Vinh was a slightly different experience to the rest of Vietnam. We spent two weeks here with our friend Matt (in the featured image) who’s lived in Vietnam for about 4 years and in Vinh for about a year. Before moving to Vietnam he had at some point worked with both Alistair and I in different bars. He’d been a good friend to both of us before he left and it was great to see him again. He’s not changed. By the end of the two weeks we’d nicknamed him ‘the monster’ he’ll probably not appreciate me explaining why on here. He’s just a monster when he’s drunk. Maybe sober too thinking about it.
Before arriving in Vinh Matt had mentioned that coming here we’d be meeting ‘real’ people. We didn’t quite know what he meant at the time but got to understanding after staying for just over two weeks that we’d met genuine people, who were living in Vietnam, through being born here or by choice. They were expats and locals with real conversations and experiences of Vietnam.
A lot of the time especially on the backpackers trail you can get trapped in the same loop of conversation from person to person. I called it the backpackers script. It was nice to spend a few weeks without the script and a little difficult to go back without feeling a little bothered by it.
Vinh is a large city, not a particularly touristic one. For the most part its a Vietnamese city with expats teaching English. We only ever met two other tourists in Vinh and they were just there using it as a stopping point between destinations.
When we arrived in Vinh on our bikes, the first stop was Ngau coffee to meet Matt after he finished work. He wasn’t finishing for a couple of hours but we were happy enough to hang there. We met Binh again owner of Ngau coffee Hanoi and Vinh, who we’d first met in Hanoi. He showed us around his coffee shop. Its impressive, being a graphic designer all the interior design is by him. He created all the decorations. There’s also a lot of plants around.
The coffee here is good. I had a cake, I thought it was a lemon cake with little lemon sweets on top. It wasn’t until I got it out of the packaging that I realised it was sweetcorn, a little weird but the cake was actually really tasty!
Every Sunday at Ngau coffee there is the English club. We went to it twice.
English club was set up by Matt and his friend Brad and has become really successful. Expats and locals get together in the outside area of the coffee shop and just talk. It’s a great way for locals to better their English speaking skills.
Whilst we were there it was even featured in the local news paper. Sorry, its in Vietnamese.
Eventually Matt arrived and we chilled for a little then went to meet his friend Brad and get some food.
Brad’s a South African expat who’s been living in Vietnam on and off for about 14 years. He had a wife and a daughter in Vietnam, but has recently been through a pretty rough divorce. Due to him being a foreigner and even though he was legally married, he basically has no rights. So he is currently unable to see his daughter. You can read his story, but I can’t find the link right now. It’s quite inspirational how hard he has fought to see his daughter and through talking to him more throughout our stay in Vinh, it was plain to see how hard he was finding it. We got to know Brad pretty well over the next two weeks, he chilled with us most days. Both Alistair and I got to really like him.
We didn’t do a great deal in Vinh. There isn’t so much to see and do here. We would mostly go to the beach in the day time and then go to a beer hoi or bar in the night time.
A beer hoi is somewhere with outside seating, the classic tiny stools you see all over Vietnam. You can buy food and beer comes in jugs. Its cheap maybe 70,000 for a jug. We’d chill at the beer hoi with Matt’s friends most nights or head to Esperer, one of the only ‘pubs’ in Vinh.
Whilst we were in Vinh I had my 29th birthday. Alistair and I went to meet Matt at the English school he worked at to sit in on the last part of his class. We waited outside for Matt to come get us, he’d said that his class had been practicing the questions they were going to ask us. We went in and were sat at separate tables with maybe 6 students at each table. They were a little nervous at first, as were we but they asked us some questions then we played a team game like pictionary. It was nice to visit Matt at his work. You could see that he’s actually really good at his job and the kids liked him. The class ended and we went to visit Hue, Matt’s boss, another friend we’d make in Vinh. Her class were a little older and didn’t know we were coming. Hue asked them if they had any questions for us, the only question I got was how tall I was. Matt then told them that it was my birthday so the whole class sang to me. It was a little embarrassing!
We left and went to meet people at the beer hoi. It was really nice that so many people turned up and wished me a happy birthday. I thought it would be weird not celebrating with my friends from back home but they it felt good to be celebrating with new friends. Matt even bought me a cake and Alistair bought me a bottle of one of my favourite tequila’s Don Julio Blanco which was shared around.
One of the other places we spent a lot of time was a bar called Esperer. This place was cool. Quite a big bar and the bar staff were all really friendly. We must have told them we were moving on to a different city a dozen times, there’s a saying we gained traveling through Vietnam “one more night” because we’d end up extending our stay wherever we were so much. We made friends with a lot of the bar staff there, mainly because we were probably there every night. They had a pretty decent pool table which was a big bonus!
