Once we were standing still in time,
Chasing the fantasies that filled our minds.
…Now looking back at all we’ve planned,
We let so many dreams just slip through our hands.

Do you know where you're going to - Diana Ross 

his has been added into my intermediate – term TODO list, a promise to return to Côn Đảo made earlier last year, in a different way, not by way of air of course. Don’t really know if I could make this, cause it’s really a tough (and adventurous) target to conquer, and there’re lots of things I also wanted and planned to do, too many of them indeed, but let just set the milestone there!

vũng tàu, june 2014

his has been in my TODO list for quite some time, but for various reasons, couldn’t get it done till now. To the present day, I’ve accumulated more than 1,000 nmi under my belt with Hello World – 1 & 2 (nearly 1,900 km, as logged by my Garmin), but that’s only the 20 ~ 25 km paddling around my home. I need something longer to testify my endurance; and for the last 2 months, I’ve been preparing for this 60 km paddling trip to Vũng Tàu: physical exercising, equipments, plan A, plan B, etc… It just comes the time to… get your paddles wet!

My Hello World – 2 kayak is a true player on rivers, but it’s surely no performer at sea. A 14 footer, it’s quite unsuitable to be deployed on longer journeys, so I need to make careful planning. The trip will be completed in 3 legs, approximately 20 km each, the first 2 will follow Sài Gòn and Lòng Tàu rivers, the last leg would pass Gành Rái bay to reach Vũng Tàu on ‘open sea’. And indeed, I have no ‘plan B’, no camping gears, no food and drink for a 2nd day of paddling, no signaling devices… it just has to be done, 60 km in a single day, in a single try!

Leg 1

Wake up at 3:30 AM, I carefully check the gears, load the kayak, have a big breakfast, and at 4:30 AM, I depart. Right at the first paddling stroke, it begins to rain, cats and dogs! And it continues to rain lightly for the next several hours, but that’s good really. Silently pass by many fishing boats, some was sleeping, some was watching a FIFA World Cup’s live football match! Heavily loaded, I make my way through the misty, dark water with a pace around 6 ~ 6.5 km/h. At 5:30 AM, the Garmin indicates a minor rise in speed, ~ 7.5 km/h, it’s the tide’s coming into play!

6:00 AM, as the dawn was breaking, I steadily made 8 ~ 9 km/h, 6:45 AM, I was making a comfortable 9.5 ~ 10.5 km/h riding. The tide plays quite a role in my planning, it should help to conquer the first 2 legs as fast as I can, reserving stamina for the last troublesome leap. Velocity then increases to 11 km/h for a short while, momentarily reaches 12 km/h, woohoo… I finished the 1st leg in 3 hours with little resting time, reaching Tam Thôn Hiệp crossroad, the southern most outskirt of Sài Gòn, beyond this point is Cần Giờ mangrove biosphere reserve.

Leg 2

8:00 AM, after a short break, I start the 2nd leg, which traverses the Cần Giờ mangrove forest to reach the sea. The Garmin instructs me confidently through this complex maze of rivers and canals, making ‘bip – bip’ sound in approximation of each turn point (the planned route was made on computer and transferred to the device). I’m a bit in hurry as I know I don’t have a large time frame to utilize the tide, in all, less than 4, 5 hours or so. 8:30 AM, the tide will finish lowering in Vũng Tàu area, though for inland water, there’s still a delay effect.

Speed drops gradually along this 2nd leg, and at 10:00 AM, I was returning to 6 ~ 6.5 km/h, as the tide was coming to a complete stop. The last few kilometers of this leg was a bit difficult, cause although my arms and shoulders showed little sign of tiredness, my butt was in great pains after hours of idleness. Then it was a moment of thrill, to stand here and watch over the large calm estuary where the river joins the sea! Another leg done, an hour of resting, lying leisurely in the boat, watching the sea, having lunch, and making some selfies! 😀

Leg 3

Right at noon, I start the final leap. I was having a good day, it’s heavily cloudy, the sea is quite calm, small waves, south – west light wind at 2, 3 on Beaufort scale coming to my convenience from starboard ‘broad reach’ or ‘beam reach’, Vũng Tàu‘s mountains are clearly visible across the big bay. I decided to start as soon as I can, fearing the regular afternoon tropical gales and rains could bring much trouble later on. Switch the Garmin to compass mode, keep the bearing at 125 degrees for several hours, this gonna be just a piece of cake! 😀

The following hours turned out to be not easy indeed! I begin to feel pains for my hands, the waves have hampered my efforts and reduced speed into the 4.5 ~ 5.5 km/h range. I have not a single moment of worry, but rather a kind of tranquility in my mind while navigating this immense sphere. I stop for a while having an nice talk with a local fisherman, then keeping on the straight line to target. On starboard side then seen the Cần Giờ Aval lighthouse (Vietnamese: hải đăng Bóng Trắng). Then at 4:30 PM, landed in Vũng Tàu at the precise pre – planned spot.


