Our hostel just had a power cut, so I’m writing this in a pitch black restaurant overlooking Halong Bay. Well, overlooking some building works and a construction site, but Halong Bay is somewhere out there in the fog. Let’s hope the weather improves tomorrow.
We had our first ‘chill day’ today since the trip started. And by ‘chill’ I mean we walked 4km to catch a bus, before realising we weren’t going to make it in time and hailing a taxi to drive the last 1km. The bastard charged us 70,000 dong for a 1km ride! When we arrived at the bus station, we couldn’t find the bus and wandered around aimlessly for a few minutes. Finally, some Vietnamese guys helped us, and put us onto an empty bus save for one man and his tiny chihuahua, which obviously unhappy in its cave as it kept emitting a high pitched squeal every two minutes…not very conducive for sleeping! Having said that, I managed to pass out for about five hours, as I was stretched across the entire back of the empty bus. An hour later, I was awoken by a tap on the shoulder, and about fifty people piled on. We were the only white people on the bus, and so attracted several stares.
This has been a general theme in our trip actually, as we’ve been moderately successful in staying off the beaten track. Four days ago we biked to another waterfall and were the only tourists there. It was bliss- despite the torrential rain, and we slipped and slid around the various pools. As it started to rain, we were given beers by some Vietnamese guys. We lounged around in the water, drinking and taking pictures before the downpour began. This was rather convenient, as we had no choice but to huddle in the hut where the guys were cooking, and they offered us the cockles, clams and fish they were barbecuing. Utterly delicious. We had a few more beers, toasting each other with a “yo yo yo!” (apparently Vietnamese for cheers?) They spoke no English so we chatted in our respective languages, laughing and joking around.
We were invited for the second time to dine with local people in Hue the other day. We’d biked to some remote village and I’d wanted to go see some fishing boats. After taking a few pictures and gagging from the awful smell, we’d been beckoned in by some fisherman. They sat us down on the floor and proceeded to bring out about five huge saucepans of food. The whole family joined us (about fifteen of them) and shovelled piles of food into our bowls, insisting that we keep eating. Every time they offered us food, we pointed to our 6 foot 5 friend, and they ended up refilling his bowl about six times! They couldn’t speak English either, but they kept laughing at us, which I guess is a good sign? Who knows! Either way, it was a priceless experience, made even more hilarious by an invitation into their house to watch TV. They’d put it on the Disney channel so we watched the end of Puss in Boots for about fifteen minutes, before being plied with water and bananas by the grandmother. Their hospitality was charming, but we soon felt that we’d outstayed our welcome and wrote them a note in Vietnamese using google translate. Who knows what it said, but they seemed pleased with it and even said they’d frame it!
Aside from being embraced into the Vietnamese way of life (everyone we’ve met has been charming, apart from one woman who growled at me when I took too handing over money!) we’ve taken several sleeper buses (and a ton of Valium- essential), done a 150km bike ride from Hoi An to Hue (around 150km, taking the route the guys from Top gear did), learnt some Vietnamese, and sampled a wide range of Vietnamese food in various different suspect restaurants.
Tomorrow we’re off on a cruise around Halong Bay (rather too touristy for us and we changed our minds about ten times!), before taking the sleeper bus to Sapa and conquering the tallest mountain in Vietnam: Fansipan. Wish us luck!