In my quest for orchid knowledge and seeds - and to find some milder climate, I now leave the north, to seek out to the east and the coast.
22/1. My original plan was to reach Lang Son and it famous nightmarked. Unfortunately, I was delayed by a hellish bad road, and I ended up sleeping in That Khe. I find a place to buy the usual white, slippery stuff, which turns out to be some sort of rice-pancakes. They are folded over some spiced and minced meat, and goes into the soup along with a fried egg. The eggs and the soup are added the same spiced and minced meat souse. This time, the price is 16KD.
I discover the marked is nearby, and as I missed the one last night, I have a look. The day is not that stressed: I planed just to drive slowly down to Ha Long, enjoying the tour, and explore the wild. At the market, as so many other places, the noisy rice-tractors are ever present. The can be rebuild to a truck, and that is useful, going to the market. Not faster than a water buffalo, but way more noisy! They also works for the pumps, mils and boat engines.
The temperature is just above 10C, and it seems a bit strange they grow bananas and sugar-cane, but it is winter, and an extremely cold day, I'm told. A light rain tops it, and if it wasn't for all my driving cloths, I would be freezing, just like the locals. This is, by the way, one of those rather large cities, where you not only need rubber bots for the main street, you look silly without!
I blend in nicely: Covered in reddish clay, rain cloths, boots and all. I just miss the part about a hairless face and the average height of 150 centimetres. I passes a stand with hotdogs! Can't say no to one, and have to pay 7KD for it: Around 2DKK. The bread is being swept with some oil/egg thing while it is heated over the charcoal fire along with the sausage. Some spiced minced meat are added, and it taste great!
Here is a surprisingly large meat marked. Mainly pigs, which are cut into familiar parts, except: Here are the parts, I usually don't see, too. It is one pig at each table, head in one end, feet in the other. It all is displayed on a rough wooden table. Guess here are a few flies at summer!
One part is mainly restaurants, while another deals with live ducks and hens. They sit quiet in bamboo baskets, which they are brought home in. I see several sitting, head out of the basket, on a moped. Guess it is time for me to lave as well, as it is passed eight.
I don't really like to stop: If I want to walk into the wild, I have to have my backpack on, and then I warm up too much, freezing even more afterwards. Just a quick stop to take a photo make the sunglasses steam up, the poncho get entangled and so on. Further more, it is all familiar terrain, and it is still misty, rainy and quiet dark. The first 20 kilometres is well sealed - except for the short stretches where it have kind of gone! Not only the sealing; the road! Just as I get the speed up, wheel-eating potholes with thin walls around, occurs. Reminds me of the rice patches.
Then it get worse: They are constructing a new road, but they have only reach the part, where the remove the old one. Sticky clay, uneven ground, sudden dams or holes and a deep fall down to the river. I am so glad, I didn't challenged this road last night! The 65 kilometres to Lang Son takes me more than two hours, and I only stop a few times. It is misty, semi-dark and as I decent, cold! I think the temperature drops to 8-10C, and the wind picks up.
A short stop in the huge city; Lang Son, but besides from the nightmarked, dealing with cheep Chinese junk, here are nothing interesting. From here, the road is way better - except in short stretches, where it is so uneven! Although it is completely sealed, I can't go faster then 30, and all my attention have to be in a straight line in front of me. Does not mean much, I think. It is dark, misty and the same rice patches and limestone haystacks, sometimes with low forest on.
I had hoped it would warm up, when I reached the lowlands, but is strangely the other way around. On top of that; the rain is back. The landscape is opening up, but it only means; there are longer between the chains of limestone hills. I still drive along some tall walls. Here are fare fewer villages, but more houses along the road. They look a bit more modern.
Down below, on the waste farmland, large waterwheels can be seen. They are made of bamboo, and driven by the water. I take some photos, and by now, I have given up avoiding the electric cables. They are all over the place. Both the high- and low voltages and phone lines are air-installations, and it is not pretty.
Just before one, I reach the coast - or at least the swamps. Tidewater zone plants on one side, lush, green cultured forests on the other. Huge restaurants along the road, and while I avoid the worse rain in one, five tourist busses use the one next to it. I started asking for coffee there, but they haven't. It is, after all, only Chinese tourist, who comes here.
I reach Ha Long at three, but have a hard time finding the right part of town. Accordantly to the Lonely Planet map, the coastal road leads over the bay. But it doesn't. It is some sort of highway, and it takes some effort to join it. When I finally do, I drive straight to the hotel.
