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Published: February 27th 2016
Yesterday was the day for a snorkel trip. We were picked up at 8.15 by John's Tours after a very parsimonious breakfast, just in case! There were going to be 20 of us but there were only about 11 on the minibus. The others wer picked up from the beaches to the north of the harbour, en route, using a long-tailed boat pulled behind us. Except that at one stop the people weren't there (not their fault, I'm sure!) so we had to wait, bobbing up and down, for about 20 minutes. Neither of us are fans of bobbing up and down! In the minibus we were given a safety card with info on what not to touch when snorkelling, and the penalty for losing their equipment. Turned out to be relevant to one couple later. They dropped a mask, it fell between the coral and no-one could reach it, $25 onto the cost of their day!
As we'd had to wait it was ages until we got to the first place, fishing and snorkelling combined. I was the only one to catch a fish, poor little thing, the hook went through its tongue, no more fishing for me after
that. The snorkelling was OK, the visibility off Turtle Island wasn't great and it was quite choppy. Then we had lunch, really good, loads of food, chatted with some German women from Hamburg who tried to persuade us that the North Sea is OK for swimming. We are from Bournemouth, the North Sea is not OK for us.
We then moved onto the second snorkelling spot which was better, also off a small island and it was a bit clearer. I saw clown fish (Nemo), parrot fish, zebra fish, yellow tang. Gill wore a life jacket which fitted where it touched, which was nowhere at all. It rose up over her head and flipped her onto her back with her legs in the air. Bless, it wasn't very easy. As we had booked the extended come back by land tour we had to take the little boat to the shore, where apparently the car was already waiting. Slight problem, the little boat wouldn't start. The guy was yanking on the starter thing until his arm nearly flew off, drifting further away from us, as he'd unfortunately cast the tow rope away. A boy (looked about 10) dived in and
swam over to him as our boat started sailing away. So what was the plan for us, now nervous about leaving the rest of the group for something on the mainland we couldn't see. The boat got started, picked us up and the main tour guide came with us. we went to the next beach along and he left us there, no car, saying it was driving round from the first pickup place, please wait five minutes. Uh-oh! Don't like this one bit, abandoned on a beach on our own, no transport, sitting in the restaurant. Luckily I'd taken a leaflet from the boat with the office number on it, always expecting the worst. After waiting 30 minutes, no car, and the distance was really small, so something had gone wrong. Our boat had long-since disappeared, watched by us forlornly on the shore. OK, plan B!
The great thing about Vietnam (and Asia in general) is that anyone will help you. Who to ask? In the restaurant the English level was not likely to be too high, so I went to a giude from Red River Tours, there with some customers, he got his phone out and called the
office for us. Then called again when he realised we'd been dropped off a boat and hadn't met the guide for the second part yet. Don't worry, he said, the car is stuck behind some kind of building machine which had blocked the road. Wait 20 or 30 minutes. A pain, but I felt better having an explanation. Very grateful to hiM. Ordered a Coke, then the guide (Harry, a girl) arrived in a right fluster, thinking we'd be angry. No problem, someone phoned for us. She had rolled up in a tiny taxi (these are better, 6000d for 1km rather than 12000d for a normal sized one) and said we'd meet our car at the next. She gave us yet another bottle of water and then launched into her spiel, we wished we could have found her volume control. She was bellowing at us. Calmed down a bit later when she'd got over her nerves, nice girl, likes her job and island. Learnt English by being a waitress like so many here, pleased her parents didn't have to pay for lessons for her.
We drove past the ginormous Vinpearl development of hotel, water park and highly-controversial safari park,
where there is talk and apparently photos of animals waiting for hours in the heat in crates on the tarmac at the airport and thousands dying through poor care. Not going there, thank you very much! The biggest building development is happening along a 7km stretch of beach, it looked like the moon! Luckily it is confined to the very northern part, so easily avoided. We stopped at a village at the northern,last point, only 4km from Cambodia, Rabbit Island easily visible. Remembered Sam walking round it in her flipflops when we stayed there! The taxi left and our minibus turned up, smiley driver, no doubt relieved we weren't annoyed by the wait. We drove through the National Park and saw a fire crew putting out a fire. Harry said we'd just drive through, not allowed to walk because of the fire risk. Apparently there are monkeys but it was too hot still. One tourist insisted on walking, as it was listed as part of the trip, was stung by a a spider and had to be carried out and taken to hospital. Big problem for our guide! No worries, we were quite happy just driving through.
2 stops were to the fish sauce factory in the town (whaaaaat a smell!), where fish is fermented in salt for 5 years and longer. Harry said no problem taking it on Jetstar, but having tasted it, no thanks, and to a pepper farm. Or rather a quick look at some pepper growing and then to the shop. You try the different combos on pieces of green mango. At that moment a Vietnamese group rocked up in a coach, ending any hope of getting near the mango! Back to the hotel in time for a really beautiful sunset.
We walked to the main road to eat in the place advertising dorm rooms for $4, and similarly cheap food. I was encouraged by the cocktail list. Mojito? Sorry, no mint. Margarita? Squirm, sorry no something else. Basically, cocktails were off. You like beer? (hopeful expression) OK! The food was a bit strange, disappointing soup with instant noodles and pieces of tomato, but cheap as you like. The toilets were very disconcerting. a wonky door, no lock, into a room with 3 bed frames and a few bicycles and 2 toilet cubicles, no doors! Basically, anyone could walk in! Then over
the road to the co-op where the security girl had been so pleased to see us the night before. Tonight she and her sidekick were on a work to rule. We were escorted out and indicated that we had to leave our handbags in lockers outside, no keys. No way! About 3 others in the shop, didn't look to see if they had bags, we will buy our snacks elsewhere! Back over the road to buy bananas from a sort of shop, but there were rows of men all sitting watching TV outside, not in a banana selling mood, any of them. So we went to the little shop next to the resort and bought some crackers and a jar of coconut oil which the shop lady's mother had made. She put half a roll of sellotape around the outside to make it safe for the plane. We talked about the new building at the resort (like a hotel block of rooms) and she said that it is mainly used by Vietnamese tour groups, they don't like bungalows. as we walked by there was the hugest racket from 2 of the rooms, so glad not to be next to them.
We wer woken up at about 4am by stupid drunk German boys in the next bungalow, staggering back from their night out and talking loudly outside for ages. Now they and their big backpacks have shipped out.
This morning the guy who sells the tours came and chatted with us on the beach, aged 28, works 14 hours a day, desperately trying to learn English on the Internet (no money for lessons) to get 85 in TOEFL and get a job as a tour guide. People work unbelievably hard here and see English as their key to a better future.
We are still discussing whether or not to hire a scooter tomorrow!
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