Daddy’s 40th birthday

We had arrived at our hotel, safe and sound. We were given our new room card, since we had to transfer to another room. We had to wait one minute, however. When we came to our new room, we had a complete surprise.

On our bed was two elephants kissing each other, made of towels, and a birthday cake on our bed! It was such a beauty! There were also rose petals on the cupboards and beds! We were very happy with their service and would choose this hotel as our first choice the next time we’re visiting Hanoi. Their service was just like a five star hotel, to be honest. We did a video of daddy blowing the candles around the room, there were even some in the humongous bathroom at the far end of this room. We ate the cake and rested for an hour before continuing our journey to the restaurant which is part of a hotel.

The walk wasn’t that long. We were happy the restaurant wasn’t that far. This hotel and the series of events would be forever etched in my brains.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we were greeted and were asked for our reservation particulars. After the confirmation of our arrival, they gave us a thick menu. There were numerous choices, from Vietnamese pho noodles, to a Western Hamburger. I had to make tough decisions and had to sacrifice others. In conclusion, I decide to order Italian Bolognese Spaghetti.

I soon knew I chose the right thing since the food was mouthwatering, with its tenderness, I could not resist its variety of tastes. My parents also enjoyed their meal and were really contended with their day so far.

All of a sudden, at one moment, the lights went out! My dad was shocked and thought it was a serious blackout. Before his thoughts were concluded, a cake came out from the kitchen, and came the lyrics of the song ‘Happy Birthday’. We all sang to the beat while the cake came to our table. My mom took some photos and the lights went on again although the music continued. We thanked the staff for such a memorable surprise and the cake before paying our bill and saying our farewells to the hospitable staff. We did not have this type of service in Singapore and suggested the staff to open a branch in Singapore.

_DSC9260 Hanoi

That night, I had sleep with a lot of wonderful thoughts in my mind.

The hours before Daddy’s Birthday

Huhh! I woke up sleepily after a late night sleep! However, I couldn’t continue to sleep. It was time to go to eat our breakfast since the breakfast hall was closing soon.

We did our usual morning routine. As mommy was hungry for plates, we started our search soon enough after booking for a special restaurant for my dad’s birthday dinner! She needed those souvenirs for her plating to get great photos though I’m not really keen on doing that. I just walked with her wherever she went. We soon came across a Jollibee during our search. It was huge with around four levels. Although we were a fan of that, we didn’t want to eat there since we wanted to try out the local food. Besides, it was still early for lunch. While walking, we met this lady who offered us to wear her Vietnamese hat. We tried it and took some photos. After that, she asked as to pay for trying her hat! However, we didn’t want to pay this deals. So, after a short misunderstanding, she reluctantly left us. I think many tourists were tricked by this.

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Behind a Jolibee branch, a famous fastfood from the Philippines

_DSC9143 The hours before Daddy’s Birthday

We met this lady who offered us to wear her Vietnamese hat.

We soon arrived at our checkpoint, a bustling marketplace which sells slippers, clothes or whatever clothing under the sun! To our dismay, it did not sell much of this fashionable utensils. So, we continued our search along the nearby streets.

_DSC9152 The hours before Daddy’s Birthday

Bored during my Mom’s hunt for plates. Like there’s no end!

Luckily, at one point, we found a reasonably priced street vendor. So, we took the chance and made the deal with him to buy a few plates at a good price. We then made our way towards a canteen to have lunch before heading to a big lake nearby.

After a good lunch of Vietnamese Pho, we walked slowly towards the lake after buying an energy drink for myself. We soon arrived at the lake. There was a café nearby to eat a little snack since the walk was quite long. I drank some whippy hot chocolate and then got to do something exciting after the long wait. Paddle a boat. I’ve done that before in Europe, and was determined to repeat the same thing there. To our surprise, we didn’t have enough money. So, as a solution, daddy looked for a bank to withdraw some cash. Actually, instead of paddling, you would need to cycle the boat with a duck face, which was tiring but interesting. Although it was misty, we could see the short tower of Hanoi as the crow flies. We also saw some shophouses and condos around us.

