It seems like I had been planning a solo backpacking trip overseas for ages. In late May 2016, I finally took off for a trip through South East Asia like I had always wanted to. I was dismissive of all deterring arguments. I cared not what was happening to me or around me. This trip was all that mattered right now.

I went to Dong Hoi on the recommendation of Aniket, a really awesome guy whom I have not met yet but we share a few common friends. Dong Hoi was the closest beach-side town to Phong Nha National Park, a UNESCO World heritage site and home to some of the most impressive caves! I was more than glad to have taken Aniket’s advice and put this amazing place on my itinerary.


Beachside and Phong Nha

I opened my phone to see Nils’ reply to my message. He had reached Dong Hoi at 4 in the morning! He had taken a bus to transport his bike and was now waiting for me at the railway station. I got off the train at Dong Hoi and met him in the station building. We fetched his bike and pushed it to a nearby fuel station for a refill. Then we rode to a hostel that Aniket had recommended so highly that Dong Hoi came on my Vietnam itinerary despite not having had made the first draft.

Beachside Backpackers! The hostel, as the name suggests, is right on the beach, a little distance from the town. I went in and spotted Michaella and went over to say a hi. Aniket had introduced us online and she recognised me immediately. I met An next and he welcomed me as well. These people really love Aniket! I heard so much about him in the few days I was here that it feels a little weird to know so much about a person you have never met. An and Michaella run Beachside in the warmest of ways and we were immediately made to feel at home.

We sat around in the cafe for a bit and had our breakfast before checking into a room in the cafe. No one rushes you at Beachside; not for for anything. There is no rush to get a room, none to order food, none to pay your bills. It is a lesson in the art of chilling! There were a few people around; two girls who had come in by the train that morning, an Australian expat (let’s call him Mr. A since he will be featuring consistently in this post) with his half Vietnamese daughter. We hung about, eating, drinking and playing pool.

beachside-1 Parenting done right

Nils and I were thinking of doing something rather than spend the entire day lazing around. So we asked An for suggestions and he told us to go see the Phong Nha cave. Mr. A gave us the details about how to get the bus, what it would cost, how to get tickets, etc. Armed with all the information, we stood on the road and waited about 10 minutes for the bus to come along. We hopped in and it took us through some beautiful countryside and to Phong Nha.

Everything at Phong Nha was as Mr. A had told us it would be. We got to the ticket counter and were asked to arrange more people if we wanted to share a boat. There is a fixed price for a boat which can carry up to 12 people. It costs dearly to rent out a boat between two people but the price is much more reasonable when it is shared. But how does one arrange more people when there are no other tourists around? While we were looking around, a minibus stopped and a family of 9 Vietnamese got out. Their guide was going to the counter and Nils asked him if he would like to share the boat with us. He nodded. Great! The deal was that we did not pay for the boat but gave a generous tip of 100 kVND to the boatwomen. Good deal in all.

phong-nha-boat-ride-9 Boat ride to Phong Nha Cave

We got talking to the Vietnamese family while the motorboat made the long way from the boarding point to the cave. The man and his wife were based in Arizona, America and they were visiting Vietnam with their kids. They were taking their family on a Saigon to Hanoi trip. Many things struck me oddly similar to the story of Indians who had moved abroad to seek a better future. We reached the cave and right from the entrance it struck me as grand. It was big and the river ran into it. The motors were turned off once we got to the mouth of the cave and the tour inside was done using rows. This was my first time seeing a cave like this. I had read about the stalagmites and stalactites as a kid but had never seen something this big and beautiful.

phong-nha-cave-1 Stalagmites and Stalactites

I was blown away! These formations were so pretty and psychedelic. I imagined seeing mushrooms and trees on rocks, Buddha heads, migrating pilgrims, ET and many more sci-fi stuff! The guide was explaining a few things in Vietnamese and the American couple translated the more interesting bits for us. But frankly, I was content just looking at the wonderful formations and marvelling at nature. There were quite a few people here but the cave was so big that it did not feel crowded. I took a lot of pictures but soon figured out that pictures barely did any justice to the place. It was an actual three dimensional experience that needed to be felt in it’s entirety.