Good thing is the receptionist speaks a bit English, bad thing is she wished me a happy new-year. It turns out Tet is today, not the 3. February. On the good side again: I might find the orchids growers have time for me in Ha Noi, and I might find a flight to the south. Bad thing is: No chance I find a tour around the amazing Halong Bay with its cask mountains. Well, I can see them from the shore - if it wasn't for the mist and rain. Worse is I can't get out to Cat Ba National Park. Well, I get one offer for $80: Ten times the normal price. I'm not THAT interested. It is, after all, only the exact same haystacks I have seen so many of, just with water instead of rice patches in-between.
Check the waste souvenir area along the tourist harbour. The prices are sky-high! I'm not going to pay 120KD for a red T-shirt with a yellow star on the chest, when I bought one from a wide smiling woman for 20KD (end up paying $9/180KD for it in the airport, but that is another story). The ticket offices are closed, but a friendly woman tells me: No chance I go out to Cat Ba tomorrow.
It is only little pass four, but by the amount of closed tourist stands and shutdown stores, I start hunting for supper. Most I find are already closed, but a seafood joint is still open. And as a special treat, I get rice! Fried bacon, fish and sausage along with some soup with cucumbers. The rice alone make it a great dinner.
Besides from the last floweriest, Tet tree salesmen and a few greedy shopkeepers, the town is dead! Even the street sweepers have gone. Guess it would be the same at home, on Christmas evening. I'm back at the hotel at five, but can't figure how diary and the sorry 51 photos of the day can entertain me. On top of that, the internet is down. With internet, I could have arrange some visits in Ha Noi, and booked a flight down south.
The planning is quite easy then: Back to Ninh Binh with the bike; roughly 200 kilometres in flat terrain. Then a bus to Ha Noi city, and by MC-taxi to see the nursery and by foot to the sights in the centre.
23/1. Figuring everybody will be sleeping late, I do too. I leave the hotel at nine, and the streets are still empty. No food to be found anywhere around the hotel, and I drive down to the seafront, to get a glimpse of the flooded haystacks. They are out there, but hard to spot through the mist and all the vacant tourist boats. Anyway, they are overrated!
Find a family sitting eating, and they are willing to share. The offers me a shot of homemade rice vine, still with some grains in, and it is really good! Reminds me of an Polish vodka: Zubrowka. Unfortunately, it works way more fast then the thin noodle-soup I'm eating. Quite some shops seems to be open, but it is just because the families live there. On the streets, remains of the illegal fireworks lay in thick layers.
I decides to do the Ha Long - Ninh Binh drive as a transport stretch, and drive flat out. Not much traffic, pretty good road and only a little rain. The temperature is below 10C, and my poncho is being shredded by the speed. I reach Ninh Binh after nearly three hours - pretty good for at 200 kilometres tour. The poncho is more like a collar with hoot now, and I ditches it. Pity; it have served me well!
Spend a little time finding the hotel, and then it is closed! Both yesterday and today, I have seen most hotels being locked with a chain, but luckily, the cleaning lady lives here, and answer the bell. I borrow the telephone, and call the guy I rented the bike from. He is at a party with his wife, but will drop bye in the evening, with my remaining $510.
I had no intention spending more time, that I have to in this city, and we agree: If I get a train for Hanoi this afternoon, he will come. I drive around the corner to the station. It is closed, but three French girls have bought tickets two month ago, and say there is a train in 10 minutes. First white tourists I have seen, since the guy on pedal bike on the Sa Pa road, I think. I find a board which apparently say it is delayed a half hour.
That should do it, although the girls doubt I will be able to get a ticket, in the Tet days: That is why they booked two months ago. Next train is 11 minutes pass midnight: Not good! I rush back to the hotel, and call him: "We have to meet now". I repack, find his things and get a nice cup of tea, while I wait.
He arrivals, I tell him shortly about the tour, and there have been no problems with his bike on the 1886 kilometres, I have driven during the last nine days. I get my $510, and rush back to the station. The ticket office is now open, and ten minutes after the train should have left, I get a ticket - to the French girls big surprise. 80KD, and I have a seat in the nearly half full wagon with flight seats. Dirty, but comfortable. Had to wait almost ten minutes, but what a timing!
Drive through waste rice fields and scatted buildings, till we reach the industrial area of Ha Noi. The railroad and station is, by some freak reason, not on the map, but the girls have asked around. They have a booking at a backpackers dorm in the old quarter, and I join them. They have made the reservation a long time ago, and pay $7,50 for the dorm beds. I like a single room, but they have none. The girls offers me a good hunting, guessing I will have a hard time finding anything.