Terra firma eventually, my 12 hours of paddling completed with flying colors! 😀 Nothing more to expect for the day, I go for dinner, then back to the hotel and have another 12 hours of sleep! Next morning, I was messing around the harbors, watching the fishing boats, then at noon, load my kayak onto a rented truck and return to Sài Gòn. My arms are still having some little pain as I’m typing this, but the feeling is really pleasant. It could be a small thing to others, but a little real achievement for me! Another milestone in my boating progress!

The trip helps rectifying some defects and shortcomings on boat building and boating equipments. It’s only in these longer trips that I would find out what gears, food, drink, clothing, etc… should I have, what improves and accessories I could do for my boats. Yet Hello World – 2, at 14 feet, still belongs to the recreational class, it’s not a real expeditional sea kayak by design… The trip also helps consolidating my understanding and experiences on what I should prepare to make successful future sea crossings and longer passages into mare liberum 😀.


The Sài GònVũng Tàu route is crowded in maritime traffic, big boats from a few thousand to a few dozen thousand tons come and go every few minutes. It’s a real risk that your tiny boat could be overseen and overrun by those giants, as I was ‘near – missed’ by a huge freighter at great speed by just 50 ~ 70 m in one case. I should have an VHF radio to communicate with them to avoid collision. The waves created by those boats, though could be as high as 1 ~ 1.5 m, are not dangerous actually, as they are well patterned and well behaved.

Routes plotted with Google Earth: planned route in blue, actual route in red. Some GPS logged data: distance travelled: 58.4 km, total time: 11:31′, paddling time ~ 9:00′, resting time ~ 2:30′, I averaged out only 5.08 km/h over all. Obviously, there’s still lots of things to be improved here!

Another aspect of paddling in tropical weather: the ‘thermal efficiency’ of your body (like any other machines or engines) would degrade badly in the 30 ~ 38°C temperature range, you’ll need lots of water (and food) to keep up the pace, a sunny day could easily use up 3, 4 litters just for drinking (not to include cooking). That could cause a ‘logistical problem’ as a kayak has limited storage capacity, it could be a headache to prepare food and drink rations (among other things) for a 4, 5 days trip, the heavier the load, the slower the boat of course.

Some video scenes of the trip captured with my GoPro camera.

Vũng Tàu is no stranger to me, having visited it many times before. But this time is different, a chance to view the city from another perspective. For many moments, I thought I had quite some illusions of grandeur, the literal, optical meaning 😀, as the sceneries appear as in tilt – shift photography: people, houses, cars, boats, the trees… all appears to be so small under the blue sky, even the mountains do not look really big… A fantastic feeling when you observe the little city of Cap Saint Jacques from the back of waves, some distances off from shore.

a bit of roughness

typical small tropical gale during this rainy season… winds can momentarily reach up to level 5, 6 or more on Beaufort scale. It can get pretty rough at time right here on Saigon river and without a spray skirt, the kayak takes on water easily in this weather, when filled up about 1/3 of the volume, the boat is heavy to paddle, it becomes less responsive and easier to take more water in. I need to pump the water out several times during my routine 20km paddling trip.

But it’s also fun, the rougher it get, the tougher you need to be! 😀


4th image below: a clock, a thermometer and a hygrometer to help mixing epoxy resin, a process which is quite weather – sensitive…

y humble woodworking corner with a modest collection of tools for sawing, cutting, drilling, planing, chiseling, sanding… dozens types of chemicals for epoxying, painting, varnishing… For now, it’s still a small corner with basic tools, but it’ll be growing into a “well – equipped” boat – building workshop soon! 😀

lãng mạn

Lao xao sóng vỗ ngọn tùng,
Gian nan là nợ anh hùng phải vay!

ãng mạn, từ nguyên: lãng () là sóng, mạn () tức tràn đầy, nghĩa gốc của lãng mạn như thế. Không phải ngồi một chỗ, đọc vài câu thơ, hát vài ý nhạc vớ vẩn mà phần lớn trường hợp, còn không tự phân biệt được đâu là loại hay, loại dở, loại tầm tầm, loại nhảm nhí rẻ tiền… (chưa bao giờ các phẩm chất cơ bản con người lại xuống cấp mạt hạng như bây giờ). Lãng mạn tức là… sóng tràn đầy, thế thôi; đâu đó ngoài kia, có một không gian thật… lãng mạn! 😀

on saigon river

Chiều buông, trên dòng sông Cửu Long,
như một cơn ước mong, ơi chiều!
Về đâu, ơi hàng cây gỗ rong,
nghiêng mình trên sóng sông, yêu kiều…

Chiều về trên sông - Thái Thanh 

A watery Saigon p1
A watery Saigon p2
A watery Saigon p3

(Many pictures taken are not very sharp, since my new fixed lens has difficulty making proper focuses through the opaque water – proof plastic cover)

or the last several months, I rarely take a camera with me while kayaking. Partly cause I don’t want to bring delicate electronics to water, partly cause I want to concentrate just on paddling. But that’s why I’ve missed many noteworthy things on the way, many times I wished I’d had a camera at the right moment.

