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.

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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After breakfast, we checked out and sat outside with our backpacks and had coffee.
The Easy Riders showed up – Mister Lam, with flames painted on the front of his heavy motorcycle, and Yen, with a big red motorcycle.
They began loading our bags on their bikes as Quoc and his wife Giang were also getting ready for the trip, Quac with a small sports camera attached to his helmet.
When we were all ready Roni and I went on the Easy Rider’s bikes – me behind Yen and Roni behind Mister Lam. The bike ignited with a loud growl, and we started navigating our way outside the city as Quac and Giang driving ahead of us.

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In a short while, I got used to the motorcycle’s tremblings and its metallic feel and leaned back on my bag that was tied behind. I took a big orange scarf with me which I bought back then from an old woman in Sapa and covered my mouth and nose with it, and a plastic part of the helmet protected my eyes.
We stopped right outside the city by a small shack with a big yard, where three middle-aged women sat and weaved rugs in red, yellow and green. Two of them worked on a rug, as one adds more strings to the loom with a long hook and the other arranges the interwoven ones. The third and oldest woman sat on the side and talked with the two others.
They let Roni and I try it in turns, and we managed to slowly weave a clumsy line.

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We drove on narrow roads between fields and small houses in faded colors scattered here and there.
We stopped by a rice field – tall plants growing like wheat, with small tough rice beans inside the leaves.
We passed on a long shaky wooden bridge stretching above a green river. Mister Lam said the rains start at November and the river overflows, so the locals break it apart and put it together afterward, a process that takes three months.

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We made a brief stop in another shack were some women made flat crunchy pastries made of rice and sesame, which goes great with the hot spicy food.
They make some kind of mush out of the ground seeds and pour it on a hot plate which in minutes consolidate it into some kind of a soft pancake, which they then move to a straw surface and take it outside to dry for several hours in the beating sun.
Lam said they begin their work at 3 AM and finish at 1 PM before the rains begin.
Quoc and Giang were there with us as well and Giang said she hardly ever sees those rural people because she doesn’t leave the city much.

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They took us to a workshop of a sculptor that works with wood.
He lives in a tiny house with a huge yard, where four barking puppies are tied. On the bare ground tools and wood chips with a strong smell of wood were scattered, and the place was full of statues in different levels of finishings.
The ready sculptures were smooth and covered in wax, and most of them described fat laughing Buddhas with big earlobes – a sign for luck, long lives, riches, fertility. Other and smaller ones were of gods actually coming out of the logs, which is a part of their bodies.
An impressive furniture was standing on one corner – a big tree lying on its side with bare roots, forming into a long bench, and on the other side there’s a smiling Buddha sitting, all made out of one piece.
The sculptor said it’s very expensive furniture which only rich people with a big house can afford.

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We stopped by a local village, where Roni and I explored the place by foot while the bikers waited on the other side.
Some curious children looked at us, and small pigs and poultry strolled around at the sides of the trail. We were accompanied by two dogs who barked at us from a safe distance, and a black puppy that was playing in one of the yards. A
t the village’s entrance there were stalls with diagonal tables, where dozens of yellow palm-like bamboo leaves were placed.

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Outside of that village, we passed by a sugar cane field and Yen chopped us small branch from one of the plants and told us to chew. It’s tough and fibrous, but after you work on it a sweet fresh juice come out. We moved on, now on open and free highways, driving much faster. I felt my feet vibrating near the motor and the scarf flapping behind me. The longer we drove, the higher the mountains around us became and the air was colder, and the wind felt like tiny tinglings on the skin. It was freshening to finally feel a cool breeze after weeks on the humid shoreline.

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After about 45 minutes of a consecutive ride, we stopped on a bridge towering above a big waterfall and went off the bikes.
Aside from us, there were only a couple of locals with big straw hats.
We walked across the bridge until we reached a small path with lots of stingy vegetation, and after we passed it and climbed over some black rocks we found the chill waterfall. We dipped our hands and feet in the freezing water.
It was dead silence there, as the plants absorbed every little rustle from the highway.

