8 October 2017 – Vinh Quang – Yen Minh
My laundry drying skills have paid off. Everything is dry.
Lisa would be proud!
Even got myself completely organised by packing up before meeting Toan downstairs by 7.00am.
Must be getting good at this….
Grabbed the, now empty beer bottles, before I left, as apparently the restaurant wanted them to be brought back.
There’s obviously some kind of return paid for them, which I’ve never come across in Vietnam before.
Learn something new every day….
It’s grey and drizzling with rain. Cool, but not cold. My record of never wearing long pants or long sleeves in Vietnam, apart from wet weather gear, and that’s only been this trip, is still intact.
We head back to last night’s restaurant and drop the bottles off. They don’t do breakfast so the girl recommends another place a few metres up the road on the other side.
We head over and it’s a pho place. There’s already quite a few in there, but as is the way with Vietnam, there’s always room for two more.
Pho is delivered promptly, again, as it always is in Vietnam, and it looks good. Being cooler, and with the drizzle, pho seems so much more inviting and appropriate than when it’s 30 degrees and 90% humidity.
Without tasting it, I add a small amount of chilli. I wish I had tasted it before I added the chilli, as I’m not sure it needed it.
Either that, or that chilli was just on some other level to your standard chilli.
Now slightly hotter than desired, but still very, very good, I manned up while wiping my nose constantly.
While the pho was good, again, it was where I was. As well as what I was looking at.
I had a great view of the street, as well as that of the many people that were out and about. There was what I believed to be a small market going on nearby, but even opposite our breakfast place there was plenty going on with locals selling fresh meat and vegetables.
Add to that the colourful and unique clothes of the minority tribes, well, I almost had to pinch myself.
Pho done, dripping nose easing up, we headed back into the drizzle and up towards the market.
It was in a small, fairly narrow, side street off one of the main roads, heading up a bit of a hill. It was busy, colourful, vibrant, noisy, and several other adjectives I can’t think of at the moment.
It was brilliant.
I left my camera back at the hotel….
Well, it was drizzling! And no one told me we were going to a market! I think…..
Fortunately, I had my phone with me.
But, unfortunately, my phone is not the greatest photo taker.
Oh well, we’ll just have to give it a crack, as surely an average photo is better than no photo at all.
The market turns out to be much bigger than it first appeared, and once again, you can buy pretty much anything.
Heaps of fruits and vegetables, and stacks of meat. And I mean stacks of meat! You seriously wonder how there can still be any animals left.
There was also freshly cooked ready to eat food, spices, clothes, as well as live animals including ducklings and chickens.
And then there was even tofu. For some reason….
While I didn’t actually see them, you must have also been able to buy pigs and goats. Because at the bottom of the hill, as we were leaving, we saw pigs being loaded onto motorbikes in cages, as well as quite a few people walking their goats, as you would a dog.
It was all absolutely fascinating, and apart from one husband and wife couple, there wasn’t anyone else that looked like me.
We get back to the hotel and I very guiltily walk across the newly mopped foyer area to where the bike is parked.
The girl with the mop doesn’t seem to mind. Lisa, on the other hand, would have killed me….
Bike packed, wet weather gear on, we get away just after 8.00am.
A quick fuel stop before we leave town, and we’re soon back out in the country side. We spend a fair bit of time riding beside a river, so the stunning mountainous scenery was on hold for a while. Having said that, there was nothing too shabby about what we were still seeing.
And we had a pretty good view of our surroundings, as the road was only a metre or so from a rather steep bank that dropped to the river below. And quite a distance below, it was too.
With the road not overly wide, as well as the fact there were no guard rails, I was very glad that Toan was concentrating on the driving bit, while I enjoyed seeing the changes in the river.
Gentle flowing current, to occasional rapids, with small streams and waterfalls flowing into it; it was all very picturesque.
We eventually leave the river and begin climbing again. And it’s not long before the first ‘wow’ moment.
Part way up a mountain, looking down over a valley, with more mountains rising in the distance. Rice terraces everywhere, with farmhouses dotted throughout.
