The making of dreams

Day XXXII – April 19

This morning we wake up with a new guy in our room. He tells us about his adventures with his Honda Win which he’d bought for $125 in Hanoi hoi an map about a month ago. He and some friends are driving down the freeway to Saigon. It’s a popular way travel this country, and sounds very appealing to me.
He tells us that whenever someone broke down, within 10 minutes a local would have arrived with the knowhow and facilities to repair the bike. The total of his repair costs so far: $25.
All these stories, even with the horrors of crashes and burned legs on exhaust pipes –everybody appearently gets those- make me that much more excited to come back to Vietnam and see this beautiful country’s hidden backyard, the pure local life you don’t get to see from the bus.

I am very glad I came, despite rushing through in just 9 days. But it is just a taster. I’ll be back.

Jenna is having trouble with her bankcard and it looks like that will take up all her time today, so I say goodbye to the friend that was probably the closest to traditional backpacker-friendship; no hassle, no exchange of info, no foamy “We’ll stay in touch”, just a hug and a “Nice to have met you, have a good trip!”
hoi an waterside
I rent a bicycle to go to the other beach by myself. This one is more beautiful, calmer, quieter; the road there is even more intriguing, taking me through fields and that backyard I just mentioned.
Today it’s sunny, that should help too. And again I can’t get over how marvelous the ocean is!

In the early afternoon I ride back to Hoi An and it’s smell of incense, and get my buspack ready; some sodapop, some water, some Oreo’s and other snacks; I’m looking at 48 hours of pretty much non-stop, all the way over to Siem Reap.
hoi an kids
Before I get to the bus I grab a quick bite with a street vendor. The place is crowded with kids still in their school uniforms; like all local clothing very pretty by the way. The boys’ are a lot like you’d expect them, suited up; but the girls wear beautiful white silk pullovers that split at their waist and hang down like gowns to their feet, over charming pants.
Again one of the parents that does speak English helps me out, points me to a seat and presents me with a plate of today’s dish: a fried bowl of dough with egg in it and some salad floating in a sort of sweet chilli soup and a pork sausage, 15.000d; a 10th of what I paid the other day, and extremely tasty!

At the bus agency I meet some Ausies, Kiwies and UK’s, young and elder couples and solo travelers; this ride’s much more international and I actually have people to talk to on the way.
Until lights-out at 8pm, when we all sort of doze off.
hoi an river

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What’s up Vang Vieng?!

island

I’ve been hearing and reading about the Vang Vieng party dying.

The party that’s still vivid in my memory. The party that never seemed to end.
After reading this article, I decided to find out for myself.

Alas, hopping on a plane to actually go see for myself is not in the cards just yet.
My friend See, one of the boys from Easy Go hostel, would have to give the answer. This is what he wrote:
see vang vieng

Yeah, the government has closed the bars on the riverside and the island.
VV is not a crazy party like before, but still has many people visiting just the same.
I hear the government does have a plan to let bars open again, but they have to take time to improve contracting first. Then they will let bars open again, slowly. Go step by step, following their plan.
At the moment we still have bars open in town.
Don’t worry, I think VV will be back to what it was, but it will need time.

His place is still doing well though, and the pictures of him being a bigshot DJ come down the facebook timeline well regularly.
In the Travelfish article we read tubing is still happening, just on a much more decent level.

I guess I’m happy to have widnessed old times. And I’m very curious to see what will come of new times. Next year I’ll tell and show you all about what I find!

In a way I’m happy that crazy crazy party party exploitation has been put to a stop.
Yet at the same time I feel a stinge that what I widenssed, where I was, what found a place in my heart, is gone for good.
I’m glad tourism hasn’t suddenly died and I would still encourage everyone to go there and support my local heroes at Easy Go. There’s still plenty to see and do!
Another thing Vang Vieng is famous for, for example, is rockclimbing, something I’m defenitely going to explore next time around!
surrounding vv