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We went back to the motorcycles and started climbing over the mountains.
White clouds cruised around us like steam, sliding amongst the mountains and covering us. The skies got darker and it began raining – light at first and then fast and heavily, the raindrops stinging like hailstones because of the bike’s speed. We stopped on the side of the road to cover our backpacks and wear blue plastic overalls that protect from the rain, and moved on.
We reached at a tiny village in the middle of nowhere and stopped by a wooden house with a tall straw roof, and went up inside with a small ladder.
It was empty aside from a few long wooden benches. Mister Lam said this was where the locals gather up for discussions or special occasions, and such a building is a sign of a strong community.
There were similar buildings nearby, their roofs not as tall. The only living soul that could be seen around was a chicken picking in the moist ground, with its chicks hiding between its legs.

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it was noon, and we were getting hungry. We stopped at a small place on the sides of the road, where a local woman served rice with fried pork and small bowls of soup, and sliced persimmon for dessert.
We gave the bones to a pregnant cat who was meowing under the table and moved on.
We passed by a strawberries farm and tasted the fruits straight from the ground. We talked with the farmer, a laughing bearded man, who said he was also growing potatoes and persimmons.
Not far from there we stopped again at a coffee farm and saw the red coffee beans – they grow on bushes, like berries.
The bikers told us that the coffee came with the French who saw Vietnam has the optimal conditions for growing it, and before that, they used to drink only tea. They said there is some kind of an animal (later on, it turned out they meant weasels) that eat the beans and then take them out whole, and it’s used to make high-quality coffee because of a chemical process the beans go through in their stomach.
Light rain was falling. Somehow the conversation rolled onto our country, and we tried to explain to them the Israeli – Palestinian conflict in simple words, a thing we do not really understand ourselves.

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Towards the late noon, we arrived at Đà Lạt, which was surrounded by greenhouses and homes in various colors.
We stopped at a colorful pagoda which was heavily decorated with loads of sculptures of flowers and small animals and walked inside. There was a small garden in the center that had a pool with big orange fish swimming in it, and statues of dragons and people with three or four faces holding swords.
The place had a few temples where severe women with blue clothes sat by their entrance. We went up to the second floor, where huge Buddha sculptures were placed, and wandered in there for a bit.
After we explored the whole place we went downstairs and sat with our drivers, Yen and Mister Lam, and had coffee while they talked about the Buddhist beliefs.
Its symbol looks like a swastika but much more ancient and stands for Karma – what goes around comes around. After dying one can reincarnate as different creatures, depending on what the soul deserves basing on its actions in previous lives – animal, human, something higher than human or lower than an animal.
It reminded me of a Chinese book I’ve read before the trip – Life and Death are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan, about a man who dies in his village and reincarnate as various animals until he learns his lesson.

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The last stop was an old train station, that according to what they told us all the hipsters in Vietnam go there to take artistic photos.
Eventually, they took us to Ken’s House – the hotel where we stayed together with Quoc and Giang from Nha Trang.
We thanked the bikers and said goodbye, and went inside.
It’s a small place, very colorful and clean, with wall-to-wall carpets in every room and a warm homey feeling, which fits well in the cold city in the mountains.
We checked-in with Hien, a beautiful receptionist who said her name means “Gentle”. After taking off our shoes and leaving them in a cupboard by the entrance, we went up to our room. It was charming, tiny with a floral painting on one of the walls and colorful sheets.
We were wet and muddy from the long ride and while we showered in turns Hien showed up by the door with a tray of tea and spring rolls, which was right on time.
We rested for a while and got ready for the evening since we scheduled that Quoc and Giang would take us to their favorite restaurant.

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We really liked Huế but it was time to move on.
We decided that the next destination will be Đà Nẵng, a big city with a beach.

