While on a boat tour of the Mekong delta, we stopped for a coffee in a small waterside guesthouse before visiting a rice paper factory. Upon returning to our boat, we came across another boat guide deftly dissecting a pineapple with a big knife. After exchanging what seemed like some cheeky comments with our guide, he finished removing every ounce of skin from the pineapple, while seeming to preserve 99% of the fruit. Then he handed us half, which we gladly accepted.
On our first day in Phong Nha, we rented a scooter to take ourselves on a tour of the area and were given a total lemon with butterfly stickers all over it. The brakes barely worked so when we were going down steep hills my friend Shannon had to hop off and walk. Even with the brakes on full lock, I still had to use my feet to control the speed! All the while we were surrounded by thick Vietnamese jungle.
Half way around our loop we reached Paradise Cave. We parked the rusty steed and discovered there was quite a long hike up stairs to the mouth of the cave. As soon as we entered, it was clear that the climb was worth it. The photo you see below was taken just at the entrance, looking down into the first of numerous giant caverns. Unfortunately, it was at this point that I realized that I’d failed to pack any batteries for my camera. I rented another bike to return the next day (stipulating I needed a decent one this time).
My Vietnam trip was capped off by two nights in Sa Pa. We took an overnight bus to get here, which provided me with a “bed” about 1 foot too short for me to be comfortable. The first day we spent there it was so foggy you couldn’t see more than five feet in front of you. As a result we found a small bar that was occupied by other travelers in a similar predicament. We spent the whole day there.
The next day we decided to go for a hike regardless and, thankfully, the fog lifted a bit. We were accompanied on our walk by two red Tsao women and one black Hmong lady. They were members of the ethnic tribal minorities that live in the area.
At the end of our walk we bought a few trinkets from the ladies and I asked to take a picture. One of the red Tsao ladies was happy to pose. Here she is below:
Hoi An, in Vietnam, is known for its tailors. Everywhere you look there are shops offering custom made suits. I decided I wanted to get a couple and proceeded to struggle to pick a place. Eventually I gave up and walked into the one I was closest to. Before I knew it I was measured up and had picked out a blue pinstripe material and a light grey. I was only in town for two more days so they’d have to work fast.
I went back for a fitting the next morning and once I was marked up for further adjustments I went to the beach. I returned the next night for the final fitting. There were still a couple of issues so the girl in the store grabbed me by the hand and guided me to a shop full of sewing machines.
There, I met the tailor who quickly marked the suit up in chalk and set to work. While I waited for him to finish I asked one of his assistants if I could take a picture of him working. He agreed and here’s the result.
Typically, the idea of eating seafood at a street food stall would not even be up for consideration for me. However, Cat Ba island is known for its super fresh seafood. So, we stood looking at the array of street kitchens that line the harbour you can see below. Eventually, a German family of four gestured us over and told us that the clams they had just eaten were incredible. With that unsolicited review, we decided that would be the spot. Sure enough, the clams were incredible.
I took this photo the next morning, as we prepared to ship out back to Hanoi.
Watching this sunset from this spot was not part of the agenda. While still in Hanoi, we had booked a ferry/bus combo from Ha Long Bay out to Cat Ba island. We had decided to bi-pass Ha Long Bay for the less trafficked but similar Cat Ba island.
I’m normally pretty good at avoiding getting ripped off when travelling, but this time we fell into a bit of a trap. We were promised a direct boat trip to the island, as we wanted to get there and be able to explore at our own pace. Instead, after getting to the port we discovered that we were being bundled onto a tour boat, which made numerous stops. The hour long trip was going to take us a whopping 8 hours!
We weren’t the only people to fall into this trap as there were about 6 others who were also stuck on this boat unintentionally. The worst part was, as we’d paid for a transport and not a tour, when they gathered everyone together to tell them what the plan was, we discovered that there was going to be food served, but there was none for us. As we thought we were on a 1 hour boat ride, we had no food with us at all, and we were already hungry!
So, when I look at this beautiful sunset I can’t help but feel a little bitter about the fact that I was starving, captive, and miserable.
It got worse though, once we got to the island we needed a bus to take us to the main area. Our bus arrived, we boarded it and it promptly broke down. Cue another hour wait for another bus to arrive!
As we kick off the 2017 working year, it seems fitting to post a photo of the lady that got my Vietnam trip going for me. As I was sat, tired from the long journey, and queasy from the small boat I was in on my first day in the Mekong Delta, my mood was lifted by my first Vietnamese coffee. It was delicious and gave me a jolt of caffeine that set me up for the day. It also resulted in me talking non-stop for the next hour, as my travel buddy can attest.
The coffee is being served by the lady in the small boat in the middle of this picture, who stopped to deliver her wares to each boat at the market. She had everything she needed to make hot or iced coffee on board, and blend it with super sweet, condensed milk. I’m pretty sure my face looked a lot like the kid on the left before I had a cup too.
The Champa Hindu temples called My Son are a day trip from Hoi An. We went on an organised tour but wished we’d just rented a motorcycle and found our own way there.
There was one strange moment when we were close to the temples where they made us all get off the bus to follow it across what appeared to be a perfectly sturdy modern bridge. On the way out, they didn’t make us get off at all. It was odd.
It didn’t take me long to wander away from the tour group. Most of the site was damaged by American bombing in the Vietnam war. You could see the craters from bomb blasts all around. I was pretty happy when I found this guy still intact.
The full moon festival at Hoi An is quite the experience. At first as I wandered through the throngs of people on previously tranquil streets, I wondered if it would have been best to avoid the festival all together. The lanterns on the river were nice and all but the influx of tourists, and vendors thrusting lit lamps in your face, was a bit overwhelming at first. The brightness of the lamps versus the darkness of the city was even pretty disorientating as my eyes struggled to adjust.
During the festival, all electric lights in the old town centre are turned off and the city is lit by nothing other than paper lamps. After the initial shock it didn’t take long to get into the swing of things. I even managed to find my travel buddy who I thought I’d lost to the darkness at one point. Wandering through the town I discovered it was about a lot more than just seeing the town lit as if in olden times. There were traditional shows going on (including some strange singing I couldn’t quite get into) and people dressed in traditional clothes, that just seemed to be enjoying the night. Each street you turned down seemed to hold a new surprise. I especially enjoyed watching these old guys playing a game I’d never seen before.
A quick Wikipedia search has let me know that it’s a chess like game called Xiangqi. It includes a piece called a canon that has to jump pieces to take them, generals aren’t allowed to face each other, and areas of the board are denoted as the palace and the river, restricting the movement of some pieces and enhancing the movement of other. I think I may need to get a set and give this a try.
This temple is located in the Forbidden Purple City in Hue, Vietnam. You weren’t supposed to take photos inside the buildings. I bent the rules a bit by setting up my tripod just outside the door. I had a scary moment when, after deciding the doors needed to be symmetrical, I closed one slightly and felt like it was about to come off in my hand!
I keep thinking that I need to go back to Vietnam. I may need to make a return trip next year.