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Day 121 – I Missed You Vietnam (Transit to Hanoi)

July 2, 2010

Dateline: Nanning, China; Hanoi, Vietnam and roads between – Friday, July 2, 2010

Just another travel day. Got up early, checked out of the hotel 3 hours after checking in, and lugged my bag to a bus station ticket office. I bought a ticket with ten minutes to spare and joined a mass of Chinese and Vietnamese on an 8-hour ride to Hanoi.

The bus departed from the ticket office and I ended up meeting a Brit named Vanessa and a chatty, older Swiss guy who never said his name. Vanessa is traveling alone. Her experience matches mine, though. Like me, she’s ended up picking up travel buddies for extended parts of her trip. You’re rarely alone on the road unless you want to be.

Fun travel note for the Chinese side of the journey. The bus company provides you with plastic spit bags, just in case you get the urge to hock a loogie. A disturbing number of the Chinese men took advantage of it. I’ve heard it’s worse on trains. If you buy a hardseat (the cheapest ticket) they’ll just spit right on the floor, regardless of the luggage and heavy foot traffic. In contrast, the bus seems quite civilized.

The scenery on the bus ride was gorgeous. Reminded me a bit of Railay. Vanessa, who just came from Yangshuo, my aborted travel destination, said it was nothing compared to the peaks further north. Too bad I didn’t fit it in this trip. Guess I’ll just have to come back to China.

The border crossing was mostly uneventful. On the Chinese side, the immigration official gave my passport a hard look. I smiled and joked that it really was me. Nothing. Not even an acknowledgment that I’d said anything. China, baby.

On the Vietnamese side, things were quite different. Immigration was immigration, pounding out passport stamps with efficiency. When I boarded a little golf cart to go to transfer to the big bus, the guys running the thing were laughing, smiling, and playing with a little kid while he sat on his mom’s lap. Immediately, I realized that I missed Vietnam. Or maybe it’s that I missed seeing random strangers smile at people they didn’t know. Who knows. Who cares. I was happy already.

Once in Hanoi, the Swiss, Vanessa, and I all shared a cab into town. We had no idea where we were so couldn’t negotiate properly. We opted for a meter, but quickly realized it was set fast. We’d go down a short block and the meter would say we’d gone 1 km. At one point, we rounded a corner and the distance jumped from 5.7 km to 6.3. Guess Vietnam is still Vietnam. I ended up paying more for the cab than I probably could have got for a motorcycle taxi ride.

That night I walked through the streets enjoying the vibrant street life. I even crossed the street a couple extra times for fun, just so I could feel the heavy traffic flow around me like I was a stone in a babbling brook. I ended up under the Ly Thai Tho statue east of Hoan Kiam. There was some kind of concert being taped celebrating Hanoi’s 1,000 year anniversary. They were playing that weird dan bau instrument. I still couldn’t figure out how it worked.

Tonight was the Netherlands-Brazil game.  One of the best parts about World Cup soccer in Hanoi: walking down a street lined with bars all watching the same game and hearing people gasp and scream all around you in unified surround sound. World Cup soccer outside the U.S.–it’s fantastic.

I ended up watching the game at a local bar with a bunch of people wearing orange jerseys. Presumably they were Dutch. I met an American who’ll cross over with my time in Saigon later in the month. We made plans to catch up then.

After the Dutch win, I joined a group to go to an afterhours place. Hanoi is no Shanghai or Beijing. We got lost in the French designed streets. I opted out after 15 minutes. Sometimes, you can’t chase the night.

Even though places here close mostly at midnight, I’m glad I’m back. I sense it fits my sensibility more. Perhaps I’ll change my mind after a few days, but I doubt it.

GALLERY: No extra pictures today. Just the ones you see above.

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