Feb 18-20, Train Saigon to Hanoi (31 hrs)
I took a cab from the Spring Hotel to the Train Station at about 9:00 pm. The train pulled into the station at about 9:50; it had about 20 cars, I think all soft sleepers. The cabin was indistinguishable from those I have used in China. Two sets of upper/lower bunks in each cabin and even a plastic flower on a little table between the bunks, like I had in China many times. There were western and eastern toilets at the end of the hall and towards the end of the trip the western one was permanently closed just after it ran out of toilet paper. This practice also seems to have trickled through from China.
My cabin was almost always full. I started with three female room mates and ended with a young Chinese couple and a rotating group of single males in the other lower bunk. The Chinese couple were on a two week visit to Vietnam and they had come completely by train from Guangzhou and were now on their way back the same way. The both spoke excellent English and had visited a number of countries in a similar way. They expected to never have more than two weeks holiday which was more than normal.
I basically ate from the food carts that were pushed up and down the aisles. I had hot coffee and noodle bowls the same as you find all over the world. The air conditioning was always just a little too cold and so there was no need for cold drinks.
The big happening for me was that my knee completely reverted to dreadful. During my bike ride south my knee seemed to get stronger and stronger. After a few days I had no concerns. And the walking I did extensively every day in Saigon just made it even better. At least that is what I thought. On the train, particularly at night, my knee seemed to get worse and worse. There was nothing unusual about my bunk. It was long enough and though not as wide as the beds I have been used to certainly adequate. By the time we got to Hanoi I could hardly hobble down to the toilet.
Feb 20,21 Hanoi
The train pulled into Hanoi at 5:45 am and by 6:10 I had found my bike and set out to find my hotel. It was still completely dark at that time but the streets were not yet real busy. I zig-zagged my way towards where I expected to find my hotel. After about 15 min I ended up at Hoan Kiem Lake which gave me the landmark I needed. I had a coffee to let things wakeup and then continued on the 4 blocks or so to the Rendezvous Hotel, my home base here. My knee problems meant that I had trouble bending my knee enough to cycle well and so I am glad I didn’t have far to go and that the street were still relatively quiet.
It had been my intention to head immediately to the northern mountains, likely starting at the town of Sapa, to try to get a two or three day village-to-village trek. My knee issues killed that plan. I decided to spend two nights in Hanoi to get a handle on what I could do about the knee. I had to keep going though and so I booked a high-end boat trip to Halong Bay where the prime activities will be pushing my shutter button and bending my elbow. I will spend two nights cruising around Halong Bay and then I will come back to Hanoi for one night. My trip to the mountains, at least at this time, will be another overnight train trip, then two nights in Sapa in a hotel, followed by another overnight train trip back to Hanoi, gawd I’m dreading what that might do to my knee. I will walk as much as I can while in Sapa, but it doesn’t at this time look like I will be able to head into the hills very much. Once back in Hanoi I will have one more night before my plane flight home.
In my day and a half in Hanoi I continued walking the streets of the old town. With the two days before I left for my bike trip I have become quite familiar with things, although there are many more streets than I have not touched yet. My knee agonies come and go; I walk about 45 minutes and then the pain comes so I have to find a coffee shop to sit down in for a while. I have been living on Ibuprofen and have got some relief by massaging and moving things around until finally the pain recedes. I can live with this process visiting in and around town.
Hanoi and Saigon couldn’t be more different. Saigon is a big modern eastern city with broad boulevards, big hotels and lots of business towers. Hanoi is still mostly narrow congested streets with thousands of vendors. I really enjoy both cities and if my plans hold I will have spent seven nights in each city. Hanoi is probably for me more photogenic and I still have two nights here and will share more when I have done those.
Tomorrow it is off to Halong Bay.
(No Photos this time)