Just round the corner, I find a nice hotel. They expect $18, but when I say $10, the remember "the little room". Well, the floor is big, it is very nice, but the sealing is just above my hair, and the door is 150 centimetres high. Air-condition, TV and even a computer! And not a sound from the city. I call it home! It even comes with a huge self-service breakfast table: Bacon and eggs, fresh fruit, spring roles and more. It is on the "old town" main street, and here are quite a lot white faces around the neighbourhood.
I take a fast shower, get rite of the driving cloth and take a short walk through the old centre. Almost all shops are closed, but the buildings them selves are charming. Opposite the hotel, a western-like restaurant lours me in, but they have only few courses without noodles. The prices are only three times the street-joints, and I enjoy bread with cheese and tomatoes along with a Vietnamese Drip Coffee.
It have turned dark, and I return to the hotel. I guess I will have to spend a couple of days here, seeing the few things just around the hotel, and visiting the orchid nursery. Book a flight down to Boun Ma Thuot, 1200 kilometres south. $173, but forever in a bus, and I have seen quite some of the area. After I booked it, I figured I should have spend a bit more, and saved 300 kilometres in bus, going down to Ho Chi Minh afterward: bummer! Well, $70-100 more, and I can fly there.
24/1. Start the day, chatting with a lovely 80 years old lady from Canada. She have spend the last ten winters in Ha Noi, and although she is a guest, se do some of the cooking. Then I start looking for Hanoi Botanical Garden. It should be in the huge Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex, but I have a real hard time finding it.
I don't seem to be able to get into the area. Some famous person might be visiting the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, and there are scanners and a lot of friendly guards, all telling me to take the next entrance. I passes the Ho Chi Minh museum and the mausoleum, a bonsai nursery with dead orchids and more guards.
Out on the street, I kind of find the back wall to the botanical garden, the presidential palace and more guards. On the final corner, I find the botanical garden's "Ticket Hall" - a small, closed shed. At a tiny table, a person within the park, sells me a 2KD ticket.
The Hanoi Botanical Gardenis not really a botanical garden, just a flimsy arboretum around a few, big lakes. A few cages with birds and monkeys. Some names on the trees, that is it. On the way out, I find a cafe with a few orchids, some even flowering. Took me two and a half hour to find it, half hour to see it, and I even had a cup of coffee. Hard to say it was not the 2KD - 10 Cents worth, but close.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex is opening again, and I want to see the One Pillar Pagoda. It is a replica: The original one dating back to 1049 was delivery destroyed by the Frenchmen in 1954, just before quitting Ha Noi. I'm glad I'm not a Frenchman, having to explain that to the world!!! It is build on one column, made of wood and resembles a lotus flower. And there are even flowering lotuses in the surrounding lake.
I head out to the Temple of Literature. It is a large complex, and it is crowded. A few tourists, but mainly Vietnamese and Chinese, praying, playing, enjoying life and buying souvenirs. There are offerings all over the place. Small dong notes are packed in many places, on roofs, on figures, in and on boxes and stuffed in the ornaments.
Here are even a ATM within the complex. I have not seen that in any Catholic place - yet. Plenty of real nice craftsmanship have gone in the this buildings too, and it is - although crowded - somewhat peaceful. Outside is a little lake in this dense populated city, and someone is apparently living there on a tiny island, with their chickens and cats.
Heading back to the old town, I notes a few shop owners checking their closed shops. Although it is only 3-4 metres wide, and not that deep, their Porsche Panamera, BMW X6, Audi Q7 and alike parked outside is longer! I can't figure how they can afford a car like this, with a little shop like that! In some closed shops, parties or the remaining from them, can be seen. Tet trees, confetti, decorated tables and so on.
I really like the old houses here. They are disintegrating nicely, and not two are alike. It is a completely mix of different building styles, but most are covered in potting plants. A shoeshine offers me his service, and I have been looking for that. The first days in the mud have taken on them. He not only shines them, the sow some, and glue some.
Still a strange atmosphere: All these closed shops and people in suits and fancy dresses. I reaches the huge Hoan Kiem Lake, and buy a ticket for the Hun Bridge, leading to the Ngoc Son Temple. Real crowded. Besides from the temples of some ancient general, a huge turtle from the lake, is displayed. Some musicians and dancers meet me on the bridge, going back.
I have now seen most of, what I planed to see in Ha Noi, except two markets - which are closed. Drop bye yet one more temple: Bach Ma. They start to look alike at this point. Somehow, I find the buildings more interesting. At three, I through with the sights, and cold to the bone. It peaked at 12C, and I'm not build for that! Find a pastry, and try a few cakes. Not that bad, but I'm still cold.
