Vietnam 2017 – Trip Report 9

10 October – Meo Vac – Ba Be Lake

Up fairly early and downstairs to meet Toan by 7.00am for breakfast.

Noticing banh mi in the list of options on the breakfast menu, and not having had a banh mi for a while, that becomes the obvious choice.

So, banh mi opla (egg) duly ordered.

Along with my morning ritual of caphe sua da.

Caphe sua da is good.  Banh mi opla is….., well….., not that good.

Well, it tastes alright, and there’s nothing wrong with the egg, but the roll is soft.

Like really soft.  Like it’s been heated up in a microwave.

They’re not supposed be like that.  Well, soft in the middle is good, but hard and crunchy on the outside is what it should be.

You know, a bit like a snail.

Anyway, I manage to hold back a little tear that is trying to escape from one of my eyes, and I consume my ‘less snail like’, but more ‘slug like’, banh mi.

My slightly disappointing breakfast done, and we start loading up the bike to get ready to head off.  There’s been a bit of rain overnight and things are pretty wet.  It’s still very overcast and gloomy, and it’s actually drizzling a bit.

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Toan, dressed for the conditions, doing a final map check.

Bags, as well as us, all wrapped up in plastic, and we’re ready to go.

Well, I thought I was ready, until Toan asked if I was going to be wearing my helmet today, which happened to be sitting on the pool table.

Hmmm, first the soft banh mi, and now my head’s constant companion over the last few days almost left behind.

Yeah, not really a great start to the day.  Hopefully it gets better from here…..

Helmet retrieved and we’re off by 7.30am.

Three minutes later, as we wind our way up a mountain, I ask Toan to stop for a photo.

A bit like Yen Minh, I can see Meo Vac below.  Unlike Yen Minh, I now have a photo of Meo Vac from above.

Said before, I was never going to make that mistake again.

The drizzle has actually eased in the last few minutes, but it is still very grey and overcast.  Interestingly though, visibility is very clear.  It has a crispness about it.

And then just as I’m taking a couple of photos, the sun pokes through the clouds.

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Looking back towards Meo Vac

It was like it was meant to be.

Soft banh mi and forgotten helmet are a thing of the past.  The day is on the up.

Back on the bike, and we’re off once again.

The drizzle soon returns, and that good visibility thing becomes a memory.  It’s now quite foggy and misty, which kind of adds to the whole thing, but does impact on what you can see.

A bit later the sun reappears, but that doesn’t last long and the fog, mist and low cloud quickly return.  It’s ever changing, and at the moment, that’s one thing that looks least likely to change.

There doesn’t seem to be too many people about, although there is the occasional minority villager walking beside the road, and there’s not a lot in the way of visible crops from what I can see.  Not sure if that’s because of the weather, or if it’s just an area that is not overly populated.

It seems to be more about jungle around here, rather than farmland.

While the road is reasonable, there are sections that are in pretty ordinary condition.  There is however hope for these parts, as every so often I notice mounds of granite like rocks piled beside, and also on, the road.  Near these rock piles there are also large drums of tar.

A little later, after passing quite a few of these future road-repairing materials, we come into a very small village where they are actually working on the road.

It’s an interesting experience sitting on the back of a bike, navigating a road that is essentially a layer of loose rocks, edging slowly past a very large steamroller that you are so close to that you could actually shake the steam roller driver’s hand.

On we go, taking in the sights, which at the moment, compared to yesterday, don’t really compare.

Toan soon pulls over, and at first, I’m a little surprised he has, as there’s nothing really of note around here.

But this stop is not scenery related.  It is bike related.  More specifically, it is rear tyre related.

Yep, it is no longer capable of retaining the thing that is essential to allowing it to do its job.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised it’s taken this long to get our first puncture.

And as all this is unfolding, the drizzle returns.  Fortunately, we’re only a few metres from a building that has an awning out the front.  We have to share the undercover area with a pool table, but there’s still plenty of room.  In fact, the pool table comes in handy as a type of bench to unpack a few things.

Lucky they were closed….

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Lucky one of us knew what to do….

While Toan begins the fight with the tyre, we have a visitor join us.

It’s a small brown pig that’s foraging around in some rubbish on the side of the road.

Now, they say you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, buy oh my, it was one very unattractive pig.

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Our little piggy visitor…..

Battle with bike tyre finally won, we’re once again on the move.

A few minutes later we pull up outside a small motorbike repair shop.  Five or six guys are sitting around chatting; well they were, until we pulled up.  I’m not sure they expected to see someone like me this morning, and I’m not sure there’s been too much work going on.

Toan speaks to the owner and he heads over and turns on the compressor.

