Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Goodbye partying, hello dirt.

As some of you probably know, Liam Usher and myself have headed to Asia for combination of sun, drinking, boring tourist activities and most importantly a 1800km trek across Vietnam on unreliable motorcycles, which will probably cost us more in repairs than the initial outlay.
So I won't bother trying to update you on our week long trip to Thailand as no one likes to read about two fools getting drunk, missing flights and eating pizza slices.
So we arrived in Hanoi from Bangkok on Thursday, hungover, sleep deprived and insanely under dressed. We had heard that it was likely to be a bit mild in Hanoi, but we didn't expect 2m visibility mist, sub 10'c temps and constant drizzle. This certainly didn't bode well with our shorts, thongs singlet get up and the curious looks we received from the locals which probably equated to "stupid westerners", were probably justified. First stop after checking in at Hanoi Backpackers Hostel was to go and find some suitable attire. I was certainly looking like a knobber after telling Liam that all he'd need were shorts and singlets. Luckily for him he'd disregarded my wise advice and brought a jacket and jumper. Myself however, was left to freeze until I tracked something down. Thankfully for us, Vietnam is a counterfeit clothing paradise, not so great for Liam, shoe sizes don't exceed size 9.
So after finally sorting out our clothing issues, we were free to explore Hanoi unrestricted by the weather. The only ways to describe Hanoi are as "unique" and "confusing". For an Asian capital city it has somehow retained almost all of its old world charm. Walking the streets is like stepping back in time as people cook food in the streets, sit around makeshift fires and sell their wares along the roads. If you're willing to disregard the fact that majority of food is prepared in the gutter (is that too much to ask?) you'll find some of the best food in Asia for what seems like loose change. Believe it or not 10,000 dong is only 50c. Pho is the dish of choice in Hanoi. As any Melbourne hipster will be able to tell you, it's a noodle soup with slices of rare beef. You can pick up a Pho for around $1 anywhere from a fancy restaurant to a bubbling pot in the gutter.
Hanoi's colonial architecture proudly dominates the city streets. Despite Vietnam not being a French colony for over 60 years, they've carried on the French building style themselves.
One of Hanoi's best features are its people itself. After putting up with Thailand's fake money grabbing smiles for a week it was refreshing to experience some rare genuineness. People are often actually happy to see you and aren't trying to rip you off. We were even treated like celebrities, with locals asking to pose for photos with us, making Liam's head even bigger in the process.
You can almost see his head expanding

As far as night life goes, Hanoi is pretty tame. The police have apparently been trying their hardest to suppress any form of fun being had after the sun goes down. Apparently the government wants to quell the "social evils" which drunk westerners get up to, which is apparently some kind of threat to the party. Hanoi boasts its fair share of good bars, but they are completely hampered by the fact they are required to close at midnight. So you're probably thinking that the bars just call last drinks at midnight before booting everyone out, right? Well, if only that was the case! An army style truck with police piled in the back individually visits every single bar and yells at the owner until every single patron has left. Fun right? Like any good dissenter, however, we managed to find hidden bars to conduct our "social evils". After a few local queries and few wrong turns, we found ourselves in a local dive bar, with barb wire on the walls and $2 vodka red bulls. Take that communist party.
After enough dissenting to last a life time, Liam and me decided it was time to find our motorbikes. After getting in contact with a couple of locals (cheers Bob Usher) we found ourselves the proud owners of two beat up Vietnamese motorcycles. One a mean looking Honda win 110cc (feel the power) the other a flashy red Yamaha FX scooter, which is apparently the envy of all boy racers. Lucky us.
Not exactly Harleys, but close enough. 

Yesterday we finally began our 1800km journey to Saigon and the  first destination was the "Ha Long bay on land" Ninh Binh. After having a bit of a hard time finding the road we needed to start on were at last part of the Hanoi grind. The traffic in Vietnam can only be described as chaotic and hell. The pollution on the roads is an asthmatics nightmare. After battling it all for 120kms, we finally arrived in Ninh Binh.
On first impressions, Ninh Binh is a dust covered, polluted and over developed shit hole. Without the knowledge that it possesses some of Vietnam's best natural wonders, we would have most certainly kept right on driving. Ninh Binh boasts an amazing complex lime stone rock formations set amongst the backdrop of rice fields. Right now with it being so cold, the mist surrounding them gives the place an enormous feeling of surrealism. Riding the bikes between the various peaks makes you feel as though you're in one of those weird Chinese films where the characters can jump really far. You know the ones...
After much riding around, taking wrong turns and not even killing each other, we even managed to squeeze in seeing south east Asia's largest and most pointless Buddhist temple. The lonely planet suggested that we not visit the place if we wanted a spiritual experience because it would be jammed with tourists. Well, we were the only ones there.
Upon leaving the place we had our first mechanical issue with one of the bikes. The Honda win was already notoriously hard to start, but when I snapped the kick start off it, that just took it to the next level. Thankfully because I'm a genius when it comes to motorcycles, I was was able to push start that sucker home (which was actually easier to start than the pre-snapped kick start). One of the many 24hr mechanics was thankfully able to repair the bike for a $10 in about 10 minutes. I'm still pretty sure he ripped me off.
so if you somehow managed to make it this far, you've got a higher level of concentration than me! Also, my next entries will be a lot shorter as I won't be required to give a back drop of what we've been doing.