Tag Archives: Vietnam beaches

Twenty Four Hours of Seascapes.

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I don’t know what I love most…  The mighty call of the mountains wrapped in the mystique and mystery of a nebular mist draped over the valleys.  Or the ever-changing moods and caprices of the sea, bowing to the will of whimsical winds chasing wispy or thunderous clouds…

Depends upon my frame of mind, I suppose…  Do I crave testing how long I can hold out traipsing up and down the slopes, or do I fancy something a little gentler such as a peaceful stroll along the beach, adding to my year-round tan and maybe dipping in a toe..  Just not too far, just in case Jaws lies in wait in nearby waters.  How can a seventies movie nightmare still have me in its unyielding grip… but I admit I only feel save when I can touch the seabed and spy my toes through a glass-bottomed surface..  And definitely not too many waves or ripples to obscure what may lurk beneath.  I am a coward at heart, I know…

After nine months of feeling like  a virtual prisoner in Quang Ngai, I finally managed to persuade the powers that be to change my day off.  It used to be Fridays but with only one day out of the shackles each week, the Friday sentence was like having eternal doom cast on you…  Death row, with Saturdays and Sundays hard labour: seven and a half hours of face-to-face teaching, starting at 8.00am and persevering until 8.45 pm with, granted, a generous break for lunch and a short break around 5.00 pm.  Exhausting!  Being allocated Friday as my day off certainly limited my travel opportunities, as I could never venture anywhere that would involve an overnight stay… Maybe if I had been braver and got on a motorbike I might have seen more than my weekly glimpse of My Khe beach…  The sights of Quang Ngai – enthralling as they may have appeared in week one – have long since lost their luster.  Still, on the upside, things have changed for the better since the June break and with Monday being my new day of freedom, and my classes on Tuesday starting in the evening, I can finally explore and go a bit further afield…

I heard about the Sa Huynh Beach Resort from fellow expats: an American couple who work in Duc Pho with victims of Agent Orange (watch later posts in a couple of weeks…).  The perfect place for a bit of relaxation and replenishing sapped energy after a long week at work.  As a bonus for me, Sa Huynh is also easily accessible by local bus, just over an hour to the South of Quang Ngai.  And Vietnamese public transport is quite affordable, maybe not as cheap as in China, but still a good option for those who’d rather not be in charge of motorized two-wheelers…

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I arrive in Sa Huynh just before lunchtime and, through the pine trees, a pristine beach is beckoning.  Behind a generous stretch of golden sand, a cerulean sea expands into a rivaling azure sky, fleetingly brushed with white wispy clouds.  The beach is deserted, only the soothing whispers of the tranquil waves my company.  At midday, when beach-loving Westerners chase the sun and a tan, Vietnamese locals shy away from the heat, instead staying indoors for lunch and a siesta.  The beach resort is not yet on the touristy agenda and most of the visitors I encounter at the resort are Vietnamese holidaymakers.

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After lunch, I venture back to the great outdoors, the sea still blue.  But behind me, over the hills, a storm is brewing, the searing heat over the water boosting the moisture in a leaden sky.  A Vietnamese summer is hot, and often very wet with heavy afternoon showers. Thankfully those violent bursts of pelting rain are usually rather short-lived, a mere reminder that we shouldn’t take the sunny weather for granted and should set about our business and the world armed with the ubiquitous umbrella.  A handy gadget come rain or shine.   Of course, my umbrella has long since been windswept into the bin and I now live in hope that I can survive, if not entirely avoid, the odd shower.  Compared to England, this is warm rain, a heavenly blessing sent from above.  It’s only water after all, another baptism will surely not do any harm.

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I stay on the beach as long as seems sensible, but retreat to safer and drier ground when the big drops make their entrance.  Not to my hotel room though, I think I have plenty of time… I make a detour to the hotel reception to find out tomorrow’s bus times, a good pastime on a rainy afternoon.  Within minutes the heavens are in full fury.  Bright lightning flashes clash swords across the blackened sky, explosive booms echo through the endless hollow over the waves.  A loud crack knocks out the power, and the resort descends into darkness, if only briefly.  An hour later, the storm dissipates to leave the air refreshed and I once again make it to the beach…

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The deluge of water has drawn new patterns in the sand and raging rivulets of water have chiselled new channels across the beach.  On the horizon, a watery rainbow slowly creeps up. Hardly noticeable at first, but slowly gaining in prominence and brightness, and eventually, however briefly, stretching to a full arch.  But by then, I have taken my phone back to my room, so I can join the locals and swim in the sea and enjoy the last couple of hours of daylight.

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I am not a fan of very early mornings, although these days I seem to be awake around 6 am every day…  But I want to catch the sunrise and set my alarm for 5.00 am..  Yesterday’s dense clouds linger and obscure where the sun slowly edges itself above the horizon, but the resulting sunrise is no less spectacular as a palette of pastel clouds and a faint sun mirror themselves in the still waters below.  And I am not the only one making the most of the cooler hours.  Whereas the beaches look pretty much abandoned later on when the sun climbs to its zenith, in the early hours Vietnamese people are out in droves on the beach enjoying vigorous exercise, brisk walks and playful swimming.

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Work forces me back to reality, I have classes on Tuesday evening.  But before leaving, I spend more time on the beach.  Almost solitary, bar one small Vietnamese family not afraid of the sun, but it’s only 9.00am.  The early clouds have all but vanished leaving the sky and sea yet again an enviable blue, as if the last 24 hours never happened.

Picture perfect.

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Exploring the world, Google-Map-wise.

