We stayed in Phú Quốc for a week, which was way more than we planned on.

Maybe it was an end-of-journey tiredness, that made us immerse into any kind of routine, and feel at home in places that were never our home. We had our favorite restaurants and cafes, the regular people we’ve seen on the beach. Like an alternative universe that exists for a week only.

I also knew, that once we’ve left the island, it’s nearly over. We’ll go back to Hồ Chí Minh, and then to Bangkok, and then home.
And that would be it. That would be the time to put away the bathing suit and begin adult life.
As if this was Neverland and the ocean water would keep me young forever.

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In most of the mornings, we had breakfast at a family restaurant that served some sort of a breakfast-Bánh mì, with fried eggs and vegetables, and delicious coffee.
We spent most of the days on the beach, reading our books and swimming. I loved seeing the subtle changes. Where the coconuts fell from the treetops, where a crab dug a new hole in the sand, the ebbs and flows. In one of the mornings there’s a big branch floating in the water, the next day it was carried away by the currents.

If we stayed for a bit longer, I’d grow algae on my feet.

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There was a cafe we liked, that belonged to a family. The mother served the coffee, the father was usually working on his bike. All types of people sat there, from European tourists to truck drivers. A woman who was getting a manicure the day before got a facial today.

In the evenings, we took long walks around the town. Phú Quốc is famous for its pearls so they are sold everywhere, especially as jewelry. I loved looking at the shop fronts, some of them looking fancy, decorated with huge conches, or shattered glass that looks like sparkling waves.

On one of these days, we decided to go see the Nước mắm factory – where they make fish-sauce. We weren’t sure where it was so we took a cab, and told the driver to come back in half an hour.
Inside was a small shop with bottles of different sizes, with sauces in different levels of saltiness. They also sold dried and salted fish and shrimps, huge seashells, pearls.
Past the shop was a yard, with shirtless men working. It was by a dock, and the men carried big bags of stocks from a ship into the factory. We asked one of them if we can get inside and have a look, and he showed us where to go.
This must be the smelliest place on earth.
It was a big hall with huge barrels, tubes going in and out of them, with the Nước mắm cooking inside. A leader was leaning on one of them so we climbed to see what’s inside – a brown, thick liquid with strange objects floating inside, perhaps fish parts. The fishy smell was so strong and salty, it made my eyes water. How can such a delicious thing smell so bad?
Back at the store again, the salesclerk let us try different kinds of the Nước mắm, and we bought some home.

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On the last day, we decided to get married.
We spent almost the entire day at the beach until it got way too hot. I said goodbye to the ocean, knowing this was probably the last time in the next years I swim in it.
In the evening we came back to the night market for dinner, and chose one of the seafood restaurants. Those places have a display of today’s catch, some of it still alive. I saw the squids on ice, just lying there, staring and changing their colors.
We had succulent crabs and different kinds of big shrimps, together with steamed rice and ice-cold beer.

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Back at the room, we sat on the porch and decided to get married. We drank beers, looking at the dark sea and the lights from fisher boats, and the stars from above, and talked about the future.
The funny thing was, that we always said we would never get married, and never officially did. It was more about the idea of thinking about our future together, than about a wedding. We’ve never really needed one.
We toasted with the beer cans, and called our parent. I called my mom first, and when I called dad afterward she was quick enough to tell my sister before I had the chance.
After telling everyone, we cheered again.

And since that night, we’ve always been traveling together.

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It took about four hours on the bumpy roads to get to Rạch Giá, in a bus filled to the brim with people.
A van took us from the central station towards the hotel by the shore, passing bridges and rivers with houses built right on the water. After a bit of a walk, we got to the relatively empty and strange hotel. The room was nice, with a big window viewing the sea.

I was still feeling nauseous from the ride, but pretty soon it was gone and we were looking for lunch. A middle-aged woman served food at what seemed like her living room. We had the comfort-food as her tiny barky dog sat beneath our legs, and then went to the port to book a ferry to Phú Quốc. All the offices at the port seemed to be empty, so we asked the receptionist at the hotel and she told us where the offices were.
Only women worked at the office, and only one of them spoke English. She sold us the tickets as the others giggled behind her.
The sun was high and it was getting hot, so we stopped for cold coffee at a small cafe. All the other customers looked at us, some of them laughed. It was typical of small towns, where they don’t see many western people. An old woman was begging for alms and stopped by to curiously touch my hair, which made the bystander laugh even more.

Rạch Giá is very suburbian and quiet, so finding somewhere to have dinner at wasn’t easy. Especially at the isolated port area, where we stayed. We had a long walk to the center until we found a stall with good food. It seemed like we were the only tourists in the whole town since we attracted a lot of attention.
It was still early but the streets weren’t particularly interesting, so we went back to the hotel and sat on the porch with beers, viewing the dark sea.

