After our mountain time in SaPa we were ready to head toward the beach. Our first thoughts were to head to Hoi An as we heard so many great things, but as we did our research, it turned out Hoi An was a good sized city quiet a distance from the beach. It seemed nice, but we wanted to find something more relaxing, so our research continued.
We started by looking at the beaches around Hoi An and Da Nang, hoping for that small sacred little gem of a spot. And there she was, a small blurb in LP about a backpackers spot on China Beach across from the Marble Mountains. The blurb talked about Hoa’s Place, “shabby but not chic” and right on the beach front. It also mentioned to call beforehand as Hoa’s Place might have lost their lease to a big resort coveting Hoa’s beach front property. We instantly knew we had to get to Hoas Place as quickly as possible….which unfortunately meant two days of travel or the great two night sleeper bus adventure!
We started by emailing Hoa at his hotmail address and got a bounce back….not knowing what to do, we sent the same email but at a gmail address. No bounce back, success. With a little more googling, we found the Hoa’s Place Facebook page. The page was full of praise and stories from fellow travelers and also his phone number. David borrowed Glenn’s cell phone and braced himself for a broken English conversation. But Hoa picked up the phone right away and in crystal clear English, told us he would see us on Wednesday. Beach here we come!
We booked our sleeper bus from SaPa to Hanoi straight from the bus station in SaPa to get the best price on our tickets, which were $15 a piece. The man at the station spoke little English, but with a little help from google translate we found out the route would have to be less than expected. We could not book our next ticket from SaPa straight to Hoa’s, which was on China Beach just past Da Nang and just before Hoi An. We instead would need to, once again, return to Hanoi and then book another ticket to Da Nang. We were assured by the bus ticket issuer that this would be no problem at the Hanoi bus station. As we asked over and over because of our last run around from Cat Ba to SaPa. Is was said, “No problem same station.” When it was far from the same station, and in fact led us to running all over Hanoi trying to find someone to issue us the proper ticket. Where was google translate then? Lesson learned and this new bus driver understood us clearly without the, “Sure, sure..” blank reply.
We loaded up our packs, something we are getting quite good at, and headed off to the bus station for our first leg of the trip south, a 6pm sleeper bus. Since we opted to save a few Dongs and buy our own tickets, we had to trek through the mountain town of SaPa ourselves, instead of getting a mini bus to pick us up from the hotel. The walk really wasn’t too bad, and it gave us one last good bye to the colorful H’mong people. All this with an opportunity to get ourselves a bit tired before another long sleeper bus ride.
Just before our bus was to depart we loaded up on snacks for the ride. To our surprise with a bit of random luck we found a DesNeiges favorite… The name escapes us, but it’s a small jello-like fruit cup that has a piece of fruit in the middle and a thin layer of its juices on top. These cups, however, had clearly been transported up to the mountains and thus under lots of pressure. So every time you opened one it would squirt its juices right into your eye! A few in and we realized you had to open them away from you to avoid the sticky juice from gettin ya.
The bus was slightly different then the one we took getting up to SaPa. Instead of two rows of double bunk bed seats, it had three rows of single bunk bed seats. This would definitely be better for a single traveler, so as they wouldn’t have to sit next to a stranger. But for us it gave a little less room and the feeling that you could fall from the top bunk at every sharp mountain turn.
Settling into our top bunks, fingers crossed, for a fairly smooth ride to Hanoi. No bus ride would be complete without the standard Vietnamese music videos blaring on the TV’s and overhead speakers. Pretty quickly David came to realize the guy behind him (you have to remember we are sleeping head to toe) had probably not washed his feet and definitely hasn’t run his socks under some clean water since he left his moms house. It was so bad that I couldn’t roll to the left where he clearly had his feet behind me. Morgan asked to switch again and again (as nice as she is) but of course I refused and suffered through it.
Other than the stinky feet David suffered with, the ride was pretty uneventful and we both slept through the night. Always waking up at the occasional trucker stop to stretch our legs and get some “fresh” air and a toilet. Now these truck stops are not for the faint of heart. Typically there is garbage in corners everywhere, toilets where you close your eyes while going and a weird collection of 3am night walkers half asleep. It feels like you are in some weird Road Warrior desolation zone.