Here’s that word again; Stunning!
Over the next hour or so we stopped a few times. Partly for breaks, but mainly because the scenery just demanded that we did.
Standing there looking at it. Trying to take it in. Trying to understand what you were actually looking at. And trying, but more hoping, that the camera could somehow capture the image before you.
And when I wasn’t asking more of the camera than it could provide, I just stood there muttering ‘wow’, while shaking my head.
Even Toan, who has no doubt seen a lot up there, would stand there just trying to take it all in.
I’m not sure that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’, applies up here.
Another advantage of the scenery was that it took my mind off the way I was feeling. I wasn’t sick, but I just didn’t feel that great. Kind of hungover, which was possible, but not very likely, but probably more just drained. Perhaps I just need more sleep….
In between head shaking and mutterings at the views, there was still plenty to see. Again, it’s not all just about the scenery.
Like the five guys on the side of the road using a cement mixer to make concrete for the roadside guttering. At least they weren’t mixing by hand, but really, with the size of the guttering, they were going to be there for a long time.
The guy in his rice field using a petrol trimmer to effortlessly harvest his rice, while not two minutes further down the road, there’s a group of six doing exactly the same thing, except they’re bent over doing it by hand.
There’s that contrast thing again.
And the animals. There are always the animals.
The endless water buffalo, lazing by the side of the road, or quite often being walked right along it.
Pigs, happily grazing, or sometimes playing, just a metre or two from you as you drive past.
But not the small one, that we had to swerve around to avoid hitting, as it squatted in the middle of the road to relieve itself.
Eventually, we’re back down the mountain, and for the first time since Thursday, we’re on flat roads. I wasn’t really expecting that, and it felt a little weird.
We soon come into a town, and again, for the first time since Thursday, I see traffic lights.
And yep, as was always going to happen, they turn red as we approach….
Quickly out of the town, I see a sign that says Ha Giang – 35 kms. Hmmm, ok, kind of know where we are now.
Toan puts the foot down. It’s getting close to lunchtime, but it seems like Ha Giang is the goal.
That’s kind of good, but I’m struggling. My bum is killing me. And I mean really killing me.
And then there’s that feeling of exhaustion. It’s becoming really tough.
We push on, and I try to man up.
I keep looking at distance signs, which is not always a good idea, and with 20 kms to go, we pull over for a break. I, along with my bum, am very thankful for that.
I take the opportunity to turn it into a comfort break.
While I’m doing that, I notice what I thought was a small lizard very close to where I was standing.
My initial reaction was one of ‘Oh, look, a little lizard!’
Until I realised that my little lizard didn’t actually have legs.
Comfort break was then finished significantly quicker than first planned, and I headed back to the bike.
I mentioned to Toan about my encounter, and his eyes lit up while asking me how big it was.
He’s disappointed when I tell him it was only small. I suspect if it was a large one, we may have been doing some snake hunting.
I’m rather glad it wasn’t large….
We push on, and just after 12.30pm we get into Ha Giang.
It seems pretty quiet, perhaps because it’s a Sunday??, and there aren’t too many people about. Well, apart from a couple of weddings on the side of the road.
After riding around for a few minutes, Toan finally settles on a small local restaurant.
Beef, rice, little crunchy Vietnamese pickled eggplant things, which were just a little different, and maybe not in a good way, and tofu.
Hmmm, tofu…. Again….
Lunch done, lethargy issue not solved, but at least no longer hungry, we head off.
But before we leave Ha Giang, a hunt for sunscreen is undertaken. The sun is now more out than in, and I still have a major aversion to my sunscreen infused deet.
Toan pulls up at a small chemist, and while he does the talking, I wonder how I would have gone about trying to get my point across on what I need, had I been on my own.
Apart from pointing at my still sunburnt legs, I didn’t have much else I could think of. I’m glad he’s here.
The chemist doesn’t have any sunscreen as such, but she does have a Nivea product that appears to be more a skin care / moisturizer. It does, however, say SPF 30+, so one would assume that it will do the job.