The other day, I was paddling in the late afternoon when a large flock of white storks approached my boat in the opposite direction. The V – shape formation obviously was utilizing the “surface effect”, flying closed to water. Just 10m away, the birds raise the altitude, make lots of noises, and pass above my head, a spectacular scene!

Another day, I was taking a short rest under a big mangrove palm tree, watching a beautiful butterfly in a brush nearby. All of a sudden, a big catfish jumps from beneath the calm water, catches the butterfly in its mouth, then disappears as quickly as it comes. I wished I could have taken a picture of that interesting moment!

A colorful world of boats of all kinds and sizes on the rivers, ranging from 0.5 ton (my kayak 😀) to 50,000 ton (this is about the upper limit for boats to traverse safely on Saigon river). The 3rd and 4th images, the pair of Sonya – class minesweepers: HQ – 863, HQ – 864 and two Svetlyak – class gunboats: HQ – 264, HQ – 265 at Hải Minh naval shipyard.

Most people I met on rivers is friendly. The local fishermen are usually timid (except when they’re drunk), the vendors are talkative and glib, only the professional sailors warmly share with me their thought on boats and boating… I receive lots of questions on my boats, and some even propose to sell / build for them another Hello World – 2 😀.


A week ago, I passed by a group of wooden boats, whose outlooks are very different to boats of this area. The long, narrow hull, the crescent rudder, colors and decorations… those could be boats of Cambodian influences, I’d thought, very original design, little modern modifications! The next day, I come back with a camera, and they’ve gone! 😢

Today, I met that group of strange boats again, luckily. It turned out that they’re of Cham ethnic group, not Khmer as I initially assumed, coming from Châu Đốc (An Giang province). It was so good that a really friendly young guy showed me around the group of 4 boats, 4 families living floating lives. They’re poor, but simple and sincere!

The young men then showed me that of the four boats, there’s a different one, it’s an “antique” dugout boat, made mainly from a single huge log of wood. The other 3 are modern builds, wooden planks on frame, although externally they look exactly the same. He said, the dugout boat has been handed down from generation to generation…

…And he doesn’t even know how old the boat is, but estimated that it should be older than 150 years. I examined the boat’s very original design, such a dugout is surely a very rare specimen that can hardly be found today. I then continue my paddling path, many entangled thinking in my head, twilight is gently casting on the immense river…

hello world – 2, part 4

ay after day, I gradually… felt in love with my new kayak 😀. Although quite sturdily and heavily built (around 32 kg), it behaves well on water. The longer and thiner hull offers much better speed (compared to Hello World – 1), but the most important thing is that the hull shape provides and maintains sufficient “kinetic energy” for the boat to make sustainable headway into unfavorable winds and waves!

The added retractable skeg works perfectly! Within the storage compartment lies the skeg box, which houses a 30 cm skeg blade that can be controlled (lowered or raised) via a steel wire which runs into the cockpit on the right of my seat. With winds coming from astern, the skeg is lowered to reduce the boat’s drifting and yawing, or when waves are large, the skeg helps reducing rolling motion.

I now have the excellent Fein Multimaster oscillating tool into my woodworking collection. Watch a demo video here to see what the wonderful Multimaster can do. There’re some other accessories needed for this Hello World – 2: a paddle, a hand pump… For the paddle, it’s the first time I experiment with carbon fiber fabric, it seems to be very solid, but I need to learn more to get the most out of this special material!

The hand pump is quite simple indeed, it takes just a couple of hours to get it done. Two check valves (one way valves), some PVC parts, and a toilet pump (available at most super market). The hand pump is a crucial accessory for my kayak, as now it’s turned into rainy season, and as I’m paddling into rougher water. There’re some more accessories to be made and tested, before… the voyage begin!

the rubber duck

he famous rubber duck is here on Crescent lake, Saigon. Just my curiosity to go there and have some poses with that huge, yellow floating object. To be precise, my childhood was not familiar to this kind of thing, such a toy at my time was consider to be… “luxurious”! The guards did not permit us to pass the floating buoy line, arghh!

Accidentally met this ‘English guy’ on the waterway who said to purchase that Vietnamese – style motorized dinghy to use as his ‘fishing boat’. He complained about the difficulty of obtaining a kayak or canoe for his fitness purpose, and the expensive prices of imported boats. Well, see… we have both two: a canoe and a kayak with us! 😀

saigon river

t is not always as calm as in the video below, this time of the year, the monsoon is reversing, causing lots of turbulences. Sometimes waves are so big that I can hardly have anytime for playing around with my GoPro camera, one reckless moment could cause my little kayak to be flooded, or worse, capsized. But many of the times, there’s enough wind and wave to let Hello World – 2 going dancing, drifting and surfing 😀. My 20km routine paddling path, passing by Phú Xuân bridge, Nhà Bè fuel reservoirs, Bình Khánh ferry, Hải Minh shipyard… where I can see the CSB – 9001 (a Vietnam maritime police’s search and rescue boat) mooring, next to it are some small Navy (HQ – xxx) gunboats.