The next morning, we walked to the port and had coffee until the ferry arrived, a big boat with the epic name – The Super Dong VIII.
The Super Dong was broad, with many rows of red cushioned chairs and screens that showed music videos, featuring a guy looking like the Vietnamese Justin Bieber. I didn’t know how long it would take to arrive at the island so I napped, mostly dreaming about food – again with the craving for Mediterranean, fresh vegetables in olive oil and lemon, accompanied by light cheeses.

After about three hours we docked at a lovely port, where we took a cab. It took twenty minutes of driving amongst bright-green jungles until we stopped on a main road, parallel to the shore.
Only one row of buildings separated the hotel from the beach. The room was nice and clean, and relatively big, and we had a porch viewing the beautiful open sea. After we settled down, we took a walk to explore the area – just a straight street, pretty quiet, the ocean peeking from in between the buildings. Small businesses, restaurants that were owned by a single person and served delicious home-cooked food, cafes that also offered a manicure.

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And then, after we had lunch and coffee, we finally went to the beach.
Sometimes I still close my eyes and see myself back there again.
A classic beach, as if it came from a movie, with coconut trees, white sand, blue ocean. Some shades sprinkled here and there. Yes, it is cheesy and touristic, but it’s so indulging.
The water is so lucid you can see the ground, and the animals lurking inside – crabs minding their own business, fish, huge conches and seashells with hermit crabs hiding inside.

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We’ve spent several hours at the beach, and in the evening went to the night market. It had many stalls with jewelry, mostly integrated with pearls and seashells, some stalls with clothing, and many restaurants with fresh grilled seafood.
We walked through the whole market until we arrived at the docks.
We stopped there to look at the dark sea, and the big crabs running on the sand. I breathed in the ocean air – the vast, endless water smell so much less salty than the Mediterranean.

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There were some restaurants on the beach, so we had dinner at one of them. The food was great – we had shrimps, fish, okra, some rice crackers and beers. At a table near us sat a big local family with many children, and I watched them eating a huge pile of clams, pulling the meat out of the shell using safety pins.

We bought ice-cream and walked back through the night market, and since it was early we went to a second, more central one. It was nice, but had mostly restaurants.
We got back to the room, had some beers and watched movies in bed. There was a Back to the Future special on one of the movie channels. We binged the movies until we fell into a deep sleep.

We got up early and had coffee at the lobby with Miss Vy, and then went to the travel agency where we booked the bus ticket the previous day.
The same clerk was there and she rode with us on a van that went to the bus station, and then showed us where to go and said goodbye. We took a bus to the central station, and then another one to Cần Thơ.
The ride took several hours, during which I wrote in my diary, listened to music, napped. It was a bit strange that I managed to pass long rides with my nose in a book without getting car-sick.

When we arrived at Cần Thơ, taxis and bike drivers gathered by the bus doors and offered a ride to anyone who got off. It was confusing, and we needed a few minutes to figure out where we are and where to go, when we saw a van going to the city center.
Through the windows, the city seemed suburbian and cute.
We stopped in front of a small hotel where a polite young man greeted us, gave us a city map and told us where it’s best to eat. After settling down in our room we went out.

The city is built on branching of the Mekong river, with the main street on its bank. At its center, there’s a humble marketplace, and simple city life – the sun stands high in the skies and underneath it people are working, eating, napping on hammocks. Some fishermen standing by the river, boats passing by.
In the evenings there’s a night market, which has one street with clothes and a parallel with food stalls.
After a walk in the city and a dinner we put together from several stalls we went back to the hotel, where we had beer with the receptionist (unfortunately I forgot his name) and went to bed.

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The next morning we got up at four-thirty AM and had coffee at the lobby until we saw the guide for the trip to the floating market on the Mekong that we booked the day before. He led us to the docks where we went on a small wooden boat with a small middle-aged lady, that navigated with an engine on a board that she operated underwater.
The sun began rising as we sailed the quiet water and actual neighborhoods emerged on the river bank, with houses built on pickets on the water.

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Big ships greeted us on the entrance to the floating market, and then small wooden ones like the one we had – at first just a few, leading to heavy boat traffic. On the prow of each one stood a bamboo stick with an example of what they sell, mostly fruits but also various appliances.
A cry from bellow of “Hellooo, coffeeee” caught our attention, and a woman who sat in what seemed like a floating tub sold us some coffee.
We kept sailing slowly through the market that stretched on several kilometers.
In the end there were fewer boats and we turned and made our way back through narrow canals, and the guide told us about life in Vietnam.
He was a young man, an engineering student, and said that the labor market is tough for the young generation but there is always a demand in construction, since it’s a developing country. Right now they are dealing with global warming and the approaching rising of sea level by high construction near the shores.
The sun was high and it was getting hot when we finally arrived back at the dock.