This confirms two things for me.  One, that we may be one of his first customers for the day, and two, the reason we are here is that we need a little more air in the tyre!

Yep, sometimes it takes a while for that penny to drop….

While the compressor fills up, I wonder what the charge for something like this is going to be.

Tyre inflated, conversation between Toan and motorbike fixer guy had, and the total of 5000 Dong handed over.

Yep, about 27 Australian cents.

Now sitting slightly higher, as well as riding the usual bumps a little more comfortably, we’re on our way.

Scenery still not ‘stunning’ like yesterday, but still more than interesting.  But perhaps now more about the everyday, rather than massive mountains, deep valleys and views that go for miles.

A little posse of goats, all wearing bells, walking down a dirt track that leads to the road.  And not a person in sight.  They just looked like a little gang of kids hanging out together.

I’d like to take credit for the, in my opinion, rather witty ‘kid’ reference, but it was actually an accident.

Still damp and drizzling, it was also interesting to see how people go about staying dry.  Like the couple sharing a bike, while wearing plastic bags on their feet.

I’d not seen that before, and now kind of wished that I had, but it was now too late for my shoes, anyway.

Actually, thinking about it, there’s probably a reason I hadn’t seen it before.  The locals, particularly out in the countryside, don’t usually wear shoes.  They tend to wear sandals.

Maybe I need to man up and just wear thongs when on a bike.  What could possibly go wrong doing that, anyway….

On we go, and finally the drizzle eases.  Still rather gloomy, but at least I’m not getting any wetter.

Into a small village, a quick ask of directions, and as quick as we entered the village, we’re now leaving it.

On the outskirts, kind of in the middle of nowhere, we find a petrol station.  While refueling, and seeing as water is no longer falling from the sky, we decide to get rid of the wet weather gear.

Job done, we head off.

But only for five minutes, as once again, the water from above thing, intervenes.

Wet weather gear back on.

Geez, it’s like living in Melbourne….

But now it couldn’t really be described as drizzle.  It’s not terribly heavy, but it is steady rain.

We continue on, and so does the rain.  And the further we go, the heavier the rain gets.

And you know when it’s getting heavier, when you’re sitting on the back of a motorbike, because the rain hits your helmet harder.

You also end up getting wetter a lot more quickly, too.

And I’m not really sure it’s avoidable, regardless of how much plastic you’re wearing.

We eventually come into a small town, and while it’s still a little early for lunch, the rain just makes it an easy decision to take a break.

Multiple layers of plastic peeled off, we take a seat inside a small restaurant.  It’s a typical husband and wife business, and judging by the husband’s smile and enthusiasm, he seems very happy to have me in his place.

Toan does the ordering, which suits me fine, and we end up with steamed rice, beef, pork, spring rolls, obligatory greens, and that tofu stuff.

Once again, so much food, and there’s no way I can eat it all.  And once again, I feel bad about leaving it.

I do the right thing though, by eating the stuff that gave up its life, and leaving the stuff that shouldn’t have been made into a food product in the first place.

Bet you can’t guess which one I paid limited attention to.

Yep, no point wasting limited stomach space on that….

Stomach uncomfortably full, plastic reapplied, we head off into the rain.

The scenery continues as it has for most of the day, which while nice, has nothing on what we have seen this week.  Just been a bit spoiled I suppose….

It’s predominately jungle, with the occasional farming area of a rice terrace or two.  And the rain probably isn’t helping to improve what I’m looking at.

Although, the guy walking down the road ‘wearing’ a rather large palm leaf on his head as an umbrella, did make me smile.

The two guys rolling and stretching out an electrical cable, that will be put up on rudimentary bamboo poles beside the road, made me shake my head a little.

The guy with the end of the cable must have been 400 metres from his mate, and he was still dragging it along.

Eventually the jungle gives way to more farmland and villages, and just as the rain goes from steady to absolutely teaming down, we pull in undercover out the front of a small shop.

We sit it out for a few minutes, and while the whole rain thing, as well as the fact that I feel like we’ve done and seen very little, is really starting to frustrate me, I look at Toan and just laugh.

There was just nothing else you could do.

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The photo doesn’t quite capture just how torrential the rain was.

Toan buys an extra poncho, and then a couple of locals pull up to do the same.

One is very surprised to see this drowned looking westerner here, and comes over and shakes my hand.  He has limited English, but enough to ask where I’m from.

While he’s putting on his rather fetching purple poncho, I take his photo.  He enjoyed that, and we had a good laugh before he and his mate headed back out into the rain.

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My mate sporting his new poncho!

Toan and I, now wearing more plastic, quickly followed.

The rain soon begins to ease a little and we’re soon climbing up a mountain.

That would normally mean the opportunity of some potentially interesting and scenic views, but today isn’t really a ‘seeing’ day.

