the station to clear out in order to start the journey. I took opportunity to pray and also eat a few things. Occasionally I was checking on my bag at the back of the bus and loaded my cameras with some films. I was so excited, laughing to myself about the madness I had just experienced.

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The bus finally departed at 1.15pm and what was strange is that the driver stopped on the road randomly where there were people and asked who wanted to travel to Ninh Binh. For the local buses, it seems that there aren’t any bus stops on the main road.

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The bus filled up quite quickly. I knew the trip was only 2 hours long so I didn’t mind much about the continuous stopping of the bus. One of the crew guys came to me and said that the ticket to Ninh Binh was 170 000 VDG (but cleverly prior to departure when the guy was carrying my bag I quickly ran to the kiosque and asked how much it was for the Ninh Binh and the lady behind the counter kindly shouted 70 000 VDG). I don’t know how but courage came over me and I said to the guy 70 000 VDG only, he smiled, gave up and took the money. It was a bit annoying that they scam people every time there is an opportunity. I didn’t dwell over it as I managed to handle the situation pretty well (Al hamdulillah).

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We stopped on the way for 10 minutes for people to either leave, use the restroom or eat Pho. I didn’t go out just in case. A lady came into the bus and had a basket of bread buns she was selling.

I asked the guy who asked me for more money earlier on, how long left until arrival, I didn’t speak Vietnamese so he wrote on his phone 30 minutes. We laughed.

The more we got closer to Ninh Binh, the more rural the place got and it really looked like Mauritius (second time saying it). After 10 minutes, we finally arrived in Ninh Binh. The driver shouted Ninh Binh!

I rejoiced, came out with my bag and a taxi driver straight away asked me where I wanted to go. I told him that my hotel was in Tam Coc. He told that Tam Coc was located about 10-15 minutes drive from here.

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I accepted the 100 000 VDG price after failing at bargaining and we jumped into his car. During the taxi ride and lovely conversations I was thinking that there was no way I could have walked the 15 minutes drive distance. I gladly paid the driver.

We made it to the hotel and Bigh (the manager) welcomed me. She was amazing and so helpful. I checked-in into my beautiful bamboo hotel room with wonderful sight on the mountains. I went to sit down in the cafe and Bigh spoke to me about everything. I asked her about mosquitoes regarding Malaria and she said that there were none and that this time of the year (December) was safe also.

I went to pray in my room and came back out. I asked Bigh how to go to Tam Coc, she dropped what she was doing and said: “come with me, I give you a lift to Tam Coc”. I was shocked. It was my first time on a motorbike and it was so cool. I took my Olympus XA to shoot some of the experience.

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We arrived at the entrance and Bigh said that this trip should be only take about 2 hours. Before going, she asked me to pay attention to the way so I could remember how to come back to the Homestay.

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I paid the full entrance fee which was 150 000 VDG and 120 000 VDG = 270 000 VDG) for the return journey.

A guy approached me with his Vietnamese Hat (Non La) and asked me to come with him. I followed. He took my ticket and ripped a part of it to validate the ride.

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It was a solo ride, just me on the boat, which I was so happy about because it felt more intimate and powerful. I was already completely taken aback about the beauty of the place. It was incredible.

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I asked him his name and he said: “Hai”. His English was good. We laughed so much and he was so easy going. He was navigating a lot and at times he was asking me if he could stop a little as he was getting tired. I was surprised that he would asked. I didn’t find any objection to him stopping so that he could rest. I took advantage of the situation to absorb this immense world around me. It looked like Jurassic Park.

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We stopped at a pier after going through a few caves along the way and talked about life in Vietnam and he was interested to know about my life in London and Paris. He said “Paris?”, I said “yes”. He said: “Parlez-vous Francais?”, I replied “oui” thinking that it was an one liner but he kept on going. He could speak french!!!!!! I couldn’t believe that 6000 miles away from home, two souls from two different worlds and destinies could meet and speak one common language so naturally.
We ended up speaking french all the way.

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He explained that he went to France when he was young before he got married.

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I helped him row as there was an extra paddle on the side of the boat and it was a very cool experience. He was rowing with his feet (incredible skill – no lies!).

