BootsnAll Travel Network

Local Village (homestay), Laos to Ninh Binh, Vietnam

This journey would be 12 hours in the car, hopefully, and as Andy said “if we get there before 7pm, after leaving at 7am, we will be doing very well.” A large part of this trip was the fact that today was the day we were crossing in to Vietnam, my 30th country! I was really excited to head to Vietnam and finally get to the big 3-0. So we all got back on the bus, with our daypacks, I was bumped to the front seat behind the driver so Meredith could take the back and be able to lounge out with her bug bitten body. That was fine, change of pace, new seat, its all good. After about an hour and a half we got to the Lao border. Ky got our passports, departure cards and got us stamped. I took all my Lao Kip 257,000 and exchanged it for Dong, which yielded me over 450,000 Dong. This currency thing was getting out of control. So far on this trip alone I must have 10 currencies on me at any given time, it is nuts. Coupled with the fact that I keep small amounts of currency from each country to bring home (don’t worry Mom, it is worthless back home and not very much), it is out of control. Half the time I’m pulling out Kip, Baht, Dong, Dollars, Ringdits, etc…The Lao border went fairly smooth, and now the hard one; the Vietnam border. Andy had built it up to be this incredibly annoying, slow paced and bureaucratic mess of a place, but when we got there, it went really smooth. She said under an hour would be impressive and I reckon we were only there about 30 minutes tops. We all filled out our cards, gave in our passports, got stamped, paid the bullshit weekend 1USD surcharge and were on our way. We said goodbye to Mr. Pa and Ky and met our new driver Mr. Hoome or “Hero” translated from Vietnamese. This dude would be responsible for driving us 12 hours to Halong Bay and then 4 hours to Hanoi a few days after that, definitely a lot of driving.


My first impression of Vietnam was that it kind of looked like Lao, but more green. I mean it was so green and lush with trees, bush, it was remarkable to see. After we got through the mountains it became incredibly flat, definitely much more flat than Lao, you can clearly see why they are the second largest exporter of rice to the world behind Thailand. I mean for miles you just see rice patty fields all around. After a few hours we stopped at some shady place to eat and go to the Happy House. Andy was dreading eating here, as she said that every time she has to do this leg of the journey it sucks because there is no good place to stop between Lao border and Halong Bay. Our stop tonight before going to Halong Bay would be Ninh Binh. I’m sorry it was 12 hours to Ninh Binh, then about four hours to Halong Bay and then the following day another 4 hours to Hanoi, getting all my days mixed up here.

The drive was long and incredibly slow. The speed limit for most of the trip was about 50 kilometers and hour or about 35 mph. I mean even on highways, but if you have ever been Vietnam you know exactly why it is so slow, these drivers are nuts. Most of the time the road is one way in each direction, but not for the Vietnamese. They make it 2,3,4 lanes sometimes, by passing on both sides, criss crossing inches from each other, and all this crazy stuff. It is really hard to explain, pictures can only tell a small portion of the tale, and you really have to be there to experience it yourself.

After it was all said and done we finally arrived in Ninh Binh, earlier than expected, about 530PM. Not bad considering we thought it would take about two hours more. We checked in to our lovely hotel, dropped our stuff and I proceeded to hit up the internet place around the corner. I didn’t update my blog because I didn’t have enough time to catch up, but just played around, checked out the money situation, emails, fantasy teams etc…It was nice and the internet was fairly cheap, 10,000 Dong for the hour and surprisingly faster than I had thought. Faster than Lao which was as slow as the people moved and cooked food.

After my time on the internet it was time to meet for dinner back at the hotel. First I got money from the ATM which had no lights, but really did after Deb, Penny and I had left, some guy walked in turned the light on and laughed as he must of saw us struggle to hold up Deb’s flash from her cell phone camera. This reminds me of a story from the village in Lao that I forgot to tell.

So our sleeping arrangements in Lao were as followed. We had two houses for us which the family we stayed with lived in as well. They set up mattresses for us in the main room with mosquito nets around them; This was my first encounter with mosquito nets in my life and thank g-d for them. I was concerned about being eaten alive by mosquitoes all night long, but when Andy said they were setting up nets, I was quickly relieved. Anyway so Andy, Morrie and I had one house and Deb, Penny, Meredith and Elizabeth had another. Before I went to sleep I asked Andy how to turn off the lights, she told me it was the bottom right switch, I flicked it off and was off to bed for a few hours. The reason why this story is so funny is because Andy had previously told us that the lights went off automatically when they turned off the generators that supposedly powered the village. The ironic thing is when I walked around the village I didn’t hear any generators and saw massive electrical poles and wires going to all the houses and huts. I was thinking to myself, “Andy said there were generators, but I don’t hear or see any, that’s odd?” She must have been confused with another village or something, but anyway back to the story. So after a difficult night sleep, under the mosquito nets, still being bit, where it was really hot, the fans were doing nothing, I got woken up at like 4am by the roosters. Many, many, many roosters crowing really early and all throughout the morning. I had my earplugs in, had taken my second to last half the ambient I found in my bag, and still could not sleep through it. Now anyone who knows me, knows I hate being A. woken up and B. hate that constant noise that doesn’t stop especially when trying to sleep. It drives me off the wall insane. After sticking it out for another hours dozing in and out of sleep I just said screw it and got up at 5am. We were getting up at 6am anyway and breakfast was at 630am so it wasn’t that bed, also I knew we had a whole day of being on the bus.