A visit to My Son

Day XXXI – April 18

We get up bright and early and take another good look at the map.
I tried to last night, but the computers and internet are so slow, and we’re not supposed to use them after 11pm anymore so I didn’t want to wake the nightwatcher on that strecher in the middle of the mediaroom.
We walk over to that lady we’d made a deal with yesterday; one automatic Yamaha for the day, 2 helmets and a map, that turned out to be more like a business card, for 50.000 dong.
She was already waiting for us; when we asked her yesterday at what time she opened she said 6am. We said we’d be a bit later, but she probably didn’t get that part. After all, local life generally starts at 6am on this side of the world anyway.
DSC_0958
Jenna takes the first turn driving, flounders a bit on the way to a first gas station and can’t find the breaks in time so tips over the bike of an elderly man. He makes a big fuss about his dashboard that looks like it was already broken, but asks for 50.000d, so we won’t bother getting in to an argument.
We fill up and head out to the highway. Without any roadsigns in a language we can read, we have to stop a few times to ask for directions, and arrive at the My Son-gate an hour later.

At first we don’t see an official parking near the entrance. The lady running the catering facility waves us over and tells us she’ll watch our bike if we promise to have a drink with her after the temples, so we stumble to ride it up a little hillside.
When we get to the ticketoffice 100 meters further, it turns out the actual entrance is a 5 minute drive up ahead. With parking, we’re told, so we go back to get the bike and ride down another bumpy road through a somewhat magical forest.
DSC_1028
DSC_1007We get to the temple complex right at the end of a traditional dance performance and end up in a pile of tourists, just shuffeling into the park. For me this crowd takes a lot of the magic out of it, and the manmade path make it feel fake, like an amusementpark.
It reminds me of the place I once visited with my artschool class in the north of the Netherlands, where some artist build stacks of brick, for nature to cover up again.
I’ve heard too many stories selling it off like the Angkor Wat of Vietnam, had too many people tell me I’d love it; that must have raised the bar too high.
It’s a cool place though, out there in the green hills. The bright brown ancient brick buildings set off against their surroundings, while at the same time they merge again where grass and moss cover it as nature has taken over centuries ago. And when I get a moment all to myself and consider the age of it all, and the people who build it and their reasons to, the miracle almost touches me.

Afterwards we debate trying to make it to Marble Mountain, about 50 km to the other side of Hoi An. We should be able to get there in 2 hours.
We decide against it, out of concern for not knowing the way, the time we have left with the bike and the amount of fuel needed. Instead we’ll go back to the beach.
DSC_1034
My turn to drive.
First down that forest lane, then a sandpath through some fields, a turn and through a busy town and its’ traffic. Slowly I’m getting comfortable keeping up with the rest at 35 km/h
Then I turn onto the highway. Even in a car I don’t think I’ve ever driven faster than 60 km/h. I have to speed up to 70 sometimes not to be a danger. Such a thrill! For the bike aswell, it can hardly keep up and it’s almost hard to hold on to the steeringwheel.
We miss our exit, so I have to do a U-turn, right there on the highway. Luckily, they’re nothing like the highways we know; we’d probably say route national, and making U-turns probably isn’t a weird thing to be doing here at all.

We’ve not been at the beach for long, when the sky suddenly turns a mad green sort of grey. We have to make a run for it.
We figure we’ll have enough time to get back into town before the beast will be unleashed, and drive out of the parking lot with the first drops sipping down, and some stares like “they’re crazy” follow us.
A minute later we realize why… The rain is now beating down on us so hard, we have to stop. It feels like a million needles and I can’t even keep my eyes open. Not that it makes a difference; the haze is so thick you can’t see for more than 5 meters ahead. And both of us are already soaked to the bone.
So we find shelter in a roadside shop/diner with a local in poncho.

It takes half an hour till it’s calmed down to just a mild downpour. The roads are completely flooded and here and there our ankles are under water, but that makes the ride the more fun.
Everywhere people are out again. The kids coming out of school, splashing around; it’s like a waterfestival!
We quickly return the bike, drop our bags in the lobby of the hostel and run out for a walk with the water up to our knees, just because we can.
Apparently we’re the only ones seeing the fun in all that, and everybody looks at us again like we’re crazy. Doesn’t stop us kicking the water around, dancing and laughing it out.

Another great example of the Asian feel for business shows: no less than a minute after the downpour starts, those who just sold paper umbrellas against the sun, pull out another merch; ponchos, everywhere!