In the morning, after we booked the next hotel, we had coffee and sat by the river with books. A young woman approached us and wanted to chat to practice on her English, which was nice at first and got awkward after a while.
She told us she was 23 and will graduate from university soon, and lives with her parents. Some people in Vietnam (or in Huế at least) live with their parents until they get married. She also said she has a boyfriend but her parents don’t allow them to sleep in the same bed, because they want her to stay a virgin until the wedding.

We wanted to move on so we said goodbye after she added me on Facebook, and then we went to the market.
It was very hot and sunny, and after a short while we sat down to have Bún bò.
We got back to the hotel to pay for the room and book a trip to Đà Nẵng for the next day, and then I went to pack our bags and Roni went outside to look for an ATM. It took him a while and I started to worry, and when he came back he told me that he met the Australian man again.
We took a brief nap and when we were hungry we came back to the Bánh mì restaurant and had rice with chicken and noodles with beef.
We strolled in the city, exploring its streets and daily routine, getting to the more wretched areas. We had iced coffee at a stylish cafe where a woman with piercings and short hair worked and walked slowly towards the hotel.

In the evening, Quan took us to a big restaurant under the skies. Every table had a small grill, and you order skewers and meat and fry it yourself.
Many groups of young teens parked their motorcycles in the side and sat there, and some tables had crates with beers next to them. It’s a system we saw many times – when a big group of people comes in they just put a beer crate next to them, and when they want to pay the server count how many cans they took. It saves some time for the waiters and probably encourages the customers to drink more, when the beer is so available for them.
Quan ordered a skewer of okra, together with pork, shrimps and frog’s legs, and everything was fresh and crunchy and very good.
He showed us how to roll the frog in a big leaf and dip it in salt and lemon, but it was hard for me to eat like this since it was full of small bones. He said to just spit them out, but the whole sorting process in the mouth takes too much skill.
It was the first time I ever tried frog and it surprised me how gentle the flavor was, somewhere between chicken and crab.
Quan’s friend from high school joined us and said her name was Hang, which means Moon. She was very pretty, with a moon-like round and white face and full lips, and dimples on her cheeks. She was a bit shy but it went well because Quan was very chatty, and led the conversation.
He told us that he ate a dog several times and described the meat, which is similar to beef but harder and more fibrous. We asked him if he ever ate a cat and he was shaken, how can you even think of eating a cat?

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After lots of food and beer we came back to the hotel by foot.
We woke up the next morning with a slight headache. after breakfast, we went downstairs with our bags and left them at the lobby, and went to have iced tea at the woman by the hotel. One of the hotel’s employees sat there too, a woman with a cute smile who blinks a lot. She saw I had a lot of mosquitoes bites on my legs and recommended I put mint-oil on it.
They arranged for us at the hotel a trip to Đà Nẵng through mountains and beaches in the area.
A driver with long hair and a bit rowdy face showed up, and Quan helped us take the bags to the car. We said goodbye and added each other on Facebook, and the ride began.
Before we left the city the driver stopped and got out of the car, and a few minutes later he came back with a small green bottle of the mint-oil – apparently the woman from the hotel asked him to buy it for me. We thanked him and paid him back.
The oil has a strong smell of, well, mint, and it is used as a magic medicine for everything, from migraines to tendonitis. It stung for a second as I put it on the itchy bites, and then chilled the skin.

It was very hot and I couldn’t help but to fall asleep, and after about two hours Roni woke me up to see the view.
A white beach with blue water was spread in front of us, an infinite horizon with green mountains at the distance and some simple fisher boats in the sea.
We made a stop by a hut where they served seafood and went to dip our feet in the water, and take a walk across the shore. When it got too hot we came back to the hut, where there were some big aquariums with big fish and shrimps and some tubs with seafood. We had some fried shrimps and iced tea and moved on.

