The Faraway Waterfall

Last week our crew decided that the adventure for the week would be to go and visit one of the beautiful waterfalls in the mountains in our area.  We left early to miss the traffic which is lucky because what we thought would be an hour journey turned into 2 hours each way.  This was my first long-haul on the motorbike and it was tough going.  Did not realise that one could feel sore in all sorts of funny places while just riding a motorbike but I have lived to tell that tale, and can attest to that exact fact!  Anyway, once out of the city the drive was really beautiful and totally worth it!

Stopping on the way to buy beer because what’s a day out without it!

 

Notice the difference between how the foreigners dress to ride on a bike and the Vietnamese!

Everybody was tasked with bringing something for the feast.  I made mung bean curry.  Nobody even knew what that was until I presented it but it got high ratings.  Because our crew is a bunch of Saffas it was not a feast without a braai (barbecue) and I was quite amazed to see that even though we all came on bikes and had to pack light, a grid came along as well as pork and chicken and what would a braai be without potato salad?  It arrived in a big-ass pot – still not entirely sure how they managed to transport it.

The couple who brought the big-ass potato salad – now you tell me where you think they have it on that bike?!

The terrain was very rocky and hard to find a comfortable place to sit, yet we managed to find wood, light a fire and still cook up an amazing braai feast.

The braai! We managed to cook 5 pork rashers, 10 chicken wings and some meatballs and rolls and eggs before the fire died. Pretty impressive survivor style missions. P.S. The eggs were already boiled, we were just warming them up on the fire.
No table, no stable surface, everything was either eaten straight from the container or stuffed into a roll for eating.

Footage of the big-ass pot of potato salad! And my awesome mung bean curry!

The waterfall itself was amazing and the water crystal clear and cool.  Nothing like spending the day in nature with the sound of a waterfall gushing down in the background.

Only one of our crew managed to get to the back of the waterfall – it was coming down pretty forcefully and no-one else felt safe enough to do it.  But from the outside looking in, it looked amazing!

Again, I sadly have to add that this beautiful site in nature had so much rubbish on the rocks!  This is not something one would find in South Africa and England!  We did our bit and picked up after ourselves, as well as picked up as much old rubbish as we could fit into the bags we had.  Luckily the rubbish had not yet actually managed to find its way into the actual waterfall pool but if enough people go there and leave their shit lying around, that will be the result.

All in all, an awesome, relaxing day spent with fun friends and lots of laughs.

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Thien An Pagoda

There is a Buddhist temple on the top of a mountain just outside Quang Ngai which some friends and I visited recently.  We went on the same day as we visited the Son My Massacre site and I am really glad we did the temple afterwards as it was a complete change of energy (for the good) which was very much needed!

We rode our bikes up a very steep mountain (gone are the days when I would just walk up a mountain like that without a second thought – it’s just too hot here)!

The temple site is really big and so tranquil and peaceful with beautiful Buddhist music being piped around the entire place.

The only complaint I have is that even up there, there are vendors selling plastic children’s toys.  Totally unnecessary.  Lots of amazing jewellery too though and I finally got the keyring for my bike and house keys that I wanted.  I was waiting to find something special and I found a beautifully carved wooden one of Shiva for only about £1 (R16).

I definitely want to go back there again with a book and spend a tranquil morning read and meditating.

Son My Massacre site

Quang Ngai does not have much to offer in terms of tourist destinations.  One of its greatest attractions is the Son My Massacre site.  Attraction is probably not the right word to use but I felt that because I live here and because it is the first thing that comes up when you Google ‘places to go in Quang Ngai’ it was worth spending some time there.  It was with some trepidation though, as I read up about it before going so knew that it was  going to be a heart-wrenching experience.

This was the biggest massacre of civilians during the Viet Nam war.  The Americans had been told that the opposition were hiding in the village and to rout them out, kill them and destroy all their weapons.  What they found instead, was a sleepy little village, just waking up for breakfast and the only men there were old men who were too old to fight in the war.  What proceeded was carnage.  They killed and burned everything in the village. Women protecting their children, children running away, livestock, crops.  Soldiers who expressed bewilderment at what was clearly not what they were expecting to face, were threatened with death themselves.

Eventually, a helicopter pilot who flew in on the scene and saw what was happening, managed to rescue 10 villagers and he himself threatened the lives of the American’s trying to stop him.  He commanded his men to shoot the Americans if he was not allowed to flee with those he rescued.  So, so, so hectic!  Over 500 villagers were murdered and only 10 saved by the pilot.