A photo posted by Karan (@grasskode) on

phong-nha-cave-12 Beautiful rock formations

phong-nha-boat-ride-13 Dragontail boats

There are many more pictures of the Phong Nha Cave in the album at the end of the post.

We came back after a round of the cave and thanked the Vietnamese family at the docking point and gave the tip that we had agreed upon. Then we sat down for some food and while we were paying the bill, the bus to Dong Hoi rolled past us. The next one was an hour later so we sat in the same cafe for a bit longer and had some more sugarcane juice and coffee. Nils learnt some Vietnamese from the girl who worked at the cafe. Then we were joined by the bus driver and conductor of the next bus to Dong Hoi and they asked us the English for breasts. ๐Ÿ˜‚ Men will be men, eh?

Back at the hostel we went for a dip in the sea. The water was really cool and nice but there was a thunderstorm approaching. We got out, took showers and joined the barbecue party that the hostel had arranged for the night. It was a fun event with all you can eat barbecue buffet. All the hostel dwellers were there and many expats who were friends of An and Michaella. Mr. A was owning the conversation at my end of the table. We finished the food and sat around chatting about random things. It started drizzling and we finally went to the cafe when it picked up.

Nils, Mike (an American) and I sat playing cards. The girls from morning joined us : Paula, a Puerto Rican, and Whitney, an American. Mike left after a couple of games of rummy and then I taught the other guys temperature. They caught up fast! Paula was extremely competitive and we played a few rounds before we decided to end the game. Nils, Whitney and I talked amongst each other and Paula went to talk to the Scots. Whitney was doing her PhD in Psychology. There was a lot of culture exchange about the three countries which is something I like much more than the superficial talks that the travellers routinely have. It is hilarious what ideas people hold or are told about another country that they have not personally experienced. For example, I had always thought that Americans were dumb and insufferable. Melody (from Bangkok) and Whitney helped me realise how wrong I have been to generalise the country’s people. A first generation American Indian friend of Whitney’s had told her a few things about India that I found ridiculous. One, that Patel was the most famous group of people in India (that guy was a Patel). And second, that Indians did not have pets because it was considered wrong to own a living being in India. I could not help but laugh at the second one. ๐Ÿ˜‚ I told Whitney that India is a patriarchy; we definitely own other living beings there.

A Day of Adventures

Break Down

I woke up and found Nils sitting with his friends (from Ning Binh) in the cafe. They had come earlier in the morning. Nils and I had plans to go to the Dark Cave and Paradise Cave today. He had graciously agreed to take me as a pillion. But it was only when we were out on the highway that he told me he was new to riding! Fortunately he was a good rider and I did not suffer the anxiety that I usually do while riding pillion with stupid riders. Other than a situation where a cow threatened to cause trouble for us, the ride till Phong Nha went pretty smooth.

We had stopped at Phong Nha to get some bandages for Nils, but as soon as we started again, the fuel pump of his bike broke down and started leaking petrol all over the engine! I quickly cut off the fuel supply and then we went about looking for a mechanic. We found one close by who made a fortune off Nils by selling him a new pump and replacing the accelerator cable that he broke himself. I quarrelled a bit about the accelerator cable but the guy was quite dismissive of his fault. The fact that we did not understand each other’s language was not helping my cause and he worked himself into a fury. I conceded and Nils and I justified it by admitting that the cable would have broke soon anyway.

We hit the road again as quickly as we could but it was already mid day by then. We had decided to cancel Paradise Cave so it was just Dark Cave now. It wasn’t too far from Phong Nha and we got there in no time.

