Hanoi seemed even more polluted and noisier than Beijing, which is quite a lot to say. Beside that, the wireless networks didn't really seem to work, or at least were super slow. But one day the amazing massage kitty knocked on my door. Or rather, meowed behind it. So I let him in, he explored the room for a moment and jumped on my lap. And that's when he started showing his amazing talent. He went on for at least 15 minutes, massaging non-stop! I figured no-one would believe me without a video, so here is one.
Beside talented kitties, there was a lot of rain in Hanoi. Soon the city was flooded, which at first was just a curiosity to me as I had never been in a flood before. It was kind of interesting to go knee-deep in water to the veggie restaurants. But later I heard dozens of people died in the floods, which gave it a much more serious tune. Nonetheless, I went of hiking in Sapa, hoping that the rain would cease.
As luck would have it, it indeed didn't rain constantly in Sapa, but it was pretty cloudy with occasional showers. This made it rather nice hiking weather, but these organised tours have very light hiking. The scenes were pretty great, albeit the place is very touristy and a lot of locals always follow around wherever you go and soon try to sell you stuff. They do it pretty effectively too, managed to even sell me a shirt and two bandettas! Otherwise it's worth the trip. Veggie restaurants I didn't find, nor really look for as food was included in the tour and they did make it vegan for me. Actually the tofu in tomato sauce was really tasty.
After returning from Sapa I just wanted to continue down south. Hanoi and surroundings were still mildly flooded and not too interesting anyway. I bought one of the open bus tickets that allow you to go from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh city or the other way around and stop in key places along the way. This was in a sleeper bus, unfortunately one might say as the buses are slow, too small to really sleep in, and too small to sit in, just like the Chinese sleeper buses. The sales people convinced me these would be different, saying they're German buses, but whether they are or not they're just the same as the Chinese ones, don't believe them!
After a long and unpleasant journey I arrived in the city of Hue, just to be surrounded by hoteliers and motorbike drivers. After a short bidding competition I agreed to follow the first guy offering me a hotel in town, as it sounded about right. They drove me there by motorbike, and this was in fact the first time I've ever been on a motorbike. To my surprise the big luggage wasn't a problem. The hotel was good, but another motorbike driver who I at first thought was involved with the hotel kept on asking me to take his tour. Instead I wanted food, but as he was so persistant, I asked him if he knew vegetarian restaurants in town. He did and drove me to a very nice one, and kept on marketing himself. After the long sales pitch, I agreed to let him drive me around for half a day. Big mistake! The tour was ok but he didn't say a price, I overpaid, and thereafter he wouldn't leave me alone. Stalking outside the hotel constantly and asking to drive me wherever I was going. Had to leave town quick to get rid of him. Note to all: stay well clear of pushy motorbike drivers!
Fortunately the next city, Hoi An, was also nice. The hotel the bus dropped us in front of didn't have wireless so I walked a while and found one that did, and they had a swimming pool as well! With free drinks in the evening. So that and my Vietnamese book provided solid entertainment after dark. Before dark there's the beach, and on the way to the beach, there's a vegan restaurant in the most amazing location: a bamboo house with a pier on top of a lovely tropical river. The food might not be the finest in the world, but it's vegan and completely adequate, and the location is a killer! There's a couple of vegetarian restaurants in town also, but I wasn't too crazy even about the old town.
Next up was Nha Trang which seems like a big city, whether it is or not. They have beaches, supposedly nice ones, but I preferred the beach in Hoi An. No amazing restaurants either. So, onwards to Mui Ne then, there the beaches are awesome! I ended up in a beach resort that had absolutely nothing else, but the beach was enough for a weekend. Just swimming, sunlight, running on the beach, didn't really ask for anything more. Except some fruit juice, and they do have that. Note that if you get the open bus ticket that doesn't include Mui Ne nor Da Lat, you can still stop in one if you pay them a few dollars extra. But it's better to get a ticket that includes the stop in the first place, they're both really nice.
And then to conclude this first part of the Vietnam tale, I arrived in Ho Chi Minh city, also known as Saigon. Or actually Saigon refers only to Ho Chi Minh city districts 1 and 3, but that's only for the smartasses. Anyway, the initial reaction to the city was to run away, and it never really changed. As told by a local, the only good thing about the city is food, as ascertained by an American who had spent 4 months there and announced you can't find anything good here no matter which way you go as I was looking at the map on the street. I started by walking to a park, and had to literally run away from the "massage girls" that even grap your arms and try to cut you up with their motorbikes. But yes, the food is good, and the best of it is at Thien Tam, which is located on 443 Su Van Hanh noi dai, district 10. Tel: 08. 8630798. But more about that and other things in the next part. I also went to tango, they rarely have milongas but they do have regular classes so I joined one. Quite fun.