Our day-long cruise excursion in and around the fascinating city of Huế came to an end with a trundle through the Vietnamese countryside towards the port of Chan May. The route we followed was simply the reverse of that which had taken us to Huế earlier in the day and involved a drive along the QL1A road that runs southeast from the historic city and between Cầu Hai and Bạch Mã National Park as it heads past Chan May on the way towards Da Nang.
I have an aversion to taking photos through windows on transport generally because of the issues that come from the speed, vibrations, and potential for tinted views, all of which mean ramping up the ISO and opening up the aperture to get sharp enough shots, as well as the likelihood of dirt in the way and the problems of reflections which can completely ruin photos or make laborious the task of processing to clean images up enough for publishing. I keep telling myself not to be so fussy about these sorts of pictures but I am a leopard with a certain pattern of spots. However, some of these issues weren’t present for this early evening drive: the windows of the bus were clean with only a very light tint to them and with the sun either hidden behind clouds or the range of hills towards the western horizon but there still being enough daylight to not warrant putting on illumination inside the vehicle reflections were either not present or could be mostly worked with. It’s always nice to have some memories of the places you travel through, not just travel to, so the camera came out and photos were taken.
To start with, of course, we were on the outskirts of Huế so the roadside consisted of plenty of houses, shops, and cafés. I love these snapshots of local life, the people and places not being directly connected to or influenced by or even trying to appeal to foreign tourism.
As we moved further from the city the odd paddy field or fish farm would make an appearance. I loved seeing this great, concrete advertising billboard in the middle of one; it felt instantly American and southeast Asian at the same time.
One thing difficult to miss on any amount of journeying through Asia is the huge volume of motorbikes and mopeds everywhere. Our guide had explained on our outward journey earlier that day that it was a sign of independence for younger people and, of course, it was a lot cheaper to buy than a car. A few decades before most of the bikes that had been owned came from China and were fairly unreliable but these days Japanese-built vehicles were mostly owned and driven by Vietnamese people because they lasted a lot longer. The test to drive on a motorbike was considerably easier than that for a car as well although it was our opinion that some people perhaps hadn’t even done that based on the way they drove. Quite how we never saw an accident on one was something of a head-scratcher and there was one close shave in particular where a moped almost turned into the path of our bus but swerved out of the way at the last second.
I’m not entirely sure you’d get away with carrying your young child on a bike like this in the UK.
The signs of urban life started to drop away and at about the halfway point of our early evening drive towards Chan May the road started to track alongside the Cầu Hai Lagoon, one of a series of freshwater lagoons fed by mountains on the Laos border. The lagoons are generally fished in traditional and sustainable ways and are home to a very diverse range of species of fish, many of which are on endangered lists worldwide.
The slow dimming of the sky was very noticeable as our drive continued but a lot of this was because we were now passing the Bạch Mã National Park on our right-hand side (i.e. the side I wasn’t taken photos from). The steep, lush hills served as a barrier against any chance of the setting sun lighting up the surroundings and casting long, interesting shadows across the Vietnamese landscape but the sights of paddy fields along the shore of the lagoon in the deepening gloom had their own charm nonetheless.
Landmarks were few and far between along this stretch of the drive with one of those being that of Phuoc Tuong Catholic Church. Buddhist temples are pretty commonplace in Vietnam making signs of Christian worship stand out. Vietnam’s relatively recent history of intolerance towards certain religious groups and the bloodshed that inevitably followed features in my write-ups about The Pagoda of the Celestial Lady and the Tomb of Tự Đức so it’s nice that the country is experiencing a far more liberal phase now.
Not long after passing the church we turned off the QL1A road and took the Chan May road heading towards the port. A few, final pleasing views of paddy fields, boats, distant hills, and occasional buildings sprung up before we spotted our cruise ship in the distance.
We’d not had a chance to take a look around the port area when we’d departed the ship in the morning as we’d met up at the correct time for our excursion and simply walked straight to the waiting bus. With plenty of time before the ship was due to depart and us being dropped off about 100 metres from the dockside we had an opportunity to look around although, as previously noted on our arrival at Chan May, there wasn’t a whole lot to see anyway. The port seemed to be a reasonably small, industrial-leaning one. Freight facilities were not present and the only thing that could appeal to cruise passengers were a few stalls grouped together by one of the port buildings. We had a quick nose at them – just like almost everyone else from our bus and the others all rolling up at around the same time – but nothing jumped out enough to buy so we escaped the hustle and headed to the ship and our room.
Dropping off the bits and pieces we’d picked up I popped out onto the balcony for some more shots of Chan May from our elevated location.
Some people shower first thing in the morning, some last thing at night. Our routine on cruises is to shower before dinner and after a full day in the heat and humidity of Vietnam I’d recommend that for everyone. By the time we were freshened up the sun had properly set and darkness had enveloped the port. Diamond Princess, however, was going nowhere because some coach trips had run into traffic problems and were late getting back. We stood out on the balcony, gazing off into the distance in search of bus lights, occasionally spotting a group rolling up, thinking they were the last ones but then realising from the unmoving Vietnames immigration officials below us on the dockside there were still others to come.
One other thing in close proximity to Diamond Princess was a row of mechanical diggers and ploughs in a sorry-looking state. These wouldn’t ordinarily have been of huge interest to us until we spotted a port worker wander down and start clambering over them, opening panels, picking out bits and pieces from their interiors. Soon after that he crouched down and set a fire around the tracks of one of the vehicles and moved some pots nearby before heading off. Our deduction was that he was cooking some food for himself but the odd choice of firepit and closeness to our cruise ship was unusual to say the least and we weren’t the only ones fascinated and perhaps a little concerned by open flames nearby as we looked up to the wing of the bridge and spotted half a dozen bridge crew gathered around, looking down, peering through binoculars, and talking on their radios, quite likely making sure that this was nothing to worry too much about.
The last bus arrived, its passengers were pulled away from the market stalls and ushered towards the ship, and Diamond Princess finally undertook its sailaway from Chan May in pitch black conditions.
To conclude this post some photos from this evening’s meal in the main dining room.
The following day we would cruise into Ha Long Bay and posts from our second day in Vietnam will be the next ones to appear on this site.