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The car parked in the sun and was very hot, and it took a while to cool again.
The driver stopped again at an amazing viewpoint above the sea. A man with a wide hat approached us and tried to sell us maps, and showed us his foreign bills collection.
After we took in the picturesque view we came back to the car and continued
The car was shaking on half-built roads between the mountains, until we reached the top of a high mountain and stopped again. It wasn’t as hot over in there thanks to a cool wind, and some plants and trees gave shade. There were some people with booths that tried to sell us souvenirs or drinks but we refused. We explored the place by foot together with a curious dog that followed us everywhere, and after the driver finished drinking his iced tea we continued.

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We drove for another half an hour, during which we stopped at another viewpoint where we could see the whole huge Đà Nẵng from above, and began going downhill into the city.
We drove between the small houses in the outskirts of the city and through huge houses in the center, above big bridges towards the beach, until we arrived at the hotel. An employee from the hotel with a fancy uniform greeted us and took the bags inside.
We said goodbye to the driver and paid and tipped him, and entered a clean big lobby.
A silver statue of many fish swimming upward towards the ceiling stood by the wall to our right. Behind the counter, a polite and nice woman gave us the key, and a young man came with us to the seventh floor and showed us the big designed room with the view to the sea.
Apparently, we booked a fancier hotel than we planned, and even though we usually prefer the smaller homely places, it was nice to indulge.

We showered and changed clothes, and went downstairs hungry.
It was the hot afternoon hour, and everybody closed for a break. Eventually, we sat at a small place that was still open, together with two tall American women who recommended the food. They told us that they arrived a week ago to a ten months trip in Vietnam, during which they are going to teach English to make a living. They asked us if we are going in the evening to the big bridge at the city center which has a yellow statue of a huge dragon all along, and said that each Sunday the dragon spits fire.
We tried to order food from the woman who worked there but she was closing as well and said she’s out of everything, so we kept looking.
We arrived at a seafood restaurant with blue plastic tubs on the floor full of different fish and sea creatures, and ordered fresh shrimps with rice.
After the delicious meal we came back to the hotel and waited for the hot hour to pass, and went to the beach at five.

Where we come from the sun sets into the sea, but in Vietnam it sets on the other side, so the beach was shady and chill.
There was a lovely vibe and many people swam or sat on the shore, and two lifeguards were strolling around – one on the shoreline and another one on a small boat in the distance. The water itself was wonderful and clear and the wind was cool.
We had a walk and stopped under a small shack, where two elderly hippies offered us beer via a funny pantomime of a drunk man. We stopped by to have fresh coconut juice.
When the evening came, we got back to have another brief shower, and then went to the city center.

We walked by foot on the slightly empty streets that were filling as we went.
We arrived at the bridge with the yellow dragon and crossed it towards the other bank, where dozens of people did aerobics in groups at a square with lots of statues and lights, and children skated on rollerblades and played with dogs.
We walked into the city itself, trying to avoid the tourist’s traps, and had some soup with dumplings in a small restaurant on the street.
Then we came back to the bridge, that was now blocked by cops for the fire show. At nine-thirty there really was some fire – on the other side of the bridge, where we came from, and it ended quite fast.
Thousands of people crowded to look at it, and the whole area had a festive feeling.

We walked back on the bridge, that slowly opened again, and sat to drink some coconut juice and sugar cane juice.
We’ve met the two Americans again, who said the show was kind of funny.
People began folding back the plastic chairs that they spread around to look at the dragon, and we came back to the room and went to bed.

It was strange to get back to Hanoi after we thought we said goodbye from it for good.
After a brief shower at the hotel we went outside to eat at a place ran by a married couple, who sold fried meat in a baguette in the middle of the street. The woman sits in front of a small grill and wave at it with a piece of plastic, and the man serves the food and pours the beer out of a big barrel.
After we ate and recovered from the long ride, we strolled once again in the familiar streets with a deep sense of nostalgia.
Like coming back to an ex.
We drank cold watermelon juice at a busy cafe. A few teens walked around with a huge speaker, and one of them was lip-syncing to the playback music, as the others sold their CDs. After that, we had craft ice-cream at a hipster place.
It was already late but we didn’t want to finish the night, so we went to have some beer where we sat before with Nadia and Xavier from Ecuador.
When we got back to the hotel it was already dark and the doorman slept in the lobby on a mattress. He got up to unlock the door.
He was wearing pajamas and another man slept with him, and the whole situation was a bit awkward.

