11 October – Ba Be Lake
Alarm goes off at 6.30am.
The good news is it’s not raining. It’s very overcast and a little misty, but it’s not raining!
The bad news is that I’m up a little earlier than I really need to be, as I need to get organised and repack my bag after everything got wet yesterday.
More good news; the fan has done it’s job, and everything is dry.
Clothes, and I mean all my clothes, well, apart from the ones I’m wearing, are neatly folded and put into the zip-lock bags.
Everything else that doesn’t come under the ‘clothes’ category, is also put into zip-lock bags.
I ain’t making that mistake again….
Just after 7.00am, the rain starts coming down.
And when I say coming down, I meaning absolutely pelting down.
It’s so loud, I can’t even hear the fan that is only two metres away from me.
The boat trip out on the lake we’re apparently going on after breakfast, now looks a little doubtful.
Keeping dry today, seems even less likely.
Head outside for breakfast around 7.30am.
It’s still raining, and now in the cold hard light of day, the amount of water laying around becomes apparent.
What at first looked like part of the river and lake, is in fact flooded fields.
There’s a few locals walking between the fields on slightly higher ground, while the water buffalo seem to be quite enjoying the whole thing.
Once again, obviously well named.
Breakfast is soon ready, and today it’s pancakes with bananas and honey, along with a caphe sua da.
But this caphe sua da is a little different.
It’s a powdered version. An instant coffee, I suppose.
A bit like patting a cat. Just a waste of time….
Breakfast done, as well as a bit of relaxing and taking in the scenery out over the lake, it’s time to get ready for the boat trip. It’s cleared up a bit, and for now, the rain is giving us a break.
I ask Toan if I should pack up my room now, or after the boat?
“Neither”, is the answer, along with, “We’re staying here tonight as well”.
Well, I didn’t expect that.
And I am both happy and a little disappointed, at the same time.
I kind of feel like I need a break from the moving around, especially after the frustration of yesterday with the weather. But I’m also not sure that I really want to spend two nights here.
I still don’t really know what’s here, but I’m not sure it’s what I want.
Two days ago, we were about to begin what would end up being the best day of the trip.
That now seems a long time ago….
We head down towards the water to where all the boats are, squelching through the rain soaked ground. Malcolm, the English cyclist from last night, is also coming with us.
We get close to some of the boats and someone yells out that our boat is back up where we walked past earlier.
Great. Back through the waterlogged, almost flooded, ground…..
Finally on our boat, and we head off along the river towards the lake.
Rounding the first bend, there are a group of locals standing on the bank scratching their heads at what is in front of them.
And that is two boats that are in the water. But not actually on top of the water, which is where you’d prefer your boat to be.
The two boats are tied together, and it seems that one has had some kind of floating malfunction and has no longer been able to continue floating.
Filling with water, it has taken the other boat with it for company.
Now I’m no boat salvage expert, but they ain’t coming back up quickly….
We eventually get to the lake itself and it’s very calm and peaceful. Well, apart from the boat’s engine.
It’s obviously still very grey and overcast, and there is low cloud hovering below the tops of the mountains that surround the lake. There is also the occasional fisherman out doing his thing.
It’s all very picturesque.
However, the picture perfect setting is hindered somewhat by the amount of rubbish floating on the water.
It’s hard to get past that, and both Malcolm and I shake our heads. No words need to be spoken.
And I suspect that what can be seen on top of the water, is nothing compared to what is below it.
To be fair, I expect a lot of it has probably entered the lake with all the rain that’s fallen.
Regardless, it’s pretty sad.
We eventually come to an area where the lake appears to end. It’s a bit hard to tell with all the flooding, but there seems to be a river flowing across in front of us.
Apparently there is a waterfall that we were trying to reach, but as it is so flooded, we’re not able to get there.
Judging by the speed the water is travelling, I’m glad that we didn’t attempt it.
We turn around and head back along where we’d just come from. A little further on we veer off to the left and pull up at a small, ummm, area.
I was going to call it a dock, but it’s really just a pile of rocks in the water.
We walk up a very wet, and quite slippery, ‘path’, which can only be loosely described as such.
It’s quite overgrown and because of the weather, fairly dark, and water drips off the overhead branches of the trees.
There are some small plastic chairs and tables scattered around the place, along with covered food preparing carts.
But, apart from the lone food vendor, who really, really, wants to sell us something, there is no one else here.
Which is not terribly surprising.
We continue past the persistent vendor and soon come to an open area with a small lake. It’s apparently known as ‘fairy lake’, and judging by the number of plastic chairs, tables, and even more covered food carts, I would say that in better weather around long weekends and holidays, this place would be absolutely packed with visiting Vietnamese.
It’s all very interesting, but I’m not sure this would be my kind of holiday destination.
Fairy lake seen, but fairies not, we head back past the lone vendor who gives it another try.
