I had a fantastic, if tiring weekend. After teaching 5.30 to 8.30pm on Friday, I caught a motorbike to Ga Ha Noi or Hanoi train station in English. The train left at 9.20 and me and Julian headed to the bar for a well-deserved beer or two. Clio joined us later but doesn't drink very much.
The soft sleepers were all full so we had booked three hard sleeper beds in a compartment of six. It was the slow moving stopper and was due in Vinh at 5am. So with the help of the Beer Hanoi it was off to sleep. After 3am it became less possible, but at least I had had 3 or 4 hours sleep. The train pulled into Vinh exactly on time, as most trains in Vietnam seem to and we caught a taxi to J and C's friend Julian2's school, where he teaches French. Julian2's English is very good as he has lived in England for some time. We were able to sleep for a little over an hour in a very smelly, damp room, but it was free, so beggars can't be choosers.
At 8amish Thuy and Hang arrived and we rented one more motorbike. Which made six people/3 motorbikes on tour... We had omelet for breakfast and set off for the National Park. Vinh looked better than the guide books suggested and looks like a place I wouldn't mind spending time in. But this weekend we were off to Pu Mat National Park, so no time to linger.
No one had been to Pu Mat before, but we did have a very good map book, luckily. We had been told various distances to Pu Mat, but as ever it is further than expected, and turned out to be about 150 kilometres, which is very hard on the bottom on a Honda Wave. The roads, however, are pretty good (apart from about 100 metres of deep red mud which caught us unawares and left us sliding like pucks on an air hockey table, and trainers and bikes covered in mud, but we got through it relatively unscathed) so it was an enjoyable trip, with just a stop for lunch and a few more stops to ask directions. The scenery as we got nearer was amazing, with similar limestone Karsts to Halong Bay but on land not in water.
After around 4 or so hours we eventually arrived in Pu Mat, which had a hotel. Julian and I had left our passports at home, which was pretty stupid of us, as most hotels in Vietnam need evidence of identity and will not let you stay without. But luckily they allowed us to stay, and we had a boys' room and a girls' room, with Julian having to steal a mattress from another room as there were only two beds in each room, one single, one double, and there was no way I was sharing a double bed! The room was full of lizards, insects and spiders, which was no problem for me, but Julian2 later told me he was an arachnophobiac, and didn't have a good night's sleep! It was a National Park, and not that surprising really. It is their home after all.
So we had some bread, meat and cucumber for lunch, al fresco, before setting off touring again. The maps available of the National Park were pathetic, and we didn't want a guide, so we decided instead of trekking, to see the sights by bike. Thuy and Hang were local girls to Vinh, so knew a little, but had no in-depth knowledge, so we just played it by ear. The scenery was fantastic and very uplifting and we all enjoyed it. We tried to find a river where we could take a boat trip, which turned out to be a long way, but along a very scenic local road. Locals waved to us as we went by and shouted "hello" which was nice :-)
When we got to the river it was just a man-made dam and not very beautiful, but there were restaurants and maybe a boat. This was when we came across a jobsworth... He was a soldier, who we argued with for over an hour. He said that we could not stay there, take pictures or take a boat trip because we didn't have ID. He eventually said follow him to the police/army station so we all did. There they were about 30 soldiers playing table tennis and volleyball (it is a tough life being a de-militarised zone policeman!) Eventually it was decided that we could not stay because we didn't have passports or permission to stay and we would have to leave. We then drove back to the boat and caught it anyway. Totally ignoring them! Hang decided not to come with us as they had taken her name and address, but the rest of us went. We were all a bit anxious as we returned, half expecting to be met by soldiers ready to throw us in prison, but fortunately they had gone back to the volleyball and left us in peace.
The long-tail boat trip was enjoyable, lasted about an hour for VND 150,000, less than $10. We stopped at a hut where the driver smoked a pipe, but none of us partook, and he wanted us to walk to a village, but to go into the restaurant we had all taken our shoes off, so were barefoot, so we decided it would be too painful on our feet.
Thuy said she knew a good restaurant near a waterfall, and asked if we wanted to go. It was getting late by this time, but we decided to go anyway, not realising it was quite as far as it was, about another 20 kilometres. It was a long way for people with sore bottoms, through winding, mountainous roads, but a great ride, with rockfalls, buffalos, cows, buffalo and cow shit and trees, trying to block our path, but never quite managing to. As we got close it started to rain, but only a little. So we were lucky with the weather. It was mostly cloudy the whole time, but I still managed to get burnt arms, neck and face.
As we arrived at the restaurant, dark was falling. We ordered two chickens to be spit roasted, and went to the waterfall, only another 600 metres. It was a very powerful and beautiful waterfall, maybe the best I have seen, but hard to see in the failing light and even harder to take pictures of. It would be nice to return and see it in daylight, and swim, but it is a long way to go.
So we went for dinner, with about ten puppies and dogs begging for food and a million flies attracted by the lights, it was a good meal, the chicken was delicious.
Driving back to the hotel in the dark was a difficult journey but one we managed to negotiate, luckily. We stopped in the town near the hotel and had cocktails and were able to watch the second half of the FA Cup final on TV. At full-time it was 0-0 and we left to go back to the hotel, thinking we would be able to watch extra-time on the hotel TV, but it didn't bloody work! So I have only just found out that Chelsea won! YAY!!!!
To be Continued...