Sang’s family

After taking almost three hours to get to Sang’s guesthouse we finally made it. Drenched head to toe from heavy rain we climbed off the bikes and were escorted into his home. I was so relieved the journey was over. We waded through heavy traffic in the dark, in torrential rain. The road was filled with huge lorries that forced all the bikes to the pot hole filled dirt tracks on the side of the road, made worse by puddles covering their true depths! I had to stop ever few minutes because I was so scared. What have I done? I don’t even know how to ride a motorbike and I’m pretty sure everyone around me knows that too! I was reluctant to continue the journey but I had no choice. The encouragement from Pete and Sang kept me going until we finally arrived.

Pure relief overwhelmed me as we walked into his house and slumped on the nearest chairs. “Oh my god” Sang giggled politely. “wow I have been to Ho Chi Minh many times and never has it taken that long to get home!” I apologised profoundly but he dismissed my response. From just meeting this man the night before, he had already showed us such kindness and was so willing to help in whatever way he could. There was no way we would have found his place if he didn’t lead us there and there’s no way I would have stayed on that bike if without his gentle encouragement.

We arrived at around 8:00pm starving hungry. To add to my guilt Sang had rang his sister three hours ago to ask her to start preparing dinner as we would be there in an hour, or three should I say! So dinner was ready and waiting a long time ago. After briefly meeting his family we had a quick shower and headed back downstairs for our late dinner. Sang told us that they had just prepared a small something because tomorrow we would cook something big with them. Well, what came out was hardly a small something. Four or five plates full of different foods. All Vietnamese of course and they all looked delicious! So far Pete and I had been reluctant to try local food as we’d never know what it really was we were eating. The fear of dog meat always entered my head! But eating with a local who speaks fluent English really helped. The food was delicious to say the least. The best food I’ve had in Southeast Asia so far and that was just the begging trust me. As I’m writing this I am reminiscing the amazing tastes and flavours!

He then gave us a tour of the guesthouse. As we went to walk up the stairs he opened a fridge full off beer, fizzy drinks and water. “Please” He said. “My home is your home. Take any drinks you want when ever, you don’t have to ask”. Is this for real? I thought as I followed him up the winding staircase. The building had six floors and a rooftop garden. Sang had it built himself all to his specifications. He showed us two huge dorm rooms that were clean and beautifully decorated and then showed us to our double room which was just as beautiful. The place was like a modern art house. The walls were hung with interesting pictures he had taken on his many travels around Asia. I can honestly say it was the most elegant, clean and stunningly decorated guesthouse I had seen so far (and I am still yet to find any better!) But sadly due to its location in a city that is not yet recognised as a tourist destination, Sang struggles to find regular guests. His goal is to get his home town of Bein Hoa on the map and bring business for not only himself but his whole community. Amazing man right? That night we slept soundly in a comfortable, air conditioned room. It was bliss!

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The next day Sang had arranged a day trip for us to a nearby garden and animal park.  The main reason we were going was to ride an Ostrich! I thought it would be a fun experience but as we walked up to the enclosure my animal lover instincts closed in on me. Although I wanted to ride an Ostrich for the experience, I wasn’t too happy with the way they were kept. Some of their feathers had come out from where people grabbed hold of them whist riding and they looked a little distressed in my opinion. I had already bought my ticket (Which to be honest was only 50cents!) but I decided to give it a miss and gave Pete my ticket. He had two rides and we got a few pictures. I didn’t mind if he wanted to do it but I felt better just watching. We took walk around the beautiful gardens for a while before heading to a waterfall.

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We arrived at the waterfall and wow was it beautiful. Despite having its own natural beauty, waterfalls aren’t common in England but in places like this there are thousands to feast your eyes on. This one had been made safe for people to swim if they rented a life jacket, so we immediately jumped in without hesitation. It’s so nice to swim in cool water when you’re in a hot country and I especially like swimming in rivers. It always reminds me of my teenage years hanging out at Lydia Bridge, Shipley and the Island with my friends. You could even go through the waterfall into a little cave and watch the water cascade from inside it.