Lots of heart-wrenching photos like this one! In fact, this one is mild! It was the photographer who took these photos who finally showed them to the world and tried to get justice but unfortunately none of the people in command who ordered the attack were ever brought to justice or served any time for these atrocities.
An old water carrier system as it was at the time of the massacre.

What remains of the village is still there.  Burnt down houses and one house that has been rebuilt to show how they looked at the time.  The energy there is not great.  Horrible to see such things but on the same hand humbling to experience history at its rawest.

Beach and island vibes

After we got back from our holiday it was finally time to hit the beach in Quang Ngai!  Because I only got my motorbike the day before we left for our holiday I hadn’t had the opportunity to make the beach mission yet.  It’s about a 25 minute drive from my house to the beach.  Luckily it’s mainly one straight road but it does also entail a very busy bridge and 2 roundabouts.  But if anything was going to get me on that bike and facing my fears, it was the beach!!!

I’m happy to report that the beach is divine.  Long, white sandy beach with lots of little restaurants where the beer is cold and the food is cheap.  Will be spending many, many happy days here for sure!

That night over dinner, our crew decided that we should spend a night on the island of Ly Son.  It’s a small island off the coast of Quang Ngai which apparently has a good vibe and an awesome beach.  I was sold.

We set off very early the next morning to get to the port to catch the ferry.  Another very long bike ride, which I am happy to report, I am getting the hang of!  Still terrifying and nerve-wracking but confidence was rising!    When we arrived we found out that you need a passport to go to the island.  We are still not entirely sure why – we were not leaving the country?! When we tried to reason with the officials it was clear that this was not negotiable.  No passport, no go.  Two of our party didn’t have their passports so they had to go all the way home to fetch them.  Rule Number 1 – never leave home without your passport as you never know when you will need it.  The rest of us passed the time by drinking beer.  It was only 8:30 in the morning but we were on holiday!

Waiting patiently at the busy port restaurant. Looks like we are at a children’s party with all the small plastic tables and chairs but this is the norm here!
While waiting, saw for the first time how ice is transported in VN. Huge chunks of ice are transported down a chute (not sure if you can make out the chute in this picture). Then they are put onto the back of this makeshift trailer which is, of course, on the back of a bike, then taken to their destination. Destination can’t be far as the ice would melt but definitely innovative. You know how they say to never put ice into drinks when in a third world country. Well … let’s just say this is nigh impossible because nothing stays cold. So, I’ve been consuming A LOT of ice and all still good I’m happy to report!

Eventually us and all our bikes were on the ferry!  Yes, it seems like I was going to have to get out of my newly discovered comfort zone and ride my bike on a tiny, busy island!

Me and my bike getting ready for departure
Seems we weren’t the only ones with the same idea!

Such an awesome 1 1/2 journey.  I spent most of the journey outside on the deck though as apparently the Vietnamese don’t travel so well on the sea.  In fact, there are dustbins at the end of every aisle and they are not for rubbish!

When we arrived we were accosted by yet another port official and basically frogmarched to a little office where we had to, once again, produce our passports and let them know at which hotel we were staying.  I don’t think tourism is very big on Ly Son.  We went looking for somewhere to eat lunch and were actually turned away by some restaurants, saying they were too full (even though they weren’t).  I’m not sure if it’s the language barrier or what but that was not a good first experience.

Eating these were an experience I would rather not relive. I suppose the taste was OK but it felt like I was eating snot!

Finally, once all the admin was done and our tummies were full, we headed off on our bikes to the beach.  I was so disappointed when I got there.  The beach and water and rocks themselves are stunningly beautiful.  Water so blue and clear and warm its mesmerising.  But the beach was filthy – so much litter!  Anyway, we made the best of it.  Walked to the famous cave which was carved out over years and years from the volcano on the island and spent the evening there playing music, finding driftwood and making a fire and just generally chilling out having a good time.  Because it was TET holiday the beach was filled with people and the trash just accumulated more and more as the night went on.  At times it felt like we were in a zoo or in a freak show.  Everybody stared at us and anybody who had a baby would come and actually sit down by us (I am not sure if they thought because they had a baby it gave them the license to come and sit there because we would think the baby is cute).  The funniest was when we brought out the poi’s and frisbee out and started playing.  All the cameras came out!

