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Published: January 17th 2007
Trace and her imitation Honda
In the mountainous area west of Hoi An. The road has been built on one of the sections of the old Ho Chi Minh trail (the hidden road used by the VC to move troops and supplies south).
Mat: A pancake-and-plastic-jug-of-whiskey Christmas was had in Cambodia, and now we headed to Saigon, Vietnam, for New Years. Unfortunately Nicki and I had a fluey thing we affectionately called "The Nana". At about 3pm every day we - well, me in particular - had to retire to our rooms for a little lie down as the world all seemed a bit difficult and tiring. If you did not respect Nana she would bite, causing you to become very fragile emotionally and physically, maybe causing you to kick out a small puppy or even have a little cry. I didn't like Nana, and she didn't like me. So I prepared for New Years with a good "Nana Nap", but by 12.30am I was happy to take Nana to bed. For me the highlight of the night was a troop of Vietnamese home-boys who broke it down for us post-countdown. Speaking of which, we were wondering why the officials were trying to create and maintain two people-free areas right in the middle of the densest part of the crowd. At midnight we figured it out - they let fireworks off from these spots. Bangkok celebrations were shut down because of bombs, the Vietnamese
New Years in Saigon
Vietnamese homies breaking it down! Bizzare.
officials supplied their own.
During the couple of days we were in Saigon we had US$2.50 hour-long massages from expert blind masseuses, went to a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant staffed by former street kids, reminded ourselves of the horrific effect of the American War on the Vietnamese people at the War Remnants Museum, and tried to track down places that sold pancakes for Trace and Nicki's addiction. We also bought a number of pirated DVDs (no NZ films of course). I was sorely tempted by the entire Sopranos collection (43 DVDs for US$40), including all of season five (which was cut short by TVNZ this year) and season 6.
On the evening of New Years day we caught the sleeper train up to Nha Trang, and hung about with Nicki doing her open water scuba cert, Trace doing her PADI advanced course, and me nursing Nana. I managed to get one morning's diving in, but after Sipadan it was pretty lame. On the first dive I thought we must have been having a bit of a swim along the 12m bottom to the dive site, but this lasted for about 25 minutes, so I assume we were experiencing a
The train to Nha Trang
Don't know why our berths were called "sleepers", there was no ventilation and we steamed. Better than a bus though.
particularly average part of what Nha Trang has to offer. After this it got slightly more interesting, but not by much. I saw a cuttlefish which I have not seen before which was cool, it changed colour and back again in half a second flat.
While in Nha Trang we decided we wanted to head through the Central Highlands (westwards then north, travelling near the border with Cambodian and Laos). If you have a map we intended to sleep at: Lak Lake, Buon Ma Thout, Kon Tum, and some other little town, before arriving in Hoi An. After meeting a couple of local motorbike guides we teed up a 5 day trip with "Tony" (real name Coung). Trace and I riding our own bikes saved costs and still gave us the services of a guide/translator and a driver for Nicki. Tony had been guiding for eleven years, and Trace was the first female to ride her own bike. What a legend. She managed to get an imitation Honda Dream 110cc, while I got a genuine manual-geared 100cc Honda. The fact it was actually made in Japan did not really make up for the fact that it was a bit
We went for an early dinner in Nha Trang and Nicki ordered a nice sounding cocktail, except it turned out to be one of those things you buy at about 3am during a big night, flames and all.
