We arrived in Hanoi at 8:30 in the morning local time after a 14-hour flight from Amsterdam . First we flew from Amsterdam to Moscow in a little more than 3 hours. At the airport in Moscow we had to wait an hour for our connecting flight to Hanoi which took 8:30 hours. We didn’t see Snowden in Moscow though.
Once we arrived in Hanoi and papa withdrew some Vietnamese “Dong”, we were millionaires. But it’s not that weird though, because 1 Euro is about 30.000 “Dong”.
We took a taxi to an American called Paul Byler and his Kyrgyzstanian wife Gyldys who lived in Hanoi and were nice enough to let us stay at his house. From the outside, I found it really ugly, but the interior was very nice. In the taxi we saw a little bit of Hanoi and I have a double impression of the city. Almost everybody drives a scooter instead of a car and the people are really friendly, but the city is heavily polluted, most people are poor and from the outside, all the houses looked like crap.
We were not used to the temperature there (The average temperature is 30 degrees Celsius) and we had jetlag because of the 6-hour time difference with Amsterdam. I saw virtually no birds in Hanoi, but tomorrow we’re going to some parks inside Hanoi, which sounds really cool.
Just before the vacation, I went to the hairdresser, but it was really bad so I decided to go to the hairdresser again in Vietnam. Now it’s good. What was funny was the fact that I was bigger than my hairdresser.
In the evening a Vietnamese woman, Mrs. Hang, cooked Vietnamese spring rolls for us, which is the same as loempia. We were dipping them in a small bowl with soy sauce and noodles and lettuce. After a delicious meal we went to bed.
We woke up at 5:00 and went to Red River Island, an island in a river which flows through Hanoi. Like everybody else, we went there by scooter. We had to drive on the pedestrian side of a bridge, because otherwise our scooters were unable to get on the other path. Papa did have to drive down on a staircase, because we had to drive from the bridge down to the island.
On the island there was only a mud road, and because there was a storm last night, it was full of muddy pools which made it really slippery. Everything was flooded because of the storm and we didn’t see many birds: we saw Common tailorbirds, sparrows, a Red-whiskered bulbul, a Yellow bittern, I saw a flying Alexandrine parakeet, 2 Pied kingfishers and some pigeons. The only inhabitants were poor farmers that lived in what didn’t look like anything more than floating shipwrecks.
What was worst, is that we got bitten by mosquitos all the time because we forgot to use the spray. At the end of the day I counted a record amount of mosquito-bites: 68 in total; 30 on 1 leg, 31 on the other, 5 on 1 arm and 2 on the other. Believe me, this is not a joke and if it was it would have been not funny!
Except for all that and that we got stuck with the scooters a 1000 and 1 times, we had a lot of fun.
We had a western breakfast somewhere and went to the botanical gardens, where we saw Japanese white-eyes, more Red-whiskered bulbuls, 2 White-throated fantails, a Japanese tit, Oriental magpie-robins and a Yoga-class for women. After that we went back to Paul’s house and rested.
In the afternoon we went to the old centre of Hanoi and walked around there.
We were also brave enough to drive the scooter on the road like everybody else. It sounds easier than it really was, because nobody used the traffic signs and nobody followed the rules. For example, everybody was driving different directions on the roundabout and if you want to cross a busy road you just cross and make the others wait.
We saw lots of bats while it was still daylight and we saw an old temple which was not ruined by the war. After we found a nice restaurant, we wanted to know the English name for some dishes and the waiter couldn’t understand a word of what we were asking and kept on saying: “No understand”. After another delicious meal, papa had to pay which he of course didn’t want to and he told the waiter:”let’s play hide and seek. You go hide and I’ll walk outta here”
And the waiter told papa his favorite phrase again; “No understand”. We did pay though. It was only 15 Euros for meals for 4 people and everything included. After that we went home and slept.
We woke up at 11:30, had some soup for lunch altogether and me, papa and Paul went on our trip through northern Vietnam. We went by scooter. In Hanoi, we bought some things like cheap raincoats for on the scooter, maps and straps to keep our bag stable on the scooter. It was resting on the scooter, behind my back, but it was still hard for me not to let the heavy bag swing.