Oh well, worst case scenario is that the skin I’m likely to lose when I start peeling will be soft and well nourished.
At 80 000 Dong, it’s worth the chance.
With freshly moisturized legs and arms, and hopefully protected from the sun as well, we’re on our way again.
But we still have one more stop to make before we leave town. Toan needs to change the oil in the bike, so we stop at a Honda dealer a little further down the road.
A young guy in ridiculously clean overalls comes over to see him as we pull in. Conversation exchanged, and the guy heads back to the other three workers down the far end of the workshop.
I look at Toan, slightly puzzled, and he explains that they are on their break and they will do it when the break is over, which is apparently at 1.30pm.
It’s now 1.23pm.
Sure enough, right on 1.30pm, the guy comes back to work on the bike.
By 1.40pm, we’re driving out of the workshop.
Extremely efficient service, so long as you don’t rock up when they’re on a break.
We head out of Ha Giang and it’s not long before we say goodbye to the flat roads. As we make our way up the first of what will be many mountains, the scenery is a little different to what we had been seeing. The mountains are a bit rockier, still green, but just not as lush looking as what we’d seen over the last few days.
It’s all still very scenic, but just not quite up to the level that I’d become accustomed to.
Something else I noticed for the first time was the number of tourists exploring the area on their own bikes. While the roads weren’t awash with them, there were quite a few.
Over, and around, our first couple of mountains, and then we find our way into a valley. Through a small town, before beginning to climb once again. Past a group of Hmong women who had set up on the side of the road, hoping to sell some of their produce, and higher up we go.
While I had the good fortune to have a breeze on my face, it was still rather warm and I couldn’t help but feel for those women who were huddled under umbrellas waiting for a customer to come along.
Hard yards, but obviously just a fact of life.
Now up pretty high, we pull over for a rest stop. Looking back down on the town we came through earlier, the whole vista in front of me is spectacular. While I wasn’t terribly enamoured with what I’d seen after leaving Ha Giang, that now had all changed.
On we went, taking in the scenery, coping with the heat and dust, putting up with the extra tourists that were visiting the area, and trying to deal with the skills, for want of a better word, of particular car drivers.
I may go into more detail on that later…..
We reach the ridge of a mountain, and the first thing I notice is the number of bikes, cars and people, there.
The second thing is the café, which several people are enjoying a drink at.
And the third thing is the view.
Lots of ‘wow’ mutterings and head shaking going on now.
I thought what we’d seen earlier was spectacular, but this just took it to another level. The enormity of what I was looking at was just so difficult to take in and comprehend.
It was easy to understand why there were so many people here, as well as why there was also a café. The café, incidentally, was run by the Hmong people.
Both willing the camera on to do the job I wanted it to do, as well as cursing it because I knew it couldn’t, I really tried hard to find a way to record what I was seeing with my eyes.
Toan then asked if I wanted a caphe sua da.
Quickly realising it wasn’t a trick question, I answered the way I always answer that question.
This then solved two things.
One, it dealt with the caphe sua da craving that I didn’t realise I had, and two, it took my mind off my inability to photograph accurately what I was looking at.
It allowed me to just enjoy, and embrace, the moment. It was nice.
And while enjoying the moment, we also had a bit of fun by trying to take the ‘perfect’ photo of both caphe sua da and scenery.
It didn’t really work, but we had a good laugh trying.
Eventually, we reluctantly move on. Now heading back down the other side of the mountain, towards the small town of Tam Son, in the valley below.
While now not quite as high up, the scenery wasn’t really any less impressive.
Through Tam Son, which incidentally looked a great little town, and about half an hour later we’re in an even smaller village.
We pull up outside a linen workshop, and head in to take a look. There’s a few women who work there, and while they do have ‘machines’ to help in the production of linen, it is all very ‘old school’.
Not to mention, hard work as well.
It was interesting, and gave me an insight into something that I’d never considered.
We didn’t stay too long as time was getting on a bit, and apparently we still had a way to go.
