Day 1-7

Editors Note:  Please note that these blogs were written at the end of each days ride and contain extraordinarily horrible grammar.  We aim to fix this up as time permits.  

DAY 1 

It’s 2.30am.  On the plane we were suffocated of all energy, laid out like apple pies on an oven tray awaiting our roasting.  Yes, yes this may not make any sense, but trust me, to an apple pie it does.

HOWEVER, landing in Singapores notably named, BUDGET TERMINAL, there’s suddenly a surge excitement running through our bodies.  WE had almost instantly shaken of the lack of shuteye, afterall,  We were in a new country.

We got on the free bus shuttle that’d take us to the ultimate, SKYTRAIN!.  We lugged our potato sacks onboard and after 15 minutes of dodgy Karaoke music we’re getting off the bus and following the signs towards SKYTRAIN!  It started getting a bit strange though, as slowly one by one our fellow trekkers were dropped of. In fact it seemed the only people heading for SKYTRAIN was the 2 goons that had no idea if it’s even operating at 3am or not.

 

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Soon enough we arrived at the god of all stations.  It was a ghost town.  As Pattni described it,

“A post apocalyptic wasteland”.

It was like a the opening stages of the game Perfect Dark for Nintendo 64.  Full kudos to the guys who designed the station but by god WHY wasn’t the escalator designed to stay on all night.  We climbed the steepest of stairs, and Pattni all the way complaining of the 15 KG’s he was lugging around in his backpack.  We got to Terminal 2 at about 4am and I needed breakfast.  We finally found some authentic little cafe in an empty Terminal.  I got me a Chicken Pasta soup and a cheeky SPRITE while Pattni watched me wolf it down through half open eyelids.

 

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We trekked up another set of brutal dead escalators and finally got to the platform. No trains were operating.  FOARK!. Souls crushed, we decided to walk back to square one. The search for the way back was harder than anticipated.  We couldn’t remember where we’d been we’d gone down, paths lead us to many dead ends and the weight of our bags seemed to double every few minutes.  At one point question of the day had to of been,

“Dude why don’t we just use a trolley?”

Nonetheless by the time we’d figured out those pieces of steel with wheels actually served a purpose at an airport we were back on track and found the path of all paths that lead us back to the original shuttle bus.

Stepping back onto the courtesy bus was the sweetest little victory on the scale of things and we returned to the “budget terminal” to find a hive of activity and no quiet place to lay down and rest. Fatigue took over and we could take no more.

We found a spot just behind some seats and slept on top of the coldest, hardest god damn marble floors.  On the scale of 1-10 for hardness.  It gets a 9.5.  Right beside where we lay to sleep, was a 24 hour McDonalds play gym, bursting with local children emitting the loudest noises and screams while they played. This was no factor however, we were so devastatingly tired we chucked our bags down and enjoyed the sweetest 5 hour nap one could have given the circumstances.

We woke up at 10am, just on time to check in for our flights to Ho Chi Minh, and once again Tiger Air delivers and sets us up with first row emergency seats and a spare seat in between us. We went through to the Departure lounge and ordered some breakfast from a small cafe.  We both ordered TRADITIONAL SET 1.  It had so much potential.  Coffee, boiled egg and toast.  Just what we needed before the flight. Oh how wrong we were.  The eggs turned out to be soft boiled.

They were hardly cooked.  The toast had some ridiculous butter on it, like it was butter with cane sugar.  But it was green and tasted like garbage.  The coffee was great though.  From a distance we noticed the 7/11 logo.  Brilliant.  We’ll snack up on some treats for the flight over.  Energy drinks, pringles and roasted nuts. Wahooooooooooo!

 

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The flight from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh was rather entertaining.  Caffeinated up and munching on our snacks the excitement was clearly growing.  As we got closer and dropped beneath the clouds the country appeared.  Vietnam.  It looked so so beautiful.  All the rivers, brown.  Urban jungle surrounding it.

Finally we landed and exited a rather impressive airport in Ho Chi Minh to a sea of local touts and families of travellers. We navigated the swathes of people to find a cab that would take us to District 1 and our destination, Pham Ngu Lao street.  We got in with a driver whose name we finally found out, was Mr Kim.  The drive itself took 45 minutes but there was so much going on around us that time didn’t seem to matter.  Scooters motorbikes, cars, SUVs, buses and all types of man powered carts.  The air was so humid, the amount of dirt in the air was making our throats dry.  THIS IS SAIGON WE’D MADE IT.

 

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The initial price of the ride according to Sir Mr Kims meter was  440, 000 dong. After persistant haggling we got that down to 130,000 dong.  $6.50 between us. We were instantly approached by a friendly hotel owner and we agreed to check out the room he had for offer.  We had no accomodation and it wouldn’t hurt to have a look.  He took us through a maze of side streets to a little hotel called “Thanh”, which had surprising clean and large rooms that had AC and LCD T.V.  We didn’t even want these extras but at $15 a night between us, it solved the problem of accommodation almost instantly.