Dark Cave

We put the bike in the parking and got the tickets. This one cost us a whooping 450 kVND but that included a bunch of adventure activities as well. We quickly harnessed up and strapped on a life-jacket. Then we moved with a bunch of people to the zip-lining tower. There was an Israeli couple in front of us and Nils and the girls started a conversation. She was a hippie who lived in New York and seemed extremely zoned out. Maybe as a result of too many chemicals. Whitney and Paula also came along and we exchanged hi’s. They had taken a tour of the Paradise and Dark Cave that day.

dark-cave-zipline-1 Zip-line tower

It was eventually my turn and I zip-lined across the river to the landing pad on the other side. It was nothing too exciting.

dark-cave-zipline-video VIDEO : Zip-lining

We were then supposed to wait for the rest of the people so I used the time jumping off a tree into the river. The leader of the group was an Irishman by the name of Jack. Nils, I and another guy completed the troupe. We did backflips and cannonballs in the river. I got winded on my first backflip and I am still not sure what caused it. Maybe it was the sudden temperature change; the water was somewhat cold!

My camera had lost battery after the zip-lining video and I was just foolishly carrying it around now. But I did test it in multiple circumstances and it is a tough one indeed! It took a couple of pictures of the Israeli couple who wanted me to mail it to them but never gave me their contact. So in case someone knows who they are, let them know! I just got a couple of pictures before the camera completely lost all battery.

dark-cave-israeli-couple The Israeli couple. If someone knows them, point them to this pic! ๐Ÿ˜

dark-cave-entrance-2 Dark Cave

Once everyone had gathered around, we swam to the entrance of the cave which was just 20 meters off. Then we turned on the lights of the helmet and went inside the Dark Cave. There were no electric lighting here which lent it it’s name. This one was not as spectacular as the other caves but it was nice and huge and dark. We walked around in a line and entered a tunnel which kept getting narrower and muddier till we ended up in a pool of mud! This was the mud bath. We fooled around for a bit, splashing each other with mud and discovering that muddy water makes you extremely buoyant. It was difficult keeping your balance and you helplessly splashed about if you lost your footing! The bigger the group of friends that you come with, the more fun would it be.

Phong Nha Tip #1

Go do Dark Cave with a big bunch of friends! It is much more fun that way.

We got out of the mud bath and washed up before getting back into our life jackets (which we had dumped near the entrance of the tunnel). Then we were supposed to kayak to the other side of the river. Nils went ahead because I had stalled and found myself at the end of the line. I recognised one of the girls by her singsong English accent. We had met before in Ninh Binh and it so happened that she, her friend and I were the last three left to grab a kayak. All three of us were hopeless at it though. We paddled around pointlessly, turning into the wrong direction and making it to the other side in the most beelined fashion as was possible.

There were some water activities on this side. A short “zip-line and jump into the water” thing and an obstacle course like thing made over the river. I tried them both. The obstacle course was tough and the river flowing underneath gave you the feeling of moving. I enjoyed all of it though. It was completely worth the money and the time spent. ๐Ÿ‘

“I Lost the Keys”

We got out and dried ourselves before changing and getting the bike. We thought of going to a water spring that was supposedly just 2 kilometers away. I was not navigating on the map and we ended up missing it. We stopped on some hilly roads inside the Phong Nha National Park and get some photographs. These roads reminded me of Himachal for some reason. The mountains were much more rocky and covered with a consistent green foliage. It was really beautiful.

phong-nha-road-3 Nils the photographer!

We ran into a truck on the narrow road and were unable to overtake it. So we stopped in a field at the side of the road to put some distance between us and the truck and to get some more pictures. We could see a structure up ahead but it was not clear what it was. Nils thought it was a house and I thought it was a big pile of straw. So we decided to go investigate. We got distracted by some buffaloes and a man walking in the field and started taking their photos.

A photo posted by Karan (@grasskode) on

Suddenly, Nils realised that he had lost the bike’s keys! It was in his hand when he took out his camera and was mysteriously gone while he was clicking photographs. We spent the next thirty to forty minutes walking up and down the small area where the key could have been dropped. We parted shrubs and upturned garbage. Nils also checked his bag multiple times. It is really a wonder where the key went! Unable to find the key after multiple tries, we decided to push the bike till Phong Nha, which was another 40 minutes walk away, and try our luck there. It would be dark soon and there was no reason to hope that we’d find the keys now if we had not found it yet.