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We got off and said goodbye to the guide and the driver, and went to get some tasty Phở.
I thought about that young guy, who seemed a bit sad and unpleased.
I thought about the temporary jobs I’ve had as a student back home – serving coffee to tourists, on their way to or back from the beach, enjoying the sunny days while I struggle to balance my precious time between working and studying.
When a tourist asks about life in Israel, go tell him briefly about the military, gentrification, corruption, violence.
It made me think about all the things the guide didn’t have the time to tell about.

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Despite being told Cần Thơ was boring, we spent almost a week in there.
The main excuse was that we had to wait until the weekend was over to fix my phone, but the truth was, we really liked the place.
Passionfruit juice with books by the river and food stalls that served Xôi gà – a comforting dish of rice with chicken, vegetables and quail eggs. Tiny cafes, a marketplace with a load of strange vegetables.
We met some people at the hotel – Thom from New Zeeland who traveled North with a rugged bike, and Keith, an English pensioner who roamed through South-East Asia and bought local women’s hearts with his retirement money.
At the evenings we’d get dinner at the night market and then went back to the hotel and sit with the owner on the steps outside, the humidity is high and drunk mosquitoes are buzzing around, drinking beers and talking in broken English into the darkness.
The polite receptionist kept calling us “Miss” and “Sir” even after we gently implied he can lay aside the formality – possibly he felt more comfortable this way. He told us he was in the military but working in an office and study English in his spare time, and asked for help with his homework.

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As a new week began, I went to a big store that fixes phones.
I walked a lot on foot since it took a while to catch a cub, and when I finally did the driver and I had a hard time connecting because of the language barrier, but eventually we’ve made it there.
I walked into the big clean space and was greeted by a woman with a traditional Vietnamese dress, marching in tiny steps and smiling without showing her teeth. She served me coffee and sat next to me with a polite smile, waiting for me to speak. It seemed a bit odd but I tried to somehow explain what the problem with my phone was. She smiled and nodded and after I finished she remained silent and kept looking at me, and then referred me to a man in a tie that sat by one of the stations. I asked, “English?” and she said, “Yes, yes”.
I sat in front of the man, and told the problem again. He looked at me and I looked at him, and then he typed on his phone for a while. Eventually, he showed me the screen – a Google Translate page was open there with a text – “What is the problem with phone?”. I took a deep breath and explained again, slowly, using the Translate and hand gestures. In the end, he picked up the phone next to him and dialed, and let me speak to another man on the other side. After I explained the problem again to the man on the phone, he asked me to wait.
I kept sitting there in awkward silence until the guy arrived – a man with wide bearded face and hands as big as paddles. He sat next to me and talked about politics, of how they are all corrupted and play with us like soldiers on a chessboard. When I told him we call our prime minister Bibi, he rolled in roaring laughter and slapped his knee.
He took my phone and messed with it for a while, and said he fixed something in there but it might take a few days before we can know if it worked. I asked if I can get a new battery, and he said there are no phones batteries in the whole Mekong Delta.

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When I got back to the hotel, Roni sat outside with Thom next to him on the sidewalk, working on his bike with hands black from motor oil. After he was done and the bike ignited successfully, he parked it and asked if we were hungry.
We sat at a small street restaurant that served noodle soup, and spoke about restaurants in our countries. Thom said he used to fish and hunt his meals back in New Zeeland. It led to a long conversation about vegetarians and vegans, and about food-ideologies in general. After we had coffee together we went back since dark rain clouds appeared in the distance.
In the evening we went to the main mall, possibly the biggest in the area, because they had a Galaxy store and I wanted to check one last time if they can somehow fix my phone – they only offered unnecessary gadgets, so I just accepted the fact that the phone is dead. next to it was a designed ice-cream parlor, a cinema and an arcade, and groups of teenagers gathered by them.
We had dinner at the night market at a stall with a woman who laughed at us because we are westerns, and then kept strolling for a while.
In one stall they sold olives in what seemed like oil and chilly. I was very excited since during the last weeks I developed a crazy craving for olives, and those seemed so nice and juicy. It was only after I put one in my mouth that I realized it was some exotic and too-sweet fruit. We also got some durian – a big fruit that looked like a spiky melon, bright yellow on the inside, and a smell that resembles a pineapple.
We got back to the hotel for beer with the receptionist. I tried the durian and thought it was gonna be sweet-sour like a melon, but it was so sweet it made me sick – kind of like gum for kids loaded with sugar.
Keith also appeared in the lobby with a grumpy Thai woman, and while she went upstairs he stayed with us. He told us he speaks many East-Asian languages and showed us he was chatting in Thai with various women. He used to be a history teacher, and four years ago he retired and divorced his wife. Now then he’s traveling in Asia, meeting women who are looking for an older man with money. He laughed and said his money was worth a lot in those countries.