In the wet docks are two Navy minesweepers: HQ – 863, HQ – 864 being refitted, I passed by closed enough to see their towed array sonars and their wooden planks (minesweepers are rarely constructed in ferromagnetic materials, often it’s wood or composite). The two hulls: KN – 806, KN – 807 are barely finished with some upper structures, they belong to Kiểm Ngư (Vietnam fisheries resources surveillance) force, whose establishment has just been announced last week. There’re also some other exotic – looking water crafts, which I haven’t been able to identify their designs and roles. No active guard seen for the Navy shipyard, or they don’t even care about my harmless tiny nutshell!

hello world – 1 and 2

ow “operating two boats” 😀, I could have more ways to play and have fun with them. Usually, me and one of my friend, each of us would go on a separate canoe / kayak, then exchange them at the midpoint of a paddling trip. It’s extremely hot out there this season, 35° ~ 39° Celsius, but that’s good for our endurence anyhow.

The handling experiences are different from boat to boat, and obviously, Hello World – 2 is lighter and has much better speed compare to Hello World – 1. It can easily give a handicap of more then 1/3 of the way. But despite of that, it’s good to learn how to handle both boats, in various conditions and situations on water.

Below is a video capturing both 2 boats’ actions on water, each as looked from the other. While Hello World – 2 was taking a gentle promenade, Hello World – 1 had to struggle hard to keep up. Jump to 1’36” on the video timeline to see how the kayak made a fast, short impressive sprint to approximately 7 ~ 8 knots! 😀

hello world – 2, part 3

aunched and trialled the kayak this April fool day! Can’t say how much I’m pleased with it, great speed, just like a dart slicing through water! 😀 It could take some time to learn how to handle this new kayak, the experiences are different between my two boats, but I got the right feeling on how to control it very soon.

The boat gave me a good firm sense that it can be used for longer range. The 2.2 m paddle is too long for this 0.62m – beam kayak, I would need to make a new 1.9 ~ 2.0 m one, but that would be later. I need to try it out thoroughly before deciding what to do to turn it into… an “expeditionary” boat for my up – coming journeys!

Made some longer paddling and realized the boat’s tendency not to track very straight under turbulent flow or wind (in calm conditions, it tracks well), this is tiresome for long voyage. This could be fixed when the kayak is fully loaded, with weight shifts toward the aft, but I decided anyhow to add a retractable skeg to the boat in the coming weeks!

hello world – 2, part 2

rom the outlook, she gonna be a nice boat with simple and sporty curves! I proceed slowly and carefully, as I intend to use this boat for white – water (near coastal) areas, where it gonna be rougher and wavier, compared to the almost – calm rivers around Saigon. It need to be ‘engineered’ with a focus on durable & strength! 😀

6.     Canopy

It is extremely hard to bend the 5mm plywood into the curvy shape of the canopy (I used 5mm for convenience cause I’d bought 8 sheets of them, I should have used 3mm instead). The ply cracks a bit at the bow section, forcing me to apply a layer of fiberglass to repair and reinforce. Also, I would need to change the painting plan to better conceal the faults! 😢

7.     Coaming & hatch

Finished the canopy part, now the jobs of fixing the plywood cracks, fitting the cockpit coaming, the hatch and its locks, sealing the compartments to be water – tight, installing the seat… lots of miscellaneous jobs. Still some way to go, but I’m already very excited to see the desired watercraft taking shape!

8.     Glassing

I was considering over and over again about whether to glass the hull or not, cause glassing will add more weight into the boat, which is quite heavy already (estimated final weight at about 25 kg). Eventually decided to glass still (stiffness is important out there in rougher water), plus an additional layer of glass at the bow & aft sections.

9.     Painting

I chose quite an unusual color scheme which diverges from my favorite colors of blue & white, I just feel that this boat needs something bold and strong, so I go with black & white, plus the wooden color of the canopy. The result is quite satisfying, at least to my eyes, now I know why this model’s code name is: Dart! 😀

10.     Finishing

It takes some more time to finish this boat: the seat mattress, deck lashing lines, hatch’s lock, and some decorations: boat name and contact information, and boat’s eyes of course. Some more accessories need to be built for this boat, but that would be after then, can’t wait until launching and trialling this beautiful kayak!

hello world – 2, part 1

ix months have passed since I’d started Hello World – 1, my first build, a general purpose canoe. Now it’s time to let this planned Hello World – 2 to say Hello to the world 😀. She gonna be a kayak (of Selway Fisher’s Dart 14′ design), which I hope to have better performance and somewhat better ‘open – water’ capabilities.

