Sunday, August 3, 2008

Train Ride & Quy Nhơn (Aug 1-3)

With only a month left in Vietnam, I figured I should go visit my family again in central Vietnam. I met them in Quy Nhơn where my uncle, aunt and cousin were visiting for a "festival" and my aunt's sister's housewarming. Quy Nhơn is a coastal city probably around halfway between Nha Trang and Quảng Ngãi. Interesting personal trivia: Quy Nhơn is the port my parents used to leave Vietnam in 1978.

Having only booked my train ticket two days in advance, I was only able to get a hard sleeper. The compartment fits six beds, as opposed to the soft sleeper, which fits four. My "bed" was the top one (also the cheapest) and it felt rather claustrophic; there was not even enough room to sit up. At least, I didn't have a hard seat for the 14 hour overnight train ride. I couldn't bear lying for 14 hours straight so I asked the young woman with the bed at the bottom if I could sit on her bed. Hers had more clearance! I think this is a common practice.

Trains in Vietnam are very slow. In addition, they have to make stops at pre-determined spots to pass each other. So if one train is late, it delays the other train waiting too. Add to that three boys under the age of seven in our compartment. Let's just say I was glad when the ride was over...!

You can see my backpack on my very tight "bed".

After leaving HCMC at 7:40 pm, I arrived in Quy Nhơn at about 10 am. My uncle picked me up at the train station. After dropping off my things at his mother-in-law's, he gave me a tour of the town and we went out for lunch. A mere two hours later (once my uncle had his nap), he went to buy banh beo and I had to eat again. This was a sign of what was to come...

I didn't know that Vietnam had festivals!

I think the flags were pulled out for the occasion.

There was always a person standing at intersections directing traffic. What is funny is that you can see behind the person that there is a traffic light. The person is literally looking at the traffic light and moving the flag accordingly. Rather pointless, non?

Lunch with my uncle was cơm thô. Thô refers to the container that holds the rice.

My uncle ordered a variety of vegetables to dip in mam. Mam is all sorts of fermented fish, shrimp and squid. A big too strong for my taste but I know my mother would have loved this! The vegetables included cucumbers, green tomatoes, cà pháo (type of eggplant), lettuce and bean sprouts.

Tôm thịt kho. Braised shrimp and pork. The portion was tiny but I guess we were only two people eating...

I ordered this soup thinking it was canh chua (Vietnamese sour soup). Rather, the "chua" referred to the type of fish. I was rather disappointed.

Rau muống xào toi - morning glory with garlic - has to be one of my favourite green dish. However, The Boyfriend does not like it - the translation in Hue was rather unfavourable, something like swamp weed. So I have to have it when I get the chance and it was well worth it!

Banh beo. I only had a taste because as I explained to my uncle I was too full from lunch to eat. He insisted I at least try it because these are renown in Quy Nhơn.

My uncle's funny. He's not the best at communicating. After lunch, he said we would "đi chơi", which literally means "go play". It was a big surprise where we were going. As we were driving around on a motorbike, being pelleted by rain, I was very curious about our destination!

Are we going to check out the beach?

...or the siêu thị (supermarket)? I overheard that suggestion; I think it's a novelty in certain parts of Vietnam.

...or check out festival activities?

Finally, after driving up a mountain and paying a fee to get in, I found out where we were going: Qui Hoa Leper Colony. I had read about it in the Lonely Planet so I knew a little bit about it. It is a "model village near the seafront, where treated patients live together with their families, the patients work in the rice fields, in fishing...". You can also find a nice beach within the property. It was started by Catholic nuns and priests. According to my uncle, it has been rather neglected since the government took over.

Queen's Beach.

Cottages where familes live; bust of a nun.

My uncle made me take this picture. Supposedly, it's a well known poem. I will have to ask my Vietnamese teacher to translate it.

View of Quy Nhơn on the ride back down the mountain.