Our bus pulled into the Old Quarter of Hanoi around 6:30am. And as we sleepily pulled ourselves out of the bus, we noticed the bus station was closed. Out of it and drowsy, we noticed we were only about 4 blocks from our old hotel, the Rising Dragon. We decided we would drop off our bags for the day and then go get some breakfast and wait for the bus station to open.
As we walked into the Rising Dragon, we were greeted with a smile by front desk reception. “How was SaPa?”, he asked, as the bell man took our bags off. Ah welcomed once again. We explained our situation that we were not staying for the night and only killing some time till the next bus. Once again the courteous staff of the Rising Dragon offered us complimentary breakfast and a shower if we wanted. We said yes to breakfast and passed on the shower for now…we didnt want to overstay our welcome.
After filling up our bellies we walked over to the lake and waited for the bus station to open and check our emails. We noticed we had an email from Hoa’s Place saying they were under construction and we should come another time. Crap! We quickly emailed back saying we were already on the way and had talked to Hoa on the phone. Not knowing if we still had a room at Hoa’s Place, we decided to stick to the plan and head there anyhow.
At 9am we headed back to the bus station and got our sleeper bus tickets booked to DaNang. We would leave at 6pm that night and arrive Hue at 9am. We would then have a 4 hour layover and take another bus at 1pm from Hue to DaNang. All that for 400.000 VND ($20).
Now with 9 hours to kill in Hanoi; a city we had already seen many times over. We decided to walk over to the Ho Chi Minh mosulleum and museum. Just across from our sleeper bus pick up, in the heart of Old Quarter, we found a local bus that would drop us there directly (#9 city bus). Although we had time to kill and the long walk sounded better to us. Still dressed in our SaPa warming layers, we started to feel the cool morning air drift away with the pressing sun not far behind in an air as thick as the Vietnamese coffee. A welcoming change from SaPa that would soon expire as we needed to stop in the shade and strip off those extra clothes.
By the time we got to the mosselluem it was almost 11am and the military dressed guards seemed to be in a traditional “Changing of the Guard” formation. With the spectators forced to keep behind a yellow line 30 or so meters from the steps of the mosselluem, we assumed we just missed the window to view Ho Chi Min. But to make sure we attempted to walk up the steps and just as we crossed the yellow line a whistle sounded out from one guard as we were asked to step back. Either we just missed the time in which to see him or he just can’t be seen by the public anymore, but in any case we didn’t really care that much. With nothing left to do but see the museum, we figured the air conditioning would do us right and get us out of the sun. After paying for our two tickets at a cost that seemed a bit high, we were told the museum was closing and found most of the exhibits already closed. Forced through it quicker than expected the both of us found it a bit played up. Although some Scottish friends we meet later said they loved it. If you make it there on your own, you can be the judge.
Exiting the Ho Chi Min museum we found a landscaped garden and settled under a tree, again just trying to kill time and stay cool. We looked up and saw a girl maybe 17 running/skipping at us as fast as she could. She was pointing at a book and saying, “English..?” Morgan whispers, “She’s coming for us!” And just like that she snuggled in close to David and opened a book. The next hour or so they go back and forth exchanging phrases from her book. She would point at a line, David would read it, and she would attempt to read it back. Sounding it out slowly for her word to word when all of a sudden…beep beep Davids watch alarm went off, as it always does at noon. “You go?” She asks. Our perfect and polite excuse to duck away. “Yeah we have to go now” just the right amount of time needed with our new friend. Good luck with your studies!
After wandering the hot, sticky, busy streets for a few more hours, we decide to head back to the hotel and play some cards for the remaining time left. Maybe that shower offer still stands? With a, “Sure, sure.” from our incredibly nice bell man at the Rising Dragon, we were able to take a nice cool shower. If that wasn’t enough he even offered some shampoo. Saying ok and thinking of getting some cheap small packet from the rooms, he instead pulls out, from a personal bag, a bottle of nice stuff! Just another over the top example of amazing service from everyone at the Rising Dragon Hotel in Hanoi. We finish up by changing into some clean clothes. A very needed relief, especially since we had quite the bus ride ahead of us. We thanked everyone so much for being so nice to us and exit by leaving a generous tip in there tip box.
