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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Nha Trang via Central Highlands to Hoi An

VIETNAM | Monday, 14 April 2008 | Views [1756]

Fri 11th Apr - 8:30am Mailinh Express bus to Quy Nyon along the coast going northwards (cost $7). Picked up from the hotel by minibus half an hour before departure and transferred to 16-seater minibus at the bus station. The only foreigners amonst a full bus of locals, one of whom was throwing up for part of the journey....lovely!

The scenery was stunning as usual. Mostly following the coastal road with great seaviews with large expanses of rice paddy fields opposite for much of the journey. As rice season is in full flow, the harvest gets spread out along the roadside to dry. The hard shoulder on the roads is almost unusable in many areas due to it being covered in rice.

Arrived in Quy Ngon at 1pm. Checked out the timings of the buses from here over to Kon Tum in the central highlands and decided to get on one tomorrow morning at 10:50 for 75,000 dong that should take about 4 hours. One night here should be enough. Decided to stop close to the bus station to make it easy for the morning. Fortunately, there are plenty of hotels in the area so picked a reasoable looking one within a 5 minute walk at the Hai Huong.

After check-in and shower, hit the streets to explore. Quy Ngon is a bit of a surprise actually.... Down Ton Son road and onto the seafront and the first thing you see is a posh looking resort that looks dead. Heading north along the front and it's quiet, very quiet, although landscaped with gardeners tending and watering, just hardly any people. A massive new looking fancy hotel comes next that looks out of place here and must be empty. Strewn along the each, which has nice golden sand, are woven boats and coracles upturned and deserted. After a few cheap and run down café places the most unusual sight appears. At first it looked like the aftermath of the South East Asian Tsunami, although that never struck here.... A couple of kilometres of demolished buildings and rubbish strewn everywhere, the beach was a mess, the place was a hive of activity with people searching through rubble to reclaim anything useful whether it be bits of furniture, or useable bricks, or pieces of wood. Somebody appeared with a live pig squashed in a woven frame and loaded it onto a cyclo. The beach opposite was a mass of boats being repaired, rubbish being sifted through and baskets being worked on. The truth of what has happened became evident later.... All will be revealed!

You pass this scene of mass destruction and find a war memorial and along with it clean tiled pavements and greenery with topiary trees. The beach also got cleaner, but still hardly any people. Curious...

Found a small restaurant that was dead and had a rather naff meal as all other places had vietnamese menus only and nobody speaking english. Carried on along the front and through the old town to towards the fishing port, squid boats and shrimp nets filling the waters along the way. The distant headland bearing a monument that apparenly points a finger at China (or does it stick a finger up to China?). At the fishing port the timing was lucky as the boats were offloading their catch, so made for an interesting scene as they moved tonnes of fish out in multicoloured boxes.

Can't go any further from here, so back towards town. On the way back so many people and kids stop to say hello, especially school kids, some stop for photographs. We are the only foreigners since we left the hotel a couple of hours ago, so people stop and stare. One guy got his video camera out to film us! Back onto the beach front and stumbled upon the famous Barbara's place. She is a kiwi who has moved twice already in the town so her address keeps changing from that in the guidebook. Had the best cup of coffee for many days and also found out the cause of the mass devastation mentioned earlier.... The stretch of front has been earmarked for improvement to continue the manicured theme along from that which already exists. It used to be the homes of a fishing village that wasn't the best kept and certainly not in keeping with what the authorities want, so it had to go, so they bulldozed it, kicking the villagers out of their homes. Yet another sanitisation exercise to remove the old and authentic feel of a place in favour of making it clean and tourist attractive! I guess that Quy Ngon wants to plant itself on the tourist map, but has a long way to go, and is prepared to sacfrifice its present uncluttered feel in favour of profit and stardom.

Whilst at Barbara's, the whole of Quy Ngon's population must have sneaked out from somewhere, as from being totally empty, the scene had completely changed to bodies sandwiching themselves into every inch of beach and street stalls setting up for the evening.... Where did they come from? Groups of kids playing football, the really choppy sea full of swimmers, I guess that they all descend onto the beachfront after work each day!