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I shot 5 rolls in 1h30 minutes and the trip was not even finished yet. As we exited a grotte (cave), a boat approached us and a lady asked me if I wanted something to eat. I bought some stuff and some stuff for Hai too. He was touched. We took a break and I asked him if I could row for the last leg of the trip. He said: “When I get closer to the pier and you can take us back”. I agreed and grinned from excitement.

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Hai offered me some pineapple confit (like in Mauritius – 3rd time) and  it was extremely delicious and moist. On this trip, it really felt like time stopped every time there was a new experience or when something special had happened and this was one of them.

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We observed the lovely wildlife (from the birds, to the heron taking off on the water, to the goats jumping on thin layers of rocks on the mountains trying to feed on the finest grass) on our little break. I was more than happy to relax, I mean Hai works so hard rowing everyday so it was a well deserved break. It was then coming to the end of the trip and Maghrib was approaching.

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We stopped half way before the pier and we swapped places. Hai was allowing me to try rowing as promised. Unfortunately I completely failed and I was rowing backwards back towards the mountains. Hai laughed and so did I! But I was so happy about the whole experience and meeting Hai was lovely.

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We arrived back at the pier and Hai said that he had a very good time. I thanked for the hard work and very good hosting. He got to his boat and he handed over to me his Non La (Vietnamese Hat) as a present. I was so touched. He gave me a hug and we departed.

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I said bye to him and I walked back to the homestay. A few kids were playing volleyball with their feet (a sport there?) on the main square.

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The night was approaching but I wanted to go home quickly so I could do my salah. I walked through the rice paddies observing the beauty of the sunset. I returned to my room and completed my salah and walked out to the cafe area and met Azrael a guy from Denmark, later on to be joined by Maddy and Marc, a lovely couple from UK who quit their job in Manchester to go travelling!

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I quickly ran to the rice paddies to see the beautiful sunset. It was an intense and special moment. My heart filled up so much Imaan Al hamdulillah because of the sunset and stars in the sky. Being so far away from home and spending this time by myself, opened my heart to so much happiness.

I came back to the cafe area again as I could feel and hear mosquitoes in the air. I had my Non La with me on my head. Bigh asked me how my day went and I told how special it was. She was so happy for me.

We gathered later on for food. I chose Tofu from the meal menu. It was my first time having tofu (vietnamese) style.

Before going to bed and indulging in writing. I asked Da, a member of staff if I could book the motorbike tour guide for the day for tomorrow.

I went to bed after shower and looked at the ceiling smiling from having such an amazing day.

Thank you Allah!

End of the day.

 

Vietnam: Hanoi [Day Three]

Tuesday 29th November 2016:

I woke up with one hell of a struggle to eat, appetite was at its lowest but I had to force myself to eat. I just had to do it as I knew the day to come was no joke. Just like yesterday, looking over the beautiful view of Hanoi from the hotel’s top floor.
Thoughts of the numerous conversations I had with my friend Imme in London resurfaced. Imme is one of the main motivator for my visit to Vietnam as she travelled there on her adventure to South East Asia and was so patient and passionate about sharing her experience with me. My planning would have not happened without her! Tack Så Mycket Imme.

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I was anxious as I knew that I knew nothing about Hanoi, looking at the horizon and the rising sun through the clouds. I could tell the cold of the morning affected the rising city. Yet, the sun was so strong and looked like a winter fire ball. After managing a few bites here and there, I made my way back to my room to pack my bag with cameras and the adequate films for the day to come.

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I then went to the reception and asked the receptionist about how to get to Ninh Binh for tomorrow’s trip and the map of Hanoi. She kindly assisted me with the requests. I had to buy the map of Hanoi but it wasn’t that expensive.

I said to her that I wanted to go a specific area of town. The hotel was located on the border of the Old Quarter taking roughly 10 minutes walk to get there. I pointed out the area and she said: “Oh I went to that mosque before”. “How could she know?” was my initial response, I was taken aback by this, to say the least. I asked how to get there and she explained the quickest way to it and also circled the good spots of the city on my newly bought map. Happy, I thanked her and started my way into the urban jungle of Hanoi. Yesterday I had broken the lower zip of my Eastpak bag, I may have forgotten to mention it, the receptionist assisted me with trying to find somewhere to fix it.
The Old Quarter is an odd place. Each street has a theme in the trade they are selling, so you will tend to see several of the same shops on one street.

