Vietnamese delights

One of the highlights of my time in Vietnam was the food. Another great place to sample interesting dishes that don’t cost much. Here were some favourites:

Hanoi

The Devil’s dumplings, or so I named them! Doughnut-type things that I accidentally bought. The lady gave me one to try before I had realised that this is the ploy to pressgang you into buying some:

Vietnamese coffee. Very nice:This meal (below) was from a very good restaurant in Hanoi, except the only veggie option I could find on the menu turned out to be off. I gave in and had these Hanoi special prawn things and a chicken noodle soup dish:Tam Coc (near Ninh Binh)

Vietnamese egg coffee… ooooooh this was goooood! Sweet, with egg white fluffed into it:Smoothie:Delicious tofu and papaya salad dish, with a characteristic sweet chilli type sauce. Really really tasty!:The waitress gave me a couple of little bananas, I think as an apology for having muddled up my drink earlier. These little bananas (green and yellow) were growing everywhere in Ninh Binh.

Ninh Binh

An enormous plate of shredded cabbage and carrot, with noodles and soy sauce and some other kind of flavours made a great lunch one day in a backpackers pub place opposite a beautiful lake:

Breakfast at Mai Spa Homestay – the best banh my Vietnamese sandwich I had. With pork here and omelette. Nice coffee too:Our meal prepared with lots of teamwork at the Homestay was a real highlight of my whole trip:And the 🥇 veggie pho I mentioned in an earlier post for breakfast on my last morning at Mai’s place was just beautiful 👌🏼😋

Having walked for an hour and a half with a big backpack from the Homestay towards the station in the centre of Ninh Binh, I found a place to stop for a cold coffee, and a custard apple smoothie and the obligatory warm green tea:This was the hot meal they were serving on the night train if you paid extra for it. They somehow managed to wheel a trolly containing all this down the incredibly narrow corridors and dish it up right outside your carriage:

Hoi An

Claypot restaurant… Maps Me had a note on it saying “Eat here. It’s delicious” or something. It was correct! Another smoothie, with complimentary nuts:Aubergine and tofu dish cooked in the claypot slowly. This was another contender for the 🥇 best meal I had in Vietnam. It was heavenly!Iced coffee I think (though it looks a bit big?):Tra Qué Vegetable Village. This whole tour was remarkable… I think qualifying as the 🥇 best tour of my trip. It ended at the restaurant, which uses the vegetables grown in what is essentially an enormous community allotment on really rich fertile soil in the area. Here are all the dishes we tried as part of the tour. They were all delicious. As you can see, we got to see one of them being prepared as well:Best Street food experience definitely in 🥇 Hoi An – these are in a previous post too, but just to have them all in order here:

All in all, actually I reckon Vietnam comes joint first for 🥇 best place to eat out cheaply and adventurously, along with Singapore. I’m dribbling now, just remembering it all!! 😋😋😋

Best in the world (ii)

Best views in the world – impossible to judge. But the most unusual ones and also the most awesome ones were in New Zealand. But then Arosa in the Swiss Alps was pretty awesome too, and the Tahoe Rim Trail. And Trang An, Vietnam. See? Impossible.

🥇 🦅 Most beautiful birdsong in the world – New Zealand

🥇 Stillest place – Catlins Lake, New Zealand

(followed by Lotus Lake at the Múa Cave, Vietnam, though the stillness there was interrupted by a couple of drones. For ages I thought they were a swarm of weird Vietnamese insects and kept scrutinising the lake water under the wooden walkway for them. It was only once I climbed up the 500 steps that I heard the same noise again and saw the drones.)

Most tasty meal in the world – tricky, very tricky! I had some truly delicious meals in California, and New Zealand, actually pretty much everywhere! More unusual meals that stand out were those below:

The veggie pho (noodle soup) N cooked me for my last breakfast in Ninh Binh.

And the banh my he cooked the previous morning. Delicious (tho not veggie):

Also the street food tour in Hoi An:

Black sesame soup
Special Hoi An noodles

Passion fruit juice

Award winning Banh My

Cakes made with sweet bean curd

Ach! There were so many lovely meals. I might have to do another post all about those… 😋

Farewell Vietnam

Well I didn’t manage to see the sea this morning because there was so much rain it made a huge puddle in the path that I was just not willing to wade through just before a flight.

