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Stunning sights seen through a dream

VIETNAM | Sunday, 31 October 2010 | Views [2225]

As stereotypical a photo of Vietnam as you will ever see

As stereotypical a photo of Vietnam as you will ever see

I woke up to darkness. An all pervading black. I knew it was daylight because I could hear Vietnam doing what it does best on the roads outside the hotel window. The cacophony of commuting traffic had been singing in disharmonious accord for an hour or two at least. My discombobulated thoughts were unable to arrange themselves into a logical enough order for me to be able to understand my predicament. I took it as a sign from God that not being able to open my eyes was a sure indication that I was meant to sleep in.



Two hours later my eye lids felt even more glued together. Sleeping for a month was an option but my thoughts were starting to form a picture of something similar to panic. In my blindness, I staggered over to the mirror and with a concerted effort, I managed to peel each lid open. I sincerely wished that I hadn't. My eyes were red and swollen. Not 'smoked a few bongs and feeling giggly' red. Blood red like I was a goldfish swimming in strongly chlorinated water. It looked and felt Like I had red hot coals for eyes. Tiny needles pricked at the entire circumference of the balls like it was infected by that rare Chinese medicine micro-organism, 'bacterilis acupuncturist'.



Uma woke mirroring my condition and suspicious I was super-glueing her eyes during slumber to prolong the morning peace. Even though I felt pretty shitty too, I've spent most of the last year looking like this so I hardly found it grounds for much concern. With Uma's run of luck, she strongly disagreed so Shrek and Princess Fiona hopped on their moped and headed back to the hospital for the third time in four days. The cookie nurse was in attendance again so no explanations or diagnosis was necessary. She laughed at our highly stoned appearance and was probably thankful she had gobbled all the cookies before we showed up on a gargantuan munchie mission. Great rivers of custard was cleaned from all eyes which the cookie monster delighted in showing us curing any hunger pains we might have felt.



I didn't think it would be too difficult to explain administration frequency with charades, a clock and a Romanised numbering system. Boy, was I wrong. It took four of them gesticulating like stock brokers on the day of a crash, all the while laughing like they were stoned too. It was a blur of movement behind our cataract clouds, so we paid our $6 each and stuck with the 2 hour schedule the Malboro Moose doctor had given Uma the night before.



I thought the charades had been blurry but I soon realised that was crystal clear compared to what confronted us on Hell's highway. I drove so slowly that we were being over taken by dogs. The closeness of passing traffic was barely seen but felt like bullets that whistle passed your ear. Being virtually stationary made it easier for others to pass by us even closer than normal.



Inexplicably, being blind made reading the map easier even though it was more like the maze you get on fast food trays. Without English signs we still found our first destination without a wrong turn. Mua Cave was a dark crevice, as caves tend to be, with the added bonus of a gorgeous pond and hill top look out to compensate for being just another whole in the ground. The pond was nothing short of idyllic with crystal clear waters, weeping willows and the dodgiest bamboo bridge that Uma nearly went ass up on. A newly wed couple made the most of the picturesque setting by striking numerous poses of love that probably felt rather awkward in front of two gawking stoners.



Having done enough gawking at wedding spectacles recently, we left them to it and started the climb up the 500 or so steps. Uma's foot was still giving her grief, further swaying my support for euthanasia, and taking each step like a mindful monk. The view got more spectacular with each step and made the slow ascent more stunning being forced to take the time to appreciate it. A solemn shrine to Quan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, crested the hill and her presence must have provided untold merit for those who got her there. One side looked over the fields far below, stretching all the way back to Ninh Binh with its industrial skyline lost in its own excrement. The other side looked down on the Tam Coc row boats gently paddling between the massive Karst surrounds.



Finding Tam Coc proved easier than we thought with a massive double lane highway leading all the way there. The place was a tourist magnet, one of THE places to go in Vietnam, particularly if your holiday is shorter than a Spanish lunch break. We needed food and a place to scrub eyeballs first so we wandered amongst the restaurants guided by our noses more than the menus thrust at us. Westerners look like walking dollar signs, but in our current stoned state we would have looked like a retirement fund on legs to any one selling food. It was mid afternoon by this stage so we went hard enough to humiliate most pantry's, yet still we spent less than $5.



We had left the boat ride till late in the day hoping to find the river less crowded than the roads were. Our timing was perfect as ours was the last boat to go out for the day with a congenial rower. Other than the constancy of the jaw dropping beauty around us, our oarsman spoke of the infrequent points of interest in Vietnamese, French or 'Australie'. Beyond that, nothing broke the silence except for his repeated requests for me to help him row. Other boats drifted past, rowed by foot like recumbent bicycles with stoic looking westerners disappointed their $3 didn't get them out of doing some of the work either.



Comparisons could be made to Halong Bay, but this was far more intimate. The tiny river carved between the massive pillars, casting contrasting shadows interspersed with rays of light that airbrushed the scene more than our blurry vision did. Simple folk in canonical hats scoured the river with nets, seemingly unconcerned the river was more frequented by tourists than fish. We could have gone back a thousand years, or even been Samwise and Frodo as they rowed between the Argonath statues on the River Anduin all the while indulging rather liberally in 'Longbottom leaf'.



Kodak moments piled one upon the next until it became obvious I was just taking photos to get out of rowing. Thankfully, I'm often one of those smart bastards who can concoct justifications for drinking beer and doing bugger all at the same time. The next 7-11 to row passed might have started the day with ice, but late afternoon heat had taken its toll.



Two warm beers were better than none and Mr. 'Lets share the load' did him self no favours by stating the beers cost him one fifth what they do me as a foreigner. He was a happy old chap none the less, and seemed totally unconcerned we could barely understand a word he said. I thought of tipping, thinking that $2 was nothing to us but would allow him 10 beers should he chose to spend his money like I did. Even though I was sharing an extremely small portion of the load, the opening of the souvenir box cost him more than he would ever know. He still got the $2 he was going to get anyway, and in exchange I got the cheesiest looking embroided t-shirt I had ever seen. The design was so amateur, it looked like the sort of drawing done by a pre-schooler that a proud parent would stick on the fridge. Someone back home is going to be pretty pissed off with the souvenir they get from me.



An hour and half later we docked, grateful for our good timing as the sun set as we stepped ashore. As our last activity before heading to Hue on the night bus, Tam Coc ensured our time in Ninh Binh will be remembered for the superlative sapping scenery more than the stoner eyes we had to see it all through.

Tags: health, hospitals, scenery

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