After inadvertently entertaining me with her difficult journey on the jungle road the day before, Jojo proved her worth again the next day in a town called Kontuum. By using her powers of stubbornness she pretty much forced me to stay at a guesthouse which was very much over my budget. Luckily for her it was a very cute place, the family were lovely, the plentiful food was good and we met some awesome people of whom we would form an Anglo-Dutch-Belgian super group of which the world had never seen the like of before. It was also here where I had the heated vegetarian debate described on a different post but let’s not go into how right I was/am again for now.
On the morning after I realised It was the first time I had travelled on the bike in a convoy of more than two and the dynamic of the group slid into place perfectly like a Belgian fritte into a expanse of Dutch mayonnaise. Who was the potato and who was the mayo? Who knows, but as we drove northwards up the Ho Chi Minh the road began to crawl into the mountainous scenery of which we had all been waiting for. The road condition was good, the spectacular views were the type of spectacular views where its futile to capture the majesty in a photo and we were driving through some amazingly welcoming mountain populaces. Life was good. So good in fact that I wouldn’t have imagined the vicious attack on my person that was to come a few hours later once we had arrived at our destined town of Khach San.
I immediately recognised the only hotel in town as being rather fancy by the huge marble lions that were guarding the front entrance. Any place with such imposing statues imperialistically judging those who enter its domain would normally be a no go for backpackers driving beaten up old motorcycles but it really was the only place in the town. Apparently Khach San is or was a mining town so sometimes some kind of important people come to visit so they needed an important looking hotel with important looking sculptures to go with it.
After a few beerz with the boyz (and girl) we decided to walk through the small town to find some food as I was being the notoriously picky vegetarian and didn’t want any of what the hotel had to offer. The town was pretty dead apart from the standard Vietnamese karaoke house and a couple of small restaurants of which an overly friendly, drunk and gropey older gentleman decided to follow us to. Upon our arrival the restaurant lady dismissed the old geezer with brutal efficiency, brought us some more beers and the menus. It was then that I first set eyes on my impending attacker. A small 3 or 4 year old Vietnamese boy, accompanied by his not so small but equally Vietnamese older and extremely hyper brother/cousin/acquaintance strolled in and immediately set their eyes on the dinner party.
All was well at first as we interacted with the boys as you do when you’re the only farangs in the village. I went into teacher mode, Roleland went into grandpapa mode, JoJo got bullied and Neils went into his ‘ I hate kids so stay away from me’ mode of which we would all see again on numerous occasions and grow to love. We didn’t know what these kids were being fed but it was about 9pm and they were flying off the walls. There were no signs of bed time for them to say the least as the older one continued to throw deadly chopstick wrappers and lethal toothpicks at us. Comfortable in our new surroundings and trying to ignore the kids it was now that the little guy whom had fooled us all with his charm and innocence decided to unleash all hell against me by deciding to bite my right handle of love (love handle/fat hip). I can’t recall much as I’ve clearly blocked the astonishingly weird dinner from my mind but we had had enough, paid and went back to our fancy hotel for a few fancy beers and a fancy night’s sleep.
The drive to Hoi An was followed the same pattern as the day before driving on some lovely mountain roads , over dams and through some quaint little towns. Hoi An itself is a cool little town, seemingly untouched by the war with its old French style villas and shops still lining the streets of the old quarter. We spent the next few days in good company with respectable wine, decent food and a respectable nightlife to go with it. The Dutch guys were in the market for some custom made clothing and after a little persuading I decided to follow suit, literally (waaaahey pun). Hoi an is after all, the home of the custom suit business in Vietnam, apparently. My suit took a few days and fittings to get right, making the seamstress declare on numerous occasions that I need to stop drinking and that she hated my long flabby body. It came out pretty well and the experience was worth it so at least now I won’t get abused at the next wedding for wearing one of my Dads old suits.
It was in Hoi An that I also had one of the more moving experiences of the trip so far. On one of the days we came to the knowledge that it was the two-year anniversary of the passing of one of Neils’s best pals. Seeing as he wasn’t in the Netherlands to pay his respects he wanted to do something traditionally Vietnamese in honour of his friend. The hostel owner was super nice about it and took him to the market to get especially made mock items relatable to the person whom you are performing the ceremony for. These are put on display and then burnt as offerings, the idea being that you pass on things that the deceased person can use in the afterlife. Neils chose things like money, cigarettes and a phone and after the lighting of some incense and some prayers they were burnt. It doesn’t sound like much as I can’t eloquently enough depict the scene with my sub par writing style but it was an extremely personal ceremony and a great remembrance ritual, which even a got to a mundane unspiritual atheist like myself.
After a few more days in Hoi An we departed from with mixed feelings. JoJo had unfortunately run out of time in Vietnam and left us to selfishly go explore Laos. However, as we lost one we gained two, two more Dutch ladies that we had met earlier in the week to be precise. Together we eagerly headed in the direction of the Hai Van Pass, the Vietnamese road made famously by Top Gear’s Vietnam road trip a few years ago. In terms of ocean roads, it was definitely the best one that I’ve been on (perhaps second to the Almafi coastline in Italy) but I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed with the experience. The views of the South China Sea were rather spectacular and as the others stopped to take loads of photos I went ahead to try and experience the road. Maybe it was because I prefer mountains and we had been spoiled with beautifully scenic and quiet roads in the trips before or maybe I’m just being a brat but I didn’t think the Hai Van pass was everything it was rumoured up to be. Having super high expectations was probably a problem from the off. The Pass was busy due to the numerous day trips that one can participate in, not especially well maintained and from a personal low note was seemingly a highway for huge trucks crammed with pigs unable to go through the alternative mountain tunnel. My top tip for anyone who doesn’t have much time in Vietnam would definitely be not to worry too much about the pass as the stretch of Ho Chi Minh road running on the same lateral coordinates is, in my eyes at least, far more rewarding.