The holiday break in Vietnam is long and lonely. That’s what I found out the hard way when I experienced it personally. While they do not have a long Christmas break, their ‘New Year’s break’ or Tet holidays could last up to a month. During this long break, most business operations come to a halt and some buses even stop plying their routes on certain days. In the city of Bac Ninh, in particular, things can get so eerily quiet and cold that you’ll end up shedding a tear or two while scanning through your Facebook newsfeed. So, imagine my relief when my translator Trinh decided to invite me on a trip to Lang Son Province in northern Vietnam. Trinh’s entire family has this yearly pilgrimage and she thought that since I had nothing better to do, the trip would be good for me.
And I have to say she wasn’t wrong. 🙂
Journey to Lang Son, Vietnam
Trinh’s instruction was to wait by the side of the road at 4 am. A coaster would stop to pick me up and a seat would be ready for me. She also gave me at least three tablets to make sure that I don’t feel drowsy and puke.
At exactly 4:00 am, a coaster stopped in front of the park in front of my house. When the door opened, Trinh looked out and told me to get in. Inside, the coaster was filled to the rafters. They were Trinh’s parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and neighbors. I made a slight bowing gesture and said Xin Chao! Trinh obviously has already told them about me because one of her uncles replied, “Pilipin?” I said, “Vang!” which means yes. The uncle quickly answered, “Pilipino Ajinomoto!” Everyone laughed in their seats. I, too, chuckled as I quickly walked towards my seat next to Trinh. I thought to myself, “wait till you hear my family name!” Hahaha!
When I woke up a few hours later, the sun was already up and the coaster was parked in front of a road-side restaurant. We’re stopping for breakfast.
A quick trip to the restroom. It’s a free-for-all, basically.
They bought pho for everyone. I didn’t eat a lot because I wasn’t sure if the tablets that I took were effective. I didn’t want to be known as the Filipino guy who had to vomit every 100 kilometers or so. After eating, everyone was back in the coaster.
Arriving in Lang Son, Vietnam
The next time I woke up, we were already in Dong Dang in Lang Son, Vietnam. Tringh explained that Lang Son is very close to the Chinese borders. And that, as a matter of fact, the other side of that mountain behind our coaster was already China. Cool!
After finding a parking space, we all got off the coaster and walked towards a very crowded area. Carrying food, drinks, and other offerings, we slowly made our way to the Mau Temple.
I saw many interesting elements inside their temple that I wished Trinh explained to me fully. This paper figures, for example, are very popular wherever I go.
The temple was swarming with people. According to one of Trinh’s uncles, some of these people come all the way from Southern Vietnam. And just like us, they are on their yearly pilgrimage.
While some members of the team went in to pray and leave the offerings, we waited at the terrace which offered a great view of the courtyard below.
When everyone was done, we descended the stairs towards the courtyard where the rest of the members of our team were waiting.
Those who could no longer climb up, simply pray and give their offerings at the foot of the stairs.
Outside the temple, the streets are full of life. There’s food everywhere. And since I didn’t eat a lot during breakfast, I admit, I was feeling kinda hungry! 🙂
This lady is selling grilled chicken, grilled chicken liver, and grilled baguette!
As per tradition, we all went straight to the busy market for some quick ‘pasalubong’ shopping.
Since chestnuts are not very popular in the Philippines, I really enjoyed watching these vendors roasting them in charcoal and rocks.
One of Trinh’s uncles is interested in buying this very popular giant ornamental fan with Chinese characters on it.
A Memorable Lunch
After a few minutes at the market, it was time for lunch. Our restaurant was situated right next to a lake and the view was spectacular!
Now knowing fully well that the tablets worked, I was ready to eat a lot! Haha. I was seated at the men’s table where all kinds of dishes were served. Trinh failed to tell me, however, that at the center of every celebratory dinner is the traditional rice wine. Oh no! Haha.
Each person is given a glass and it is filled repeatedly during the whole meal. When should one drink the rice wine, you ask? You drink when someone offers a toast, when you offer a toast, when someone challenges you to a toast, and practically when someone in the table initiates a toast. I am in trouble! Hahaha!
Fortunately, Trinh knew that I don’t drink. So she was able to tell the guys in the able to ‘exempt’ me from all the free-flowing wine. Hehe. The guys laughed at first but they soon knew I was serious as they no longer expected me to drink. They still wanted me to physically raise my glass during a toast, though, and would sometimes quip that it would be great if I, too, would take small sips every now and then. Hahaha.
Here’s a group photo of Trinh’s big (and very friendly) family. Thank you guys so much! 🙂
Back on the Road
Several minutes later, we were back on the coaster for the next part of our trip. This time, I knew for sure that the tablets were working because I didn’t feel dizzy at all. A few hours later, the coaster slowed down and stopped at another road-side market.
We were at another popular market and, of course, a quick shopping spree was in order.
Trinh enjoying her chocolate ice cream!
These Peking ducks sold at the market are huge!
This market is known for quality blades, chopping boards, and a whole lot more. In the end, our coaster was a few kilos heavier than it was before we stopped.
That’s it! I hope you enjoyed my journey in Lang Son, Vietnam. On my next blog, I will tell you all about our next and final stop in Bac Le.