As we pushed the bike, a few tourists who were with us at Dark Cave stopped on their bikes. One of them had a Win and we tried her key hoping it’d would work but it did not. They left with puzzled faces as to how we could have lost the key. We just smiled foolishly and waved them goodbye. I realised later that we could have done a bike tow! There were a few locals who offered us petrol thinking that might be the reason we were pushing the bike. Finally, a little before the Phong Nha town, a young man stopped and asked us what the matter was. He spoke good English and laughed when we told him that we had lost the key. He produced a pair of scissors and tried turning on the ignition using them. It worked! He was our hero for the day. We thanked the boy and jumped on the bike.

After a small break to grab some beer and noodle soup, Nils offered me to ride the rest of the way back to Dong Hoi. Of course I gladly accepted! It got dark on the way and the headlights came on. Ours was barely useful because it pointed left from the center. I slowed down and we got back to the hostel at a safe and easy pace. I washed up and watched the Italy vs Sweden match. It was a dull anticlimax to end the extremely exciting day.

Vietnam Tip #7

Get a good bike if you are planning to do the Vietnam road trip. Most of the Win’s are uncomfortable pieces of shit!

The Expat Community

I was planning to take the day off and do nothing for a change. I had some breakfast and lay down on one of the hammocks to read a book. The book managed to make me drowsy and I fell asleep on the hammock. When I woke up, Michaella told me that Kevin and Beth had come around to see me and had been waiting for a while! These were friends of Aniket who had been living in Dong Hoi for about a year. Aniket had put me in touch with them and they had come around to see if I was around. Our introductions got weird at the part when they asked me how I knew Aniket. I had to explain how I was a “friend” of Aniket who had never met him!

Note to self : meet Aniket some day.

I spent the next hour or so talking to them. They are amazing people taking a break from their corporate lives in America to volunteer in Vietnam. They teach children how to swim and Beth also takes yoga classes for people with disabilities and helps institutes to develop skills for resume building and preparing for interviews. They had left their established careers for this and it was quite an inspiring story. They had gotten married last August and they told me the beautiful story of the proposals. It was a nice hour long conversation which ended because they had plans to meet some friends. I was invited to join them for a party later that evening and Kevin also gave me some recommendations of restaurants in town that I intended to check out. Once they left, I returned to my hammock and fell asleep again.

beachside-2 beachside-9 Hammock all day

A photo posted by Karan (@grasskode) on

The day quickly went by. All the inactivity was not exactly what I had imagined it to be and I was somewhat bored towards the evening. Whitney and Paula had left and Nils was missing (getting his bike fixed most probably). I wrote, drank beers and lay around in the hammock. Having had enough, I decided to go to town and started walking out of the hostel. An stopped me and offered me one of the free bicycles and I took him up on his offer. I rode to the city heading for one of the food joints Kevin had suggested. The town was all lit up, as if for Diwali. And it all seemed like a regular affair rather than preparation for an occasion. The bridge had an amusing moving light pattern. The beach area near the town was full of people. There were public parks and seafood joints. Dong Hoi was celebrating it’s evening in style.

dong-hoi-city-2 Lit up Dong Hoi

The place was a small establishment called Tu Quy. It was quite busy and I sat down to share the table with a Vietnamese guy. He spoke a fair amount of English so we could get to know each other a bit. He lived in Hanoi and was in Dong Hoi for some work. I ordered some rice vermicelli and pork only to realise later, when the guy pointed out, that it was similar to Bun Cha. This was Bun Thit Nuong, a dish that was to become another of my favourites in Vietnam. My fellow diner had ordered the rice wrap which was similar to Banh Xeo I had had in Ninh Binh. He offered me a neatly rolled wrap to taste. Even the shop owner let off 5 kVND from my bill because he did not have the exact change. How can you not love such people?

tu-quy Kevin eyes my first Bun Thit Nuong in Vietnam

I rode further into town instead of returning to Beachside immediately. I ran into a public square of sorts with a pretty fountain and something that looked like a historical structure. A coffee shop nearby was airing the football match on a projector and I ended up sitting for it and drinking a couple of coffees.

