Trip to China: Vietnam [2/4]
Posted by Michael Medin at 2013-03-18
Might sounds like a strange title since Vietnam is by no means a part of China but we decided to take a vacation from our vacation and head over to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. The first part of this trip has already been chronicled in the first trip report: Trip to China: Dong Xing, Part 1 <http://www.medin.name/blog/2013/03/14/trip-to-china-dong-xing-part-1/> and later parts will be published in a bit.
The first step (and actually the one step we had planned) was to go to Mong Cai which is the neighboring city in Vietnam just across the river from DongXing. So we set out in a “cab” heading down to the border. I am a bit unsure about the definitions of cabs since the cabs they have in DongXing are first off almost free the fare inside DongXing is usually around 1 euro but the cars are not really cars instead they are some strange hybrid looking a bit like a modified golf cart.
Next to the border we found a plump woman running the local money exchanger. She wanted to exchange out Chinese Yuan for Vietnamese Dong at not really extortionate rates but very close. Her rate was around 1-2 percentage higher then the hotel where we exchanged the next time but given that she was the only one around we were forced to employ her.
After exchanging some money we headed towards the border finding it abandoned which puzzled us a bit but after crossing a few “do not cross” lines on the floor we found that the border was actually one floor up and all the stuff on the first floor was used when there was a lot of people traveling (which it wasn’t today).
Some interesting facts: exiting China was more of a bother then entering Vietnam and we were the second Swedish group to cross the border that day.
In between exiting China and entering Vietnam there were a few “tax free shops” as well as the bridge. As I said before entering Vietnam was easier but a bit odd as they had three almost identical desks placed one after the other and we had to stop at each desk to have our passports checked by a bored looking customs officer. one wonders a bit what the last two guys were doing that the first did not do? Maybe they did not trust their own staff?
5 start hotel!
After entering Vietnam we went to wait for the hotel bus and then we headed to the hotel Xiqun had chosen for us. This time it was all style as she had picked a five star Hotel and with Casino and what not. Unfortunately since it was the Holiday season the casino sported just one game which I had never seen before so playing was impossible. Again due to the holiday the show was canceled and the bar was all empty so all in all it was not a great experience as one would have imagine.
After we arrived at the hotel we dumped our luggage and headed out to explore the city which was not very impressive either. It looked much like DongXing with the exception being amazingly tasty drink we found (which we later found in DongXing as well). It was a cold milk drink which had a very large straw and some berries in it. What made is great was that you could suck the berries through the straw. But apart from that Mong Cai was a bit of a disappointment especially since due to the holiday everything was closed. So after strolling around a bit we found a nice (in the interesting sense of the word) place to eat and decided to top the “Barbecued bird on a stick” by going all out this time.
So we had (again) barbecued bird on a stick but with some frog, tofu (just in case) and other additions. The food was pretty good and I especially enjoyed the frog as it in addition to tasting good was very very tender. Later on the way home we found some people fishing using lamps in the river. The way this worked was they shone the light into the river water which illuminated the fish. Once the saw the fish they quickly rowed to the the fish and picked with a net. We could also see the fish even from the bridge so they were very visible a rather neat trick.
A block or so from our hotel we found a tiny play area where Evelina got to have some fun as well. I was very thank full for a mother who helped all the other children by giving them a hand around the course. Evelina really benefited from this as she was shy and scared and dared not go on her own so the woman helped her around and each time a bit less so soon she was able to brave the track all by her self. Very nice and again that warm fuzzy feeling. I wonder if the same would have been possible in Sweden?
Next morning we went to the concierge at the hotel to inquire about a trip to Ha Long Bay. And they explained that since there were so few resident they would not arrange the trip today but if we wanted to go they could get us a cab which would be around 100-200 Yuan (10-20Euro) which I thought was insanely cheap but given the cab prices in DongXing not entirely unreasonable. So we headed up to pack and get read and once we got down again to ask them to call us the cab there was a new lady working the desk and this time the price had risen to some 60 euro. This gave us the distinct feeling the new lady wanted to cash-in whilest she of course claimed the previous one “did not know what she was talking about”. So we spent some time discussing whether to go with the Hotel or go down town and try to find our own cab.
During this discussion the hotel staff all in turn carried our children and took photographs. This started to feel rather awkward in DongXing people had been looking at our children but here everyone seemed to be fascinated by our children to the point of perversion.
Finally laziness won over and we went with the hotel cab which in hind sight was not too much of a rip off (trip back was 550Yuan which we could have brought down another 100 but not beyond that).
