I know I said my next blog would be about the Ha Giang loop but that was before Vietnam went and won the Suzuki cup and we had the most amazing night in Ha Giang. As I said we took the bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang on Saturday the 16th of December to start the Ha Giang motorbike loop on the Sunday. The bus journey was actually really nice as the bus was so comfy. The boys just passed out after rocking in at stupid o’clock the night before. We already knew that Vietnam was playing the second leg of the football final tonight so had planned to watch it somewhere in Ha Giang. When we check into our hostel called Chopai, the owner invited us to join him and his friends for dinner in a restaurant where we would watch the football and eat food together. We happily agreed to join him. The football match started 7.30 pm so at just before 7 we headed out, the group consisted of us 4 boys, the 3 staff from the hostel and 3 German guests staying at the hostel, we were then joined by 4 Vietnamese lads at the restaurant. The restaurant was also full of Vietnamese. During the day we had brought some Vietnamese flag headbands, so were already wearing this when we turned up at the restaurant, but we were quickly decorated in stickers of the Vietnam flag too. We sat down to enjoy the large spread that had been put on for us. There were two massive hot pots, loads of different meats and seafood, vegetables, potatoes, tofu and finally mountains of instant noodle packets. Before we even had a chance to take our first bites of food though the rice wine was out. We all stood and took a shot after chanting some Vietnamese song, you basically repeat the same phrase 3 times (It was something like Mot hai ba dzo, which translates to 1,2,3 cheers) then down your shot before shaking hands with everyone around the table. After drinking our rice wine shot we finally got down to eating some of the hot pot. All the meat was put in first to cook followed by the vegetables and once all the vegetables had gone after being replenished several times, along with the broth in the hot pot all the instant noodles were cooked. The food was delicious and a great companion to sitting enjoying the football in the background on a large screen set up in the restaurant.
I must admit I didn’t really see too much of the game as we were too busy eating, talking and drinking ridiculous amounts of rice wine! However, the score from the previous leg was 2-2, plus that game was played in Malaysia, meaning Vietnam had two away goals giving them a significant advantage going into the second leg game. Early in the first half Vietnam scored and the whole restaurant erupted! I think we drunk about 4 rice wine shots in the space of 4 minutes after the goal to celebrate. The rest of the game was pretty uneventful, but with about 5 minutes to go, it was clear Vietnam was going to win with Malaysia needing 2 goals to prevent the trophy going home with Vietnam. The whole restaurant was singing and chanting, we obviously joined in as best we could and even started the chorus of Olay Olay Olay! There were people banging ladles on metal trays and everything it was amazing! The final whistle blew, and Vietnam had won the cup!
Before I move onto talk about the crazy celebrations that erupted in the streets of Ha Giang, I first need to talk a little bit about the meal itself. As I said the food was great, but the amount of rice wine drunk was something else. Every few minutes your shot glass would be filled again, and we would all be stood up shouting Mot hai ba dzo before necking our drink. Rice wine is all we drank all night and over the space of about 2 hours, we had around 20 shots each. There was bottle after bottle of it flowing round. It even turned up in measuring jugs and another table had a whole jerry can of the stuff which they filled a massive bowl in the centre of the table. The taste wasn’t exactly great but after drinking the first few that was soon forgotten. Additionally, people from other tables were coming over to ours to toast with us and drink more shots. We were then told we had to go walk around to other tables and introduce ourselves, whereby we would then do a shot with everyone on that table. Overall, it’s one of the most ridiculous but amazing meals out I’ve ever had. The food was great and so was the company, where in England would people eating an evening meal go around and mingle with the other tables before giving them a shot and drinking it with them. The Vietnamese people are possibly the kindest I’ve ever met. So once the football had finished we quickly settled the bill, so we could all rush out onto the streets and celebrate. We were a bit worried about how much it was going to set us back seeing as the mountains of food that had been consumed and even more worrying the amount of rice wine which had been drunk. We needn’t have worried the total for each of us was 110,000 dong (sounds a lot I know but 30,000 dong is £1 so the meal and drink cost us all of £3.66).
Now suitably full and equally tipsy we ran onto the streets of Ha Giang chanting footballs coming home and Vietnam baby! The centre of town was carnage. Cars and mopeds beeped their horns, people crowded the streets chanting and singing and many red flares were let off as well. We very quickly joined in with all the celebration. Jumping around chanting, Vietnam Vo Dich (Vietnam Champions) and high fiving all the locals. I was even handed one of the flares and proceeded to parade around the street waving it above my head! The celebration then moved from the roundabout we were on further down to the centre of town where a big screen had been erected for the public and where many locals had watched the game. Here the crowd was even more numerous, music was blaring out with people singing and dancing in the street. More flares were let off and we joined in a with a group of men dancing on plastic stools. While here we even got hold of some Vietnamese flags and started waving these around. The flags were very makeshift though with one being attached to a golf club haha! We even had locals coming to take photos of these westerns celebrating Vietnams successful and everyone was so welcoming and kind towards us. There was even a local news outlet filming the reactions to the victory and we were even interviewed via the use of our hostel owner as a translator. They asked us some question about what we thought of the football but Ollie and I just waffled on about how grateful we were to be in Vietnam to celebrate their win, how kind everyone had been and how happy we were for Vietnam. The hostel guy said we went on for so long he couldn’t translate it all haha. Guess that was a mix of the rice wine and jubilant atmosphere taking hold of us. Unfortunately, we didn’t make the local news the following day (would have taken about 2 minutes to show our interview). After the celebrations started to die down a little we headed with the other hostel guests and owners to a bar for a few beers before we finally headed back to the hostel for bed around 11 pm. Not the ideal preparation before starting a 4-day motorbike tour at 9 am the next morning but it was well worth it. It was so lucky to be in Vietnam when they won the football competition but what an unforgettable experience. The Vietnamese certainly know how to celebrate, and they made such excellent hosts. Everyone was so welcoming of us and as I’ve already said are the nicest group of people I’ve ever met. I imagine the scenes in England would have been similar with everyone pouring out onto the street if we would have won the world cup, but I know full well it would have gone way too far, with people damaging and wrecking stuff like we saw even when we made it to the semi-final. I also guarantee people would be far less friendly and welcoming towards their fellow countrymen let alone foreigners celebrating some different countries win. As I said before football is most certainly a universal language and it was great to experience this from a Vietnamese perspective, but English fans could take a leaf out of the Vietnamese people’s book and how they partied with one another.
I promise the next blog is about the Ha Giang Loop and its one that’s not to be missed! I have written most of it already but we are off on a to Ha Long Bay for 3 days tomorrow so may not get round to finishing it for a little while.