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I left the hotel and was already so scared to cross. I literally was on my own. In the end after much hesitation in crossing I finally found courage to do it and I began to understand the technique behind. If you find yourself in Hanoi, if you cross the street, do go at a steady pace, people on the motorbikes will be dodging you but you must NOT stop at all, carry on until you finish crossing and beware of the buses, the buses won’t stop nor will see you.

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I walked from Cosiana Hotel to Ha Trung. Ha Trung is where you can find all types of shops regarding sewing, cuttings, knitting, replacing the leather seat of your Vespa etc….

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I crossed the street and followed the way to Pho Hang Ga and was pleased to have found the Ha Trung street. I stopped at a corner couturier and asked if she could fix my Eastpak bag. It was then 10:40am and she said to come back in two hours. I couldn’t speak any Vietnamese. I communicated with her via sign language supported by words in english.

I took advantage of the situation to change my itinerary and made my way to the Mosque. I knew it wasn’t far but it wasn’t close neither.

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I found and adventured into the ever-so-famous semi-used train tracks that Hanoi boasts so well. I spent a good 40 minutes taking pictures on the tracks and trying to absorb everything from this intense place. The train track was located on the doorstep of the people houses. It was surreal!

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People had their kitchen just outside on their doorstep.

I saw a few photographers along the way standing on the tracks equally excited and blown away by such experience. I already had to change my roll. I put my XD-7 away for a moment and used my Olympus XA to capture some of the places.

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I walked quite far and stopped at each junction to make sure I was on the right path using the map. The noise of the city was surreal and the constant beeping of the motorcycle became background noise the more I was walking. The weather got quite hot due the sun being at its Zenith.

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I found a very cool looking cafe and entered. The lady spoke to me in excellent English (I was so surprised). I asked her if they did the Egg coffee that everyone talked about. It is a coffee that is made with egg (such an unusual blend of ingredients). She replied that they did not do it but knew of a famous cafe that did it. She wrote on a unused receipt the address and the name of the cafe. I thanked her and wished her a nice day. I was thrilled of the new addition to my list of things to do.

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I couldn’t find the cafe so I made my way to find the mosque. After 45 minutes of intense walk in the heat, I finally found the mosque.

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I entered and a brother guided me to the right entrance. There was no one in the mosque as it was only 11:50am. The lovely scent of the beautiful carpet gently hit my nose. I took notes of the prayer times for future reference later on the day. I spent time by myself to recuperate from the long walk and enjoyed reading Qur’an for a while.

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After almost an hour, I felt that it was time to leave and go back to Ha Trung to pick up my bag. It took me (no lie) only 15 minutes to reach the shop. My memory didn’t fail me and my strong determination made it easy.

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I really wanted to try the Olympus XA’s focusing mechanism with this shot. I am so impressed.

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I arrived at the shop and I asked the lady if she had finished, she answered yes. She finished some of the touches on it and I was done with it. I paid her, thanked her and I left to go back to the restaurant to have my lunch. I ordered Chicken and Rice. This meal was incredible.

After finishing the food I went to pray and slept a little until afternoon so I could replenish on energy to get back to the mosque for Maghrib (17:11).

I got ready and left at 16:30 just in case I would get lost again. The weather got darker quite quickly. I knew that Maghrib was approaching but it was such a dramatic change. I sped up the pace so I could get there on time.

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I absolutely fell in love with these little houses and the plants were gigantic.

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I wanted to walk back onto the tracks once again to enjoy the experience one more time.

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The sun was setting quite quick but this did not decrease the traffic nor the amount of people.

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I managed to get to the mosque at 16:57 so just a good 10 minutes before salah. I waited and waited and only one brother came to pray. He prayed and spoke to a sister that wanted to pray as well and then left. I was a bit surprised that no one had turned up so I got up and just as I was about to being my prayer, I heard the door of the mosque open and turned round. Another brother entered the mosque making its way to the main hall. I went to him and asked him if he knew about the congregational prayer and asked him how come no one was there. He replied that he didn’t know as he was new in town. I asked him and his friend who just turned up too where they were from and they said from France, Paris. I was overjoyed to hear that. We began speaking French. We spoke for a while but realised no one was coming again so I suggested that we should pray otherwise we would miss the salah. We prayed and sat chatting about life, dunya, France, London etc…until time for Ishaa came. I was so happy. I asked their name and they told me Hamza and Elias.