We were on the scooter for more than 2 hours before we were finally out of Hanoi and we saw not a single bird! The area was great but because the people hunt everything they can eat, there were no birds. Too bad.
The roads were only 2 lanes wide and not very good, although made of asphalt. It’s weird, driving a scooter next to cars and trucks.
Every 45 minutes we stopped to urinate (let’s not talk about where), drink and rest our behinds. Because of sitting in the same position so long my behind kind of froze after a while.
Finally, after almost 4 hours of frozen butts, we arrived to our hotel “Van Long Resort” which was next to the Van Long National Park. Only 25 US$ per room per night! It was huge, but we were the only ones and it had potential.
We walked around the hotel and saw some birds: Red-collared doves, Brown-breasted bulbuls, a Grey-headed woodpecker, Long-tailed sibias and a Yellow bittern.
Somebody told us where a good restaurant was, but we had difficulty finding it.
Every time we thought we found it, we were looking at some crappy house with a table inside. Bwèèèèhg! Every time they were trying to convince us to have dinner in one of those shitholes. We did find the restaurant eventually.
When we arrived at the restaurant, we understood why the guy that told us to go to this restaurant, told us to do so: it was run by his own family!
We had dinner in that restaurant, we ate all the same thing: dry noodles with beef and vegetables. Papa took a double portion though. We got served by a drunk guy.
After dinner, we went back to the hotel and went to bed.
Papa woke up at 5:00 and found out it was raining, and went back to bed. Then papa woke up again at 8:30 and found out it stopped raining and so we dressed and went to the marsh called ”Van Long” to go birding.
We saw mainly herons and bitterns, but also a few other birds: we saw a Great bittern, lots of Yellow bitterns, Cinnamon bitterns (they are beautiful!), a Von Schrenk’s bittern, 3 Black bitterns, Chinese pond-herons, Little egrets, a White-browed rail, Plain prinias, a Zitting cisticola, Common kingfishers, a few White-throated kingfishers, 3 Common cranes, something not very big and entirely black a lot of White-shouldered starlings.
We went through the marsh by boat, luckily with somebody rowing for us.
The marsh was about the only flat surface in between many steep, gorgeous mountains. The people living there lived entirely off the marsh. Surprisingly there were a lot of bus loads with tourists at the lake who all wanted to go around the marsh by boat. Most of the locals were just rowing for the tourists and the others were trying to sell the tourists anything they could. The tiny percentage of people that was left, was farming and fishing.
Papa was pissed off because he was forced to buy “A @#!! Ticket” to get on a boat and he even tried bribing people because he didn’t want to give his money away to the “Bastards that worked for the communism party”l
After that, we went back to the hotel and sadly, Paul had to go back to Hanoi because he desperately needed a visa for Kazakhstan. While Paul went back, papa and I scootered on to Cuc Phuong National Park.
In Cuc Phuong, we found a hotel for 25$ which is not thát cheap for Vietnam, but it was not very good and not kept up. The problem is that nobody cares because of the communism. The people that run the hotel get paid anyway.
We hired a bird guide for the next day too.
We had not a bad quality meal at the hotel’s restaurant, went to our room to write my journal and read a book. Our room was 1.5 kilometers inside the park borders and next to a beautiful lake, “Mac Lake”. To get anywhere, we would have to use the scooter, because almost all public buildings were at the border of the park.
In Holland people PAY for a sauna, to work up a nice sweat. When you come outside here, you have no choice but to work up a “nice” sweat.
Our bird guide had worked in the park for 12 years and he had seen all the 334 species that lived there. His name was Huyen. “Who-when”, as papa pronounced it.
We walked on a trail and we saw an amazing amount of birds, all different. The trail was beautiful! It was entirely surrounded by big bushes and very tall trees.The only sounds you heard were the bird songs and noisy langurs. This is where I saw something like the smallest woodpecker on the planet: the Grey-capped pygmy woodpecker.
