Asia | South East Asia | Vietnam – My first long trip in Vietnam
On the 11th I went on a trip with uncle 6, his wife and three kids age 3, 7 and 12. The final destination was La Vang, but there were several stops on the way. As agreed I came over to my uncles at 5pm with my backpack ready to go. There was a little confusion about when the bus would come, but I understood after a while that it was sometime between 5 and 7. So there we were waiting. Us and lots of other people. All Catholics. From what Ive understood the Virgin Mary was seen in La Vang once, and a church has been built there. So the Vietnamese Catholics like to go there if they have the chance, especially in August for some reason.
The bus finally arrived a little before 9 (!) and, as in all other countries I know, everybody wanted to get in the bus first. But let me say that Vietnam is one of those countries where it makes sense because there arent seats for everyone even though everyone has bought their ticket in advance. After a day or two I realized that it was a sort of tour I was on, and we were a group touristing around. But Ill get to the touristing part soon.
Before the bus even arrived I asked my aunt how long it would take to get there, or to the first place we would stop at. She had no idea, not even when I asked if it was two or ten hours. As we pulled out on the road everybody started to sing. I sat with my aunt and the three year old. I think the little girl threw up four times all in all throughout the trip. To my relief I dont get bus sick any longer. My uncle sat with their two other kids. Its pretty nice when over 30 people sing together, it made me think of those Christians in white gowns walking through the woods singing in one of the Cohen brothers films (was it O Brother Where Art Thou??).
The first stop made me want to laugh. The bus pulled over on the shoulder of the road and everybody got out to empty their bladder. No shyness among the Vietnamese women, they all crouched down side by side forming a line longer then the bus. While the men walked over to the bushes.
It was almost eleven hours from Cam Duc to where we first stopped for a long brake, not sure where it was but it was a Catholic place. With statues of Mary, cripples begging for money and children selling trinkets and pictures of saints. We had breakfast and I got really pissed off when I found out I had been tricked into eating three bites of something with meat. So I angrily stalked away and sat talking to the bus drivers by the bus. Thats how I found out where we were going, how many more stops that day, how many hours in the bus between the stops and that kind of things. As they were also from Cam Duc they knew my father of course, everybody seems to know him except me.
Got back in the bus to drive another hour and a half before stopping in Da Nang for a two hour brake. And from there we drove to Hue. There we showered, ate, walked a bit around and slept on the church steps on mats we rolled out. It was pretty crowded, and many slept in the church as well. Hotels and even the cheapest dorms cost too much for the average Vietnamese. Everybody had their blankets, and a pair of sandals under the mat made a nice pillow. They were all thrilled by my sleeping bag (which I only used one of the three nights because it was so hot).
4am we were all back in the bus (maybe this was when I realized we were a group going together all the way) and drove to Phong Nha. And this is the tourist part. We spent the whole morning there, and it was an amazing place really worth going to. Took the boat up a river and into a chain cave, and afterwards we walked up up up to another cave. It was magical. A hidden world with dripping sounds, stone formations and strange light.
What surprised me the most about the whole place was that there were almost no foreigners, but it was packed with Vietnamese tourists. Maybe because it was such a hassle to get there. Inconvenient. The things I didnt like about Phong Nha were all the photographers in the caves, the fact that there was no food I could eat and the Vietnamese being noisy.
When we got back to the bus early that afternoon we drove almost straight to La Vang, only stopped once at a market to eat.
La Vang was really really crowded.. And hot. Most of all it reminded me of a music festival, even though there was no music. (Or; no good music. There was some religious music from loudspeakers.) People were camping all over the place, camping without tents, and mostly just seemed to hang around.
We got there, rolled out our mats, showered, ate, and slept. The next day we didnt do much: discovered the place, lay on our mats in the shade, and slept through the worst heat. I talked to a couple of girls whod traveled with us all the way from Cam Duc, and hand in hand in hand we walked around the place. (It seems like anybody will hold hands as long as theyre not girlfriend-boyfriend, men hold hands too.) In the afternoon I accompanied them when they went to bless maybe 6liters of water by a big statue of Mary. There was a big crowd there and we did a lot of pushing and shoving to get close enough to touch the inscription under the statue. The water cans were put down for a few minutes, we got flowers, and then we elbowed our way out of the crowd.
The mosquitoes in La Vang didnt bite me (that was a nice change), but there wasnt much to eat there either. In the evening there was a short mass but besides that there was little religious activity, at least we didnt take part in any of it.
The next morning we were back in the bus before 7 just as it started to rain. It took over two hours before the engine was even started, and then the bus crept slowly along the dirt road among countless other buses filled with tired Catholics leaving La Vang.
We stopped at the market in Hue on the way back but besides that it was almost a non-stop drive and I was back at my grandparents at 3am Monday morning. I ate (!!! how wonderful to come home and find some edible food in the refrigerator), showered and slept. And the next morning I woke up to the pat pat sounds of little feet belonging to another three year old who was waiting impatiently for me to get out of bed, and the twins who asked if I wanted to ride my bike with them to the beach.
My uncle and aunt were exhausted when they came home, and they almost slept around the clock. All my respect to parents who travel by bus with small children, especially when there is a 16 hour stretch on the route..
And then quickly listing the highlights of the time between last time I wrote and my trip to La Vang:
– I had my language breakthrough almost a month after I arrived.
Oh how wonderful it is to be able to understand and to be understood!
– Ive gotten a bike!
I bought it with my uncle, its a little too small, the perfect shape, the perfect color blue, and it needed quite a bit of fixing before I could use it. I ride it to the beach with the twins, its a pretty long ride.
– I took the bus to Nha Trang alone once
It was great to get out alone a little bit, just walk around, be in a city.
– I am learning to sow clothes!
The two girls/women who work in a little part of uncle 6’s house are teaching me.
There’s probably lots more I could tell about, but I’m sick and tired of sitting in front of the computer now. I’ll write more as soon as I find the time.