Tuesday, 8 December 2015

In Vinh (It rhymes, but nothing much else to be said about this city of 500,000)

My train arrives in Vinh at noon.  

Wiggling out of  the as usual convoluted train station, I am greeted by the usual "Motorbike, Motorbike" and "Taxi, Taxi" calls, ...
... but I wave them away because from the hotels on offer on the various websites, I picked the one right across the street from Ga Vinh, the train station.
Check in proceeds smoothly, except the receptionista wants to keep  my passport again, but this time I am firm in insisting that she can take pictures of the relevant pages but she can't keep it.   NO PROBLEM, she just takes pictures and hands me back my passport.  She gives me a chip card to act as key to my room.  There is an elevator and someone meets me on the 4th floor and guides me towards the room. I get a funny feeling already when  I approach the doors to room 401. A two-winged wooden door. All the other room doors seem to be simple doors.
view from the hotel window

I enter and thank  Karma again.  I booked and paid the cheapest room (CAD 39, breakfast included), but I must be the only foreigner in this town of 500,000 because someone upgraded me to  a full-blown suite with sitting room with  tea set for 6 facing South and the bedroom facing North and East. It feels like I have an entire floor to myself ;-)

Despite what Google Maps says (2 km walk), there is a Post Office right across the street from the hotel, where I can finally drop off the postcards that have accumulated in Sa Pa.  I also learn a new word when I had originally asked the receptionist for directions. Buu Dien is Post office.

My suite is the top left of that curved part.

After my first real coffee (The Viet instant coffee is BETTER than brewed Canadian coffee) in about 32 hours,  I head over to the train station to buy a ticket to Hue for tomorrow.  386,000 VND, which converts into 17.20 US$.  NEVER buy tickets at the Vietnamese Railways System website.  It's good to check out departure and arrival times, but they charge MORE THAN DOUBLE for the same berth (US$ 37-40, depending on the departure time).  Another lesson learned ;-)

After the train station, I decide to walk around the block and my initial guess of being the only Western person in this city is confirmed. I see ONLY Asians, and I see lots of Asians looking at me with a huge number saying "Hello" when I walk buy.  Not only vendors, but also people washing cars, mending clothes, etc, etc.   But it's understandable. Why would a tourist stop in Vinh:  I'd never heard of the place before looking at the Viet Railways timetable. But the experience is a tad intimidating.

I walk through narrow  market streets with everything from fruit and vegetables over live seafood to meat being offered for sale on the ground.  I see a large round wire basket bursting with live roosters, whose hours are most likely very numbered.  One of them is already dead outside the cage and a woman sitting on the ground is plucking the corpse.  Since everyone is looking at the strange Westerner I feel hesitant to take pictures of all these for me strange and new sights.  And I don't!

When  I finally take a picture of a piece of streets, quite a few woman start shouting something while smiling at me.   Culture Shock.  Good, I guess.
The general absence of tourists probably also is responsible for the prices I pay in a little store for a large bottle of water and two packages of yogurt.  24,000 Dong (US$ 1.07 )  IN TOTAL !!!  Prices in Ha Noi were at least  double  and prices in Ha Long Bay  at least triple of what I just paid.

Returning to my hotel room, I finally investigate the nature of the window behind the curtain facing East. It is not a window.   It is a door leading to a tiny balcony !!!!!  So much for going down to the lobby to smoke  ;-)

At 6 pm I realize that I haven't had 'real' food since yesterday afternoon, so I start walking the 2.8 km to Sai Gon Kim Lien restaurant, which has been touted in Tripadvisor as being both cheap and good.

During my walk I receive more Hello calls from people working or walking along the road. When I cross path with an elder obviously Western man at a traffic light, I even say to him "I started to believe I was the only Westerner in this town" and he grins.

These stores are for the Vietnamese

I wonder who built this ;-)

The restaurant definitely does not look cheap but a glance at the menu confirms that standard Western fare is really quite reasonable.  

I only shy away from the stir-fried eel because I'm afraid that it isn't cut into pieces before being fried.  Not sure why, but today I don't think I can handle having a snake-like eel in its entirety on my dinner plate.  Since I never had any before in my life, I order FROG LEGS and a seafood skewer. Wine is not served by the glass but only by the bottle, so I order a Bia Sai Gon.

The beer is fabulous.

They bring a dish to my  table.. But it's not what I expected. It looks and tastes like pork chops.  Could it be that the legs of the giant bull frog have a similar taste and texture to pork?