1.     DRAW & CUT

Having gained much experiences from the building of Hello World – 1, I’m expecting Hello World – 2 to be finished in 2, 3 weeks or so. Apart from the canopy, the underpart of this kayak requires only 4 bilges (compare to 7 of the previous build), which would ease and speed up the progress. I did all drawing, cutting & joining in a single day.

2.     TRIM & JOIN

After cutting, pairs of bilges are clamped together (port & starboard) and trimmed to the same shape. Then simple butt joints with additional ribbons of plywood would do the job of joining to the full length of 14 feet (~ 4.2 m). All these joints would be hidden inside the hull under the canopy anyhow, so I don’t really care if they look good or not.

3.     STITCH

Stitching does not take much time indeed, there’re only 4 bilges to put together. The hull is simpler, the plywood is easier to bend too. I guess more hard work would come with the canopy part, but for now, I’m really pleased to see the hull quickly take initial shape. Check geometries, fasten the wires, then come to the next step!

4.     GLUE

More and more hands – on with epoxy and fillet. I think the suitable mixing ratio is somewhere between 1:3 and 1:5. That is (applied for), in Saigon, there’s no West System’s epoxy or such things, what I can find is kind of ‘raw chemicals’. Also, humidity greatly affects epoxy curing, avoid working when it rains. Absolutely keep acetone from the messing in!

5.     Bulkheads, deck’s beams, stringers & gunwales

At this point, I decided to change the original design. The fore and aft sections are water – tight compartments serving as flotations, next to the aft section is the added storage compartment with hatch, to store gears for, e.g: a weekend trip, and cockpit in the middle. There’re so many small details to be cared of at this step…

essai sur la construction navale des peuples extra – européens

The first 2 images: a rowing boat and a sail, fishing boat of Touranne, Cochinchine, which is today Đà Nẵng, Việt Nam.

ome time ago, I posted several entries about The Junk Blue Book. What’s a small world of the internet that lately, I had my honor to be contacted by Capt. Robert Whitehurst, the collector, editor who made the original, rare book written by Capt. Marion C. Dalby available for us as a free ebook today. Mr. Whitehurst is kind enough to correct a mistake in my postings, and sent me various documents that he’ve spent times and efforts to collect and digitalize them. I would say a thousand thanks to him, an old captain who spent his younger years on the Mekong delta’s rivers, who loves Vietnamese boats, who has closed – relations with Vietnam in many ways.

Among the documents Capt. Whitehurst sent me was this invaluable copy of Essai sur la construction navale des peuples extra – Européens, (literally translated into English as: Essay on naval construction of peoples outside of Europe), a tremendously amazing work by French’s admiral François – Edmond Pâris, published in Paris in 1841. The work consists of two volumes, 160 pages in textual volume I, and 132 illustrations in graphical volume II, introducing boats and boat constructions from various parts of the world. I’ve just started my reading, but can’t suppress my eagerness to made some excerpts here to show the extremely beautiful illustrations below.

follow me

irst of the three images, could it be called a “Follow me” style!? 😀 So busy lately, but keep paddling an average of 20km every two days, don’t actually have time to raise the target at 25, 30 km yet. February is short, can’t wait until all the rowing stuffs get done!

It’s now “kite – flying season” for the kids, plenty of wind these days on the rivers. And it’s also the “practising – season” for me, lots of windage for my small boat. It can even get quite rough at times, and you’d need to be tough, harder and harder paddling, day by day!

Imagine the 4, 5 feet (or more) waves out there in Vũng Tàu, much more troublesome and fascinating, compared to the 1, 2 feet waves here on the rivers, which couldn’t really give me a sense of motion. For various reasons, boating works have been delayed and delayed again, sigh… 😢

bắc hành – 2014

Người về miền xuôi, đem theo tình người miền núi,
Nhà sàn lả lơi, đứng bên đường hoang vắng soi.
Đưa chân anh qua đồi, cơm lam đem theo người,
Lên cao anh ôm trời, để dòng suối lẻ loi…

Người về miền xuôi - Phạm Duy 

hi chép linh tinh trên đường thiên lý ra đất Bắc… Ai về Bắc, ta đi với; Thăm lại non sông giống Lạc Hồng… Đôi khi phải hơi điên điên một chút, phải có cái nhìn bóp méo thực tế (reality distortion field) một chút, cười khinh khỉnh vào cái thực trạng xã hội bullshit bây giờ, để tâm quan sát, tìm kiếm… thì mới nhìn ra những điều tốt đẹp xưa cũ, mới nhận ra đâu là cái chất Việt thuần hậu!


Cái logo di sản văn hoá phi vật thể của Unesco có thể được thấy trang hoàng khắp mọi nơi ở Hà Nội, cái hình tròn có lỗ vuông ở giữa, nhìn giống đồng tiền xu cổ, hình như phản ánh đúng thực tế Hà Nội bây giờ: vật giá ngày càng đắt và con người ngày càng rẻ!