20171002_114702_001I was never an ace at reading maps, my children can vouch for that.  Scales on a map eluded me and translating the logic and sense of a carefully drawn, colourful map to the real world was mostly beyond the realm of my capabilities…  Needless to say that some of our most memorable holiday anecdotes chronicle my shortcomings as the family’s navigator on our trips abroad.   Nevertheless, had it not been for my gross underestimating of the distance between California’s Interstate 5 and the Sequoia National Park, we may never have set eyes on the famed General Sherman Tree,  the largest known living single stem tree on Earth.  The fact that it added an extra five hours to an already overlong drive from Yosemite to Los Angeles whilst  running low on go-go juice on a stretch of road that had not yet been discovered by McDonalds, was by the by…  It isn’t called the ‘scenic route’ for nothing.

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But with the advent of smart phones, readily enabled with Google Maps and generously fed with data, even an ignoramus like me has been given wings to fly and explore towns and countryside safely in the knowledge I will arrive at the expected destination, at some time…  I only recently joined the army of technology savvies, for a long time firmly clinging to the belief that a phone’s purpose in life was to facilitate spoken language.  You punched in some numbers, which prompted some bleeping, tinkling or musical interlude at the receiving end and, all being well, a human voice would reply and a conversation ensue.  China changed this forever!  In China, life without a smart phone was just unimaginable, so much so that, last year, on the occasion of my brand new phone malfunctioning and refusing to share any information with me, I was at my wit’s end.  A catch-22 situation, if ever there was one… I needed to get my phone fixed, but to locate a nearby repair shop I needed my phone as only with the help of Google Maps (using a VPN, of course) or MapsMe would I be able to find my way around town…  Lo and behold, I had to rely on an old fashioned printed map.  Since China, I have grown very fond of Google Maps.  It has guided me across Hangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, Tokyo and Kyoto, Penang, Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi and, as cars these days come equipped with phone charging points rather than cigarette lighters, even the UK.  In other words, an absolute  must for the modern globetrotter.   My phone lavishly loaded with data, I feel ready to conquer the world and venture into the unknown…

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I chose my current job on account of its location, just a pinprick removed from the beach.  The fact that in reality, I am still about 16 km away from the sea did not seem a big hurdle at the time.  What is 16 km??  But Vietnam isn’t India, and the taxis here are definitely not as cheap as India’s rickshaw drivers.  Neither is public transport as convenient and ubiquitous as in China…  In Vietnam an early morning trip to dip a toe in the salty water starts at 6.15 am when the bus trundles past my road; actually this would be considered rather late for the Vietnamese locals, who rise early and make it to the beach by 5 am. But a later bus would mean not leaving until almost mid-morning when the heat makes a trip to the coast almost unbearable.  However, most people weave across town on motorbikes: a sign of progress and a step up from the humble bicycle.  With my e-bike ventures in China still fresh in my mind, and a healthy dose of scepticism about Vietnamese traffic rules, I have opted to stick to a bicycle.  Maybe slower and more effort involved, but I do get exercise, plenty of it…

So far I have managed to make it to the coast by bike four times…  Not that much, you think, but Vietnam is still in its rainy season and the weather is at best unpredictable, if not on occasions hostile to the cyclist.  Heady winds surge in from an overcast sea, often accompanied by prolonged spells of dull drizzle or sharp bursts  of heavy rain.  Although I took a few trips to the beach by bus in September,  I first biked there before the Vietnamese winter properly took hold.  We left indecently early to be ahead of the blaring sun and were back well before lunchtime… On this occasion, I did not need to call on the advice of Google Maps as we were accompanied by one of the old gang, the ones who cycled to the beach quite regularly and clearly knew the way.  It seemed child’s play.  Just keep  on going straight…

The next time, I ventured out all on my own, armed with a phone buzzing with data and Google Maps.  What could go wrong?  A flat tyre just as I had crossed the bridge…!  I had meticulously followed all instructions and kept on going straight, dismissing vague memories of a right turn as a mere figment of my imagination.  Luckily, I had only cycled a few kilometres and a helpful motorbike-taxi rider pointed me in the direction of a bicycle pump owner..  With my tyre just solid enough to make it back to town, I had no option but to find a bicycle repair shop.  Not too difficult here since they set up shop on the pavement in full view…   And once the mechanic had quite literally crossed the road on his motorbike to purchase a new inner tube, he gave my bike the once over.  With brakes tightened, chain freshly oiled and a fully inflated tyre, I set off again on my way to the beach, this time taking heed of Google Maps.  I knew it wasn’t going to be a case of ‘keep on going straight’, as I was leaving from a different part of town…

Feeling I had mastered bicycle trips to the beach, I went again the next week…  Overhead, clouds were threatening, but it didn’t look too bad.  At least Vietnamese rain is usually warm rain!  I did not consult Google Maps, I was confident that I was fully capable of ‘going straight’.  I passed the bridge, I passed the paddy fields, I passed more paddy fields with  water buffaloes lazily grazing the rice stubble… but where was the hill with the pagoda and where was the little village I was meant to pass through…?

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Time to have a look at Google Maps, I decided.  I was indeed ‘going straight ahead’ in the wrong direction!  Rather than closing in on the beach, my journey took me further away than ever…  This right turn I had been imagining?  Definitely not a figment of my imagination.  But, of course, Google Maps had a shorter route for me in mind to get me back on the right track.  Having added on already a fair few extra kilometres to my trip, I wanted to save time and … my legs…  I obediently accepted Google Map’s advice and followed the suggested direction… straight into the muddiest road I have ever cycled through… In the end, I dismounted!  Better to ruin my white canvas shoes than falling face down in the mud and ruining all my clothes as well…

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I still made it to the beach!!  Muddy and thoroughly soaked by a sudden downpour, I thought the only way to brighten up the day was to plough on regardless …

And as for Google Maps…   Maybe better taken with a large pinch of salt and liberally sprinkled with old fashioned common sense…

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