Sunday 8 January 2017

Mountains, mountains, mountains and preparing to leave Vietnam.

So I have sadly reached the end of my time in Vietnam. Although after spending double the time in the country than I'd originally planned, I am excited to be crossing into another nation. But what a send off this past week has been, especially the past few days. Vietnam should be proud of its northern mountain ranges.
 I'm currently in a town called Sapa, situated on the top of a mountain, literally above the clouds, just a few kilometers away from the southern Chinese border.

It took me three days to ride the 200 miles here from Hanoi. I left a day earlier than Sean and Marc as I wanted to take it easy with a new piston and various other new components that were lost in translation. The bike is raring to go though, and I really want to give my thanks to Nguyen Minh Loc - a man who was just a complete stranger I met on the side of road when my bike broke down and he literally took care of all the problems for me, and even rode it back to my hostel. What a great guy. Humbled.

I met a friend on my second day of the ride here; Michelle, a girl from the Netherlands who had rode a bike she'd just bought from Hanoi that day - her first ever motorcycle experience, with the aim of riding it to Saigon on her own. Love it.
 We found a small village with a guesthouse that evening and rode on my bike to find a place to eat, which was basically a road side shack which had a sow with lots of tiny piglets suckling on it at the back next to the squat toilet - all lit up by the embers of a fire with a cauldron sitting on top.
 The people of the northern mountains of Vietnam are ethnically different from the rest of the country,
and it's evident in not just the way they look, but the way the behave and the houses they live in, which are usually two story dwellings made of wood on the sloping hills. Rice paddies have been carved out of the hills and people are tilling fields with buffalo and wooden carts. I saw one young boy riding on the back of a giant buffalo as it trudged up the mountain, having the time of his life. I was jealous of his childhood. In short, it's a beautiful place with beautiful people.
 On the way back from eating with the pigs we decided to try and find somewhere to drink, and in a village that we assumed was the same as our guesthouse we found a place serving booze and was immediately invited to the table by a group to drink with them. And then the pouring of the 'happy water' came. Endless pouring...

After a confusing journey home and a drunken sleep I was awoken by bangs on the door. It was the owner the the guesthouse who was worried I'd had my bike stolen. I had to explain through his son on the phone that I'd left it just 'around the corner' as I was too drunk to ride. He offered to drive me there but I honestly believed it was in the village. So 9 am saw me walking along the road, up a mountain away from the village, still wobbly, vision blurred and still a little happy, trying to find my bike. A man stopped on an old, beaten up cub and gestured if I wanted a lift. I nodded, he rubbed his fingers to indicate cash, I nodded and got on his bike. Three villages later I found the place with the bar. The owner had put it in his living room, and didn't bat an eyelid about the drops of engine oil on his floor. Best way.
 The guy who'd ridden me there asked for 20,000 Dong (about 60p) for the lift. I opened my wallet (already knowing that I was really low) and found 19,000. He just took 10. Nice guy. He then saw me wheeling the bike out of the owners house, and as he was toking on a tobacco-like substance with a bamboo pipe I mimed that I had to leave it here as I was too drunk to ride it home. He called me over, gave me back the 10,000 dong, shook my hand and laughed. Nice guy. Don't pity the foreigner...
 I had a little bit of shame. Although I think the most shame I've ever had from being hungover was just a few weeks ago when we took the overnight boat to Ha Long bay. There was a keg of free beer for the night. Well, technically from 7-10. We all cleared the first keg by 9:30 and got a fresh keg for the final half hour before the 'tour guide' took away the tap. Myself and Mateusz, a Polish guy I met on boat realised that we could prize out cupfuls of highly carbonated beer with a screwdriver, and we spent the remainder of the night doing that. Now, I didn't feel too drunk when I went to bed. My friend Gaby even said that I seemed normal, but the following morning I felt absolutely horrendous. The worst hangover I've had in years. It really wasn't my intention.
 That day we had to board a small boat which a family lived on for the remainder of the tour. And as Sean, Marc and Gaby went kayaking, I was still hiding in pain on the floor underneath a bench. The mother of the family came over, felt my forehead, tutted and went to get a local remedy for the flu she thought I had. I didn't have the energy to explain that I was just hungover, so I just let her rub tiger balm on my temples, wrists and ankles as she sang for ten minutes. Then I felt a lot of shame. Shame.

I've been taking it easy for the past few days and trying to live up to my new years resolutions; eat more, sleep more, drink less, as I wait for Sean and Marc to arrive. The roads up here are excellent to ride on. Excellent in terms of fun, not so if you want to make distance. It's like riding on the dirt tracks of the Congo again, although this time it's mountainous and extremely muddy.
 Our visas run out on the 11th so we ride for Laos tomorrow, and hopefully ride in time to be fresh for the inevitable negotiations of trying to get our bikes across the border. I think we will. One way or another.

So this is the final write up in Vietnam. Unfortunately my camera battery died on the way up here so I wasn't able to get any photo's on my DSLR. I took a few with my little point and shoot, and even a video, but I don't have the correct size usb to be able to transfer the photo's at the moment. Silly me. So here are a few I pulled off the internet for good measure. I'll take some one's with my own eyes today and on the way back down and upload them to a 'best of Vietnam' photo journal once I'm in Laos.

See you on the other side!

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