I have redefined retirement at age 23. I have a lifestyle where I do the things I like, with the time I have and still get paid for it. I designed my freedom these two decades, traveling to more than 40 countries. I run a successful business doing consulting works as a Corporate Writer, Corporate Emcee, Event Producer and a Workshop Facilitator. I am also a talk-show host on an Internet Radio station with two programs "A Course In Miracles for Work-Life" and "Freedom Speaks". Life is Healthy, Rich & FREE! You can design this lifestyle according to your willingness. I hope mine will inspire you to achieve that freedom too.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

SaPa, Vietnam - I don't know but everything was given

I have so many travel stories to tell, looking through my photos, I sometimes have no idea where to start. Which story to tell first or which photos to show first. By the time I scroll through my photos, the pang of writing has gone.

But today, I told myself I must write something. So, I thought of my Hanoi trip and I want to share with you the way I travel putting all my trust and faith in the power that moves the clouds and stops the rain.

I was given a free ticket from Citibank to travel to 4 places, ie Guangzhou, Hanoi, Krabi and Bangkok. But I can only choose 1 destination. Until today, I still do not know how I got the free ticket from Citibank, I do not hold a Citibank-AirAsia Credit Card so I got no clue how it arrived but I wrote a letter of gratitude to Citibank for the generous offer. Thank you once again!

I chose Hanoi because I have been to all the other 3. 

As you can see already, traveling is Me. I live, breathe, travel. So, after coming back from Bali, after about 2 weeks traversing the length of Bali to Jogja in July, I said to myself last year 2008, that I will perhaps rest for a while before embarking another long journey to USA in January 2009. But as my destiny has it set, a free ticket arrived in the mail in late September for me to take flight again. I said YES, of course, and immediately called to confirm my travel to Hanoi in mid-November. I can do so because I need not apply for leave or wait for my leave to be approved, that's the best part of my life - freedom!

And with freedom, there comes the trust and faith in all things possible.

No itinerary, no plans, don't know where to stay, don't know where to go, don't know what to do, don't even want to find out how to get from the airport to town etc. But when I told friends I had confirmed my trip to Hanoi, most of them kept recommending that I must go to SaPa. 

"Aiyoh, you must go to SaPa, many people, even the locals, told us that it is a very nice place to go." 

"So, did you go there?"

"No-lah, we have not enough time, but I heard verr-ry nice, go-lah! Next time when I go to Hanoi again, I will have more days, then I will go to SaPa."

So, I hear ye, I hear ye. Where is SaPa? Don't know. How to get there? Don't know. Where to stay? Don't know.

I did not even check online or try to find out more details.  I just took the flight ticket, went on board and knew that the pilot will know how to fly the plane to land safely in Noi Bai International Airport.

There I was, arrived safely in Hanoi on a beautiful Friday 14 Nov 2008. Breezy, cool and dry weather, temperature about 20℃, just excellent. I found to my delight there was a local bus direct to town at only VND25,000 (RM6) one-way. 

While I was on the bus, I tried to ask for direction to the train station. I just remembered someone told me that to go to SaPa, I can go by train. But, where is the train station? Don't know. So, I got to find out, but nobody spoke English on the bus, not even the girl who was supposed to be the "Customer Service Officer". She could speak a little English, so little that she did not know the word "train". Somehow, I knew she understood me but she could not verbalize her thoughts, she tried to explain, speaking in Vietnamese, I looked at her, blank. Oh, my lord. Now, I did not even know where to alight. I kept watching for sign. I looked to the rear of the bus and saw some Caucasian backpackers, I thought I will ask them later or where they stopped, I will alight with them too. But I kept watch on the "Train Station" signage, nowhere in sight. The bus kept going......