The next day we got up early to go and watch the sunrise on the beach.  That was very beautiful but too soon the sun was up and the carnage that was the beach was as apparent as the day before.  Luckily we went for a bike ride up the mountain to see the volcano which was spectacular.  The island is known for growing garlic and there are bright garlic fields for miles around.  The smell of the garlic in the streets is so powerful.

View from inside the cave
The view from the top of the volcano
View of the port at Ly Son

Crystal clear water

Just over 24 hours after we arrived, we started the long journey home, sun-burned and tired.  Was an amazing little excursion and is definitely a place I would like to visit again.  Perhaps this time with a team of zero-waste fundis’.

One night in Da Nang

Every month the centre that I work for gives their teachers a night in Da Nang which they pay for.  So when I planned my trip to Da Nang I had also gotten an extra free night through the centre at a hotel which they paid for.  Because of this, I left a day earlier than the others and spent a night alone in Da Nang.

The train trip from Hue to Da Nang is most definitely the most beautiful train trip I have ever been on.

Train ride back from Hue to Da Nang. Very beautiful. Also, very scary as the train goes through the mountains and the tracks are literally embedded in the mountain so if you look down, its scary!

I must say that it was quite weird being all on my own again after spending 6 days with such a large, vibrant group of people. And I felt a bit sad and lonely spending the time on my own in what is such a beautiful city. I walked around most of the day taking in the sights and in the evening I went to a Western bar and ate a burger!! Being in Hue and Da Nang really made me realise just how few non-Asian people there are in Quang Ngai. I have only once in the time I have been here seen a white person in the streets of Quang Ngai, whereas in Hue and Da Nang there are so many foreigners. A lot of things were closed for TET in Da Nang but I was amazed by all the art installations in the city. Truly breathtaking.  At night everything was lit up – it looked like a city made entirely of Chinese lanterns.

Best street food I’ve eaten so far. Rice paper on the fire with veggies, mince and egg cooked into it. Once cooked folded over like a taco with mayo and chilli sauce! Price – about 30p or R5.
More street food – might not look great but tasted amazing!
Da Nang – so full of colour!

Huge dragon feature on the bridge in Da Nang.
The city of Da Nang – so beautiful.
The entrance to my hotel.

Our holiday in Hue

My TET holiday ended up being completely different to what I imagined! The plan was for me to catch the train with the other group as they had to go to Da Nang first to get to the place they were going for their holiday.  As the train was leaving at 3:30 in the morning we decided not to sleep but to have a party instead.  So we had a huge potjie dinner which was amazing and then afterwards we all went to karaoke.  Karaoke is huge in Viet Nam, you see it advertised everywhere.  And the interesting thing about it here is that each group has their own room so you can play your own playlist and you control the music.  It’s obviously better with a bigger group (which we were) so we had so much fun.  Then it was time to go.   It ended up being a mad rush because when we tried to hail a taxi (by knocking on the windows of sleeping taxi guys – who are meant to work 24/7, none of them would help us) so we had to get on bikes with all our gear and fly to the station.  We made it with minutes to spare, only to be told that the train was delayed and ended up waiting 2 hours on the station.  Vietnamese time is pretty similar to South African time!  The trains are hectic too because if your train is on Platform 3 there is no such thing as a bridge or an elevator to get to that platform.  You need to walk across the tracks and then get onto the train from the track (no such thing as a platform actually).  Straight from the train track onto the train!

Anyway, during the potjie part of the evening, the group decided that it was a very good idea for me to cancel my holiday alone in Da Nang and go with them instead to Hue (pronounced ‘where’).  They had a hotel booked and everything they had planned could include me.  I was able to cancel my hostel booking at the last minute so I thought why not just go with the flow.  Those who know me, know this is a very big thing that I just did there.

So when we got to Da Nang (the train trip was 3 hours) we still had another 3 hour journey to Hue.  But eventually we got there and had 6 awesome days exploring.  It was so good to finally be out and about seeing some of the beauty and history of Viet Nam.

We spent our first day exploring the Imperial City which was our only cultural visit of the holiday so glad we did it.

The Imperial City is a walled palace within the citadel of the city of Huế, the former imperial capital of Vietnam.
Inside the Imperial City.
Jarrod getting up close and personal with one of the statues.
The gardens inside the Imperial City. Amazing how big it was – took us about 4 hours to walk around the whole place.
The group dressed up and played at being royalty.
Playing silly buggers with hats!

We also had a beach day.  My first visit to the beach since I got here so I was super excited to get my tan on.  The beach was beautiful.  Wild and remote.  It felt very much like being in Zanzibar.

