Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Vietnam - day 4: Snorkelling @ An Thoi


Today we had decided upon a boat trip and snorkelling around the southern islands. The day was wet and windy and I thought that the trip had been abandoned. However it was still on and we were picked up by Yin in a minibus with driver. We were driven south along Long beach. The road follows closely to the beach with one or two incursions inland to avoid swamps and cross a river. The bitumen ends some 5km south of Duong Dong. The Paris resort is about the last one on the bitumen but is surrounded by construction. This time next year there will be at least 3 more resorts in this section of beach.
The road at this point swings inland and crosses a temporary bridge. The remains of the old one are visible as twisted bits of metal. I believe that it was washed away in a flood about a year ago. The road then curves back to the coast. Driving south we passed small fishing communities, an oyster hatchery and two oyster farms with comprehensive shops attached which sell pearl based jewellery. These are full of glitter and eager young ladies willing to fleece you of all your money. Sorry I meant to say sell you high quality pieces of pearl Jewellery. I escaped unscathed.
We made it into An Thoi, and stopped at a market to buy provisions for the boat. I wasn't sure why we needed provisions as lunch was meant to be provided and I had requested an esky full of cold beer.
The first stop on the way to the market was a Jewellery store. Amid much merriment and laughter on behalf of Phuc and Yin with some guarded looks in my direction a big chunk of the contents of my wallet went over the counter and a ring that looked suspiciously like an engagement ring came back across. The ring ended up on Phuc's ring finger. I wondered if I was engaged and didn't know it. I was glad that I hadn't overloaded the wallet that morning and thought that the beer on the boat better be cold and plentiful after two wily females had gone some way to abusing a priviledge.
We did eventually get to the market and loaded up with fruit. Getting to the boat however proved difficult as there was a lot of construction going on at the wharf. A gate prevented us driving and we had to walk. However then a security guard became quite difficult and would not let me pass. It was a fairly unsubtle power play against a foreigner, justified on the grounds of the danger to me. No concerns with the dozens of locals who went through unimpeded. Having learnt many years ago not to argue with security guards, I stepped back behind the gate to let the situation defuse. The guard eventually relented when one of the boat crew arrived to escort me to the boat.
Nick at the helm

We had the boat to ourselves, that is Phuc, Yin, 3 crew and myself. I immediately checked the esky contents which met with my approval on quantity, brand and coldness. The boat undocked with much shouting by the skipper and crew. To my ears all of the boat operations seemed to be conducted with too much harsh shouting but as I observed I realised that this was not a rude harsh captain, but just a necessity to be heard over the loud engine. In fact he and the crew turned out to be father and sons and were a pretty nice family. They even gave me the thumbs up approval of Phuc later in the day. Which was nice to have some confirmation from strangers.
Our first stop was a floating fish farm where we purchased sea urchin and crabs for lunch. So much for the sumptuous squid BBQ lunch that was promised, it seemed to need supplementing with fruit from the market and extra seafood. I didn't really mind as the girls were obviously happy, but also obviously trying to please me. If everyone's happy then everyone's happy as I always say. (What a strange expression, I have never said anything of the sort).
Fish Farm
The boat made its, morbidly slow, passage across to the first island where snorkelling was to begin. I talked to the crewman in the wheel house, who, unbidden, immediately moved aside and let me slip in behind the wheel. I asked him where I was to take the boat but could not understand, so I chose a spot that looked about right based on the current heading and my knowledge of where you might go snorkelling and kept the bows pointed in that direction. My guess proved remarkably accurate and the crewman only took over the wheel when we had a couple of hundred metres to go. In fact he disappeared for a large part of the journey, I think that it was crew meal time.
The weather had definately improved and the bay was quite sheltered. The snorkelling was poor however as the corals were not thriving due to the silt in the water, and the locals preferred transport method was to walk across the shallows. I kept my mouth shut when i saw the coral damage caused by the crew and my companions. Phuc didn't want to snorkel with me, but was persuaded into the water by Yin. She then appeared quite comfortable, although not a strong swimmer, and very adept at finding shellfish for food. While there I inspected a nearby fish farm and could then see how the nets were constructed. One of the crew chased me down and told me not to go there, I was not sure if this was a safety thing, as there was a small current, or an agreement with the fish farmers to prevent their fish being disturbed.
Going back to the boat we were given morning tea, which was sea urchin cooked in the shell and a sea food rice soup. Both of which were very tasty.
We then motored to a second location and did more snorkelling or shellfish gathering. Once again poor coral and sea life, but the weather had improved more and it was a very pleasant place to be. We had lunch after that which consisted of BBQ squid, possibly the tastiest that i have ever had, and rice and noodles and crab with accompaniments. It was a feast and I was very full. I was amazed at the girls ability to stuff food in without appearing to bloat like I did.
Yin (facing) and Phuc serving the meal.
 The boat then returned to port. We cruised past islands and fishing boats and with the sun out it was a lovely laid back experience.
No problems getting through the construction site on the way back and I gave the security guard a cheery wave. My private thoughts were less charitable and definitely unprintable. The van picked us up and we then headed to Sao Beach for a quick look around. It was perfect swimming weather, but with rain clouds rolling in it was decided not to delay there too long.
As it happened it started to pour shortly after leaving the beach resort. It continued heavily all the way back to Duong Dong.
Despite not working, we had dinner at the Cat Food restaurant where Phuc works and were joined by her sister Thu and her husband Coong. We then had drinks and headed out to the "Super Market". This is a travelling market that comes periodically. It has many vendors selling clothes, cookware, shoes, trinkets and many others. Apparently the prices are considerably cheaper than the local shops and the range much greater. Combined with that is an entertainment program. I was treated to Vietnamese "stars" singing Vietnamese songs and doing stage acts. As far as learning a little bit about Vietnamese culture it was great, as far as being entertained it was hard work. I was content to sit back and watch and learn.
And then the Bludger went back to his hotel with partner in tow.

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