The main man Quân was pretty good at flaring and really enjoyed showing off his skills. He found out that I’d worked in bars before and wanted me to make him a cocktail. I made my favourite cocktail, the Caipirinha. It tasted good! Then he made one, I’ll admit it, his was better.
The first time we met Quân was possibly the first night we got to Vinh. He’d not really spoken to us much at this point and we were just chilling with Matt at a table. Matt had told us that maybe a week or so before, he’d been in the bar and when they brought over his tab he ate it which pissed Quân off to the point of him pushing him and being really angry. I drunkenly thought it would be a good idea to do the same thing, and Quân had no idea what to do, I actually felt pretty bad after. Matt told us he’d never seen him react like that and that he was genuinely scared of me and Alistair. I think its because of my tattoo’s that he thought we were some sort of mafia back in England. Over the course of the next two weeks we ended up getting on really well with him and he wasn’t scared anymore.
A similar story happened in Esperer with the Filipino girl who lived with Matt, Jovi. We were in Esperer sat at the bar and I was sat next to Jovi. When I went to the toilet Alistair thought it would be funny to tell her that back home I’m some sort of hard nut gangster that she shouldn’t mess with. He even told her that he had to get the tattoo on his leg (of my face) because he’d ordered me the wrong pack of cigarettes and I was so pissed off that I made him get that tattoo.
When I came back from the toilet Alistair was telling her this. I decided it would be funny to play along until Matt told Alistair to stop because the poor girl was genuinely terrified of me! Again, we told her we were joking and she was fine.
Another place we frequented a lot was Nightmarket. This was the place we’d go after Esperer had shut and we wanted to carry on drinking. The place was open super late, pretty much until the last person stops drinking.
Nightmarket was a big open space, with maybe 4 really long tables. Almost like a beer hoi except you’re given a cooler full of cans of beer. One of the good things and possibly bad things about this place was that you could choose your own music. Sometimes this did cause a few arguments.
We actually re-named Nightmarket to Fightmarket for two reasons.
The first was the police officer. This guy was a dick. He’d taken a disliking to Matt because he’d been creeping on one of the girls Matt’s friends with and Matt told him to fuck off.
This dispute had been going on for long before we’d arrived in Vinh and would only just get sorted as we were leaving.
The police man would often come to night market just to try and pick an argument with Matt, he was even childish enough to throw ice at him whilst he was sat with his back to him happily chilling with our group. He would also threaten Matt regularly saying he’ll be coming back with ‘his boys’ to beat him up.
Matt was pretty cool about it, although obviously pretty worried that he’d got a police officer threatening him.
It all got resolved in the end. Matt’s boss (not Hue) had contacts high up in the police. They ended up talking to the guy and made him leave him alone and to his credit, as far as I know, he has since.
The second reason we renamed it Fightmarket was because as we were there chilling and drinking, there was a second group of Vietnamese guys and a woman on the table opposite.
As we’re talking a large black 4X4 pulled up, a guy got out of the car, strode over to the table, picked up the nearest glass which happened to be a thick tankard, and smashed it over one of the guys heads. He then grabbed the woman, threw her in the car and drove off. It turned out that the woman was the guy in the 4×4’s wife.
It all happened pretty quick, and was a little shocking. Matt tried chasing the guy who’d just glassed someone but they were long gone. I tried to see if I could help the guy that had just been glassed. There was a massive gash on the top of his head and he was covered in blood.
We found some clean tissues, put pressure on it and tried to get him to go to the hospital. By this point I was covered in his blood so went to wash my hands and arms. Whilst in the bathroom I realised I had a first aid kit in my bike. I ran out but the guy had gone, ridden off on the back of his friends bike.
So that’s why we re-named it fightmarket.
To be fair to the place, there wasn’t that much trouble. I think we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time that time.
The staff who worked there were really nice. They’d often join us to talk or dance.
There was a fun night were we ended up at Fightmarket until the very early hours of the morning. After we left we went to a park were there was a large group of elderly people working out and playing badminton. Obviously being super pissed this was the best time to challenge an OAP to a match. We were shocking, mainly because none of us were in a fit state to be able to see the shuttle cock. It was funny though and they seemed to be enjoying their new badminton partners.
There was another night which ended with me and Matt being the last ones standing. This happened a few time’s to be honest but this time we were on it. We wanted to carry on drinking and went to the casino.
It’s a bit of a weird experience to be honest. Apparently its illegal for Vietnamese people to gamble so its a little strange having a massive casino, especially in somewhere without many tourists. Matt said it’s likely a money laundering business, but don’t quote us on that.