Our beach day in Hue.

Beach scenery – reminded me so much of Zanzibar. The water was amazing and I really appreciated it because apparently in summer here its like bath water – yuck!
Food left out for the ancestors in preparation for TET.

New Year’s Eve was fun.  We watched the fireworks from the 12th floor of our hotel and because Hue is so small we walked around and stopped in at many places for a drink, meeting new people and socialising.  We got to bed really late, only to be woken up really early by all the New Years Day celebrations.  Out on the streets the streets artists were out in full force.  There were dragon dances everywhere, drums and cymbols going, bright red and yellow outfits.  The traffic was stopped as these re-enactments continued throughout the day.  This was when I truly felt that I was part of something very different and beyond anything I have experienced before.  A true Vietnamese experience.

TET holiday celebrations. On New Years Day the streets were alive with artists performing various ritual enactments.
3 on a bike! Luckily I didn’t have to drive while in Hue!
The group at dinner
One of my many delicious Vietnamese meals I enjoyed on the trip.
The view from the pool at the hotel.

Finally mobile!

I got my wheels this week!!!  I wish that I could have trainer wheels attached but sadly no.  No one here cares that you don’t know how to ride a motorbike.  They show you the basics and then you are on your own.  It’s quite funny that I learned to drive a car first, then a bicycle (in London) and now a motorbike.  How I wish I could have all the safety of metal surrounding me of a car, these days.  So, learning to drive the motorbike was actually super easy.  It’s an automatic so there really is nothing to it, as long as you can control your balance and how fast to go.  My problem is that in the face of danger I usually go faster – really need to learn to stop doing that.  The real danger is all the hundreds of other people on bikes on the road, plus they drive on the other side of the road here.  It is hair-raising to say the least.  Not only are there other bikes on the road but all the cars here are massive Hi-lux type vehicles or enormous trucks.  Everyone hoots ALL the time and its enough to give one a panic attack.  I am looking forward to getting on the open road and opening her up to the more than the 20 km/h I’ve been doing so far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From tomorrow I will be on holiday for two weeks.  Here in Viet Nam we are about to embark on their biggest holiday of the year – TET.  It’s their New Year – they celebrate Lunar New Year – and it promises to be an epic experience.  I am going to Da Nang which is the third largest city in Viet Nam after Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the South and Ha Noi in the North.  Da Nang is kinda in the middle – Central Viet Nam.  I’ll be staying in a backpackers right on the beach so my next blog promises to hold lots of news and even photos!!!  Thanks to my cousin James for advising on how to do that.  You would never say I was a digital project manager in my previous life! Oooooops! 😉

I know a lot about TET because its been the main theme in all my classes for the last couple of weeks now.  It’s a time to sweep out the old year and all the negativity and prepare for the new, hopefully successful year.  To prepare for this, people clean their houses and buy new clothes which they will only wear on New Years Day.  It’s very important to make sure that the first guest you welcome into your home in the new year, is successful, preferably wealthy and a good person as this will set the tone for the year to come.  Some people leave their house just before midnight and go back in just after, to make sure that the wrong ‘guest’ is not the first people to set foot into their home.  Flowers are very important for this festival and I can attest to this as I have seen truckloads of marigolds and peach and apricot blossoms being trucked all over the place.  People place flowers underneath trees in the street with sticks of incense leading up to this occasion as well – these are gifts to the ancestors.  Much food is prepared and the general feeling of this holiday is about family coming together and enjoying each other’s company.

I’ve been in Viet Nam just shy of a month now.  It feels far longer.  I have never been so alone and isolated in my entire life.  I wouldn’t say I am lonely (yet) but I fear that the age-gap between me and the other non-Asian people here might become an issue.  I have finally learnt to be responsible – people drink here and get on their scooters which I will definitely not be doing, but then instead of going out I would rather just stay at home, because what’s a good meal and good company without a drink too.  I might just have to change that philosophy if I want to actually get out at all!  I feel that I am going to be doing a lot of inner reflection in the coming months and really have to face who I am and what I want from my life going forward.

Everyone drives around with these masks on. At first I thought it was really weird but its such a good idea actually as it means no muggies or dust and sand can get into your mouth. With googles/glasses and helmut, your face is really protected. Wearing a helmet like we would wear in the UK or SA would not work here – it’s just too hot!
My expedition to the supermarket. See all those bikes parked? Mine is one of them!!!