Back at the room, I put on the second fleece jacked, and start the photo/diary work. Still no reply from the nursery, but it is, after all; Tet. On one hand, it is fun to have experienced it, but on the other: It is annoying that everything is closed! Tomorrow should be the same, and I have no other plans, except the nursery.
Work on the detailed plan for "Sector 5", the south-eastern part. Co-ordinating with an local orchid specialist, shortest route between the sights, flight in and out. The forecast looks perfect: 25-35C and little or no rain: My kind of weather. Guess I can leave the boots here. A tea break at an nearby restaurant. I am sure it is all about a misunderstanding in translation: I can impossible have ordered chocolate cake with ice, but polite as I am, I just eat and pay.
25/1. Although it is still the Tet holydays, I give it a shot, and try to call the owner of the nursery I want to see: Ngoclan. It turns out, he and his family will be at the nursery, and I'm welcome. I don't want to come empty-handed, but it is a bit hard to find anything, in the still closed city. I end up with some Danish cookies called Copenhagen, some others called Danish Fiesta - made in Malaysia, a bottle of posh vodka and some ginger bon-bons.
Although I brought a map, and the taxi driver thought he knew where it is we are going, I end up with a taxi-drive for 600KD! Well, at least we found the moped driver Trang had send out to meet us. The nursery is located just in-between brand new and very tall posh hotels, and it form the most delightful oasis here.
I am invited to dinner and have a try of Trang's teas, one of his interests. Each of them are made in its little, beautiful pot, preheated and filtered the right ways.
Trang have collected around 300 different orchids here, and he and his wife reproduces them by cuttings. It is, I have to admit, a bit early in the year, but there seems to be buds in almost all of them. It will be awesome in a month or two!
Trang have discovered four new species himself; Dendrobium trantuanii, Vanda trantuanii, Paphiopedilum trantuanhii and Dendrobium vietnamica. Quite a achievement! The nursery is, although it is winter, really a treat. I just wished I knew more about orchids at this point, because the couple have so much more to share, than I can cope with in one day!
I take a lot of photos, but afterwards, I realises: I have only taken 166 photos, and that fare from covers the collection! We talk about the caring of these plants. Each species are treated special, but in general, the water is just tap-water, supplied once daily. The fertilizer is Thai, and they are shielded from the sun with what appears to be a 15% black net. The temperature today is 12C, way colder than I would have tried.
All are given plenty of ventilation, wherever it is terrestrial or epiphytic species. The epiphytic sits in pure air, on rather fresh wood, palm stems, in clay pots with holes and bark and pots made of palm stems. The terrestrial in fresh pine bark pieces, mosses or a mix of bark and soil.
Because of that, all the plants look so healthy. Way denser and strong, than the ones I grow in a heated green house in Denmark. It seems to me like even the species from the warmer south cope fine with this cold winter days. This is the information I was looking for!
Here are some species, only a few centimetres big, to some huge specimens, more than two metres. All species are botanical; found in the wild. Here are huge flowers, massive clusters, tiny little ones and in all the rainbows colours. Two friendly dogs are trying to get my attention, while a little, happy pig settles for the worms underneath the plants.
After a couple of hours, filled with orchids, I feel I have taken way too much of their holyday, and heads off. The taxi back is only 160KD, some difference! It have been a really gifting experience, and I feel I have learned a lot. Trang have offered me to show me some of the wild orchids of the northwest Vietnam, and I sure hope to take him up on that offer one day! See all the pictures on this page.
Back at the hotel, they offers me a pre-booked taxi to the airport for 320KD, and considering it is four times longer than I went today, I accept! Spending time at my room, warming up while I get some work done. Out for a coffee and an ATM raid, and then supper. Don't really have anything to do in this Tet-closed city.
Uses the evening to upload some of the highlight photos of the tour so fare. Links from this page. Strangely enough, the tags I have spend so much time on, refuses to be shown. Bugger!
26/1. After a big breakfast with bacon & eggs, I head down for the market. It is still closed! So are most of the shops too, and I kind of have seen the most. A single sight is new: A bag of frogs on the street. Guess the French made some mark, but that?
Back to work at the hotel - mostly because of my room is the warmest place I have found in this city. I think it is close to 20C, way better than the rest of the city's 10C. The back-pack is once more stuffed - even my boots are squeezed in. My pre-ordered taxi arrivals on time, and and a tour through new parts of he city, numerous rice fields and suburbs, it brings me out to a rather big and new airport.
After an hour's waiting, I fly down south to the warmth!