Saturday, 26 January 2013

Goodbye Vietnam. Thanks for not killing us.

So we finally made it. Somehow we managed to avoid the busses, goats, potential food poison and all the other hazards Vietnam throws at motorcyclists.
So I'm typing this entry from the comfort of an aeroplane seat. I use the word "comfort" extremely lightly because I'm wedged between a guy reading an enormous Chinese newspaper of which I can't spy over his shoulder on because I don't speak a word of Chinese and Liam who has passed out within seconds of the flight moving half a metre up the runway. I wait patiently for the snoring to commence.
So we finally leave Vietnam behind to return to Australia. I gotta say, I'm pretty sad that I have to leave as I was having an amazing time. Before I talk about what happened in Saigon, I probably should update anyone who's still reading what happened between Saigon and Hoi An, after all, it is basically half the country!
So 6 days ago we I arrived in Nha Trang after what could be called the bus ride from hell or any other negative hyperbole you can come up with. It was bad. Fortunately for us, Nha Trang was pretty enjoyable. For those looking for a cultural experience and a place to relax, maybe Nha Trang isn't for you. As I think I mentioned in the last entry, it's basically Vietnam's answer to the gold coast. Almost every building is a hotel, a bar and a restaurant and almost every local is trying to sell you cigarettes,. Marijuana or a prostitute. If you're really lucky, they might be able to sell you all three. Anyway, I won't go into too much detail about Nha Trang because all I would talk about is a bad theme park where they make dogs and monkeys ride bikes, an abundance of Russian people and us getting moderately drunk and laughing at said Russians. I will mention that the weather was fantastic and we did get sunburnt. Liam learned the harsh lesson that no matter how much reverse psychology you use against the sun, UV rays will still fry your skin. I did warn him, but I won't go there.
The weather in Nha Trang was perfect for sunburnt westerners.

So after a couple of days of getting burnt and snorkeling with people from Siberia or some place miserable, we got back on the bikes and set off for Dalat. The road from Nha Trang to Dalat is probably one of the most amazing roads I have ever seen. It pretty much sums Vietnam up in 120kms. Basically you start your ride in tropical jungle and finish in alpine forest surrounded by French villas and cold fresh air. The ride itself is almost entirely up hill. Dalat lies about 1600m above sea level so it is significantly cooler than the rest of South Vietnam. The road snakes through the mountains until you get to a point where the mist is so thick you can't see 10 metres in front of yourself. This might not sound like a big deal, but keep in mind we're only 60kms from getting sunburnt on a beach at this point! Every few kilometres we would stop on the side of the road to enjoy the incredible view and put on another layer of clothing. At the peak of mountain I was starting to think that the mist would never end and we would have to continue ascending into it for another 60kms, but almost immediately we crossed the pinnacle and began the descent. Within 5 minutes of riding the mist completely disappeared and we again we found the temperature rising. The whole moment was like a scene from one of those immensely cheesy B Grade horror movies where they go overboard on the dry ice. If anyone has seen that TV show "Garth Morenghi's Dark Place" you'd know exactly what I'm talking about.
So after escaping the scotch mist and cruising down the hill with the clutch in at a lazy 80km/h, we closed in on Dalat. Unfortunately for us we were extremely low on time and weren't able to stay there for more than one night. The surrounding countryside looks amazing and apparently there are activities you can do such as white water rafting and mountain biking. Also unfortunately for us the only extreme sport we'd be partaking in is dodging busses. One of my personal highlights of being in Dalat for 12 hours was the opportunity to drink some milk. As some of you may know, Asians have a hard time with milk, so as you can imagine, Vietnam isn't exactly brimming with the stuff. You can however get laughing cow cheese, but who the shit wants to eat that crap? Certainly not this cheese snob. Anyway, Dalat has dairy cows, so there's plenty of milk around. I'm not sure if it's purely for dairy craving tourists like myself or because the Dalat locals have evolved to not throw their guts up after a glass of delicious pasteurised full cream milk. I didn't ask them. Yum. So yes, Dalat is an interesting place. It looks more like it would belong in France than Vietnam thanks to it's wide open spaces, French architecture and alpine landscape. The place even has a mock Eiffel tower. Yeah, maybe a little bit much.
The road to Dalat is beautiful.

So after waking up after our first night of 8 hours sleep in what feels like several years, we commenced our last ride of the trip. This would be a 320km journey from Dalat to Saigon. The ride out of Dalat was mostly downhill, which is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than riding up a hill on a 110cc motorbike. Again the scenery was amazing, but unfortunately for us, we weren't able to stop and enjoy it. We blitzed through our first 200kms, knocking it over in a little under three hours. Both Liam and myself were flying through south Vietnam at a speed that even the Viet Cong would have been proud of. That was until we got the wake up call of a lifetime. Shortly after refueling our bikes at a petrol station we witnessed a horrifying scene that will probably stay with me for a long time. A man on a scooter had attempted to overtake and was met head on with an oncoming truck. With his bike smashed all over the road and his twisted body lying in the dirt, a man covered him with a bamboo mat as we both rolled passed, not able to process what it was that we were actually witnessing. I immediately turned to Liam and mentioned to him it was probably time for us to slow down. Needless to say, the ensuing 120kms took us considerably longer than the distance preceding it.
After spending almost a month riding across Vietnam, it has occurred to me that the closer you get to Saigon, the more crazy the people on the road get. It was almost as if we were playing some kind of video game and Saigon was the final boss. Literally all the stupid and insane crazy shit that these roads had thrown at us over the three week period were being launched at us in threes and on a constant basis. Fortunately for us, we had honed our skills and were more than a match what lay ahead. After missing a few turnoffs, going in the complete wrong direction and almost colliding with a rickshaw full of pigs, we made it to our final destination: District 1, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City. Both us were exhausted, covered in a combination of dirt, exhaust fumes, dead skin and wood chips from some truck I was too terrified to overtake. A hotel owner rushed over to us to promote his hotel as we stopped on the side of the road. Neither of us even bothered to negotiate the price and just asked him where we could park. Of course the hotel was almost as bad as sleeping in the gutter, but we weren't really too bothered. 60kms of Saigon traffic makes you a bit desperate I suppose.
I'm pretty Saigon inspired this game.

District 1 in Saigon is probably the closet thing in Asia to Khaosan in Bangkok. It's basically where all the tourists come to get drunk, buy expensive tours and be tourists. For us, this was ok. We'd had our fair share of "off the beaten track" action. There's not a huge amount of stuff to do, but if you like your history, there's plenty of museums and exhibitions that revolve around the American/Vietnam war. The night life is probably on par with Nha Trang, but has a lot more variety. During our stay here we pretty much did all the touristy stuff minus the Cuchi tunnels. The Vinh Moc ones are much more impressive so we thought we'd give it a miss. Basically it was just nice to sit down and drink with some other tourists and celebrate the fact that we didn't end up under a bus wheel and had achieved something which I believe is quite impressive.
So today we waved goodbye to Vietnam with a visit to the dentist. $30 for four fillings almost made the entire trip worth it. There's something slightly unsettling as the dentist worked simultaneously on Liam and myself whilst a person waiting for their turn sits and watches from the front of the "clinic". But hey, that's Vietnam.
Some more road to Dalat for good measure.