I would like to begin this blog by apologising to the countless bugs and butterfly’s and winged creatures that I have shamelessly crushed with my presence on the road in the past few weeks. It seems the flying beings are attracted to the bike and actively move toward my path as I casually plod along. I have also noted that my biggest worry is not that I will cruise into an oncoming truck or plough through a barrier separating me from a vertical abyss, rather that I will accidentally hit one of the numerous puppies who haven’t learnt that loitering on the village streets of central Vietnam isn’t a fun thing to do. Damn cute puppies.
The Anglo Dutch crew entered the city of Hue in a state of apprehension due to the knowledge that it was to be our last few days together. Having said that we were determined to make the most of it so booked into our thrifty hotel and went to check out an abandoned water park said to be infested with wild crocodiles, treacherous obstacles and an cloud of eerie mortality. Everything we heard was somewhat accurate minus the man-eating crocs. There wasn’t even any non-man eating crocs. Every turn in the post-apocalyptic park was filled with a mysterious and creepy susceptibility caused by the haunting memories of distant fun filled family days out. Numerous estimates on the cause of closure were discussed as we made our way through the slides, water display arena and huge dragon head in the middle of a murky lake. All in all it was a pretty intense perspective into what happens when nature is allowed to reclaim its course.
Seeing as I had nearly converted the boys to the eating habits of a stegosaurus (herbivore) we spent the rest of the day eating some pretty nifty veggie food and found the best lager in the whole of Vietnam, perfect for our emotional last evening together. The apathy for the dismantling of such a good group of guys and gals was however going to be slightly lessened by my first reunion of the week in the form of a good travelling partner from the past. I had met Ashely pretty much exactly a year before in India and we had spent the best part of a month traversing through Northern India and Nepal. She pretty much single handedly persuaded me, a dude who isn’t the most comfortable with heights, to do a bungee jump on the day we met. We had kept in contact so it was pretty awesome to see her again, and along with one of her good pals, Natasha, the Anglo Dutch crew gained a hint of Canadian and we drank the night away.
The next morning the Candian ladies left for Hoi An and I agreed to catch up with them the day after to spend a few days together (the boys had a late train and I wasn’t ready to leave them and the food in Hue was super good). The rest of the blurry day went quickly and it was emotional to see the final destruction of a group forged by the pass ways of the Ho Chi Minh Road. You’ll be happy to know the group lives on in spirit through Facebook messenger and to this day you’ll hear our mocking jokes, mostly aimed at JoJo, echoing throughout the interweb.
Quickly getting over the breakup I had commitments to fulfil to the Canadians. As a man on a new mission I’m certain I broke land speed records on a Honda win completing the run from Hue to Hoi An, including the Hai Van pass, in a good 2 hours and 45 minutes. Confusingly, I actually really enjoyed the pass second time around. The sun was shining and by going from north to south you are able to take the sharp steep bends of the Hue side with some speed and then meander slowly around the wide-open curves and take in the decent ocean views on the Hoi An side.
After astounding the girls with my in-depth knowledge of Hoi Ans finest vegetarian eateries, of which I had frequented in my last visit there, we planned which section of road that would be vanquished by our mighty steeds next. As I divulged information on the next stretch of Ho Chi Minh road including the fact that in a few days there would be an area of around 200km with one hotel and only 2 petrol stations my new(ish) travel partners were shocked to learn that I actually researched places I was going. I was shocked to learn that they hadn’t researched anywhere and were very much free wheeling the whole journey. Impressive I remarked to myself, but not under my slickly oiled Honda regime as I revealed that we needed to leave at 8 am for a long days drive West across the country to get back on the HCM.
By 10am we hit the road and therein began three days of awesome roads over dramatic highland pathways and cutting through ancient valleys which ran along rapid rivers. I’m going to stop attempting to describe the roads because they really are indescribable and the pictures I take really don’t do them any justice (my camera is also a little bit broken anyway). I myself don’t really stop to take many photos as I prefer to take everything in and to enjoy the drive. It was for this reason and because I selfishly wanted to drive faster along the fantastical road that I first managed to lose the other two thirds of the crew. The second time was slightly more dramatic whereby I happened upon my first experience of driving up a super steep mountain into a cloud to come out of said cloud on the other side, very much alone. Eventually when the others resurfaced from the drive to Phon Nha, it became clear that I had taken the scenic route around one of the mountains we needed to traverse so inadvertently missed some other travellers who’s bikes had broken down. When the girls stopped to help, Natasha’s bike then broke/ ran out of petrol (I don’t remember) meaning Ash drove into town to get help and to direct the others to our meeting spot. It all sounded quite the pavalava as I listened with my 6th Bia hoi (local beer) in hand (I had been there a while) apologising for not being around to help.
Our time in Phon Nha, ANOTHER area of extreme natural beauty, was pretty chilled. The district is famous for its many huge underground caves and massive limestone stacks above ground so the days were spent gleefully exploring. Regrettably, the brief reunion with my favourite Canadian (excluding Barbara Streisand) came and went too quickly. The ladies had to march onto HCM city due to their visa requirements and I had a second reunion party date to make. In three days’ time two good uni pals were to be in Hanoi. In order to intercept the boys my plan was to smash the 750km of HCM road between us in three days, an extremely do able but hardly an enjoyable task.
After another emotional goodbye I was finally able to leave early in the morning. The ride was pretty easy, floating over nice straight and flat roads that cut through northern farms. The drop in tourist friendly infrastructure was noticeable in these extremely rough and rural parts of Vietnam. In an attempt to avoid sounding like a useless vegetarian westerner ill avoid writing to much about struggling to find veggie food in the small towns I stopped in. I did notice the increase in animal agriculture, including the produce of animal meat less exposed to the western world, was dramatic. Lots of dogs, lots of cages, not so much fun, but an intriguing viewpoint into rural Vietnamese life.
I probably don’t need to write too much about the reunion with my University rugby/ 5 aside football pals except we booked ourselves onto a castaway cruise to Ha Lon bay. Ha Lon bay was stunning and the trip was not the Greek island booze cruise I was imagining. I let my inhibitions go and curiously transformed into the gap yah student that I should have been 7 years ago (instead I spent my gap year retaking a-levels and working for a demolition company). To sum up the excursion ill just put a picture of us all enjoying ourselves and you can use your imaginations to do the rest (I’m the tall better looking one).