Asia 2006 Vietnam

Mourning a loss, though I keep on going

Boat at Halong Bay

I suppose you’re wondering what that loss is…my camera! My wonderful camera that has the photo record of my entire trip! Gone! I believe I accidentally left it on the train last night and one of the cleaning people or someone probably picked it up. It made this morning quite hectic. But let me start from last night….

After I posted a blog yesterday I did end up getting a haircut, and its quite snazzy looking if I do say so myself. Pretty short, with a little bit of length on the top. It’s great because I really don’t have to do anything to it! It was also one of the cheapest haircuts of my life…50,000 dong….right around US$3.

After the haircut, the barber, who spoke pretty broken English, asked me if I wanted an ear cleaning, and curiosity led me to taking up the offer. It was an incredibly bizarre and rather unpleasant experience. The barbed donned a head lamp, which made him look as if he was entering a cave. He stuck many a tool into my ear canal, which was quite a strange sensation. The whole point of the procedure was for him to pull out clumps of ear wax, which was pretty disgusting. The procedure ended with some light drumming around my ear. I must say though, I think my hearing is a bit better now, though that may just be wishful thinking.

At 6:30pm I caught the van back to Lao Cai to catch the train (which left at 9:15pm). They packed that van to the brim! Children were sitting on laps as there were not enough seats, and they were cramming as many people as possible into the back seat. And there was luggage everywhere. In case of an emergency, none of us would have been able to get out! On top of the large pile of luggage in the aisle, they stacked some boxes of cakes they were transporting! They kept trying to get people to sit on the luggage to fit more people in, but nobody would. After 30 minutes of packing the van, we finally left Sapa.

When we arrived in Lao Cai they dropped us off at this restaurant across from the train station, which wasn’t open yet (it was 7:45pm and the first train to Hanoi left at 8:30pm). I hung out at the restaurant and chatted with this Dutch couple and Spanish couple for a bit, before boarding my train, which left 45 minutes after the first train to Hanoi.

This train was not nearly as nice as the one we had on the way up to Lao Cai. The beds were harder, it was older, there was less storage space, the a/c sucked, and there were no individual lamps. While our first train had western-style toilets, this one had squat toilets built in! In my compartment were three westerners this time. There was a French guy, a French woman, and a Spanish guy, all of whom were traveling together. They were very friendly, and we talked a lot about Laos and Thailand, as they were planning on going there later on their trip.

Again I had an enormous amount of trouble sleeping. I still don’t know what it was…perhaps the noise. In the morning I noticed that my compartment-mates had used earplugs, which would have been a wise idea. Oh well…next time.

It was quite early when we arrived (5:15am), so I took a motorbike to the Old Quarter to hang out for a bit and get some breakfast before catching a bus to Halong City. Around the lake there were probably hundreds of Vietnamese doing synchronized yoga of a sorts, right at the crack of dawn! It was a really cool sight, and I reached into my bag to get my camera out and that is when the morning turned quite frantic!

I should note that I always carry my camera on me, but since I was sleeping in my pants, I took it out and put it into my bag. So there I was, standing in the middle of a park, surrounded by hundreds of Vietnamese doing yoga and frantically unpacking my whole day pack looking for my camera, and it wasn’t there! I thought back to the train ride…after I put it in, I had shuffled things around in my bag a bit, to put my journal back in, I recall touching the camera, but not taking it out. Perhaps it slipped into my bedspread without my knowledge. I’m sure none of my compartment-mates would have taken it, as they were really nice and getting to my bag would have required walking on me.

Anyways, I decided I needed to make it back to the train station, and I also needed to find a bathroom badly. I was walking through the park with my big giant (and heavy) backpack and my day pack (which I unpacked looking for my camera several times more), and sweating up a storm. I finally found a bathroom, but it was too small to fit into with my backpack (heck I could barely fit in without it). A very nice westerner from California offered to watch my bag for me while I was in the bathroom, which she did. I explained my situation to her, and she offered to watch my big bag while I went back to the train station. She looked trustworthy and there wasn’t anything of enormous value in my bag (not to mention that it was so heavy, someone would have to be really desperate to steal it) so I left it with her and hopped on a Xe Om back to the train station

Hanoi has two train stations, which are right next to each other. There’s the “A” station, which is the primary one and serves all southern routes, and the “B” station, which serves all northern routes. They are next to each other, but on opposite sides of the track, so it is a substantial walk in between them.

