Sat in a Malaysian hostel I ponder over my last couple of weeks in Vietnam. When the journey first began, applying for the visa in Cambodia, I expected to spend maybe a little over four weeks traversing the country. Ten weeks later I glumly watched my faithful motor cycle, Heather, being driven away by a local mechanic in Hanoi. For me that kind of sums up the whole expectantly magnificent experience quite nicely.
My most pessimistic expectations at the beginning of the journey were to precariously travel on a crap bike up the country on some nice roads, meet some posh gap yahers and have to drink loads to be social, probably get bored of driving after a week or so thus get rid of the bike after three weeks and jump over to the next Asian country, as many people do. I never expected to become so emotionally attached to the majesty of the country, its history, the people, a motorcycle and my fellow traveller compadres.
The last three weeks especially, epitomised my Vietnam chronicle. I was worried after Sapa where i failed to meet up with any one riding the most northern roads that I was to spend the next week traversing the barren Chinese border roads as quickly as possible and alone. Fortuitously, a girl I had met in Cambodia was keen to see a section of road known as the Ha Giang loop by motorbike on her two week exploration of Vietnam. I dutifully offered to take her on the three day trip and it was some of the best days driving minus the minor detour we took on the last day (see Are ‘Maps Me’ and the Locals in Cohorts to Strand me in the Vietnamese Country Side and is That Such a Bad Thing? ). Luckily we were doing the loop on a weekend which meant we were able to see the large local market in Duc Vang the largest town in the northern region. The market enabled all the local farmers and people to come and socialise for the day whilst they sold their weekly wares. Apparently it is also one of the few opportunities that the youth of the area get to come and liase or attempt to court a corresponding sweetheart from other villages. This meant that there were numerous women in their best and brightest clothing and young men in their sharpest dress. Surrounded by the small pig market and masses of knives for sale it struck quite the romantic scene.
After completing the loop, which involved driving through some crazy Tolkien-esque mountain landscapes of which only the man himself could adequately describe, we arrived back in our hostel in Ha Giang a dusty town only commonly frequented by travellers with bikes. My travelling companion and I were the only people in our small hostel, which had the biggest and best dorm beds in all of Vietnam, until a large group of around 10 people rocked up to the door. with my friend leaving that evening I knew I had to break into the group alas be left on my own for the rest of the northern roads. Its actually quite a daunting thing trying to break into a large group dynamic but I latched onto a couple of familiar south London accents, pulled on my big boy trousers and made myself be social. Looking back I am exceedingly happy I did that as the next two and a half weeks were to be a delight with my new large group of pals.
Too much awesome stuff happened, too many awesome views were scene and too much less awesome rice wine was drunk so I’m just going to post various pictures for you to look at.
The journey ended with possible one of the worst days driving, a hot and dusty few hours on a highway into Hanoi. Luckily i was accompanied by two awesomely crazy Italians and we promptly set about putting our beloved motors up for sale around the city. My departure from Heather is a bit of a black cloud. I wanted a romantic ceremonious cheerio but with the Hanoi traveller bike flooded heading into the low season I struggled to drum up too much serious interest. the thought of eventually having to sell to a mechanic for a supper low price crept into my mind and one night as i sat outside the hostel drinking a beer and eating a bhan, an apparent local mechanic came past and started checking Heather out. We entered aggressive negotiations and i managed to eventually squeeze a better price than i was expecting from one of these notoriously savvy and hostile guys. Without any emotion or even a handshake the money was exchanged and Heathz was sped away into the distance. My inspiration and key to Vietnam, my first awesomely crap and slow and broken first motorbike that i loved was gone. I think i became a bit too attached to her.
Two days later i left Vietnam with nothing but happy memories and i most definitely intend to return some day.
Peace and Love Vietnam xxx