The next morning we got up early and booked a night train to Huế.
We ate meat soup and had coffee where we sat on our first day, when we only arrived at Hanoi, a day that seemed so long ago.
We kept walking around, saying goodbye to the city for the second time, and around 12 we got back to pack our bags and check out. We had to clear the room for the next guests but our train was leaving only in the evening, so they let us keep our bags in the hotel in the meanwhile.
We went out again and came back to our favorite places in the city, trying to soak them in as much as possible.
When it started raining, we had a strong bitter tea until it cleared.
After we traveled in the lake area we came back to the hotel but it was still early, so we had an early dinner at the couple with the grill in the street.
We bought some beers and snacks at a minimarket, and at six-thirty the taxi arrived.
By seven we were already on the train.

We shared a booth with a middle-aged Vietnamese couple who talked a lot, but it didn’t bother us. It was a small booth with two bunk beds and an end table between them, and Roni and I were in the top beds so we could talk.
Our booth-partners wore matching blue shirts. They seemed like they were used to such traveling – they took out plastic boxes with hot meals and made a whole dinner on the small table, while Roni and I sat together on one bed and snacked cookies.
I passed the time with my book – The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux, a book about traveling in trains in different countries.
Towards ten o’clock I put the book down and looked out the window, nudging with the train’s movements, and fell asleep without intending to.
I woke up again at 2 AM, surprised that I managed to get some sleep, and couldn’t fall back asleep because I had to pee. It was quite a journey, to get carefully down the bunk bed, silently out of the room, and into the toilet, tiny and compact like in an airplane.
When I got back to bed I lied on my back and listened to the rain that was falling all night. My thoughts went to foods I missed – olive oil, olives. Fresh crisp vegetable salad with salt and lemon. Mediterranean white cheese, gently salted, with a garnish of fresh oregano.
Slowly I fell asleep again, and when I woke up it was already daylight and everybody in the booth was waking up as well.
I went to brush my teeth in the shaking toilet car and just couldn’t feel clean enough.
We tried to ask the Vietnamese couple where we are supposed to get off but they didn’t speak English, and only gave us spicy ginger candies. The man nonchalantly took Roni’s shoes when he went to brush his teeth. When he came back, he tried to teach us Vietnamese via a small guide-book we bought one day from a street vendor, back in Hanoi.
Around quarter to nine the train slowed down, and the stewards called in the halls “Huế! Huế!” so we said goodbye and got off.

It was sunny outside, and smelled of fresh rain.
Some nice people helped us find direction and catch a taxi with a decent looking driver. He drove us through a big organized avenue with plants and statues by a big river on one side, and stylish buildings on the other, everything clean and fresh.
We arrived at the hotel that was inside an alley with some more hotels.
A nice lady approached us, and after we checked-in she invited us the have breakfast until the room is ready.
Coffee, at last!
We had a light breakfast of meat soup and fresh fruits, and after the receptionist told us a little bit about the city she gave us the room key.
The shower felt great after that strange night.

We went towards the market.
First, we walked around in the alleys with some clothing stores and had lunch at a BBQ restaurant. Then we approached the main street by the river and crossed a big bridge.
The air was nice and soft wind blew. There was a typhoon warning, but it didn’t get there and there wasn’t any cloud in the sky.
The market was loaded with goods, everything colorful and inviting, especially where they sold special and bright-colored fruits and vegetables. On the outside they sold different spices, meat, fish and chickens in cages, and on the covered area on the inside there were dark pathways busy with shoes, clothes, different kitchenware, toys.
We had coffee, and I paid 2,500 Dong to use the public toilets that were just a hole in the floor.
We came back to the room and took a sweet nap, and then went again to the other direction.
On our way down we met Quan, a young friendly guy who helped us carry our bags to the room in the morning. We asked him if he could, or know somebody that could teach us some basic Vietnamese. He said he’s got a friend who likes to meet people from abroad since she wants to practice English herself, so he will bring us together.
Throughout the trip, we’ve met a lot of young people want to practice their English, and sometimes students would just approach us on the street to have a small talk.
We found the downtown, with many shops and businesses and mostly big roads busy with motorcycles. We traveled there and when we got hungry we had pork chops and noodles soup at a restaurant in the street.