The taxi Dzung’s ?grandson ordered for me is driving me pretty much parallel to the sea and quite close but I can’t see it because of all the buildings and an enormous construction site in the way. I shall have to content myself with the brief moment’s view I had of it from the night train on the morning we arrived into Da Nang.

Actually I’m not convinced this is a taxi. It seems a bigger newer car than I would have expected and I suspect is being driven by a relative of Dzung. Well, fair play to her! This is such luxury after all the bike and train experiences. I am enjoying it!

I had thought that it might be raining all the time I was here. I am so glad it wasn’t. That would’ve really made the trips I did less enjoyable. Emily told me that the coldest it ever gets in a Hoi An is normally about 8 degrees C. Once she can remember it reached 5. When it’s 8 degrees she said people don’t go out because it’s too cold! Gosh. That would render the UK an indoor nation!

The cheapest thing at the airport I could find was a bottle of pop, which would cost me $USD2.80 (and the most expensive place to eat here is Burger King – go figure!). Given that Hoang told me about 20 years ago motorbikes here cost $USD300, so many people purchased one for their family, that’s something to think about; 107 bottles of pop in the airport today for the price of a motorbike 20 years ago?! In the UK I very much doubt there’s ever been a time when that would apply. Except maybe if we’re talking about a fourth hand motorbike that is in need of very serious repairs.

I have 27000VND left to get shot of which is worth about $USD1.16. Anywhere I’ve been in Vietnam that would have easily been enough to buy me a coffee or a cold drink. Oh well!

The other thing to note is that apparently after the Vietnam War (1975) the population of Vietnam was under 49 million people. Today, just 44 years later, it’s over 96 million people. No wonder the motorbikes are all over the place and the infrastructure is struggling to keep up.

There is a quiet determination and pride in their country in the Vietnamese people I have met. Their struggle for independence is beginning to pay off, the wars are ended, tourism is growing and bringing a lot more wealth to the country. They were quite shocked to hear my rather negative view of my own country’s politicians and current attitude to the wider world. Again and again I found myself reminded of how great wealth brings great power and opportunity, and with them, great responsibility. Which wealthy countries mainly ignore, keeping our eyes firmly fixed on the main aim of making more wealth for ourselves. Is that really the main aim of our time on earth? And if not, how could we live within the systems of our wealthy countries but adopt different aims, a more positive, generous and kind attitude towards the rest of the world, and a more humble narrative about our place within it? Is it possible, I wonder? Worth considering at least.

A city (country?) of shopkeepers

This is a post I drafted while in Hanoi. Posting just as I leave Vietnam now.

There is a saying about England, attributed commonly to Napoleon (who used it as an insult about our lack of preparedness for war), that we are “a nation of shopkeepers”. In 1776, the Scottish economist Adam Smith apparently also said, “To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers, but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.” (Wealth of Nations.) Napoleon was familiar with Smith’s work, apparently.

The Dean of Gloucester, Josiah Tucker, in 1766 reportedly said, “…and what is true of a shopkeeper is true of a shopkeeping nation” (and what is that? More googling required for the context). So who knows where it comes from, but it is supposed to refer to our having very little ambition, I think.

The reason I’m going into all of this is because Hanoi is a city (and Vietnam is a country) literally wall to wall with shopkeepers. There is not a person who is not selling stuff directly here. And (given the climate and cost of air conditioning) it’s pretty much all done outside. Even the shops mostly have their doors permanently open. It’s like walking through a constant marketplace.

Here, I’m not convinced that this implies a lack of ambition, exactly. It looks to me more like a response to grinding poverty, like determination to survive, like entrepreneurial adaptability, using whatever is to hand. If it isn’t nailed down, sell it! And there is a lot more handicraft here, too. I imagine people are more likely to do well in a touristy city if they have some skill in that department, alongside the ability to persuade people to part with money.

If these people had been born in the right place in a rich western country, they’d be celebrated as great businesspeople, and would probably amass a small fortune pretty quickly. (Though they’d have to really understand western standards re cleanliness and health and safety.) This is the same reflection I often have about people born in poorer areas of the UK. Some manage to figure out how to navigate their way out and make it big. Many continue their entrepreneurial ways where they are in a bit of a “Del Boy” (Only Fools and Horses) type way. As with my conversation with Thanh in Ninh Binh, I realise that if people’s frame of reference is about survival, their whole narrative (political, economic) is different.

