Vietnam Week 2

Go to Week 1

23rd of July

We woke up at 5:30, had breakfast and me, papa and Paul went into the mountains to watch birds.

We just entered a mountain pass and we heard a wild rooster, called a male Red junglefowl and saw it too. We walked on and we saw 2 very colorful and beautiful sunbird…ish thingies which we couldn’t identify.

We saw some beautiful Long-tailed shrikes. There were a whole lot of them. We took some nice pictures of them. Then we saw a Rufescent prinia which looked almost the same as the Yellow-bellied prinia but after a hard time of trying to identify it, we did it.

During our walk we saw brick factories, some other birds like Common ioras, Green-billed malkohas, Sooty-headed bulbuls and Asian palm-swifts.a

Time passed and then it suddenly started raining cats and dogs so we found shelter somewhere and waited until the cats and dogs stopped falling on us.

We continued our walk when it stopped raining cats and dogs,  but then it started raining tourists! We couldn’t find shelter for those. How often do you see a group of 22 tourists in the middle of nowhere?

On the way back we had a hard time separating flying Asian openbills from flying White storks, when we found out it could have been a lot easier. There was a whole flock of them just sitting in a tree.

In our room sitting on my “bed”, I found out which sunbird it was, but nothing in the book looked quite like it. I figured out it was a Vietnamese subspecies of the Olive-backed sunbird “Rhizophorae.” We discussed what would be our next destination (Ba Vi National park), ate lunch and rested while the cats and dogs were falling once more.

At 16:00, when it stopped raining, we went out with all of us plus our very friendly neighbor Daniel. We were pretty much in the same room as him with only a curtain separating us.

During our walk we only saw sparrows, Common ioras and Common tailorbirds. It was a nice walk though. On the way back papa took a shortcut on his own, the rest of us were afraid the road would lead to nowhere. Papa was back earlier than the rest of us.

We had dinner, heard people shouting at each other in Vietnamese and went to bed.

24th of July

We woke up at 5:00, had breakfast and drove by scooter to Ba Vi National Park. The weather was very strange: one moment the rain was pouring down on us and the other moment the sun was burning on our skin (we didn’t burn).

On the way papa’s helmet fell off and I had to walk back to get it. Our scooter wasn’t functioning very well either: uphill we could barely move!

When we came to the park and payed entrance fee because the hotel we were looking for was inside the park, we found out the hotel was full and so we had to go out of the park again to look for a different place to stay. We found one, very expensive (for Vietnam), but we went there anyway.

Somebody came to look at our scooter, took it with him and repaired it.

He told us to wait until the next day 16:00 o’clock though.

We had some dinner, after papa stopped arguing with the serving lady because we got something we didn’t order, looked at what they were doing with the scooter and went for a walk.

We saw a Lesser- or Greater- coucal, a White-throated kingfisher and we looked for rails but didn’t see them. On the mountain we were walking towards, we saw 2 beautiful waterfalls.

We went back to our hotel and went to bed.

25th of July

Paul, me and papa woke up at 5:30 and went to Ba Vi National Park, since we still had the tickets from the day before.

When we just arrived, the temperature was OK, but already at 7:00, we had to stand in the shade and even there it felt so hot. Apparently the birds didn’t mind, because we saw Red-whiskered-, Sooty-headed- and Black-crested bulbuls and a new species for my list: a Himalayan black bulbul. These are only bulbuls, we saw Long-tailed shrikes, Common tailorbirds, a Green-billed malkoha and a few beautifully fluorescent Crimson sunbirds, subspecies “Tonkensis”.

Once we were done birding, we had breakfast (fried corn and fried egg) of which I got diarrhea later on the day.

After breakfast we got some good news: we could pick up the scooter at 13:00 instead of 16:00! It was already 12:15 when we heard that and so we went to the “garage” to wait for it. There was a pool table there, so we played pool until 13:00.