Needless to say, especially in the early hours of the morning, we were the only people there. We got some dollars, $20 each, and the guy brought us beer. This was the main reason we were here, the beer if you gamble is free. So we gambled really slowly.
Back in Huddersfield when Matt and I worked together we’d occasionally go to the casino after work. I’d never normally do very well, this time wasn’t any different. Matt on the other hand did pretty well, he managed to just over double his money and was kind enough to give me what I’d lost back so I wasn’t out of pocket.
We did end up getting kicked out of the casino. The poor guy that was our host went off to get some beer. Matt (the monster) decided it was the perfect time to pose for a photo lying on the roulette wheel. I managed to get a quick picture before the guy came back with beer. He was not happy, told us no more beer and that we should probably leave.
We got our winnings and drunkenly stumbled out of the casino.
So this was a pretty interesting day with one of the most intense rides we’ve experienced. We’d planned to get up early to go to a waterfall near Vinh with Matt, Brad and Minh. We were told it would probably take us about an hour to get there then we could spend time swimming then head back before dark. It didn’t go quite to plan.
So obviously being slight wreck heads we woke up late. Maybe 11ish. We got in touch with Brad and met him at his apartment, then we had to wait for Minh, who was running late.
Because my bike had problems making it slow as shit (we later found out it was the air filter which meant it was fucked), I decided to go on the back of Alistair’s bike. Matt was on his bike and Minh as navigator on the back of Brads.
I’m really not a fan of riding bitch on someones bike. I don’t like not having the control to be able to maneuver around any potential problems. But I trust Alistair’s riding skills. We had been riding for a good few weeks by this point.
Brad was a really fast rider though so it was a bit of a struggle to keep up with him. And he wasn’t waiting around for us!
The ride took a lot longer than we had anticipated. We’d been told around an hour but it ended up taking us about 3 hours. Which wasn’t ideal since we’d set off late. The roads were hit and miss. Some parts were fine but then there were other parts that were in a bad condition. It wasn’t the most comfy of rides, especially with Alistair’s bike seat being like a block of concrete. We’d occasionally stop off for a smoke and bum rest.
We arrived, parked the bikes and then walked about 1km through forest/jungle to get to the waterfall.
There were quite a few people swimming, all Vietnamese. We changed and jumped in. The water was cold, but not icy cold. And there were plenty of pools to swim in. One thing I didn’t like was the fish in the water, they’re the fish that bite the dead skin off you’re feet. It sometimes hurt and freaked me out a little. We still swam and went under the waterfall.
We stayed for maybe an hour, but couldn’t stay too long because we’d arrived so late.
The ride back was possibly the worst journey I’ve had in Vietnam, possibly ever.
So it started off OK. We got back to the main road fine and stopped off for some food. The next part of the journey got a little sketchy.
It gets dark fast in Vietnam, and when its dark, its dark. Most of the roads don’t have street lights. Alistair’s bike’s headlight is completely useless, like someone’s just lit a t-light behind a frosted plastic box.
Luckily he had his head torch with him which was bright enough to illuminate the road ahead and give oncoming traffic warning of us being there.
We’re riding in semi darkness, at a reasonable pace. We were all pretty tired and wanted to get back but didn’t want to push the speed too much with it being dark.
We’re riding along a relatively small road, maybe 60kmh. There’s Brad in front and Matt behind us. Out of nowhere from the other side of the road a cow ran straight at us. Alistair showed some impressive riding skills. We skidded along the road and managed to slow just enough to hit the cow but at no speed at all.
The cows instant reaction was to kick out with its rear legs. This is when Alistair got really lucky. The cow managed to smash the front headlight, right indicator and knock off the right brake lever, which Alistair was holding at the time. Some how when the cow kicked the brake lever it managed to miss his hand, otherwise it would probably have done some serious damage. It managed to catch Alistair in his leg and arm but nothing serious, just small bruising. And we both managed to stay on the bike through the whole ordeal. Credit to Alistair’s riding skills. We were really lucky that it wasn’t any worse.
We were both a little shaken up by this, Alistair more so I think mainly because the cow managed to kick him. We stopped for a cigarette and to calm our nerves. None of us could believe what just happened! Since then Alistair and I always rode slowly past any animals we passed, always giving them a very wide birth.
I did also crash into a calf but that was maybe a month later, and it was my fault for being an idiot. The cow was fine and I was OK, I twisted my knee pretty bad so couldn’t walk properly for a week or so and my bike was pretty scratched up but nothing serious.
SO, we carry on the journey. This time a little more cautious and in even more dark. This is were the journey took an even darker turn.
