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Published: January 30th 2014
I got the bus from Vientiane to Hue in Vietnam (Eastern coast, somewhere in the middle) Stated travel time was 22 hours, actual time was 14 hours. Always under promise; it really does work! Although he did drive like an absolute demon on what felt like less than forgiving roads. The overnight buses have chairs that are permanently reclined. So if you want to look out of the windows for any amount of time then the abs have to be well conditioned. They have foot space based on the average person been around 5ft. So I spent 14 hours in a dentist chair interchanging between fetal position and a rather agricultural interpretation of a yoga move.
Got dropped way out of town. Tuktuk driver that was waiting for me said it was a good 25 km into Hue so I would imagine it was around 10-15km. Strange how they are always waiting, almost as if they are in on fool the ferang! So the Tuk Tuk offered me a lift to the actual bus station. A predictably extortionate price is then quoted (the drip, drip of corruption finally reaches the bottom after meandering through what I imagine to be several
layers) you can’t beat around the bush in such a situation though so you have to absolutely bust there balls with a low almost comical price. I find it quite helpful to start walking at the same time maybe even gesticulate in unison. Initially this holds little sway in Vietnam as most people are incredulous that you would actually want to walk anywhere. So they wait a little a while and then realize you are not bluffing or they may hold back a little while longer and think you were having a rash moment. Suddenly the man you thought had been mortally wounded with your bargaining is following you on his motorbike shouting prices at you. After negotiating what seems like an amazing discount to a pre specified location it turns after a couple of km that the driver doesn’t know where it is and will this do? No. This in short is the story of every motorbike journey in Vietnam longer than 1km. keeps the brain stimulated and brings the reluctant haggler/absolute git out in you though. Just need a little patience. It can and can’t be get great fun depending on time and place.
So after a
couple of days in Hue re familiarizing myself with Vietnamese cuisine again I started the walk to Hoi An. Which is a fair distance but certainly manageable. Took me 4 days. Nice to be stopping off at places when the legs have run out of gas. Gives a nice punctuation mark to the day. This is in essence the beauty of been independent, it is dictated by very little bar some basic needs on a very primal level. Also managed to walk the Hai Van pass which was apparently used on Top Gear Vietnam special a while back. I must say it felt easier walking up what amounts to a pretty big hill than just walking the flats. I think when the mind ceases to be stimulated then the body will quickly follow suit. I had my first few days of proper sun in what seemed like the whole trip so far. Today it barred its teeth from the off and it felt pretty good, complimented by a nice coastal breeze blowing in.
After descending down from Hai Van pass and into the outskirts of Danang I thought I am done. So I promptly hailed down a motorbike. Lengthy
if pointless negotiation ensued and I got on the bike. The boy riding the bike was visibly uncomfortable with the dominant ballast been on the back so decided upon a slight rejig – bag on the front to even things up a bit. This had issues from the off as he was small even by vietnamese elder generation standards. Not only did the bike feel very unstable now but also the bag was imposing on his line of view. No one was stopping this guy though weaving in and out of traffic, adjusting the bag every so often. Even had to get of the bike in the middle of a crossroads as the bike had ceased to be for a while. Before I knew it my left foot peddle had vanished. Now you can only keep your legs raised for so long before they go into an industrial spasm. That they did so unconsciously they started dropping and clearly at a peculiar tangent as my right flip flop got torn off by the wheel. So I arrived in Danang with just the one flip flop. I thought it was best to ditch the other one. Been flip flopless in a
city raises questions, wearing just one raises infinitely more! Finding a size eleven flip flop in Danang was time consuming. As a result I know have these black and red football themed ones with a solid wedge underneath to raise my profile.
The last 30km from Danang – Hoi An started off well enough with a nice little coastal pavement then it descended into over developed crap. Courtesy of the development I got shunted off the pavement and a good 100/200m away from the coast. I could see it I could smell it but I had a wooden Berlin wall for company as opposed to what in reality were fairly murky looking waves. I cannot for the life of me think that what was essentially a 25km strip of hotels will ever get filled. But the Hyatt, Colin Montgomerie links………. Have I assume done their homework? The only bit of note really was the last 10km of pavement where the pavement was literally covered in drying shrimps which smell wise is right up there with a pig sty. At the point I was in some Zone but not THE zone so I just carried on walking through the by
People sat next to fires is a constant in the Lao countryside
now dried out thinly spread fluorescent orange mater. It was only after what in retrospect was an embarrassing amount of time I jumped off the pavement. It’s really one of the worst things ever when the brain doesn’t join the dots. Butttttt ignorance is bliss as long as no one’s watching!