They suggested that we could go and eat after Ishaa. I actually had in mind to go back to D’Lions to eat but it wasn’t too hard to choose their company over the restaurant. We completed Ishaa and left for the restaurant adjacent to the mosque. Hamza and Elias led the way. We were laughing a lot and trying to realise that we were so far from Europe سبحان الله.

We finished our delicious meal and set off to a night trek through the city. I was really happy that الله عز وجل joined our paths 10000 km away from home in the middle of such an insanely big city and allowed us to meet.

We walked back to their hostel which was two minutes away as Elias wanted to change into something more comfortable. I waited in the K-Mart with Hamza. We bought more water as we were all dehydrated.

Elias fancied some Dunkin’ Donuts badly and the idea of it kinda grew the more we were walking towards the centre of town. We then reached one of the busiest junction of Hanoi when suddenly both crossed the street without prior consultation with me (haha) and joined the madness of traffic, leaving me behind because I was too slow. We laughed.

We ate the donuts and enjoyed the beautiful conversations about Islam. Hamza wanted to go for a lovely night walk around the Lake Hoan Kiem so Elias and I followed. I started feeling thirsty again (I couldn’t believe how much water I was consuming daily) and stopped into K-Mart (again) to get water but opted for a nice Lychee juice and introduced Red beans Mochi to Hamza and Elias around the French architecture district. It was Elias and Hamza’s first time trying those. They absolutely loved it, I was so pleased that they did.

It was time to go home and I was beginning to feel tired. Hamza and Elias had to leave as they had a flight the next day to Indonesia. I told them that I would still be in Hanoi in the morning as I had to travel to Ninh Binh but their flight was so early that we decided to not bother.

We exchanged numbers on the doorstep of their hostel and said our salaam. It was quite an emotional moment. I felt like we knew each other forever.

It was now 11:47pm and I was walking by myself in Hanoi. Avoiding the dogs at night and dodgy streets. At one point a guy on a motorbike did a three point turn and made his way towards me. He came by the side of the street alongside me and showed me his phone. I couldn’t see properly but it looked like he showed the picture of a naked lady and said to me: “do you want to see nice ladies?”. I walked away disgusted as I understood that it was a prostitution thing.

I managed to reach home safely making dua. I hit the shower because of the intense heat. Then wrote my diary until 2pm.

End of the day!

 

 

 

Vietnam: Halong Bay [Day Two]

Monday 28th November 2016:

GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!

…Where do I even start? Today was an amazing day!

But…there is always something about waking up in a new country with everything being completely different. Waking up in Hanoi meant I was in one of the most congested place in the world with millions of motorbikes and a high level of pollution. But it didn’t matter. I was not ready yet I was. A paradox.

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I woke up multiple times throughout the night, the jet lag set in within my system. I prayed Fajr and returned back to bed to relax when I suddenly saw after 40 minutes the first ray of light creeping behind the window curtain.

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Very curious about what I was about to see as this was my first look on Hanoi.

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I grabbed my camera and managed to open the window despite the complicated system. As I opened the window, the fresh air hit my spine. I went to grab my jacket as it was really cold and started shooting.

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Before leaving the UK, I bought a tour online to the famous Halong Bay as I knew I wouldn’t have the time to do so in Hanoi.

I got ready and went to the top floor using the lift to get to the restaurant to get my breakfast which was really good. I was surprised to see that the bakery was very good too. I took my breakfast with a panoramic view of the first few hours of Hanoi. It was quite special.

After a while, one by one the customers began to leave the cafeteria and I stayed there for an extra 10 minutes just to absorb the awesomeness of it all. But most importantly, to grasp that I was actually in Vietnam, Hanoi.

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Returned to my floor and I realised the hotel was facing the back of Hanoi Central Station (Pretty cool huh?)

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Lovely to see that a few people were already up and playing tennis outside.

I returned to the flat to prepare my bag and cameras then went straight to the lobby to wait for my tour guide to come and pick me up.

It was now 07:45 am and pick up time was at 08:00 am. I took opportunity to go out of the hotel to witness my first impression and experience of the madness of the city and in the space of fives minutes, I learnt how to cross the streets [avoiding the traffic] by observing the locals. The smell of Pho already intoxicated most on the street. Pho is the national traditional breakfast soup/stew that everyone has in the morning in Vietnam. Prepared with noodles and beef.