All this is to say that you’ve got to admire the sheer bloody determination to survive and stand on their own two feet of these people. And their resilience in the face of multiple challenges.

Every time I spoke to Dzung, she waited patiently for me to find the right kind of technology to get myself translated. She preferred to listen to the translation rather than read it. She has a mobile phone herself and when in doubt about anything, she would use it to ring her relatives to check with them what to do or find out from them what she needed to know. They were like a human Google for her! I paid her in US dollars, as it is difficult to get out enough cash over here for bigger sums (actually not very big by UK standards of course). I showed her the amount on my app which gives up to date exchange rates, but she wisely rang her relatives to check.

Dzung has a business in Sai Gon as well as this quite a few roomed homestay. I guess she must be about in her mid 60s? I find it amazing how she’s worked out enough about how to use the technology for it to work for her. I think her family might be quite annoyed how she constantly rings them up, but I bet they benefit from it too. And I wonder what hurdles she has had to negotiate to be such a businesswoman in Vietnam? It’s a traditional culture but I get the impression there is more freedom for younger women to make their own choices now than perhaps there was in the past.

The young women I met on my travels in Vietnam were fabulous. Their voices were quiet, positive, passionate and strong. And they tended to crack a lot of jokes too (impressive especially in a foreign language). The world needs more women like this, and I wish them well.

Food glorious food (ii): Hidden Gems of Hoi An

My guide Emily met me on a corner for this delightful walking tour of Hoi An, including lots of fascinating sights. Her real name apparently means “Charming”, and is also the name for the bright orange flower behind her here. She is sad because these flowers are often offered to dead ancestors, but happy that they are so beautiful too.

Emily talked as we walked a lot about the local history, politics, agriculture and culture. We visited a traditional noodle factory, making a type of noodles that you can only get in Hoi An:

The guy who now runs the noodle factory has quite a few workers, but still has to start work at 1am and only finish about 5 or 6pm normally apparently, in order to keep up with the demand for his noodles!

Then we visited a beansprout factory and the lady who has learnt how to smile through smiling for the camera for people on these tours! She has a wonderful smile too. She and her husband also work long hours, and are both in their mid to late 60s. Apparently they plan to keep working until they can no longer walk. Then they will retire. They must be disappointed that their children do not want to work that many hours every day, so have got themselves other jobs working in the tourist industry. I wonder whether this traditional way of growing beansprouts will survive once the older generation stop doing it.

Then we visited a temple for worship of the family ancestors. Everyone with the same family name worships here and helps pay for its upkeep. The door on the right is for men, on the left for women and the central doors (opened on special festival days) are for the ancestors.

The mini temple on the right is for single women. Emily was very positive about the idea of having our own temple in the forecourt. But then she was very positive about most things! I wondered why there was the need to separate out single women in this way. She didn’t mention any similar arrangement for single men. I wish I had asked her more about the role of women now in Vietnam.

She mentioned that normally people burn three incense sticks here. One for heaven one for hell and one for human life. The idea being that somehow the burning creates a connection between all three.

To my amazement, we passed a huge church building too. Apparently there is quite a big Christian population here, but people will travel sometimes 30km to come to this church.

I’m not sure how the ancestor worship could work for the Christian population. I imagine it’s something they disengage with, as worship of anyone or anything other than God is seen in Christian theology as something that imprisons people one way or another, whereas worship of God sets people free. But it sounds like most other people here, whether Buddhist or of no particular other faith, do practise it, albeit with varying degrees of belief about it.

Then we began our street food tour. This was great, as I’d been wanting to try street food, but not at all sure where to start. Everything we tasted was delicious. Vietnamese food does have spicy chilli in it but is not too spicy if you don’t add extra raw chilli to it. It also often has a sweet tang a bit like sweet chilli sauce to it that is very delicious. I can’t remember the names of all the dishes but this first was black sesame soup, a sweet dish you could have for a starter. The second dish we had included those special noodles you can only get in Hoi An. The fresh ones only keep for three days, apparently. No wonder the guy has got his work cut out for him!