Good thing we chose against Marble Mountain too; we’d have been stuck up there now. Much less fun to be up a mountain in such a storm, that much closer to the lightning.

Just before dinner it finally clears up.
This time we go to the bright side of the river, and again find a heavenly meal at a very fair rate.
I have country pancakes; I am presented with a plate of fried shrimp cushions, salad, rice paper and a sesame sauce. The waiter shows me how to wrap the cushions with the salad in the paper and dip it. Yum!
We treat ourselves on dessert at that famous iceplace Green Cave and stuff our bellies to add to our already tired bodies.
We try a beer and a stroll over the nightmarket, but nothing can pull us out of it. We even suck at pool horribly, so turn in early.

The day I fell in love with Hoi An

Day XXX – April 17

My bus to Hoi An leaves Hue at 8am and arrives around noon.
I check in to Hop Yen Guesthouse, again just one hostel with a dormroom in this town. It’s where the bus droppes us off.
When I arranged my check-in with the strict lady of the house, she shows me to their dorm in the attic, three flights of stairs up. In a sterile looking room, four beds are lined against the wall, some other travelers belongings are scattered around, and I am pointed to the metal construction in the corner.
Up there I meet Jenna [19, UK] who spend 6 weeks in Hanoi teaching, just unpacking. And by proxy we’re now travelbuddies, for as long as it lasts.
Right away we plan a trip to My Son tomorrow, sharing the rent and responsibility of a bike; yay, it’s going to happen!

Before I came to Asia I don’t think I knew of My Son. I first heard about it when Madison was giving me tips, back in the Gibbon Treehouse. Then again when I was on the Halong Bay Cruiser; the UK lady and the French girls were jubilant about it and told me I HAD to see it. So I figured it’d be a nice daytrip when in Hoi An.
It’s like most things. Kuang Si I didn’t know about before I came here.
You hear about them on the road, when crossing travelers going in the opposite direction. Talk of place to be or have been is usually the first thing to come up.
Honestly, I had no more than a general idea of main landmarks and towns I wanted to visit, but most of what I saw, I did because of mouth-to-mouth and not what I read back home.
Also I’ve told you that before this trip I wasn’t a fan of Lonely Planet. The one I’ve carrying with me is completely worn down by now, so much have I been flipping pages, crossing, adding. Hardly a day goes by without it advising me on one thing or another. On the back it presumptuously calls itself the backpackers bible, but I’m starting to agree.

After freshening up, we go for a walk around the neighborhood. Hoi An is absolutely adorable, small and with a Mediterranean sort of feel that makes us crave a dive.
We rent some bicycles to check out the beach, a 15-minute ride along a river and a view to die for.
The beach itself is littered with fat, red tourist and local ladies persistently trying to sell snacks, shawls, massages etc.
The palm trees attempt at that tropical vibe, but the sky holds too many clouds today to be convincing. And that greyish ocean doesn’t appear like it either.
The water feels so great though! And it’s oh so nice to sit by the shore, to hear the ocean roaring in and out, to gaze at the vague mountains in a far distance.
And here’s for a little comedy: the locals just challenged some tourist boys to a game of football.

resto hoi anLater, when we get back to town and start looking for dinner, we’re once again confronted with the aggressive sales techniques that seem to be part of the Vietnamese culture, even in a calm town like this. So called Easyriders –a name some drivers that do mountaintrips gave themselves- and other mototaxies never let you pass them by without offering a ride.

Asia is tailor area, Vietnam being the main producer, and Hoi An the capital. Only 1 out of 10 retailers aren’t in the textile business. But should you ask, even they can still provide any piece of clothing or shoe you’d desire.
Other than that, this originally fishermanstown thrives on tourism. We see many families walking the streets.