Off through the village, and while the stunning scenery takes a break, it’s the local life that takes over.
It made me realise how much I’d missed that. Perhaps I was a little scenery-ed out….
Adults and children, just doing their thing. Harvesting rice, foraging beside the road, transporting stuff to wherever it needed to go, a little kid pulling a smaller kid in a wagon.
I loved it.
It was also around this point that I started feeling better. Not sure if it was the caffeine hit, the stunning scenery, or the goings on in this village, but I was now feeling a whole lot better.
On we push, and we’re soon climbing again.
A bit after 5.00pm we pull over for a break near two local guys selling fruit. While still light, it is diminishing quickly.
I walk back up the road a bit to stretch my legs and to take some more photos. While I’m concentrating on that, I feel a presence next to me.
I turn, and it’s one of the young guys that was selling the fruit.
He just stands there, staring at me. In fact, he can’t take his eyes off me.
I shake his hand, and ask, with sign language, if I can take his photo. He nods, so I do.
While he caught me a little off guard initially, it was again one of those ‘moments’.
Back on the bike, trying to race darkness, we end up losing.
The last 15 minutes or so is done in the dark, and at around 6.00pm we get into Yen Minh.
Toan makes a phone call, and we then head off in search of his accommodation preference.
We eventually find it, but unfortunately, they’re booked up.
Back onto the main street and we quickly find a hotel that can accommodate us.
A quick shower and clean up, and I head downstairs to meet Toan for dinner.
We walk down a side street, and there’s a restaurant on either side. Toan asks me which one we should choose. Geez, talk about pressure….
As per usual, when it comes to a two horse race with me, I choose the one that is not taking customers.
We head back over the road to the other option.
A simple, but tasty dish, of fried noodles and chicken, along with a few beers. Toan’s still not drinking; maybe tomorrow night he tells me, while I tell him he should have gone for that second opinion…..
This dinner was the first time on this trip that we had the opportunity to just sit, relax and have a chat, without any interruptions. It was nice, and a confirmation that it was more about a friendship, rather than a tour guide / customer relationship.
Dinner and chat done, it’s time to head back.
Once again my room is fridgeless, and this time Toan is also in the same boat. Because of this, he asks the lady who owns the restaurant for a small bag of ice, to go with my usual take away beers.
Once again, very glad he is here.
We get back to the hotel, and I adjourn to my room for the usual, after putting the beers and ice in the sink.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way…..
Oh, and a plus?
The bed seems the softest so far.
Will know more in the morning, though.
Ok, the car drivers I spoke about earlier.
Look, I know that I’m in another country, and all that. And I also know that there are going to be differences from what I’m used to at home. It’s actually probably the main reason I enjoy Vietnam so much, because it is so different to Australia.
Yes, some of those differences annoy, or frustrate, me a little. Like the pushing in, the clearing of the throat or snorting in public whenever it needs to be done, along with the lack of noise control early in the morning in hotels.
But hey, I’m a visitor in their country, and no one forced me to come here. It’s all just part of it.
Now, some of the driving….
In the city, I pretty much understand it. It doesn’t always make a lot of sense, but it seems to work.
In the country, well, it’s a bit different.
We’ve witnessed firsthand over the previous trips some driving that seriously makes you question whether you should be spending time on the open road. It’s one of the reasons I refuse to travel long distances at night, and also limit the amount of time I spend on the road during the day.
Back to today.
The other day it was about the trucks, today it was the cars. Certainly not all of them, but a few.
And one in particular.
Having a car come up behind you, horn blaring, as another car comes towards you on a narrow road.
The car behind is intending to overtake you, which is fine, but he is going to do that when it suits him, which just happens to be right now.
Not when it is safe to do so, which is not right now.
He is going to do it the second he gets to you, thus potentially putting everyone in the vicinity in danger.
I’ll call it a lack of driving skills, because if it’s not that, then it is a total and utter lack of care, respect and awareness for everyone else on the roads.
At times it is just downright dangerous, and as such, it is well worth researching properly how you plan to travel around Vietnam.