We walked around there until we came back to the main road at 7:20 and had breakfast. For some reason, the restaurant was out of bread, so we ate an egg with those delicious bananas they grow there. We were talking about that breakfast was free with Huyen, and he kept on saying “Flee bleakfast”.
After “bleakfast”, we went to the botanical gardens where we saw the rare White-winged magpie flying by. We took a shortcut into the mountains, where Huyen played the sound of the Limestone wren-babbler to attract it. We did hear it calling back, but we didn’t see it.
In total, these are the birds we saw in the morning: 1 Grey-capped pygmy woodpecker, Green-eared barbets, 5 rare Green-billed malkohas, we saw the rare White-winged magpies flying, 2 Ashy drongos, Racket-tailed treepies, Black drongos, the very rare Spangled drongo, 1 White-rumped shama really close, Oriental magpie-robins (even papa saw it :)), Common ioras, Black-crested bulbuls, 1 White-throated bulbul, Red-whiskered bulbuls, Sooty-headed bulbuls and we heard the Limestone wren-babbler which is endemic for Cuc Phuong. That’s the rarest bird in the park and Huyen said that we were lucky just to hear it. He also said that people came specially to Cuc Phuong just to see the Limestone wren-babbler!
When we came back to our hotel room, we rested until 15:00 o’clock. After resting, we walked around the botanical garden and added these birds to our list: Bar-winged flycatchers, a rare and beautiful Pied falconet, a Spotted dove or “Dob” as Huyen said, the rare Thick-billed green pigeon, a juvenile Asian fairy bluebird, an Ashy woodswallow flying away, a White-bellied Yuhina and many Yellow-browed warblers. We were lucky Huyen was with us, because without him we would have seen a lot less birds.
After bird watching we moved from our room at the border of the park to a bungalow in the “Park Centre”, the middle of the park. There they had electricity only for 4 hours a day (From 6 pm. to 10 pm.), which means also no telephone service nor internet. The next day we were going to watch birds around here.
While we were checking out the bungalows, papa fell on stone stairs and bruised his lower back. He was trying to catch himself by putting his hand on the ground, but instead he also hurt his hand a little.
We went to a restaurant in the forest and ate delicious beef and rice there. We also discovered a new, fantastic drink called “lemon green tea”. They don’t sell it in Holland :(. Also 2 British women were eating there. They were very friendly and we talked with them for a while. 1 of them was from London and just had a very British accent, but the other 1, she was from Yorkshire and we couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying, that’s how funny her accent was!
After dinner we had a cup of very, very strong tea in a tiny, tiny cup with the women that worked at the restaurant. We couldn’t understand half of what they were saying, but it was very nice. They said I look like papa. They gave us some cream for papa’s back too.
They had an English self-study book they shared with the 3 of them, and we were helping them. They kept on saying “Fibty” though.
When we left, the girls taught us how to say “good night” in Vietnamese. It was something like: “Tjuk-gung nang”. When we came home, I wrote my journal, read and after that we went to bed.
We had a horrible night in our softly expressed DIRTY bungalow. First papa opened the window because he was hot. Then he closed it because I got scared of the sounds.Then papa saw a mouse in our room. Then I had a nightmare about insects. Then I got bitten by mosquitos even though I had a mosquito-net hanging over my bed.
We woke up at 5:30 and walked around the Park Center with Huyen, but did not see a lot of birds because there the forest was very dense. We heard Yellow-naped woodpeckers, but didn’t see them. This was the case with many birds and we only added 2 species to our list: the Mountain fulvetta and a beautiful Hill myna. The myna was black with a golden-feathered neck and an orange beak.
We wanted to have breakfast at the same restaurant as yesterday, but we had to wait because somebody first had to get food, due to the fact that they had none left.
After a while of waiting we did have very nice breakfast though. Pancakes made of eggs, sugar, (local) flower and a little bit of (local) honey. And (local) bananas.
After breakfast, we saw 2 more new species: a Pompadour green pigeon and a Black eagle. After that we drove back to the botanical gardens and looked around there for half an hour and we saw a few more birds: Racket-tailed treepies, a Green-billed malkoha and 2 Green-eared barbets.
