Monday, 24 September 2012

Vagabonds in Vietnam

After a final few days wandering around the Haeundae region of Busan , South Korea, the bike went off to the port and we got the plane to Hanoi, Vietnam.  Vietnam had never been part of the plan but we decided to go there while the bike is on the water.  We are glad we did!
The first Vietnamese surprise was all the free food and drinks of the flight from SK to Hanoi – very good indeed. After we had arrived in Hanoi and got checked in to our hotel, we went straight out for a wander. There are scooters everywhere. To begin with, we couldn’t stop laughing at all the different objects that were being carried (tv’s, pigs, dogs, crates of chickens, trays on eggs (and by the way the chickens came the race away from the lights anyway!)) on them but in the way that we have a car or a van to go about our daily business, here, they have a scooter. There are thousands, all buzzing about and it’s a daunting task trying to cross the road, you just have to walk but they all miss you. The amazing thing is that the traffic flows well even though to the foreign eye, it appears that there are no actual road rules – other than the bigger the vehicle, the bigger the priority.

We went to Flamingo Travel to see about hiring a couple of bikes while we were there. They run organised tours and also bike rentals. Our budget didn’t stretch to an organised tour but we found Hung (owner) and Chris very helpful and they advised some good routes and areas to visit. We eventually settle on hiring a couple of Honda XR250’s. We caught the night train to Lao Cai and arrived there at 6.30am but had to wait an hour for our bikes as they were on the following train. Unfortunately, for our first day it rained althought it didn’t dampen our spirits but it did make some of the trails very interesting! Rocks, mud, tarmac – it was a great first days riding. We had bought a map from Flamingo but it wasn’t as good as it could be so we had to do a lot of asking for directions but it gives you a chance to speak (mime?) with the locals. We discovered some great ‘roads’ to ride. These roads were a mixture of big loose rocks (my least favourite surface), mud, water, hard packed stones, gravel and tarmac. They would change from one to another with little warning so we had to keep our wits about us. In parts they were quite tricky and you’d just finish a hard part and be quite happy with yourself when a local would ride the other way on their scooter, carrying 4 sacks of rice (or the like), probably in flip flops and smoking a fag!  We were constantly climbing up and down mountains. The views were breathtaking. We rode along a ridge (but wide enough for a track) between 2 tops with drops of hundreds of feet on either side and mountain tops for as far as the eye could see. At one point, we were so close to the Chinese border that I got a ‘welcome to China’ message on my mobile.  The roads twist and curve with the mountains and are relatively traffic free until you get near towns.  As you pass through villages the kids run out to the roadside shouting ‘hello’ and waving.

 There are lots of puppies around too but not a corresponding amount of adult dogs, I don’t like to think about that too much.

We spent a day at Ba Be National Park where we took a boat trip on the lake. The mountains around there are limestone which made for some huge stalactites and caves. In one cave, we were able to walk around and the noise from the bats above was deafening and the smell of bat poo nauseating!  It was a very relaxing day, being ferried around the lake. The cows and water buffalo were swimming and soaking in the water and the locals checking their fishing nets in wooden dugout canoes.

Whilst in Hanoi, we visit Hoa Lo Prison which was nicknamed ‘the Hanoi Hilton’ by the American pilots that it housed during the war.  We also visit the Ho Chi Minh complex. This area included the house that Uncle Ho (as the Vietnamese affectionately call him) lived and worked in for 4 years, along with 3 of his cars and other belongings, also a museum. It is also where his body lies in the mausoleum but unfortunately the day we went, it was closed so we weren’t able to go in and see him.

Our last day entails some last minute sightseeing and then a couple of beers where we meet Ryan and Hannah from England who are on a backpacking trip. There are so many different ways to see the world, each bringing different experiences. They are having a great time and it’s great to exchange tales of travel along the way.
We are now in Vancouver for a couple of days before heading south into America .  Gone is the humidity we’ve experienced for the last 6 weeks.  It’s strange being back in an English speaking country and we are now 8 hours behind the UK rather than hours ahead, which we’ve been since leaving. But one thing hasn’t changed - we’re still looking forward to meeting new friends and sharing new experiences and whatever else lies ahead of us.