Monday, October 13, 2014

The Mountains of Vietnam

Our last day of visits was an early one. We were up at 5:30 and ready to go by 6am. We got to see two more kindergartens, my favorite! The drive was a long one, almost 3 hours up the winding mountains of Vietnam towards the Laos boarder in to Tây Giang Province.  I had thought I would nap all the way up but man was it a bumpy ride! We stopped halfway up at what looked like someones home to have some banh mi and a coffee. That sure helped! Strongest coffee I think I've ever had haha. The drive was a pretty one but Andrew was very disappointed in the lack of natural plant-life. They cut everything down for timber and re-grow it but it's definitely not the same.  As we got further up we were able to see a few natural trees but you definitely had to get off the beaten path.  A little over an hour later and we were up at our first kindergarten in a small village. Much more remote than anything else I had seen.

The first school was really nice, especially for being so far out in the country. The school had over 100 kids and the principle said they had 4 more schools in the area which I was pretty impressed with.  I think they're At both schools we got to see the kids eating their snacks. Most of the places we visited used our meals as a breakfast or a snack and almost all of them served it as a soup rather than a rice. It's pretty neat to hear of all the ways they prepare the food. As we walked around, one of the teachers who was younger asked me to take a photo with her. She was quite tall and she thought it was just awesome that she was as tall as me. We took a few photos then the principle jumped in on a few as well. Kind of funny. I also got Andrew to take a photo with me and the kids which was quite a feat. Andrew is more of an observer, and we got him in two photos so YAY!

For lunch we went to a little restaurant in a larger, more modern town (a bit modern, not very haha). When we got there, the food was already prepared and on the table. We had some local greens (we couldn't figure out what they were because the translators didn't know the translation), some bitter melon soup, baby palm (delicious), whole fish (no thank you), and of course, rice. It was a pretty good meal but unfortunately I was still having heart burn so I couldn't eat too much. A cliff bar after lunch for a snack was my saving grace but I was almost out!

The last school was in the same town that we had lunch. It was similar to the first school we saw and the Principle there was gorgeous (the men definitely noticed haha). She told us about the school and then showed us around. It was a huge facility and there were 3 other schools in the area that were a part of their system as well.  They had a lot of things to play with out in the courtyard including a merry-go-round which I hadn't seen yet at a school. The kids were all very shy as we went around to take pictures, especially the younger ones. I felt a bit invasive taking photos and watching them eat but then by the end of it we found a classroom of kids that loved the attention. They were a bit older, I think 5 years old, and they had no problem hamming it up for the camera ;)

After our visit we took the long journey down the mountain back to Da Nang. Man was that the SCARIEST drive ever. The driver must have been in a hurry because he was passing everyone and literally squealing tires. I thought we might just go over the edge! We asked one of the girls that spoke English if she could tell the man to slow down but she was so car sick she couldn't really speak. Thankfully, we made it down the mountain and in to the city in about 3 hours. You would think he would have got us there quicker with all of the speediness but somehow, it came out to be about the same length of time it took to get there. Oh well...

That evening we decided to go out for one last dinner with Nancy. We wanted to go local so Nancy looked up a place online that she thought would be good that was located right across from the beach. As we pulled up, it looked a bit toooo local and Nancy was a bit confused but we decided to go for it. It was a pick your own seafood we walked up to this big row of seafood in buckets filled with water and bubbles that kept all the creatures alive. A bit out of the box for me but we went for it! We got lucky and the owner actually spoke English so he helped us pick a few things to eat. We ended up with clams, prawns, scallops and red snapper. The beers were cheap so we each had a beer and then out came the food. It was definitely interesting! Not the scallops I was used to but I found some things to eat. When the fish came out, that was really interesting. It was whole of course, and pretty good, but I needed Andrew's help maneuvering through it haha. At the end there were two little eyes left and Rebecca and Andrew decided to eat them...gross. Rebecca said it tasted like eating a marble haha. No thank you! After dinner, the owner called us a cab and we chatted a bit while we waited. He was so surprised that we came to eat at his restaurant because only locals eat there. It was pretty cute.

After the restaurant we split off from Nancy with the goal of going to the Sun Wheel, a large ferris wheel in Da Nang that was just a few months old. It's the 4th largest ferris wheel in the world! Before we went, Rebecca wanted to do a bit of shopping so Andrew and I went to our favorite Bamboo2 bar to hang out while she shopped. The girl there, Mi, saw us coming and got all excited. She's the cutest. She remembered us every time we came and when we left she gave us big hugs and wished us all the best.  We played pool and foosball for a bit as we waited and then Rebecca showed so off we went.  We took a taxi over to see the Sun Wheel and as we walked up we really got to see the enormity of it. We stopped at the bathrooms and they had the cutest signs ever. Little people "holding it" haha. Hilarious! They were also doing lots of construction below the ferris wheel.  It looked like they had some big plans for the site, making it a bit more of a money making attraction with games and food and an amusement park feel.  We bought our tickets and got right on to the ferris wheel. It took 15 minutes to get around and there was some elevator like music at first but as we got hire, the music stopped. The view was wonderful. You could see all of Da Nang. I think it might have been nicer to go with a bit of light out so you could really see how far the city spread, but it was still really neat.

The next day we went to do some site seeing. We started out in the local market in downtown Da Nang. We all split off and Andrew and I bought some coffee because Vietnamese coffee is the BEST. After shopping we went to Marble Mountain - one of the biggest tourist attractions in Da Nang. They don't use the mountain for marble much anymore, but it is still used as a worship site for Buddhists. There are all kinds of caves and little temples and statues throughout the mountain. It was a small hike but as we went around it was really interesting seeing all of the statues hiding in the nooks and crannys of the cave. Below the mountain was rows and rows of shops, all selling the same thing. We were starting to feel much more confident with our haggling skills and went for it, getting a few things for friends and a bracelet for me :) Our last lunch was at Kimdy's again, the little Vietnamese restaurant across from our hotel. It's cheap, and good, so it was a nice place to end the trip. From there we took a taxi to the airport and did a bit more shopping once inside. Then off we went to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Which is surprisingly much different from Vietnam.

Overall I think the trip was lovely :) Vietnam treated us really well (besides being ripped off in Hoi An) and Andrew is pretty convinced he wants to live there for a bit in the future. Loved the food - even the regular food for breakfast.  I could eat pho all day (and did haha). Everything was pretty fast-paced but that could have been because we were in the city most of the time. Traffic was scary, drivers were scary, but the people were great. Everything was really cheap, and though poverty was pretty wide spread, it seems like there are resources for people through nonprofits and religious communities which was nice to see. The government was also more supportive than I had originally thought, at least in schools and some of the orphanages we saw. I would definitely come back - especially to see a few more places besides Da Nang. I think Vietnam has a lot to see and we just barely hit the surface. Can't wait to visit again!

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