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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

9 December 2018

Uncomfortable

Soup helpers

Soup helpers

2 December 2018

How to be an English introvert abroad. When your homestay hosts tell you there is a charity soup kitchen at the local hospital today and asks if you’d like to go, think “there’s nothing I would like less than a couple of hours of incredibly uncomfortable social interactions with people I don’t know and share no common language or interests with” and say “oh yes, that would be lovely.”

Why do that?! Why?! We’re on holiday and should be doing things we want to do, not things our host assumes we’d like to do because foreign tourists always love meeting local kids. It wouldn’t have been hard to lie and just say “oh, thanks but we just want to rest this afternoon.” But… there’s just that nagging feeling that at some level they’d be disappointed. We are daft.

So. I’d love to report that our eyes were opened and we came away with lots of new friends and good memories, but actually it was every bit as awkward and uncomfortable as I had expected. I have now met some Vietnamese students and served some soup to hospital patients. Whoop.

Delacour langurs

Delacour langurs

On to better news. First thing this morning we went out early (driven by Tan, ain’t getting on a bike again!) to the Van Long nature reserve, where after some patient searching we finally got a good sighting of the Delacour Langur on the cliffs above the lake. Almost as rare as the Cat Ba langur, they look very cool in their white surfer shorts. Our boat lady this time was much nicer, and happier with her tip to boot.

We saw the oddest thing on the way to Van Long. There was a church being built in the middle of the rice fields, and a big one at that. Eventually it will certainly be covered in plaster and painted a gaudy colour, but at this stage – all red bricks and covered in wooden scaffolding – it looked like an image from Pugin’s workbook.

Meanwhile, getting back to the topic of the post. We left Ninh Binh after the hospital visit, taking the overnight bus to Phong Nha. First Tan booked us with Camel Bus, which he had been told was the best bus company. Hmm. On TripAdvisor they have a rating of 1.5 which is basically the lowest rating I’ve ever seen for anything. So we made him change the booking to a company recommended at least for reliability. But it has to be said, I don’t think any night bus is going to get high reviews for comfort or smiley customer service on TripAdvisor!

As we were last on (most joined in Hanoi) we ended up in the sardine tin at the top-back. No, really, sardine tin. What do you call three horizontal couches side-by-side, each only as wide as your shoulders, and not enough space between you and the roof to sit up? Thankfully the chap lying shoulder-to-shoulder with me did actually find a last remaining seat elsewhere, so it was only the two of us up there. And so I lay there like Dracula, flat on my back with my arms folded on my chest, ribs aching like heck, the ceiling a few inches above me… and bizarrely, fell instantly fast asleep. And Maureen was snoring even before me!

Until 4am when we were all unceremoniously deposited at the roadside in Phong Nha village along with our bags. But that’s was a different day…

Church near Van Long

Church near Van Long


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