Then I rode back to the hostel. With a kilometer to go, I realised that the rear tyre had gone flat and walked the rest of the way. Kevin had messaged me about the party that night. It was the opening party of a new hostel that was three doors down from Beachside. The new place, Tiki, was weirdly similar to Beachside but still quite well done. People were quite drunk by the time I reached.

I sat between James, Kevin’s friend and Daniel, a Dutch expat and enjoyed their short debate about American culture. Daniel said that America did not have a culture and James, an Asian American, said it did. Daniel said it was simply a melting pot. Daniel thought that even that was a culture of it’s own. It took me a while to adjust because of the difference in the level of alcohol in our bodies. ๐Ÿ˜œ I eventually started participating in the conversations but by then people had started leaving.

Eventually it was just Daniel, Yeras (a Czech expat) and me who were sitting drinking beer and talking about random things. Daniel was 28, was working as an English teacher, had taken a Vietnamese wife and was father to two sons with a third on the way. He was happy and successful in Vietnam, much more than he had been at home and said that many that he knew were leaving Netherlands for places abroad to seek similar happiness. Life in Netherlands was tougher for them than it was out here. Yeras was 32 and was an English teacher himself. His problem was that he did not find the work challenging enough. The talks then took a more philosophical turn when Yeras asked the question : why cannot humans work together instead of fighting each other. It would take another dedicated post to expound on that idea but to put it in short, the night was extremely interesting. We drained the last keg of beer for all it was worth and left for our beds.

Paradise

I woke up early to catch the Copa semi final matches. Argentina trampled USA and Chile destroyed Mexico. The Copa matches were way better than the Euro ones in terms of the quality of the game.

cafe-sua-da Coffee and football make for a happy morning

Nils and I went back to Tu Quy for some breakfast. We had the rice wraps and I told him about the philosophical debates of the night before. We indulged in some early morning philosophising ourselves. Then we went to the local market to buy miscellaneous fruits that were taken back to the hostel to be blended into smoothies.

Nils was arranging for a visa run to extend his stay in Vietnam so I rented out a clutch-less bike from An and went back to Phong Nha. The bike was in a much better condition than the one I had ridden in Mandalay and my opinion of clutch-less bikes changed considerably by the end of the day. I took the HCM Road out of Dong Hoi and stuck to a speed of 60-70 kmph throughout. The sun was not harsh and this made the ride all the more enjoyable. I used my otherwise unemployed left hand to click some photos from time to time.

hcm-road-2 hcm-road-4 Ho Chi Minh Highway

Many more pictures of the HCM highway in the album at the end of the post.

I rode past Phong Nha and on the road that we had taken back a couple of days ago after losing the keys. The road seemed longer today, probably because of my anxiety regarding the petrol. The indicator seemed to be dipping quickly and there would be no petrol pump to be found inside the national park area.

phong-nha-road-8 Cow Crossing

phong-nha-mountains-1 Beautiful green hills

I took the deviation for Paradise Cave and parked my bike in the provided space. The attendant-cum-guard gave me an old ticket and when I complained that the ticket was a used one, as usual, he did not comprehend. I pointed at the number on the ticket so he just crossed it out and wrote the one from my bike. I shook my head and walked on. It was not worth the effort.