At 13:00, papa paid the agreed price (1.000.000 Dong (€33,-)), but then the guy that repaired our scooter asked for more money (200.000 Dong)! Papa tried to bargain, but that didn’t work. So papa and Paul decided just to drag the scooter back to our hotel without the key.

Just to check, Paul stuck his scooter key in our scooter, and it worked! He drove it past the repair guy and he was looking as if Paul were a wizard!

We reached our hotel, tried to stick Paul’s key in our scooter again but it didn’t work anymore. Luckily, the repair guy didn’t see that, so papa told him: “I’ll give you an extra 100.000 Dong if you give me the key, or I’ll just use that key and you get 0 extra Dong”.

Back at our hotel, we packed, checked out and bought straps to bind our huge backpack on the scooter, because the repair guy never gave us the straps back.

After all that we drove 50 km back to Hanoi. We unloaded our stuff, put all our dirty clothes (which means virtually everything we had) in the washing machine and went to a Russian restaurant to eat.

On the way there papa bought a new T-shirt, because ALL his T-shirts were dirty and thus in the washing machine!

In the Russian restaurant where apparently nobody could understand a word of Russian, I ate a delicious beef stew and a plate of fresh vegetables like cucumber and tomato.

Then, after dinner, we had a nice drink called “water pickled apricot” and after that we went to a place where people use to dance each evening. That was fun, especially because there was also a boy there who kept on falling while he was trying to “ride” his roller skates. He felt literally every 5 seconds!

After looking at women (and men) dancing, we went back to Paul’s house and went to bed.

26th of July

I woke up at 10:00, found out everybody else was already awake and had breakfast.

At around noon, papa, me and Paul went to a travel agency to book a trip to Ba Be national park. They wanted a lot of money though (750 U$$), and so we decided first to book a hotel room for our last night in Hanoi, on the 10th of August. We would not be able to stay with Paul at that time anymore, because by that time he would have already moved to Kazakhstan. We booked a room with jacuzzi.

After that, we had to stop at a clothing shop so papa could buy a pair of shorts, because he was walking in his swimming shorts. Before going to Paul’s house, we had a delicious Mango smoothie somewhere next to the heavily polluted lake in Hanoi.

On the way there, we asked a taxi driver how much he would ask us to drive to Ba Be and back. Surprisingly, it was less than half the price that travel agency asked (only 350 U$$)! So we arranged to meet at 8:00 the next morning in front of Paul’s house.

After that, we had dinner and drove to a street full of snake restaurants. There, you could drink scotch with snake heart while it is still beating and also things like “King cobra alcohol”. The food sounded even worse: would you like to have a whole fried, freshly killed cobra or perhaps a plate of snake PENISES?

The alcohol was mostly for the show, because what you saw was a big bottle of alcohol with a dead snake in it and apparently they didn’t want to sell the whole bottle, because it would have cost us 950 DOLLARS!!!

When we were looking inside somebody’s snake restaurant, it all of a sudden started raining really hard. So we waited inside that person’s restaurant.

He was trying to tell us that he cooked really well and that foreigners came there like this: “you want to eat snake, I cook good for you! Many foreigners come here, yesterday there were 2 Americans, 2 Australians and 1 Russian!”

He was a little bit annoying, but he was very friendly. When we had to go and get our scooters, he lent  us his ponchos (rain covers). After we would come back from our trip to Ba Be and Halong Bay, we would actually go and eat snake there.

On the road back to Paul’s house, some parts of the road were not even visible because of the pools the rain created. We stopped at an ATM machine to get some money to pay the taxi driver.

Back at Paul’s house, we went to bed.

27th of July

We woke up at 7:00, had breakfast and found out the taxi driver did not show up. So we took a taxi  to the headquarters of the taxi company to talk about it.

At the headquarters, we left the bags in a taxi, so I had the honor of guarding them and I enjoyed myself by doing nothing for 50 minutes while Paul and papa were doing something else.

