Monday, August 29, 2011
There are few places worse to sleep than on a bus seat. it is impossible to get comfortable, there is hardly enough leg room, reclining impossible. One thing that is worse though is sleeping on a Vietnamese sleeper bus. Essentially there are a series of reclining seats, with a small wedged compartment for the feet, which makes the top half of the seat in front of you. Clever design, but actually worse than a seat, since it kills the vertical plane. They are too short for westerners and when you have a day pack, there is absolutely no room for feet at all. We traveled in one of these overpriced models of pseudo-comfort for twelve hours from Hue to Nimh Binh. I did manage to get some poor sleep,; it was much better when I discovered the doors at the sides of wedge so I could stick my feet out and wiggle my toes.
We arrived in Nimh Binh at 5am then immediately found a hotel for a nap. The city is not too pleasant: dusty, crowded and lined with unnecessary flashing lights. Thankfully we didn't come for the city; it was the range of limestone mountains just outside we came to see.
We rented a motorbike and rode to Tam Loc, a cave down a river that flows through the towering karsts. It was powerful scenery. Rice fields filled the river as we floated along by a rowboat that our driver rowed with his feet. The trip went a mile or so through two caves, past little temples, dwarfed by the mountains. At the end of the line, we met a wall of floating souvenieer pedlers, hounding us to buy useless stuff at prices twice that of the markets. "Drink?!"
"Sorry, we have."
"Drink for driver?"
"Sorry, they have water."
Thankfully, they realized quickly we weren't going to buy anything. I took a paddle from the old woman for the return trip, but instead of resting, she kicked her son from the other oars and kept rowing. They were friendly and fun; we didn't even care that they tried to sell us their embroidered t-shirts for most of the way back. It was a ridiculously hot and humid Vietnamese (I guess that is a bit redundant) day and since I did much paddling myself, I knew it was hard work. A tip was definitely in order, until they stopped paddling and asked if we were going to tip. We still planned tip after this, but the amount suddenly became significantly less. Their tip got decreased even more when they told us how much to tip them. The amount asked was what we originally planned to pay them, but their hounding us about it lowered the total to half of that amount. I then told them why as well. Principals you see.
I drove us to a nearby mountain that we saw from the boat and climbed to the top for some jaw dropping views. From there, we rode North quite a bit, along a bumping dirt road, giving me some new skills on the bike. Driving through town during rush hour taught me even more skills, the most important, how to avoid cardiac arrest during left turns.
The real highlight was our dinner that night, the best dish I had in Vietnam. Nihm Bihn is famous for it's goat meat, one of my favorites. We found a small place during a downpour and ordered a dish. It said "rare goat meat", but what were given was raw meat, tossed in spices and nuts, served with rice papers, pineapples and a divine sauce. Michelle and I basically melted in our chairs. I never imagined raw meat could be so orgasmic.