I watched some commotion as I bought a bottle of water from one of the shops outside the complex. Some animal was being scared away and from the distance that everyone was keeping from where the creature was hiding, it was probably a dangerous one. I suspected snake but the thing ran away before I had a chance to see it. My questions to the locals were dismissed with a wave of the hand. I walked to the ticket counter and bought an entrance ticket for 250 kVND. Another 100k would have gotten me a buggy ride. I was not really going to pay that much for a pointless luxury. A 15 minute walk on a pretty and well-shaded trail brought me to where the buggy was dropping all the tourists.

paradise-3 Buggy stop

Everyone anyway had to do the climb that followed. I was faster than most of the people and it took me a mere 15 minutes to do this as well. The humid weather was unbearable and I was hot and dripping by the time I reached the entrance of the cave. The air coming out of the cave was heavy, cool and damp; a welcome respite.

Paradise was HUGE! I already knew what to expect from caves in terms of stalactites and stalagmites from the trip in the Phong Nha cave. Paradise had simply scaled everything up rather impressively. Plus one could walk in closer proximity to examine these works of natural art. There were huge pillars and extremely intricate and beautiful designs. Too bad that everyone had to stick to a defined path but that was the sanest thing to do. The grandness of the cave can only be experienced. It felt like some alien lair out of a sci-fi movie!

paradise-cave-1 The Alien Lair

I walked till the end of the walkway and then rushed back to get away from a group with a Vietnamese guy smoking inside the cave despite all the signs that said otherwise. There are morons everywhere I guess. The closed cave made the smoke much thicker and the smell lingered on. I took a lot of pictures. There were all the usual unearthly designs and trees on rocks structures. There was a hut, a rabbit, a dragon and what not!

paradise-cave-5 paradise-cave-9 paradise-cave-16 paradise-cave-24 Rock formations at Paradise Cave

As I was walking back, I noticed a white light that showed some white particles suspended in the air. This explained the heaviness of the air! I wondered if it affected asthmatic people. Anyhow, I spent a few minutes blowing it around and observing the beautiful diffraction.

paradise-cave-spm VIDEO : Suspended particles

I went on a clicking frenzy in Paradise. Though the pictures do not really convey the beauty of the cave, there are more of them in the album at the end of the post.

I walked back up the stairs and out of the cave. I quickly hopped the steps back to the ground level and passed the people waiting for buggies. 15 minutes later I was at the parking putting my helmet on and watching a bunch of young foreigners teaching one of themselves ride a bike. I rode back the same route I had taken to get in. My mind was preoccupied with the depleting level of petrol. I quickly reached the HCM highway and immediately found a petrol pump. Sweet! I overfilled this time. My paranoia of cheating petrol pump staff caused the attendant here some pain as I troubled him about getting a proper look at the meter reading. But then, better safe than sorry. ๐Ÿ˜› I rode back and crossed the turn for Phong Nha city. There were rice fields and river which I had not appreciated on the few times I had crossed the stretch before and I stopped to take pictures.

phong-nha-river-2 Cรดn River

phong-nha-rice-fields-2 Rice fields

I had noticed a sign that said The Pub with Cold Beer - 2 km the first time I had crossed it when I was riding pillion with Nils two days ago. It had been on my mind and I turned around when I crossed the sign again. I checked the time and decided I had enough to quickly check the place out. It was still a little while to sundown and I really wanted to see this interesting sounding place. I took the turn into the narrow lane and the road turned into a dirt track after a hundred meters or so. I enjoyed the 2 kilometer long stretch that was well marked with boards leading to the pub.

pwcb-trail-2 Off-roading to The Pub with Cold Beer

I took my bike into a modest looking complex but there was no one around and I was wondering if the place was open. I hello’ed a couple of times and a woman finally came out of the house and nodded to my question of whether the place was open. Then she pulled out a beer from the fridge and asked me to take a seat. The beer was cold as promised! I also ordered a plate of rice and pork which came with some delicious peanut based gravy. I had no idea why this place was not on the radar and I did my bit by adding a listing on Google Maps.

pwcb-1 The Pub with Cold Beer

pwcb-3 Kevin likes a cold beer after a long day!