I returned back into the lobby to wait. I emailed the tour coordinator and he emailed back saying that there should be someone soon. At 08:30: Still no one. I started to think that I should probably call it a day when all a sudden a guy walked up the stairs of the hotel and called my name. I was so happy I quickly followed and got onto the minibus. I got onto the bus and there was only one seat available and that was at the very back.

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The live guide (Victor) didn’t even check my ticket. I guess there could only be one Nadeem in Vietnam.

I tried my best not to disrupt anyone with my big bag and large built. I sat down and dropped a big relieved sigh.

The lady sat next to me asked: “Where are you from?”. I replied with London. She got excited and said: “Oh I love London, I was there a few months ago”.  She said she visited London four times in her life. I asked in return where she was from and she replied: “Japan”! So I got excited haha [I love Japan and yes I know you guys know too!!!].

I explained to her that I visited Japan four years ago. She was very happy that I had a big interest in her country and that I visited all these places. We carried on our conversation and the most important question surfaced: “Why Vietnam?”. I asked what was her name and she replied: “Shigeko”

Knowing that it was a four hours bus drive to Halong Bay from Hanoi we took our time with our conversations which went from travelling to spirituality to life to religion to then work. She said she worked with people with learning disabilities in Japan and I was gobsmacked! How similar our lives were.

Then the conversation went onto religion and comparative beliefs. I didn’t choose these conversations (let’s be clear haha).
Shigeko asked me why I had chosen Islam as a way of life. I explained to her how happy it makes me and how it makes me a better person. She stopped, looked at me and uttered: “why are you so different, there is something about you son, your spirituality is beautiful”.
I looked at her humbly, lowering my gaze as I couldn’t find the words to answer, anything that would do justice to such lovely humbling words.

We spoke throughout the whole journey noticing the incredibly beautiful sceneries of the rice paddies on our way to Halong Bay. It was very odd that Vietnam looked so similar to my home country Mauritius. The harsh sun that was gently kissing our arms on the bus. Most were sleeping and we were the only one speaking non-stop. I learnt so much.

We stopped on the way in a car park to use the toilet and go to the shop. Shigeko and I decided to walk around the little traditional shopping place. As we got in, we could spot on the right hand side many women doing art sewing, canvases and stitching. A lady approached us and spoke Japanese to Shigeko and then asked me a lengthy sentence in Japanese as if I was Japanese. Shigeko said: “why are they speaking Japanese to you?”. We laughed.

We knew we were approaching Halong Bay as the landscape started changing. The smell of the sea penetrated into the bus which confirmed that we were soon to arrive.

I asked Shigeko if she could teach Japanese in the meantime and she did and was very patient. I must have had so much fun because in no time we arrived at destination. She congratulated on my good first-time Japanese accent.

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We got off the bus and went into the main station where they sell the tickets. I was so happy because I was already telling myself that there was no way I could have done this by myself. I was glad I booked a tour.

Victor (live guide), asked us to stay in the same place as they were so many people and we didn’t want to get lost. He went to collect all the tickets for all the attractions of the day. I was anxious and thinking about Salah already. Victor came back with all tickets, distributed them to each one of us and asked us to keep them and not loose them otherwise we would need to buy new ones.

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Our boat arrived and Victor asked us to remember the name of the boat “White Dragon 11”.

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We carefully went down the stairs and started boarding. They explained to us that we were going to have lunch on our way to the bay.

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I went to do ablution and prayed whilst everyone was eating. Most of the food was fresh seafood from the water. I was pleased and relieved.

We could see the amazing sceneries. Everything looked like a scene from Jurassic Park.

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Everyone was engaged into their beautiful lunch.

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We finished our delicious meal and everyone went to the top deck. I stayed downstairs admiring the beautiful place that it was.

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The bay was immense and the scale was incredible. The smell of the sea was so refreshing.

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We passed many limestone mountains with epic proportions. The formation of rocks was stunning.

After another 20 minutes boat ride, we reached the bay where the locals row their boats in exchange for money to survive. It is a very touristy attraction so beware when booking. We were very fortunate to have very few people.

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As you can see in the background, the little village on water.

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We arrived and I was so unaware of what was about to happen.