A hot shower stripped the grime and dirt of 24 hours of journey right off us and after a clean shave and fresh clean clothes we felt human again.

We emerged back onto the district and stood awe struck at the hustle and bustle of the street, little scooters buzzed about like bees in a hive, street food aromas laced with vehicle emissions filled our nostrils. A scene reminiscent of “Karol Bagh” in Delhi for those who have been there.

We walked only about 100 meters down the road when we found a cosy little tavern that sold us some crisp cool Tiger beers. We sat down to savor the suds while enveloped in a scene straight out of a movie. After many months in the making, many shifts at work, many saved dollars and many a conversation, we were finally here. On the streets of Ho Chi Minh city, sipping a refreshing beverage, surrounded by the chaotic ballet of life in this city, it doesn’t get better than this.

 

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Later in the evening we went in search of some din dins.  We found a street side restaurant with more neon lights than a nuns Christmas tree.  We got ourselves a plate of satay egg noodles with veggies and a couple bottles of the local brew, Saigon Red.  After a few cheekies, we were done.  We got back to the hotel and after some ridiculous lights out chit chat,  we were asleep by about 10.30pm.

What a day.

 

DAY 2

9am and the alarms buzzing.  Pattni is rolling around like a worm on a fishing hook.  God knows what he’s dreaming about.  I finished up yesterdays blog then hit the shower to get refreshed for the day ahead.  The room is ice cold from the intense air-con/fan combo we submitted it to the previous night, this was soon confirmed as my willy shriveled as I stepped out the shower.  I run to the window and the humidity all but dries me within minutes.  Pattni finally rolls out from his slumber and gets washed up then we head out onto the streets of Ho Chi Minh.

Our first port of call is Benh Thanh Market, aka, Ben 10 Market!  It’s about a 20 minute cross district walk through the heaviest of traffic.  I notice that our jaywalking has improved muchly from the previous day.  Still, you can notice who’s a local and who isn’t as the locals are always doing the suicidal walk of death.  The market is huge.  There’s a section for clothing, foods, antiques, household goods, booze, caps, smokes, everything and anything.  We sat down to guzzle a fresh coconut, a nostalgia beveridge that reminded Pattni of his younger days in Nairobi. We slurped and took in everything that was going on around us.  The smell was engrossing and we continued to talk about the hygiene of the place.  In the meat markets there were flies everywhere and the vegetables were being washed in dirty water.  Did most of the Vietnamese population wag Home Economics?

We continued searching the surroundings of the market.  I made my first purchase, an awesome Vietnamese hat and I replaced my dodgy Bali ‘Nike’ backpack for a slightly more dodgy Vietnamese ‘North Pole’ pack.  It cost 5 dollars but it’s hearty with a ton of pockets.  I probably paid more than needed, but at these sorts of prices theres no real reason to bargain over a dollar or 2.  We decided with it now just gone midday that we needed to step up our search for our hogs.  We want to leave tomorrow for the Mekong Delta and it’s vital to be on wheels for such a trek.  We asked in a few moto shops and no one seemed to know where we’d find them.  There was a slight eire about the situation.  We quickly ducked into our room and loaded the trusty google for moto outlets.  All we could find were addresses in Hanoi.  Fuck it, lets go out on the street and continue putting the word out.  We walked out onto the street and talked to a lady in a hotel lobby who had motos for hire.  There was a big beastly Suzuki for sale for $550.  The guy came down and we told him we were after something a bit smaller and cheaper.  Before he could reply another guy, from France, interrupted and said he had a Honda for sale.  I said we needed 2.  He said he’s got 2!  He had just got in from Hanoi and was looking to pass the motos onwards.  We agreed to meet back at the hotel in 15 minutes whilst they drove them over.

We walked away not believing our luck.  Just like that it seemed our troubles could be solved.  We could actually have some wheels to call our own.  We used the 15 minutes to head to a phone store to unlock our phones.  Apparently mine cannot be unlocked however Pattni had luck with his.  We went to a vendor and had a cheeky sud, totally forgetting the time and ran back to the hotel 10 minutes later than expected.  There they were.  Our babies.  In all there steel glory.  A little beaten but still as cute as a lemon.  Since when have lemons been cute?  Who really cares.

The guy selling them was the nicest guy ever.  Frank was his name, from the Netherlands.  His friend the French guy had dissapeared.  Anyways for the next hour he gave us an impromptu bike lesson on the street.  Not just any street, but one of the busiest in the district.  Jesus christ this is going to be far more dangerous than expected.  After mastering take off and 1st gear Pattni hopped on and did the same.  We got interrupted by 2 New Zealenders wanting to do what we were doing and needed 2 bikes.  Oh how close yet late they were.  We traded details and assured one another we’d be in touch to meet up later.  We also told Frank that we’d take the bikes from him and we just had to get some cash.

