Sunday, May 18th, 2014
The trains in Vietnam can’t even compete with those in India. Four beds are safely enclosed with a locking door, thus eliminating the need to zip-tie and lock yourself and your belongings to anything fixed to the steaming pile of metal.
It doesn’t smell of urine, but is quite inviting with comfy beds, clean sheets, cute reading lamps and bottles of water making for the most comfortable overnight transit we’ve ever had. Nine hours passed almost too quickly. Fortunately, accepting these comforts didn’t mean sacrificing the “sleepover on a train” preboarding excitement by travelers just trying to get cheaply from A to B. James was also guilty of catching this contagious feeling, so of course disappeared and minutes later returned proudly passing out his beer purchase from the petite woman working the platform.
We settled in and ended up cheersing on the bottom bunks before a friendly American turned Australian joined us. Anthony was a chef living in Australia, on holiday in Asia with his parents.
The first third of the train ride was spent dissecting “travel” and further inflating our excitement about every day we would see the sun rise over an unfamiliar skyline.
By 7 a.m. we arrived on the platform Lao Cai. We sardine packed ourselves and other stinky, beer smelling tourists into a shuttle where we would all enjoy playing corners for the winding 25 mile, 60 minute drive up the curvy roads to Sapa Town.
This 100 year old hill station still shines with French undertones, which is probably why I think it’s breathtaking and like a dozen other places, could gladly call it home. Cafes and baskets overflowing with unfamiliar and curious fruit spill onto invisible sidewalks.
We checked into Elysian Hotel. This hotel is a sweet find. It’s situated in a perfect location, with the dining room opening up right out onto a little side road off the main center of town. For about $32 for a room per night, this is easily a deal. The kind receptionist offered us warm tea and a shower before dropping our things and heading back out to explore our new destination.
The overwhelming smell of thick dark Vietnamese coffee had us perched on an adorable cafe rooftop within minutes of arrival.
With the coffee shakes setting in, we were ready to explore.
The rest of the day was spent wandering curiously through the rice fields.
That night we walked around town, explored the market (of course!) and ended up at a fun cafe for some pho and drinks while enjoying the setting sun and resting our tired, happy feet.
Monday, May 19th, 2014
We were up early and made sure to tap into the complimentary breakfast offer. America’s Continental Breakfast just doesn’t have game. We were served up piping hot spicy chicken and beef pho, with a side of dangerous caffeinated vietnamese syrup (coffee).
Our day started out in the opposite direction from the day prior. We were quickly met by a group of H’mong women and girls.
Young women half my age (hey- I’m not that old…yet) had sleeping babies strapped to their backs, while woman more than twice my age were still breastfeeding.
Despite that it was hot as hell, they were covered in heavy hemp cloth dyed intricately with indigo blue, neon threads decorated fringes and hems, and silver’s cousin made an appearance on about every accessorize-able surface on a human body.
We invited the woman we liked most to join us for the day.
It was an incredible day, with our eyes treated to green rice terraces, picturesque mountains serving as the backdrop, the joy of not knowing or caring where we were being led, and the opportunity to laugh and learn from these beautiful people from a hill tribe we would never be able to discover on our own.
All was well until we departed from our ladies and we were left to find our way home. We were pretty thirsty, sweaty and a little pressed for time to make our return overnight train back to Hanoi.
We hiked around up and down, forwards, backwards and in circles. My Mom thought we brought her out there to kill her, and while James loves to make public transportation wait for his tardy arrival, I wanted to make sure we were onboard the train that evening.
I attempted to flag down a motorcycle, but the driver looked at me like he didn’t understand and disappeared around the bend in the road. While the three of us sat delusional, dehydrated and arguing with one another on the best plan for action, my motorcycle man returned, with his plus one.
James saddled up next to this dude and Mom and I tres packed the motorcycle for the return journey home. All was well in Vietnam again.
We retuned home and Elysian staff made us the strongest most dangerously refreshing mojitos this cocktail chick has ever dreamed of. The evening was spent sitting alongside my adventurous mother, sipping mojitos and watching the hill town settle down as the sun cast its giddy pink glow across the mountains.
It was a perfect night filled with disgusting rice wine (I think they meant to call it rubbing alcohol), incredible Vietnamese food, market runs and impulse purchases of the soon be disappearing indigo goods.
We eventually made the trip back down the hill and boarded our cozy train for the overnight trip back to Hanoi.
Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
Happy Birthday to me!!!!!!!
There is absolutely nowhere in the world I would rather be than with my two favorite people. Unfortunately I was little miss grumpy thanks to a surprisingly crappy night of sleep. So we returned to the all-too-familiar Serendipity Hotel, performed our predictable shower-pho-coffee routine and then set out. We cruised around, shopped and purchased a few dozen chopsticks, buttons, amazing printed tanks, pants and headbands. That bad mood quickly turned good.
We walked into SF Spa and were served tea while excitedly waited for an hour plus of indulgence. We all received the most incredible spa back massages, enjoyed a lemongrass steam and waterfall showers. It was absolutely unbelievable and made the day precisely perfect!!!!
We decided to carryon the celebration by heading to the famous Hanoi beer corner. Prime people watching, endless beers and lots of inflatables made for a wild and crazy night in Hanoi.
With too much to drink and having forgotten to eat, we of course ended up at our favorite place, Gecko. We spent hours sitting on the intimate little balcony overlooking the hundreds of motorcycles, pedestrians, pedal bikes, cars all zipping around creating what looked like a long exposure on an American Fourth of July.
Being with Mom and James was an amazingly perfect way to welcome age 28!!!!!