SAPA- BUM RUSH CITY

Sapa, Vietnam
October 19, 2013

I’m not exactly sure what time it was, but I remember waking as we pulled up alongside a lake that had a canopied Tim Burton-esque fog. And before I could wipe the junk from my eyes the bus was swarmed with all life. They must have gotten a call or their blood runs on bus schedules. Either way we weren’t looking forward to getting off. Well you know what I mean.

We collected our shoes in little bags that we had crammed in our shoe cubbies at the foot of our beds and walked with them in hand single file bumping into each other like a chain gang off to tend the fields. Except I only wish I had an empty field to toil away in instead of deal with these slick talking hawks. I hadn’t even put my shoes on let alone popped my head from the doors before heads and bodies started darting in with words and jargon way too fast for anyone that had just woken up.

“Hotel. You need hotel. I have best price cheap hotel for you. Follow me!”
“You need taxi?”
“Taxi…Taxi…”
“Minority village! You come stay with us in our village.”
“Taxi… Anywhere you want!”
“Hotel…Hotel…Hotel!”

All of it at once, circled like I was the main event at cockfight and everyone had their bets placed on me. Everyone prodding me with brochures and business cards. I couldn’t take it. My head was darting & pecking in all directions “no thank you” “no taxi” “no” “no hotel” “its ok thank you” until Katie and I had our bags fixed on our backs and we lit out across the street and down an empty road. Ahh we could breathe. I shook off the morning vibes and the last 12 hours. Sapa here we come.

We started walking into town when we crossed paths with one of the women by the bus. She was scooting by on her bike, empty handed, so she parked it and ran to catch up with us.

“I have cheap hotel for you!”
Broken down and beaten we asked her how much.
“$8. Hot shower. Private room. Come with me.”
We did.

She was persistent. That she was. She ended up winning us over and we ended up staying at her hotel for two nights. We made our way over, unpacked, and left our passports at the desk before we left to go explore the foggy town.

Sapa sits at an altitude of 1200-1800 meters and this October morning we were almost completely blanketed in a sheet of fog, or hell, we might have been in the clouds. Either way, the air was fresh and it was nice to get back to mountain life. Whatever that really means. I mean, I’m not a goat or anything. But over much debate and travel, I’ve come to an understanding that I prefer the mountains over the sea. Although I’d prefer to have both (Vancouver, Vietnam, Peru…).  Walking along, the bum rush continued.

Travel VIetnam Sapa Market

The women were dressed in the most colorful naturally-dyed fabrics bursting with deep purples, bright reds, woodsy emeralds and sky blues all handmade in their villages, if not themselves, by ancient techniques, precision, and generations of hand-me-down knowledge of the loom. The women pulled out a map and detailed the three hour walk we would trek and the H’mong villages we would suss out. They wanted $20 US for the day and $45 if we wanted to sleep in their village and trek back. Since we had just got to Sapa we wanted to check into everything before agreeing on the spot we thanked the ladies and carried on. Our plan was to get a map from the tourist office and see what they had to say then grab some breakfast. On the way out of the office the women met us at the entrance. They had followed us there.

Travel Vietnam Sapa ladies

I had heard from the Italian couple Frankie & Katia that a couple ladies from a minority village had followed them for a couple hours along their whole trek, and they weren’t even a part of the group. They felt guilty so they ended up giving the ladies a bit of money. But that can’t be the future for these women. It’s no way to earn a living and it’s already starting to shape the future of their culture into one that solely relies on tourism. It needs to be quashed. As much as tourism has boosted Sapa’s development and trade sectors, it needs growth on a level where it works with tourism and is not solely dependent on tourism. Which is why we cannot condone being followed around just to be guilted into buying something we don’t want.

We thanked the ladies and wished them a good day.

The whole walk to breakfast it didn’t stop. Dozens of women from minority villages followed us down the street at the brink of friendly eye contact, all trying to sell us clothes, bracelets, and treks. It’s a tough racket out there and I wish them the best. At least it is good to know that they are all working together. We heard from Blui from Lang Biang Mountain in Dalat that the villagers pool their money together and it goes towards the community. I hope it’s true because it would be extremely difficult for any one person to make money when everyone is selling the same stuff. But aside from the racket, they truly were the sweetest women and joked with us the whole walk. There was never an ounce of pressure and they were all smiles our entire time in Sapa and it’s unbelievable how much English they had picked up just from dealing with tourists on a daily basis. We wish them the best.