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We went upstairs and booked hotel rooms in our next destinations, and went to bed. Even though I brushed my teeth twice, I could still sense the durian’s sweetness in my mouth.
In the morning we packed our bags and had a humble breakfast of bread with jam and butter at the lobby, when a van arrived and we took it to the central station.
I said goodbye to the city through the window – the hotel, the river, the main street, the marketplaces, and the small restaurants and cafes. From the central station we got on a bus and began the bumpy ride to Rạch Giá, where we would take the ferry to Phu Quoc.

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When we went outside the hotel to get soup for breakfast, we saw Cambodia  a valley, and then a row of mountains that is already in another country.
After breakfast, we went back to the hotel for coffee with Nip and Quan, as next to us sat a bunch of giggling women who spit shells of seeds on the floor. I had a feeling they were laughing at Roni and me because they were from the outskirts areas and hadn’t seen a lot of white people in their lives.

Before nine we were on the bikes again, back on the roads.
The sun was beaming and strange tan marks began to form on my thighs.
We stopped here and there at monuments for the war fatalities, and on a narrow road inside a jungle. Quan showed us a small rough fruit you can eat its soft inside and said in broken English that they used to eat that in the war to survive. He saw a root with a strong perfumed scent, and said you can chew on it if you have a fever. We continued the ride, stopping here and there in front of landscapes that broke my heart.

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We reached at a relatively big village with 10,000 residents, and Quan took us for a walk in the marketplace. Curious children followed us as we looked at the vegetables and meat, tubs of seafood, live poultry and one crab that escaped a tub and walked in the market’s alleys. Outside we met Nip, who waited by the bikes. We bought some fresh fruits, had sugarcane juice and continued.

We passed by a field of guavas and Nip bought some home, and then stopped at a Mường village  a minority in Vietnam. Girls walked around with school shirts and colorful skirts and some kids stared at us while we sat on a bench in one of the yards.
Nip said that minorities get support from the government, so they have electricity and TVs in their homes. He also said that the Mườngs often get married to their relatives so the children might be underdeveloped. And stupid, he added quietly. I peeped at their faces and saw that indeed some of them seemed to look underdeveloped, physically and mentally.

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After that we stopped again in a remote town, to look for lunch. The skies got dark and as soon as the afternoon rains began we got under a shed at an old lady’s yard.
We sat by a long wooden table as the nice woman took out rice, fried pork, greens, small bowls of soup.
Heavy raindrops dripped from the edges of the roof.
While Nip and Quan talked, I could already understand some words. Even when he spoke Vietnamese, Quan pronounced long slow letters.

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As the rain stopped we began with a long ride of 70 kilometers to the bus station, where we will take the bus to Hồ Chí Minh.
Above us were red and green mountains and above them the big skies, beneath us a valley and lakes with floating houses. It was raining lightly part of the time. Once in a while we passed by a truck or a bike that emerged from beyond the road’s curves, and here and there we stopped to stretch and look at the view.
I don’t know how long this ride took, perhaps even hours.
Eventually, more vehicles appeared and we arrived at a town, and then to a bus stop.
We paid Nip and Quan, thanked them and said goodbye.
Again,
 with this strange feeling of letting people go.

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A clumsy sleeping bus approached the station.
The ride took forever. Pretty quick it got too dark to read, and I’ve forgot my phone at the hotel in Đà Lạt so I couldn’t listen to music. After three days of open roads, it was weird to sit inside the bus, on the bottom bed near the floor, as bare feet passing by.

Towards ten PM we began to see through the windows some buildings, skyscrapers, colorful lights, and eventually the bus stopped at a broad main street. Lots of cabs passed by and one driver asked us where we need to go to. After we gave him the address of the hotel he said it was just a few minutes away, and showed us where to go.
Inside the block he was pointing at, was a hidden ally that led into a crazy maze of narrow streets.
We arrived at the small hotel and the owner, a young woman who said her name was Miss Vy, greeted us kindly. After she gave me my phone, that was sent there by Hien from the hotel at Đà Lạt, she showed us our room and said to ring a bell by the entrance if we go out and want to come back.

We went outside to the busy street and found a small place for dinner, and as we ate I looked at the people.
For a second I’ve felt like in Bangkok again, at the Khaosan, because of big groups of tan European and American tourists. It was full of music and bars everywhere and the locals seemed to be more modern than in other places  young women with mini-skirts leaning against motorcycles and smoking, flirting, two fancy transgender tip-toeing on high heels, merchants with small wagons crossing the streets and selling dried salted octopuses, drunk men laughing loudly.