The ‘seeing’ then gets considerably worse when what I first thought was fog, envelopes us.

But it’s not actually fog; it’s cloud.  And very thick it was.

The last time I saw cloud this thick was a week ago, while sitting in a plane coming in to land in Hanoi.

Seriously, visibility was down to 10 to 20 metres, and about all I could see was the many waterfalls cascading down the mountain beside the road.

I just hoped Toan could see a little more…..

It was both interesting and eerie at the same time, as well as being a little unnerving.

And I couldn’t help but wonder what I was missing out on, when looking off into the direction of where I would imagine a rather significant view of a valley could be seen, on a clear day.

Oh well, I’ll never know….

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Camera, once again, didn’t quite get it.  But at least it was now able to get something…..
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Plenty of plastic, but still not enough…..

Finally down the mountain and out of the cloud, the scenery is a little different.  Far more little minority villages along with lots of rice fields with very yellow rice still to be harvested.

A little later we even come across fields that still have very green and lush looking rice in them.  Confirmation, I suppose, that the timing of harvesting can vary greatly depending on where you are up here.

Into yet another little village, a quick query to a local about where we are, along with a few ‘hellos’ from some kids heading home from school, and we head down a narrow path that will save us considerable time compared to staying on the road.

Nice to have some local knowledge, or at least to have the local language.

A quick petrol stop at the next town we come across, and then it’s on to the final leg of the day’s journey.

It’s now getting a little late, and because of the overcast conditions, it’s also quite dark.

On we go, and eventually we’re on the road to Ba Be Lake.  Not long after, we pull up at a ticket booth and Toan pays an entrance fee.

I hadn’t really thought too much about Ba Be Lake, and I was a little surprised to see the ticket booth, but apparently it’s a national park and you have to pay to enter.

Fee paid, we continue on until we reach a car park.  Over to the left is a road with a bamboo pole across it with some kind of warning.

Turns out it’s a warning to cars not to enter as they are doing the road up, but bikes are allowed.

Under the pole we go, and along a road that probably should have been done up five years ago.

Dead set, it was the crappiest ‘made’ road I have ever been on.

Pot holes big enough to swallow a large child, and perhaps even a sibling as well.

Slow going, bumpy beyond extreme, dark and damp, and just plain painful to experience.

I’ve now had enough.  I’m wet, uncomfortable, tired, sore, and quite honestly, don’t really want to be spending the night here.

I haven’t even seen the place yet, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to be my kind of place.

Why?

Because I am of the belief that it is a Vietnamese holiday destination.  We’ve had an experience or two of that type of thing, and while it’s interesting to see that, it’s not something that I covet.

Eventually, and after what seems like hours, we get off Vietnam’s worst ‘made’ road and head across a bridge that spans a river.

On the other side is quite a few homestays that overlook the water, and just past this area is where the lake begins.

We pull up at one of the homestays and they show me to my room.  It’s a good size and has two beds in it, which as it turns out, is very handy.

With a huge desire to extricate myself from my wet clothes and shoes, I unpack my bag.

And yep, the day just gets better.

The bag, as well as everything inside it, apart from some of the things I have in zip-lock bags, is wet.

Yes, it could have been a lot worse, but it’s bad enough to really piss me off.

So, everything comes out of the bag and is spread out over the bed.  The coat stand in the room is also filled, and I turn the fan on to hopefully begin the drying process.

Shoes are also pulled apart, and I even have to wring out my shoelaces.

Yep, really pissed off, but also thankful for the zip-lock bags.

A quick shower, just so I can get a little wetter, and I head out to a communal area to have dinner with Toan, the owners of the homestay, a couple of guides, and a few of the other guests.

Rice, pork, beef, fish, an eel type looking fish that isn’t an eel, the usual greens, along with soya beans, which incidentally, are much better than when they’re made into tofu.

Food was good, beer was better, and the rice wine potent with excellent paint stripping capabilities.

So all in all, no complaints.

Dinner done, we all sit around and I have a chat to the other guests; a young German guy who’s touring around Vietnam with his dad, and Malcom, an English guy, who is actually riding a bicycle around a fair chunk of the country.

Good company and good conversations with a few beers, it was a nice way to finish the night.

And I now feel a little better about things than I did earlier.

But, all good things must come to an end, so I grab another beer and head back to my room to see how my drying attempt is going.

It’s rained a fair bit over the last couple of hours, and while it’s certainly not cold, it is very humid.

Not overly confident that everything will be dry in the morning.

We shall see.

Will also be interesting to see what tomorrow brings.

More rain?  Interesting things to see?  Or maybe another day like today?

Again, we shall see…..

Cheers,

Scott

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