Random Review – last few days in Vietnam
I have to leave Vietnam. More accurately I have to go home. I had one of the kind of message we all dread. so my travels have been curtailed, for the moment. I will return. I have unfinished business. Places still to go and places still to see.
There are gaps in my blog from the past few weeks. A lot I have seen and not yet managed to scribble about. Several days in Quảng Bình province in the central highlands where my main goal was to hike in the largest cave in the world, Sơn Đoòng. It was a wonderful five day challenge. Camping in caves, wading through rivers and learning to take photos in the dark. A real collaborative affair.
There is so much to say about that trip it will take several blogs to cover it all. So just a few pictures to give you a taste and may be a little about the team. I went with Oxalis Expeditions. Ten customers, clients, call us what you will but there were far more than ten to get us there!
Camp in Hang En
The full team consists of two British caving experts. Our main guides. An English speaking, university educated, Vietnamese guide. Two more guides from the local area. Not speaking as much English but whose knowledges of the caves and mountains has to be more than we could ever hope to learn in five life times. They ran where we walked. Put our feet and hands in holds we would never of found, hoisted the ropes up and held on as we abseiled down cliffs. Moral support and wiping of tears needs no common language. A ratio of two clients to one guide may not have been needed at all times but it was welcome. Add to this 20 porters, two cooks and two park rangers and it becomes clear why the customer numbers stay low.
Porters leaving Hang En
Every lunch time a picnic or plate of rice or noodles was produced and in the evening large bowls of sticky rice with plates of spicy meat, veg and tofu. Each night different. These guys packed up our camp after we left. Ran past us some where en-route. Produced lunch. Packed up again and by some feat of magic passed us again, set up tents and camp and with nothing more than a open fire produced another evening meal for the entourage.
More detail will follow.
Hand of Dog and the first Doline
Then I had to pack up my life. Returning to Saigon took a few days and there has been a fair amount of frustration too. Vietnam has rules. Rules and bureaucracy which all seem superfluous to requirements. Opening a bank account to be paid into required a mountain of paper. Taking my money to get home was equally interesting. You can not exchange Vietnamese Dong for any other currency. Not officially, unless you are leaving the country via Saigon on Hanoi international airport, where you will get a grim rate.
My internet banking ‘told me’ I could transfer money to the UK and that it would be debited immediately. Forms filled in and checked. Six hours later no money had been debited.
Looking back to camp 1 in Son Doong
HSBC Vietnam never answers its phones so a trip into the city centre evolved. What has had happened my transfer? It was being processed. It would take 3 days! I would be out of the country before that and by now I certainly didn’t trust the system, whatever it was.
Exit from Hang En
Oh, and by the way the charge would be $50!
Me: cancel it!
Me: Why not?
Bank: Its being processed.
Me: But the money is still in my account?
Me: OK. Can I close the account and take all the money out?
Bank: yes, but it will cost you $15 to close the account.
Me: Can I take all the money out and leave it empty?
Imagine filling a form with a request for 69,856,7835. By hand, and then writing the number out long hand.. along with passport number, name signatures, x 2. Someone else signature. Of course I made a mistake, crossed it out and was told I had to start again. Arghhhh! Then change rooms and sit and wait for 40 minutes until my number was called before I could have a larger heap of cash than I have every before seen.
First Doline – Son Doong
VietDong were not going to be a lot of good back in the UK though. It may be illegal to exchange money but everyone does it. Just go to a ‘gold shop’, or jewellers. Not something I was looking forward to but it, a bit like the strange method of buying air tickets, but it worked. I wandered, asked if I could buy UK£, and was given a pretty good exchange rate. Though the cash wasn’t there. So don’t be in a hurry. You’ll have to wait. But after the bank, well what were a few minutes more.
The Garden of Eden