Since I have  never eaten frog, I actually asked the waiter whether the dish I am pointing at is  frog legs. While I am still waiting from the answer from a person who obviously hasn't understood a word of what I'm saying, another waiter brings a plate of something that can only be frog legs..

The frog legs are dryish but I finish them off.

Overall:  Not impressed.

But here is a sight.  When I'm almost done eating, 20 retirement age Westerners show up  out of nowhere and occupy tables in the restaurant.  Bizarre !

I start walking back the 2.8 km to my hotel. 

On the way back I see a large congregation wearing grey tunics starting their worship service, but I either am too much of a chicken or have built up too much respect to treat worshipers like Miickey Mouse figures at Disneyland, because I don't take a close-up picture.

The park where the elephants make love at night?

On my way home along a major road

I have taken a slight detour to the restaurant by following only major roads. I could have saved 10 minute walking time at least by following Google Maps, but that would have led me roads like the one below.   Most likely utterly harmless to walk at night, but there are sttill a few chicken hiding in my subconscious.

I'm sick of drinking water and tea all the time, so I buy a can of ice-cold Coke in a shack.  At first I think Coca Cola is honouring Vietnam by imitating its flag with the yellow star on the red background. It actually takes me a while to realize that this is Coke's Christmas decoration.

At 10, I hit the bed like a sack of potatoes.

Breakfast at 7 am the next morning is an eye opener.  I feel like Western breakfast and eat toast with Viet cold cuts (great sausage), coffee & jam.  

The coffee looks and tastes like it has been DISTILLED out off a big barrel of coffee of regular strength!  Pre-toasting,,the white bread is home to a flock of fruit flies, and the only available jam is Strawberry.

My own bloody fault. There are at least 10 covered terrines with Viet food and Idiot me goes for Western food, which no-one ever eats here!  Yeah, yeah, lesson learned ;-(

Cua Lo (not my pic

8 am.  My train doesn't leave until noon.  It's too cold and dreary to take a taxi to the beach at Cua Lo, plus the taxi fare of US$ 17 is a bit high for just a quick visit.  So I postpone that beach for another time. 

Instead I take a taxi to Noi Quyet (Pronounced similarly to Now Quit as I find out in the reception), a hill presumably overlooking the city. The taxi driver understands after I repeat those words and make a mountain sign.  

 When I try to explain that I'm looking for the side with the 400 steps, it turns he wanted to bring me to the parking lot at the top, but I leave him at the bottom after paying 80,000 VND and WALK up the hill. 

Halfway up the road, some army cadets are subjected to a semaphor test. There is an officer standing with each one, writing into a note book, while one cadet furiously flags like a windmill and the other one acknowledges with a short flag flick that he understood. 
 I didn't think people did this anymore ! 

NO pine beetle in this country yet...

a useful word to know ;-)  (easy to remember as anagram of Doily)

where is this going?

could it be?

That's  why there are so many steps. No monastery should be reachable without significant effort.

Garfield the Dragon

In case the dragons spit fire: better safe than sorry (I wonder whether even a single  one of them works)

what goes down ....
The 400 steps are closed by a felled skinny tree tied across two trees at the top of step 300, so I have to climb about 100 steps to be able to walk down the road again.  
... must climb back up
This of course leads me RIGHT BACK into the side entrance of the monastery. A monastery MAZE !
Oh how I  would LOVE to ring that bell

goes to shoulder height

When I'm at the road circling the bottom of the mountain I can only think: NOW I could really use a taxi or a motorbike. 

One materializes 5 minutes later. At first he wants US$ 10 to the train station, but after I hand back the helmet and offer him 100,000 VND ($5 and more than I paid for the taxi) he accepts. After putting on the tiny helmet and really having to hold on to the monkey bar at the back, I briefly question the sanity of my decision.  But it is great fun to be wiggled through the insane traffic and evidently I live to tell the tale ;-). I get so used to his driving that I even fished the camera out of my kangaroo pouch and take pictures.

The camera chose to focus on the butterflies on his helmet
But the best part had to be the moment when we were stopped at a red light and a police person started walking towards one of the scooter drivers from the side walk.  My driver just said Oi Oi and sped away through the still red light.  For a while I kept checking behind us for a police scooter with flashing red lights, but none ever came.  

I'm back at the hotel at 9:30 am, with ample time to take another shower and buy food provisions before my 8 hour train ride to Hue at noon.

Last look out of my hotel room window

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