rough around the edges, and, well... only 100cc. Oh how I longed for a Baja and 80km/h. But it did the job, and the last thing you want to do is race about Vietnam on a bike, because it seems if/when you do hit something/someone, it is your fault for not paying attention. Asian drivers can get a bit of stick in NZ, but the drivers here would cream most New Zealanders as far as defensive driving goes. A driving situation in NZ that would cause sweaty palms and an elevated heart beat happens twice a minute here. You have to pay attention, really. In two weeks in Vietnam we have seen three moderate accidents (and the results of countless more). In my whole life in NZ I might have seen three accidents like this. We saw our first accident on our first day riding, with an older man breaking the front wheel and suspension off his bike and breaking his left shin and arm. No ambulance for him, maybe a motorbike ride to the nearest town 50km away? A good reminder to take it easy. I think that if you drive relatively slowly and wear a helmet your chances
Spunky as usual
of serious injury would be vastly reduced compared to the average here. Despite the fact that all of the locals must have seen serious accidents, many of the younger guys especially are just plain dumb. You can only travel at 60km (without a helmet) in the chaotic urban streets for so long before it catches up with you.
The scenery on the first 3 1/2 days of the trip was pretty barren, apparently all the result of agent orange. It was mostly all jungle before the American War. Pretty interesting, and good to be on bikes. The end of the fourth day and most of the last day was awesome mountainous misty jungle scenery. See the video Nicki took. A very beautiful ride, especially after the first few days. Trace was a little motorbike legend in the wet winding stuff.
On the third day after dark we were approaching the town we were staying in (Pleiku) and Trace and I saw a guy get run over by a motorbike with two people on it. They lost it and slid for quite a way, but got up and rode off?! The guy they ran over was still in the
middle of the road unconscious and had dark clothing on. I swear the next truck that came would not have seen him in the dark (the motorbike didn't obviously). So Trace and I stopped and I lifted him off the road and waited for him to come to, and got his shoes from the road etc. After a couple of minutes he seemed OK but a bit cut up. Seeing as we don't speak Vietnamese there did not seem like much else to do so we started to leave after a couple of minutes, but he must have thought we hit him because he didn't want us to go. He was either concussed or drunk, probably both. When we stopped trying to go he pulled out his phone, and so I tried to politely leave and he started yelling and trying to pull the keys out of my bike, and holding on to me and my handlebars. I told Trace to leave, which she did and hung down the road a bit. I figured that it was a fair misunderstanding so I waited for our guide to come back so he could explain the situation to him. By this time
he had called someone on his cellphone and was quite worked up. I felt a bit tense because I did not know who he had called, and it was dark away from the town, and a few of the locals we had met in the area were not overly friendly to us "My" (Americans). Our guide got back and was a stressed by the situation and did not seem to get the message across that we had probably saved the guy's life. So after trying to leave one more time and the guy getting very in my face, and me not wanting his mates to come, and not being able to hold/push him off at the same time as getting the keys in - finding neutral - kick starting it - and riding away, we got into a scuffle in which I came out better off. We then rode towards town.
Our guide was then very stressed (I think he was a bit highly strung anyway) because he said the police in Pleiku are a law unto themselves, and an incident between a foreigner and Vietnamese is not good. We checked into a hotel in Pleiku, but after Tony
And the girls' mums worry about their welfare in Asia
had called a guy from his company in Nha Trang he said we should leave town quickly. So, we left Pleiku with slightly wider eyes than usual and rode to Kon Tum where we were not asked any questions.
On the last night of the trip Tony met a couple of other Vietnamese motorbike guides staying in the same hotel as us who were talking about the incident because the cops in Pleiku had been asking around while the guides were there.
But we are in Hanoi now, away from that province, so fingers crossed. At the end of the day we really helped the guy and he was drunk and unreasonable and aggressive. Stuffed if I wanted to wait for whoever to come and meet us in the dark.
All in all it was a great 5 days, in fact it was so good to be on bikes having the freedom it allows, that we may buy two Russian "Minsks" in Hanoi and ride them north for a week or so before taking them over the border to Laos.
Again, pictures (and Nickis videos) speak loader than words, so here are a few. The videos
are between 10 to 30MB and I do not how they will work for you because the internet is too slow here to test them. Give the Ho Chi Minh road video a go at least. You should be able to access the videos at the following address as well: http://www.fliqz.com/FliqzWebPublic/Dynamic/proxy.aspx?PID=1723&from=perma
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