 

_DSC9184 The hours before Daddy’s Birthday _DSC9173 The hours before Daddy’s Birthday

After the one-hour ride, we walked towards the iconic tower of Hanoi.

It was a religious place. So, all was silent as I stood in front of the grand structure in awe. There was also a park behind it, but couldn’t get in there since time was running out. We were soon to celebrate something memorial. We hired a cabbie to drive us back at waited for such a welcoming surprise!

_DSC9209 The hours before Daddy’s Birthday

The Eventful Day

We woke up. We were all in a sad mood after an enjoyable time in Sapa. It was time to leave. We wished our stay was longer. Solemnly, we just saw the mist swept and passed our window as we prepared for breakfast. However, it didn’t mean the end of our Vietnam trip yet. We were still going to explore Hanoi for two days, luckily.  I was also ready for the pleasant 8-hour ride to Hanoi, though it was full of drama.

20160316_075431 The eventful day

With our bags packed, we set off on our 37km journey back to Lao Cai train station with our hired driver whom we booked yesterday with the help the hotel staff. After a few minutes, Mommy thought she forgot her phone so we asked the driver to stop and turn back. She found it just in time before the driver turned back, which wasted a few seconds. However, we still had to stop for a short while since there was an exchange of drivers for some random reason which we didn’t know. To be honest, I didn’t really care about this delay since I knew that we would be still on schedule to catch our train since this are little things which waste very little time.

We drove at a normal speed and soon had to come to a halt for some reason. There was an accident. What I saw from my blocked angle was a smashed motorbike with debris around it. There was also a lorry that tried to avoid it but hit a few trees instead which was near a cliff. It was a narrow escape for those in the lorry. There were also shattered glasses everywhere. The horrific scene was also bombarded by groups of curious locals that cut through the police tape and took photos. Even our driver also jumped out of our car, left us alone and rushed to the scene of the accident. It was chaos. The police didn’t do anything about the insane situation as many people just scurried through the taped area. We had to wait for around thirty precious minutes.

Small little ambulances just honked their horns as everyone hardly gave way to them. Their sirens didn’t help, either. Moreover, as most Vietnamese like using motorbikes as a mode of getting around, the space around us was turning into a filled parking lot for motorbikes. More tourists also began running to the terrifying incident. The police were also unorganized as they ran in every direction. It was crazy! I didn’t even know what the police were really doing! I saw many of them just walking around.

photo credits: thanhniennews.com

photo credits: thanhniennews.com

Soon, there were signs that all was over as everyone started heading back to their cars. Unfortunately for us, a few drivers were getting impatient since we didn’t move, although the vehicles in front of us did. This was due to two weird reasons. One was that our driver was one of the last to leave the scene and two, the motorcyclists weren’t back yet to move their annoying blockade to the side. Well, to our dismay, our driver took advantage of the situation and left our car again! We were all feeling like complaining to the hotel about the bad service the 2nd driver was serving us. Despite that, he came back just at the brink before my mom went nuts. To me, I also think it is a strange way to serve your passengers, leaving them in the car just to see a horrific scene.

One by one, all the motorcyclists gave way to our car. We thought it was all over.

In plans of hurrying, it all came to plain waste since there was another delay which was the one I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. This time, it was a toppled bus just at a sharp curve. One person was killed and at least 15 others were injured after a bus carrying 40 Chinese tourists crashed into a truck according to the news.  I guess it toppled since it also became very misty. It affects your vision. That’s just an assumption, to be honest. There may be other causes to this series of events. This time, here, there weren’t many police, unlike the first one. Still, we saw photographers, reporters and journalists running around the area. It was all but crazy to me. I think if you were there, about to miss a train…you would also be very desperate which was what I was exactly feeling, even though a little excited. But I felt sorry for the people who got hurt in the accidents.

