Kayaking, a trip to Cat Ba National Park, the Ha Long marathon, people returning home and the search for sun; it all happened this week.

On one cloudy and slightly “warmer” day we took our chances and rented two kayaks. Three quarters of the crew dressed up with several layers of clothing; t-shirts, sweaters, shorts, socks and shoes and were ready for open water. But then there’s the thing of getting the kayak in the water and then hop in the kayak…and try to stay dry… Viktoria and I were adjusting our life vest and prepping the kayak to hit the water but Timothy and Elin were in first…completely soaked through!!! They managed to get the kayak in the water and were about to jump in when a small wave hit the kayak and the whole thing got in a parallel position to the beach. Then a second wave came in and it was enough to topple the pair and their boat over straight into the sea. Timothy got up pretty soon but Elin was on hands and knees in the shallow water with quite a desperate look on her face. Two guys from the hotel who got the kayaks to the beach tried to keep a straight face but it was such a funny sight they couldn’t hold up their laughs and Viktoria and I joined in…the sight with the kayak, preparing towels in the boat, putting on warm clothing, then toppling over in the water and within a split second all the preparations were undone.

The day after our kayak experience we took our own time and after lunch I went to the Cat Ba National Park on a scooter I had rented. They never fill up the tank and the petrol level was already below the red…and I couldn’t find a petrol station. So after driving for some kilometers I was wondering if there would ever be a petrol station at all; on the last of my petrol I finally found one and was able to gas up. Gassed up and ready I drove down to the national park in the center of Cat Ba.

From the park entrance I walked to the start of the mountain track and went up the -sometimes pretty steep- stairs leading to the summit of Ngu Lam (the name of the mountain). In less than two hours climbing up –in a jacket on, jacket off kind of way- I made it to the summit and was rewarded with a beautiful view over the valley. In this case the 17 degrees was actually a pretty comfortable temperature to move in. On my way back I went to the east side of the island and had a view over a part of Lan Ha Bay.

The marathon Timothy and Mike would run was in Ha Long. From Cat Ba we took a one hour ferry to Ha Long City. It was quite cold ride but eventually we got to the hotel and met up with Mike and Tosca (Tim’s parents). We had a nice Bento lunch, talked about our trip and then we went to the Ha Long Expo Center were information about the marathon the next day was being given. Here Tim and Mike also picked up their Ha Long Marathon shirts and numbers.
Then the next day it was time for the marathon; while most of us were still asleep Tim and Mike had to get up at 4:30am for a really early breakfast and to head out to the starting point. They started their marathon at 6am. Around 7am they were running passed the hotel and Viktoria and I were supporting from our hotel room from where I could get a decent shot of Tim running and waving at us. Timothy and Mike would finish around 10am and Viktoria and I had to hurry to get there in time; Elin and Tosca were already moving around the track supporting their men. We got a taxi which first took us to the wrong place; it had something to do with the pronunciation of one Vietnamese word…When we were really close to the finishing point I got a call from Elin…Tim didn’t finish the marathon; after about 30 kilometers he got a knee injury and couldn’t go on. We told the driver to turn around again to the hotel where we met up with Elin and a disappointed and still coping with not making it Timothy. He had been training for the marathon all year and now he didn’t make it; it takes some time to deal with it. All we could do was support him so that night we went to a sky bar to drink all the sorrow away and play some card games.

Ha Long City is not a place where you want to stay for too many days and we moved back to Hanoi one day earlier than originally planned. Tim, Elin and Viktoria would leave Vietnam and head back to The Netherlands and Sweden two days later but I had booked a flight to Bangkok already one day later. This meant that this was the last day of our trip as a four-person-show! Back in Hanoi we went to our favorite Bánh Mì place where I got my last really tasty Bánh Mì and that evening we went to a hot plate place in the middle of beer street. Being in beer street also means that we got beer…and…other drinks as well. Around 2am the next morning we found our hotel and said our goodbyes… During the trip we were always talking about the famous “elephant pants” which I don’t really like. Now there is also a different design on the market namely “fruit pants”. Since Tim, Elin and Viktoria knew I really “like” these pants they bought me one…Only forgetting to secretly putting it in my backpack… So now Elin is rocking the fruit pants back in the Netherlands. With the three of them being really disappointed that I didn’t get ‘my’ fruit pants I might have to find some myself…maybe…
I really enjoyed the trip we had and it was so good to see Timothy again and getting to know Elin and Viktoria better. Travelling together is always quite an intense thing but there was a good balance in the group and it worked out great. From Hanoi to Mai Chau on to Cat Ba and Ha Long and then back to Hanoi we’ve seen a diverse cross section of the northern Vietnamese landscape, life style and food… and there were also some drinks involved…sometimes.

5am…Time to wake up and get going to the airport and leave to Thailand! The weather in Vietnam wasn’t really improving and now that I’m getting used to the Asian climate 17 degrees is just too cold. I looked on the map and there was one spot in Thailand where it’s 30 degrees and sunny: Koh Chang! I’m leaving behind my travel plans for Vietnam for the moment and will enjoy a warm break on the island. After two weeks of travelling in a group I was “all by myself” again and that’s something I also have to get used to again.
With no one responding on the Grab taxi app I went on to plan B: the bus to the airport. In 15 minutes I walked to Hanoi’s bus station and was just in time for the airport shuttle. The flight was delayed for half an hour and somewhere around 11:30am I landed in Thailand. From the Don Muang Airport I found a bus –took quite some time- that took me in the direction of the hostel.
Near the bus stop I found a taxi for the last leg to the hostel and as every taxi driver in Bangkok they will always try to get a fixed price without using the meter. Since the distance was not too far away I really hammered on using the meter and the taxi driver tried to convince me to pay 100 Baht (€2,50) for the ride. I’ve learned from previous experiences and told him again to use the meter. So that’s when he said “taxi driver…NO MONEY”, so I was like “back packer…ALSO NO MONEY”. In the end I had to pay 50 Baht so that’s half the price he originally wanted to charge.

In Cambodia I met Valerie and Ellena (or Olenna as I would like to call her) and after they went to Thailand. As it happened to be they were in the last days of their three month trip and would fly back to Germany on Wednesday morning after the flight had already been cancelled twice before by the air plane company. They were staying at Savannah’s –whom they met in Cambodia- place in Bangkok and close to my hostel I met up with the travel pair in a café. So more last days to ‘celebrate’ and we went out with the three of us later joined by Savannah. We had some drinks in Lumpini Park, played some pool and went to Khao San Road one last time for some really good Mango Sticky Rice. Then also their “road show” ended and they had to return home but they were ready for it. Once your mind is set on returning home the only thing you want is just go home but it’s going home with memories of the ups and -few- downs of travelling and a lot of new experiences.

Lumpini Park sports.

Koh Chang is such a nice place to warm up a bit so I think I’ll stay there for some days. What I’ll do after I don’t know yet. I want to see the north of Thailand as well but this might take a month and I want to travel around in a slow pace. I might move to a different country for Christmas and New Year’s Eve…I will figure it all out in Koh Chang.