I’m not entirely sure how I did this, but at 5:30am I accidentally woke up, rolled over and looked out at the most amazing sun rise across the bay. The purple and orange sky reflected in the sea, against the silhouettes of the towering rocks. Beautiful, I watched, struggled to focus my eyes, strained to take a couple of pictures and fell back asleep. Dreamy.
At 8am we had breakfast. A lovely chicken pho followed by fried eggs and toast. Yummy. From the bay we headed south, to Vung Vieng fishing village, an hours journey. We passed the time by relaxing, I wrote by the bar, and Sam spoke to Ha about his family, and the many days he spends away from them. Above us Black Kites swooped, looking for their next prey. The mountains quietly rolled by, elegant and serene. Blissful, unavoidable relaxation.
At the fishing village we clambered onto the blue boat we tow everywhere and were ported to a small harbour. Two by two we boarded our own wooden row boats with hat adorning rower. No physical exertion required today.
The village resides within a natural bay, sheltered in all directions from strong sea winds and whatever tropical storm might come their way. Houses, which looked fairly new, were turquoise wooden shacks with orange metal rooftops, tied together on floating blue barrels. They were mostly one room, the odd couple had an annex, all with a wooden boat parked out front. Washing was hung outside, an old Manchester United top billowed in the breeze. Each house had its own TV aerial and a CRT television, though I couldn’t fathom where the power came from. The Vietnamese flag flew proudly from their rooftops, as it also did from our boat’s mast.
Ha showed us that they keep pet dogs, dogs they respect (and don’t eat!), though they seemed to be running around on small floating platforms and we wondered how they’d get any exercise.
We docked in the centre of town; some fisheries, a school, a small hall cum museum. The fish are grown and sold for profit. At the school the kids were out for lunch. Next to the blackboard was a Ho Chi Minh portrait, and a donation box hung outside. The museum outlined their sea dwelling culture and history. Much smaller and very different to the floating villages we saw in Phuket; quaint and rather lovely.
Back on the row boat we left the village, to visit a stupendous limestone arch at Hon Vung Ha. A picture perfect paradise. We circled this ancient passageway and finished our circuit with a stop at an oyster farm.
A smartly dressed guide greeted us and explained how they grow and farm pearls. We watched closely as a girl plied open an oyster, held it open with clamps and inserted a small impurity and ball, before closing it up again. These seeded oysters are left for many years, 30% will yield a pearl, but only 10% will yield one good enough to sell. The girl with the tweezers and clamps seeds up to 600 oysters per day. From one end of the process to the other, a two year old oyster was waiting to be opened. We again watched as this oyster was prised open, as tweezers hunted about the gooey entrails a glistening silver pearl emerged. But it wasn’t perfectly spherical, and the colour was inconsistent, it couldn’t be sold she told us. The workshop backed onto a shop, complete with earrings, bracelets, necklaces and so on.
We tipped our rowers and returned to our big white boat on the sea. Our next stop was to the North East, Thienh Can Son cave, for a deserted beachside barbecue. The clouds parted to reveal a deep blue sky, the sunshine had arrived and the temperatures soared. At the back of the boat we made the most of the sun recliners; Sam with her based-in-Vietnam book, “Over the moat”, and a cool can of lychee juice. Limestone peaks continued to roll by.
At our beach, a thin strip of sand beneath a towering rock, parasols and tables were waiting. As our crew cooked lunch, we swum in the warm shallow sea, and bathed on the soft pure sand. More unadulterated relaxation. I picked up hermit crabs with my feet, explored nearby rock pools, and discovered a tower of discarded oyster shells. We were on this beach for hours, a shower and change of clothes just over there on our boat, no cares in the world.
Lunch beckoned, lovely grilled king prawns, beef, pork and chicken, and washed down with cold Halida lager. To walk off our food we trekked up the hill, following a steep path to the Thienh Can Son cave entrance. Yes, another cave on our holiday, you might mistakenly think we’re some sort of cave fanatic. I expected a small cavern, but it opened out into many rooms, rooms a family had once lived in. They’d been evicted by the government, Ha explained, no doubt to make way for bumbling tourists like us, though Ha said it was because they’d damaged the cave.
On the beach once more, and another opportunity to go kayaking. I passed it up, so Sam rowed off into the distance with Ha, and I slept on the beach. A lap around the nearby island, with a guide to do all the hard work. Our crew had their downtime, and I watched them play football on the sand with oars setup as goal posts.
A few other boats started to arrive at “our beach”, as we dubbed it. And in the distance a storm was brewing. Time to go then; but not before a swimming race back to the boat. Because of the storm, and chance of some rough winds, we returned to the sheltered bay we’d stopped at the night before, and anchored for the evening.
Our final evening meal was served in the bar, and amidst the usual salads and prawns the crew brought out intricately carved food; two storks dancing on potatoes, a rose carved into a butternut squash, and a replica of our boat made from a watermelon and carrots, sails and all. Our chef gave us a demonstration too, and from the narrow corridor he flambeed prawns amidst a cloud of steam.
This was almost the end of our short trip, and our crew came to say their thank yous, even singing for us; apparently a song from a popular Vietnamese talent show. Ha asked if we could sing something back, but we failed to find a song, and the moment descended into awkwardness.
To round out the night we sat up top with some drinks and shared music, taking turns to plug iPhones into a set of portable speakers. The bay was quiet and dark, with only the gentle noise of waves stroking the rocks, and the light of boats anchored nearby. From the speakers we played Sigur Ros, Eddie Vedder and Birdy and I found that old Richard had fantastic taste. A lovely evening, I didn’t want it to end.