This 👆🏼👇🏼 is one of the most famous street food sellers in Hoi An. Her and her husband are pretty old now but plan on continuing until they drop! They sell a type of Vietnamese baguette called “bahn my”. Apparently the French didn’t only bring an oppressive regime when they occupied Vietnam. They also brought French bread, which the Vietnamese copied but then adapted to make a lighter version that is very good. This street food seller also has a pâté she puts in the banh my with meat filling that is famous. I went for her veggie egg based option this time, feeling rather meat-ed out!

Over my crispy wonton 👇🏼 we had a conversation about climate change, and the different conversations I have been having about it in different parts of the world. Emily was interested to hear about Greta Thunberg.

We finished up our street food tour with some Vietnamese cakes made with rice flour, bean curd, and sweet potatoes etc (all grown locally), a wander through the lantern lit streets of the ancient city and then a coffee on a rooftop terrace overlooking it. A beautiful end to my last day in Hoi An and my last day in Vietnam, too.

Banana leaves used for wrapping the cakes:

When we arrived this couple were busy making special cakes for guests at a wedding. The purple ones made with purple yam had a similar texture to the Japanese mochi I had in California, though instead of being filled with ice cream they were filled with sweet bean curd.

Tomorrow, I fly to Penang island, in North Malaysia. Another country again. I will stay there for a few days before taking a long bus ride down the length of the country back to Singapore.

My only regret on leaving Vietnam is that I wasn’t in Hanoi long enough to do a trip to the beautiful Ha Long Bay, and here in Hoi An I’ve been staying very close to the South China Sea (probably about 10 minutes’ walk away), but I’ve not had a chance to see it or set foot in it. I might have to try and remedy that tomorrow morning if they unlock the gate so I can get out early enough!

Food glorious food: Tra Qué Vegetable Village tour

I hadn’t completely realised this, but I managed to book myself onto two tours that were quite food related one after the other today! (It’s a good job I did all that cycling yesterday!)

For my first tour, the Guide, Hoang picked me up from my rather out of the way homestay on a motorbike, then we met up with two other people and his colleague who would translate for them, all three on pedal bikes. Firstly we went to a family home where we saw how rice was traditionally harvested and refined, and had a chance to have a go at it ourselves.

We continued on to Tra Qué Vegetable Village, famous in Vietnam for the excellent quality of its vegetables, which are so good partly because of the natural qualities of the soil in that area (which is an island on what I think is part of the river delta area) and partly because of the people’s growing techniques, which include planting small areas of different crops next to each other so that predatory insects are discouraged. It makes for a beautiful patchwork across what is effectively a huge community allotment:

They also plant flowers to occupy the insects and distract them from the crops.

Then we went to the Tra Qué Organic Restaurant, where we saw a cookery demonstration of how to make rice pancakes from the rice flour we had just learnt about, and then had a delicious and very full lunch, sampling many local dishes made from the produce of the area.

Finishing with a deliciously cooked banana:

I was only due at my next tour meeting point about an hour and a half later, and Hoang had agreed to drop me off there. My plan was simply to enjoy wandering around the area until it was time to meet them, but he kindly offered to take me on a motorbike tour of the town, and then drop me off there in time for my next tour.

Hoang’s English was extremely good, and he was very knowledgable about the area but also about Vietnamese history and culture more generally, so it was a real treat to hear him talk about many things, and show me parts of Hoi An that I couldn’t have seen any other way.

Here were some of the sights we saw:

Japanese covered bridge, joining the Japanese area with the Chinese area of the town. In ancient times, Hoi An was the main port in Vietnam and a stop off point for merchants on the Silk Road. Soon Japanese and Chinese merchants asked the government if they could come and live here, and they were allowed to build their own quarters of the city.

One of the Chinese temples in what was the Chinese quarter:

I asked Hoang about whether there were any Buddhist temples in Hoi An, as I have various friends who are Buddhist or who practise Buddhist meditation. He explained that mostly the Buddhist temples/monasteries were built in the mountains or in out of the way places that would be quieter. But he drove me to one on a quiet edge of Hoi An, which was extraordinary. It is a big functioning monastery. I don’t know how many monks live here, but they wear orange and have shaved heads. Volunteers who work in the gardens wear simple brown clothes. It felt like a very prayerful place, but was also very opulent. Local Buddhists pay money and offer gifts to help with the upkeep of the monastery and grounds. Every year the paintwork is redone to keep it looking so fresh and colourful.