After a not very productive morning when it comes to birding, papa decided he wanted something with clean sheets and so we went to the recently opened up “Cuc Phuong Resort&Spa”. Instead of 20$ a night it cost us 93$ a night, but we did have clean sheets. We took a bath and rested until 14:30.
We had lunch in a restaurant at the border of Cuc Phuong and at 15:00 we met Huyen to go birding with him for the last time.
We started walking and right away we saw a Golden-headed barbet sitting in the tree somewhere. After a while of walking, we heard Huyen shout “My god!”,
and we saw a female Crimson sunbird, which was green with a long, curved bill and gorgeous to see.
Further along the path, we saw one of my personal favorite birds: the Hoopoe.
A little while later, we came to a place where we saw a lot of different birds.
First, we had the pleasure of seeing a beautiful Lesser racket-tailed drongo passing by. It has 2 beautiful long feathers on its tail. Then we saw 2Thick-billed flowerpeckers, which even had never seen in the park and we saw a beautiful female Black-naped monarch.
Papa told me and Huyen to look at a beautiful red flower which he just saw, but it appeared to be the amazingly fluorescent Crimson sunbird male, which has a reflecting red chest.
When we finished birding, we said goodbye to Huyen and offered him a tip of 10.000 Dong, but he didn’t take it for some reason.
We came back to our resort and played in the swimming pool for a while and after that we had dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. We ate very good beef called “Bo luc lac” in Vietnamese. We googled it because the serving lady couldn’t explain what it was, so we knew what to expect. We also had a very nice lemon lemonade freshly made. We also had spring rolls, but we didn’t like them.
When we came to our bungalow, we realized that we forgot the charger for our phone and iPad in the Park Center. It was dark already, so we scootered there in the dark. We went through the gate, wondering if we should have paid to enter the park or not. For 50 minutes we drove through something as scary as hell called “A jungle at nighttime”. They don’t call it a jungle for nothing.
When we finally reached the Park Center, the girls from the restaurant luckily found our charger and we drunk a cup of tea with them before we went back to the resort again. We also bought some gas there, because we were low on gas and you do not want to end up in the middle of the jungle with no electricity and nobody that can hear you. There was no traffic on the road either.
When we were safe back in our bed, we felt pretty happy that we made it through that jungle.
We woke up at 8:45 after a good night in a bed with CLEAN sheets, packed our bag and had breakfast at the same restaurant as yesterday. Some delicious bananas, salted eggs, some kind of passion fruit and lots of other stuff disappeared in our mouths.
Having finished our delicious breakfast, we went to the swimming pool and played in the water for a while. After that, we checked our room and checked out in the awesome resort.
A little while after checking out, Paul arrived and brought his wife Gyldys with him and the group was reunited. They had already been driving for 6 hours and so took a rest. When they were done resting, we left the resort heading to Mai Chau city. There were more holes than that there was road though.
On the way we had lunch, but I didn’t eat much. We ate “Phô” and I found it more disgusting than anything I had ever tried before.
Back on the road, we drove through beautiful mountain landscapes and all of a sudden we saw a crashed truck laying on the road and a big truck wouldn’t even be able to pass. Everything that was not burned and was useful, was taken out of the truck, but for some reason they didn’t remove the truck from the road. I took a picture of it with papa next to it in a way that it looked as if he crashed the truck! That was funny. What was also funny, was when a driver stuck his tongue out at me. Paul saw it too and we had to laugh really hard.
At 18:00, we arrived at Mai Chau, after 7 hours of scootering. We got a room in which they didn’t have normal beds, but just mattresses. That and the fact that the house was built on stilts was because of the tradition. The tradition of the “Hill tribe” or something like that. We could look outside, but there were no windows. The village was
We had dinner together with some Swiss backpacker. The girl that was serving us all of a sudden changed in to different clothes and papa asked why. She replied: “I go bambooo dansjing in night club”. Then papa asked: “Oh, are you going to do boomboom?”.
After dinner, I wrote my journal, read a book and went to bed.
Go to Week 2