Apparently, it did not work out because the taxi company all of a sudden changed the price to 450 U$$! They came up with the bullshit that they thought we wanted to go to Ba Vi, but if that was really so, they should have changed the price to something a lot higher! Because, Ba Be is four times further away from Hanoi than Ba Vi, so if what they said would have been true, they should have asked a lot more money!

Papa decided he was not going to go to Ba Be by taxi and we let a taxi driver drive us back to Paul’s house. The taxi driver asked for money, but neither Paul or papa gave him that because the taxi company only wasted our time.

Back at Paul’s house, we invited Miss Hang and together with her we found a different driver. He was more expensive than the taxi company (460 U$$), but papa just didn’t want anything to do with the taxi company anymore.

Eventually, we left Hanoi heading toward Ba Be.

Apparently, we had been driving for 6 hours in total, but I didn’t notice, because I was sleeping most of the time. I didn’t even notice we drove out of the  street in Hanoi, because if I have to believe papa, I was already asleep. I woke up after 4 hours of driving when we stopped to buy bananas on the side of the road. Papa also bought a watermelon which he gobbled up entirely on his own.

When we were already inside the park, we had a little problem: apparently a tree fell on the road just a little prior to when we came there. We saw cars coming from that direction, but it would have been impossible to pass without moving the tree. Papa, the driver and somebody else who also had to pass, pushed the tree off the road.

When we came to a little village inside the park, we drove to a recommended guesthouse (In Vietnamese a guesthouse is called “Nha nghi”), Hoa Son. However, it was quite expensive (for Vietnam) and there was a really annoying baby screaming all the time. So we went to check out another place which we found a lot better and it was also cheaper. And,the people were friendlier. Luckily, a guide was staying there too, accompanying 2 British tourists. She could speak English and without her we would have been unable to communicate.

After putting our luggage in our tiny room, we ate dinner which consisted of cold cuts of meat, cold vegetable, cold bananas, cold water, cold spring rolls and warm rice.

After dinner, we took a shower pretty much on top of a toilet,and in a room with a moth and with a door that kept on opening itself. Therefor, I had to keep the door closed with one hand and protect myself from the moth with the other hand. Eventually, I got clean though.

After that we went back to our cabin and went to bed.

28th of July

We woke up at 6:15 and found it was still raining. Still, we went for a walk because we wanted to go see the information center, but we found out it was closed.

On the way back, we saw chickens, pigs and buffalos but no birds. Stupid rain!

We sat down on luxurious (false), comfortable (false), plastic (true) chairs and ate breakfast, served on a

We asked the English-speaking guide why the information center was not open and we found out that it opened at 8:00! Not fair, because it was 7:25 when we were there!

At 9:15 we went to the information center again, but again found out it was closed. Well, at least we took 2 nice walks, in the rain, looking at miniature pigs and oversized chickens.

With nothing to do in our tiny cabin with only a small double bed in it, we decided to take a boat trip around Ba Be’s lake for 5 hours.

The weather was really screwed up:  one moment it would be raining cats and dogs and the other moment it would not be raining at all. We didn’t hear the rain, because the engine made a hell of a noise. During the boat trip we only saw Sooty-headed- and Red-whiskered- bulbuls and one new species: the Lesser coucal. Perhaps because of the noise the engine produced.

Also, we stopped at a waterfall. That was pretty impressive. We also stopped at a very dark, mysterious cave: it was believed 7000 bats live in that cave, but nobody ever saw them! Like us, everybody who had been there had only heard the bats. I really did not like the cave, due to the fact that it smelled a lot worse than my farts and that it was so dark. The only thing I did like, was the very clear and loud echo.

Somewhere on the way, the skipper let 4 other people on the boat, 3 noisy children and an adult. The reason why we did not enjoy it, was that those children were even noisier than the boat’s engine! Besides, papa had asked for a private boat trip, so he decided to pay the skipper less money because he broke the promise.

After 5 hours, we came back to our village, paid the skipper who didn’t even mind that we payed him less money and had lunch in somebody’s “shop”.

