10,101 km so far.
Resolving our visa difficulty is, unfortunately, a priority today. We were meant to spend the day relaxing with Jane’s parents, moving from a cafe, to the beach, to a walk along the waterfront, to a restaurant for lunch, or something of that nature.
Instead, we got up early, dashed off to the local market for breakfast, and then headed to a travel agent to find out our options for extending our visa.
After the helpful staff at Saigon Travel made a few phone calls, we were told we do need to go to Ha Noi, and we need to be there by Monday when the immigration office reopens. It is a great relief to see that nobody seems overly concerned with our expired visas.
Travellers’ note: You can also get an extension in Hai Phong or Ho Chi Minh City.
Hopefully we can downgrade this incident from catastrophe to annoyance.
We both agree that we’d like to ride to Ha Noi instead of taking a bus – we have a goal of making it to Bali without taking any unnecessary public transport. It is only a two day ride from Ha Long, and since today is Saturday, as long as we leave this afternoon we can make it. We have been assured that staying in a hotel with an expired visa won’t be a problem. We’re hoping this is true.
So, we plan on spending a few hours with Jane’s folks before hopping on our bikes and riding 60 km or so to a nha nghi (Vietnamese for guesthouse).
Since the travel agency had been so efficient, we were already at the stop when the shuttle bus from the cruise ship pulled up. Jane’s mom got off the bus, but no Tom. He was feeling “indisposed”, as he put it, after last night’s dinner, so he had stayed behind on the ship.
Travellers be warned: you can’t judge a book by its cover. Table cloths and shiny cutlery don’t mean a thing. Unless a restaurant has lots of happy patrons, no matter what it looks like, don’t even bother. Then again, sometimes you just have bad luck, and someone in the kitchen undercooks the chicken.
Jane’s note: I had already been annoyed by that restaurant the night before, and now I was ready to go throw a brick through their window, or at least give them a stern talking to. Mom convinced me that we should leave well enough alone.
While Tom was recovering on the ship, we had some quality time with Diane. We took her to the local market, where Jane and I had eaten delicious banh my for breakfast. Diane didn’t like the looks of the stall we’d chosen, but to our eyes it was a clean spot, run by a friendly woman.
She had cracked fresh eggs into a clean frying pan, and served them up to us on delicious fresh French bread. What could be simpler or more local?
Vegan note: Yes, vegan friends, we have taken to eating eggs in Vietnam. They are abundant, freshly laid, and the only readily available protein option apart from tofu that we have found so far.
We spent some time in a cafe, catching up on the news about Jane’s siblings and their families, talking about our plans for the next year, and hearing about the sites Tom and Diane have visited on their cruise.
Tom was feeling well enough to join us for lunch and although he still wasn’t up to eating, he was a good sport as Diane asked us to describe some of the best meals we have had on the trip.
Jane’s note: If you ever want to spend a nice day with your family somewhere, don’t do it in Ha Long. It’s pretty much the worst of the worst when it comes to tourist towns. Unwelcoming and unfriendly, with hawkers and touts wherever you turn. It’s difficult to find any peace or a place to just sit and enjoy each others’ company.
Heading to Ha Noi
We had to say goodbye around 2pm as we had to hit the road.
Jane’s note: I am so happy we got to see my parents. It was pretty tough to ride away after a day in their company. All the homesickness that can build up on a trip like this came welling up inside of me, and there were a few tears behind my sunglasses as we rode out of Ha Long.
Although many parts of Vietnam are mountainous, the ride from Ha Long to Ha Noi is incredibly flat, never exceeding an elevation of 50 m above sea level.
Today’s road began as a beautiful, smooth new road, allowing us to easily cruise along at about 26 km/hr. After about 30 km, however, the new road turned to almost new, aka under construction. Things quickly slowed down as the road became a dusty, torn-up mess, with traffic from both directions diverted to a single side of the road.
Midway through the road work we passed Yen Tu Temple and the many pagodas and temples that form its grounds. Yen Tu is the most important Buddhist site in Vietnam. The main temple sits on top of Yen Tu mountain, but on this cold, cloudy day I am not sure it would have been worth climbing the stairs.
When it came time to check into the only decent hotel in Dong Trieu, we started to get nervous all over again about our passports. If these guys wouldn’t take us, we’d be out in the cold. By some minor miracle, the hotelier didn’t even ask for our passports. This is the first time that’s happened since we arrived in Vietnam.
So, we didn’t have to explain why we were in the country with expired visas and he didn’t have to put us on the books, allowing him to pocket the cash we gave him for the room. Win win. ♥