I had a free day on Sunday, so Xuân organised a picnic with the Nam Phap church class. They decided to go to a place along the road to Hạ Long Bay, called Lửng Xanh. It's a very pretty waterfall, but it's a rugged climb up a stream to get there, and several people had told me it would be too difficult for me, so it was with some trepidation that I agreed to go. We met bright and early at Vimaru University... at first, Xuân had suggested 6am (!!!) but I wouldn't be in that... even 7.30 seemed pretty extreme to me! As it turned out, Khánh slept in, so we got there 30 minutes late anyway. Even so, others arrived after us and our convoy of a dozen or so bikes headed off shortly after. I had my camera out, so I took photos along the way.
It's pretty grotty in the city, but once you get out among the rice paddies, it's beautiful
Many of the limestone outsrops are being quarried and it's not unusual to see half a hillside.
The traffic is pretty crazy ... especially the buses. They speed along, tearing past every other vehicle with horn blasting, on the wrong side of the road, like this one. Khánh stayed in the side lane to keep out of their way.
We turned off the main road at Uông Bí. This gorgeous clock tower decorated the roundabout in the centre of town. There are several power plants here, so the town has a very industrial feel to it. Once we headed out of town into the countryside the road quickly degenerated...
Not only did Khánh's trusty 110cc bike have to contend with this sort of track, in places it was so steep that he had to kick back to first to get up the mountain with such a load on (me...), but we made it.
We all gathered again at the staging post at the bottom of the track. Lửng Xanh is on private property, but they are well equipped to handle plenty of hardy hikers. With such a large group, it took a while to get everyone organised, so we amused ourselves taking photos... way too many to blog them all...
That's the track behind us. At this stage it's easy and we walked for a few minutes till we came to a place with two big swimming pools (not yet ready for summer).
Tinh was back in Hải Phòng this weekend for his graduation, so it was a added blessing to have him join us for our picnic. He was by my side all the way to the top, helping me over the rough spots.
Here we exchanged our shoes for plastic slip-ons, since it was climbing up the stream bed the rest of the way (so much for me relying on my good walking shoes for support!). They had lockers here for hire, too.
Then another section of easy path to the next stop.
All up, between us Xuân and I took 256 photos ... but not one of the lovely deep rock pool at this spot. You can just see the edge of it behind him. Next time I'll get one. The water looked so cool and inviting I would love to have jumped right in!
And that's where we said goodbye to the easy path. The rest of the way was much more strenuous. As we clambered over rocks and sploshed through water
Kỳ found me a strong bamboo staff, which was great for maintaining my balance, but it wasn't long before I was very hot and sweaty! Xuân took over my camera, so there are lots more photos with me in them than usual!
Several of the strong young men gave me a hand along the way, and they were very encouraging. There was one spot though where I had to get up onto a higher rock jumping over a wide gap, and I can't jump... I baulked, but there was no other way. Tinh and Kỳ insisted they were strong enough to haul me up and on the count of three they did just that... made it look easy, bless them!!
After a long climb we came to the first waterfall. It was such a pretty place. We had a bit of a rest, but only long enough to take more photos...
Dương, Quỳnh and Xuân
Dương and Linh
Xuân with some of the pretty girls - Dương, Angie, Phượng and Nga
We headed up the steep stair on the right to the top of these falls, but there was no way I could climb up to the next stage, so Xuân led Khánh, Quỳnh, Kỳ and me up into the bush on the hillside to scramble up a barely discernable path to get to our picnic spot. It was so steep we had to grab onto trees etc, but I found out you don't grab bamboo if it has leaves or you get hundreds of tiny spikes in your hand! We made it and came out the other end (somewhat dirtier than everyone else though!). And this is what we came for...
You can see up behind Quỳnh, the hillside we climbed to get here.
I must admit I was pretty exhausted by the time we arrived, so it was lovely to just sit and cool off a bit! I had bamboo prickles on my top and that's what I rubbing at in this photo (not having a scratch...)
Our picnic lunch consisted of bread rolls with pate, fresh cucumber and sweet pineapple. It is lovely to see how everyone pitches in here. The food was carried up in plastic bags, and someone had brought a knife or two. There were bottles of water, some popcorn and rice crackers and we had a feast!
As you can see, with so many of us, the bamboo platform was pretty crowded. We all took lots of photos ... not many had cameras, but nearly everyone has a mobile phone.... Only a couple of people went for a swim. I had brought swimmers (in my backpack, which several lovely boys took turns to carry for me) but there was nowhere to change up here. Next time I come, I'll wear clothes to swim in and leave a dry change back at the lockers... which is what some of the girls did. We all got wet legs wading anyway.
Nga, Yen and Tinh with Khánh in the background.
Angie and Xuân
After a while, most of the group decided to climb over the falls and explore the plateau at the top. A handful stayed behind (including yours truly), but Xuân took my camera so I have many photos to show me what it's like...
Yup, way too steep for me!!
No shortage of poses for the camera!
The cloud cover dropped and the mist set in by the time they headed back. Meanwhile, I was very aware of the fact that I would be having to take it slowly to get back down the mountain and the last thing I wanted was to have everyone queueing up waiting for me to clamber down the rough patches, so I suggested to Khánh and Quỳnh that we might head out before the others came back, then I could stop and rest if and when I needed to. There were eight of us who had stayed behind, and they all decided to come too.
This time it was Khánh and Quỳnh who helped me over the rocks. My leg muscles were tired by then, so I sat and rested a couple of times on the way down ... very glad to be taking it slowly.
We stopped and waited at the bottom of the stream at the first deep swimming hole for the energetic ones to come down. Some of them were saturated.
This is Nga and Yen at the bottom of the stream climbing section.
We swapped our plastic shoes for our own to walk down the path back to the bikes. Khánh had a soccer match to go and play (... he's playing soccer for a couple of hours... I can hardly walk!!) so we didn't wait for the last ones to come down the track. Xuân was the organiser of the day, so he had to wait another half an hour for the stragglers to show.
There were some lovely close-ups among the hundreds of photos Xuân and I took, so here are some of them
And this is me, having another fabulous day with my gorgeous friends.