Have Good to See?
So Nigh got a bit regimented with us on the tour... as I have found with a few tour guides over the past few weeks. Orderly.
His tenacious demands and persistent requests became almost orderly - prompt requirements of the itinerary. If we did not respond vocally or with a nod of the head immediately, his demands would echo, implying our imposition.
"Peas cum a dow fo brekas now."
"Peas cum a dow fo brekas now."
"Peas cum a dow fo brekas now."
The Vietnamese have a way of articulating their English by either adding unnecessary vowels at the end of words or omitting final consonants all together. Either way, they slur the word together to develop something so radically different from the original that it usually leaves everyone quite baffled.
"Peas cum a dow fo brekas now." ... translates to "please come down for breakfast now."
We left the homestay around 8AM, after a breakfast of bananas, thin doughy pancakes and some kind of liquid chemically-inducted butter-tasting honey-type syrup. Jorge has a gluten allergy, so he got rice.
The family we left was wonderful and very accommodating, though quite clearly poor in everything but family, food and love. Their little boy and I hit it off famously. He loved smashing his bike in to my foot and I, in turn, loved pushing his bike away... with my foot. After each experience on the road, Ning was quick to ensure that we were all made happy and;
"Have good to see?"
We would all nod in unison. Sometimes it appeared that he wasn't entirely convinced that we all 'have good to see' so he would repeat himself until we eased his conscience with our enthusiasm. The landscape here is very similar to that of Ha Long Bay / Bai Tu Long Bay... except on land, as opposed to in the ocean. If this area were to flood... it would be like an extension of what we recently explored on the coast. But here we were in Northeastern Vietnam - immersed in a vast countryside collection of towering mountain blobs, scattered randomly, for as far as the eye could see. Each one, tangled with lush jungle vegetation. I know I put in a photo similar to the one below yesterday, but I had to include another one, to showcase this impressive & chaotic landscape once again. It's difficult to capture the overgrown maze of jungle in a iPhone photo, let alone how the foliage literally cloaks the hills in growth.
The photo below is the best I could do... zooming in... adjusting the brightness... cropping... adding definition...
And I'll say it again, I'm no photographer...
From the moment I mentioned venturing to Vietnam, I knew that I wanted to see the Ban Gioc Waterfalls. It just looked too beautiful for me to pass up, so I set about trying to find a tour that would deliver.
Our first stop of the morning was at some impressive caves - Nguom Ngao, apparently a national relic and very popular tourist stop. Thick dumb me thought, we were actually at the waterfalls. You can imagine the thrill of it all... stepping out of the bus, camera in hand... big smile on my face... only to discover that we had a few more kilometres to drive. Shows how much attention I was paying... or how much Vietnamese I speak. Don't get me wrong... I was impressed by the caves... just not AS impressed as I knew I would be by the waterfalls. Lucky for our group, there weren't a lot of tourists out and about today, so we pretty much had our run of the joint. Maybe it was the time of there day? Time of the year?...
We wandered through the caves - might I add, with proper shoes on today - admiring the various shapes of the stalactites. The cave's name means "Tiger's Cave" and a long time ago, it is rumoured that many fierce tigers lived here. I think that they have moved out though because I didn't see any today. I had a pretty good look as well. Once we'd inspected and investigated every inch of the Tiger Caves and found nary a tiger, off we went to the waterfalls...
"Have good to see?" Quite disappointed at the lack of tigers. I told Ning that I'd probably just send a complaint letter to head office, but I'm not sure be understood.
Next stop... Ban Gioc.
Believe you me... as soon as I laid eyes on them, first impressions did not disappoint. I knew from the very beginning that this was going to be one of my guaranteed Vietnam happy places. Looking back at the amount of times I did a Google search on Ban Gioc... throwing a full screen of waterfall images at friends and family (and strangers, I might add),bragging about my upcoming journey and how soon I would be standing right there... right there in front of this aquatic cascading masterpiece. There is only one word that can aptly describe the wonder of Ban Gioc.
They are truly majestic.