Anyways I arrived at the “B” station and there was nobody there at all (it was now around 6:30am). I walked into the train yard and there was nobody who spoke any English. The train was still there, but of course it was locked, and everyone thought I wanted to buy a ticket. So I went to the “A” station, where I knew people did speak English, and the information person there directed me back to the “B” station, saying that now there were people there (it was now 7am, and the “A” station had just opened). So I walked back to the “B” station, and there were some people there, but they didn’t speak any English and did not want to help me at all!

I found a helpful Vietnamese guy who spoke English and he walked with me into the train yard and had them let me on the train to look for it (it was now about 7:45am). The cleaning crew had already been through, so the beds had been stripped, and there was nothing there. No camera. The guy asked the cleaning people currently in there if they’d seen it, and they said no. Someone called the conductor to ask him if he’d seen it, and he apparently said no. Now there is the possibility that somewhere along this line, someone was lying to me, either the translator or the conductor and cleaning ladies. Or its possible a passenger picked it up. The other people in my compartment have no means of contacting me in case they found it. It’s possible they turned it in, as there were people collecting our tickets as we exited, though they were long gone. I’ll check back at the station on Saturday when I return to Hanoi to see if anyone found it, though I have a feeling it’s a lost cause.

I think what gets me feeling even worse than loosing the camera itself, was loosing the memory card in it, that had all my wonderful photos from Vietnam on it. Ah well. At least I’ll have my memories (and my blog).

Anyways, I returned to the park and low and behold, the woman was still there, as was my bag. I had some breakfast and chatted with her and her friend she met on the train from Europe (I forget the country). She came back on the same train I did. After breakfast we parted paths and I set out for the bus station to get to Halong City.

The bus to Halong City was in fact a crammed mini-bus that, of course, stopped quite frequently to pick up passengers or goods along the way, which made the trip longer than I had anticipated. We left Hanoi at 9:45 or so in the morning and didn’t get to Halong City till nearly 2pm! On the bus I met a couple of Australians who were doing the same thing I was doing, and a very helpful and interesting guy from New Zealand who lives in Halong City working for an environmental agency, which they really need, as the water in the bay is quite polluted!

He was explaining that Halong City (and the bay) sits on an enormous amount of coal, and it is a huge industry here, which obviously adds to the pollution. He was also noting that designating a natural site as a World Heritage Site in a third world country (which Halong Bay is) is the kiss of death, because tourists flock to it, and with tourists come development, which in turns ruins the environment. When we arrived we immediately saw that there was all sorts of trash floating in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Not so nice.

By the time we arrived, the Aussies and I decided that it was too late to spend any time on the bay as we were only a few hours from sunset. So my plans again changed. I’m staying here tonight, taking a tour of the bay tomorrow, and then going back to Hanoi tomorrow evening. No Cat Ba island, which is just as well, because I heard a lot of negative reviews of it from fellow travelers.

Anyways, I checked into a hotel (rooms here are more expensive…mine costs US$10) and I immediately got a shower and a fresh pair of clothes on, as I’d been wearing the other set since yesterday! Halong City is nothing special. It’s strictly a tourist town, so it’s really not interesting at all. Although there are other ways to see the bay, I decided to book a tour of the bay for tomorrow for US$23. It’s a very small group though…7 maximum, which is nice. It would have been far cheaper if I went with 50 other people or so, but that’s highly advised against. I’ll have a 6 hour cruise on the bay, visiting some of the notable caves, before returning here and then returning to Hanoi.

In case anyone doesn’t know what Halong Bay is, it’s a series (and by series I mean thousands) of little islands and rock formations in the Gulf of Tonkin. Although polluted, it’s supposed to be cool, though the guy from New Zealand was explaining how it’s getting progressively worse, and that visitors who have been before and returned, do not like what they see. So I might as well see it before it gets totally ruined!

Okay, well this is certainly long enough! I’ve only got 2 more days in Vietnam and now I’m camera-less. Well sort of. I bought a disposable camera here to take pictures of the bay. I’ll get them online somehow….eventually. The loss of my camera is a tragedy, but hence, life must go on!


By Aaron

Hey there! I'm Aaron and this is my travel site, where I document my adventures to all corners of the world. My love for travel started at the ripe old age of four, when a midlife crisis uprooted my family to Ecuador for five years. Since then, I've been to countries on 4 different continents. When I'm not blissfully on the road, I reside in New York City, where I become the ultimate travel junkie and spend my days dreaming up my next great adventure! Read More...

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