It was getting late and we were tired from the weird night on the train so we came back to the room and showered again, and then got into the big white bed, falling asleep in front of a silly movie on the TV.

Our room’s porch viewed the town and the mountains around, and roosters called each morning.
There weren’t many restaurants around, and the hotel’s restaurant was the biggest, so it attracted many people. It was not bad, too.
It was Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. I guess many Israelis used the opportunity to go on a vacation since we saw many Israeli families in those days, the tired parents dragging whining kids behind them.

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It was Sunday, and Bắc Hà had a big market that gathered people from the neighboring villages. The market is also an attraction for tourists that went there by buses for day trips, and we saw them swarming from our view on the porch.
It was still relatively empty in the morning and most of the activity took place in the more touristic area, where they sold souvenirs and clothes. The other parts of the market opened slowly – fruits and vegetables, kitchenware, strange objects, meat and seafood, live goose and chickens, vehicle parts. Women with colorful tribal clothing walked around – similar to the women from Sapa, but with slightly different colors on their clothes.
There was a place for restaurants, and we sat in one of them on a long bench and ate soft rice leaves rolled with many salty spices.
Afterward, we went back to the market’s center and Roni bought a kitchen knife from a man who stood in front of dozens of different sized knives on a table, as a small dog napped beneath it. Then we had some coffee. A strange old lady sat with us and tried to chat, but gave up when we couldn’t understand her. She then went to order for herself some funky beans-drink from a little child that worked there.
We looked at the people – an old man with a donkey, two Americans who asked the waitress to take their photo, an Israeli woman that sat on the stairs with a bag of popcorn and took photos of the tribal women.

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We went outside the market and took a walk in the town, but outside the center, there wasn’t much to see besides the dozy streets.
By the afternoon booths began to shut, and people lead their stock on buffaloes and small horses they led with leashes.
We had coffee at a suspiciously nice woman, that later on took a way-too-hight price. We’ve seen that a lot – sometimes we were charged with a higher price since we were tourists, and we usually went with it because the difference was just a few Shekels for us. It seemed silly to waste time arguing on something so small, especially if it’s a big difference for the vendor.

Back at the hotel, the manager blessed us with “Happy Roshoshana” with a fake American accent he used when he talked with tourists. He told us that he met many Israelis who explained to him that it was a holiday for us.
There was something a bit odd in it that I can’t explain, like waking up from a dream. We didn’t have a festive feeling since we were on the other side of the world, and just didn’t think about it.
When the evening came we went to look for something outside but everything was so desolate, so we gave up and went back to the hotel’s restaurant. All the tables were taken, so we sat together with a French couple that looked like they got straight out of a Hallmark’s movie.
After it emptied a little we moved outside because Roni wanted to smoke. We talked with a chubby man who worked at the hotel about smoking, and he told us that his wife and son keep asking him to quit, but he can’t.
Even though the cigarette boxes in Vietnam have horror pictures on them of the results of smoking, they are still very cheap and available. They are also relatively good – I don’t usually smoke, but I did once in a while during the trip.

The next morning we had breakfast again at the hotel.
A man with blonde-orange hair who looked European came inside and spoke fluent Vietnamese with the locals as he ordered coffee. After a few moments, another man joined him and they spoke French. I tried to guess what’s up with him – we said that he probably lives and works in Vietnam as a photographer, maybe a journalist or a National Geographic photographer. Indeed, he took out a tripod out of his backpack at a certain point.