No other word holds candle to possibly remotely close to epitomizing their power, their beauty and their allure. An unparalleled natural sight. Awe inspiring, really. The waterfalls straddle the international border of Vietnam and China. We could see China, we could feel China and we could almost touch China... but that was forbidden. The water all belongs to China, but as they share the boundary, Vietnam is allowed visitation by way of the shoreline and the right to run little bamboo rafts taking sightseers closer to the falls for a fabulous view.
Apparently mass tourism has yet to arrive - on both sides - Vietnam and China. When we arrived, there wasn't more than a mere trickling of visitors. There was always an opportunity to get an incredible photo without the disruption and disturbance of crowds.
Ok- Travel rant time... Our tour van (guide) stops in the most random places and this MUST be recognized and discussed.
Now, I'm not claiming to be a tour guide... nor do I feel the need to suddenly pursue the profession, but should I ever find myself in the role, I would really strive to cater to the needs and wants of those in my van. In saying this, I fully understand that "when in Rome..." BUT... in my defence, all of the locations (be it a quick bathroom break or afternoon lunch) that we stopped at had the following in common;
No toilet paper (not even the option to purchase TP.)
Zero food convenience (minimal variety of beverages and snacks, if any at all.)
Zero modern commodities.
At one stop, I literally ran down the road like a prisoner escaping my captor! I spotted a STORE... or at least something that slightly resembled a store... and I just felt the sudden urge to run towards it, arms out, grin from ear to ear... like I was being reunited with a long lost friend. Mostly I just wanted to buy something that wasn't a massive bean jar, bulk vegetables, packaged rice or black sesame balls. Ning wasn't impressed with my attempted escape... but... I found ice cream, so I won the battle."Have good to see?"
No... the entire van needs ice cream.
At one point, he came to the conclusion that I didn't like Vietnamese food. I tried to explain to him that I like Vietnamese food just fine (little white lie as pertaining to this particular tour) BUT... sometimes one needs a little variety in their culinary experience... or maybe just an afternoon snack. The extravagance of the meals was touching... but slightly redundant. And back to the absence of providing an occasional accessibility to some much needed commodities... you needn't look much further than my requested stop to purchase body lotion yesterday. These random stops our guide was making were anything but accidental. I hazard to guess that there was definitely some kind of commission deal worked out.. but revenue would have skyrocketed had we all been presented with something we all wanted or needed!
Body lotion, toilet paper, Diet Coke, Pringles, a hat, Tylonel, tampons, ice cream...
But then again... I'm no tour guide.
An abnormal abundance of plastic bags floated on their own... some full of water, some full of garbage... There were chip bags, beer cans, candy wrappers, styrofoam containers... Heartbreaking. The shorelines were trash. Trees along the bank had their branches blanketed with bits of colourful plastic bags... almost as if they had been deliberately decorated. Rubbish everywhere. The most noticeable in large quantities though, were plastic bottles.
The tiny cove where our homestay was located was fairly clean compared to the rest of the area, perhaps due to it being a private area... perhaps not so great for fishing... or maybe already over fished? Now... this was a homestay that I could get used it. It was very reminiscent of the Swiss Family Robinson, and all of our 'private' bedrooms were on the top floor, looking out over the bay. Hammocks, comfy couches, colourful lanterns, hisorical photographs, traditional art... all decorated the place. It was very comfortable and unique. I was in my own bedroom with 2 queen size beds, both with the draping bug nets again...
We moved on from my beautiful waterfalls to Ba Be Lake...a National Park of Vietnam and they are currently attempting to make it a UNESCO site, but so far, have been unsuccessful. If there is anything I can take away from this particular lake trip... anything at all that ingrains in to my psyche... never, never, ever, never use anything plastic, never, ever again. Never. To be nothing short of explicit... the lake was literally littered with litter. The fishermen used plastic bottles and rope as buoys to mark their nets and these were all over the water.
Dinner.... I'm not even going to mention dinner.
Guess. Rice and I are breaking up... forever.
In fact, I may never touch another spring roll again either.
And I refuse to mention lunch the following day either. I'm not even going to bring up having to beg Ning to stop at a normal shop so I could purchase something to snack on and tie me over until my next rice buffet.
I got was a cup of stale, caramelized popcorn and some kind of freezer-burnt orange flavoured sorbet. Nothing else was remotely edible.
"Have good to see?" No... beat it.