I’ve been putting my travels on hold for a while as I’ve been getting settled in Da Nang, finding an apartment and teaching work so I can save some money. You can read about finding an apartment in Vietnam here, and finding teaching work here.
Nong Son province is about 90km south west of Da Nang and it takes about 2-3 hours on motorbike, depending on how many times you want to stop along the way. The journey is quite easy, you can just follow the freeway until you get to the small spread of towns that dot the countryside.
This is my friends’ hometown, and she invited me to visit her parents and family. After buying some gloves, arm coverings and a face mask we set off (covered head to tow in clothes to protect us from the sun).
It was great to leave Da Nang and get on the road again, one thing I have noticed about all my travelling in Vietnam is the constant sprawl of suburbia. One town seems to merge into the next, and where there isn’t a town there is rice or banana fields with properties dotted amongst them. I saw my first rice field up close and saw plenty of women working the fields wearing the famous conical hats. It’s an amazing site, so green and lush, if it’s your first time I think you’ll find it very exotic.
Nong Son isn’t a tourist town, it’s only claim to fame is the My Son world heritage site about an hour away. It was amazing to visit an utterly local, zero tourists area. I felt it was a privilege because without my friend I wouldn’t have even known it existed.
When we arrived at her home we settled in. The morning was beautiful from the house, pockets of mist covered the tree covered small mountains, at a distance the trees looked soft and fluffy, like you could stroke them with your hand. Wild birds called to each other in the morning stillness as the cow ate it’s breakfast and the rooster sang the morning in. I mention wild birds because I haven’t seen that many in my time here, almost all the birds I have seen are kept in small cages around peoples properties. I’m not sure if they’re for good luck, feng shui or simply for the lovely songs they sing.
Poor Vietnamese living
My friend mentioned her parents were poor, and I didn’t realise how poor they were until I got there. The house is very basic, and the kitchen is outside covered with a homemade roof of tin and wood. There’s no toilet so you have to dig yourself a hole in the field near the trees. I had no problem with any of this, I was so honoured they would welcome me into their home and I loved the experience of seeing where she grew up and meeting her lovely family. The have a cow which was pregnant, a pig with 5 piglets and dozens of chickens of various ages clucking around at will. Often Moon (my friend) would point at one and jokingly say ‘dinner’, on the evening of the feast that was true, she pointed at a chicken who was happily eating and said ‘that’s dinner’. I did feel bad for the chicken who didn’t know it’s fate, but everyone enjoyed eating it in the evening.
The next morning as I was walking to do my toilet run I walked past a big load of feathers on the ground near the trees, I did feel a little sick, knowing that’s where the chicken met it’s fate, but it does happen all over the world, the only difference being in the West is you don’t see it happening, it’s all nicely packaged for you.
There are no tourists here, Moon jokingly said I’d be famous when I went and she wasn’t lying. Everywhere we went people would stare at me, if we stopped for coffee kids would gather round just to listen to us speaking English (and practise their own if they knew any). Photo’s would be taken and smiles and laughs would be aplenty as I would say ‘hello’ and wave to them.
Fruit and vegetables are everywhere in Nam Son, growing wild lining the streets or in peoples houses. Bananas, mangos, grapefruit, jackfruit, berries, herbs, star apples, watermelon. You could literally walk and pick your own (if they weren’t part of a property). I’ve gotten used to fresh food here and this was as fresh and organic as it comes. No storing it in the fridge or eating 4 day old fruit transported from a farm, you just pick it from a tree or the ground, give it a quick wash and eat it.
Like any small town in Australia I wondered ‘what do people do here?’ And it’s the same answer as anywhere else, they live their lives. There are schools, shops and cafes, but remember this is all Vietnamese style, so a cafe will be a big covered area with fans blowing, people smoking, kids playing, people laying in hammocks and laughing and having a beer after working during the day. The schools have simple classrooms containing big wooden bench tables with wooden seats and a blackboard at the front and a few fans. The shops are run out of peoples houses, usually the shop is downstairs at the front and the private space for the family is out back or upstairs.
The roads are small and cute, they’re bumpy with potholes, sometimes wide, other times only big enough for one bike. They wind and twist and despite being in the country you still need to be very alert as the road rules are loosely followed.
One evening family and friends came over and we all had a feast, I was at a table in the living room with Moon, her brother and about 6 of her brothers mates. The beers flowed with lots of ‘yo!’ as we chinked our glasses together and drank as we ate. It was delightful and despite Moon being the only other person who could speak English we all got along great. After food the guys decided to do karaoke so they called a friend and 20 minutes later a massive speaker arrived (on a bike) and the singing began. I sang Space Oddity by David Bowie. Unfortunately during the singing my emergency phone fell on the floor and smashed, so I’ve been without a phone for the last 2 weeks, and that’s why there is only one photo in this post.
You won’t see this place on TripAdvisor
During our 3 days stay we did a lot of exploring, driving around the small streets looking at the breathtaking scenery and eating food. I felt exhausted by all the early mornings and constant meeting with people, but it didn’t take away from the beauty of the country and the richness of the trip. This was true rural Vietnam, you won’t find it on Lonely Planet or Tripadvisor, but that doesn’t matter. I got to experience a truly authentic rural way of living, and I will do again when we visit again. I got to meet Moons family and it was great to talk to everyone with Moon translating or correcting my bad Vietnamese.
This is what I’m into, non tourist stuff. At the tourist sites you’ll see literally coach loads of people all with backpacks taking photos of famous places with tourists in every picture. It is nice to see the tourist places, but it doesn’t give you a sense of the real country you’re in. When you’re waking down small mud lanes, not really knowing where you’re going, being stared at or beeped at by the local residents, and sometimes having kids follow you like the pied piper, then you know you’re experiencing the real country.
Name – Nong Son
Location – 90 km south west of Da Nang
Travel time – 3 hours from Da Nang (with one rest stop)
Price – 200k-500k VND ($20). Fuel and food is very cheap.
Tourist factor – 0/10