Friday, 11 January 2013

Kamikaze busses and dog meat

So before I talk about what stuff we've done in the last few days I thought I'd mention a little about the roads and what happens on them in Vietnam, because I believe it's part of the cultural experience here. I'm not even kidding.
Vietnamese drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians are all either insane, incredibly impatient or quite simply they just don't give a single shit about anything when it comes to road rules. Vietnam's roads are not the best in the world by any measure, but they do have traffic lights, roundabouts and the standard infrastructure in place to facilitate road rules. However, these things seem to purely be in place as a formality and it's not uncommon to see someone go backwards around a roundabout or drive the wrong way down a freeway lane into oncoming traffic. Any standard driving behaviour here would have you landed in jail and probably the front Page of the news. Pedestrians will just walk across the road, phone in hand without even looking up, despite 40 mad scooters hurtling towards them in what should end up in a gruesome death. The thing is, it never seems to end in the disaster you'd imagine. Somehow 5 thousand drivers and pedestrians all not giving a shit seems to work quite well. It doesn't take long to adopt this mentality when riding a motorbike on Vietnam's roads and it actually becomes quite enjoyable. Here if you miss a turn off on the highway, you just turn around and ride back the way you came, along shoulder until you can turn where you missed. If there's a bottle neck at a freeway entrance, screw waiting! Just mount the footpath and ride along it until you can get ahead of the traffic. All you have to do to be part of the amazing Vietnam roads is think to yourself, "what's the most retarded and illegal way for me get from point A to point B?" then do it. Voila. You're doing it right.
This isn't even that bad.

The bus (coach busses) drivers in Vietnam are the most insane and dangerous drivers on the planet. I'm not even kidding, these guys are real life freaking kamikaze pilots. I'm not sure if it's the drugs they take to stay awake or if they're on really tight schedules, but these guys will risk a bus load of passengers just to overtake one car into oncoming traffic just because it is travelling slightly slower than the bus itself. I feel safer on the bike, despite the fact that you encounter several of them a day barrelling head on towards you in your own lane at 100km/s and you have bank onto to the shoulder to avoid being evaporated. The only thing more dangerous to a motorcyclist than the crazy buses are the crazy dogs that seem to live along every major road in the country and seem to get a kick out of running out in front of you at any opportunity. I did initially feel bad about the dogs being eaten here, but these dogs deserve to be eaten for the amount of heart attacks they've given me thus far. That and tires probably make great tenderisers.
Death on Wheels: They don't even stop for Police

Anyway, enough about the roads as I could write a bloody book about Vietnam's traffic issues. Liam and myself have had an insane few days on the bikes which has seen us cover over 550kms and mostly in rain. On Tuesday we rode 350kms from Ninh Binh to Phong Nha along the Ho Chi Minh highway. Leaving at 830am and arriving 730pm, It was painful and amazing at the same time. Unfortunately for me, my motorbike likes to flick every bit of mud and water onto my shoes and shins, leaving me looking I'd dipped my legs in shit. It also caused my shoes to spurt water out of the lace holes whenever I took a step. Despite being completely miserable and shivering the majority of the way, my mood quickly changed when we got to the section of the hcm highway that passes through the jungle mountains close to Phong Nha. Even though it not being the first time I'd experienced them, it still made my draw drop witnessing the raw beauty of the limestone cliffs and peaks covered in mass amounts of greenery. This continues for about 100kms and it really is a breathtaking experience that I'd recommend to anyone to see, even by kamikaze bus.
Riding such huge distances can really take its toll on your sanity. At one point we thought we had missed our turn off by 60kms and strayed into a hill tribe area without any fuel stations. We were even preparing to sleep in the jungle and use our ponchos as blankets.Thank god for us we hadn't missed the turn off and were most likely too delirious to read a map properly, because I really hate monkeys. Liam at one stage thought we were being stalked by Vietnamese scooter bandits in the dark, who were following us with their lights off. Thankfully after asking for directions from a Vietnamese lady at her house, she had the owner of the phong nha farm stay come and rescue us from our burgeoning insanity and direct us to their lovely hostel.
Phong Nha farm stay is a hostel run by an Australian guy who is married to a Vietnamese woman. It's a pretty amazing place to stay and I recommend it to anyone going to Vietnam. The owner is a real bloke and he loves a beer. I think he's a bit bored of all the pseudo intellectuals that stay there, so if you show a bit of personality, he will make you feel more than welcome. There was some Cambridge educated guy staying there who harped on at the camp fire about the renaissance or some shit for about an hour, so you can understand what I mean.
Imagine this guy travelling. He was at Phong Nha

Phong Nha is a pretty amazing place. It boasts two of the biggest caves in the world and the surrounding scenery is stunning. It's genuinely hard to put into words how beautiful it is. The place is currently a bit off the tourist trail as well, so it's also the perfect time to visit. Liam and myself went to the paradise cave and were told that we were one of the first 200 westerners to see it. Paradise cave really needs to be seen to believed. I'm not going to try and describe it here because I can't do it justice, but you should really google it. I have no doubt that in a few years it will be a major, major tourist attraction. It's literally jaw dropping.
Paradise Cave, Phong Nha

After experiencing the cave and spending a couple of nights getting drunk and setting fire to our shoes so they'd dry on the camp fire, we had some repairs done to our ever reliable bikes and made the trip to Hue. The ride was 220kms and mostly along the main highway, so not very scenic at all. We did however stop at the Vinh Moc tunnels which was a bizarre experience. The Vinh Moc tunnels are a series of tunnels used by the Viets during the war. It's a massive complex with tunnels that have had lighting and signage put through them so you can walk around then. These things go three stories below ground. Now that's not the weird part. We rocked up to this place on our bikes and it looked completely deserted. We actually walked 50 metres down the path before some woman chased us demanding we pay for tickets. She must have fallen asleep in the booth or something. We happily paid the tickets and carried on expecting to come across some sort of guide or even other tourists. Nope. We simply just wandered through these tunnels, which could be quite dangerous if you fell in them or got lost as they're pretty far below the surface. There were even tunnels that hadn't been lit up for public access that were still accessible with no one stopping you. Needless to say, we watched our steps as I didn't fancy being found as a corpse in one of the many tunnels when a tourist comes through in a months time.
After hanging around Vinh Moc for a while we finally made our way to Hue where we'll stay a couple of days. There's quite a lot to do here, so it should be good fun. Hopefully the weather improves in the next couple of days because I think I'm paler than when I left and potentially developing rickets. Liam looks Norwegian or some shit and you can see his veins through his face. Not attractive.
Thanks for reading.