Finally before I leave the five star hotel I have to ask can anyone make sense of this sign I found in our shower:
To Ha Long Bay
While I enjoyed the scenery during the trip the others mainly slept through the journey. I think the scenery is rather striking especially once we hit the mountains apart from that the biggest take away was that the roads were better and the average speed higher as well. This brought with it more western style cars and less and less “Chinese toy cars” but in Ha Long the cab fares were still pretty low so presumably gasoline prices are lower then Sweden. The trip to Ha Long took some 4 hours all-in-all all of which we did all in one go.
After arriving in Ha Long the cab asked us if we wanted a five or four star hotel and since we had no idea about prices we opted for four stars. So he stopped at the first four star hotel he could find and quickly headed off back towards Mong Cai.
Since we know nothing of the area we went in and inquired about a room which was not too expensive. Unfortunately their Visa machine was broken which was a problem for us since we had planned to reserve our limited Vietnamese funds and pay hotels and such using a visa card. The reason for the limited funds was that we original planned to stay only a day or two in Vietnam on the Chinese border where they usually accepted Chinese money. So we decided to head off to see if we could find another hotel which accepted my Visa card.
This proved difficult as we had other requirements in addition to debit card namely an elevator since we had the stroller as well as a reasonable price. It was easy to find cheep hotels with elevator which only accepted cash or cheep hotels which accepted Visa but had no elevator and so on and so forth. hitting the holy trinity was a lot more difficult though.
On the upside the further we walked the further in to the city center we got since the cab driver had dumped us on the outskirts of HaLong where there were nothing to do.
Once we hit the center we found the hotel we were looking for: “Ha Long Eden Hotel” which was reasonably priced, accepted Visa and had an elevator (it was 12 floor high so elevator was kind of given). Apart from fulfilling all our requirements it was very very nice looking with friendly (but push) staff which tried to sell us boat tours, cab rides, and what not. I believe I said once we entered the room this was the nicest and cleanest hotel we had stayed in which could easily be due to the fact that it was finished last year meaning it was pretty new and had not had time to deteriorate yet. Ironically the staff spoke better Chinese then English so I happily left the arrangements to Xiqun.
After dumping all our stuff at the hotel we set off down to the beach to have something to drink which turned out to be ice tea for me and coconut for Xiqun (which she did not like by the way).
The reminder of the evening we walked around the market and had dinner as well as hit a playground for Evelina on the way home just outside the hotel.
There will be pain
Now is where it gets interesting because once we arrived at the hotel I lay down onto of the bed for a while and then we decided to put the kids to bed and go to sleep I “jumped out of bed” again to help with Evelina but alas I misjudged the room layout a bit. Because while there was plenty of space next to me to jump out of bed there where a big ass concrete pillar in between my feet and that space. This meant my feet had to travel through that big ass concrete pillar to be able to land on their designated place next to the bed. Now I have seen monks smash concrete block with their heads and what not but apparently I do not possess the skill. When I attempted to kick my way through concrete I instead ended up with a severely broken nail and a rather large pool of blood on the floor as well as on my bed.
Going to hospitals in a foreign country when you do not speak the language is always fun and entertaining and attempting the same in the middle of the night just makes it more so. I started by heading down to the reception area asking for some help and they provided me with (Povidone) iodine and bandages which due to the pain my nail caused me was not proving much of a help.
So I headed down again asking for directions to the nearest all-night hospital. Which proved to be in Bai-Cai not too far from the hotel. The hospital was rather interesting as the emergency ward was abandoned. The cab driver dumped me near a sign saying emergency with a big arrow pointing in so I started to follow it and quickly ended me up in a very very dark corridor with a locked door.
Sweet! This is when I start to feel a bit worried. A feeling not improved when a security guard came along talking to me excitedly in Vietnamese. Given that I have no dictionary and don’t know a single word I try to point to my rather bloody foot and say help.
This works handsomely as he asked me to follow and together we start going deeper and deeper into the hospital and after a while I ended up on the second floor somewhere in a room where some five or so people came looking at my toe presumably discussing my faith in Vietnamese. (or possibly discussing a video game for all I know).
Suddenly they all left and *I was alone with a cleaning lady who keep laughing hysterically* every time she looked at me. Not a good sign I though and braced myself for a long night of pain and torture. After a few minutes a nurse comes and motions me to accompany her (presumably again, no one had said a word in English since I arrived) so set out and follow her and after some more walking deeper into the hospital we ended up on the fourth floor and found lo and behold: A doctor who spoke some English. The first thing he asked me was “do you have family or friends” and I kept thinking my god: Are they planning to kill me?