Quy mô rất hoành tráng (dù điều đó chẳng có gì khó với kỹ thuật xây dựng hiện đại), nhưng đường lối kiến trúc đúng chất Việt, từ lầu chuông gác trống cho đến đường nét các mái, kèo, xà, cột… không tạp nham, lai căn, vớ vẩn kiểu Đại Nam, Suối Tiên…


Sơn thuỷ hữu tình, thật là nơi quyến rũ lòng người! Nước suối trong vắt, cá chép vàng choé lượn lờ dưới đáy rêu, các loài thuỷ cầm tự nhiên: cốc, vịt… bơi lội tự do! Sẽ có một ngày ta mang chiếc xuồng ra đây chèo đi chơi bằng hết các ngõ ngách sông ngòi và hang động!


Ở Hà Nội, người ta bắt chuyện với mình bằng tiếng Anh, còn ở đây, người ta nhận ra ngay người Việt. Xứ sở của lạnh giá và sương mù, phong cảnh thiên nhiên tuyệt đẹp! Con người ta sống giản đơn, và cũng học đòi những thói xấu hiện đại… theo cách đơn giản!

Vốn không sợ độ cao, nhưng thỉnh thoảng vẫn cảm thấy ngợp trước núi đồi trùng điệp nơi đây. Sapa mùa này, phải thật kiên nhẫn mới chụp được một khung hình đẹp, ánh mặt trời rạng rỡ chỉ hiện ra vào một vài thời khắc hiếm hoi trong ngày, khi màn sương mù lạnh giá tạm vơi bớt.

Đa số chúng ta (kể cả tôi) tới đây với mong muốn có được những khung hình đẹp, nhưng phải chăng đó là tất cả mục đích của hành trình? Suy rộng ra, cái câu hỏi: chúng ta tới đây để làm gì? ấy, nếu ai đó còn có trong đầu một câu trả lời, tức là còn… chưa trả lời được vậy! 😀

Những cung đường Tây Bắc không dành cho người yếu tim, chỉ một giây lơ là mãi ngắm nhìn cảnh quang xinh đẹp là đã có thể lạc tay lái xuống vực. Khác với thời tiết 3°C mấy ngày đầu lên đây, những ngày sau ấm hơn và có nắng, hôm nào máy ảnh cũng hết sạch pin rồi mới trở về!


Đèo Ô Quý Hồ, dài và hiểm trở, cắt ngang qua dãy Hoàng Liên Sơn, đổ từ độ cao 2000 m xuống 1000 m, đúng nghĩa là dốc thăm thẳm. Một bên là đỉnh Phan Xi Păng, bên kia là huyện Tam Đường, Lai Châu. Bên này đèo thời tiết ấm và khô, bên kia, phía Sapa, lạnh và ẩm.

Cả một vùng Tam Đường, Phong Thổ, Sìn Hồ, t.p Lai Châu tương đối ít núi cao, khí hậu ấm hơn, đất đai cũng rộng rãi hơn, con người cũng có phần cởi mở, thân thiện hơn. Hôm nay cũng là ngày Tết của họ. Tiếc là đã đến Sìn Hồ mà không đủ thời gian để đến Pú Đao…


Đi chợ phiên Bắc Hà đầu năm (cách Sapa hơn 100km), tình cờ ghé qua đây, ngồi bên ngã ba sông Hồng và sông Nậm Thi, cầu Cốc Lếu, bên kia sông là Hà Khẩu, Trung Quốc. Và cũng thật tình cờ, mùa này tháng 2, chính xác là ngày 17 tháng 2, đúng 35 năm trước

Phiên chợ đầu năm chưa đông, nhưng đã rực rỡ sắc mầu, riêng người Mông đã có 5 sắc khác nhau (đen, hoa, xanh…), người Dao có đến 23 nhóm nhỏ (đỏ, đen, xanh, trắng…), lại còn Thái, Tày, Nùng, Dự, Giáy… Học cách phân biệt các sắc mầu cơ bản cũng đã hết cả một buổi.

Khá nhiều địa danh vùng Đông Bắc, Tây Bắc Việt Nam có nguồn gốc từ tiếng Hoa, chính xác hơn là phát âm theo tiếng Quan Thoại giọng vùng Vân Nam, Trung Quốc. Ghi lại ở đây một số từ phổ biến:

tả, , đại, lớn: Tả Van; séo, , tiểu, nhỏ: Séo Tung Hồ; lao, , lão, già, cũ: Lao Chải; sìn, , tân, trẻ, mới: Sìn Hồ; phìn, , bình, bằng: Tả Phìn; thàng, , đường, ao, đê: Lùng Thàng; chải, , trại, trang trại: Mù Cang Chải; cai, , nhai, ngã tư: Si Ma Cai; hồ, , hà, sông: Ô Quý Hồ; chéng, , giang, sông: Sín Chéng; cấu, , câu, suối: Cán Cấu; san, , sơn, núi: Phìn San; sàng, , thượng, bên trên: Sàng Chải; sả, , hạ, bên dưới: Sả Séng; tung, , trung, ở giữa: Tung Chải; tra, , gia, nhà: Má Tra; sa, , sa, cát: Sa Pa; sử, , thạch, đá: Mù Sử; lủ, , lộ, đường: Ma Lủ; ma, , mã, ngựa: Ma Sa Phìn; lùng, , long, rồng: Lùng Phìn; giàng, , dương, con dê: Giàng Phìn; nàn, , nam – phía nam: Nàn Sán