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During the travels to Halong Bay from Hanoi. Victor said that there are a few people that had booked the kayaking on the bay. My name was on the list but so was Shigeko’s. I asked her if she wanted to do it with me? She said she was a little afraid [I don’t blame her I was too].

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As we got to the pier, I wanted to back down but she grabbed me and said: “No, we are doing it” I laughed and said: “ok”. haha.

I made my way to the kayaking side of the pier and I said to Shigeko: “Let’s do it”, I ran back to the boat to drop phone and camera just in case the kayak capsizes.

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It was one of the most amazing thing I ever did in my life [apart from Great White Shark cage diving].

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We nearly crashed a few times but Shigeko and I worked as a team.

This kayaking activity lasted a good 40 minutes and we were told to come back. It was sadly over.

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The kitchen was superb and so rustic. It looked so real and had so much character. The light on that day was rather harsh but full of goodness.

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We arrived back at the pier and they said that we would leave in 10 minutes. I asked if I could go and take pics on the boat.

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We got ready for the next excursion which was the cave.

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The boat departed and went to the other side of the bay to reach the caves.

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I could feel the sun setting and it felt like time was stopping.

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I took opportunity to refill my Olympus XA with a new roll.

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The sun really made us tired. I fell asleep for 10 minutes and when I woke up it felt like I was in a dream.

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We arrived at the pier and entered the cave. At this time I was way too tired to take pictures so I stopped for a while.

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After the tour guide had explained to us the story of the cave. It was already 16:00 and we needed to return back to the bay as the day was now finished.

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The landscape was breathtaking.

We were blessed to witness the sunset.

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I fell asleep again [perhaps the jet lag affected me].

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Back to the bus! We rushed to the bus and quickly left the Bay to go back on the road. Everyone on the bus fell asleep.

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We arrived back in Hanoi for 20:30 [slightly late], the driver dropped everyone to their respective hotels in the Old Quarter. It was totally worth it. I shot 7 rolls altogether and that was my first day in Vietnam!

I got home, showered and went to the restaurant and had Halal Pho at D’Lions Restaurant. It was excellent and it was my first time having it.

 

Vietnam: Day One

In September, thoughts of traveling entered my mind again as it had been a longtime since I had flown overseas and broke away from this concrete reality. Again I was in a great need of a break. Work was too much, life was too much and this dunya was too much. Ultimately a break away was needed.

I was originally going to fly to Mauritius [home] for two weeks as I had never been there in summer but I realised I had already visited a year and a half ago. I felt like it was too soon to return. My friend said to me: “Why don’t we go somewhere crazy like China or Vietnam?”.

I always wanted to go to China but I felt like I wasn’t ready yet for such an adventure, so Vietnam kind of appealed to me. I knew about Vietnam for its tragic history and that it was an amazing destination but I never pictured myself going there nor to South-East Asia for that matter, due to my health condition, so it felt like a far fetched idea. My friend motivated me and I began to do some serious research. I began to fall in love with the place the more I was researching and I started enjoying what I was seeing.

So weeks were flying by and my annual leave was approaching quite fast. I was still dubious about the SE Asia “thing” and anxious to even think about going there. In the end I bought my ticket and jumped right into it.

I began booking the hotels and everything needed for the trip. Now that the tickets were bought, all I had to do was wait. The preparation for the trip was quite intense and to my surprise although a lot of people blog about Vietnam, it felt like there wasn’t a lot of information on some of the places I wanted to go to. Thankfully my friend Tayne, living in Ho Chi Minh City, coached me all the way through my planning. If you read this sir, a million thank yous from the heart.

I had to buy a lot of things at the last minutes and a few trips to the doctor were needed in order to get some jabs. Al hamdulillah, having already travelled to Makkah [Saudi Arabia], Mauritius and having a few fortunate work-related injections, I was totally covered except for Polio. The nurse asked me to take some Malaria tablets even though Vietnam is considered to be a low risk destination on most of its surface. The tablets for Malaria cost about £50. I took the prescription and I said to the nurse that I would think about it. I put my trust in Allah and decided to go without.

Hotels booked! I was ready to map out my journeys from places to places.

Saturday 26th November 2016:

After a shift at work, I ran to the shops to get the last minute stuff like DEET sprays and traveling size gels and whatnot for the plane journey. I ran back home and updated my bag for last minute changes. My auntie came to pick me up as she insisted that she wanted to take me to the airport. I was truly blessed of her gesture.