Arrived in Hoi An – interesting. Coffee in the morning, cake in the afternoon. If Titus Salt dipped his deceased toes into tourism this is undoubtedly what he would have ended up with. Sanitized yet proficient. It’s on precipice but it stays on the right side, must be a secret ingredient somewhere. Lots of tailors around, lots of people/ backpackers/ tourists working the hybrid peasant/Indian nomad cross pollinated with a liberal dose of pretentiousness. I feel it’s almost a valid reason for gorping at people. One thing that I have noticed since a last traveled at any kind of length is the sheer number of people with borderline paparazzi lenses. So big they are almost intimidating. Liberate your necks, save yourself sometime and avoid been a mugging target just get Photoshop! In the end you cannot knock Hoi an, because there is just something for me about places
close to water or have it running through. Can’t really put it into words other than they are good, they work. So if Dubai ever gets round to building a Vietnamese zone or palms it will look something like this.
Still on Hoi An it had a proliferation of book shops selling the same book. Classical takes on wanderlust sprinkled with a little or a lot of political ideology.London,Burroughs,Kerouac,Orwell,Hemingway,Greene and the beat goes on. Not a Da Vinci code in sight. Re assuringly there was an abundance of Richard Sharpe.
After leaving Hoi An I got a bus back to Pakse, Laos. Here I rented 100c Honda Wave or maybe Dream I can’t quite remember, something evocative anyhow. Initially I had felt an overwhelming urge to ride it as in bicycle. Sadly the town had literally no bikes for rent bar one pushbike which looked limited. My mind was immediately turned back to Swiss Tony who ran a hostel I stayed at on the southern edges of NZ’S south island. He had cycled through Nepal on a 3 gear bike. Everything about him was in retrospect endearingly mental. Looking back very little if anything about him could be
regarded as living a life less than true. Anyhow French buddy hiring out the bike said “zzzzzz is not possible “ which is a load of crap. I never said I would cycle all of it, even if I was to walk up hills and cycle downhill and flats then I could have easily done 30/50km. But no no he wasn’t for changing so motorbike it was.
I must admit motorbikes have held little or no appeal ever. For that reason I did not know how to ride one so I got a 1 minute tutorial on how to and off I went. Turns out its pretty easy if quite frankly a little boring. Riding around the Boleaven Plateau in Laos it only re affirmed my thought that Laos should be twinned with Bolivia. Gerography,people, overbearing tourist savvy neighbor. As with Bolivia it doesn’t quite feel like the tourist penny has quite dropped. Or maybe they have just realized the key to sustainable tourism.
Travelling up and around the Boleaven Plateau was definately a worthwhile experience amazing scenary and one of the few places where you can pick up this lovely prolonged natural smell of coffee beans drying
in the sun. Normally lots of bad natural smells which i guess are a touch less subtle. There are lots out there some more gruesome than others in light of recent travels. These smells were so good in fact that the Wave had to be slowed down to a conservative 40km/h so my nostrils could revel.
The only slight problem with my motorbike "tour" was a little itty bittty crash. Well should i say someone crashed into me. I dont want to sound flippant but luckily he was drunk so the whole situation could be resolved pretty quickly. Its a lot easier if everything's in black and white when in a country with an appalling human rights record. So post crash all i had was a couple of blackened nails a bruised and bloody elbow and a Honda Wave in need of a bit of facial reconstruction. Luckily everything was decided then and there by policeman. So we had to drive down in a convoy to the nearest garage to get the wave fixed up. The new front for the wave wasn't exactly a 100% colour match but no one said a thing when i returned it and i
wasn't for hanging around.
So I think with that last revelation I am only 2/3 weeks of the pace blog wise. Besides Tet celebrations are really building up a head of steam outside!
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