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The next morning I woke up early but stayed to cuddle in the bed, and eventually went down to the lobby at nine.
We sat with Miss Vy on the couch and she showed us on a map places to go to. She then took us through the narrow alleys out to the main avenue to a woman that sold Bánh  outside. The recommendation was great. We ate the Bánh  at a park across the street and then kept walking along it and had iced coffee, and then went to the market. The sun was high in the sky and inside the market building it was shadier than on the streets and very crowded, and people from all around tried to sell us things.

We passed the hot hours with watermelon juice and lots of iced tea, and after a quick shower at the hotel, we went to “The Bánh  King”.
With hair dyed black and huge rings on his fingers, the Bánh mì King rules his small kingdom, and his staff produces dozens of crispy Bánhs with huge amounts of butter and pate, which makes the Bánh  taste divine.
We ate standing under a roof while the heavy rains began to fall.

We planned on staying for two days at Hồ Chí Minh before traveling south and then back to the city, and on the first visit it seemed to me cynical and alienated.
The huge main roads busy with hundreds of motorcycles, the tall buildings, the nights when neon lights ignite and the streets fill with tourists.
It was hard to see what’s real and what’s not.
Young women were standing at each corner with fake smiles, belonging to the sex industry and not happy at all.
By the evening I had the same feeling I had in Bangkok, like meeting somebody radiant and glamorous that would never let me into their heart.

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On the morning of the second day, we went to a travel agency to book a bus to our next destination, Cần Thơ.
Fans on the ceiling swirled the air lazily as a sweaty agent suggested some deals for tours and sightseeing in different towns by the Mekong, and said we didn’t have much to do in Cần Thơ for more than a day or two. Yet we refused for the deals and only chose a bus ride because we preferred to not be tied to schedules.
We went back to the room and packed some stuff. Then we went to the mail post to send a few things home and save space and weight in our bags. We found the one clerk that spoke English, who wasn’t particularly friendly, and it seemed we were bothering her. She unpacked our things and checked them one by one, and then repacked them into cardboard boxes that didn’t seem to be strong enough to survive the trip. The packings and paperwork took almost two hours.
When we finally went out it was pouring rain and we were hungry, so we ran to the marketplace building nearby and ate rice and fried pork.
After the rain stopped we went back outside, and passed the day lazily.
As evening came, I began to like the city. The streets are huge, but inside every block of buildings there’s a web of tangled alleys that amongst them there are peaceful everyday lives.
Later on, the night market was opened, and the sleaze I’ve felt the night before turned into a feeling of life and freedom. There were mostly clothes and shoes in there, and I found the perfect pair of shoes at a tiny crowded store that was run by a loud woman. I decided to wait and buy them when we come back, so I don’t have to carry them during our trip to the Mekong.

We finished the day at a BBQ place on the street where we had meats and cold beers, and went to bed early.

We got up at seven-thirty, got dressed and went downstairs for a hot coffee and bread with butter at the lobby.
I looked at the town, that on daytime seemed different – a main road, a square, small houses. Next to us sat the blonde who traveled alone and had coffee with her guide, and I thought about how easy it was in this country to just travel alone with a stranger with no fear.

The bike ignited and we rode into the mountains until we stopped above Lak Lake. Nip said the lake’s height changes dramatically with the rains, and when the water level is low enough they grow rice on the damp ground.
We walked uphill for a while until we reached Lak Lake Resort, some sort of hotel with a museum dedicated to a king who ruled there, not so long ago. He had 2,000 wives (Nip said it must be tiring), and anyone who got caught looking into his eyes would be killed.
There was a black and white photo on one of the walls, of the king when he was a child, surrounded with grown-ups, looking seriously directly into the camera.

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We drove back down the mountain and through a straight road, between fields, and stopped in front of a small church that was burned during the war. The black ruins were surrounded with green thick plants, and from inside what used to be the main hall you could see the white skies. Nip told us about the warriors, that had to start fires for food etc so they put sets of tubes on the ground that dispersed the smoke away, so they won’t be seen inside the jungle.

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After that, we arrived at a small village, matriarchal too. Loyal dogs barked at us from the yards, and the houses were built upon polls over half-open pits in the ground, as the farm animals were protected inside them. Chickens picked the ground with groups of nestlings running around their legs, and little children peeked at us curiously from inside the kinder garden. Here and there were burning piles of logs, that was being used later as coal.

We moved on to a tiles factory, which left me with a bitter feeling.
It was a big yard where men and women worked hard loading clay into a large machine that created the tile shape, taking them with wagons to the area where they set them to dry, and putting them into furnaces.
Some of the women had small children, who couldn’t stay alone at home. A middle-aged woman carried a heavy wagon as her children helped her.