At least that time we had a shorter wait. Almost immediately, our driver went full speed ahead once we were allowed to proceed. We really thought all was lost. If the worse comes to worst, we had to think of a back-up plan, fast! All hopes weren’t lost as we came to the final kilometers of our journey. From what I reflected, if my mom hadn’t thought she lost her phone and if the exchange of drivers neither happened, we could have been involved in the serious accident. So I was thankful to God for protecting us in our journey.

Once at the station, we bailed out of the car and I ran as quick as lightning to our coach as my parents were carrying the luggage. To our astonishment, we arrived five minutes in schedule after the everlasting sprint. We were panting as we entered the train and sat at our selected seats. It was such an eventful morning as the train left Lao Cai on time. I was thankful we caught our train in time.

20160316_100152 The eventful day

In the train, I did my journal and played with my tablet every now and then. The day ride was longer than the overnight ride since the overnight ones are express. For day rides, they stop at almost every stop.

20160316_113442 The eventful day

It was soon lunch. I went to check if they had any available meals. They had earlier but ran out of stock when we came. All they had were instant noodles. I got a little angry about the situation but was given some popcorn and pork rice later on, bought by my mom from the staff on the train.

Beside us was a couple. The lady was very noisy and had her foot stuck out while sleeping. It was kind of disgusting for my mom. To make it even more embarrassing, two men sat behind my mom. They also did the same thing as the old lady. When my mom smelt something strange, she looked around and when she got to the smelly man’s foot she was even more disgusted and even asked the man to stop   – and put on his feet in his shoes! I saw it all and laughed at the hilarious moment.

Well, I had to take that back later on since when I was writing in my journal, I got rid of all the document files which I thought were all rubbish! I only realized the folly of my actions when all my journal entries were lost! That was why I am behind schedule now. I was embarrassed by my silly mistake. However, we still had hope since daddy would attempt to recover the files back later on in the hotel.

20160316_131732 The eventful day

I didn’t really do anything much since I also couldn’t sleep because the lady behind also stuck her legs out. They were also really smelly. I just looked at the sceneries as we rode on. Since it was getting dark, I ate a light snack since we would have a very late dinner as our journey reached its end. I was really tired after this dramatic ride.  20160316_161641 The eventful day

At the Hanoi terminal, everyone alighted and headed out of the old-fashioned station. We soon found a free cabbie and asked him to take us to our hotel in the old quarter. It is called Meracus Hotel 2. They have quite a small space. So, I comprehended they only have two rooms on each level when we got there. We were greeted promisingly and they offered each of us an avocado juice. They also gave us a map with recommendations of popular attractions. We thanked them for their impressive service. To our surprise, my mom requested for a room with a view. However, they reserved a room without any window! My mom was dumbfounded since it was my dad’s birthday the following day! We did not want to ruin it. They said that they would try to change a room or find a hotel. We hope they could. For that night, they upgraded us to a family suite which has a balcony with a window. It was also very clean after all my serious checking. It is a thing I usually like to do.

_DSC9117 Meracus Hotel 2, Hanoi

After a delicious dinner slept at 11pm. What an adventurous day!

Our Visit to Cat Cat Village

It was our second last day in Sapa. We were quite sad we were leaving that town soon since we realized that many locals here are kind. Moreover, there are still a lot of places we have yet to explore. However, there’s always a next time. So hopefully, we could explore more stuff in the future.

_DSC9050 Our Visit to Cat Cat Village

For today, our plan was simple. We were to go to Cat Cat, a village 3km away from Sapa, home to the Black H’Mong. And, we were also a bit in a hurry since the weather conditions that day were perfect. The blue sky was hundred percent visible at that moment.

After our morning preparation, we left our walking sticks at bay in our secured room and headed to the village with ease…and a little difficulty with my parent’s legs aching! Despite that, my parents persevered but to our dismay, the weather suddenly turned from excellent into a foggy state. We weren’t discouraged in spite of that and knew all this exploration is not a waste.