After getting the US dollars for the bikes, Guy number 1 with the Suzuki suddenly appeared.  He wants to be our friend.  No, he also wants to party later and introduce us to another guy he met at the hotel whose travelling alone and wants to ride his moto with us.  The fuuhh.  We tell him we might see him later as we need to go pay for the bikes.  We head to a big place called The Buffalo Bar.  There is Frank, Frenchie, another dude and two birds they met the previous night.  Frank comes with us, we get all the tools for the bike and the helmets then head to our room to give the cash.  It was like a dodgie drug deal.  But this was far more sinister.  MOTORBIKES *insert horror music*.  We wish him well with his travels to Cambodia and suggest meeting for a brewskie later.

We can’t believe our luck.  We just bought our wheels, in Vietnam.  We’ve dreamt about these hogs for so so long.  Let’s celebrate.

We goto a small eatery on the main strip.  I order a Chicken Salad with Egg Beans and Mo tested the chefs skills with a Mexican Quesadilla and a few Saigon reds to wash down the tasty goodness.  Lunchtime entertainment was supplied by the neighbouring restaurant.  An old man with a dodgy brain was complaining he got sick there the night before.  Anyways the guy started losing customers and the owner lost his shit.  A yelling contest ensured and this 70yr old western man went into street fighter mode, raising his 2 fragile arms in a punching taunt.  He got booted to the curb and we continued to enjoy our lunch.

We returned to the room for a bit of a rest and then decided we’d best take the bikes from the side of the road.  As we were about to cart them away,  Fred and Frenchie appear, excited to see us taking them away.  Then at the same time Suzuki man reappears, wanting to introduce us to his friend.  We cart the bikes down our alley,  The Claw aka Him aka She aka our hotel owner shows us where to put the bikes and we sneakily retreat back to the room.

We then headed out to find some din dins.  When we first arrived in Saigon we saw a touristy looking bar made from bamboo.  We said although it’d be full of tourists we just had to check it out and so for our last supper here, we did.  We ordered 2 brewskies and checked the menu.  Yikes.  The place is expensive.  We left soon after, I got some overpriced Pad Thai from a street vendor, we got some snacks and headed back to the room for an early night.  Tomorrow we hit the road on our hogs bright and early.  We are both incredibly daunted by the ride out of Ho Chi Minh.  We’ll most definitely be relieved and glad to be safely updating this blog tomorrow evening, wherever we maybe.

 

DAY 3

It’s just gone midnight and Pattni and I are all but asleep in our ice block (that air con was being maxed out).  Suddenly we hear a clawing at the door.  At first I thought it was Pattni trying to ‘joke’ around pretending to have a mazz before he sleeps.  But nope, there at the door, a 4ft shadow.  It’s the hotel owner, who is a very unusual character, we know he’s a dude, but he looks like a woman, shes almost a midget and shes got stunted arms that are half the size of normal arms and can fold in ways a normal arms simply cannot, so we nicknamed her “THE CLAW” anyway Mo walks over and she tells him that our bikes aren’t safe in the alleyways at night and that we must take them to secure parking.

We can’t believe it.  It’s midnight, we don’t know how to ride these hogs, we’re JUST about to fall asleep and the anxiety we’re feeling is already at it’s peak.  We put our boots on and head downstairs.  An old grumpy man on a moped is near the door and we ask him where the secure parking is.  He tells us to follow him on the bikes.  But we want to walk them? NO, COME COME FOLLOW.  We walk slowly over to the bikes wondering how we tell him that although we own motorbikes, we don’t really have a clue as to how to ride them.  I faintly point at the bikes and mumble in vain for him to not worry.  His face suddenly changes and he smiles and drives off.  We thought we’d escaped from embarrasment but then, from behind us, THE CLAW on her/his/it’s little cheeky mini hog.  His bike was like the hog seen in Dumb and Dumber.  really awesome and I was highly jealous.  Nonetheless, he now wants us to follow him to the secure parking.  We hop on our beasts and spend a few minutes trying to find neutral.  We get them up and running, click into 1st gear and away we go, slowly.  We go through a series of alleyways and then appear out onto a busy street.  Mo is nowhere to be seen.  The Claw goes rides back into the darkness to find him and I’m left on a street corner with a group of Vietnemese hookers and there pimp.  I slowly reverse back into the alleys shadows.  After a few minutes Pattni and the Claw appear.  Now, we have 1 street to ride down and cross and the secure parking is on the other side.  How hard can it be?  We move into 1st then into 2nd.  I get across the road, barely, but Pattni is stuck on the other side as the traffic had gotten intense.  After a few minutes he finally makes it over but whilst I was idling my bike cut out.  Pattni and the Claw went on ahead and I’m left to try get this rig working again.  Someone comes to help me and I learn that when kick starting the clutch needs to be out.  I drive through to the Secure Parking, this huge underground warehouse with thousands of bikes.  Pattni is waiting for me, he had this strange thought that we’d been setup and I’d been taken away to be sold to a slave house.  We walk back to the hotel with a huge adrenaline rush, even more petrified over the following morning than we were half n hour ago.