We also visited an artist’s yard, where he created stone and marble statues combined with gemstones – frogs with coins in their mouths were a recurring subject. We walked in the yard and examined the smooth shiny sculptures as the artist looking at us with smiling eyes. A big dog and her puppies barked toward us if we got too close.

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Before lunch, we passed by a black-pepper field, which grows like tiny green berries on bushes that climbed around polls. Lots of white butterflies flew around.
Roni took a few fruits, and we drove to a restaurant where lots of trucks were parked outside – as mentioned, that’s a sign for a good place. They served free-range chicken that was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, rich with bone marrow, together with steamed rice, some soup, and iced tea. We were hungry, and the food was tasty and filling.

We continued the long ride through villages and towns.
children finished their school days and drove by us on the rural roads with their small bikes.
Nip bought a ticket at the entrance of a nature reserve, and we went on. We went down a bumpy road surrounded with jungles, once in a while a blue-green lake is peeping from within the trees, way down.
We stopped where the road split into a dirt path. While Nip waited by the bikes Quan led us down the path, between rocks and boulders, thick plants, grasshoppers, dragonflies, black mosquitoes. The path was steep and there wasn’t always something to get a grip on, and the skin ached from sweat and stinging ants. Once in awhile the pool emerged, each time a bit closer – turquoise and chill, a body of water amongst small waterfalls.
As we arrived Quan left us there to swim, told us to go back in half an hour, and began climbing back up.
We got undressed into swimwear, and I made my way on the muddy ground into the water. Big cobwebs blocked the way but nothing scared or startled me anymore, so I shoved it aside and went inside.
The water was cold and I didn’t know its depth, and water plants made it so turbid you couldn’t see if anything was lurking inside. By the edges, there were rockier areas you could stand on, and once in awhile seaweed, or tentacles, stroked the feet. Climbing plants created small caves on the water with their branches. Water dripped into one side of the pool from higher rocks, and on the other side, a gentle drift led into a small waterfall, blocked by boulders.
I’ve felt myself tiny, on the head of a narrow water pit with endless depth, as any moment a huge hand might emerge from depths and take me down. Somehow, this vulnerability feeling was soothing.

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After about half an hour two French tourists with a guide arrived, as we were just getting out of the water and sitting on the rocks to dry. The French took their time getting inside, which associatively made me think they must be on the beginning of their trip.
A light rain began to fall as we went back up and I thought it might make the ground and rocks slippery, but the treetops kept the path relatively dry and it was easier to go up than down.
We went on the bikes again and drove towards the reserve entrance, where we had hot coffee with a curious kitten who peeked from under the table. When we finished our coffee Nip showed us where to go to get to a big waterfall, so we walked towards the direction and went down some stone steps. The steps led to a small bridge that turned into a trail, which was half inside water. My feet were soggy anyway so I walked carefully inside the water, and Roni somehow managed to walk on rocks without getting wet.
After a short walk on the simple road, we reached a huge spectacular waterfall and sat there together on a rock in front of the storming wall of water.

On the way back the light rain got stronger. We’ve met three Russian tourists with a local guide who were also on their way to the huge waterfall, and stopped to talk for a while. The guide knew a lot about Israel, and mentioned the names of leaders from the past. He said Israel was interesting for many Vietnamese because of agriculture, since we’ve learned how to grow crops in the desert – in countries with tropical weather things grow easily, and they don’t need advanced technologies.
As we got back the rain started pouring. We sat under a pagoda at the cafe and I poured out all the water that gathered in my shoes, and then we put the raincoats on and continued with the ride.
The rain was getting weaker and stronger and weaker again until it stopped completely, only a black cloud appeared here and there. We drove in open rural ways and crossed towns with orange muddy ground. We made a stop at a field of gum trees, that dripped white stuff that hardened into actual rubber, and another stop at a cocoa field with heavy cocoa fruits, some white and some red.

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Eventually, we parked at another small town, right by the border with Cambodia, and went up a curved stairway of a small hotel.
After showering, Roni and I went for tea at a quiet place, where aside from us sat only the employee with her friends. The sunset a while ago and aside from that place it was utter darkness, only a street lamp shed light on a part of the road.
At six-thirty we met Nip and Quan again at the hotel lobby and went to a BBQ restaurant. We had Saigon beer and ate some sort of big rice cracker, and then the food arrived at the table – first the grill itself, on which we fried the meat, and then the food – soft and yummy goat meat, its leg and tough udder, and another part of the leg that arrived in a lemony salad.
We ate and drank and talked about the generation gap. They said that the adults begin to be exposed to the gay community and it seems very strange to them, but they slowly realize that they don’t have to understand different people as long as they don’t hurt anyone.
Around nearby tables gathered groups of people, mostly men, adult and young ones, all drinking heavily and talk and laugh with loud voices. Since the city was so dark and empty, it felt like sitting in the last happy spot inside a void.

