Monday, November 18, 2013
Tales of...Vietnam : Plans, interrupted
This is the first installment from my travel tales which was inspired by Give Live Explore who described his published book called Tales of Iceland as sort of like an anti-guide book for traveling, I have nothing against guide book and in fact some of my travel become easier thanks to them. But like everything else I learn from advertising and branding, there's just no point doing what everyone else is doing - you can get a summary, review or guide somewhere else but you won't get my experience and some misadventure anywhere but here.
As some of you might have known and read by now, I've planned out my Laos and Vietnam trip down to almost military precision - having done that since India and then during my New Zealand trip with my friends. Most people are more than happy to follow along because lets face it, planning is a bitch. While there is a concrete plan, I do allow rooms for slight changes for example, too tired to go to yet another attraction or rather stay in than going out etc etc.
But nothing prepared me for something as major as canceled flights two days in a row. I supposed it wouldn't be such a big of a deal if my trips are like for a few months but when its actually just two weeks, any roadblocks meant rescheduling everything. So there was a typhoon in central Vietnam which I wasn't prepared for and for everyone's safety, the plane cannot take off even if they wanted to. Mind you, I didn't really enjoy Hanoi and was really looking forward to leaving that town (pictured above when the sun is down, that was the day before I was due to be at the airport, I was feeling good, positive and happy to leave to experience Hue and the beautiful Hoi An) and the cab fare wasn't cheap at all because the airport is like 40 minutes away (I later learnt to take the bus which is less than a dollar compared to cab fare at $13 ) So imagine having to deal with trying to leave the town - all the traveling time, cab fares, lousy food at the airport, waiting time, canceling and rebooking flights etc etc.
After two days in a row, I have decided that I would not be able to make it to central Vietnam. Even if the typhoon has passed, everything was in ruin and there was no way I can enjoy the trip. But I still have to make it down to Saigon in order to take my flight home from there. So it's either I spend more time in Hanoi or go up further South for a couple of days and hopefully when I returned, I can get down to Saigon without any problems.
Staying in Hanoi to me wasn't an option so at the eleventh hour after returning for the second time to the hostel - I booked an overnight bus that will take me from Hanoi to Sapa. The journey was 12 hours and bus due to leave in 3.
It's not very comfortable as you can see here but cheap, 3 rows in the bus with two tiers of seats that can be reclined for sleep. Foreigners like me (obviously) was made to pay more and sit on the top tier which is super uncomfortable and I have to hit the jackpot of sitting on the back/last row which sits 5 people. I didn't sleep too well and it was a mix of regret and anger and excitement all rolled into one. And oh, you can't wear your shoes inside the bus so the plastic bag is for them.
Arriving in Sapa and seeing it with the first light was amazing - ok, so it was a little like Ubud but on a grander scale but to me, it was anything I can do to escape Hanoi is a good thing. After 12 hours of bus ride, I actually stayed there just another night and then take the bus back to Hanoi - yet another 12 hours. This time around, I was quite lucky - the bus was almost empty, the arrangement is different - only two rows and 2 seats each row which means I get to have two seat to myself. Please excuse my bag between my legs - yes I was wearing flannel with a hoodie and long water proof North Face pants. Those that you can unzip to shorts. Not my fashion best but comfort is number one when you travel alone.
So what did I learn from all these? To be honest, I am at the point of my life where I am ready to leave everything behind and every time I do that, something boring like a good career move comes into the picture. This misadventure taught me that I don't think I can deal with all these (plus the dirt and roughing it out) as I get older so its now or never. So I turned down that job offer when I came back.
It also taught me that age is a bitch, I used to be able to walk alot and recover extremely fast but it's no longer the case. I spent alot of time recovering and resting which is not a bad thing because thats what holiday is about.
I also discovered that I shouldn't underestimate the power of friends that you meet along the way - there was a fellow Malaysian whom I met in the same hostel in Hanoi and arrived earlier in Sapa. She helped me in Sapa - I arrived not knowing where to go, what to do, what to see or where to stay. Just one way ticket. Having a familiar face got me through it all and I was so glad that I was able to buy her dinner.
Having data/internet on my phone was helpful though not essential - it was quite expensive to set up in my case (couldn't get anyone selling sim card for my iPhone 5 and found one that was marked up sky high) but was money well spent as I maxed out the quota, entertained me when I was bored and helped me to get in touch with that friend in Sapa.
Lastly, never make any rash decisions - I could have gone to Halong Bay which is like so much more nearer but I didn't out of anger and desperation - I didn't regret Sapa because it was beautiful unlike anything that I have seen but it was punishing to my unfit body. So yes, Mr Plan It All learn that sometimes you can't plan for everything.