I asked why there were no people here and he told me it was night as well as holiday meaning the hospital was all but closed today. He asks me some questions about my toe and then asks me to follow him into an OR where he tells me they might have to remove my nail but he would try to preserve it if possible. When I asked if it would hurt and he simply said:
“There will be pain”
Wonderful I though and braced myself for a rather agonizing session where they apparently cut away chunks of my nail or something similar. At the end they took out a big bandage and tied it down as hard as they could inflicting an impressive amount of pain. After this they drenched it all in Iodine and wrote me a prescription for opium and antibiotics. Actually it was Codeine which as I understand it is pretty mild opiet but opium sounds funnier when I tell the story
So out I went and realized I was at an abandoned hospital parking lot in the middle of the night with no cab in sight. Wonderful: the night keeps getting better and better. So I start walking around a bit until I manage to find a cab on the street and of course I manage to get a cab driver who don’t even pretend to speak English so I spent some 5 minutes trying to explain to him I wanted to go to “HaLong” something completely alien to him. I later (when I got home) realized that “Bai Chay” was actually a part of HaLong meaning my request was rather stupid a bit like asking to go to Sweden when your in Stockholm. Since he did not know were we were going he kept driving really slow through out the street pointing to every single hotel we drove by asking if this was the one.
So a long time later I arrived back in what I consider to be Halong where I looked around a bit hoping to find an all-night pharmacy (yeah right). Instead I head home and hit the sack in agonizing pain. Dreaming of the wonderful opium that I would be able to buy the next day. The next morning was status quo meaning the pain was the same the bleeding was the same in addition to this the toe had started to go numb so I decided to head back to the hospital to see if I could get some proper help during the day.
BỆNH VIỆN BÃI CHÁY
So next morning I hopped into a cab and proudly said “Bai-Cai hospital”. The cab driver looked at me dumbfounded? I spent the next half hour trying to explain to him where I wanted to go. This all proved impossible as he could not understand anything. Once I got the message “my foot hurts” though he drove me to some neighborhood doctor. And while this might be a hospital for all I know I seriously doubted that they would speak English just looking at the place I decide that going there will not improve my situation.
In the end I had to show him where to go on the map which was difficult since I had only the vaguest idea of where the hospital was. The problem I later understood was due to the fact that while the hospital said “Bai Chay hospital” on the side everyone used the Vietnamese name which is BỆNH VIỆN BÃI CHÁY.
Arriving at the hospital I again entered the emergency ward and found if stock full with people (as well as some food stalls). I went up to the counter and noticed how everyone working in the room had orange or blue dresses which looked a lot more like they were going to dinner than working in a hospital. After asking if anyone spoke English I was directed to a rather nice girl who had a blue dress on. Her name was “Lê Thị Mai” and she was a real god-send since she arrange everything for me.
She quickly guided me to the “sign in desk” where I had to pay a euro or so to get a “green paper” which was important as that was the first thing she handed to every single doctor before they were allowed to talk to me (or well… talk to her). The room where people got their green card and presumably got directed to the correct doctor was rather large and stock full with people. When I asked about this and she replied it was due to the holiday and most people had waited till after to go to the hospital since they did not want to be in a hospital during the holiday.
Next up I had to pay for a doctor to look at my foot which was 10 euro or so and off we went. I expected to sit and wait for a while now so I offered to go pick her up again once it was my time but she said no it will be quick and indeed she was right as some 2-3 minutes later I was inside a tiny room (maybe 4 by 6 meters) which had 4 desks and 4 chairs in it. By each desk sat a doctor (presumably) and on each chair sat a patient. Interestingly enough the other patients seems rather worse off than me as I noticed some wearing ureterostomy (?) bags and what not.
After sitting down the doctor and my interpreter spoke for maybe 5 minutes without saying a single word to me or looking at my foot (it was still in a big bandage) which made me feel much like last night finally after their discussion another doctor came by and took me to an examination room where he looked at my nail asking if this was the first time. I was about to answer “no I do this all the time, it’s a hobby of mine” when I recalled back in my student days I actually did something similar and said some 10 years ago. Yes I can see you have two nails so I think we will remove this broken one and allow the other to live.
And off we went, again down to the room where you paid for everything and this time I had to pay some 80 euro for the laser surgeon to remove my nail after which we headed off deep into the hospital and entered a new room with a doctor (presumably) inside as well as some other patients (as seemed the norm). The doctor quickly ushered us into the big laser cutting room (where again there were some 2-3 other patients in various state of treatment) and asked me to lay down on the table.