We ordered small empty glasses to the table and drank with small sips the rest of the rice wine – “One person drinks, makes to people happy”, winked Nip.
We walked for several minutes in the darkness towards the hotel, where we sat at the lobby with a strong ginger tea that relieved the body after another long day of traveling.
As I lay in bed later, between sleep and wakefulness, I felt like I was still in the lake, ready to be swallowed into it.

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If the strong tasty coffee we had at the hotel didn’t wake me up, the motorcycle’s growls on the rugged road and the wind on my face sure did.
After about thirty minutes of driving out of town, we stopped at a rose farm, where we got off the bikes and Nip told us about his life, and life in general.
Nip had a strong roaring voice, like his bike. He spoke passionately, with extreme facial expressions and wide gestures.
Quan, on the other hand, didn’t have good English, so he talked flatly as he’s spreading syllables while he’s thinking about the next word.
Nip spoke about the American war, the one we’re calling “Vietnam War”. He said they are a communist country since but it’s a matter of a generation or two before they become capitalist, since that’s what the people really want. “Communist here,” he said and pointed at his head, and then put his hand on his chest and whispered, “But capitalist here”.
He pointed at the flowers surrounding us and said that poor people care more about having food and clothing than to give flowers to their wives, and then told that his two sons are learning engineering and one of them wants to move to Hồ Chí Minh City, and his wife is always crying because of that.

Afterward, we stopped by a large coffee farm with a field of tall coffee bushes and a pen next to it full of weasels, who cuddled together in a furry pile inside wooden rooms. When we approached they took out their tiny noses and sniffed the air, and went back to sleep. By the pen stood a few tables with the coffee beans after they went through the weasel’s stomachs, got cleaned and dried.
Wooden steps led to a second floor, where they had a store and a cafe that served the fancy weasels coffee. Roni ordered for himself a cup of Moca beans coffee and I chose the Robusta, and we sat to drink it in front of the view of the farm.
Each cup costs about 2-3 Dollars, which is five times more expensive than a regular one, and the coffee has a strong fresh flavor.

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The next stop was at a silk factory, where only women work.
First, we got into the room where they keep the hungry caterpillars and cocoons on a bed of strawberry leaves.
On a second, larger room, there were big containers full of hot water and the miserable cocoons inside, each one with a fine string attached to some sort of loom. They showed us two kinds of cocoons – with one caterpillar or with two, which are called “Romeo and Juliet”. On one of the walls different kinds of silk sheets were hanged.
In the end, they fry the dead caterpillars with loads of lemongrass, as a popular snack. It has a strong flavor of lemongrass and it’s crispy on the outside and mushy on the inside, and pretty tasty once you forget it’s a bug.

Then Nip and Quan took us to the Elephant Falls, a big stormy waterfall.
The bikers waited for us as we went down some stairs which led to a bridge, that led to more stairs. As we went down the air got cooler and the vegetation thicker, and the ground damp and slippery.
We carefully climbed the rocks, passed some lizards and huge spiders, and when we almost got to the best lookout point of the waterfall I flinched and couldn’t move forward because I was afraid of slipping on the wet rocks. A couple of Australian pensioners passed by, the man with a mustache and the woman with white hair tied in two ponytails, and the man helped me move forward.
It really was a great lookout, right by the point where the stormy waterfall meets the river and sprays water drops. We stayed there for a while to look at the river and the people around.
Next to us, a few women sat with fancy dresses on the muddy tree trunks for a strange fashion shoot, and a large group of Chinese tourists walked behind us. When they got closer we cleared the view-point for them and climbed back up.
Next to where the bikers waited, we met the Australian couple again, and they told us they loved traveling and mountain climbing.

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Before lunch, we made a little stop at a Buddhist pagoda, a beautiful and quiet place.
Nip told us about the monk’s lifestyle, different customs such as shaving their heads and chores they need to do during their training. Just as he said they eat only one meal each day, my stomach began to growl and we went to eat.
We stopped at a roadside restaurant where many trucks were parked, and Nip said that parking trucks are a sign for a good place.
They ordered the table chicken, pork, boar, fish, rice and morning-glory. We kept sitting there with the beers and talked for a while after we finished eating. I looked at a tall blonde woman who sat with another Easy Rider.