We left Bắc Hà that morning.
The hotel’s manager with his fake American accent took us one by one on his motorcycle to the bus station, first me, then Roni and eventually the French photographer. Then he said goodbye and drove back.
We had half an hour to spend there until the ride back to the center, so the Frenchman invited us to eat with him at a small place nearby.
He told us that his name was Etienne and he’s been living for eight years in Vietnam’s center. He was a freelance photographer and also had a photography class to travelers. Now he took a vacation to travel.
A little kitten played under the table as we ate. The way Etienne spoke so casually with the locals made us want to learn Vietnamese. I tried to learn it a little bit before the trip, but it’s very hard to learn this language without speaking it with people.
Especially Vietnamese, because the way you pronounce the words changes their meaning.

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Back at the station, a man with a mustache asked me how old I am. Etienne said it was casual to ask strangers for their ag,e since in Vietnamese there are different ways to approach different ages.
We went on the bus, that appeared as a sleeping bus – three rows with two passageways between them, two floors of bunk beds.
It is something common there for long rides. You need to take your shoes off and get a nylon bag from the driver for them, and then hang it on a small hook on the side of the bed. The seat is adjustable and you can raise or lower it. There is a carpet on the floor, curtains on the windows and a pillow and a blanket for each passenger.
It’s best to choose a bed on the top floor, so you won’t have to look at passing people’s bare lags throughout the whole ride.
The real crazy thing is that the back seat is five beds combined, and Etienne said it’s better not to sit there because then you’ll have to share one big bed with strangers.

The bus began the journey towards Hanoi, where we had to go to take the train to the next destination.
Speakers on the ceiling sounded strident Vietnamese music, and two TV sets in the center of the bus, one for each floor, showed video clips of the beauty of the country. On one of the screens, a small perfumed tree was hanged, with the pattern of the American flag.
At the beginning of the ride, there were many bumps and sharp curves as the bus crossed the rice fields. I
In the bed ahead of me, slept a young military officer in a fetal position with his head on the folded blanket, hugging his pillow like a teddy bear. To my left, sat a small man who listen to annoying music with his phone and only sometimes used his earphones.
Once in a while, we stopped to collect more passengers, and one time there was a longer stop when the driver wanted to have a smoke. There was a big box with colorful plastic flip-flops that you could walk outside with since everybody’s shoes were hanging in bags on the beds.
Many people got off the bus and some men stood outside and peed in an arranged row just a few meters from us. I followed the women because I thought there might be toilets somewhere in the area. Apparently not – we were all just crouching together behind a big bush.

The long ride continued. I read, listened to music, napped. Roni was in a bed behind me so we couldn’t really talk.
People came and went – a fat man with a red shirt fell asleep and snored in the bed next to me, an old military man argued about something with the driver and that sat on one of the low beds and stared at the TV. They finally changed the channel and the TV now showed dubbed nature films.
By the sunset, we arrived at another stop, where we ate steamed dumplings with meat and quail eggs.
It got darker and when we continued they turned off the TV but also the lights, and when it got too dark to read I tried to get some sleep.

We arrived at Hanoi at seven PM and got off the bus together with Etienne. He put together the motorcycle that waited for him in the bus’ storage.
He asked for directions from a local man and then showed us where we can catch a bus to the city center, said goodbye and drove away.
We began walking with our backpacks until we reached at a bus station, where a man told us to catch bus number 14. The young ticket seller didn’t speak English and couldn’t help us much, so somebody else said he will tell us when we reach our station.
The ride lasted for about half an hour during which we began recognizing familiar places, the big lake in the West, the park with the sculptures, a highway and eventually the stone gate in the entrance to Hoàn Kiếm district and our hotel’s street.
We thanked the man who helped us and went down to the hot humid air of the city, tired and in need of a shower, and mostly happy to be there for one last time.

