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Ba Vi 25 October 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Travelling, Vietnam.
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Early October, we jumped on our motorbikes and rode to Ba Vi – one of the places I really wanted to see before leaving Vietnam.

Ba Vi is close enough to Hanoi (50 km) to go there on a day trip if you’re keen, or spend one night if you take it easy. I had invested in a new Karibon mask (a must) and strapped the backpack to the back of my bike (yay 60 cent bungee chords), picked up a new helmet for my partner, and together with two other friends started out on our little adventure.

Riding along the Red River going inland, I love the smells of rural Vietnam. Cow patties, freshly cut grass and rice plants, burning piles of hay and dust. Loads and loads of dust. On the way we stopped by a random little shrine, where General Giap had planted a tree some years ago (1997?) and where the caretaker was stoked to show us around, as I don’t think he received many visitors.

We stayed at this gorgeous resort close to Ba Vi where we could wallow in serene, quiet surroundings (or so we thought) and discover the countryside. After lunch and checking in, we drove up to the top of the Ba Vi mountain. Ba Vi means three peaks, so as the name suggests, it is actually one mountain with three peaks.

There are many peaks in [the Ba Vi Mountain] range, but the most famous one is Tản Viên Peak. Tản Viên Mountain is 1,281 m high. In Vietnamese mythology, this mountain is the home of Sơn Tinh, the mountain god. However, the highest mountain in this range is Vua Peak (or Emperor Peak), which is 1296 m in elevation.

You can ride your motorbike only so far up the mountain, rising through the mist while the air noticeably gets cooler, the road becomes narrower, and moss seems to cover just about everything. Then, if you are keen, you can walk the 770 steps to the temple dedicated to Ho Chi Minh, which is at the top of the peak called Vua.

At the top, we did not have much of a view, as the entire peak was shrouded in mist, but you could see down along the mountainside to the foot of the mountain, where you could make out just how high we had climbed.

Going back down was fun, and as we entered the valley beneath, we stopped at a local shop selling Kem Karamen, one of the many delights Ba Vi is famous for. Ba Vi produces loads of milk, and the Kem Karamen (Caramel Pudding) was sold in tiny tubs for 3000 dong per serving (that would be around 15 cents). We went completely overboard, and ordered a pack of 12 (after already eating one each) to bring back to the hotel.

At the hotel we had the pleasure of eating dinner through the deafening karaoke (so loud that we could barely hear each other talk across the table) and the dubious conga line dancing around the bonfire. And then, as we were giggling through the wine we had brought, shouting at each other, the most lovely gesture: the man who was sitting at the table next to ours with his wife and three young sons had ordered too much food, so he gave us the last course for free, seeing that they could not eat it anyway.

In many ways this is absolutely typical for Vietnam. The complete hospitality and generosity on the part of the locals blows me away every time. We invited him to have a glass of wine with us, which he accepted, knocking it back in true Vietnamese fashion (it is 100% or nothing!) with us doing our best to emulate his efforts.

We whittled away the last remaining hours of the day sitting on the balcony of our bungalow, playing cards and drinking wine, eating Kem Karamen (yes, all 12 of them between the four of us) and laughing until my tummy hurt.

The next day, we went for a drive to find lunch, as we had pretty much exhausted the menu at the hotel by then. We had seen some beautiful placed buildings along a lake at the bottom of the Ba Vi mountains, so we returned there to find something. Entering the ‘park’, however, was surreal.

The first people we spoke to were less than helpful, only asking whether we had paid entry tickets to the park (which we had) and then waving us on indicating that there was food further down the track. Then, pulling up outside a building, a man emerged who started screaming. He was literally yelling, telling us that there was food on the premises. My partner explained that our friends are vegetarian, and that we wanted to know what dishes there were that were vegetarian.

Still yelling, he screams; “We have rice…” counting on one finger, then counting the second: “and vegetables!”

I am giggling, as I am not sure why he is still yelling, perhaps an interesting strategy to make the foreigners understand.

Then he launches into a tirade about how he could not understand foreigners that go travelling, yet only eat vegetarian food. We thought it best to just turn around and get out of there, as crazy yelling man would not let up, and none of us could keep a straight face anymore.

Going further into the park, though, and seeing it up close was incredibly eerie – as what looked from afar as a beautiful park was in fact an abandoned, rusty, and fading theme park. Rides that had not been running for years, and pools that had completely clogged up with algae.

At one point, the friends we were with started imagining that we were in a horror movie, and that the gigantic aviary with the hole in the concrete at the bottom which I stumbled upon actually used to contain rabid monkeys which were now roaming the forests.

According to his vivid imagination, The Crazy Screaming Man had actually been trying to warn us from the impending doom, which we had ignored. Me driving at the back of the group would have made me the easy first target, as no one would notice that I would have been missing until it was too late. Then my partner would be attacked and pulled off his bike, as he was also riding alone.

Eventually, one of our friends would be able to make it out of the park alive, with the help of Crazy Screaming Man, to tell the tale…

Back to reality, we ended up leaving the park without any lunch, so we stopped by our Kem Karamen lady and bought some more (sickening, I know, but man, they were good!) which held us over until we reached Son Tay where we ate tomato tofu to our heart’s content. I don’t think the sales woman had ever seen such appetite for tofu before!

Oh yes, we had a most excellent trip.

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