Sal made a prophetic comment the day before, “We need to go to bed early, because we passed a lot of roosters.” Boy was he right. Those jerks wake you up at 5:30 a.m. Crikey! It’s impossible to fall back asleep then because everything else starts waking up then: dogs, people, etc.. Like I said: noise really carried in that valley. You know who else woke up? The guys playing the drums. They started drumming before 8 AM. Talk about perseverance…
We packed up and had breakfast. We met up with Toan again and greeted Mr. Chow and we were on our way. The only request we had for Toan was: please stop somewhere with Western toilets. He delivered and about ½ way through we stopped for lunch (it was about 4 hours total drive) at a place with good food and good toilets. Who could ask for anything more? Oddly I could hear cats meowing while I was using the facilities, and looked out the window and there was a mama cat and a baby kitten. Mama hissed at me, so no pics. I don’t need to end the trip with rabies or some such.
The spot we were visiting was the Bai Dinh Pagoda (Buddhist temple) in Ninh Binh. When we finally arrived we bought tickets to take a ride on the electric golf cart to get to the main buildings. There were several different buildings to check out, and since they drop you off at the bottom it meant lots of stairs. I ended up with 25 flights. Not bad. I’m getting better at the stairs as Vietnam sort of forces you to get used to them since they are all over these hilly areas.
There were several different buildings to explore, including a bell tower.
The big stupah:
The inside of the biggest building was quite impressive.
After we had visited each building for a few minutes it was time to make our way back to the car and Chow. It was about a mile walk back; not too bad, and thank goodness we were done with the stairs as my knees were killing me from the trek the day before.
Toan stopped at his house to drop off some stuff he had bought. I thought we were going to his house to meet his family for some reason. He was only a few minutes and asked us to wait in the car. He got back in the car and Chow drove us to the train station. Toan explained which way the train would be coming, and dropped us off in the waiting room. I have mixed feelings for how the guided tour itself went. Obviously there was some lack of communication at the beginning. But also I felt like he didn’t actually tell us all that much about the places we went, except for the pagoda on the last day. Other times it just felt like following him in mostly silence. I would say maybe that is how it always is, but we’ve had a few other tours since being in Vietnam and we’ve gotten a lot more info. Maybe that’s just the way it is with trekking? I don’t know. Toan is older than the other two guides we had, so maybe it was an age thing? I don’t know. I did find the places he chose, Mai Chau and Pu Luong very, very good. Especially Pu Luong, which was just stunning. I just wish there had been more rapport as it fell a bit flat. While I would certainly not say he was a horrible guide – he was perfectly adequate. It felt like we were off on our own a lot. On the last day he said he felt like he was getting sick because of the temperature changing, so maybe that was it.
We waited at the train station for a little over an hour. I bought some snacks and had a fun interaction with the shopkeeper trying to find out if a snack was salty or sweet. Thank goodness for Google translate 🙂 While we were waiting for the train there was a young woman (maybe high school aged?) that was with her family. I had said hello to her shy little brother who had been staring at us and was too embarrassed to say anything back, and she waved and said hello to me with a grin. When it was getting closer to train time, there was an announcement in Vietnamese that they didn’t translate to English, and a bunch of people got up and started moving toward the tracks. Our train time was still a few minutes from then so I wasn’t sure if people were getting ready for that train or a different one. I asked the young girl if she spoke English and if she was going to Hanoi (our next stop) and if she knew what the announcement said. She was able to say the message was about the “S-E-6” train coming, and I understood her. She was so excited and got a big grin on her face. I thanked her and we both had smiles on our faces as we said goodbye.
The train was easy enough to get into – nobody even checked our tickets. Thankfully Toan had booked soft seats for us, so that was nice. They were sort of near the bathroom, so not so great smells every so often if you get my drift, and I think you do.
There was a young boy who said he was five that came up to some of the Westerners with a big HELLO! During the trip. One young woman had a conversation with him and he spoke very good English — the best I’ve seen by a child (and the majority of adults) this trip so far. We were all impressed and he was very cute. His mom looked pretty proud 🙂
There were two Hanoi stops, so thank goodness Sal was there or I would have gotten off on the wrong one. I am so directionally challenged. After getting off the train we tried to find our driver, but weren’t sure exactly where he would be. He wasn’t on the bottom platform, that we could see, so we decided to go up and out and see if he was waiting outside with the cabs. We didn’t see him there, so we decided to go back inside. I was just getting ready to email the hotel while going up the escalator, when we saw him going down the escalator holding a sign with my name on it. He sorted out a cab for us and then said he had to get his motorbike. At one point we were stopped at a traffic light and I looked over at all the bikes next to us and there he was with a big grin and a wave. It was pretty funny.
We got to the hotel and they welcomed us back warmly and with some fresh juice. They already had our luggage that they were storing in our new room. These people were wonderful. Highly, highly recommend La Selva hotel.
My stomach was a bit upset, so we only went across the street for sandwiches and brought them back in the room to eat. It was like $2 each. I’ll miss these cheap prices!
We fell asleep to the honking, as per usual in Hanoi.