We ended up in a restaurant without power and learned that they shut it off periodically. To save energy I could only assume. We got eggs and baguettes.

Afterwards we walked around the town in a light cool drizzle and ended up in a bakery, also without power, to eat some snacks, have some tea and read. Yah I know ehh…some life.

Uhhhmayzing

Uhhhmayzing

The dense fog never quit and the light rain continued into the evening and it gave the vibe that we better get used to it. We decided against the minority village because, well, it was impossible to see anything. But still wanted to see what Sapa was all about we decided to rent a motorbike in the morning, $5 compared to $40.

And that is exactly what we did.

SELLING THE OL’ BIKES & CHANGING HOTELS & PUPPET SHOW

Hanoi, Vietnam
October 17, 2013

We woke with a vengeance; packed with a vengeance; and walked down the stairs with a vengeance, until we cornered him behind his desk like the rat he was.
KT: We didn’t even get our token picture of the room! We’ve gotten pictures of every single guesthouse room across Vietnam, but not this one. We were too set on getting out of there. Whoops!

“We’re checking out” we said with sternness in our faces.
He was quite. Then asked if we drank anything from the room.
“No. But the fridge was missing a bottle of water which I told one of your staff yesterday.”
I thought he was going to play the ol’ $18 a night trick. But he stuck to his word.

Then he started to add the $4 for parking our bikes for two nights and that’s when we chimed in.
“We saw you pull the bike underneath. We’re not paying for parking.”
He came back as if he had rehearsed his lines already.
“No…I park yours underneath. I pay for parking for mine.”

We weren’t stacking what he was chopping – buying what he was selling; if you know what I mean. I know it was only a few bucks, but the point was this guy rubbed us the wrong way from the start and it was a matter of principal.

We read the night before that there was a free parking lot around the corner, and one of the workers told us that they would drive our bikes over to Violet Hotel 1 and then ride one of the bikes back to our hotel. And the downstairs lobby could have easily fit four bikes and we were the only ones staying there. So instead of unleashing the rage that I was full of I hit him with a dose of realness.

Instead of trying to make a few dollars off us, it would have been nice of you to tell us about the free parking lot.”

His smirk went away. We had 700,000 dong ($32) in our hands and we were set on not paying a penny more. The payment even included parking my bike, which we let him have a small victory. He accepted the money and we walked off without another word.

We loaded up our bikes as he stood there in guffaw. We had our justice. After cruising around the block we rolled up to Alibaba Hotel which gave off a feeling that was the polar opposite of Violet 2 and right then we knew that we had to go with our gut, something that we had been doing thus far until comfort skewed my vision.

Dingy, oddly shaped, and perfect!

Dingy, oddly shaped, and perfect!

We dropped our bags off in our new $13 room and had a little chat downstairs with the women about how relieved we were to be out of our last hotel. They knew exactly what we were talking about. They even described the man to me.

“He is very thin man. Short. A little bit darker skin.”
“Yes yes yes! That’s him!” I blasted
“Ahh! He sometimes stands in front of our hotel and tries to steal our customers.”
“Are you kidding me?”

The horror goes on. We were just happy to be out. And we couldn’t have found a nicer pair of women. We went to a café to check our emails and wait around for Robert to drop off the remaining money.

Photo on 2013-10-18 at 5.41 PM

We all played on my Macbook haha -KT

We ordered Americano’s and opened our emails. I had a bite and it was about time. We were leaving tomorrow and I couldn’t afford to be out a couple hundred bucks. It was from a 50 year old who just arrived and was obviously looking for a bike. After a little back and forth action we had set a time to meet. Katie wished me luck and I took off for the hotel.

