Sunday, 31 December 2017

Vietnam, day 5: A Trip to the Beach - Naht!

Con Son, Vietnam
18 May 2017
We were woken early by roosters cawing and frantic hotel guests running up and down the stairs near our room. Unable to get back to sleep, we walked down a couple of blocks to the local market, where I stocked up on pineapple and jackfruit for later. Breakfast was at our new favourite waterfront cafe (Con Son Cafe), where I sipped at a pineapple juice (it's my second favourite fruit ok!) and Yannick tried out a bac xiu - like a normal Vietnamese coffee, but with MOAR condensed milk.
Feeling adventurous, we rented a motorbike from our hotel! Yannick's helmet was green, and mine was silver like a space cadet. Neither of us had ridden a motorcycle before, let alone driven one. I'm actually quite afraid of motorbikes because both my uncle and grandfather were in serious accidents which left huge scars across their pates. However, the roads were wide and practically empty, with just the odd bike or vehicle puttering along, and there were no extreme hills, so I felt that this would be the absolute best opportunity to ride one. What didn't assuage my fears, however, was watching Yannick get the hang of how to work the beast. He actually picked it up fairly quickly, but it was mainly my deep trust in him that got me through it. After cruising around the block a few times, we were off!

Though a bit wobbly, it was really quite fun to ride the motorbike! Yannick had to be extra vigilant because of all the potholes in the road, but the ride was wonderfully scenic and we wouldn't have been able to travel so far cross country without a motorbike as public transport isn't a thing.

Along the way, we saw an abundance of wildlife, including cows, goats, monkeys, and lizards.

The temperature was hot and humid (as it always is on Con Son), so feeling the wind rush past us as we zoomed along the coastal roads was refreshing.

Before long we had found Bai Naht, a beach that had been recommended to us by a local and through blog posts. When we arrived, there were two guys swimming and they remained in the water the whole time we were there! They must love swimming. We alternated between swimming and sunbathing. It was very exposed and there were no patches of shade on the beach, but as it was before half past ten, experience informed us that sunbating would be fine (though we were wrong). At one stage, some monks arrived in a taxi and frolicked about for a bit, which was quite a sight! The lady monks swam with all their clothes on (including head scarves), while the male monks stripped down to their pantaloons.

As is often the case in Vietnam, just across the road from the beach appeared to be some sort of landfill, though luckily we couldn't smell anything unappetising. It's always a slight shock to be surrounded by gorgeous lush hills on one side, a sweeping sea vista on the other, and then see a rubbish heap dumped squarely in the middle. Unfortunately, for all the country's wonderful scenery, it's not uncommon to see empty crisp packets bobbing along a winding river or an abandoned plastic bag sailing along in the breeze. However, we do our part by not littering, and I've learned to try to enjoy the good views over the bad.

After applying some sunscreen, we zipped off further down the coast to a wharf. Yannick never did fully manage to get the hang of stopping or starting the motorbike, but it's the thought that counts and we didn't crash so that's something. The wharf was a lot more built up than I expected it to be, with several shops and eateries on either side.

On the way back to the main settlement on Con Son, we stopped to get a closer look at a roadside shrine that was beautifully decorated with lanterns and incense, and surrounded by forest. A local woman tried to tell us something, but the words and gestures were unfortunately lost on us. She had a cute little puppy that stuck close to her ankles. 

Across the street was a strange building that looked like a hotel that had been abandoned part way through being built. It would have been a coveted location for the views over the hills and the sea. Perhaps one day construction will be finished and it will rival even the Six Senses resort that lurks on the other side of the island. 

On the way back to our hotel there were plenty of downhill sections in the road, so we had fun coasting down those. We parked and went to our room to have quick showers and it was at this point that Yannick realised he had been pretty badly sunburnt from our time on the beach. We resolved to be more careful in the future and not assume that European sun rules are the same in Southeast Asia. (Oddly enough, I was completely fine and not even a tad pink. This could be due to the fact that I had been sunbathing on our apartment's terrace in Singapore for the last couple of months and was therefore more accustomed to sun worship.)

As it was a muggy afternoon, we visited Infiniti Cafe for a bevvy break. We both ordered cocktails (a Blue Hawaiian and a margarita) and Yannick had a bite to eat. While taking a reading break, we were amused by the cafe owner attempting to feed her small child lunch and being rebuffed. He wanted to watch TV shows on the iPad and play with his firetruck instead. Returning to our hotel, we napped for a time before heading out again.

The road to Ong Dung beach was narrower than we expected, and had some construction work that we needed to bypass. Once we found the sign, we parked our motorbike and began the walk through the jungle. A scruffy puppy, who was at the start of the path, followed us the entire way! I think he wanted food but we had none to give. When we were nearly at the beach we spotted a jungle rat who made aggrieved barking noises as though we were a threat to his safety and scurried off into the underbrush. We discovered that there were a few houses down near the beach, and the puppy stopped following us there.

Though very rocky, we found a not too uncomfortable place to sit and read. When the pointiness became unbearable, Yannick found a plank of wood and gentlemanly laid it down for me to sit upon. Two guys came down and went snorkelling for a bit. Yannick and I discusses the pros and cons of living by Ong Dung beach. On the one hand, you can swim and snorkel whenever you want, but on the other you have to carry your groceries down a long winding jungle path. Luckily there were no sandflies or mozzies, but a persistent ant kept crawling up my leg (yes, it was definitely the same ant every time).
Walking back up the jungle path, we saw loads of monkeys! They were running and swinging and fighting with each other, and this one monkey would make a very loud hooting noise which made him sound much larger than he was. Powerful lungs I suppose. He should train in opera.

We drove back and dropped off the motorbike at our hotel. After hanging out for a while, reading and eating pineapple on the balcony, we then went in search of the night market but it was nowhere to be found.
Instead, a tiny popular eatery drew our attention. While perusing the menu at the entrance, a little girl approached us and asked our names. Once we replied, she told us hers and then grabbed our hands, swinging them around and smiling sweetly. Aside from us, the patrons seemed to be mostly highschool-aged kids who raucously laughed with their friends, slurped on iced coffees, and endlessly scrolled through their phones. A cute one-eyed dog ran around from one end of the cafe to the other checking on everyone. His good eye was big and shiny and perfect for making puppydog eyes at people in case of food. The kitchen staff were run off their feet with so many customers (we were lucky to get a seat), and our orders took a while to be brought out. The green tea I had was strong, and Yannick was mightily impressed by how delicious his ciku smoothie tasted. They had run out of bun bo, so Yannick instead opted for a kind of toasted sandwich similar to a banh mi. Our whole order came to 45,000 dong, which is $2 USD. As we left, the large table of youths called out "buh-bye!"