I don’t know if anyone can tell me about the story behind this piece…?

In between all the other things, Hoang told me about local beliefs and about the tradition of ancestor worship, which is very important in Vietnamese culture still. People believe that if you don’t worship your ancestors and provide a good grave for them they will cause you problems.

In Vietnamese culture, you build a temple (maybe a miniature one in your home, and contribute money also to a big community temple locally) and offer sweet things and also burn items to offer them to your ancestors. Hoang explained that people think their ancestors now live in another world beyond ours, but that they still need all the things we need in this world. He mentioned that people will even burn a motorbike to offer it to their ancestors, but usually with such big things it is a paper picture of it rather than the object itself. Apparently, the government is trying to discourage this practice as it is costing the economy a lot as people spend so much money in this way.

All in all this was a fascinating morning and start to my afternoon. And Hoang is a very safe motorbike driver. So that was a relief!

Delicious veggie food

There is sometimes a tendency with veggie food for people to try and make something that looks like meat but is in fact veggie. This regularly perplexes me and several of my veggie friends, as we reckon the best veggie food doesn’t bear any resemblance to meat, and is none the worse for it.

Today I had a great example of veggie food that was just veggie. I guess the tofu maybe looked a bit like a meat substitute, but actually this was tofu done deliciously and definitely to be celebrated as a thing in its own right. I followed recommendations from Maps Me and Trip Advisor and went to a restaurant called Claypot. They cooked the food in a clay pot and had a note in the menu saying to beware it would take half an hour to cook to allow the flavours to all intermingle. It was truly delicious. Tofu and Eggplant (aubergine) claypot, preceded by a banana shake and complimentary salted nuts and followed by iced sweet coffee:

I was only too happy to take my time over this meal, having cycled 7km to get there, and after my night train and crazy huge backpack on a motorcycle ride. It was very welcome indeed! The lady also recommended things for me to do in Hoi An.

On her recommendation, I cycled from here to the Pottery Village, where I enjoyed a wander round and another shake and doing a crossword before heading back by a more direct route.

Note the bamboo straw 👆🏼 good use of local resources!

Altogether I reckon I cycled nearly 20km today, which after my challenging journey to get here and on a bike with no gears was pretty impressive I think! I had to stop several times on all the journeys to drink water, and because it felt safer negotiating some corner junctions on foot. By the time I was 1 minute away from the homestay I was pretty exhausted and had to stop again!

Then I arrived to a welcome from Dzung who fetched me a big bottle of water and perched on my bed while I asked her if she could book me a taxi (CAR, not bike, I hastened to add) to take me to the airport on Sunday morning. Thank goodness for Google Translate, which enabled us to communicate. And also for her ?grandson who helped as well. She’s so tiny, she sat on the bed and swung her legs merrily during this whole exchange, ringing another relative to find out the cost of the taxi to the airport for me as well.

Tomorrow I have booked tours for both the morning and afternoon and they will pick me up and drop me off as part of the tours. On motorbikes. But at least this time I won’t have a huge backpack on! After all the cycling today I am glad for that, too, to be honest.

Safe arrivals

Cancer knocks your confidence in some very foundational way. Everyone’s journey with it is different and yet I’ve read that doctors and nurses report this phenomenon regularly.

I had breast cancer a few years ago and went through chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy with it. I’m now 3 and a half years clear of it thank goodness. Having cancer knocked my confidence in ways that I’m only just beginning to uncover, in the challenges of travelling that have been bigger challenges now than they would have been before.

I’ve been so exhausted for so long that my ability to plan (never very great anyway- no actually it was pretty good, I just found it exhausting always) has taken further knocks, and has made me reluctant to engage in any work or other life experience that would involve a need to plan much. In travelling, I’ve had to face both my weakness and lack of confidence in planning and to find the residual skill I do have and put it to work again and again and again. When I’ve been exhausted with it, I’ve had to still do it again. And as I’ve done it, I’ve been able to look back on the planning I just did and celebrate it for the way it paid off. This has been enormously confidence building.