Đã Hà () lại còn Giang (), nơi đây có rất nhiều suối, sông nhỏ chảy dọc theo thung lũng, bản làng cũng nương theo đó hình thành. Những ngôi nhà sàn của người Tày dài thậm thượt, ruộng nương xanh tốt. Hà Giang là vùng đất mà tôi thích nhất trong số những vùng đã đi qua!

Cao nguyên đá Đồng Văn, như bị lạc vào một ma trận, một sa mạc đá. Đá mọi nơi, nhìn hoa cả mắt, thi thoảng mới thấy chút xíu đất có thể trồng trọt. Gió lạnh căm căm thổi suốt ngày đêm, một cái lạnh khô khốc, các làng xã đều xây hồ treo lớn chứa nước phòng khi hạn hán.

Cuộc sống nơi đây cực kỳ khắc nghiệt, thế nhưng khác hẳn với cái nhếch nhác vùng Sapa, cư dân nơi đây có vẻ chỉnh tề, quy củ, kỷ luật, từ y phục cho đến sinh hoạt, sản xuất, vui chơi. Cảm thấy được nghị lực và sức sống vươn lên từ vùng sa mạc đá này!

Tp. Hà Giang, Quản Bạ, Yên Minh, Đồng Văn, Mèo Vạc, về lại Hà Giang, một vòng 300 km. Làm 2 vòng như thế theo 2 chiều ngược nhau để không bỏ sót điều gì… nhất là Mã Pí Lèng hùng vĩ nhất VN, con đèo mà nhiếp ảnh nghiệp dư như tôi không thể nào lột tả hết được.

Không quên ghé qua Sủng Là, nơi quay phim Chuyện của Pao. Bây giờ đúng vào mùa hoa tam giác mạch tim tím và hoa cải vàng ươm nở rộ trên cao nguyên hun hút gió. Đến để biết rằng một không gian như thế, những con người như thế… là điều hoàn toàn có thật!

Kể chuyện đi ăn cháo ấu tẩu tại Hà Giang. Ấu tàu là loại củ kịch độc, dùng làm thức ăn phải qua chế biến kỹ càng. Bữa đầu tiên, bát cháo có mỗi lát ấu tẩu bằng cái móng tay. Ngồi nói chuyện trên trời dưới đất với vợ chồng chủ quán, phong thái người Bắc xưa, chẳng có gì giống Bắc bây giờ, đã thấy là một chuyện lạ (nghĩ bụng là dạng Kinh già hoá Thổ, người xuôi lên mạn ngược lập nghiệp lâu đời, giữ nguyên giọng nói, phong cách xưa cũ). Đến bữa thứ hai, ngoài vài lát ấu tẩu, còn được thêm cái móng heo, thêm một chút lạ. Đến bữa thứ ba, thấy chuyện lạ nhất: được một tô toàn ấu tẩu, ăn đến phát ngán! 😀

tuế vãn



iết bởi thư hoạ gia Lê Quốc Việt, Văn miếu Quốc tử giám, Hà Nội, một ngày cuối năm Quý Tỵ. Lạc khoản đề: Tuế tại Giáp Ngọ niên chi mạnh xuân nguyệt cốc nhật – Kính phụng Khải Xuyên huynh thanh thưởng – Chân Thanh Bái Thư. Bảo: giống thư pháp Tống Huy Tông e chỉ là cách hiểu nông cạn bề mặt; có điều gì rất Việt trong thư pháp này! Đôi dòng nói thay ước nguyện năm mới! 😀

a watery saigon – 1

ade my first “departure” on this first day of the new year 2014, year of the horse; a 20 km paddling roundtrip. I want to see more of that same city, from a different point of view, not that usual view of most of the 20 – years – long living here. There is another completely different Saigon, a Saigon seen from water, as on flat land, for the most part, it’s a messy city. It took me a long time to get accustomed to its main roads, especially in the southern parts, as they usually turn around and around, forming untidy, complex, bizarre networks. But if you see them from the waterways perspective, the topologies immediately become clear and easy. That reminds me the essential geo – ecological things about this southern young, energetic city…

hello world – 1, part 7, rowing kit

oating progress has been stagnated lately… But really I’m interested in experimenting with rowing, another way of propelling the boat besides paddling. Rowing can help building other groups of your muscles, it could produce more torque to push the canoe forward under unfavourable wind and current conditions, it should increase sustainable speed significantly, furthermore, it’s good for long – range tandem trips: with two hands aboard, ones can take turn to row and to rest. First, I make a pair of 8 feet oars: 5 planks of wood is glued and screwed together to form the oar’s handle and blade. Next is scraping and planing them into their final shapes using my new, very useful tool: a power planer. Then the 4 feet 8 inches outrigger and flotations.

