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: 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: 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.

000048-copy 000049-copy 000052-copyAfter climbing, a few old ladies came to me and asked for money. The more I climbed the hotter it got. The view was so worth it and I could enjoyed a beautiful view over Ninh Binh from that mountain.

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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!