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After spending the remainder of the afternoon there we headed back to Sang’s to make dinner with his family. That night Sang had gone back to Ho Chi Minh but we stayed in Bien Hoa and helped his family prepare food. We made spring rolls, which is a classic Asian dish. They were made with diced chicken and all kinds of vegetables, some we didn’t recognise but they tasted wonderful!

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The next day we went to church at 7:00am with Sangs niece Lin and a little boy named Voo. The religion in Vietnam is 85% Buddist but in this particular city, the main religion is Catholic. It was interesting watching despite not having a clue what the Priest was saying! We then went down to the local market to buy ingredients for dinner. It was full of weird and rather strange things including dog and frogs!

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After that Pete and I had to make a journey back to Ho Chi Minh as I was having a dress made and needed to try it on. I was nervous about the journey but to my surprise it went very well and took just over an hour. A real improvement from last time! We left in the morning so it was daylight, less traffic and a sunny day which makes all the difference. We met Sang in Ho Chi Minh before heading to the dress shop. The dress was lovely but not quite how I wanted it. The language barrier proved difficult to explain but luckily Sang was there to translate. The dress would take another two days to alter, which was a bit of a dilemma since we were planning to leave soon and head north. The shop offered to send it to Sangs house to save us having to come back again so that is what they did.

Later on our way back from Ho Chi Minh we went to an outdoor pool for a swim before heading home. Because it was a spur of the moment thing, none of us had our swimwear and since we were quite far away from the guesthouse we resorted to renting and buying suits from the pool. It ended up being quite hilarious. Because of being big busted, I struggled to find any bikini tops to fit me in a place where the women are positively tiny! I was trying on tops over my bar as a large group of giggling locals boys watched! Pete was made to wear speedos as you weren’t allowed to wear shorts but the worst had to be the fact that I had to wear men’s speedos because I didn’t fit into any female bottoms! You could say I was a little intimidated to scuttle out of the changing room in my ill-fitting bikini into a pool full of local boys, hardly any girls and no westerners! But we were in a place where tourists never visit and Sang reassured us that they were only staring because they were intrigued.

That evening when we arrived home with Sang he had prepared a rooftop BBQ for us and invited his friend along. The food was amazing as usual and the beer was flowing. We got to know his very lovely friend called Joung. He liked us so much that he invited us to lunch at his place the next day. I can’t say enough how kind and genuine Southeast Asian people are. I had really hoped for a true experience getting to know the locals and spending time talking to them and learning about their culture and we really were getting it.

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The next day we had a lovely lunch at Joung’s before going to see his shop. He has his own business as a speaker maker e.g making sound systems, microphones that kind of thing. It was so nice that we were welcomed into his life as well as Sang’s. We had already told Sang we would like to visit him again one day so we told Joung we would defiantly come back to say hello to him too.

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We then drove the motorbikes all the way up to a mountain temple to see a view of Bien Hoa. The temple had huge statues of Buda and was laced with gold paint and bright colours. We spent the last of our last evening at Sang’s on his rooftop garden having dinner again. We were to leave the next morning to head off on the bikes to a town called Phan Thiet.

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The next morning it was a sad goodbye as we headed off to our next destination. We had really enjoyed our stay with Sang and his family. His guesthouse may be beautiful but it was the people that live there that made our whole experience special.  Sang may be in a comfortable position financially now but it was a long and hard road for him. Like most in these countries he was not born into wealth and faced struggles and hardships along the way to make a better life for him and his family. He has worked very hard to achieve his goals and continues to help others with bettering their lives because he has experienced himself just how hard it is. This man has gone above and beyond for his family, his community and his friends even excepting his niece as his own daughter and his friend’s son as his own in order to give them a better life. I cannot express enough how much gratitude I have for this wonderful man and I hope he continues to succeed in life.

We will defiantly be back to visit our extended family again, it has been the best experience of our trip so far. Since we’ve left we have recommended Sang’s place to everyone heading South and left his business cards everywhere. We having a running joke now eveytime we go out to eat that “the food tastes good……. But it’s not as good as Sang’s!” “Oh I might have the chicken curry…. But it’s probably not as good as Sang’s!” Anyone heading to Vietnam, if you are looking for an experience of traditional Vietnamese culture and to spend time in a beautiful place with wonderful people, look no further than Lu Khach Quan Guest House!  http://www.lukhach.com.vn

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