We arrived at the town’s welcoming entrance which was a post made out of wood. Creative, isn’t it? We paid the fee to explore the sights of this exciting town and I was ready to explore new things. We were asked to enter a staircase which would lead us downhill. He inspected our tickets and allowed us in. The views were amazing even though the weather conditions were poor. We saw humongous mountains and other trekkers going up and down the staircases at the other end. I knew that day would also be adventurous. The place we had our best photos was at a viewing point with seats provided to us, made by marble. It was actually carved by the mountain itself. I think the locals did some amendments to it, just to make it look like seats. To my amusement, I had a photo bomber which was a fat pig running around the scenery behind me! We continued our way towards our first stop, which was a waterfall.

_DSC8980 Our Visit to Cat Cat Village

We reached this point where I saw a local making her own clothes out of natural materials. With her was her granddaughter. Our visit was on a weekday so we assumed that she doesn’t go to school. So, we hope she would start studying so that her life could be changed. She used a type of machine and pedaled it to join the natural thread. They then did some other steps. However, we left the time she attained that point since we knew this process is tedious.

_DSC8999 Our Visit to Cat Cat Village

We soon came to our first stop after flights of stairs which were making my parents push to their painful limits! It was a waterfall with a running lake by it. Beside the bridge we were about to cross was some big rocks. I decided to face danger and took some adventurous photos near the waterfall. To be honest, I guess many tourists had done that already since it wasn’t really that dangerous. It’s only the running water which scares you, though.

_DSC9018 Our Visit to Cat Cat Village

At the other end of the shaky bridge. We stopped for a short while and relaxed on a bench which was right in front of the waterfall. The water splashed on our faces as we took more photographs from that angle and also ate a light snack. The waterfall is quite big and we say many water vapour surrounding it. The scene was beautiful. Well…not quite like Niagara Falls, but it was special in its own way. I went there when I was still 6!

_DSC9034 Our Visit to Cat Cat Village

Anyway, we continued our slow stroll with an uphill attack with flights of stairs to get over with. We also saw a watermill at an area where there was water and the surroundings were calm. It was quite far from the waterfall. Soon l, it was enough for us because we could see the end of it all. After passing by this tourism area, with many street sellers on our backs, we finished this walk and requested a shopkeeper to hire a cabbie for us to send us back to Sapa because my parents were very tired to walk to eat a late lunch at 1pm.

_DSC9039 Our Visit to Cat Cat Village_DSC9043 Our Visit to Cat Cat Village

We really liked our visit our visit to Cat Cat. Now, I would tell you a few tips when you’re there.

Firstly, if you’re bringing chocolates along, please don’t give to the local kids there since it may affect their teeth’s cleanliness. Thus, they might need to go to the dentist which would cost them a lot. Another rule is that smoking is prohibited in that area. Lastly, if our want to bargain for a valuable item, please bargain 50% of the given price. After that, if the seller does not agree with your decision, bargain as best as you could.

 

Ending our tiring day

We had finished the tiring test. We were now riding in a shuttle bus back to our hotel with my parent’s legs aching! We were coming from Ta Van’s bus parking lot! I guess it was just too much for them since evidence shows that they stayed back of our group most of the times. I was actually the spearhead of the group since I was mostly in the front, with the guide.  Beside us was a very hilarious scene for me and my mom. On the opposite side of the bus was an exhausted woman who was sleeping like a log. Her head nearly touched the side of the bus and she was bending down at a very sharp and steep angle. We giggled silently, making sure she does not wake up and eventually feels offended by us. We finally came back to our hotel after a slow thirty minutes ride. Overall, I really enjoyed that long and breathtaking experience.