For the oars, I use a lighter wood, Vietnamese name: thao lao (Lagerstroemia calyculata Kurz); the white, fine grain wood traditionally used for building paddle, oar and rudder. Having density at about 0.9 (900 kg/m3), the wood is not as heavy and hard as căm xe (Xylia xylocarpa), but resists better to water. The oars handles’ ends would be attached with short aluminium tubes, which serve two purposes: 1. lengthen the oars to the full length of 2.4m (8 feet) and 2. the hollow tubes will be casted with about 1.5kg of lead each, to better balance the oars once they’re put onto the oarlocks, and hence reduce rowing effort. I’d also decided to use ready – made plastic fishing buoys for flotations, to make the outrigger construction simpler and easier.

Today, I took Hello World – 1 to dry dock for inspection, maintenance and more fitting. After almost 2 months on open water and under direct sunlight, mistakes in the building phase have been shown: 2, 3 small cracks on the outer fiberglass and epoxy layer at bottom aft, water has leaked into the aft watertight compartment (about a gallon), and the paint has been scratched at places… 😢 Also, I should have taken more care on the canoe’s storage and usage. Now I need to make some repairs: find the seal the leaks, repaint some small areas, lower the seats to improve stability, before being able to fit the rowing kit and other miscellaneous accessories: cleat and anchor, the light pole… It could take the next 2, 3 days to finish all these things!

Today, we tested the preliminary rowing kit, the result is very unsatisfactory 😢, but somewhat encouraging still. I’ll need to rethink about the designs, various flaws are spotted and to be rectified: the oars are too long and heavy, the oar locks are placed too low that they limit the rowing movements, flotations are not done yet… The only promising thing is that speed would surely get a huge improve, we was expecting to be able to sustain somewhere around 4, 5 knots (7 ~ 9 km/h), a great advantage (compared to paddling) for long – range cruising. But that would be the jobs of the coming (Lunar) new year, for now, all boating works will be temporarily suspended, as I’ve already got in my TODO list many other stuffs which have higher priority.

hello world – 1, part 6, accessories

ello World – 1 has been finished, and trials showed it’s an excellent boat for solo paddling, but there’s still much work to be done to make full use of the canoe. Various miscellaneous things: a raincoat to protect the hull from weather at docking, a pole to push the canoe forward in shallow water, also to mount a signal light for occasional night going, an apparent wind indicator (wind vane) to better observe wind condition, a hand pump to drain water out when it rains, an anchor to allow going fishing anywhere on the rivers around my area without having to find a tree or a buoy to attach the canoe to… Most important of all, I want to make a rowing kit: an outrigger with two flotation units to help stabilising the boat, and two long oars.

It could take a couple of weeks to finish everything, since I’ve just started the design, with some undecided considerations still. Slowly I would got each items done, first is the spade – shape anchor, I casted 1.5 kg of lead into the hollow space underneath, to concentrate weight into the tip (the anchor is a bit oversize and overweight for such a small canoe, some wrong calculation, but I would use it anyhow). 2 meters of steel chain, plus about 30 meters of rope will be enough for an anchorage almost anywhere. There’s still lots of works to be done, with possible more and more delay (the holidays, Christmas and New Year are coming). Meanwhile paddling is still my main pastime in a fresh morning, or in a calm sunset, any day in the week 😀.

For the past few days, I really enjoy night paddling: familiar enough with the region to navigate in the dark, northern wind has cool down the nocturnal temperature considerably, and houses, buildings along the rivers’ banks have been decorated with all kind of colourful LED and neon lights for Christmas and New Year holidays, creating picturesque and splendid sceneries. I was paddling among a dark, silent, wide space, only the marvellous lighting and the stars above the sky. Unfortunately, my GoPro camera is not very good at shooting in low – light environment, I would try to post some pictures instead, just to show how beautiful our city is this season, especially in this specific place on Crescent lake near Starlight bridge (hồ Bán Nguyệt & cầu Ánh Sao).

The more paddling I was practising, the more do I realise how much boating (and paddling, rowing, sailing, etc…) resembles life, it’s a microcosm, a metaphor for our lives, for the struggles and enjoyments we make. Any destination is just a temporary target, as life is a long journey on which we struggle to make the next leap, reaching the next milestone, while trying to enjoy the scenes on the way. And that’s why we should take our thinking, our words, our intentions, our jobs… seriously, just to make the journey a more lovely, pleasant promenade… Well, that’s enough of philosophy, 😀 I need to stop dreaming here and return to the actual works, refine my calculations, sharpen my skills… lots of things to be done in the up – coming year, year of the horse.