I (as I always do) asked if this would be painful and my interpreter said no they will give me a local anesthetics through a shot which she said could feel a bit. Now I could very well be a bit of a sissy but after the second shot I was about to die from the immense pain of pumping fluid into my big toe. I guess my interpreter noticed my discomfort as she asked if it was painful and told an anecdote about her removing a cancer from her leg last year when she had said to the doctor “the cure was more painful than the disease”. I was not really sure if was supposed to laugh or not I grinned a bit trying to shrug off the worst of the pain.
After some six or seven shots they were done and I think started to go wild with the laser saw at least the smell of burning hair got stronger. Afterwards the interpreter triumphantly displayed the nail to me pointing at it saying there was no blood. I felt a bit like “who cares” but ok and a few seconds later a nurse came by and drenched my foot in Iodine and put bandage on. Then we headed back to the doctors office where he checked my prescription from last night saying “yeah, looks right” and off I went.
On the way out I asked Lê where I could by the drugs citing a woman earlier that morning who tried to sell me some other drugs claiming it was “almost the same” to which she responded they had one in the hospital to which she guided me.
The drugs were some 50-60 euro and Lê told me good by and showed me out she also said if I was still around 2-3 days from now I could come back to have them re-bandage the wound and check it for me.
Outside I grabbed a cab and headed back home. *All this in under an hour.* This is the most impressed I have ever been by a healthcare in my life. But it could be that I got the quick lane as I did not speak Vietnamese or perhaps my interpreter cut some corners somewhere.
Since my foot was “as good as new” we decided to walk around a bit in the yet another Ha Long city center in attempt to look for a Baby Harness. We had unfortunately forgotten the harness we got from Xiquns mother. Finding a baby harness proved rather difficult so instead we had lunch and then a foot and leg message for Xiqun I declined since I am no big fan of messages and instead headed off with the children walking around a bit.
After the message we hit another cab heading for Ha Long market. Ha Long as said is a difficult concept to grasp but the name refers to entire region which is divided into west (Bai Chay) and east (Hon Gai). And in turn Bai Chay is divided into smaller cities due to the big mountain in the middle of it. So it is really only after getting home that I understand why we had such troubles explaining to cab drivers where we wanted to go. The market is in east ha long across the river so going there with cab takes around 20 minutes as it is a 10-20 km drive but still the price is in the 3 euro region.
The market was interesting but not overly so. It was crowded, dark and dirty and a lot of small shops selling god knows what for very low prices. But most of the market was directed at selling regular household stuff, machinery, motor parts so most of the market was easily skipped. Well at the market I started to get the hang of the concept of haggling
- Ask the price
- Leave (waiting for them to come with a better price)
- Respond with the value i.e. what you want to pay (roughly one third of the asking price)
- Leave again (waiting for them to accept)
I had though haggling was more about talking and chatting and discussing why a prices was fair or not but alas that was not that case. This was from my perspective better as I could haggle without even knowing the language.
It did however require you to know the value of an item as if you gave a bid too low they would ignore you and the haggling session failed. Going back was not an option so haggling was a balance act. Fortunately there were usually multiple vendors so you could usually play them against each other or if you failed go to the next one and try a new price.
We managed to find a rather crappy baby carriage as well as some socks and other trinkets. Then we headed outside to the food market to stock up on supplies so we could make some food for the baby after which we had dinner at a local variation of Mc Donald's.
The food market were almost identical to the Chinese ones. Next was a cab ride home and since my foot was giving me pain the plan was to headed to the hotel and the bed to rest a bit.
And here is the next what the fuck moment. While getting out of the cab I was trying to bring all the things I was carrying which included a rug sack, Evelina, some bags and what not only to discover I had left my phone in the cab. That being my Samsung Galaxy Note which really sucked to loose. Especially on a vacation when a phone is an important translation and guide tool.
Boat fun, bus not fun
Evelina spent the next day going “Boat fun, buss not fun” this as we were going on a boat ride through Ha Long Bay which is the Unesco world heritage site just off the cost of Ha Long. The boat we choose was The Emeraude which was a large boat (Xiquns was afraid to go in the small once) and they had one and two days curses. Since we had kids and figured sleeping on the boat would be a pain we went with the one day cruise which later proved to be a massive mistake.
I wont really go into details here since it was a boat ride so nothing much happened. We enjoyed ourselves and relaxed a lot.
Once we arrived at the boat we got some drinks after which we relaxed ourselves.
Then we had some lunch which consisted of a rather nice buffet with mainly western styled food as well as the odd Asian delicacy here and there. During lunch I started to realize that this boat was directed at European and American tourist so everyone spoke English which was a relaxing change.
Unfortunately the weather was rather cloudy so I was a bit worried we wouldn’t be able to see the mountains through the fog but that proved an unfounded worry as once we hit the Bay there were enough mountains to be clearly visible through even the densest of fogs.