_DSC8953 Ending our tiring day

Taken while in shuttle bus back to our hotel

Once in our cozy room, my parents just changed their clothes and had another typical nap in pain! I just slept with them since there was hardly anything to do to keep myself productive. Anyway, I also wanted to have a rest with a long period of hard work although I wasn’t tried to have one!

It was two hours long. We woke up at 6pm, ready to have a scrumptious dinner. We changed into our outdoor garments and left the hotel hungrily for our second last dinner in Sapa. I felt sad of the realization of time’s rate when you’re busy. It was as if it all happened in the snap of one’s fingers. I realized we should enjoy life when being given something to do.

_DSC8957 Ending our tiring day _DSC8958 Ending our tiring day

That day, we came to Gerbera Restaurant because the food was appetizing. To our astonishment, it was huge and had many available seats. However, only around five of them were taken. But, we just stuck to our choice. I ordered some noodles while my parents ordered some food with meat. I gobbled my noodles with chicken in a fast rate since the food was delicious and tender. In fact, it was the tastiest I had during our visit there, In Sapa. My parents also relished their food. We paid the cost of the food we ate and walked back to our hotel happily and in a tiring mood. We slept at 11pm. Unfortunately, by then, my parent’s legs were still aching tremendously. We were very worried as my parents slept in unbearable pain.

 

Our Walk to Ta Van

We had just finished our delicious lunch at a local eatery. We were now about to trek to Ta Van. Our guide explained to us clearly that Ta Van is also a local village, with a higher population. She said Ta Van’s estimated population is two thousand, compared to Lao Chai’s  one thousand. It was around 2.5km from Lao Chai. Once we reach there, we would just hop onto a bus in a parking lot outside Ta Van and just ride back smoothly and slowly to our hotel.

We continued our final kilometres towards Ta Van which has a lot of homestays. However, we couldn’t go there since we already had a hotel. A homestay is a place where many people stay in one single and big room. They eat what the owners eat and experience all those stuff, which can be exciting. My parents hoped and suggested that we could do that one day.

We felt the breeze as we walked as slow as a tortoise. We were just enjoying our walk to this adventurous and amazing journey. It was six hours of precious gold to me.

As we strolled by the road, fast motorcycles drove past us. So I recommend that you shouldn’t stay in the middle of the road. You might be at risk from being hit. We also saw many ducks and farmers managing their rice paddies, keeping them in good shape. The recovered conditions also gave us the opportunity to see the plain’s true colours.

We finally came to the bustling village of Ta Van as we saw many traders walking past us, looking at us curiously. We were now very near the main road. We were disappointed this activity was ending. I bet that you would have the same feeling us me if you’re the one ending this tiring but worthwhile journey. We just had a hell of an adventurous time. We sauntered somberly and boarded our bus which would take us back to Sapa. It departed at around 3pm.

I also had an interactive time with the other adults in our group. We talked a lot and didn’t even feel bored.  Well, it would be bye to them later on.

Our Journey to Lao Chai

March 14th was a very big day. After all the hard work in Singapore, we were about to be put to the test. It was the 6-hour trek. We woke up at 8am. To our dismay, it was foggy and there was a drizzle. It was also quite cold because of the poor conditions. We wished that the weather would improve later on. I was very excited and my hopes were high that we would benefit a lot, physically and mentally, from the trek.

_DSC8792 Our Journey to Lao Chai

We had a bath and ate a typical breakfast before conserving our energy for one hour in our room.

At 9.30am, we left our room to meet our guide at the hotel’s lobby. She greeted us happily. She said her name was Bal and she is 22 years old. I was excited to go on our trek through the grasslands and hope to take good photos of the villages or farms.

For a while, we strolled on the side of the main road with other tourists out of Sapa town. At one part, we left the road and walked on a sandy path. Then in front of us was the adventurous downhill path which was narrow. This was it. I was nervous but knew I could do it. The others in our pack either waited or adjusted their walking sticks for the muddy walk. I saw the hills and valleys, waiting for us. It was beautiful.  There were also two ladies who gave up from even trying to go with us because they didn’t expect the trek to be that difficult and they didn’t have proper equipment and due to their age. So Bal requested her partner to send them to our meeting point halfway.