It was more of a house with a few things standing outside the house so people could buy them. Our lunch consisted of a watermelon with a few cookies.

While we were eating, the owner of the house laid her baby in a hammock right next to us. Then, she started softly pulling and pushing the hammock so that the baby would fall asleep.

When we wanted to pay “Lei” or whatever her name was, she had trouble with adding the prices of our drinks, the cookies and the watermelon. When I calculated it before she did, she was amazed!

After lunch, we went back to our “shoebox” as we named our room, and rested there for a while.

Just before dinner, we tried to arrange a guide for the next day, but apparently all 4 of them decided to go on holiday at exactly the same time and so we weren’t able to book a guide. That meant it would be useless to stay another day, because we don’t know anything about the area and nobody around and there were no signs (that were understandable for) us whatsoever.

We decided just to leave a day earlier and head to Cat Ba island, which is located next to the apparently famous Ha long Bay and spend a day more there.

Dinner was slightly different from usual: we had cold cuts of delicious meat again, warm chicken meat with sautéed onions, some green stuff called vegetables, rice and this time also potato crisps! That doesn’t seem so special for us funny people that live in the western world, but if you get potato served here in Vietnam, especially in the countryside, it is not a common thing to eat. And for some reason, when I asked for salt, I got it served in an “instant chicken soup powder” package. I did not figure out if it really was salt or not, but won’t think about it anymore, because I don’t like the idea that I really spread chicken soup powder over my potato crisps.

After dinner, we wanted to take a shower and so we walked to a bathroom. For some reason though, we did not have hot water there. Luckily, when we tried a different shower in a different bathroom, we did have HOT water.

When we were done taking a shower, we went to bed, preparing to wake up at 6:00 the next morning.

29th of July

Indeed, we woke up at 6:00, had breakfast and we got into the car heading for the ferry from Hai Phong city to Cat Ba island, our final destination.

“Of course”, as papa would put it, I slept 5 out of 7 hours we were in the car.

When we arrived in Hai Phong, we wanted to book tickets for the super fast Hydrofoil (45 minutes to Cat Ba), but there was too much wind for the Hydrofoil to boat and so we booked tickets for a normal boat (1 hour to Cat Ba), which is still fast.

Our private car was not going with us to Cat Ba island. There was no space for a car on the boat. Talking about space, there was enough space for everybody, if we there would have been 2 people sitting on each chair. There were seats for 40 people on the boat, and so when all seats were occupied, we thought nobody else would come on the boat anymore. Too bad for us, that wasn’t the case: people started sitting on stools in the aisle! When we left, about 60 people were accompanying us on our boat trip.

Just before we left, we saw somebody urinating of a boat next to us.

Same story for our bus ride from the harbor to the center of the town called “Cat Ba”. In Cat Ba, we wanted to call the newly built “Cat Ba Ecolodge” to come and pick us up, when papa found out there was no money on his SIM card anymore. Luckily, we could call them with somebody else’s phone and we got picked up by a taxi.

On the 14 kilometer ride from the city center to the Ecolodge, we saw a lot of birds, especially eagles, but we couldn’t identify them because the binoculars were in the bag. The landscape was beautiful: high hills entirely covered by dense forest, there was no ground visible.

We took the V.I.P room because we would get discount, due to that we would stay 4 nights. It was really V.I.P-ish: we had a huge room 2 king-sized beds and an amazingly big and CLEAN bathroom. And a flat-screen television which we find totally useless.

After checking in, we went to the restaurant to have dinner. A dinner I will never forget. It was delicious! As appetizer I had a nice western “mixed vegetable soup”. We ate a freshly caught fish which was amazingly well fried with garlic and ginger. A Russian salad in the form of a heart outlined by precisely cut cucumber disappeared somewhere down our throats too. Desert was served as 2 tiny pieces good-tasting watermelon.

After dinner, we researched about our surroundings, rested and went to bed.

Go to Week 3


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