7am.  I’m awoken by Pattni’s alarm.  He shuffles and mashes the snooze button. Wise decision.  This happened a few more times within the next hour until finally it cut out for good.

10am.  I crawl out of my slumber and enjoy a cold shower.  Pattni follows and the feeling is quite erie in the room.  “What if” this, “what if” that.  Do we get a truck to passenger the bikes out of the city?  All we need is a big paddock to drive around in for an hour.  Why didn’t we get bike lessons before we left?  The worlds most renowned busiest/hectic/lawless roads and we’ve chosen them to learn to ride a bike.  Fuck it, lets get out trip into gear.

As we nervously gathered up our belongings we noticed an absurdly large amount of Pringles cans littering our room, including a knock off brand called Mr Chips. We had consumed 5 cans of chips in 2 days. No time of day was sacred as the silence of the night almost shattered by one of us daring to munch 3am pringles.

We check out the hotel, and enter the underground parking.  The first thing we notice different from the night before is the humidity.  It was unbelievebly hot.  We were like roosters rotating on a spit.  For the next half n hour we are tying our bags to the bikes and trying to get them started.  Finally we get them into a gear and get out to the plaza above.  In the whole of Ho Chi Minh there is no room to move.  But, to our amazement.  To our incredible fortune.  There was a whole plaza at the entrance of the compound, fenced off.  The main hurdle we faced was getting Mo’s bags fixed to his bike.  They kept falling to the side.  I did a super knot and although it was tight enough the bag was positioned half hanging of the bike.  THe next 20 minutes was spent trying to untie this knot.  Finally after what must have been a good 45 minutes the bikes were prepared.  We took the oportunity to hoon around the plaza going through gear changes.  We had about 2 laps each then agreed to just go for it.  Whilst Mo was doing his laps I started talking to a Vietnemese women who was watching on with keen interest.  She suggested we follow her and she’d show us the way.  This was it.  We followed her from the plaza onto the streets of Ho Chi Minh city.

The next 30 minutes was just pure insanity.  Honestly, I have not been more focused, excited, scared and on edge in my entire life.  Every single movement had to be precision.  After the first few turns we’d already lost one another.  The guide and I had gone around a round about but Pattni got stuck in traffic.  We pulled over and I waited at a Moto store whilst she went to fetch Mo.  They reappeared rite as I had cracked open a red bull.  Great timing guys.  We continued forth.  The roads are cracked and dusty.  THe air is full of smog.  Everywhere you look there are vehicles commuting somewhere.  But amongst all of this, theres a rhythm to it.  It all started to come together and after a whilst it went from insanity to pure bliss.  Theres a ‘way’ to navigating the roads.  It isn’t just pure chaos, it’s just the way the Vietnemese drive.  Each to there own.  If you want to stop, you stop.  The person behind will glide around and the person behind them will react to that glide.  Everyone is on the defensive.  I haven’t seen a single accident.

We get about 30 minutes from Ho Chi Minh when we come to a busy intersection.  The cars and heavy vehicles drive on the left and the meep meeps are on the right.  The guide aka pink helmet swifted to the left to turn down another busy road.  She had moved too quick for us and we had to continue going straight to avoid an accident.  I was ahead of Pattni and I hadn’t realised that his Moto has conked out.  I was driving lonesome for a few km’s before I’d managed to look back and see there was a pack of Vietnemese motos behind me but no Kenyan bastid.

I stopped and pulled over.  I hadn’t his phone number.  What now.  I decided to stay where I was and hope he’d come further up the road in search.  15 or so minutes passed and still no Pattni.  I decided to head to head back to the intersection we were supposed to head down.  There was also a festival happening on that block.  I went to the parking and checked my moto in.  The plan was to call home to Australia, ask my Mum what the mobile number I texted her from was and then call Pattni and arrange a meet up place.  SUDDENLY, Team Kenya rolls up at the parking bay.  The relief was unbealievable.  How.  How did we find one another amongst all the chaos.  His hog had run out of fuel and he had to walk it to a guy who had a bottle of turps to reload.  He’d then driven against traffic to this spot, in hope that I’d also be here.  Absolutely amazing.  We decided to head into the festival to find a rest spot to rehydrate and gather our thoughts.

We spoke with some shop owners about how to get to Cu Chi, our first port of call from Ho Chi Minh and with that we zoomed on.  As we begun gaining a bit of confidence we too started weaving in and out of traffic. For a little whilst, hints of the Vietnam we came to see started to appear.  Blocks of lush green fields, rivers on the side of the road and animals roaming around aimlessly greeted us. However, soon enough the chaos returned as we got closer to Cu Chi.  We got into Cu Chi at about 6pm as the sun started to set.  5 or so hours on the bikes on our first day and escaping Ho Chi Minh with nothing more than a few hiccups is more than we could ever have asked for.  We were becoming mentally exhausted from the strain of riding on such busy roads and with luck on our side the first hotel we came across had the most amazing rooms in amongst the turmoil around it.  For one night at least, we’ll enjoy our free WIFI, Satellite TV, Air Con and fridge.  I have a strange feeling that this maybe the last of such luxuries.