Sung Sot Grotto
The goal for our outbound trip was the Sung Sot Grotto which is a large cave in the heart of Ha Long Bay. Arriving at the Cave we encountered a series of rowing boats acting as shops trying to sell water and trinkets at extortionate rates.
I tried to haggle but instead the sales woman got angry so I skipped my plan to buy some ice tea and instead headed over to the cave.
On the way to the cave they told us elderly should take care as it was a few hundred steps to go through the cave but they were far off the mark it has to have been thousands of steps and since I was carrying Evelina and Xiqun Sofia were were pretty much dead once we exited. The cave was very beautiful to look at and very nicely prepared with illumination and walkways and such so all in all we quite enjoyed ourselves but it was seriously tiring to carry some 15Kg of Evelina on my back.
Dumped and left for dead
Heading home started off nicely as we had some pancakes on the boat and then we cruised to another island where we though we were going to head home but alas the one day tour we had opted for had a snag which no one had mentioned to us it was the two day tour but they would ship us home half way through it.
So what happened was that they dump us alone on a dark tiny boat where no one spoke English (or Chinese) the boat in question then in turn dumped us in a harbor somewhere without telling us how to get home.
Let just say I will never travel on the Emeraude again which is a bit of a shame since we quite enjoyed the trip up until the point they dumped us. Very nice boat with nice food and nice staff… unfortunately being dumped was not so nice.
So once we made shore we brought up the trusty old google map to figure out how to get home which was apparently some 2-3 kilometers away along the cost.
Your child is fat
After our boat excursion we decided to do one last attempt at shopping for some souvenirs before heading home the following day. I also had to revisit the hospital to have my toe looked after.
So first off we set out to the hospital where I searched out Lê who again opted to be my guide and apparently re-vists are free as we never went by the pay booths. Instead we headed straight to the laser wielding surgeon where I dumped a rather shy Evelina on the floor to jump up on the same laser cutting table as before. Whiles I was being examined by the doctor Lê made the observation that Evelina was very very fat (much fatter than her own 3 year old child). Which I though was an interesting observation to make (especially since she is not really fat) but I guess in comparisons to Vietnamese children we are bigger in Sweden.
The doctor gave me a clean bill of health so I headed back to Xiqun and started to head off to do some shopping.
Next up was the center again where we walked around more then the last time and found some cool shops interesting restaurants and very very tasty potatoes on a stick (try it! amazingly good).
When we were shopping for potatoes a group of school children where ahead of us and kept taking photos of our children. This is another odd hobby which they also seemed to do in China. I am not sure if it is due to our children being “white” or if it is because they like children but they kept doing all the time. At the market we bought a big ass painting which Xiqun liked which proved rather difficult to take home due to its rather massive size and weight. I also found very nice store which sold clothes for children where we bought some cool clothes for Evelina. I especially liked the fish-hat. The clothes were pretty cheap but still seemed like good quality the only oddness I found was that the cleaning labels was placed on the outside and on the front normally I expect them to be inside and back. Late at night we went by a disco where Evelina stood outside dancing a bit perhaps inspired by the dancing sessions in China.
Next day we were traveling home which meant we hailed a cab on the street outside the hotel asking for the fare to Mong Cai. They quoted a rather high fare (some 70 euro) which Xiqun discarded trying to use the haggling trick which failed miserably and instead we quicly ended up with some five cabs driving behind us asking us if they could drive us and once we stopped so did they and a fight almost broke out between rivaling drivers. We decided that it would be simpler to just go home regardless of the price being high and settled with the “established company” i.e. the ones that had green cars and off we went.
Some 3-4 kilometers down the road the cab driver stopped and said we should change to another cab since he had a friend who wanted to go to Mong Cai and since we felt like being nice we obliged and off we went on our 4 hour drive back to Mong Cai where would make the border crossing and hopefully sleep in a Chinese bed later that same day.
Trip home and border crossing was uneventful but interestingly enough he keep the meter running all the way home and the meter ended up on some 70 euro where our pre arranged price of 55 euro so we did make a deal but perhaps not such a spectacular deal as we had hoped.
Going through custom was a breeze and apparently the Vietnamese government use Google translate to translate signs as well or at least “*Passport for malities making place*” does not make much sense to me.
As before the Vietnamese customs was more of a joke than the Chinese one which even requested us to unpack all our bags in a table much like on TV.
With this rather beautiful modern day mural of what I assume is communism I leave you for this time and will try to get back in a day or so with the third epos in this saga which is about our triumphant return to china!