My uncle then drove us to his sister-in-law who was having a housewarming (there's a Vietnamese term I can't remember), which was a very big shindig. I was so tired by then, I didn't take any pictures of the food, but it was an impressive spread: giant cooked shrimps, whole chickens, gỏi bắp chuối (banana flower salad), squid, etc. There must have been close to a hundred people, and most of the food was homemade. I think it's the Vietnameses' way of showing off their wealth to their friends.

The front of the house all decked out.

The hyper kids who loved posing for the camera and would not stop bugging me.

It rained again and pretty much every day while I was in central Vietnam since it is getting close to rainy season there.

The next morning, my cousin V took over. We had a quick breakfast of bun cha ca (before 8 am I might add. I usually have yogurt for breakfast!). Then we went out for coffee. As you’ll see on my next post of Quảng Ngãi, my cousin V goes for coffee religiously. Finally, we went to see Quy Nhơn beach before heading out to Quảng Ngãi.

Bún Chả Cá. Soup with vermicelli and fish.

Quy Nhơn beach. Not as nice as Sabang...

The big hotel on the beach.


Wandering Chopsticks said...

I'm crap at translating poetry, but Han Mac Tu is a pretty famous Vietnamese poet. Legendary for love poems and lots of women those poems were based on. He died of leprosy and spent his last days at that leprosy colony in Quy Nhon.

I wonder if the poet who died of leprosy in "Three Seasons" was modeled after him? Hmmm.

How come you didn't take the plane? Should have only been around $30 USD, maybe slightly more now. But I'd take a 45-minute flight over train ride any day.

When are you leaving VN?

Bill said...

WOW what a busy person you are - Miss VIP.
I'm sorry to hear and see your train ride. Honestly I would hurt my self if I was that high off the ground. Food looks and sounds awesome like always.

Long said...

Never been to Quy Nhơn but passed through it. I have to stop by next time. Thanks for the lovely photos.

They use the word "festival" and they also use "ATM" and "CO.OP MART". I wonder how many Vietnamese actually knows what CO.OP is. It would be interesting to hear how they say it. Cô óp?

Đây thôn Vỹ Dạ
(Hàn Mặc Tử)
Sao anh không về chơi thôn Vỹ?
Nhìn nắng hàng cau, nắng mới lên,
Vườn ai mướt quá xanh như ngọc
Lá trúc che ngang mặt chữ điền.

Gió theo lối gió, mây đường mây
Dòng nước buồn thiu, hoa bắp lay...
Thuyền ai đậu bến sông trăng đó,
Có chở trăng về kịp tối nay?

Mơ khách đường xa, khách đường xa,
Áo em trắng quá nhìn không ra...
Ở đây sương khói mờ nhân ảnh,
Ai biết tình ai có đậm đà

A complete English translation can be found at this website:

It is an excellent website to learn about Vietnamese literature and poetry.

Miss.Adventure said...

WC: I'll have to ask my mom to give me the lowdown about Han Mac Tu. Unfortunately, I know nothing about Vietnamese literature.

Bill: It was harsh but I survived. I would recommend booking tickets in advance. My ride back was MUCH better!

Long: Thank you. I'll have to check out the site!

Anonymous said...

Spent New Years eve 1969 on the beach in Qui Nhon, and I always wanted to go back and see it. Maybe next year we can stop on our way from Danang to Pleiku and Buon Me Thuot. Sorry to see that you are leaving.

Long, thanks for the link. Nguyen Du was also from Binh Dinh province, so there must be something there that inspires poets. All I remembered were the enormnous leeches.

Kid said...

Chào Cô Miss Adventure, Love your writings and pics from Quy Nhon. I lived in Qui Nhon for a year during the VN-American War. I have posted about 200 images of what it looked like (in parts) back then (1st 200): I am continuously amazed by images showing how much it has changed. My more recent entries are of the Navajo Reservation which I have come to call home for most of the past 30 years. I will spend time reading the rest of your blog. Thanks.

Amanda Griffith said...

I read you blog post with interest as I am writing a chapter in Thai's memoir about living in Qui Nhon during 1973-1976. She visited the leper colony and I love the details you put about the food also. Great information!