VIETNAM: Thap Cham [16]

Kaspar posting from Siem Reap, Cambodia covering Sept. 11th-12th.

Below Ali floats in an idyllic white sand bay with no one around somewhere North of Thap Cham in Vietnam.  When I say "no one around" I mean like there are literally no people in this area, its not for tourists, its not for locals, there is no one there.  This was one of those adventures you hope for but you could never plan and I will get to it later in this post.

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We arrived in Thap Cham on the train from Ho Chi Minh City after about six hours which is really not bad in 2nd class seats with air conditioning and a little padding on your seat.  After a short cab ride to Ninh Chu Beach we were immediately greeted by Sau (number 6) the enthusiastic proprieter of the Dieu Hien Guest House at Bien Ninh Chu.  He spoke very little English and we knew about four words of Vietnamese so we communicated using a voice translation app, a pad of paper and pen, as well as hand gesticulations which got us a motorbike rental and a taxi reservation for our departure.  Below you can see Sau doing what he liked to do best, chill out in front of his guest house.  You could not walk by with out being offered a seat and some cold tea to shoot the breeze and watch the traffic roll by.  Below is Sau with his buddy Nam (number 5) hanging tough.

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Across the street was the beach front where we went looking for dinner.  We were introduced to the idea of going to Thap Cham by a friend of a friend who teaches music in HCMC and suggested going here because there are no foreign tourists and he was right, which meant no one needed to speak English either.  The first place we went had a sign that said "Seafood" but no matter what we did we could not get them to understand that we wanted to eat there, the girls there just laughed at us.  Down the beach there was a legit looking spot.  By "legit" I mean there were several tables surrounded by people devouring seafood with piles of beer cans, peanut shells and discarded shellfish all around on the floor.  Below you can see the selection kept in colorful tanks, easy to point and eat.  The method is that you get thick square pieces of sesame rice rice paper that you dip in a very questionable water trough rotating 90 degrees until it softens, then roll it up with basil, cilantro, lettuce and bitter melon along with what you see below (sardines with onions and peanuts, oysters and we had crab with a peanut sauce and a creamy garlic sauce). 

The next day we didn't actually know what we wanted to do, which means we sat around having tea with Sau, then had an egg banh mi and decided we should use the scooter we rented. We just knew that we had about 60km of road to the north with a big national park, so we picked up some snacks on the way out of town and tore up the coast.  Along the way we started noticing a lot of vineyards and took note for the ride back.  Right before you enter the national park there is an an entrance to Hang Rai (Otter Cave).  The coastline here looks like the Mediterranean and once you climb out past the rocks you are standing on a massive coral reef with huge cauldrons that catch and then drain water back into the ocean.

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Farther along we climbed some small passes and drove through Vinh Hy, a quaint fishing village, and towards the north end of the park we emerged onto an expansive coastline with endless inlets and beaches that would take days to explore.  We kept going, getting tempted deeper into our desire to hang out on the best beach we could find.  Around every bend it seemed there was a better one, but wait, whats around the next bend, ok we need to check that one out.  Before we knew it we were nearing the end of the park and then we came around the next bend and saw the biggest crescent of white sand we had seen.  We had no idea how to get to it, which would take some time staring at google maps and many false starts, wrong turns and speculation.  We had to back track off-roading for a few kilometers to actually get to the beach and then bush wack through a narrow band of trees, but then we emerged onto our own private paradise.  With the exception of some of the trash this was one of those magical places.  It was the epitome of "travel" for us, beginning with a vague notion of exploring the coast and stumbling upon a place that felt special.  It is a rare moment to find something that feels unique because it is easier getting corralled into the experiences that others have had.  We are not deceived into thinking that no other people have been to this beach, however, in this moment it was something that felt real, felt special, if only because it was just us two floating in the turquoise waters.

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 The beach at Binh Tien

The beach at Binh Tien

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On the ride home we did indeed stop to sample the wine and it was also a very "unique" experience.  It tasted like a sweet vinegar, almost like a tonic that we would later mix with soda water to make a very refreshing beverage.  So it was not the Napa Valley of Vietnam, but in a way the tangy grape alcohol that bakes in a glass case all day in the Vietnamese sun was just what we needed to make the rest of the drive back to Ninh Chu beach and catch our overnight train to up to Da Nang for our next stop, Hoi An.