Kon Tum

After several lazy days at the coast, Michael and I decide that it really is time to go. At this point I have been in Hoi An for two weeks in total and I am itching for another ride. A few fellow travelers tell us about some beautiful roads that they covered on their motorbikes on the way to Hoi An. They recommend that we head inland towards Kon Tum to see them for ourselves. It’s a 283 kilometer ride to Kon Tum, then we will likely double back towards the coast.

We pack up and say our goodbyes to Vy, Phyllis and the many pups and set off at 7:30 am on February 8th. It is by far the earliest I have gotten up for a ride so far – Michael is an early bird. We decide to cover some ground first and stop for breakfast at around 10. We share our location with Paul and Clay – safety first, kids – and head out. Because The Seaside Bungalow is outside of Hoi An’s city center, it does not take long before we are riding through rice fields. I look out at the kilometers of green and remember a comment one of our friends made about the particular color of green of a rice field. There’s no describing it, really, but this green is different to any green I have ever seen before. Surely when you look at a spectrum of the different greens, there must be one called “Vietnamese rice field green.” It’s gorgeous out here.

Our ride takes us through some varied landscapes. We ride up past rivers and lush rainforest, and I stare up at mountains blanketed in palm trees. I find myself wondering just how tall the trees would look if I stood below them. As we make our descent, we decide it is time for breakfast. It is already 11 am and we have made good progress. Time for a break. We have just passed a small town, but small towns are a dime a dozen, so we decide to stop at the next one we find.

We ride and ride, and there is, of course, nothing. Finally, we see a lone building along the side of the road. The dusty sign outside mentions lists off a few Vietnamese words. We’re pretty sure one of them means food, so we stop. We walk in and are greeted by more children than I can count, and several ladies. A group of men sits on the ground, drinking beers and smoking cigarettes. It is, of course, an absolute frenzy as we walk in. Everyone is giggling, photos are taken, and we are smiling and repeating hello over and over. Eventually we receive cans of Red Bull and are able to ask for food. One of the ladies runs into the back of the building and another ushers us towards the men. We are to sit with them.

We sit down, again smiling and saying ‘xin chao’ over and over. One of the men seems to be the spokesperson and he chats to Michael and I. There are a few – and I mean very few – English words, but really he just speaks Vietnamese slowly to us and makes a lot of hand gestures. One of those gestures is giving a beer to Michael. By now it is 11:30. We still have quite some kilometers to go and drinking a beer is really the last thing either of us wants to do. But we have learned by now that it is rude to reject an extension of hospitality such as this one. Michael accepts the beer.

We all say cheers: “một, hai, ba, vô!” After a few sips, our friend gestures to Michael that he should chug the rest of the can. There is a quick “một, hai, ba, vô” and then he chugs his own in demonstration. Michael and I share a look and he tells me in Dutch that he doesn’t want to do it. Again, however: hospitality. We agree that he will chug this one, and then that will be it. Ha, suckers. You wish. He chugs the beer and everyone cheers, obviously thrilled. He is handed another beer but this time, I am as well. Here we go.

The next half hour passes by in this way. We share cigarettes and beers. Michael is made to chug his beers, whilst I, as the woman, am allowed to sip mine. There are some stir fried greens in the center of the circle and we snack on those while we wait for our noodles to appear from the back of the building. There is a bowl of meat in the center as well which we are instructed to eat. As I chew on the dried, incredibly chewy meat, our friend describes to us that it is a pigeon that he caught up on the mountain. Perhaps it is the pigeon, or perhaps it is the way it has been dried, but the taste is… pungent. We smile as pleasantly as we can while we chew, and wash it down with as much beer and Red Bull as possible. A bowl of noodles would be such a lifesaver right now.

Time continues to pass and eventually Michael and I realize we have been there for an hour. And not a noodle in sight. We quietly discuss (in Dutch again) what to do. We don’t want to seem rude, but it is beginning to dawn on us that either this place is not a restaurant, or otherwise that it is a restaurant that is closed due to the TET holiday. With quite a ways to go to Kon Tum, however, we really can’t afford to sit and get drunk right now.

We decide to chance it and leave. We pay a small amount to cover some of the beers and decide to give our new friends a parting gift: a leftover bottle of whisky. They are ecstatic and as a token of their own appreciation, they make each us of take a shot of the whisky. Yep, thank you, just what we need for the road.

We repeat our thanks all the way to our bikes and as we drive off, I see our friend waving us off. Oh, Vietnam, you sure are something else. We agree to drive slowly as our whisky digests.

Five minutes down the road, we spot a noodle shop. We stop as soon as we see it.

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