After eating, we deviated from the highway to a dirt road that led into a small local farm.
Some animals greeted us – aside from chickens and geese, a small dog ran towards us barking and growling but was too scared to get close. A few kittens were hidden inside a pile of bags with pig’s food and played, their tiny tails peeking out, and a nursing cat slept on top of the pile. A young piglet escaped into a pen with the muddy ground and clumsily climbed into its cage, where it felt safe. The adult pigs woke up from their nap and got up heavily, sticking their curious snouts between the fences.
Quan led us into a room where the family makes strong rice-wine and then move it into jars with conserved snakes. The room was loaded with big dark containers with flies buzzing around, full of liquid with a strong smell of yeasts. W
e said goodbye to the big family, and they gave us some of the rice-wine in a plastic bottle.

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Close to the farm was a village, where most of the people and animals have already retired for their afternoon nap. We walked with Nip and Quan on the main street while they told us it was a Matriarchal village, where the women are dominant.
At the end of the street stood a wooden house and a few women sat at the porch, their limbs spread comfortably as they’re chain-smoking, a habit that is usually maintained by the Vietnamese men. In the center sat a middle-aged woman who looked at us confidently and greeted us. A young toddler, the only male creature around, began to cry and the women laughed and told us he’s never seen Western people before.
The mature woman, the alpha female, talked in Vietnamese and Nip translated. The men go to work and the women take care of the children, which creates a strong female community and the kids get their mother’s last names.
It was a Sunday and the Catholic village had the quiet and sleepy vibe of a holiday. As the woman spoke she made more eye contact with me than with Roni, Nip or Quan.
We said goodbye and went back to the roads.

During the long consecutive ride that came after visiting the village my mind wandered, to our country, to coming back home, to the future.
I thought about a job Roni and I were offered when we get back home, an offer that was too perfect to be real.
I imagined how I was going to do the job on the best side, without fear, being the best I could be. I ran it in my mind, like a movie, the day we will finish the trip with its beaches and roads and the wind in the hair, and on Sunday we will go to our new office for the very first time and work. And on the next day, and on the next one. But we will do something amazing, move forward, make money. And we will have an organized schedule, with normal hours and weekends off and vacations in the holidays, unlike the jobs we used to have until then.
And we couldn’t go to the beach on the quiet mornings on weekdays, but that’s fine, we will go on Saturday afternoon when everybody else is going, and it’s not too bad since we’ll be satisfied with our job.
There will be Winter days in the office, we will leave when it’s dark outside and work sitting above a table.
The bike went through convoluted roads between the mountains and fear began to seep in, so I stopped thinking about it and thought instead about a dream I had one day, about a girl I knew having a large tattoo of a white elephant on her arm.

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We stopped for cold coffee at a tiny stop on the sides of the road where a young woman worked. She sat with me and said she’d learned English and wants to be a teacher, but there’s no demand for that.
We stopped again on top of a high bridge stretching above a river, with houses floating on it, like in Hạ Long Bay. During the rainy season, the river rises so the houses almost reach the bridge. Nip said they once made a trip with some young Israelis guys that were after their military service, and they jumped into the river with a perfect dive. They served in a dangerous secret unit in the navy where they learned how to jump into water from heights without being hurt – from the description I understood they were fleet forces.
I wanted to say I was in the navy as well, but didn’t feel like thinking about the long days in the office back then so I kept quiet and watched the floating houses.

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The skies went dark and heavy rain began to fall as we arrived at a town and went into a tiny motel with heavy wooden furniture. Quan spoke to the owner and got the keys, and we settled in our rooms.
I found out I forgot my phone at the lobby in Đà Lạt when we had our morning coffee, but when Roni connected to the wi-fi we saw that Hien from the hotel contacted him via Facebook to ask where we’re going to stay in Hồ Chí Minh and send my phone there.
It was nice to be phone-less.
We showered, put our wet shoes under the air conditioner and chatted with the woman who offered us the job back home.
We went outside to find a place to have tea at. It was utter darkness outside except for a tiny spot, lit in yellow – some sort of shop, or a kiosk, or a cafe, where a few plastic chairs were spread.
We sat there as the tall blonde woman we saw earlier at the restaurant tried to buy cigarettes and the people around laughed, since they were not used to women smoking, or blonde people, or tall people.
Quan and Nip met us there and took us to a restaurant, that aside of the cafe was the only place that showed signs of life. We had a big satisfactory meal of noodles with bamboo leaves and vegetables, fresh vegetables, and duck stew. Together with the beer we ordered, Quan asked for four small glasses to which he poured the rice-wine we got at noon from that family.
We sat there for a long while and talked, and drank from the strong wine. When we ordered some more food Roni, that used to be a cook before the trip, asked to look at the kitchen and the way the lady who owns the place makes the food.
Lizards bustled around us and stray dogs nibbled on the bones on the floor, and I thought that I might miss working in restaurants. We paid and walked back to the motel, where I stayed up for a while to write about the long day.

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