>Upon leaving Pai, we quickly returned to our favorite place to stay in Chiang Mai, the Parami guesthouse. This river is nearby. Lots of people “play fireworks” in the evenings.

We went to a monk chat at a temple on the other side of the city. The monks were able to practice their English, teach us about Buddhism, and squash all of our preconceived notions. By the way, Buddhist monks are allowed to eat, talk, use phones, computers, take the bus, but would NOT touch a woman. They freaked out when Danielle tried to hand them a pen or camera. She would lay it on the table and then they would pick it up.

Last night, we arrived in Ha Noi, Vietnam. Not a fan. Our hostel gave us the run around. We booked with a good one, they scammed us into the shitty one, and we left as soon as we could. I have heard the term “the writing is on the wall” but literally someone wrote “don’t give them any $” and “this place sucks” on the wall! We knew that if we just made it through the night, we could leave the next day. Here are some pictures of Ha Noi.

Ha Noi was dirty, crowded, and full of people trying to rip us off. Things are still cheap (I got a pair of hiking boots for $30) but the people pretending to be friendly are really trying to steal your money. We have left Hanoi and are now in Cat Ba. I had Googled “rock climbing in Vietnam” and based on the design of the websites, contacted Slo Pony Adventures. They have been in contact giving us valuable information. They are real rock climbing guides. The only ones. Tomorrow is our first adventure with them, but I will write about that later. Getting here was an adventure. We took a bus that left an hour early, apparently when the buses are full they leave, not at the scheduled time. Well, a schedule is like a rule and there are no rules in South East Asia. Oh yeah, there is one rule, small ALWAYS yields to big. People drive…I can’t describe it. There are intersections without stop signs. There are no stop signs anywhere. Or yield signs. Everyone turns as if they remembered at the last minute where they are going.

So we got on a bus for a few hours. Everyone else got off. We stayed on. Then we waited at another bus station. Being that we left an hour early, we arrived an hour early. To communicate, the girl there translated phrases on her cell phone for us, and I was mobbed by people wanting me to buy things when I went to the ATM. We got on another bus. This was packed with a tour group from Laos. They were very friendly and apparently their tour guide was very funny. They were always laughing. I think that I sat next to a woman that was a journalist with a large family, but I could be way off.
Then we got on a boat. Apparently, it was a “speed boat”. The boat took us to Cat Ba Island. It was a death defying drive for 30 minutes into the town of Cat Ba. Being the Socialist Republic of Vietnam I think that everyone is supposed to have a job. Some of the people were splitting rocks on the side of the road. Because the island is limestone (great rock climbing) these roads are made by carving them into the mountain, by hand! Half of the island in a national park. There are some 5-6 hour hikes that we look forward to doing. Ha Long Bay, where Cat Ba island is found is a Unesco World Heritage site.

So here I sit, as the sun slips behind one of the thousand of limestone formations. I have closed the guide book and we have decided to stay for a week. We feel like we have been so busy exploring that now we can finally just have fun. We hope to climb, hike, kayak, run, and maybe even go to the beach. I will try to take lots of pictures of climbing tomorrow!


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