After a short stroll around the corner we arrive at the bus station, where we find the typical crowd of backpackers also waiting for the bus. We look them up and down trying to spot out the guy who would probably be behind us smelling up the bus. With a few questionable people aboard, we were glad to see a clean looking girl settled up behind us. But as we got into the bus we realized its not the people that smell this time, it’s the entire bus. There were ants and flys and a general air of defeat and exhaustion from all the passengers. Glad we took that shower and even happier to be in the upper sleepers (kinda like being on the top bunk) with the creepy crawlies on the bottom. One passenger pulled out a DVD and asked the driver to play it. Woohoo, finally an English movie on the bus, and Django no less! As the bus drove off and Django’s opening credits roll, we realized the volume was stuck at a low level and the TVs barely worked. Ba humbug to this bus! I (David) sat up to watch the movie with or without sound, Django is too good to miss. And I (Morgan) pulled the covers up to my eyes and watched Hanoi speed away in a blur of lights. But in a hazy sigh we both glance in a final Goodbye to Hanoi. You’ve done us good even if you are a big city, we truly enjoyed your company and we’ll tell others of you…
We woke up in Hue as the bus pulled to a skreetch. A woman rushed us off and informs us our bus to DaNang would depart around 1pm from here. Now we had another 5 hours to kill, at least it’s a new city this time!
Hue is known for it’s giant walled city in the middle of town called the citadel. So that’s where we head. We walked across bridges and moats in a humid daze. The area around the citadel has tiny streets and tiny tunnels you have to walk through while dodging all the moto bikes sharing the road. We have gotten quite good at this, it’s a dance we have come to master, waltz with the moto bike. Hue was quite pretty, but also seemed kinda boring, after our 4 hours of site seeing we were sure we had seen enough of Hue and were ready for our next bus to the beach! And there she was, an email from Hoa’s Place, saying sorry for the confusion but to head on over. And that we will!
Now this sleeper bus was luxury, brand new and powerful AC. However, our ride was only two hours, so no sleeper bus actually needed. The ride was beautiful, along the coast and through the mountains. Reminded us a bit of highway 1 in California, except for the fact that there were women in small boats with their stereotypical rice patty straw hats, something you don’t see in California.
As we get closer to DaNang and began to descend from the mountains, a small lake appears on one side of our bus. It was lined with restaurants on the end of docks and on our other side was the ocean full of fishermen with their nets. We couldn’t be happier. When all of a sudden we entered a very long tunnel that cut all the way through a mountain for what felt like 5minutes and just as we looked at each other, the natural light poured back into our bus and we made a sharp turn off the highway into what looked like a fancy resort.
The driver got off and said 20 minute rest. Confused we got off the bus and realized we were at the fanciest truck stop ever. Women with silver platters selling odds and ends and one of the nicest bathrooms we had ever seen, and not just for Vietnam. The food was so tasty and cheap and we filled up on Hue noodles and beer Larue.
After our rest stop we were in DaNang within a few mintues and looking on our map, Hoa’s Place was about 14km outside the city by Marble Mountains. We decided we could walk it. As we grabbed our stuff, a woman who worked for the bus company looked at us and asked, “DaNang?” We looked at her, “Well, yes, but really we are trying to get to Marble Mountain.” She nodded her head and signaled for us to stay in the bus, she yelled something at the driver in Vietnamese, with the only part we could make out being Marble Mountain. We smiled at her with thanks and our bus was off.
The bus was also taking passengers to Hoi An, which was about 30 mins away and our stop was between the two cities. No walking for us. We somehow got star treatment as the driver looked our our GPS and took the bus off course to drop us off.
We drove down the coast and as we approached our stop we could see the ocean on one side and the giant marble mountain on the other. The bus came to a stop and we jumped off with not much around us but a few marble stores. The other travelers pushed their faces against the glass with a look of “Where the hell are these people going?” And “We wish we were going with them too!”
Backpacks on we began to wonder the small marble village with sculptures of elephants looming the streets. As people saw us walking around they would say “Hoa?” And point us in his direction. Google maps didnt have exactly the correct spot, but everyone in town showed us the way. We recrossed the main road where the bus dropped us off and were now on the beach side. As we walked down the long dusty road the smell of beach air filled our lungs. Smiling we turned a corner and there sat three other travelers, beers in hand that welcomed us in unison, “Welcome to Hoa’s Place, grab a drink!”