I’ve also had to sleep on the same room as many men; those who I’ve never met before, those whose names I don’t know and whose language I don’t speak, and some who speak my language and whose names I have learnt. For me this is entirely new. And sounds dodgy but isn’t at all. There’s no idea on the night train that women might only feel safe sleeping in the same car as other women. Everyone is jumbled up together. I wonder whether there are many women travelling on their own in this way. Hard to tell as I’m in a compartment with only four beds but so far the only woman I have seen is a mum with daughter and her dad. And the beds have pretty much all been occupied most of the way I think.

Shortly after writing the above I just put my glasses on and turned round to inspect my fellow car occupants and found the guy on the opposite bunk leaning out of it quite a way, looking straight at me! I turned away, with my face to the wall again, and recalled historian Mary Beard’s account of her terrible experience of being raped on a night train, which I just read at the end of her little explosive book (a must read) Women and Power. In the dawning realisation that I was alone with this guy in the carriage, I reflected that it’d be pretty impossible for him to get across to my side (the benefit of having a hugely inaccessible upper bunk) and if he did I’d kick him to kingdom come, so on balance I’d be fine. In the middle of formulating these defence plans, the train stopped and two women and a baby girl arrived like a quiet trio of angels to the bunks downstairs. I greeted them and they apologised to me for putting the light on. In the grace of God, I hadn’t actually realised the other 2 guys had left, though I thought I heard one leave.

In the morning, after we’d all freshened up, I got chatting to the younger woman whose baby it was, checking what the next station would be. She confirmed it was Da Nang and said she and her mum were taking the little one all the way to Da Nang for the baby’s immunisation injections. I asked if they would stay over in Da Nang or whether they had to come straight back. She said they would come straight back. I guess they must have got on the train around 4 hours before we got to Da Nang. I said “That’s a long journey”, and was silently thankful they were getting off the same time as me! Of course when we arrived there were huge signs saying “Ga Da Nang” and the guard in our carriage came to our compartment to tell us all we had arrived. I guess he knew we were all due to get off there so I needn’t have worried.

Here’s my tiny and also immaculately turned out hostess Dzung, from my next homestay. Who did indeed pick me up from the station and drive me to the homestay on her motorbike. Oh my. That was a half an hour I’ll not forget easily!

She is a very good driver though, and didn’t honk her horn once. But she is also very petite. How do these Asian women manage to always look so immaculate even during and after driving through crazy traffic on motorbikes or walking up hundreds of steps?? I may never know.

Dzung had my room ready and waiting for me, so I had a shower and collapsed gratefully into bed for an hour’s kip before heading out on a PEDAL BIKE to explore. No more motorbikes for me!

The Night Train

…a blow by blow account!!…

Well, this is quite a thing. It’s 5pm and I’m on the night train from Ninh Binh to Hoi An. And as far as I can tell, my “seat” is an upper bunk bed and I’m not convinced there’s anywhere else to go and sit. I could go and stand in the narrow corridor, but I’m going to have to steel myself for that. It was a bit of an operation getting up here!

After I’d looked puzzled and pointed to the table, then used it to give me a leg up, the old man travelling in the same car with his daughter and little granddaughter (in pyjamas) showed me the tiny metal fold away thing you’re meant to use. I think it’s meant for tiny Asian feet and slim Asian bodies. I’m hoping it doesn’t give way as soon as I try it out!!

Moments after this little interchange, I accidentally dropped a crunchy bar on the table in front of him and his granddaughter, which made them laugh.

I’m not sure how secure this bunk is. I’m lying on a sheet on top of the slipperiest fake leather covered platform. The sheet has already come adrift! And the ride is pretty bumpy. There are bars to hold onto, but there are also gaps.

Still, the guy opposite me on the other top bunk is snoring like a trooper already, so it must be possible!

At least it’s already dark which will surely help. Oh wait gosh a meal has arrived! A hot meal like a full dinner on actual plates. None of this cold sandwiches thing. You pay extra for it. The family downstairs have bought some. I had a big lunch so am contenting myself with my rescued crunchy bar.

