Thursday, 25 January 2018

Vietnam, day 9: Coral and Cauliflower - Buffet Beneath the Waves

Con Son, Vietnam
22 May 2017
All night a storm raged around the Con Dau Islands. We would fall asleep in a lull of rain, only to be woken shortly by deafening raindrops pelting the roof. Even when the storm moved away, and we could count eight seconds between the flash of lightning and the peal of thunder, we could feel the building rock. For all our good intentions of going to bed early, the rain coupled with noisy hotel guests banging about the corridor at ungodly hours meant that we didn't achieve a perfect eight hours' sleep.  Tired as we were, we were excited to go snorkelling, so we threw on our clothes and rushed down to the shoreline. 
Though it had been hours since any rain, the storm had an impact on our day. The seas were choppy (though thankfully I didn't experience any seasickness), and the island that we had been planning to visit was swapped for the larger Hon Bay Canh.

The boat captain told us of how sea turtles laid eggs all around Con Dau and Bay Canh boasts one of Vietnam's largest turtle conservations. During nesting seasons, forest rangers work day and night to protect the turtles as unfortunately, poaching is still an issue.
Once the boat was anchored, we were given snorkelling masks and sent out into the water! With the waves, it was a bit disconcerting at first, as I was afraid that the water would go over my snorkel and I would inhale liquid. I needn't have been afraid, as the waves weren't that large and Yannick helped me though the rise in panic. Before long, we were floating around and gazing at all the different fish and coral. Another of the storm effects was that some sand was tossed up from the seabed, meaning that in places visibility was murky and the bright colours of the coral didn't stand out as much as it should have. However, we did find some really good patches where the colours stood out like neon, and even in the muted areas, the experience was brilliant. Coral sprouted from all over the sea floor in so many different shapes and colours. One of the most common types looked exactly like a brain, and was named accordingly. There was also a type of coral that looked like a mushroom, another that was super pointy, and one that looked like a cauliflower. We saw hundreds of fish: in schools, on their own nibbling at algae, flitting in and out of coral, big fish, tiny fish, and even one jet black fish that I followed for a while like chasing a shadow. Yannick hoped to catch sight of a stingray but missed out. We saw sea cucumbers instead (which I initially took for knobbly logs).

Back aboard, we snacked on fruit and drank tea and coffee. We chatted with the English guy who ran the company with his wife, and also the two other snorkellers for the day - Phong and Nicole. It was lovely to have such a small group, and I felt very grateful for picking Rainbow Divers over another company. (We saw another boat pull up near us at one point that looked like it could fit a couple of dozen passengers, and that would have been a much less personal experience.) We chatted about our housesitting days and where we were from. Phong, who was visiting from the US, told us about how his parents were from Can Tho and fled Vietnam during the American War. They were housed in a Malaysian refugee camp for a time before being granted placement in the US. Wanting to try out Phi Yen restaurant now that we had discovered its top secret location, we invited Phong and Nicole to dinner that night.
Before heading back to Con Son, we stopped once more at another snorkelling spot. I was exhausted, so stayed in the boat, but Yannick went out for another paddle around. When we found ourselves back on dry land, we beelined for the hotel and I passed out immediately, in desperate need of a nap. I was very unaccustomed to swimming, or any other exercise apart from light walking.

In the evening we went for a wander of the town. It was our last full day on the island and we were keen to take it all in. We walked past the square where the market is held everyday, and then visited Villa Maison one last time for the amazing passionfruit juice.

On the way to the waterfront, we passed through the main intersection in the town, which has one of the only traffic lights on the island. We sat on the concrete retaining wall by the pier for a spell, until the biting bugs became too annoying, and then wandered through a park.

Once darkness fell, it was time to meet for dinner. I ordered a chanh da (lemon juice, sugar and water) that was becoming a favourite of mine, and as usual, the staff attentiveness was lacklustre. As for the food, it was fairly unimpressive aside from a hella moreish plate of garlicky morning glory. For dessert, Phong led us in a hunt for chè, aka dessert. I was unconvinced that we would find a designated chè place, considering how small the town was, but lo and behold! A chè place was found. I don't think I'll ever get over having beans or sweetcorn in dessert... They ordered two chès, with mung beans and coconut milk and jellies. I was too full to partake, but Yannick said they were surprisingly tasty. Phong spoke a bit of Vietnamese, and was able to teach us a few handy pronunciations and phrases, such as "do you have vegetarian food?" With full bellies and heavy hearts, we returned to our hotel, our last evening on Con Son spent.