The shower is a perfect temperature & operates at full power & pressure – for both of us – before decisions are made as to what to wear for the day.
Ben is keen to have another muesli & fruit breakfast at KOTO.
Today, for something a little different, we share a pot of Lipton tea. I try the Banana Bread & Jam with Fruit & Yoghurt as a side dish. Though I scrounge a few perfectly-ripe mango pieces from Ben’s sizable plate of fruit.
With our bill already settled we cruise the local precinct for bananas & bread rolls for our lunch-on-the-go (as advised by Nes) & score freshly baked baguettes, still steaming when they’re lifted from the bucket & into the paper bag;
along with a handful of mandarins – & what I presume to be loquats (but they’re rather sour compared to the expected pear-like flavour with a touch of apricot and pineapple) – we find at the local street markets just around the corner, in Ngo Sy Lien.
Bags already packed & eager to squeeze into a bus with our new-found friends, we take the lift for the final time to the foyer to plan for the trip to Vinh. Nonetheless I still feel there’s at least one unexplored area in this part of Hanoi I’d like to check out : what appears to be a park, opposite the Temple of Literature, in Quoc Tu Giam.
So leaving Ben behind chatting with Hermann, I head off with my trusty camera case & fully-charged equipment.
In its midst – & rising from the mist of the morning – I discover a pathway winding around a lake.
Rising from the lake is an island with its own simple dwelling set beneath a splendid old tree, its branches creating a rather secretive, hidden place.
Gardeners are busy, attending to weeding & tilling the soil; others stand in a small boat removing weeds from the rock-wall surrounds.
It’s a tranquil urban setting where quite a few older Hanoi citizens take time to exercise in relative quiet (after all you can’t really escape the sound of horns in Hanoi).
Journeying back I find a shoe-shine guy set up on the footpath outside the hotel, busily polishing gentlemen’s shoes for a small price. His process is well-practiced & precise, each completed effort producing – with the aid of brushes, cloths, polish & spit – the basis for a mirror finish.
Back in the foyer we hand over the US$30 for our Laos Visa to Nes, then trundle our luggage into the minibus.
There’s enough room for everyone to occupy double seats so we can stretch out as we cruise – or sometimes stumble – along sections of the 75%-completed Noi Bai-Lao Cai Highway – part of the first phase that stretches for 245km from Hanoi to VinhPhuc, Phu Tho, Yen Bai, and Lao Cai as part of the Kunming-Haiphong Transport Corridor -with the same driver who took us to Halong Bay (I recognise his explosive, uncovered cough!).
Though vehicles are initially permitted a maximum speed of 80km, I feel in many sections we’ve arrived a little early as the 26 km section of the Noi Bai-Lao Cai Highway contracted to Posco, a Republic of Korea contractor, & linking Soc Son district in Hanoi to Vinh Phuc province, is not scheduled to open to traffic till December 27. In some places that target opening seems highly unlikely; even given the fact it’s had 2.554 trillion VND (120 billion USD) thrown at it since 2009.
The journey soon proves to be too much for Roly who seems to be suffering greatly from motion sickness- or whatever (& there was something about last night’s meal that initially rang alarm bells for me) – even after he moves to a front seat; even as he droops his head every few minutes into bag after plastic bag while I attempt to snap at the scenery through glass as the countryside passes us by with monotonous variety and the driver negotiates the traffic as efficiently as any cross-country rally driver sustained by Valium.
Two rest stops spaced every two hours proves sufficient relief for most. And more than enough interest if you care to wander off a bit & take a look around …
Ben catches the backsides of his jeans on a piece of metal protruding from part of a front, folded aisle-seat as he re-enters the bus. As luck would have it I have needle, cotton & the time to do a mend … though he must sit in his undies with a jacket thrown over his legs … while the youngsters of the group play ‘Presidents & Assholes,’ a card game known by other vulgar names, such as “Scumbag”, or even “Landlord;” and though the vulgar names are of American descent, this card game actually has its beginnings in Japan, where it is known as “Dai Hin Min.”
Apparently Ace is the highest card. Jokers can be included as wilds or taken out of the deck. Also it’s important to know 2s are also considered wild and can be played as any other card.
On their turn, no matter what was played last, a player can lay down a single 2 which clears the table and that player can then lay down any 1, 2, 3, or 4 of a kind.. If players are not able to play, they must pass their turn.
If a player plays their turn and every other player passes, that player can then clear the table and lay down any 1, 2, 3, or 4 of a kind.
If a player lays down a card or cards equal to the previous card or cards played, the next person’s turn is skipped.
The objective is to run out of cards first.
Every player is ranked in the order that they run out of cards. The first player to run out of cards is declared the President. The next player to run out is the Vice President. The last player to run out is the Asshole who then becomes the dealer of the new game. Once the deal is complete, the Asshole is obliged to give their highest valued card to the President, who in turn can give them any card he/she doesn’t want. The President then leads the play.
The game, my stitching – and Roly’s ‘gutteral entries’ into plastic bags that are passed to him by an attendant Nes – goes on as we move towards the late afternoon. Outside the bus the distant hills & mountains are shrouded in smoke – or smog – and the passage of traffic seems more like a Sydney slow-crawl traffic jam.
Around 51 kms from Vinh & the turn off to Quẻ Phong, we spend time in a long, arduous queue, waiting to pass a one-way intersection near a railway crossing where extensive roadworks are taking place. Vigilant policemen attempt to make some difference to the a seemingly-impossible two-way flow at the railway crossing; one even stands supervising the changing of a truck tyre, the truck partly blocking the oncoming traffic.
Eventually our progress improves & the vehicles spread, becoming more like a length of floating ribbon than a clump of steel wool caught in a plug hole.
Finally the stitching seals the gaping hole & the repaired jeans are slipped over feet, legs & butt with much thanks, & a great sense of relief.
Meanwhile Roly is still unwell.
‘He’s always had a problem with cyclical vomiting,’ says a worried Kate as she comes to his rescue with an extra water bottle & a supportive chat.
Yet all anyone can really do is to pass him additional plastic bags.
I gather sometimes being a traveller is meant to be tough going.
The occasional stretch of smooth ‘highway’ improves our forward motion somewhat & lifts the spirits of long-suffering passengers before bumpier, unfinished sections return to interrupt – & slow down – the dusty journey on a road heavily-travelled.
Nonetheless the destination is getting closer by the minute. Ben notes the signpost to Vinh.
‘Only 21kms to go,’ he says as the weakening sun hovers above a stodgy hill.
Around five o’clock rows of street lights stretching ahead down the right-hand side of the roadway signal an apparent nearness to Vinh.
The lights switch to the other side of the road as a busy tree-lined town appears that might be Binh Minh, though it’s anybody’s guess.
It turns out to be Vinh when- well-before it’s expected, time-wise – Nes recognises our stop for the night – a gaudily-painted hotel, the Green Nghe An Hotel that rises from the earth at No. 2, Mai Hac De Street (Vinh City) like a chunky concrete frog set in a palm garden.
It feels somewhat of a relief to arrive early & to be greeted by pleasant, helpful staff standing at the Reception desk while clocks tick in time, representing a range of time zones & cities; & with the tendency to make a traveler just a little home-sick.
After settling in to Room ‘225’ & checking out the verandah view, we walk towards Le Loi in search of Pringles. Assigning ourselves only a restricted amount of time to achieve success, after coming out of every possible store empty-handed, we cross the wide divided roadway & find a Jacker variety at a mini-mart that more than fits the bill.
Dinner at the hotel restaurant is kept simple for everyone – at Nes’s request – so it’s Vegetable Fried Rice, all round.