Oh yeah, my bikes name is “Rwanda” and Mo’s bike is “Ponymane” :)

 

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DAY 4

Confusion arose as to the wakeup time this morning.  The hotel only had individual rooms so we were forced to miss out on any potential spooning and sleep solo.  I thought the meet up time was 10am, Mo thought it was 9.30am.  The bastid storms my room at 9.40 and I’m forced to make a dash for the shower.

Our first stop was the overdue Cu Chi tunnels.  We were of the understanding they were just over the road.  We left out bags at the hotel and got aboard our hogs.  It felt great to be riding this morning.  We rode out onto the street and made our way over to a spot where we saw some bombed out helicopters and tanks.  We spent a whilst inspecting the left over machinery.  It was actually quite surreal.  One of the tanks had a gun gash on the side from an explosion.  You can only imagine the splinters of steel that would’ve flown into the air.  The helicopter was just as awesome.  We climbed aboard and fiddled with all the knobs and took a few photos.  We went in search of the tunnels and were annoyingly suprised when we were told by a few locals that they were a good 22km away.  No, no, no we’re in Cu Chi, they are here, right?

 

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We got a few bottles of water as the realisation set in that we still had some distance to go on the hogs.  It was a new day and we were confident on the bikes, so the unexpected travel didn’t daunt us to much.  In fact once we got going the ride turned into pure bliss.  We got off the death highway we’d been on all the way up from Ho Chi Minh and rode most of the 22km on country roads. Amongst the small streetside villages were paddock of rice fields with cattle grazing.  Every KM or so there’d be a big A/C Tour Bus steam roll past us to remind us that we weren’t the only ones heading to the tunnels.

 

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When we finally arrived at the tunnels we parked our bikes and walked into the park grounds.  We were greeted by a temple dedicated to Ho Chi Minh, the man himself.  I joked with a security guard that his beard looked a bit funny.  Pattni spent a good period of time taking photos.  We went in search of these famed tunnels and walked and found everything, but the tunnels themselves.  There was a really picturesqe lake, bordering the park grounds with a strangely strong current which triggered a few photo moments.  After a good 50 minutes of walking in the awesome Vietnemese humidity we were back at the start and had seen no tunnels.  We decided to check the map.  Boom, that way.  Off we went.  We got to the tunnels known as Ben Duoc.  We were greeted by a charismatic guide who took us through each tunnel and he explained in detail how and what they were used for.  The tunnells took us totally by suprise.  We were expecting the occasional manhole here and there, but the tunnel system is amazingly intricate and huge in their scope. Built into these underground tunnels are meeting rooms, kitchens, medical bays and horrific booby traps. The tunnels themselves are just barely wide enough for one person to crawl through at a time. I can’t even imagine the claustrophobia felt by the soldiers hiding out in them, while being bombed from above by the Americans. At one point Pattni and I got separated from the pack inside one of the tunnels and a bat fluttered up from nowhere. It clung to the roof of the tunnel ahead of us. We had to man up and slide under it hoping it wouldn’t go berzerk and scratch our eyes out.

 

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After we did the most impressive tunnel run, we rode out to the firing range where an array of weapons from the war were available to fire down a gun range. We had been having some bad luck with ATMs that were refused to spit out dong/cash, so at this point we were quite low on local currency and could only afford a few bullets. We picked the legendary AK-47, with almost 200 million of these bringers of death roaming the world, it was quite insane to finally grasp one and feel the full effect of this canon. No amount of movie watching can prepare you for the absolute explosion that this gun produces, the sound can be heard for many kilometers. At the gun range we met this strange Bulgarian couple who offered to pay for some of our bullets which made us feel a bit uneasy, so we scrambled out of there as soon as they had their backs turned. I’m sure they were nice enough people but the guy claimed to have been in prison for a few years.

 

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The ride back was quite pleasant and now that we have a rough idea of the layout of Cu Chi we didnt have to worry about roads. Just before the exit we needed, we spotted an ATM and hit the brakes hoping this one would spit out some cash. SUCCESS! We swiftly extracted 4 million Dong, high fived our new “millionaire” status and zoomed back to our base camp.

 

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Once we had settled down a bit, we decided to find a place to eat as our stomachs were empty the whole day. We remembered a little shack we had seen upon first arriving in Cu Chi and decided to head there. The “shack” turned out to be Cu Chi’s premier dining establishment.

We were treated like royalty with a team of waiters seeing to our table. We ordered some cold Saigon Reds and the sweetest waitress placed the biggest ice cubes we have ever seen into our mugs. Everytime we took a sip of beer, she would top up the glass with more.