Back on the boat just in time, as the rain comes down again. Quite heavy, too.
If there were any fairies left, this may be enough to finish them off. Don’t tell the kids….
There’s still not too many out on the lake and we head back in the direction of the homestay. The rain soon eases, which is a good thing for us, but even better for the almost husband and wife who are having wedding photos taken on a small jetty.
I explain to Malcolm about the Vietnamese custom of having wedding photos taken over several weeks in the lead up to the big day. I think he gave me the same look that I gave when I was first told about it.
Geez, talk about hard work for the guy….
Just past the ‘happy’ couple, we again alight from the boat. (‘Alight’ is such a word that is just so not me, but it sounds so much better than ‘got off the boat’. Hmmm, I think I’m starting to overthink this whole thing….)
This time we head up some steps to see a temple. Or it may have been a pagoda. I can’t remember.
And I can never remember which is which. All I know is that I think a temple is a place that worships someone. I think….
Anyway, I got Toan to explain it to both Malcolm and I, and once again, I sensed my eyes glazing over part way through the talk.
I feel bad about that, but that’s just me.
So yeah, we saw a temple.
Or, it might have been a pagoda.
Back on the boat and we head for home.
There’s a bit of action around the float challenged boats, but they are still very much more submarine like, than boat like.
It’s not going to be a quick job….
Boat moored, we head back up to the homestay.
I spend the rest of the morning chatting with Malcolm and hearing about what he’s been doing and what his plans are.
Both what he’s done, and what he’s going to be doing, is rather impressive.
He’s brought his bike over with him from the UK, and he’s planning to ride around a large chunk of Vietnam.
He’s already been to Halong Bay, and since then he’s made his way up here. He has plans to see even more of the far North, and it’s at this point I think of all the mountains we’ve ridden up over the last week.
I admire him. Feel for him. Worry for him. And envy him.
And how long will this all take and where will he end up?
He has no idea.
At this stage, he’ll be doing this till at least April.
He’s just retired, so there’s no hurry.
Yep, I really do admire him.
It was great to just sit, relax, and chat, and before we knew it, it was lunchtime.
A plate of very tasty fried noodles, while overlooking the flooded fields below.
As well as the twenty or so locals still trying to re-float the boats.
And as it turns out, the boats belong to the homestay.
Not sure it’s going to happen today….
Lunch done, and while Malcolm heads off on a bike ride, I decide to go for a bit of a walk to see what’s around.
Out onto the road and I head right, which was the direction that we came in from last night.
There’s lots of homestays, as well as a few houses, but that’s about it.
Apart from one place that looks like it might be some sort of bar or restaurant, I really can’t find anything of interest from an ‘entertainment’ perspective.
Perhaps it’s too early, or maybe it’s the time of year, or it could just be me looking in the wrong places.
I walk back across the bridge we came in on, and there’s even less over there.
Back over the bridge, and up past all the homestays again. Passing our homestay, I try the other end of ‘town’.
And once again, I’m left wanting. More homestays, but little else. There is some sort of shop up that way, and a beer or two looked like it may have been a possibility, but it all just seemed a little too difficult.
I keep walking until the buildings give way to bush and the banks of the lake.
Nothing much of note to take in, I do the husband thing and ring Lisa to let her know that I’m still alive. I probably should have checked in with her more often than I have been, but what we’ve been doing, as well as the four hour time difference, often conspired against me.
And the fact that, for some reason, my phone wasn’t allowing me to send texts, also hadn’t been helping.
Lisa reassured that I am ok, I also give her some last minute packing instructions seeing as she’ll be on her way in a little over 24 hours.
She mentions that the weather in several parts of Vietnam, including the North, has been on the news in Australia. This worries me slightly as I’m concerned that there are probably some people back home that might be a little worried about me.
It also concerns me that they may not actually be worried, too.
Apparently Khoi, who is a friend of a friend, and also happens to be organising a Mekong Delta tour for us next week, has been trying to phone me.
Aaaargh, bloody phone issues! I’ve never had any problem on the previous trips….
Husbandry thing done, small herd of water buffalo dodged on the road, I begin the walk back to the homestay while phoning Khoi.
He answers pretty quickly, and I’m a little surprised when he sounds quite relieved to hear from me.
It seems the rain we’ve experienced over the last two days has been even more significant in the north east where we started our trip. The gates of a very large dam had to be opened, and as a result of that, there has been substantial flooding. Tragically, 21 people are now missing.
He knew I was up here, as we’d spoken a couple of times before I left Australia, and had been very concerned. He also mentioned that there had been many landslides and he wanted to make sure that Toan knew all about it.
I promised I would speak with Toan, and promised that I would be careful. He was quite insistent on both those things, and it was nice that someone that I’d never met was so concerned about my welfare.
A pity none of my friends back home seemed to have the same concern….