It was really windy and cold on the way back so quite a change from the hot sunshine of the day. Went for a drink at a local/one and only restaurant  that looked any good. They looked horrified when we walked in and started panicking at the thought of having to serve two english people. No english menu and nobody who spoke english. Quickly got a beer ordered and two cans turned up in a bucket of ice, followed by everyone trying to bring us something...one with a face towel, one with some nuts, another with a dish etc. Shortly later the non-english menus were delivered. There is only so far you can go in trying to look intelligently at the menu when you haven't got a bloody clue. Fortunately, a smart young man turned up from out of nowhere and announced himself as Lim. He happened to be the only english speaker in the vicinity so was dragged in to help. We ended up having a really nice time with him. He was studying at the university to become a tourist guide in his home town of Hanoi.

Wanted some spring rolls and ended up with the vietnamese equivalent using solid rice paper sheets which you soak in a bowl of water on the table, then add the fillings of pork, salad, veg and chilli in fish sauce and soy sauce, then roll up to eat. Tasty stuff.

Ended up swapping e-mail addresses as he wants to practice his written english and might also be able to help out with some things when we get to Hanoi.

Sat 12th Apr - struggled to find somewhere for breakfast apart from noodle soup in one place and tea in another so gave up and went to the bus station early. The bus was due to leave at 10:50 so checked out some snacks....when someone tells you that Vietnam has fantastic food, don't expect to find it everywhere! Ended up with some rice puff biscuits and a few leftover bananas.

The minibus actually left early as they couldn't fit any more bodies on it....or so we thought. Along the way they randomly stopped to pick up passengers, shoehorning them in and making it like a sauna. The scenery was changeable and attractive for the whole journey and only punctuated a couple of times by passengers throwing sickbags out of the window! Arrived in Kon Tum at 3pm'ish and dropped next to the hotel I wanted. Not too brilliant so went on walkabout, but ended up back at the Hotel Viet Tham for $12 a night. Kon Tum is definitely not a touristy town. One hotel we approached flatly refused and said 'No Foreigners'. That was the first time in my entire travels that has happened. Another one was so filthy, with green mould oozing out of the walls I was disgusted and couldn't get out fast enough.

After check-in went walkabout to find food...More of a mission than I had realised as we circled the area. One place turned us away to a place next door that only had food crawling with flies that looked as if it had been there for hours... Ironically, ended up with Noodle soup! Seems as though all vietnam lives on is noodle soup.

The Indochine Hotel on the riverbank is the only hotel in town that looks anywhere near nice but its rooms start at $28 for the most basic. Will check it out for food though.

The main reason for coming to Kon Tum was to visit the local tribal villages, of which there are many. Some cannot be visited by foreigners, and some need special permits. Spent a while comparing offers made by the Kom Tum travel office and the hotel next door and ended up sceptical about both, so will have to think about it.

Off to hunt for an internet café and some food but gave up on the internet as nothing around. Food was also a bit tricky but eventually found something, even though the place was alive with flying bugs of every description. A big cricket landed on my neck part way through eating, which made me leap out of my seat. The staff thought it amusing of course.

Sun 13th Apr - On the hunt for breakfast - no noodle soup please!

Decided to take a tour to see the Ja Rai people in the afternoon leaving at 2pm followed by a visit to the Bahnar minority village where we will stay overnight.

Walkabout tour of the local sights starting with the very french catholic looking 'Seminary'. I should add here that a majority of the central highlands are either catholic or non-religious, a legacy from the french past. A short walk from here to reach part of the old Kon Tum village. The most prominent landmark being the dark wooden church that serves the Bahnar community. Very elegant design inside with woven fabric covering the altar. On the same site is an old meeting building or 'Rong House' and a hospital. The most interesting part was the 'Vinh Son 1' orphanage, located behind the church compound and run by sister Imelda, who we met. Unfortunately, sister Imelda doesn't speak english (makes a nice cup of tea though), but there was an ex orphan who now teaches there who spoke good english and was able to give some background. There are currently 184 orphans who come from the local villages between baby and the ages of 20, 101 have no mothers, some because the parents cannot afford to look after the child. There are 8 veitnamese teachers.

Met up with our guide at 2 o'clock to visit a Ja' Rai  village about 20km west of town by motorbike. On the way, stopped to look at a traditional long house, similar to the one we will sleep in tonight at a Banar village. Built on stilts with a thatched roof shaped like a pair of praying hands and adorned with decorative images along the top edge. Generally, only one family uses each house, but sometimes many can share although less likely these days. They were originally built on stilts to protect from elephants and tigers, but that is not a problem anymore.