It seemed this place had never really seen any foreign people, because it was off a beaten path which we discovered by mistake and the Lonely Planet doesn’t even mention dining options in this town.

The menu was written entirely in Vietnamese and there was no way to communicate what we wanted. Luckily they had some photos of the food available on one of the walls, so we just pointed to a rice dish and hoped for the best. I saw a tank of toads and decided that I would supplement my dinner with a nice roasted toad while Pattni spoke to the waitress and managed to order up some steamed veggies.

We had an awesome little table with a lavish feast and some of the nicest people we had met so far. The food was great and in such quantity that we couldnt finish everything, we were bursting at the seams. The waitress tried to ask us  questions what little English she could string together and through visual actions we could almost converse.

 

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Tanked up with food and beer we decided to go back to base.  We bid farewell to the awesome staff and fired up our hogs and made our way back to base so our bellies could digest the feast.

Soon enough we got restless and headed in search of a market.  We found a Vietnemese fashion store that featured an endless supply of hilarious jeans and shirts.  I convinced Pattni that the next day would be fancy dress day on the bikes.  We agreed to purchase each other a shirt they HAD to wear the next day. I also left with a pathetic pair of jeans.

We retired back to the room to plan the next day.  It looks like it’ll be a long day on the hogs with not a lot to see.  We’re a bit off track at the moment and need to clock some serious KM’s to get onto the roads we need to be.

 

DAY 5

What an intense, surreal day.  We are completely exhausted.

From 10am till finally stopping at 6pm, we were in the saddle and not a single quaint country road to buzz down.

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We said goodbye to Cu Chi with nothing but brilliant memories.  We had to press on though, with the extra time spent in Cu Chi we were behind schedule and had to make up the KM’s.  The day was to be spent riding and getting as far towards Dalat as we could, before the sun went down.

Unfortunately we didn’t roll out of our beds until 9am and were finally on the road by 10am.

We were pleasently supriced to be making great time however, the roads although busy, were direct and with our growing confidence on the bikes we were travelling distances far quicker.

Our first leg of the day was to reach a city called Thu Dau Mot, 30km’s away we got there in about 40 minutes.  After a quick hydration break we pressed on with momemntum to Bien Hoa.  We’d anticipated that to reach Bien Hoa by sundown would be an impressive feat, considering how long it’d been taking us to get around previously.  The roads between Thu Dau Mot and Bien Hoa were quite simply, god awful.  The traffic was busy and the roads were lined by activity with shacks, shops and markets shadowing the street curbs the whole way.  For a good 7km’s the road hadn’t even yet been paved. We were riding on white limestone with visibility no further than 10metres due to the dust in the air.  It made for interesting riding and were pleasently surpriced to of made it to Bien Hoa in the time that we did.

Bien Hoa.  An interesting city.  Not one you’d expect to find where it was, in a country such as Vietnam.  The roads were clean and organised and at one point we were describing them to be as driveable as the Mitchell Freeway back in Perth.  We were in need of some tucker as it had gone 1pm and we’d been riding for sometime.  The roads were, however, lined with everything BUT eateries.  Admittedely, We tried cheating by ducking into what looked like a big Western style shopping mall but was greeted by a kick to the nads.  Aisle after isle of useless cheap household goods.  We went into about 3 different street shops but no one was serving food, just booze.  We finally settled on some packaged cheese crackers and our mood had considerebly dropped.  After the meal from last night we were hoping for more of the same, instead not even a plate of rice could be found.  Not only that but the general feel around Bien Hoa was that we were not wanted.  Either that or perhaps mistunderstood.  No one knew English.  No one knew really why we were there and come to think of it,  We didn’t really know why we’d stopped for so long, we just wanted a god damn feed.

We trecked on further to a place called Trong Bom.  Oh my lordy.  We arrived in Trong Bom at about 3pm at a gas station.  After rocking slashes in the urine scented urinal shed, we pressed further.  The sun this afternoon was really strong.  Mo was getting a headache from all the fuel fumes we’d been guzzling from the streets and the 3 red bulls I had at lunch didn’t help my hydration either.  Trong Bom itself is nothing more than an industrial passage way.  This meant that the roads were full of oversized trucks and buses.  It made for exhausting riding.  Things took a turn for the worse as my chain clonked out.  Luckily a local Vietnemese man was out the front of his property and saw the whole thing.  He adjusted my wheel and got the bike back on the road.  He wouldn’t accept any money I offered him.  Absolutely amazing people, so giving.  As the afternoon wore on exhaustion started setting in and as we reached a town called Din Quan our riding had turned into a stroll as we searched for a motel.  Everything is in Vietnemese and and no one knows English.  The main road is so busy that to go the opposite direction is actually a big decision to make.  The traffic never gives up and to try to make a U Turn is quite simply, a suicdial ridiculously stupid idea.  This highway was by far the most testing thus far.  We finally found a motel and were greeted by a warming, fanstastic family.  There children ran out to greet us and one of them was learning English at school and just wanted to know everything about us.  We were so tired we slumped in the chairs in there foyer/lounge room and just sat there motionless.  They bought us water and jelly treats which perked us up.  During this time Mo noticed that my back tire was actually entirelly flat.  The guy who runs the hotel offered to get it fixed for me.  I couldn’t say no and I thanked him for his help.  He dissapeared with my bike and we got to our rooms and just chilled for half n hour.  The owner reappeared with my bike and it was as good as new.  Awesome.  Pattni and I reconvened and headed out for dinner.  We found a local diner and were greeted by smiles and giggles.  Although we didn’t know a single thing of what they were saying and they had no idea what we were saying, there was somehow a communication between Pattni and I and the group of 4 people that owned and runned the ‘restaurant’.  Before we could ask for beers and rice they’d run of in a pack giggling and excited.  As we sat, neighbouring the highway we’d just slaved the afternoon down, every attempt at conversation was cut off by trucks and busses hooning there horns.  These horns can’t be street legal, they’re as loud as a chartered yacht.

