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The Vietnamese Coast and The Sand Dunes of Mui Ne

20 Nov

Phong Nha Farmstay, Vietnam

13 Nov

Lunch with a Vietnamese Family

11 Nov

During the few days we spent in Hue, Vietnam, we met a local Vietnamese man called Binh and his young son on the Trang Tien Bridge. After going for drinks with him at one of the riverside cafes, we were invited to his home just outside of Hue, for lunch the following day with his wife and 2 sons.

Naturally, we hesitated to accept the offer as Vietnam has made a bit of a name for itself in the scamming department over the years. However, my gut instinct said we should go; he appeared honest, kind and had smiling eyes. We were foreigners in his home town and it seemed that he simply wanted to welcome us.

The next day we told the receptionist in our hotel our plans and coincidentally, she recognized Binh when he arrived with his wife, Huong to pick us up on their mopeds which put me at ease.

After about 15 minutes of driving, we arrived at the small village where Binh and Huong’s home was. The house next door was in the process of being built and Binh explained that it’s common in Vietnam for people to build their own houses.

Once inside, we gave the couple some fresh flowers we’d bought for them and asked Houng if she needed any help preparing the food. She happily delegated tasks to us all and we sat in a circle in the middle of the kitchen floor spooning homemade shrimp paste onto thin sheets of rice paper, which were then rolled up and cooked.

The food looked and smelt incredible once it was finished. Houng had prepared a delicious feast of fresh fish, fried prawns, white noodles and shrimp rolls with chill, all arranged in different bowls on the large table in the living room. We could then spoon various ingredients onto rice paper making small food parcels which could be eaten with our hands.

After dinner we drank beer and Binh told us that Houng was a make-up artist. He said, “She shapes eyebrows and does colour for lips.” He was referring to the permanent make-up tattoos people sometimes have done to make it look like they’re always wearing make-up.

Several minutes later, Houng reappeared with her eyebrow tool kit and began plucking, trimming and even shaving away at my eyebrows- apparently they were uneven. Luckily, in the end she did a pretty good job and didn’t even want money for it.

The afternoon continued to pleasantly unfold; we had more beer, chatted in English to the older son and played cards. Then, just as we were about to leave, we heard a man shouting in Vietnamese outside the house.

I had no idea what he was saying, but as the voice became louder, the younger son burst into tears, and the cries of the boy soon became as loud as the drunken, outraged rambling of the man. Binh and Huong seemed unfazed by the situation as if it had happened many times before.

When we wandered outside, we saw the man pacing around the unfinished building site of a house next door, bare foot, wearing only shorts. He was still yelling aggressively at us in Vietnamese.

On the journey back to Hue, Binh explained that the man had thought we were American and had been yelling, “You friends with the American people. They make many people die.” When Binh had told him we weren’t American, he’d got even angrier, yelling that he hated all foreigners. Binh then shook his head, smiled and said, “The war was 30 years ago, but every country has its crazy people, not just Vietnam. ”

Once back in Hue, Binh told us to forget about the man, which will be hard now as I’ve written about him in this post, but I hope that one day he’ll find peace, finish building his house if that was his house, and give his neighbours a rest from all the yelling.

As we said goodbye to Binh and Huong, we thanked them for a lovely afternoon and I left feeling happy to have met them and pleased that the cynics in us hadn’t said no from the start. And keeping my promise to Huong, I will no longer neglect my eyebrows anymore whilst travelling.

 

The Colours of Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

25 Oct

360 View of Cat Ba Island (Video)

24 Oct

The Con of Cat Ba

24 Oct
A neon signed floating resturant

The floating restaurants say it all...

So, after some research we finally figured out that you can actually go to Halong Bay without paying at least $60 for one day.

We took a bus-boat-bus from Hanoi which left around 1:30pm, this meant we got to Cat Ba town after dark. This was one of the most disappointing experiences (except for Thakhek in Laos). We expected a little untouched island, we got Blackpool… Glowing neon floating restaurants, a sea front covered with hotels and a great big glowing arch thing with “Welcome to Cat Ba” in LED lettering. Needless to say we felt conned, not necessarily by anyone but by what we expected.We checked into a hotel feeling disappointed and hoping that the view in the morning might change.

Slate cliffs and Sandy beaches

The next day things did start to look better; the view from our room was pretty nice. A short walk to one of the nearest beaches and we had come back round to loving the place. Beautiful sandy coves, huge slate cliffs with green vegetation covering the tops and more islands and mountains in the distance slowly fading into the monsoon mists. There was a cliff edge walk way leading from one beach to the another, but sadly years of bad weather had collapsed and rotted through it, but it made the beach feel slightly more atmospheric. There was also a cliff top path leading round one of the headlands. We followed the trail and each turn made us more exited with the beautiful views of Halong Bay. As we made our way back towards the hotel the sun had begun to set.

They got the land but we got the view

The cliff top path

Unfortunately the sun set behind a far off island and we couldn’t see it go down. But then, slowly at first, the sky began to change. The sky over the harbour became a surreal pink and purple, the water reflected this and changed too, whilst the boats became surreal silhouettes against the cut-out islands. It really was one of the most surprising and unreal sunsets I have ever seen.

Pink Meow

The next day, inspired by what we had seen, we set off on a motorbike to explore the rest of the island. Once again we were surprised by each turn of the coastal cliff-top road. Forgotten beaches, ocean stacks, huge cliffs and endless jungle surrounding the road.

We had been told that in  the centre of the island was a national park and with it a beautiful view. We took a narrow set of steps up the mountain; the steps became lose paving slabs, the paving slabs disappeared and became dirt and tree roots, the tree roots became rocks, the rocks became ladders.

After about an hour of sweating and walking/climbing up the hill we reached the top. There stood a tower of rusted looking iron. Cautiously  we climbed it (Clare didn’t like the height and I didn’t like the hornets flying around the top) but the view was incredible. No photo could really show the it justice, so I’ll put a video up soon.

GDI Gaurd towerIts a long way down

Women’s Day in Vietnam, the sideways Eiffell Tower, and a wrapped up Red Rose

22 Oct

After being told by several Vietnamese people to visit Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi, we decided to pay it a visit. The bridge is a pretty incredible but patchy steel structure designed by Gustave Eiffel, the architect behind the creation of the Eiffel Tower.

Underneath on the Red River, around 40 incredibly poor Vietnamese families live on boats. On top, trains, bikes and mopeds whizz by, and pedestrians stroll along, soaking up the scenery. By the time we made it onto the walkway it was already getting dark, but earlier on I reckon it would have been a great spot to view the sunset.

After walking for about 20 minutes, we reached the half way point where we met a lovely Vietnamese boy wearing a crisp white shirt, standing next to a moped with a wrapped up red rose. He made polite small talk with us but seemed sad.

As we were about to leave, he asked Dom if I was his girlfriend and said, “It’s Women’s Day in Vietnam.” He then gave away his red rose for Dom to give to me. I can only assume that his date had stood him up.