Luang Prabang to Hanoi: From Sunny LA to a San Francisco Winter

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During the morning I left Luang Prabang for Hanoi, I did as much as I could to enjoy my last few moments in the city. Since I had gotten such strong recommendations to visit Laos, I originally planned to spend up to a week in the country — 3 days in Vientiane, and 3 days in Luang Prabang — but my trip to see Tan Thien came through, making my itinerary change again for the 20th time this trip.

I wished I could spend another week in this city – it is just that gorgeous. On my last morning, I ate breakfast down by the river, walked across a bamboo bridge too see where the two rivers converged, biked all over the peninsula area to visit the ornate Buddhist temples (young boys in bright orange robes were a common presence on the street), and shopped — I did a lot of post-Christmas shopping for the friends and fam. While I hadn’t done much shopping before, as I started to near the end of my trip, I began to fill up my bag with increasingly more clothes, presents, and books. It was getting to be a pretty heavy backpack. When I got to the airport, I found out that my backpack weighed 18 kilos. What is that? Almost 40 pounds? Damn.

The tuk-tuk that I rode to the airport barely made it there — it coughed, sputtered, and slowed down on the hills like crazy as the driver poured can after can of water (?) on the engine to cool it down. By the way – I love visiting airports in other countries. While LP is a major Lao city, the airport is tiny with just 2 terminals side-by-side one another.

* * * * *

After touching down in Hanoi, all the plane’s passengers ran out into the FREEZING COLD to a shuttle bus that took us to the terminal. OH. My. Fucking. God…it was cold. It was like going from Sunny Los Angeles to cold-ass San Francisco in an instant.

Tony got me in touch with his friend Jimmy in Hanoi, so I contacted him when I got into town. He recommended that I use a certain taxi company that was less likely to rip you off, so I found a car and asked the driver to take me to the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. He spoke almost no English, so it was a bit of a stretch to get me to where I needed to go.

After a bit of a drive, my taxi driver took me to a small hotel on a busy street. I thought to myself – this does not look like my hotel at all. However, upon my arrival I was greeted by the front desk guy who said that it was indeed the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel, and took my bags up the long ass stairs to my room on the 5th floor.

While my hostel room was supposed to be a 6 person women’s dorm room that cost about $6 USD a night, I was instead given a freezing cold single room that cost $15 a night. I went downstairs to question the manager about my room reservation, but he just lied to my face and replied that this hotel was was the sister hotel to my original booking. I didn’t trust him, so I looked up the number to Hanoi Backpackers on their front desk computer and called them myself when I got back to my room.

Sure enough, Hanoi Backpackers told me what I already knew – that the driver of my taxi had taken me to the wrong hotel. As I began packing my backpack to leave, one of the front desk guys walked into my room unannounced and asked me where I was going! I FCKING SCREAMED!! Who the fuck goes into people’s rooms without knocking, even if the door was cracked open?! That was it. He apologized for scaring me but was still pretty firm with me. I told him that I was at the wrong hotel, and that I was leaving.

As I went downstairs and tried to leave out the front door, the main hotel guy ran in front of me and (physically) stopped me from leaving. “I paid the driver 100,000 Dong (about $5 USD) in commission to get you here, so if you leave you gotta pay me that money, or else it comes out of my pocket!” he told me. I was pretty shocked at 1) the level of anger he was directing towards me, 2) how honest he was about paying the taxi driver a commission, and 3) his insistence that I give money to his lyin’ ass! Since it was just $5, I paid it, left, and got a taxi to take me a few minutes away to my real hotel.

* * * * *

Hanoi Backpackers is fcuking HUGE. All the hostels that I had been to before we pretty small, so it was kind of a culture shock to me. HB had two computer labs (on two different floors), two hang out lounge areas, a bar, a restaurant, and tons of Aussies and European backpackers running around all over the place. It was a bit overwhelming, especially after all I had gone through that day. I quickly checked into my room and called Jimmy, who took me on the back of his motorbike to meet up with some fellow ex-pats and friends who used to live in Hanoi.

Hanging out in Hanoi is just like hanging out in San Francisco – not just because it’s cold out here, but because the same kinds of folks are out here too. We met up with his friend Kat who was hanging out in a large group of her friends — mostly Americans now living in Hanoi, with a few local Vietnamese folks sprinkled in. The meal was Vietnamese-fusion tapas and strong liquor. All I remember is getting pretty twisted while listening to folks talk about American politics, political prisoners, and the like. Yep, just when you think you’re leaving the bay…

During dinner, Jimmy and I got to know each other a bit since we pretty much just met that day. He shared with me how his life has been since arriving in Vietnam 3 or 4 (or 5?) years ago. He actually came here with just $3,000 in his bank account and no job – yet, like a lot of folks I’ve met while traveling, he sees life as an adventure and said that he knew that he could make it work (as he puts it, “What’s the worst that can happen? You go broke and end up having to go back to living at your parents’ house”). After living in Saigon for a while, he moved back to Hanoi and fell in love with it.

After me making some drunk calls home to some friends in the states, we all headed across the street to an underground-ish bar (it had neither a sign on the door nor a liquor license – yet) and hung out for a bit. The bar itself hella reminded me of San Francisco’s nightlife…except that it was a hangout for American, European and Aussie out-of-towners that are now Hanoi residents. Pretty hip shit.

Oh. And did I mention just how STYLISH everyone is out here? Here I am, some grungy-ass backpacker…wearing some dusty trail running shoes, old faded jeans, and a blue and gray Mountain Hardware jacket (the only one that I had brought with me on my trip)…while everyone else is rockin hella-nice ass clothing, jewelry, leather jackets or pea coats, and shit. I felt like such a dirty hippie hanging out with them.

Yep. Back in the Bay…in Hanoi.

(all the photos below are from my last day in Laos)

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Posted: January 30, 2012

Author: Tiffany

Category: Asia, Blog, Laos, Vietnam

Tags: , , , ,


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