Thanh explained to me before that Vietnamese people don’t really drink anything with their meal. (A drinks trolley did come round but nobody eating was interested though the guy opposite bought something I think.) And they don’t have dessert, though Thanh made a lovely banana chocolate cake for us with baking soda. She apologised because this is the only cake she can make, apart from carrot cake. I’ve no idea how she did it – maybe in the microwave? (The only oven they have at Mai’s.) It was very good anyway.

I am sketching in my mind the hypothesis that Vietnamese night trains exist purely to make us extra grateful for any form of good old stationary bed. There were extra fast bouncy moments on this journey when the thought that I was working my way back to the quiet, breezy sophistication of Singapore was my only comfort. Well, that and the wall to which the bed seemed to be indelibly attached, thank God!

The air con was surprisingly good in our compartment, such that I found I did need to use the cover provided. But then I also had a few hot flushes to contend with later on. Every time I’ve had those again I remember my cancer journey and reflect that it’s a good job I didn’t try and do this a year ago. And how grateful I am to have such insignificant health problems to deal with now.

The lady from my next homestay has contacted me to offer me a ride from the train station to her place tomorrow morning for a small extra fee. I accepted, then she sent another message saying she forgot to mention it would be on a bike not in a car. 😳 I explained I have a big backpack so don’t think I can ride a bike. She said she thought it would be ok. (And then I realised she meant the oh so popular in Vietnam motorbike not a pedal bike!)

When I researched buses from the station in Da Nang to Hoi An, it looked like it would take 2 hours. And then I’d have to get a taxi to the homestay probably, which is out of town near the beach. But when I researched again, it said that to drive straight to the homestay (which is between Da Nang and Hoi An) would only take 36 minutes. I’d struggle to do 2 hours on the back of a motorbike with a huge backpack but 36 minutes might be ok. Having witnessed Vietnamese motorbike driving at its worst in Hanoi I had been vowing internally to never travel that way. Ah well, when in Rome…

Well, I fell asleep surprisingly easily the first time. So now my hot flush has passed let’s try for another go…don’t think about the motorbike don’t think about the motorbike don’t think about the motorbike… 😬😆

Ah. The light’s gone back on. The guy opposite looks like he’s preparing to get off. And Grandad below’s mobile just rang, so he’s now having a conversation. And the train has stopped and honked long and loud (to wake up anyone who needs to get off??) It’s only 8:40pm still. Another 11 and a half hours to go!!! (Don’t think about the motorbike don’t think about the motorbike don’t think about the motorbike 😂) Oh. I think the family got off too. (While I was facing the wall.) Does this mean I may have the room to myself…??? There are more people getting on, wandering up and down the corridor trying to locate their “seat”. Ah, a sharp suited businessman just got in, greeted me “Hello” and is installing himself below. Well, I can honestly say I’ve never experienced anything remotely like this before! It’s like celebrity wife swap without the celebrity. Or the wives or husbands. Thank goodness!😂😂😂

Night night… I think… (will this guy ever turn the light off?? I guess it’s still only 9:05pm)…Turns out he was being polite leaving it to me to decide when to turn out the light.

5am for some reason Maps Me can’t locate me even when we’ve stopped for quite a while. And although there are occasionally some random announcements they’re always in Vietnamese and never translated and so far I’ve been unable to distinguish any place names in them (though to be honest I’d be unlikely to). And there are no electronic signs telling us where we are. And when we stop at stations there are no announcements on the train (I guess to avoid disturbing us weary travellers.) So all in all I really hope the estimated time of arrival in Da Nang is roughly correct (or at least not later than we actually arrive). It’s my only guide as to where we might be. Hmmm. We shall see…

In the meantime I have so far managed to get down and back up to the bunk again about four times. I’m becoming a pro! (Oh the curse of a weak bladder!) and I managed to locate my powerbank so I am charging up my phone ready for the next stage in the journey.

We just hit a rainy patch which probably means we’re getting somewhere vaguely close. Due to arrive in Hoi An at 8am ish. I naïvely thought this would be the terminus for this train but of course it’s not. I reckon it’s going all the way to Ho Chi Minh in the South.

Everyone has been getting on and having to reuse the previous person’s sheets. I’m glad I got on as far north as I did. Mine were definitely clean as I watched the guard get them out of his cupboard for me. I’ll try to leave them in a vaguely decent state for whoever comes after me.