Further on, we walked through a Ja Rai village towards a cemetery. They construct a family grave, built like a small house and put artifacts relating to the dead, such as a bicycle, or things pertaining to their life. On older days upto 10 years ago, if a mother died leaving behind a young baby, the baby would be buried with her...alive! The reason being that the baby would die anyway without its mother's milk, so they decided to not waste any time. Apparently, in Pleiku (30km south of here) they only stopped this ritual 3 years ago, when the government stepped in to put a final end to it. Incredible thought isn't it?

Another ritual is if someone is ill, they build a bamboo pillar with decorative sections climbing up it  as a protection against the person getting worse. I wonder if it works?

In the Jarai system the women propose to the men and the chief delivers a copper bracelet to the man who would normally accept.

They have kings/gods for everything. King of harvest, king of rain.

From the village we went to the Yellow lake, which was only built 10 years ago to supply water to the local towns and villages. Water was low at the moment but it was clear why it was called yellow.

Back to town and dropped back at the wooden church to be present for the mass at 5:30pm when alot of the local Bahnar people attend. It was amusing when they swiched the PA system on as there must have been a gecko sat on the microphone. For anyone who hasn't heard a gecko sound...it is as it sounds...gecko...gecko.

It was hard to tell in the audience of a couple of hundred who were kids and who were adults as they are fairly short. There was only one old guy in the congregation, all the rest were female. It was really nice to hear the choir singing in their sweet vietnamese voices.

And now....for those canine worshippers in the audience, turn away now......

After the church mass, off to dinner, or should I say a 'doggy dinner'....yes, you may read about it but sometimes you just have to try it. Our guide wasn't sure we meant it when we agreed to eat dog, but we were, so he agreed to take us to a restaurant to try it. Washed down of course by a nice cold beer (call it hair of the dog...sorry for the pun!). The restaurant was called 'Thit Cae', apparently a famous deluxe doggy diner!

Well....what can I say.....doggy bits taste exactly like lamb, the fatty bits such as stomach and intestines taste like lamb's equivalents. The meal was served in many stages as they became available. The last was a pot on a fondue type heater that contained all sorts or unmentionables. The whole dinner was served with healthy leaves, lemongrass shoots to chew on (strip off the outer and gnaw at what's left), and a mud-like concoction that was a version of fish sauce that tasted and smelt like manure with a look of raw sewage. Fried banana, chillies and leaves to ease the digestion all washed down with liberal amounts of rice wine and the celebratory 'yo' with every drink. Needless to say, there were some leftovers, so we asked for a doggy-bag for the takeaway! We took the rest with us to the Bahnar village where we were to spend the night in a traditional Rong house.

About another 6km bike ride to get there and straight away off to meet the 'boss'. A great guy who spoke 6 languages called 'huyhn'. We had the most awesome night of conversation, singing and general education in bahnar history and future prospects. So much Yo'ing as glass after glass of rice wine was glugged that the room lost a bit of focus!

Back to the Rong house and a mattress on the floor with a mosquito net over. Someone walked past outside with a mobile phone playing a lambada rintone....a present day reminder...and asleep in seconds.

Mon 14th - Woke up at 5am to the sound of cockrels crowing, dogs barking and children crying. Out to see the village waking up. At 5:30am the bell which is made from a gas cylinder. Another reminder of the present...Boney M's 'River of Zion' playing in the hut next door, followed by the 'Happy holiday' tune. Off for a walk around village before the moyorbikes arrived a 6am to take us back to town. Straight off to the bus station to catch the 7am minibus to Danang (110 dong). Not going to stop in Danang although there is stuff to see there, as want to go to Hoi An, 30km south of there. Will need to get another bus from Danang.

Crammed to maximum from the start and driven by a madman, it was going to be a long journey. Of course, as usual there were passengers throwing up along the way and chucking the bags out of the window...I am thankful that I don't suffer with travel sickness, and can happily read whilst airborne on a bus.

Arrived in Danang at 12:20 and a bus was just departing to Hoi An so jumped on it. Spot on timing (30,000 dong). Another breakneck speed journey with the driver's hand on the horn almost the whole way. The bus terminated at the northern terminal on Duong Le Hong Phong. A fairly hot walk from there into town and checked out a few places before settling on the An Hôi hotel on the southern bank of the Thu Bon river (aka Cai river). Whilst they were sorting out the room went for a quick reccy around town. Will report on that in the next blog.....


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