Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Week 17 - Dong Hoi

Our last morning in Hue was an early one to catch the final train of Vietnam to Dong Hoi. We quickly ate our pancakes and packed the rest of our belongings before catching a taxi to the station. When we arrived a nice lady told us that our train was delayed by half an hour. The station again was like an oven but we figured that we could handle 30 minutes. But as those 30 minutes passed by pretty slowly we started to get hot and agitated, which was only made worse when the woman told us that the train would be at least another hour! As time ticked by I actually figured that we were pretty lucky, we’ve caught 5 trains in Vietnam and this was the only one which was delayed, given that its normally a pretty common occurrence I suppose we’ve done ok. 

When the train finally arrived it was a mad rush to get on board, but the kind ticket collector allowed me and Kyle to get on first. However once on board I wasn’t happy to see that this train, the se22, was still equipped with the reclining dental chairs. As we laid down in our seats, and ordered the usual iced coffee from the cart on board, I was further disappointed to see that all the blinds on the train had been closed which meant no sightseeing for me. So instead I completed one book on the journey whilst Kyle slept and got pointed at and called names by the local children, we still don’t know what they were saying! We thought that the train would arrive late in Dong Hoi given the long delay, but we actually made it ahead of schedule and quickly jumped in a taxi and made our way to the Anh Linh hotel. 

We booked the Anh Linh knowing it was going to be basic, but the reviews all said that the staff made up for it…so we thought, great, this will just be like Good Morning Guesthouse in Phnom Penh. How wrong we were, this is probably one of the most basic places which we have stayed in South East Asia and we are here for 5 nights! The room is tiled from floor to ceiling, the towels have seen better days, we’ve been given a quilt cover and no quilt and the beds are probably harder than China. But at $12 a night we really can’t complain, plus it’s in an ideal location.

After a long day of train delays we were pretty tired and hungry, so we decided to treat ourselves to some naughty Western food. We’d read about a place called 7th Heaven, owned by an American war vet and his wife, which apparently makes the best burgers in Dong Hoi so we figured it would be pretty rude not to check it out. The owner was the nicest guy, real friendly and constantly checking that your food was ok. The burgers were amazing, as were the seasoned fries and the onion rings. Oh the onion rings, and the delicious sauce which accompanies them! Even the guy didn’t know what was in the sauce, it’s his wifes secret recipe! If you’re in Dong Hoi in the next month I’d definitely recommend checking this place out, as they’re packing up and heading back to the U.S very soon.

It rained all night, and when we woke on the second day it was still raining. Though we didn’t mind as it brought the temperatures down to the low 30’s, a much needed relief after the last 12 days. We spent the morning drinking coffee and tea in a cafe, before strolling through the park along the river front. We also went to see the Tam Toa Catholic Church, which is one of only 4 things to be left standing after the American B-52’s destroyed the city in 1965. Upon viewing the church and the one remaining tomb we were reminded of the A-bomb tomb in Hiroshima, Japan, though this church is covered in many bullet holes on every side of the building. People believe that these remains are a sign of the cites resilience. 

Late afternoon brought heavier rain which continued into the evening, so our site seeing was cut short and tea was somewhat enjoyed at a bar around the corner. Buffalo ended up being the closest place, so we quickly ducked in out of the rain. It was a backpacker hell hole with shit music and crappy Western food. Kyle’s pho soup wasn’t too bad, but I would still be paying for my chicken two days later!

Thankfully the rain had stopped the next morning and we woke to glorious sunshine and a manageable temperature of 33 degrees, so we hired some push bikes and explored the city. The kind bike rental people provided us with a map of the city and our first stop, the surviving wall. Did we find it? Nope, instead we found a completely abandoned beach. Which would have been perfect, if we had swimwear. So we turned round and headed back the way we came in case we’d missed the wall, but we couldn’t find it then either. Next stop was a monument on the other side of the river, getting there involved going over a busy bridge, after going round an even busier roundabout. Kyle was fine and made it round the round about straight away, me I was to chicken shit to move, I mean this is crazy Vietnam with more peds than people, so I joined him on the bridge about 15 minutes later. 

Once over the bridge, did we find the next site? Nope, instead we found another beautiful empty beach, with crystal clear, still, hot water….and we still had no beachwear or suncream! Feeling sweaty and defeated we headed back to the hotel to freshen up, get changed and head back to the beach. Queue bad weather! We waited for the wind to settle and the clouds to pass and rode our bikes to the city wall instead, along the river front promenade and finally to the statue of Me Suot Anh Hung. A boat woman, Me Suot Anh Hung risked and lost her life helping soldiers in the war. 

Cycling around Dong Hoi we were greeted with a lot of “hellos” and “how are yous?” something which hasn’t happened in a long time. Whilst I have missed and appreciate the friendliness, I just couldn’t cope with the busyness of the roads, and actually found myself wanting to be back on a ped, just so I didn’t have to drive! Safe to say I was happy when we handed the bikes back in at the end of the day!

The next morning we were picked up by a mini bus bound for Phong Nha National Park, home to over 1000 caves, 45 different ethnic groups and 43% of Asia’s primates. Our plan for the day was to visit Phong Nha cave, to get there we has to take a boat up the river. Along the way we saw the homes of the people that live in this village, almost all of the houses had at least 3 boats outside. We learnt that there are 391 boats serving the same route so to make it fair, each family will work for one day using their boat, and then take 3 days off before working again. The Village is divided by the river so to transport their goods, peds and bikes from one side to the other they have to use the “ferry”, a small wooden raft attached to an engine. We also passed a huge golden church belonging to the village people, as 85% of the population there are Catholic. The last thing we spotted on our journey was the home of the goats, a little wooden shelter built into the mountains for the goats to take rest in! 

As we neared our destination the river split into two, the side we took had cool clear water which led towards the cave, the other was a murky brown thanks to the rain water flowing down the mountains. Phong Nha cave looks just as amazing from the outside as it does inside, a huge mountain covered in dark grey rocks, bright green trees and the odd scattering of flowers. Coming into the mouth of the cave the engine of the boat was switched off and two people began to row us through, as the noise from the boats engine would be too loud. Inside the cave was refreshingly cool, and there were many limestone, calcium and rock formations, coming from both the ground and the ceiling. Sailing through our guide pointed out formations with names such as the laughing Buddha, as it looked like it had a huge round belly, a lion and Rapunzel’s hair. 

Next our boat pulled over so that we could explore the cave, it was inside Phong Nha that during the war medics would treat patients and supplies would be stored. We could see why with the huge walkways and mini caves inside it was a perfect hidden location. Our last stop of the day was the Temple of the Mountain Gods, high up on the side of Phong Nha people perform a sacrificial dance on the 1st of May each year for more rain. It was a great day, I only wish that we’d spent more time in Phong Nha meeting the people and exploring the many caves. 

Tea that evening was enjoyed back at 7th Heaven, it was here that we learnt of the recent sea pollution in the centre of Vietnam. It now makes sense why the beaches were deserted and why seafood has been taken off most menus. Knowing this makes me feel a little better about the fact that its raining again today, meaning we can’t go to the beach. 

So we are having a much needed chill today before flying to Hanoi tomorrow and cruising round Halong Bay. You may be wondering why we’re treating ourself to such a luxury as flying, well Kyle booked the train wrong and we couldn’t get a better time so…..hahahaha!

Love Carrie xxx

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