Photos by my husband Anthony ‘John’ Hill
Draft extract from my travel memoir
We got a taxi from Dong Hoi train station to our place. It was a hostel, with a bar with a pool table downstairs. Our room was up a couple of short flights of stairs and at one end of a long marble corridor. At the other end of the corridor was a small balcony with a view out onto the street below. In the middle divider of the wide empty street were bright pink flower signs, like metal sweets, precise symmetrical cut out flower shapes. Within the row of pink flower signs was a small cube on a pole with screens showing orange and red flowers, maybe advertisements? It was like a much smaller version of the big screen wall of waterfalls and advertisements by the river in Phnom Penh.
We went back to the noodle place and used a translation app to write our order in Vietnamese, vegetarian, for two people, tofu, noodles and vegetables. Two beautiful dishes of food arrived, light, nutritious and delicious, tasty fried tofu and a good variety and plenty of vegetables including spring onions and mushrooms. By pointing to the menu we also ordered peach iced tea. That peach iced tea was probably the most delicious thing we had tasted all year. It came in tall glasses with long spoons, a deliciously sweet cold drink with lots of ice and big slices of slippery tinned peaches, heavenly.
Nearby, between the tofu place and the sea, was an old building which looked a bit like a church, incongruous amongst the mainly utilitarian buildings and plain streets.
Dong Hoi was so quiet, we assumed it was still because of Tet but when we asked the man at the guesthouse he said that no, it was always like this. Only our place seemed busy.
At night the pink flowers became just lights and looked completely different. By day they were pink metal stylised but obvious flower shapes, by night there were no signs of pink or flowers just bright white lights. There was a light dot in the centre of each petal so that in the dark it looked like circle of dots, and one in the middle. Again it looked like it was inspired by the lights of Phnom Penh, a minor version, nice yet a bit incongruous for a quiet street.
There were lots of young tourists and backpackers there, mainly Westerners doing cave tours etc. We watched new arrivals get pounced upon on arrival and organised into booking excursions.
In the evenings we went for walks, looking for places for coffee or beer, sometimes looking at the map for places of interest but mostly just wandering. One time, a big dog followed us and wouldn’t leave us alone. It was more embarrassing than scary, we thought we’d have to go in somewhere and ask them to help us but eventually it left us alone.
Once we walked to the beach, there was nothing there, no shops or stalls, no tourist facilities, it was very different to Cambodia.
By the sea near us there were pretty colourfully painted boats. On the grass near the prom there was a family group, several men, and women and kids sitting on a picnic blanket, with loads of beer cans! And during the day on Sunday and in evenings, there were people relaxing in hammocks slung from the trees there.
Little huts stood on stilts in the river behind raised nets like the Chinese fishing nets of Kochi. We watched a person in a coracle go from the hut to under the centre of the net, check the centre of the net which hung down like nipple above the water. I assumed it had an opening hole for getting the caught fish out and that he was checking that it was closed. Then he went back to the hut and lowered the net into the water, via ropes.
In the river there were blue plates, square or rectangular, a lamp, gold with broken flower glass or shell. Were they put into the river as a prayer? Were they simply discarded or broken? The things shining, beautiful and strange looking in the murky water, and lots of thin plastic bags upside down under the water, floating like jelly fish.
I watched a Vietnamese woman on a bicycle, she had on bright pink trousers, and black bin bags of stuff loaded on her bicycle. It was a typical scene. I thought the same about another woman ahead of me in the street, wearing a Vietnamese hat and a purple velvet top and matching loose slightly cropped purple velvet trousers, a thin plastic carrier bag in each hand. A pure image: traditional cone hat, colourful velvet suit and thin plastic carrier bags.
One evening there was a big storm, lots of rain, thunder and lightning. After it finished we stepped out, from our room, through the noisy hostel bar and out into the street and flowers, maybe chrysanthemums, they were yellow and smelled a bit like ragwort but nice, strong, permeating the air. It reminded me of the first rains of the pre monsoon and the smell after. I love rain. Well, in the heat anyway.
We watched the film The Lady in the Van which was very timely given how much time and energy we spent worrying about The Future. Anthony said, ‘But she was okay, she lived in a van, in the end, rich or poor, everyone dies.’ The point being that lack of security didn’t really matter, she lived anyway, and no amount of security can stop you getting ill and dying.
The curtain pole in our room in Dong Hoi looked as though it were made of silver hologram wrapping paper. The white pole had a serrated curved and curled finish, as if it had been twisted, and with the light it sparkled like glitter. I briefly thought about just photographing things like this rather than writing about them.
Thank you very much for reading
About the author
Sold house, left career, gave away almost everything else. With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India. Here are my India highlights. Now back in the UK, living on a narrowboat, and writing a book about the trip, a spiritual/travel memoir, extracts from which appear regularly on this blog.