Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Vietnam, day 6: Chilli Supplements for the Most Jacked Fruits

Con Son, Vietnam
19 May 2017
Yannick's sunburn had not magically disappeared overnight, so we slathered him in aloe vera gel and decided to avoid the beach that day.
We returned to Infiniti Cafe and enjoyed the quirky surroundings while sipping on some juice for breakfast. I resolved to be adventurous and order the Vietnamese tea. I'm glad I tried it, although the taste was too reminiscent of seaweed for my liking so I stuck to green tea and Lipton from then on.

Taking a quick detour to the market, I bought a pineapple which had been skinned in that attractive spiral way, and the fruit vendor threw in a little bag of chilli salt for free! Though I wasn't a big fan of the pineapple chilli salt combo, I went mad for it with jackfruit.

Once we were suitably fructosed up, we perused the museum Bao Tang Con Dau, which was a surprisingly modern building and free to enter. There were far more exhibits than I was anticipating, with a range from prehistoric fossils to the French colonial era and beyond.

We read much about the 'prison period' of Con Dau, which I'll get into more later when we visited the actual prisons. Long story short: humans have an astounding capacity to be massive dicks to each other. I think most people would be shocked to find just how cruel people can be. 

For afternoon refreshments we returned to Villa Maison and had tea, ca phe sua da and passionfruit juice (which is already the most amazing thing, but they make it THE BEST here by straining out the seeds and shaking it around in a tumbler so that it gets icy cold but ice isn't left in to water it down). Once I expressed admiration for the beautiful teapots, the owner told me that they're made in Vietnam from imported Spanish clay. In a dining area adjacent to us, we could hear a large party eating lunch and having a great time. Various dishes would be carried in, leaving delightful smells to waft over us.
After retiring to our hotel room to suffer the heat of the day laying down watching Netflix, we set out again to see one of the prisons. 

Trai Phu Hai is the largest and one of the oldest prisons in the Con Dau archipelago. The French established many prisons across the island during the colonial period to incarcerate the most dangerous political prisoners that they didn't want on mainland Vietnam.

This particular prison had ten of these large cells in which up to 250 prisoners at a time could be housed, naked and shackled by the ankle to long metal bars. The solitary cells were similarly horrific.

During our visit, we were joined by a large group of Vietnamese tourists. Apparently it's not uncommon for people who were imprisoned on Con Son or their family members to come on a trip to see the prisons. Perhaps it provides some sort of closure for them. As well as the cells, there was a kitchen and a church (which had been built in the time of the American War and was allegedly never used).

From there we took a short walk and intended to enter the tiger cages, but they were closing for the day. So instead, we went to the Hang Duong Cemetery. On the way was a rather imposing set of gates that led to a temple.

Known as Den tho Con Dau (or simply: Con Dau Temple), this is where many funerary ceremonies are held before remains are deposited at the cemetery. Photos don't do it justice, as it was not only a large temple, but beautifully designed, with intricate draconian roof carvings and pleasing topiaries.
Then, as we attempted to pass through the cemetery's archway, a man emerged from a small incense shop, miming that we were not permitted entrance as our clothing was too small. Everyone else we saw going inside the cemetery had donned trousers, and knowing that we wouldn't survive being outdoors on Con Dau in trousers, we made peace with the fact that we would never see that cemetery.
Our journey back to our hotel was fraught with danger! Only a short way down the gravel road leading away from the cemetery, we could see a dogfight taking place a few hundred meters away. We watched from a distance, unsure of how to proceed. I thought that they might settle down after a few minutes, but when a passing motorcyclist was chased, sharp teeth nipping at his retreating wheels, we figured that we were stuck. There was no way we were going to try walking past them, and as far as Google Maps was concerned, that was our only option out of there. Scoping out the possibilities (one being stampeding wildly through the jungle hoping to reach another road at some point), Yannick spotted a taxi driver in the cemetery's carpark. With the use of gestures and Google Translate, we were able to convey the direness of our predicament and he very kindly agreed to drive us down the road so that he didn't have mauled tourists on his conscience.

After some chilling at the hotel, we had dinner at a rudimentary noodle restaurant and then moved on to Bar 200. The menu was an eclectic mix of tropical and continental (such as baked beans on toast), seemingly because the owner of the bar was South African. We enjoyed our cocktails - a pina colada and a cosmopolitan - and had a brief chat with the owner before settling in for the night with some more Netflix using our high-speed data plans, which worked much better than the wifi.