Finally, the group of backpackers with their inseparable Lonely Planet Guidebook started moving to the front of the bus, the bus stopped and they all started to alight, I quickly straddled forward and alighted the bus with them, thinking that they may be looking for the train station too and I can go with them. The Vietnamese girl waved frantically at me, I looked at her while the bus was about to move away. She kept waving at me and kept muttering in Vietnamese. I sensed something was not right. I just knew that she was trying to tell me that that was not the stop to go to the train station. I was in a dilemma, I looked at the bus inching to move on and I looked at the Caucasian backpackers, I quickly threw them a question whether or not they are looking for the train station, they replied no. I got it, I jumped back onto the bus again. Thanks to the girl!

Wow, that was an adventure by itself. I got down from the bus finally, thanking the young woman who so kindly helped me to stay put in the bus. Even though she did not give me the direction, she had just started off my trip in Hanoi with the most pleasant and sweet charm of her smile. 

I went into a hotel close to where the bus stopped and when I asked for the direction to the train station, I was given a name card with Hanoi city map printed at the back.  The woman at the counter roughly indicated where the railway station is, I used that small name card and found it, after walking for about 1 hour, asking several people on the way there.

I got into Hanoi at 9am, walked to the railway station and got a 9.55pm train ticket to SaPa on the same day.  So, what am I to do for 12 hours? I just walked in the city until I boarded the train that night.

The train stopped at Lao Cai the next morning at 6am, a border town that has a custom check point into China. The train ticket cost VND98,000 (RM26) one-way on a hard-seat coach. After arriving in Lao Cai, I needed to take a van (taxi) to SaPa which is another 40km into the mountainous route leading to the villages of the northern Vietnam minority tribes. I paid VND40,000 (RM10) for the taxi fare. Later, I saw the locals paid only VND30,000 (RM8).

But then, this is where the power that moves clouds and stop rain started to put the pieces together. On the van, I befriended 2 very friendly young Vietnamese men, Bach (pronounced Back) and Ha. As we begin to know each other better, I learnt that Bach means "One Hundred" in Vietnamese and Ha means "The River".  So, suddenly I was sent One Hundred Rivers, it may mean 100 ways to whatever....

It was a miracle to have Bach and Ha coming into the van at 7am, sat beside me and we started to chat. By the way, just think of it, how many people in Vietnam (minus all the travel guides) whom you meet can converse well in English? And who turned up in my life? Bach.

He spoke perfect English and fluent too. Both Bach and Ha were going to SaPa to do photography. They loved to take photographs as a hobby. It was a weekend, so both of them got together for a weekend photo outing to SaPa, and.........I happened to meet with them.

I ended up sharing a room with them, VND160,000 (RM42) for a room, so each paid about VND53,500 (RM13). We became buddies, we walked around SaPa together, I got myself an interpreter too, for Bach is an excellent buddy. And Ha just loves to laugh together.

I had a great time, we had great meals together, I followed them to BacHa, another village-town famous for its Sunday minority tribes market. Now, I don't know BacHa, I have never read about it, but I got to go there because of them.

Bach and Ha came back to Hanoi one day earlier while I stayed on in BacHa. When I got back to Hanoi, I arrived in Hanoi at 6am, I had until 7pm to catch my flight back to Kuala Lumpur. Bach and Ha asked me to call them when I was back in Hanoi. I did. And both of them, each on a motorbike, took me to eat the best original Pho (pronounced as Fer) in Hanoi. They zig-zag through the streets of Hanoi and after about 15 minutes ride, we ordered 3 bowls of large Pho in an old noodle shop I-don't-know-where but with unbeatable taste of Beef Pho!

Pho is usually served with thinly-sliced beef or beef balls in clear soup with rice noodles strips that taste like kuay-teow but much softer. Oh.....best.

And ...... being photographer themselves, they took my picture. Ohhhh......such a great picture of me eating Pho in authentic Vietnamese style.

We had a really extraordinary bond, all 3 of us. Like we had been in each other space before. We talked about so many things, we sipped tea at the roadside like the Vietnamese do while we chat. It was just wonderful.

We kept in touch through email. And here I extend to Bach and Ha my sincere hands clasped in the strength of fath for the most unforgettable bond of friendship!

Now, who could have put all these together for me? Hmmmm.....I wonder.

I don't know...

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