Well we've all met up and have so far survived a week of Vietnamese highs and lows, which I believe none of us expected. We arrived in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) with little knowledge about this war-scarred yet thriving civilisation - our concepts and expectations being largely based on the famous Top Gear Vietnam episode - but we have since been given brutal reminder of the atrocities of war, and more personally, Sam, Sam and Harry have had to adjust fast to life in Asia, where if you're a tourist, you're a target; if you have money, they will try to take it. Happily, the transition for all of them has been largely smooth and the haggling spirit has set in to the group. We've also set up a rough route plan - meeting Marc in Laos' Luang Prabang - and are now settling back to let the good times roll.
It has by no means been a festival of good times thus far. On our first night out together after the arrival of Sam from the UK, we were scammed by a set of prostitutes on motorbikes who followed us, groped us and, 2 minutes after we shrugged them off, razzed past us for the last time, casting Fitz's empty wallet towards us onto the dark road. He lost over 2 million Dong, and we all got a firm reality check - this wasn't any old night in Tunbridge Wells. We managed to resurrect the night and to catch up with eachothers' news over countless 25p Saigon Lagers - some of the cheapest beer in the world.
Unfortunately, the mares don't end there. In Mui Ne - a small beach resort by an impressive set of red sand dunes - we decided to rent our first motorbikes, allowing the others to get to grips with them before we attempt "that" mountain pass from the Top Gear episode. For 5 dollars a pop, the bikes were ours for the day, and after a brief lesson, we attempted our first short-haul drive down the relatively quiet stretch of tarmac that led to the sand dunes. I led, checking the progress of the others in my mirrors, and trying to provide a line for the others to follow. I'd just stopped mirror-watching when a bus came rattling past us on our side of the road, and 2 seconds later I heard a loud clatter and saw in horror the skidding of 2 mopeds on the tarmac. Harry and I pulled over and rushed to find both Sams untangling themselves from the floor and limping off the road. They have some nasty scrapes down their arms and legs, but I think we all know it could've been much worse. I sped back to the hotel to raid our medical supplies for plasters, alcohol swaps and bandages, and returned to find a Vietnamese woman literally rubbing salt into the wounds. We took a break and cut short our motorbiking day - only Harry and I ended up driving to the sand dunes, where we had a laugh sand sledding down steep slopes while a hysterical Vietnamese lady, who'd rented us the boards, shrieked unintelligible instructions. We once again learnt the hard way, that we really need to take it easy on these unpredictable Asian highways if and when we rent bikes in the future.
We've seen 5 motorbike crashes so far, and clearly it's an unavoidable feature of life out here. The roads in Ho Chi Minh are insane - 10 mopeds for every 1 bus or car, and an utter free-for-all at junctions. Pedestrians must push out into the swarms to have any chance of crossing roads. We look forward to road-crossing tests in the old city of Hanoi, where not only the vehicles, but the roads themselves are nonsensical.
We're currently in a beach resort called Nha Trang. It's been 3 days of lie-ins, beach bumming and nights out which have taken their toll on me personally after pretty much 4 months sober. The beer is cheap, the food is good and the long yellow beach leads into a blissfully cool blue sea. It's only my 4th beach in as many months, and so the novelty of relaxing with mates is still very much fresh.
Tonight we board one of the surprisingly comfortable sleeper buses, and will wake up in Hoi An. Here, we plan to get tailored suits and drive the Top Gear mountain pass. Wish us luck!
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