Rob and I took the Ho Chi Minh highway north for a few more hours of scenery as we climbed and wound our way through more of the national park. Soon enough, the karst mountains became karst hills shooting up amongst fields of rice and other crops. We found the highway through numerous small towns passing stretches with trucks heading to Laos.Our first night back on the road, we stayed in the small town of Tam Ky. Trying to find dinner, we wandered around for almost an hour before finding a place with people eating. A group of locals beckoned us to the table next to theirs and started plying us with beers. We soon learned how cheers with beers goes: The person offering the toast specifies how much of the beer you drink – in this case, the other group was already pretty inebriated and insisted we drink the whole beer each time. Somehow, they managed to chug the same amount with us. Finally, after three beers we got some food to help absorb the beer, but it was a bit too late. After another toast in which I tried to negotiate drinking less of the beer, I gave up and left the table when they insisted on another. Instead, Rob had to drink my beer too. At this point, we paid and tried to leave, but ended up getting sucked in for a few rounds of photos with our fellow beer drinkers and another family at the hotel next door. Our next day of driving was fairly uneventful. We found a great chicken restaurant for lunch in some small town. There were two different tables of green uniformed men, one older, one younger, both with multiple bottles of the Men brand vodka. Another big group with families had women letting their little girls try out their lipstick. We tried to order some stir-fried greens and chicken and ended up with chicken and green soup. The chicken was some of the best we’d had.
At one point, there was a horrible rotting smell that wouldn’t quit. Eventually, we passed a truck selling durian and realized we’d been following it for awhile. We made a detour by the remains of the Ho Citadel, which consisted mainly of 4 gates and some of the walls. The area inside the walls is now filled with rice fields. Toward the end of the day, we started passing more karst jutting up from the fields again as we neared Tam Coc, the Halong Bay on land.