I had madly agreed to this trip knowing it would be a three o'clock start as Hien, the host, was keen to see the sunrise over the beach. In reality it was more like a 2.25am pick-up and I had not slept a wink. Therefore I was not best pleased to find myself climbing into a minivan full of giggling girls with a driver blasting out trance music at a time when I was already feeling quite grumpy and sleep-deprived. I lay out across the back seats with Jessica's blow-up neck pillow and my headphones, hoping to get some rest. The van's speakers were either side of me and stuffing my two bags against them did little to drown out the insulting din. Added to this the bumpiness of the road, and I was in a very upset state, wishing I'd stayed at home in bed instead of going on this stupid venture. Luckily the driver later switched the music to some Vietnamese songs and eventually I managed to sleep for most of the journey.
We arrived in Vung Tau at five in the morning, with light beginning to open up over the sea. It is fair to say that I felt pretty disorientated and apprehensive about what the day would hold. We piled out of the van and Hien bought some breakfast for us all from a food vendor by the road, surrounded by litter. My disorientation was not helped by the bizarreness of the surroundings- even at this early hour, the street was crowded with parked buses and motorbikes, people were laid out asleep on the grass and, walking down onto the beach, the sea was already full of swimmers in the half-light. We paid for some sun-loungers and ate breakfast, which was a pink-coloured sticky rice dyed with a kind of fruit, served with shredded coconut, salt and crushed peanut.
|Early morning sea at Vung Tau|
The first hour of our arrival was spent on the deckchairs on the beach. Then it began to spit with rain. Then it started to really rain. Well, this is crap, I thought as we huddled under the parasol deciding what to do next. Hien's friends were already wet from the sea so didn't mind very much, but Hien, Nga and I took off to look for shelter. We hopped into a taxi which took us around the headland to a cafe, where we sat outside under a roof. I enjoyed ca cao- hot chocolate- looking out at the miserable rain that clouded all of the scene in grey.
The rain subsided and we ventured to a market to buy some seafood. It became hot very suddenly, around seven o'clock- much earlier than it would do in the city. Hien and Nga picked out some live crabs and sea snails for our group. While they were being cooked we sat on some plastic seats and waited. A dog with a crooked leg hobbled past. Nga is a big animal lover, and started to tell me about a tragedy in her childhood when her parents cooked their dog to serve to guests one day. Hien had a similar story from her own upbringing. To many people, dogs and cats are not seen as pets.
|Fresh seafood at the market|
|Hien (L) and Nga|
|Me with Hien|
Our food was ready and Nga took the steaming hot bag as we made our way back to the beach. Already things had dried out after the downpour earlier and it was a hot day on the beach. I finally began to enjoy myself as we sat down to relax, drink beer and eat fresh seafood and fruit. Most of all I enjoyed the chance to sleep in my deckchair. At ten-thirty Hien announced 'ok, we go now'. We packed up our things and made our way back to the bus. Before we left there was time for an ice-cream and a chance for Hien's friends to buy some straw hats and tourist t-shirts- very typical of Vietnamese tourists, in my experience. And Vung Tau is very much a Vietnamese tourist destination; Nga and I could not spot any other foreigners besides me on the beach.
|Colourful flags line the beach|
|The sun comes out|
I was surprised that we left so early but was not altogether disappointed. We ended up at the Tavern in Phu My Hung, our regular haunt, where Nga, Hien, Hoa and I had lunch. I finished the day by going home and sleeping between 2.30 and 7.30pm. Overall it has been quite an experience.