Thursday 24 November 2016

Riding two-up through the Vietnamese highlands.

So as with most things that happen for the good in life, they occur in random moments. On the evening that I was due to depart Mui Ne for Dalat with the group of six of us I met in Saigon, I was ready to go to bed at ten to be fresh for the morning ride. Yet after an evening game of pool I was called over to play a game of cards with the small group of people left in the hostel who's idea of a pub crawl isn't their thing. This then turned into more beers, and then more beers until we realised it was 04:30 in the morning. And in the over-optimism of alcohol as we watched the sun rise over the South China sea, knowing that I couldn't ride for Dalat that day I decided to invite Lauren on the back of my bike to hit the mountains of lower-Vietnam the next day.

So the following day after going to bed at 09:00 am and waking at 16:00 I was a little pensive with my sober thoughts about the practicalities of riding a Chinese 110cc bike with two people and their two sets of back-packs into the mountains. But those uncertainties were soon squashed. It's true that the bike felt a little heavy, but it never missed a beat or put in any form of protest. And riding on the weaving potholed roads or sometimes just rocks and gravel, really reminded me of riding through the Congo, and I felt at home on the bike, liberated and free. It's also very nice to be able to have a conversation whilst riding. I've been turned on to the prospect of riding double from now on.

The mountains of Vietnam are beautiful.

We developed a different kind of travelling during our three day ride to where we are now; 'restaurant camping'. It was remarkably easy to find a place an hour before the sun was due to set to pitch our tent. Miming a tent was not so. A triangle over our heads was pretty baffling for most people, so learning the Vietnamese for tent, 'Leu' was invaluable. Still, I have to say that if you are planning to do your own trip around SE Asia with your own set of wheels, then a tent is a must. Many travel blogs say it's not necessary to bring a tent to this region as accommodation is cheap and plentiful, but I disagree. It gives you such freedom to be able to decide where you spend the night, and opens up possibilities for truly Vietnamese and unique experiences.

The most notable night was when we stayed with Houng and his family in a little mountain cafe. They were very eager and happy for us to stay, and simply just moved their tables for us to be able to pitch our tent. It works for both parties; we have a place to sleep and they have our custom for dinner, breakfast and all the beer we wish to drink, for a pittance of what we would spend in an isolated room in a guesthouse.

We were the third tourists who had stayed with them in the twenty years that they've owned the restaurant, and Houng was adamant about celebrating this, and produced his 'happy water' - a home brewed spirit made from rice. I'm really not into taking shots, and was shocked when we stopped for lunch earlier that day and some members of the police sat at a table offered me some vodka when I was in my full motorcycle attire, but it turned out that night I had to drink A LOT of them. One litre between three people. It makes you blind drunk, not actually blind, thankfully. 

Our morning restaurant camp.

A beautiful view to wake up to.

Some isolated mountain road where we nearly ran over a snake.

A floating market that we found whilst crossing a bridge.

The views of dreams.

Our plan was to head for a tiny speck of water on my map called lake Lak, and Lauren was amazed at my optimism when I assured here there would be a resort there, that they'd let us camp on the grass, there'd be a nice restaurant with wifi and we can drink over the view of the lake. I didn't know anything about the place, but it turned out it was all true. Talk about me being psychic has been floating about, but the truth is that this country just works. I love Vietnam, and I'm certain that the following months are going to be great.

Lauren has to head home to the states in the next few days so I think I'll be riding to join my friends I met in Saigon who affectionately nicknamed our 'motorcycle gang' the 'Chicken Gang' after a man in a back street bar jokingly threatened us with with a fighting cock he had under his jumper. Onwards!

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