After about 15 minutes, our hosts reappeared with dishes of all sorts.  A large bowl of rice, a steaming bowl of veggie broth, a large plate of omelletes, a salad pallete and a vast array of sauces and spices.  And of course the beer.  My lord.  We scoffed down like it was our last meal.  So, so tasty.  When the bill came we couldn’t believe the price.  The effort that would’ve gone into this meal.  I can’t express how much I love the Vietnemese people.  They’re just so inspirational.  If all of mankind could have just a quarter of the authenticity of these people, the world would be such a better place.

 

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We rode out hogs back to the motel, against traffic, to avoid having to cross the road.  When we returned the family that run the hotel greeted us to make sure we were back safe.  They all wanted photos with us, we obliged then made our way back to our rooms.

Today has been without a doubt, my favourite day of the trip.  The people we’ve met.  The interactions we’ve had and the pure unexpected genuiness of it all, has just made my day.  We’re 200kms from Dalat, hopefully tomorrow we make it, but if we don’t, I’m sure we’ll enjoy the ride.  Whatever happens.


DAY 6

We must have slept a solid 10 hours to recover from the intense journey the previous day but we woke up this morning feeling quite ready and energised to take on the biggest distance we had attempted yet. 229kms to our first milestone, the French influenced unique hill town called Dalat.

The first road we took was buzzing with activity with large trucks speeding along at all times of the day. The trucks all equiped with the most monstrous horns that could wake the dead, so it was quite a relief to leave that road and join the hilly pass that would lead to our hill top milestone

We were now feeling much better on the bikes and we were making serious progress when all of a sudden Pattni noticed my rear tyre was flat again! We detoured off the main road into a little side street and found a mechanic who pumped the tyre back up and we were zooming again

Our good speed was hampered yet again by my bike chain slipping out and getting snagged inbetween the chassis frame and the tyre causing my rear wheel  to lock up. Very scary. We were helped by a group of lively teenagers who greased up the chain and got it back on the gear. They refused to accept any money which was nice of them.

Our luck was short lived when soon after the chain slipped out again. We ended up stopping right infront of a little garage where the bike was given a full once over by a very talented 14 year old boy smoking a cigarette. They removed a link from the chain and replaced the rear tyre inner tube which was punctured. Meanwhile Pattni was taking pics of the local children and showing them how to whistle. We were out of the game for almost an hour

With this ultra service under the hood, we were now all set to make that final run to Dalat and finally the roads started to show some elevation and before we knew it we were surrounded by the lushest mountains we had ever seen. The road snaked across the landscape with sharp hairpin turns and amazing scenery. We were finally in the highlands and it felt good.

We had some close calls on this section. The roads are quite narrow and there is alot of overtaking going on. When oncoming trucks are overtaking it occupies the entire road. On more than one occasion Pattni and I were completely run off the road by the goliath trucks.

As darkness started to fall we realised that it was going to take something special to finish up the 80kms still need to reach Dalat by end of day. We set the engines to full power and cut through the Vietnamese hillside like a bullet but with 30km still to go conditions became impossible.

The darkness was all encompassing, with visibility reduced to dangerous levels. We decided not to take such a risk and stopped at the first Inn we could find.

Exhausted from a 9 hour 200km drive we collapsed onto the lobby couches while the Innkeeper and his family ate their dinner. Finally we mustered the energy to drag our gear to the room and head out for a soothing hot bowl of Pho, a local favorite rice noodle soup and washed it down with the coldest 333 beer we have yet encountered.

 

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After searching the street and trying to communicate with some local children we found a shop selling water and chips which we hurried back to the room to crash for the night. Tomorrow we finish off the last few km’s to Dalat and spend some time there enjoying some well earned rest and relaxation.