As we stroll the quiet side of the quay, we let ourselves be dragged in to this empty restaurant. We didn’t have much of a lunch so we’re early anyway. Does give us the best table; just up the stairs, looking back to the other side of the river that’s completely covered in lanterns and cute little lights, and still feels like we’re sitting outside.
The menu is filled with all these local delicacies like fried fish in bananaleaf, springrolls, white roses (a jelly shrimp dumpling) won ton (a cushion of fried dough with a meaty stuffing and grilled fruits on top) and cao lao (a thick, shrimplike noodle) And it all tastes exquisite!
So on top of tailortown, Hoi An also receives a golden medial for foodie-heaven!
hoi an
As our table is right next to the street during dinner we’re being served a pile of ‘free bucket’ flyers to give us direction after.

bar hoi anThe first we look up, is in a little alley on the other side of the river, on one of the islands in the center of town. It’s nicely decorated, with a fancy bar, a pooltable in a reasonable state and dark red walls covered in greetings from all over the world and praises on the place. It is deserted though, and the music doesn’t give us enough reason to stay. Next.
A few bridges later, in an alley even further back, feeling even more deserted, we finally find the place. Old & New bar, it’s walls also covered in writing, this pooltable a lot less in one piece, we find some garrulous crowd sitting at the bar and end up staying till well past midnight.

Jenna found a flirt so I walk home alone, and for the first time I don’t feel completely safe. Alone and with my semi-pro camera that I usually leave in a locker when going out, right here in my bag. No less safe than I would in the same situation back home though, just to clarify.
The quiet streets with many dark corners and little noises around each of them, and the many taxies still driving around, each asking me if I need a ride…

But of course I make it to my bed safe and sound, and before I fall asleep I hear Jenna come in and crash.

From a balcony in Hue

A few observations

On couples on the road, on traffic and baggage, on my own traffic progress, and on how Vietnam is a bit like what I imagine China to be like.

I’m meeting less of them now that I seem to have sort of broken loose from the beaten and organized path at last, though I did meet one of them on the Halong Bay trip; couples. I hadn’t imagined meeting so many of them.
Often out on the road together for about half a year. Pretty cool! I can only hope that by the time I’m ‘we’ again, we will be doing this sort of thing.
I don’t even think it’s that different. You’re not going to be in dorms so you wouldn’t be meeting as many people as you do there. Maybe that has something to do with why you meet so many of them in the arranged tours. But you probably will be left with more budget as you share your beds, meals, bikerents, taxies and all sorts of things. So you can afford these more expensive activities like hiking and rock climbing tours etc.
And they might go out a little less than the single serving traveler does. Though none of them I met were boring, or annoyingly cute and clingy. In fact they were all very nice to hang out with.
And hold on; the Welsch were a couple since before they set out together, and they did dorms.

The most common thing I’ve seen transported on a bike in between 2 people has to be: a baby. And then I’m not talking about a 4 year old; they’re put on there already at 4 month or younger even. No helmets of course; they wouldn’t fit…
Other curious objects I’ve seen crossing traffic were: refrigerators, LCD screens, cupboards, trees, (varying in size between bonsai and a regular 12 footer) and huge piles of boxes… Anything!
Dogs usually stand in the front, paws hanging over the steering wheel. And often it’s more than three people, just to be practical and stuff.
Down the highway near Chiang Mai I saw the biggest thing being transported, on the back of a pick-up; an elephant. Just daily business, I guess?

When we came in to Hanoi in that minivan and I first saw that insane traffic I was in fact a little scared about going in on foot. Just that same night though I found the confidence to throw myself in and cross with the greatest of eaze.
The day after I went on the back of that mototaxi and loved being right in the middle of it.
Then came the day for me to do it on my own, on a bicycle. I went in at a rather quiet hour, but did end up in quite a jam later on, yet still felt very relaxed.
And tomorrow I plan to try again, on a real bike.

It’s the language; phonetically, the way different use of syllables gives different meaning to the same word. And their harsch and hurried pronunciation.
They shout a lot more too; Buddhists don’t do that.
And they know the concept of being in a rush; also a big difference from the rest of Southeast Asia.
More than elsewhere the streets are hung with adds and are they trying to make a hard sell.

But I’m loving Vietnam, it’s all so beautiful! I guess it really is a new phase and needs a new while to get used to. Can’t wait to give that to them properly!

How to make the most out of your one-day-stay in Hue

onthewaytohue1Day XXIX – April 16

I wake up at 6am to the enthusiastic honking of the driver, the guy next to him chatting away in the same frantic manner.

