It was the turn of the new year and the rainy season decided to take a reprieve. My former neighbour and good friend Lien was heading to a small town called Le Thuy for a family wedding.
‘Will you be able to come see me before you return to Hanoi?’
‘No I will head back to work on Tuesday.’
‘If I drive to Le Thuy on Saturday, can I meet you for coffee?’
‘You’re crazy….Sure! Why not? You can even come to the wedding.’
Hue to Dong Hoi
Since the wedding was on the Saturday, I thought I’d take the 160km drive to Dong Hoi up the dreaded AH1 on the Friday. Fortunately, traffic between the two cities wasn’t so bad and the weather was kind enough to allow for an entire day of sunshine after months of grisly rain.
Le Thuy sits at the fork of the AH1, just 30KM south from Dong Hoi. The road to the right of the fork provides this section of the AH1’s only remarkable feature, an almost empty road. I drove for kilometres between mounds of sand and some ponds too. The only buildings I saw along this road were cemeteries. I hadn’t had many opportunities to test the speeds of my bike but this was the opportunity to do it.
Around Dong Hoi
Dong Hoi sits on the coast, yet not quite on the sand. Nhat Le, the city’s nearest beach, is 3KM north of the city. Nevertheless, the city’s waterfront has been fitted with parks and walkways which have a very settling vibe after a long day’s drive. I was surprised to see that the waterfront had a few backpacker hostels and restaurants serving western style food. Obviously, to catch any stragglers rambling from Phong Nga.
It was the third time I had been to Dong Hoi and every time I had visited, I ate at Thien Y vegetarian restaurant. Hearty food on the cheap and some Buddhist accessories for sale too. One thing I’ve noticed while travelling in northern central Vietnam is that there aren’t as many vegetarian restaurants as there are in the southern regions and here they often top their rice with roasted peanuts. Small pleasures.
Around Le Thuy
Le Thuy is 30KM south of Dong Hoi and Lien wanted me at the wedding for 9am. A brisk drive got me there in good time but Le Thuy was so small that it was difficult to tell where it began and ended. After several phonecalls, I found the wedding was being held in a house just off the highway. Lien came to greet me and directed me to a nearby hotel.
The hotel hadn’t seen many guests stay the whole night. Usually, young couples use hotels for a small fee in exchange for an hour of intimacy. This became clear once I found unopened condom packets conveniently placed on the side stand.
Weddings in this part of Vietnam are known to go on for a few days with as many as 7 processions over the space of a weekend. I had arrived to find that Saturday morning’s procession only included a few close relatives and some snacks. The bride and groom weren´t even in attendance.
After some AM beers, the guests took their midday naps and I took a drive around the city. Le Thuy doesn’t really have much to offer except for some bleak viewpoints along the unusually quiet canal. I stopped off at a coffee shop until the afternoon processions resumed.
AT 2PM, I returned to the house that held the wedding. This time, it was incredibly busy and I could hardly get into the entrance. Lien told me that more attendees had arrived than the bride had invited, therefore the groom’s relatives retreated to a house nearby. Unfortunately, I too had to make way.
As we sat in the living room of one of Lien’s aunties, we talked about living in Vietnam and different cities around the country. Cold beer and food from the wedding found it’s way to us and while we weren’t quite at the wedding, the house still held a very festive atmosphere.
Vietnamese Weddings are quite different from the ones I have attended in the UK. Firstly, Vietnamese weddings include a very small amount of people and happen early in the morning. The parties after, which I would refer to as a wedding reception, include a larger amount of guests in a wedding hall or a house. Secondly, people don’t give wedding gifts to the newlyweds, they give money which is dropped into a box upon entering. This sum usually goes towards the expenses of the wedding or towards the purchase of land or a house. Thirdly, I always perceived the bride and groom to be treated like a king and queen on the day of their wedding. But in Vietnam, it would seem they play hosts at the party, greeting guests and making sure they’re being looked after.
Once the food was finished and processions were over, children and women began to depart, leaving the men to continue drinking and eventually taking the microphone for a spot of karaoke. I was taken from the living room and found the wedding reception had been turned into a drunken man party. Dancing, drinking and singing that went on until around 8PM. Even when the men had exhausted themselves, they still had enough energy to let off some cheap-black market firecrackers in the alleyway.
Although everyone was ready to go to sleep, I wanted to see the Le Thuy nightlife and pushed Lien into showing me around. Slightly drunk, it felt like we had to drive through fields to find something that was still open. Luckily, there were a few cafes that served alcoholic beverages and another round of questionable karaoke.
Drive to Hue
The next morning, I caught breakfast and said goodbye to Lien and her family before they embarked on another day of wedding processions, then I drove back to Hue. Sick of the AH1, I took the QL49B from Quang Tri which ran through a gaunlet of fishing villages and rice fields. Definitely my favourite road on the trip with little traffic and some nice bends.