DAY 7

So, we’re still not quite sure where we were last night.  We were some 30km’s from Dalat.  The place resembled some sort of truck pit stop.  It was pitch black when we stopped and entered the hotel and it was no surprise to hear and see in the morning that we were neighboring a major hotel.

We had one of the most joyous mornings on the trip.  We had a bit of a sleep in which is incredible considering the sheer amount of noise at this location. Constant trucks horns and some of the most noisy neighbours we had encountered, at one point in the middle of the night Jon was certain someone was galloping a horse outside our room. The morning shower and clean ups were full of sing a longs, to Disney anthems *cough* and ridiculous accent roleplays.

Soon enough however we were back on the hogs to complete the final 30kms to the heavenly Da Lat.  The drive this morning was particularly windy and dusty.  We were getting blown all over the highway and had to cover our faces to keep the dust from the roads from blinding our roads.  The drive actually took longer than expected, largely due to the highway curving round and round the hills we were ascending.  A few trucks on the road as well that meant at times we were lagging behind awaiting a clearance to overtake.

As we got closer to Da Lat the architecture and outlay of the towns started to considerably change.  The buildings reminded me of England.  In fact they looked completely different to what we’d come to expect from Vietnam.  These huge mountainous hills had layered into them, these huge houses.  It was magnificent to see and there was so many of them that for a good 20 minutes we were just riding up these roads that had picturesque surroundings.

Admittedly there was still some exhaustion setting in that we were on the bikes again, for the third day in a row.  We couldn’t wait to get to Da Lat, it had after all, been a major milestone in our quest to get across Vietnam on 2 wheels.  When we finally did arrive it was almost too much to take in.  Da Lat was certainly bigger than we’d expected.  In the distance we could see a whole city perched on a hillside.  Between that and us though, was a staggered line of hillside suburbs, hotels, shops, open plains and roads.  It really is hard to describe Da Lat.  It’s made up of so many different ideals that just to see it, can only barely even explain it.

After drawing out a few more million dong, we rode to the centre of Da Lat.  We found a strip of hotels and went to inspect the room of the hotel with the porter that had the friendliest smile.  Stupidly we said yes to the top floor with the window view.  Okay so the view is great, but, we have our rucksacks to drag up.  Then factor in the problem that Pattni and I complain about anything that draws a few extra breaths from our lungs.  Nonetheless awesome rooms at $7 a night, really can’t complain.  We dumped our junk/aka moving documentary studio and headed out to find some local markets to explore.  We got to the central markets that our Lonely Planet guide had talked so keenly about.  We spent a good few hours looking around, completely awestruck at what we were seeing.  It was actually the first time in Vietnam that we’d really seen a REAL marketplace.  I mean, they were trading livestock that was being slaughtered on sight.  Ducks, Chickens and fish.  On the walk down there was a cheeky establishment that advertised Chicken Wings.  I told Mo we had to check them out later for din dins.  After leaving the market however, there was no way in hell that we’d be chowing Chicken Wings tonight.  I DID however get me a cute little Casio watch and some nail clippers.

We went back to the room at about 5pmish to rest.  We got of our arses a few hours later in search of a good dinner.  We didn’t need to go too far as a few doors down was an establishment called, WHY NOT.  We had to go.  Why you ask? WHY NAWTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT :D.  It looked calm, friendly and had a really nice table at the front that looked over all the hills of Da Lat.  We enter and are asked if we want to sit on the top deck.  Sure why not.  We go upstairs and, wowzers.  There’s this hard Euro Trance from the 1990’s thumping on a sound system.  A Vietnamese DJ is having the time of his life on his little deck and the whole room is filled with LED’s and strobe lights.  Are we in Vietnam still?  As ridiculous as the whole setup was, we just had to dine there.  We went through, ordered some suds and to our surprise on the menu was pizza.  Hell, lets grab a couple of big pizzas to get our belt buckles a few knots looser.  I got the Chicken after all.  Dinner tonight was great.  We had an amazing view over Da Lat and all we could talk about was how surprising the place was.  It was nothing like we’d imagined.  We thought we were leaving civilisation behind heading into the highlands.  All the rural places we’d passed to get here. All the truck spots, dodgy hotels and broken down bikes led to this?  It was brilliant.  The place is this massive mix pot of Western and Vietnamese ideals.  And, the amount of LED’s they’re running to keep this town alight is even more impressive.

Earlier, when we first rode into Delat, we joked about an overly zuberant ’club’ entitled ENVY.  We promised each other that we had to visit it.  And so, after din dins, we did.  We arrived and out the front was a sea of LED lights.  We entered and were seated at a leather booth.  On stage, a band was playing.  The menu prices reflected the sort of place it was, however the entertainment on stage WAS actually very entertaining.  Particularly a Vietnamese women who spoke French and sung some really swanky 1940’s style sing songs.  She joined us after to talk about her ‘singing career’ and we showered her with praise.  After our Long Island Ice Teas we decided to call it a night.  A week gone and it feels like we’ve been here a month.  Truly amazing.