We ride for another half hour or so and came to a build up of traffic, mostly trucks. We notice train tracks ahead and a train passing so just assumed that they’d stopped because of this. We wind our way through the masses of trucks and came to a scooter on its side on the road, it was strange but we thought nothing of it. You see a lot of things like this, people just dumping their bikes wherever they like.
We rode on for another 50ft and came to a truck, police and chalk on the ground. We slowly rode past and I made the mistake of looking to the right in front of the truck. There was a small amount of people, and a body on the ground. The body was partially covered with bamboo and there was someone performing a Buddhist ritual, lighting incense and praying.
I told Alistair “whatever you do, just don’t look” I didn’t want him to witness what I’d seen. Unfortunately when you tell someone not to look, their general instinct is to look. And this is what he did, head torch on his head, illuminating the whole scene.
It was a weird experience for me. I’ve never seen a dead body before. I’ve seen traffic accidents, but never a body. It instantly overcame me with a mixture of emotions, mostly grief and sadness. I don’t think I’ll forget that feeling any time soon.
Again, this didn’t bode well for the rest of our journey. We’d still got a good hour left to ride and it was pitch black. We took it steady and got home fine, if a little late and absolutely knackered from the long unforgiving ride.
What a day. The waterfall was great, but the ride back was the worst.
We’d planned to get up the next day to go to Minh’s hometown and see his family but none of us managed. We were all too drained from the day before.
Our worst food/eating experience in Vietnam.
So this is a bit of a fucked up story.
When asked by Matt if we’d eat dog Alistair and I had slightly differing opinions. I was of the opinion that since I eat all meats, why should dog be any different. I’ve been a dog owner and lover all my life, but then I’m an animal lover in general, so why should a dog differ from a cow or a pig?
Alistair on the other hand was adamant that he wouldn’t under any circumstance eat dog. He was a vegetarian for two years before coming to Asia and is a big dog lover.
We’d met Matt’s boss Hue a few times by this point. She’s really sweet and Matt considers her like a sister.
We’d been out the night before (obviously!) and were all feeling a little bit on the tender side. We woke up and Matt was trying to hurry us out of the apartment so we could go for some breakfast with Hue.
We rode about for a bit in the rain looking for the place she was staying. It was a small place packed full of Vietnamese people all eating and escaping the rain. The place wasn’t the cleanest to be honest. You’d eat the meat and discard any bones or parts you don’t want to eat on the floor.
We found Hue and her husband and sat down with them, they’d already ordered and were tucking into some of the wild pig meat, cold noodles and shrimp sauce for dipping. Hue gave us each a bowl, and dished out some of the meat and noodles onto our plates.
I wasn’t feeling too good anyways and have never been a breakfast person but being polite I tried some of the meat and noodles. The noodles weren’t too pleasant as they were cold and a little sour and the meat was very chewy. I’d say belly pork is my favourite cut of meat. So the first bit of meat I tried was a meaty bit with fat on it. It was so chewy I chewed for about 5 minutes trying and failing to swallow it. I had to sneakily spit it out and discard it on the floor. I tried another piece which was like a tube with meat in it and bone, maybe throat or something. Again it wasn’t pleasant and was hard to eat. After that I decided I wasn’t hungry any more.
Matt didn’t eat anything, he wasn’t hungry.
Alistair ate everything he was given, being too polite to say no. He had a fair few bits of meat from different organs and parts of the pig. He even ate its heart. He didn’t enjoy it but because we liked Hue so much he didn’t want to offend her by saying no.
We left Hue and her husband and ended up going for some other food elsewhere.
So, that was that. Our most unpleasant food experience in Vietnam.
We later traveled with Matt after leaving Vinh, for about a week starting in Da Nang.
One of the things he said to us a few times is “I got you”. He even showed Andy (another guy we were traveling with) a picture on his phone. He wouldn’t tell us what it was, and said he wouldn’t until he left.
When he left us a week later Alistair and I got a group chat message on facebook from Matt and Hue;
Needless to say we didn’t know it was dog meat and neither of us were too pleased he’d tricked us like that. I could see the funny side and had said I’d try it if I knew, but Alistair was furious and still is. He doesn’t like talking about it and Matt better hope he doesn’t see him any time soon!
Again, the monster at work.
At least now I can say I’ve eaten dog meat. And no, I wouldn’t willingly eat it again. I think I’ll just stick to dogs as pets, not food.
There’s probably plenty more stories from Vinh, most of them drunken tales. If I remember any more I’ll update. But here’s some photo’s.
Phong Nha for mountains, caves, 500 steps and nature reserves.