And this is what I see:
To the left there are little brick and concrete cots shattered between the bright green fields that are still covered in the veil of morningmist, now turning yellow and orange with that big burning ball rising far behind the horizon, as the kids are rushing by in their school uniforms on their bicycles.

onthewaytohueTo the right is where the mountains are, vaguely scribbled grim line after line.

And before that lies another deep strip of those greenest fields, most of them rice, long straws standing fiercely straight in a basin that every now and then gets a chance to show it’s reflection like a sparkling gem. Some are different crops; variations of lettuces and cabbages, a banana tree here and there, some cornfields.
It’s weird how I still see dry riverbanks from time to time; with the amounts of water in the fields you wouldn’t expect this country to suffer any drought.
Supposedly we’re driving down highway #1. It’s possibly in worse shape than the highways of Laos. Or it just seems like that, because this driver doesn’t slow down one bit for bumps or when taking over. I conclude once more Vietnamese drive like crazy.

I delight myself over an oreo breakfast, and even more so about the locals on the bus doing the same. They are the ultimate bus-snack.

Once arrived in town, Tomas [GER] the other westerner who also gets off the bus here, and I look for a hostel together. The first decent one we find is the same chain I was in that first night in Hanoi, which I decided to ban. He settles.
I decide to look around some more. An hour later I have to admit with a sigh, they have the monopoly on dorm rooms. I go back to book one night; I’ve already confirmed my bus to Hoi An tomorrow morning.

How to make the most out of your one-day-stay in Hue:

You come in with the sleeperbus from Hanoi – perfectly comfortable to catch a few hours of sleep.
You’ll come in around 9am, so once you’ve fought off the motortaxies who all want to give you and that one other non-Vietnamese passenger a ride to a hotel, you’ve got plenty of time before check-in at 11am. If you’re looking for a dorm just go to Hue Backpacker Hostel.
bike hueFind a local market for some breakfast at a normal price; 10.000d a pineapple.
After you’ve got all your stuff sorted out and had a refreshing shower, go around the corner to rent a bicycle from Ms. Nam Thanh at 30.000d. Don’t forget to bring a map from the hostel.

Take a little tour through the citadel to begin with. It’ll give you a nice view on local life in this otherwise pretty crowded city.

And continue west over the Kin Long road. At the end a man will ask you to park your bike for 5.000d, some women will try to sell you overpriced water or a tour to the tombs. Ignore them and just walk up and wander around the pagoda. It’s up a hill so you’ll get a nice view and the garden is lovely quiet.
pagoda
Make sure you’re wearing your swimminggear ’cause on the way back the river will most likely tempt you for a dive.

This time cross the bridge right after the railwaytracks and take another right at the second bridge on your left hand. Take a right at the junction and follow the road for another 5 minutes.
I was looking for this pagoda Lonely Planet was elated about, but even the locals couldn’t point me to it. Instead I found this place that might have been a graveyard of some sort? Anyway, you’ll find this deserted looking place with many cool shrinelike structures covered by flowers and plants. Have fun discovering!
garden
After this you could follow the road some more, eventually you’ll drive into a belvedere, ‘s got some nice views. I wouldn’t recommand it necessarily though…
hue view
You might be craving for some cooled sugary drink after all that cycling. You’re not going to find it though. However you might find a stand where they sell cooled water, if you’re lucky.

hue mapOh and make sure you’ve got your sunlotion on. Otherwise the sun might carry an evil grin.
I’d forgotten mine in Vang Vieng, which wasn’t a problem in Vientiane, Hanoi or Halong Bay. But of course today I couldn’t find any. And I got burned good!

And the beach that the hostels map speaks of; it’s a fraud, there’s no such thing. So just go back to the other side of the track and hope you find a quiet spot. And that the sun hasn’t just finally been conquered by some clouds. Like the big ones.
Well at least it’s cooling down.
I’d better get my clothes back on and make my way back before the rains come pouring down…
Ooh, lightning! Hurry now.

Still. A good day in Hue! =)

Lesson learned: Asian business mentality means getting the best deal for everyone – yes they want to sell you something; they need to make a living, but they also want to make you a happy customer.