It starts to rain, really hard, and I am enjoying the rain. I decided to walk around and noticed that the girl’s house’s lights were still on. I sat down in their comfy leather chairs, and after about five minutes Elizabeth comes strolling out clearly having to go to the outhouse/toilet. I asked her as she came out “Elizabeth why are your lights on?” She responded “I don’t know, we thought they would just turn off and didn’t know we could turn them off.” I started hysterically laughing by saying, “didn’t you see those massive light switches right in front of your bed?” She goes “hmmm,” and after returning from the toilet, I heard her flick about four switches till I saw her lights go out and all of the girls started laughing.

The really funny part was that the locals slept with them as well and as we were leaving they asked Ky if the girls were afraid of the dark because the lights were on the whole night? He started laughing, told the girls what the grandmother had asked and said, and we all started laughing and it has become a huge joke throughout the trip. I drop it once and a while.

A second story I forgot to tell was that this village was finally the place where I used a squatting toilet for a number 2! Man it took a lot of leg power. There was nothing to hold on too and it was all about your thigh muscles (I think I am still feeling that). I was quick, painless, smelled a bit and was fine. Basically you do your business in the little ceramic toilet, use the water from the barrel to flush and put your soiled toilet paper in a bag which they burn. Since the pipes are thin and extremely narrow, paper would just immediately clog them up.

Ok so back to Ninh Binh, Vietnam. We arrived and I was talking about dinner. I met the gang for dinner after getting my money out. Oh yea for about 12 hours I was a multimillionaire, in Dong that is. I took out 2,000,000 Dong which was the limit at the ATM and equaled roughly 125 USD, yea that’s right, how cool is that? (Nate, just continuing to rub it in).

Also want to give a little shout out to my family. Sorry I missed you all this past week, heard it was amazing, Aunt Betty and Uncle Jay (The Big Kahuna) I will try and call you guys this week, so if you see a funny phone number pick it up!

Julie, hope the new house is going well, congrats Brian again, Hey Susan and Jack, oh and Hi mom, Dad and Jenny [who I doubt still reads this cause she is lazy :-)]

I wasn’t feeling so hungry and my stomach was a tad upset from that really sketchy lunch place where I had spring rolls and rice, so I just ordered plain rice and some French fries. I was eating way too much rice and basically feeling like I did after eating matzo during Passover this past year, and anytime I eat it, all backed up, with a cement wall.

I had a Tiger beer with dinner, and a soda. As I have mentioned before Tiger beer is one of my favorite beers of Asia, along with Asahi Super Dry and Chiang (my awards to come at the end of the trip).

After dinner we all went upstairs to the rooftop bar and the ladies had a beer. I was full and not really feeling beer. I missed drinking whisky and alcohol and ever since my Bangkok experience when I lost my glasses, was still craving some!

I hung out with the ladies for a bit, Morrie was at the internet place doing his thing, and I decided to walk around a little bit more to check out Ninh Binh at night. Apparently from what Andy had told us when you see a sign for “Karaoke,” with an exaggerated “O” that it is not the ordinary Karaoke bar if you know what I mean. I really just wanted to walk in and see what the deal was, but instead, just walked down the alleyway and popped my head in front of the door. Basically all I saw was a woman sitting in the front, nothing was exposed and a midsized hallway leading to something else, and that is all I saw. But anyway you see these “Karaoke bars,” scattered throughout Vietnam, in small towns, cities and bigger ones.

After walking around, trying to get tired I decided to head back to the room. Morrie wasn’t back yet from doing stuff online and I just grabbed the key, went up the room, took a much needed shower, cooled off and got ready for bed. Morrie came back after a little while and we were off to sleep. There was great air conditioning but the bed was harder than sleeping on the floor. It felt like a slab of concrete with a sheet over it. Also Morrie and I had our usual “fight” over the air conditioning. Basically our agreement is that I get to start the night with it on, and if he gets cold he turns it off and if I get hot I can turn it back on. We went back and forth a little bit throughout the night and eventually when I woke up it was turned off and I was sweating my nuts off under the covers expecting it to be cool when I woke up.

The night before at dinner we had decided to get up real early and get to Halong Bay as soon as possible. Halong Bay is in the book “1000 Places to See Before you Die.” Truthfully I had noticed we were going there when I saw the itinerary of the tour but had no idea what I was in for. We were going to be spending a night on a famous “Junkit boat.”


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