While I sat eating, two more scooters came in. The guys were Brent (Canadian) and Luke (from London). They had done Dark cave today and we talked for a bit. My skill of striking and keeping up random conversations was definitely improving. I needed to leave quickly though because I had to make my way back to Dong Hoi and I am not a big fan of driving after the headlights come on.

Phong Nha Tip #2

Make sure you go to “The Pub with Cold Beer” and make sure that you go there to spend a lazy day in the hammocks doing nothing but eating delicious food, drinking cold beer and playing a few games of pool.

I made my way back to the HCM highway and turned in the direction of Dong Hoi. I took some pictures as the sun set.

A photo posted by Karan (@grasskode) on

hcm-road-sunset-3 Sunset on the highway

Back at Dong Hoi I hunted for a non existent DongA ATM because wikivoyage said it did not charge for withdrawals. I eventually ended up using another ATM that charged more than most of the others. I came back to the hostel and did some laundry. I had to skip the barbecue party because I was somewhat full with the food and beer I had had earlier in the evening. Then I sat and played mau-mau with Nils; it is basically UNO with cards. I also discovered that dragon fruit smoothies taste awful. Then Nils and I played a couple of games of chess on a rusted board before calling it a night. It was goodbye because Nils would leave for Laos early in the morning for his visa run.

A South African guy walked up to me and was quick to identify me as an Indian. Apparently South Africa has the largest Indian community outside India. I did not know that. He had been teaching English in Cambodia and South Vietnam for a while. He had a few interesting stories to tell. There were two English girls who had come in late in the night as well. Mike, the American guy, was also there. We talked about a few things and the Vietnam war came up. He told me about a couple of people in Da Nang who had lived through the period and were willing to talk about their experiences if you visited their cafe. I was also quite surprised at how people like Mike who so very well understand that their government is screwing up affairs worldwide can just put the blame on the government. Democracy is what their country sells, is it not?

Saying Goodbye

I just sat in Beachside all day long. Those guys pamper you to no end. When I told An that I was going to the town a little early to book my ticket, he took my passport on the pretext of making telephonic reservation and went out to book the ticket himself! When I told him he shouldn’t have, he just shrugged his shoulders and smiled. ๐Ÿ˜Š So all I had to do was eat and read my book till it was time for the train.

rice-tofu Delicious food was all I needed to take care of!

Mau, one of the staff, dropped me to the station on his bike. His home was right next to “The Pub with Cold Beer” and I told him I had gone there the previous day. He had been working at Beachside for 6 months now and had decent English. He was not much of a student in school but had fared pretty well since. I had to literally force the tip on him after he dropped me. Everyone in Beachside had been so nice!

I sat down to wait in the station. When I got up to check the display for the train timings, a nice girl offered to help me out. She translated an announcement of delay for me and then helped me find the coach and the seat in the train. This was Bibi and she was travelling with her friend, Miss Han. Bibi’s English was good but Miss Han’s wasn’t all that great. However, it was Miss Han who was more willing to talk. She was a woman in her mid or late thirties and a yogini. She also had a friend from Hyderabad. She showed me his video from a dance show he had done in Vietnam and then took a selfie with me! Later in the train, she offered me a mango as well and greeted me with a namaste! ๐Ÿ˜…

A photo posted by Karan (@grasskode) on

The train was running a little late. The more railways I travel, the more I am in awe of Indian Railways. Vietnam had just a single line in parts despite this being their main line. The route was not electrified and this was something I had seen in Thailand as well. The tickets are quite expensive and I am sure not if all can afford it. There is the air conditioning to justify the cost, but that makes it all the more a luxury rather than an affordable mode of travel.

I took a nap in the train. Bibi and Miss Han were getting off at Hue as well and Bibi came to remind me of the stop when our destination was due. I got off and followed them to the exit and thanked them profusely for all their help. They were taking a cab and would have surely offered to drop me had I not refused all further help. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed as it was.


Whether you enjoyed the post or not, do leave a comment!

Find the previous posts in this series here.

And here is the complete album of the Dong Hoi & Phong Nha leg of the trip.

Dong Hoi, June 2016