Are ‘Maps Me’ and the Locals in Cohorts to Strand me in the Vietnamese Country Side and is That Such a Bad Thing?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the app that is ‘Maps me’ let me familiarise you. “Maps me’ offers ‘world offline maps for travellers’. A dazzling concept and for the most part is brilliant in application. However, there has now been three separate occasions where the diversions that ‘maps me’ has taken me on have been so severe that my schedule has been severely hampered, Heather (my motorcycle) has taken a serious beating and on two occasions, I’ve had to gently and swiftly alope from Heather’s backside to avoid a crushing. And in truth, I can’t say I’m not happy about any of the deviations ‘maps me’ has taken me on.

The first rerouting courtesy of the app happened way down south in Dalat detailed in Canyoning with Koreans and Biking with a Belgian . I was relatively un experienced with how the maps worked and didn’t know how to properly read the details within them to my advantage. The day resulted in a 150 km delay and my first falling off but also some awesome views, a great off roading experience and the opportunity to hone my riding skills early on in the Vietnam chronicle. The second and third times happened more recently and, even though my Vietnamese has taken on leaps and bounds, were abetted by miss communications with the local population.

Saying that the second off route route I took under the guidance of maps me in cohesion with a local man was a miss communication, isn’t technically correct. The man in fact was a child, no older than 12, who definitely and purposefully sent me up a steep abandoned road to apparently nowhere. In the rain I might add. I started to become suspicious of said road, which the maps was taking me on ten minutes after a split in the street, when it became immensely quiet. I always kind of know the big towns of which I should be driving through on a journey to somewhere, but the road signs in Vietnam aren’t t the most user friendly so a reliance upon interactive 21st century GPS travelling has engulfed my sense of direction. This, however has also sharpened my gut feelings, especially when I come to a road of which I probably shouldn’t be on. I do like pushing the bike and my sense of adventure though so when I started feeling the apprehension I decided to push on and put my unrelenting trust in the route I had chosen. The trust quickly dwindled when I had to negate a landslide and a pot hole which could quite easily been taken out of some kind of moon scape movie production. It was here I spotted me a wee saviour in the form of a young lad herding his cows around the hillside. Our conversation was quick and extremely positive and I left him with holding a big thumbs up pointing up the hill with a large grin on his face. What a lovely chap I noted.

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Lovely in the sense of evil and conniving. The road quickly narrowed where nature had retaken its natural course over the abandoned asphalt which again quickly turned into what can only be described as mud. Herds of cows peacefully residing without a care in the world reigned on this hilltop and would have been bemused to see a soggy and Englishman swearing at them whilst he tried to decide which was the next best course of action. I could see a small path weaving through some kind of agricultural field going up a gradient I was in no mood for so I apprehensively turned around and headed back the hill I had slogged up. I had expected to never see the young dude again. I assumed he would have ran off to go tell his pals about the stupidly ignorant western dude on the crappy motorbike. Boy, was I wrong. Instead of going to tell them, he had bought them to his spot in anticipation of my return! I was met with laughs and even bigger grins. As I said earlier I would have done the same thing at his age and have definitely actually have done similar things to people asking for directions around the tourist trap that is Warlingham (Small town that I grew up in) when I was younger. The old directional karma kicked in I suppose. I left the small group of spectators in high spirits after a quick interaction of hand gestures and shaking with them.

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The third time I went off track, I should have known better. The road was needle thin on ‘maps me’ and so hard to spot I drove past it the first time. It immediately began as gravel and I could see it loop round as a small bike track into the highland farming community of the local area. I also had company in the form of a friend I had met in Cambodia who wanted to see the Ha Giang loop by bike so I dutifully offered to take her. It was the first time I had a passenger on the bike for more than a few hours, the last being a large Dutch man. But this small Belgian girl was a lot less troublesome than I had imagined and we had made good progress each day of the loop. Not wanting to back down in front of my company, I ploughed onto the bike track laughing in the face on the potential problems that it would throw at us. Without sounding too much like I’m some kind of dirt biking extraordinaire we did pretty well in the sweltering heat. I was more concerned for Heathers health and the fact that it was super hot and we were packing very little provisions. We pushed on for a good few hours of draining biking over the dirt tracks, over questionable bridges and rocky enclaves before gratefully arriving at a small rural town were we bought a high percentage of the drinks they had. The locals were very welcoming, making sure we had everything we wanted and took some photos of us together.

It was when we tried to take our leave that the confusion ensued. The hamlet was built around a crossroad along with the small trail we came from. When questioning which way we needed to go we received multiple responses which became quite the debate between the villagers. Upon checking ‘maps me’ it did little to help as the GPS on my phone had no idea where we were, which was nice. Anyway, we took the road that an elder gentleman most dominantly pushed us toward. Around 45 minutes later said road took us out onto a plateau looking onto a mountain valley of which I seemed to recognise. Another ten minutes down the road we came out to the junction containing the road which would let us drive into the valley, a junction of which we had had a water break 7 hours before hand and was about 30 minutes back from the gravel path where our struggles had begun. We retraced our footsteps this time ignoring the small maps me road and had to continue another 60 km to the next accommodation. The loop within the loop was a fun but a terribly long day of spectacular driving.

I was pretty pissed at the time (especially on the last episode) but looking back, these are some of the most memorable driving experiences I’ve had in Vietnam. I’m glad that ‘maps me’ isn’t the perfect map app that it could be and that I’m too lazy and inept to plan routes properly.

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