Beauty and the Peace

Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
Trip End Jul 27, 2011

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Where I stayed

Flag of Vietnam  , Yên Bái,
Monday, February 28, 2011

It's not the cockroach running across the opposite bunk bed that makes for a compromised night's sleep, but the shaky ride. If I'd just travel on overnight sleeper vehicles more, I would probably get used to that as well.

Passing green rice paddies, dotted with grazing water buffaloes, white cranes and straw-hat donning rice farmers, with green foggy hills as the backdrop, Manu and I quietly stare out the train windows, waiting for our stop in Dong Hoi. Only a few crater-like, round indents remind us that this was Vietnam's most heavily bombed area.

We are on our way to a farm stay in Phong Nha, smack-dab in the middle of Vietnam. A friendly Aussie at the Hanoi Backpackers has talked us into this as being the most authentic thing you could be doing in Vietnam. It's a brand new place, still partly under constuction, run by an Aussie and his Vietnamese wife. What the hostel guy missed to tell us is that it's not really fit for a budget traveler. Still relatively cheap of course, but we are thrown off that the ride from the train station to the farm costs as much as a night in a double room. Day tours go for $45 and you are strapped to the farm for food and drinks. Trying to organize our stay with Ben the owner and his wife Bich (pronounced Bik!) over the phone, he is raving his head off about the experience we are about to have. He doesn't know he's dealing with a couple of over-traveled Teutonic b*&$^tches that are no longer easily impressed. At the money we are splurging on here, this trip had better be good!

We arrive tired and irritated. Decisions are to be made. How long can we afford to stay, which trips can we fit in our budget? Ben explains our options. He does't like us and we don't care for him. The scenery is quite magnificent we must admit. Right outside our room and all around us are rice fields as far as the eye can reach, interrupted only by newly installed electric poles. Rice farmers are doing what rice farmers do, pointy hats on, bending down between the grazing cows and water buffaloes, locals riding by on bicycles or buffaloes. Without a doubt, this is the most peaceful scenery I remember seeing since Wadi Rum in Jordan. We spend the late afternoon padling around the area on bikes. I find it hard to imagine that not that many decades ago this was not at all a peaceful place.

In the evening, Ben, his mate Dave, as well as Richard, a fellow traveler we had already met in Hanoi, are gathering around the bar. A few drinks in, we all like each other after all. Rich and us are the only guests. Dave and Ben are like little boys, that clearly love their jobs of touring around with us, so it makes for a very familiar atmosphere the next day.

We have an amazing time on motorbikes. The scenery is just stunningly beautiful, putting me at peace. Endless, greener than green rice paddies zooming by our bikes. (I am repeating myself, I know, can't help it.) We slow down often to drive around herds of cows, buffaloes or school kids or to cross a rickety bridge or floated river bed. Visiting Paradise Cave confirms for me what a difference an unspoiled place makes compared to a pretty sight that's overrun by tourists. This is a newly discovered and opened cave, surpassing any cave I have ever seen. Surely, the fact that we are the only ones in it contributes to the magnificence. I remain a city gal, but am thoroughly enjoying this as an escape. Escape from what you might ask? Yeah, I know...for now it might just be an escape off the beaten tourist path (see my Halong Bay thoughts on that). I get why people fall in love and move here.

Come here in 5 years and things surely will have changed. Rough Guides, Lonely Planet and competition are already kocking on Ben's doors. I am stoked to have been here now. Tomorrrow, we are off to Hue with a 5.30am bus. That'll be painful. I wish I could stick around a little longer. It was a pricy stop for our backpacker pockets, but I have to give it to Ben and team: They did deliver! 
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Shelly on

Great post and photos! I like your humor! :) Glad you did enjoy it there!

henniterness on

Thanks Shelly. I read your recent Cambodia entry and your story. Stirred up memories, leaving me feeling melancholic and also grateful for the live we have in Western culture. Good luck on your adventure!

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