I was looking forward to meeting him before this whole trip started, but now after the phone call, that future meeting was even more anticipated.
With a little more appreciation for how difficult life can be like in this area, as well as a little more perspective, I headed back to the homestay.
I tried to send Lisa a text to let her know I’d spoken to Khoi, and for the first time in almost a week, it went through. Happy days!
As I made my way up the stairs of the homestay I could hear a fair bit of noise coming from the communal area. Entering the room there were about twenty locals all sitting around eating and drinking beers. Turns out they were the ones who had helped with the re-floating of the boats, and as a bit of a thank you, the homestay had put on food and drinks.
While most of the food had gone, the beers were well and truly still flowing.
As I headed over to see Malcolm, who had returned from his ride, one of the guys thrust a beer into my hand. Not wanting to offend, as well as not usually being able to say no to beer, I gratefully accepted the offering.
More sitting and chatting ensued while watching the goings on out in the flooded fields, which were now under more water than earlier in the day.
Looking down on the driveway below, I noticed that Toan had taken the opportunity of the break in the rain during the afternoon to dry our wet weather gear. That had been quite successful until a rather heavy storm suddenly hit.
A couple of minutes after the storm started, Toan appeared down below to retrieve it all. But it was too late, the wet weather gear was now wetter than it was this morning.
We had a bit of a laugh; what else can you do?; and he came upstairs.
Apparently a lot of this rain had come from a typhoon that had hit a bit further south. In fact, Ninh Binh, his home town, had been hammered with torrential rain over the last few days and there’d been significant flooding with many roads cut.
Once again, it just gave you more of an understanding about the difficulties associated with Vietnam’s weather at different times of the year.
I told him about my conversation with Khoi, and he was already aware of what had happened. Fortunately for us, he didn’t think it was going to impact us too much on our return to Hanoi the next day.
I headed back to the room to freshen up, and on my way back to dinner, I received a phone call. Not recognising it, I almost swiped it away thinking it was just going to be a nuisance call.
Answering it, the girl on the other end said she was from Vietjet Airlines.
This made my heart skip a beat, and I’m sure the colour from my face may have drained away a little.
On our previous trips we had always flown Vietnam Airlines domestically. We had never used Vietjet, mainly because early on, they didn’t get terribly good reviews.
This trip we had two flights with them. One from Can Tho to Danang in a week and half, as well as the one that would take me from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City on Friday to meet up with Lisa.
A major change to either could potentially be a great inconvenience.
With more than a little trepidation, as well as a cold sweat beginning to form on my forehead, I waited nervously for her to tell me why she had called.
Pre-emptively already vowing never to fly with them again, she told me she was ringing to advise that my flight time to Ho Chi Minh City on Friday had been changed.
“Riiiiight……..”, I replied, gripping the phone slightly tighter than I had been.
“Yes, your flight will now be leaving ten minutes earlier”, she said.
“Huh?, what?, sorry?, huh?”, I stammered out.
“Your flight is now scheduled to leave ten minutes earlier than originally planned. I am very sorry for the inconvenience”, she said.
“Ohhhh, no problem! Absolutely no problem at all”, I replied, colour returning to my face, and cold sweat disappearing.
Very much relieved, I headed in for dinner.
It ended up being much the same as we had had the previous night, but this time, for some reason, we had it while sitting on the floor.
I have no problem with that, but my body does. I’m not as flexible as I used to be, and while I have no issues with sitting on the floor, I do have some issues with performing the bowl to mouth thing while down there.
Fortunately they took pity on me and found me a small stool, which made a significant difference.
Once again, the food was good, the beer gooder, and the rice wine…., well, the rice wine was like rice wine normally is.
But finally some good news, as Toan was also able to imbibe of a few himself.
The company was also good, with Malcolm and I being joined by a couple of guys from Israel. Again, just nice to sit around and see what other people have been getting up to, as well as what they have planned.
Before long it was time for bed. My eight day trip up North, essentially done.
And while the last two days hadn’t panned out exactly how I thought they might, I think it was more a case of things conspiring to impact us.
I don’t know if the two nights at Ba Be Lake was always going to be the plan. I didn’t bother asking Toan as it wouldn’t have made any difference, and in the end it wasn’t that important.
While the rain today hadn’t been as consistent as yesterday, there had been enough that would have impacted us from time to time. And that was just here. Who knows what we might have experienced out on the road.
And while I didn’t really ‘get’ Ba Be Lake, after a pretty full on six days it was actually nice to have a down day.
Early this morning I probably didn’t think I needed that, but by the end of the day I did feel a little more refreshed.
So, what I believe is a fairly long ride back to Hanoi awaits us tomorrow.
That, I can handle.
It’s the ‘goodbye’ at the end of it that’s going to be tough.
I hate those ‘goodbyes’…..