“Xin Chao” (Hello) I said in my most pleasant Hobo voice.
“Xin Chao” came the reply followed by a dazzling smile
“Do you speak english?”
” Yes” she said with the same smile
Thank god I thought. “I want a bus to Ba-Be lake in Ba-Be national park tomorrow?”
“Yes” came the reply with the same grin. Was it fixed in place? Was it really a smile or had she had a stroke that affected both sides of her body.
There was a slight pause followed by more of a pause as no more information came my way. Did she think I was just bragging or something. “Erm…. Do I get the ticket here?”
“Yes” more pause. Did she really speak English and that same smile was still stuck in place. Her cheeks must be killing by now. Images of Batman facing the Joker came to mind. Then as though someone had put a coin in the slot and pressed play she suddenly continued. “You come tomorrow 1.30 buy ticket then. Bus leaves at 2”.
I was startled for a second now so the next pause was my fault. “Cam o’n” (Thank you) I said. “Cam O’n” she replied smile still fixed to her face. I turned and slowly walked away glancing back only once to check on the grin. It was still there but was that a slight quiver at the corner of her mouth I saw?
Next day I’m on a moped taxi zooming through the chaotic traffic that is Hanoi. The driver was crazy, or stoned, or had a death wish. Zipping through gaps so narrow I was breathing in as though that would help. I definitely heard my rucksack which is about two inches wider the me smack a few wing mirrors. Eventually I make it to the bus station and go and buy my ticket. Smiler is no where to be seen but the girl on the counter writes on the ticket the platform I need and points me in the right direction. I’m early so I take a seat and the girl next to me trys to start a conversation. She speaks no English and I speak no Vietnamese so with various hand gestures and the use of my Vietnamese translation app the conversation is still pretty dire. She apparently works for an up market cosmetics firm and tries to sell me an overpriced tube of toothpaste and I distract her by giving her a tacky necklace with a fake sharks tooth I found on the pavement in Thailand and she responds by giving me her keyring with a figure of some sort of minority villager on it. We both depart happy.
Its time for my bus and I have been waiting at the platform for ages. Eventually a passing local looks at my ticket and points me behind the bus in front to my bus at the back. Ba-Be it says on the front. Looking good so far. The bus is over an hour late leaving. Half the bus has been filled with packaging yet still they manage to get twice as many passenger as the bus was designed to take on. We seem to stop at every little village along the way dropping packages off, picking them up. Some passengers get on. some get off until finally the bus is starting to empty. My leg, my back and even my eyeballs are aching by now its not been the most comfortable journey. Next thing I know we stop and I am told to get off as this is the last stop. I check my satnav. I am 4 km from Ba-Be national park entrance and 16 km from the lake where I should be staying. Mysteriously there is a girl here on moped who is just willing to take me to her brothers guest house. How convenient.
Next day I set of for Ba-Be lake which involves me hiring a moped scooter (the guest house owners nephew) who just takes me as far as the lake. Then I have to get a boat across the lake to the village (probably the guest house owners brother) who I later find out overcharges me by more then twice the amount it would cost if I wanted to go across with a motorbike too.
Anyway finally I am at Mr Lindhs guest house. I see him briefly then he leaves to go god knows where and I am left in the care of his staff. None of whom seem to speak English whatsoever. The room is very basic and because of a storm in the evening every insect in the district takes shelter in my room. I cower for the night in the mosquito net listening to the buzzing, chirping, and fluttering coming from every side of the room. My mattress is on the floor and several of my house guests find there way under the net. Not my best nights sleep.
I wake up early and inspect the view while spitting out wings from mouth and flicking god knows what from inside my underpants. All I know is that many scuttled or flew away afterwards. The view I must admit is stunning. A pasture below with a few buffalo, padi fields to my left and the lake to my right. Great. Time to explore. Only there is no Hiking trail and the town is literally one rd with a mountain at one side and building at the other and behind them the lake. Right. Maybe I need to hire some transport. Push bikes! I saw pushbikes downstairs. Advertised as mountain bikes but more like shopping bikes used back in the 60’s. They will do.
I take a bike and 2 km down the road the gears refuse to work and the road is a s hilly as fuck. Dammit. I end up pushing the bike most of the way back to the guest house. I’m shattered and I still have seen nothing. Theres boat trips advertised but they charge per boat and I am lucky enough to share it with another traveler. We see the lake, walk through a local village and see a fairly decent waterfall behind the village and thats it. Definitely not worth the money.
I try hiking and am lucky to find a cave which is pretty cool, but no one had told me about it. Then again no one seemed to speak English. The place is pretty. Damn pretty but its hard to get to and the only trips seem to be trekking to get away from the place.
I can only find one restaurant and the family that run that have the tv at the front of the restaurant so you have to walk between grandma, granddad, mum, dad and various kids and the tv to get to the seats. Its quite funny really as they all tilt their heads to see around you and look at the tv as you go past. Otherwise there is no response to you and you literally sit there for 10 minutes waiting for the menu. What does save it is the fantastic view across the lake and the sunset. Maybe the best part of my stay so far.
I last for 3 nights then I arrange travel on to Sapa in the north west of Vietnam. That should be easy right???
Thanks for reading