We left just before Maghrib which was around 15:50 and reached London Heathrow Terminal 3 at about 17:15. I was very early but they do advise to be there for at least 2-3 hours before boarding time. I said my salaam to my auntie and uncle and that’s where things got real because I was just by myself. I checked-in the day before so all I had to do was to drop my baggage at the desk.
The airline I used was Cathay Pacific and it was my first time with them. I used my new passport for the first time since Brexit and successfully checked-in. I went through security with no difficulties. I changed my money to Vietnamese dong at the airport.

Here I was,

….in London Heathrow waiting for my flight to Hanoi.

In the lobby, it’s the rat race, people were walking with a purpose, all going to their respective destination’s gates. I was rather full up and money goes quite quick at the airport but these were the things I needed.

I looked around and everyone was quiet and silent, on their phones waiting for the announcement. It was surreal. I could almost hear or see their inner thoughts. I nervously looked at the time and I saw that prayer time was approaching so I got up from my sit and followed the signs to the multi-faith room. I completed my salah and made plenty of dua.

Sunday 27th November 2016:

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We boarded but we were late to leave London but it didn’t matter. The flight was rather smooth but very uncomfortable. I slept probably 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there. After a while I went for a little walk to stretch my legs and on my return I found the passenger sitting next to me with the blanket on her face, sleeping, looking like a ghost. I laughed to myself but it wasn’t long after that I followed her ways. After all, it was not a bad idea.

I already completely lost sense of time due to travelling through the different time zones. My mind and body was at Fajr time but it was actually close to Asr time.

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We reached Hong Kong. What an airport!

I saw the Kanji signs on the escalators and felt like this dream was coming realer and realer the more I was walking towards the gate. I had an hour transit in Hong Kong and by looking outside, I started daydreaming about Hong Kong, this place really speaks to me for some reason and I hope In sha Allah that I get to visit it at least once in my lifetime. I was exhausted already but I needed to go to gate 509, I was at gate 29.

I arrived just 10 minutes before the boarding time at the first gate. A member of the cabin crew came and asked us to show her; passports and boarding passes. We were guided to take a shuttle from the airport to another building to board the flight from Hong Kong to Hanoi.

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A guy stopped me on the shuttle as I was loading my first roll of film in my Olympus XA and said: “Wow you are so young and you shoot film? are they hard to get hold of?”, he was happy to know that film was still available.

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I was feeling dizzy standing outside the boarding gate. I was trying to compose a shot and a guy came to me and said: “oh that’s Oldschool”. It is strange how film photography always attracts people and is a great conversation starter. We started chatting. A lovely couple (Geraldine and David) from London, we spoke about everything from travelling to photography to religion.

HANOI:

We arrived in Hanoi after an hour and twenty minutes flight, we went through the passport/visa checks which was very slow but eventually Geraldine and David and I managed to go through. The passport control guard asked me where my Visa was, I replied: “No Visa under 15 days for UK passports”, he laughed and allowed me entry.

A few days ago, I paid online for a taxi to pick me up at the airport (Hanoi) to take me to my hotel. I read that there were so many scams these days and one should be careful when booking taxis, so to avoid all this drama I decided to go for a taxi reservation. The taxi driver came to pick me up as expected with my name on a paper. Just before going into my cab, I saw David from afar so I ran to him and asked to exchange emails.

The taxi man spoke very little english and was very quiet but it was okay as I was so exhausted from the travels that I simply looked at the window and tried to absorb everything. It was already very dark outside. I fell asleep a few times but woke up as we got to the Old Quarter, where my hotel was located. I could already see the famous motorbikes with wardrobes at the back, a family of 4 people etc… it was surreal.

I was daydreaming (nightdreaming?) looking at the world through the car’s window. Feeling tensed that I was about to delve into this crazy, overwhelming, overstimulating, world. I touched down at my Hotel – Cosiana at 21:00.

I went to the room, I was unsure about tipping. I prayed and got down to the D’Lions Restaurant (Malaysian, Singaporean Halal Restaurant) to eat some fresh spring rolls (not the fried ones) made with rice paper. I only ordered a small meal because of the long travels, all I wanted was something light. I got back to my room after getting the bill. I took a shower and went to bed.