I was in the lead as I slid every now and then on the muddy steep path. It was scary. However, with my reliable walking sticks, I was able to keep my balance. On the contrary, my parents were too pressured by the sight. If looks could kill, I guess they were about to give up. Bal also had assistants at hand. I guess their help saved my parents lives for a number of times. One of her assistants was also piggy backing a two month old baby! Bal said the baby was just one month old. I thought that H’mongs are hardworking as they even have to work with their babies with them. So, that assistant decided to carry her baby around during work. Another H’mong helped us carry our plastic bag with books and stationery inside. We were going to give them to the school children of Lao Chai.

_DSC8869 Our Journey to Lao Chai

 

_DSC8831 Our Journey to Lao Chai

_DSC8834 Our Journey to Lao Chai

_DSC8826 Our Journey to Lao Chai

We came to this sheltered checkpoint where we rested. My parents were exhausted but happy we could come to a halt for a while. I was ready for anything since it was just as easy as pie. We also were in a life in heaven as we saw spectacular views every now and then. It was just ruined by all that fog covering some of the beautiful background. I was amazed by the breathtaking sight because we don’t see this in Singapore. I was amazingly far from them since my parents who were at the far back while I was in the front.

_DSC8840 Our Journey to Lao Chai _DSC8831 Our Journey to Lao Chai

After this part of the journey, I was not even tired! (I’m neither boasting nor lying) But my parents were! I also couldn’t believe I was there then. It was as if it was a total dream. A few funny moments that showed their true colours was when my parents were worried that I would be exhausted. I was totally fine. And, when the guide asked them the same question, they replied with a bold ‘yes’ even though they weren’t. After all, they didn’t want to embarrass themselves!

_DSC8855 Our Journey to Lao Chai

From what I’ve heard, we were setting course for a bridge which would lead us to Lao Chai. It was a local village. Along it was a road used by motorcycles.

Before we came there, we came to this uphill street which was also used by vehicles. That was one of the areas which we didn’t need to use our trekking sticks. We also came to this area were we had to lift our legs up as the path was blocked was bamboo poles! It was quite tough, to be honest.

_DSC8846 Our Journey to Lao Chai

_DSC8927 Our Journey to Lao Chai

_DSC8895 Our Journey to Lao Chai _DSC8899 Our Journey to Lao Chai _DSC8904 Our Journey to Lao Chai

So far, I was really having a day of a lifetime there. The sights and sound were things which we rarely see and hear in Singapore. I only observe these things in trails which have animal like habitats in nature reserves in Singapore. We also had a little peek on what was life like here when we saw the ill-structured kampongs of the farmers. I knew I was very lucky to be living in Singapore with all the advantages there. I felt sorry for the locals. Despite that, I knew this was the local’s way of life and they are happy with simple life.

After crossing the bridge I mentioned, we kept our sticks at bay since from now ‘til Lao Chai, it would be concrete pathways. I also realized the background conditions were improving. That was good news.

 

_DSC8913 Our Journey to Lao Chai

_DSC8900 Our Journey to Lao Chai

 

We then came to this school for the kids of Lao Chai to study in. Our guide told us education is free, however some tribes still don’t go to school. Outside it was their soccer field where PE is held. That was the school where we gave our books and stationery before continuing our walk to the restaurant where we would have our lunch.

_DSC8939 Our Journey to Lao Chai

With all that trekking, we came to this restaurant where we met our two missing ladies. We were supposed to meet them halfway, as I told you previously. Despite that, they explained to us that the maiden decided to continue without waiting for us which was presumed by the assistant.

During the action, there were also a fellow couple from Singapore. I talked to them about Singapore matters with another Spaniard who joined us in the conversation. We soon bonded into friends. It was fun to interact with them.