Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Vietnamese interior. Dalat, Boun Ma Thout, Kontum.

After the madness of Phnom Penh, I decided a month off beer and tabs in Vietnam would be a wise move. I managed three weeks when I stumbled across a tribal village festival. Bollicks.

Don't get shaved in Vietnam

In Dalat I had another disaster cut-throat shave. The woman disfigured me and didn't want any money but since it was only about 15p I gave her it anyway. There was blood everywhere and I'm hoping against infection.

Awful bus journeys

The bus journeys in Asia are nightmares and the minibus from Dalat to Buon Ma Thout was no exception. With room for 18 passengers and a driver, we managed to squeeze 25 people on. I could hardly breathe for the 5hrs 200km journey. A young lass next to me kept vomiting as did an old troll sitting nearby. Nobody spoke English and my Vietnamese is limited to "Hello, Thanks, How much etc'. Who said travelling is easy? Sometimes it's an endurance challenge. To compensate we did pass through some stunning scenery.

Thac Ray Nu waterfall
In BMT I strolled around the market (these markets and their produce are fascinating places for Westerners) and got talking to a lad from Nha Trang called Wing. He was selling medical supplies to the local hospital and I regularly ate with him. The next day I went to the BMT ethnographic museum and found it closed (I'm having no luck with museums in Vietnam). I searched for a guide to take me to some nearby waterfalls and E De ethnic minority villages. I found a guy called Ding and we agreed 100,000Dong for a one day tour.

E De longhouse
We headed to Thac Ray Nu waterfall where I swam and walked behind the water curtain before having a water massage where the water cascades onto your body. We stopped at Nieng, Buon Tuor, and Buon Ahn Dhong E De ethnic villages to see the longhouses and people going about their business. That night I had a hot pot dinner with Wing at his mate's house down a very thin, very steep and very dark back alley. Seemingly, I was the only foreigner here so again many curious stares were endured as I will stray off the beaten track.


Vietnam is still a communist country and BMT has propaganda posters everywhere. Uncle Ho is on show as is the golden hammer, sickle and the golden star of Vietnam. In BMT center is a monument of the first tank that liberated the town from the evil capitalists.


In Asia people can't have muted conversations. I'm sitting here in a Quang Ngai internet cafe barely able to concentrate as two blokes have a chat which means shouting at each other very loudly across the whole room. Some things I struggle with in Asia. The noise is incredible, be it a TV, traffic or people speaking/shouting to each other. Also, pricing systems based on race i.e. If you're white you pay more. I took a packed local shitty bus where the locals pay 65,000d, yours truly had to pay 100,000d. I don't think this is right on any level. Imagine this pricing policy in the UK? I think the Commission for Racial Equality would have something to say. I doubt Vietnam has one of these.


I digress. I jumped another packed minibus from Buon Ma Thout to Kontum through more of the luxuriant South Central Highlands. We passed millions of fluttering white butterflies, rubber and coffee plantations and many crazy tractors where the fume belching, unmuffled engines really distort the karma here. These tractors are driven using motorbike-type handle bars. I had to change buses twice as the first one broke down while the driver was shoving bags of charcoal into the back, the second one got stopped by the police and impounded. The third finally made it.

Once at Kontum I stayed at the Family Hotel where I had a steambath and massage after the killer journey. I walked along the Dakbla Riverside in the evening enjoying a relaxed atmosphere and freshly squeezed suger cane juice. Next day I got up early and, wearing my hiking boots, started walking 6km to the Bar Nah ethinic minority village of Konkotu. I was walking through the village admiring the impressive Rong house (a tall straw-roofed structure that serves as the village hall, built without nails) when I heard a voice calling me in English

It was a young lass called Bluey who studies English at the local Uni. She showed me inside the bamboo dwellings and explained the food preparations for a festival occurring later that day. She asked if I wanted to hang around and I bit her hand off. People pay fortunes to do stuff like this and here's me passing through and doing it for nowt. I helped them crush leaves by pounding in a big stone bowl. I watched as the men butchered a pig and filled its intestines with the said leaves. Most of the stuff looked disgusting but I ate all when the time came.

I went for a swim in the nearby river as topless women washed clothes, naked kids frolicked and two men in a dug-out were fishing. I ate coconut, bananas and melon before the wine drinking started at about 1300. The wine is placed in big clay jars, filled to the brim and a small twig is placed on the brim with a branch dangling into the liquid. You have to keep drinking the grog (I don't know what it really was but it was strong) until the liquid cleared the twig branch. Then the wine was topped up with water for someone else to try. It was a great laugh and most of the village was hammered sitting on the dusty ground in the shade of a shack.

An old man came back to the village and he was angry because I was there independently. I should've been accompanied by a guide and this bloke was an anal commie by the look of things. In another village, a young lad had came off his moto and a few of us went on the village bikes to investigate. 

This was another Bar Nah village and the lad in question looked OK (few scrapes) so I played football with the kids outside their Rong house. This place never sees foreigners so I felt like the Pied Piper of Hamlin with my entourage of children. Again I was dragged across to drink more wine from clay jars and I was well drunk by the end. What a day.

I am now In Quang Ngai relaxing before heading to China Beach in between Hoi An and Danang. This is a normal town with no visitors so there's not much to see other than Son My village which is the site of the My Lai massacre by US troops during the war. I've decided not to visit as I've seen enough examples of human brutality in Japan and Cambodia.

Cambo thoughts

Cambodia. That is a CPP sign (Cambodian People's Party). It wouldn't surprise me if the sign cost more than the entire building.

The whole SE Asian economy is based on how much cement an old woman can carry. You see tiny wiry old women doing extreme physical labour on building sites here. They mix cement and carry bricks by hand. It's all the more impressive when you consider the heat. Pretty tough your little old Asian Grandmas. Remember there's not much in the way medical services here either!

Because of Cambodia's foray into Communism a strange legacy continues whereby many street names in Phnom Penh are called things like Russia boulevard, Bulgaria Avenue, Chairman Mao drive, Lenin Street etc.


One last thing, as I was walking from Kontum to Konkotu Village I passed through another small village. By the time I'd got to the end of the village word had got around that a foreigner was in town and there was a crowd of about 50 folk staring at me. I stopped, stared back feeling extremely self-conscious. After a few seconds I danced a little jig to cheers from the crowd. They then invited me in to the Rong house for tea with the village elder. A very cool experience!

Pho Bo (pronounced fur bo - Vietnamese for Beef noodle soup)

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