In the morning we went back to the old lady with the crooked teeth for coffee. A man with a floral apron stood by a tiny wagon and sold various dishes of fried rice, so we took one with pork and a fried egg.
Then we packed our thing and waited at the hotel’s lobby until a chubby man showed up and cried “Ko-Chang! Ko-Chang!”. We went followed him to a red double-deck bus with colorful paintings of fish and corals on it. It slowly filled with people – a French couple our age, a bald man with round glasses wearing only white and carrying books, groups of loud young men from different places, a Japanese family wearing a matching green outfit, Chinese tourist, and an Israeli guy named Tom.

I’ve been waiting for this ride to see the country.
The bus slowly crawled in the plugged city, between squares and homeless people, through monstrous highway built in different levels, and eventually outside the city, to the suburbs and the fields.
After about two hours we stopped at a gas station, where I first met the Asian toilets which were just a hole in the floor, and when you’re done you pour water from a bucket standing by. It wasn’t anything exceptional but it made me realize that we are indeed at a totally different place, that even something basic like the toilet is completely different.
After the break, the endless drive continued.

We went through forests and villages as cloudy mountains appeared in the distance. It was raining occasionally, and people rode their bicycles at the roadsides with bright-colored raincoats.
We crossed cities and towns and eventually arrived at another stop. A curvy woman with a big smile and green shoes shaped like frogs greeted us and told us to wait for a minibus, that would take us to the ferry. It arrived after about half an hour and pretty soon I saw the sea, so sparkling it looked almost like snow from a distance.
We got on the ferry and climbed some slippery stairs to the second floor, so we could see the magnificent view – the open sea, big skies, rocky islands in deep-green hues rising from the water.

As we got closer to Ko-Chang the water became bluer and clearer, and you could see big fish swimming calmly. I spotted a bright pink jellyfish examining the surface of the water before disappearing again.
The island, with its beaches and forests got closer and closer, and eventually, the boat stopped with a loud creak.

At the docks, we got on a pick-up truck that would take us to Kai Bae, a quiet and secluded beach. We were eight on the vehicle – the Japanese family, two couples, Tom the Israeli guy, and us. The back of the truck was open so we had to hold tight as it shook and rattled on the crooked roads.
Tom told us he just came to Thailand from India, where he spent the last few months and is coming back home in a few days.
I looked outside, curios – high ever-green trees, cliffs, rich vegetation, village lives, monkeys and elephants.
As I listened to Tom I tried to imagine what it’s like to come back home after a long time. I felt divided, both jealous and feeling sorry for him, altogether. Everything still felt strange, I still had to get used to moving from place to place. On the other hand, I’ve felt so alive.

As if the meaning of life is about moving, and changing.

We got off the truck, every couple or family at a different shore, and eventually we said goodbye to Tom who stayed last.
A twisted dirt path led us to a hotel’s reception – a hut, with a barefoot man who watched a tiny TV set. We went inside spontaneously and spoke with the man and after the check-in, he drove us with a small vehicle towards a nearly empty hotel. We got inside and he took us to a room on the third floor. It was very cute, with a porch facing the sea and a big comfy bed.

After we settled down, we went to explore the island. It was off the tourist season, so all the hotels and restaurants on the beach were empty, which felt strange in the beginning. It was sunset, and orange light bathed everything.
We sat in one of the restaurants and had a comforting meal of lemongrass salad with shrimp, pork noodles, and curry. Lizards ran on the walls and ceilings, hunting for flies.

After we ate and showered, we could enjoy the beach which was getting dark. The sand was greyish and wet, and the thick vegetation went all the way down the turquoise water. The ground seemed to move – hundreds of tiny crabs were digging miniature holes in the sand and hid inside them, creating footprints in strange patterns.
Somebody tied a simple wooden swing to one of the trees.

We took a long walk on the shore, which darkened slowly. We had a ginger-lemon tea at a cafe and sat there for a while.
Curious lizards peeked at us from the walls, making tick sound. The horizon was dotted with lights from fishing boats, that integrated with the many stars above.

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