Friday, March 5, 2010

Vietnam Roadtrip

Can you tell why we look so happy? It has nothing to do with the ocean sunset behind us. We were all just really happy to be let out like a pack of wild dogs from a cramped, overloaded and in serious need of some basic maintenance Mercedez mini-van!

At almost exactly noon, we boarded a rented 16-seat-mini-van and was looking forward to a six-hour ride along Vietnam's long stretch of coast. The road scenery in Vietnam is interesting, but after only 3 hours we were already over it and decided to pull over for some late lunch and stretch our legs.

As with most developing countries, selling food is the simplest means of making money and all along our drive up the coast we could see little carts and impromptu roadside dining (a lady with two baskets; one basket with cooking elements and ingredients and one basket with bowls, chopsticks, spoons, condiments, etc.; plastic chairs and table - voila instant cafe!). Many places had hammocks strung up in between tables in shaded areas. But surprisingly enough there are also huge dining emporiums, where bus loads of people at a time stop off for bathroom breaks, snacks and full meals. In between the buzz of the barely working air conditioning we could hear Mom repeating the name of the dining emporium she wanted to stop at. And there it was...very impressive for a roadside food emporium in the middle of what looked like rubber tree plantations and the ocean.Looking like obvious tourists we were ushered into the air conditioned room, where as everyone else was seated outside in the pleasant sunny dining area. And as quickly as we all headed off to the bathrooms we could hear Great Uncle Nine ask, "this isn't going to cost any more is it, we aren't paying for the air conditioning with this meal are we?" No, we were assured, but maybe we'd be paying extra for the crazy koi pond we had to walk past to get to the bathrooms.We had a terrific lunch of seafood and beef hotpot and stewed fish. This is what a traveler's meal should consist of. Tasty, fresh and light, we felt revived and ready for what we thought was only another 3 hours until Ninh Hoa.

We all quickly went into food coma and slept the rest of the way until we were awaken with the sound of Mom asking if we were hungry and want to stop for dinner. No, no need to stop we'll eat at Grandma's when we get there. Well....

It seems we had only reached the half way point due to the weight of our luggage and the driver not wanting to blow the vehicle's struts and shocks so he was going at a much slower pace. Visions of the same roadtrip back in 1997 before foreign investment flooded the country and the roads were vastly improved came flooding into our minds and immediately we asked to be let out! Fortunately the sun was setting and the restaurant where we decided to stop for dinner had a balcony and a great view of the ocean.Directly across from the pitstop was a hillside pagoda that we stopped off and took photos of back in 1997 (if you click on the photo you can see a walled stairway snacking up the hill to the pagoda). But this time we just stood across the street taking pictures, in complete denial/semi-disgust after being informed we had yet another 6-hours to go!The restaurant was completely empty besides us. Seems everyone was getting prepared for the Tet New Year. It was comforting to see that Vietnam does view family over financial. When staying open during Tet New Year could make you the same amount of money as the rest of the year combined, family run businesses simply prefer to be with family. We each ordered our own meal because the kitchen had limited choices and back onto the mini-bus, without one photo of our dinner taken!

In the next six hours we endured cramped and broken seating, car sickness vomiting, constant honking and rough roads. But with the help of Flight of the Conchords, Zunes, iPods, videogames, books and the knowledge that we'd soon see the following made the last roadtrip I'll ever take in Vietnam that more bearable.

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