I first have to mention that it had been raining nonstop for the past four days and had flooded my engine so the electric starter wasn’t working, but the kick start got it running just fine. I know the bike and I have been through hell over the past three months but as of late it had been running just fine aside from the recent popped tire. I knew Michael Douglas would get the last laugh. The man showed up and it turns out he was also a Canadian and we’d shared many of the same travels through Asia and South America. With the rain coming down I had to get the kick start going for him, which wasn’t a good start, and he took off around the block. Ten minutes had passed before I saw him putting up the street. Motherfuckersucker!! I had already known he wasn’t interested and I don’t blame him. He said the bike died on him a dozen times. Yadda yadda goddamn Michael Douglas is all I thought! I wished him a safe trip and no ill will. Now it was crunch time.

heheheh

heheheh

That morning we stopped to put air in Katie’s tires because she woke up with a flat tire that occurred from Robert’s little accident. While we were getting it patched we popped into a hostel to use their internet. The woman behind the counter said she knew a mechanic that might be interested in buying my bike. I thanked her but told her I was holding out for a tourist. This woman was now my last hope. So I started my bike up easily and cruised on over. She wasn’t there but another woman was. She knew the same mechanic. In fact it was her brother. She put him on the phone so I could talk to him.

“Where were you yesterday?” He said “I showed up at the hotel.”
You have to be kidding me! It was the same mechanic from yesterday.
“I am so sorry. I was five minutes late and they told me you left.”  Which was true.

Having already seen the bike he offered to pay me $150. I knew this man was my last option so I dropped it down to $200. He came back at $160 and eventually we settled on $170.  Which was $80 less than I was asking, but $170 more than nothing.

I handed the phone back to his sister and he told her to pay me. I, being an idiot, forgot my blue registration card at home, which he insisted upon, so I got back on the bike in the rain and flew back to the hotel to pick it up.

To add another level of bizarreness, this transaction would never have been possible had it not been for the whores who returned my wallet in Ho Chi Minh. If you haven’t read the story already click here. Well if it wasn’t for me getting my wallet back, blue card intact, it would have been extremely hard to sell a bike, even if the registration is not in my name. It is just like a right of passage. So even though those two whores stole $130 from me, by some divine act they had also given me back $170. I picked up the registration card and flew back to complete the transaction. And with a huge sigh Michael Douglas was off my hands.

Robert had messaged Katie and apologized for not being able to make it, but he said tomorrow he would be there definitely. They set to meet at one o’clock, which didn’t leave a lot of room for us to buy a ticket for a bus to Sapa if he decided to back out or switch to another day. Our Visas were coming to an end and we wanted to spend a couple days in Sapa. The timing was getting extremely tight, but first we have a water puppet show to attend.

The play was very interesting. A live Vietnamese folk band sat to the left of the stage and narrated, sang and strummed along with the puppets. The stage was a bed of water with a bamboo backdrop. And alongside the music puppets came to life singing, fishing, chasing fox, planting rice and boating around in lifelike form. It was truly a wonderful show aside from, and there seems to always be an aside from, a Chinese woman that snuck into the seats right ahead of us with an iPad size camera screen and wanted to film the whole damn show. It was as though we were watching a play through her lit up camera. It was just another example of how people feel like they are the only person in the room.
KT: I always enjoy a good theatre show, and The Water Puppet Theatre was incredibly impressive! I didn’t expect to laugh so hard to puppets splashing around in water and imitating catching fish. It was really amusing, definitely recommend it if you’re ever in Vietnam! Apparently Water Puppet Theatre was a cultural past time when the monsoon season would drown the crops.

Heading to Hanoi

Cat Ba Island – Hanoi, Vietnam
October 15, 2013

The next morning we packed and got ready to head for breakfast before catching a ferry to mainland, but Michael Douglas had to have one last tantrum, yep another fucking blown tire. Make that 17 mechanics now…or 18…I’ve honestly lost count. Whatever really. Another five dollars down the drain and with a deep inhale and exhale I calm myself and avoid taking an axe to Mr. Douglas. He’s one sadist son of bitch, that Douglas, and I’m counting the days until I unload him on another foreigner half enthused and half saddened by the completion of part one of our journey.

Travel Vietnam Cat Ba KT and room

View from our balcony

I pulled up to My Way and dagnabbit, the only two people there were the Italian couple, Frankie and Katia. We sat next to them and ordered our farewell breakfast on the island. It was too good to pass up. Especially since we have a long day ahead of us.

I was mid hash browns when the two Germans came moseying down the street and into the café. The six of us just laughed. Our party had closed down the restaurant last night and now here we were the only six at it once again. We all just rehashed our plans for the day. Each of us minutes or hours from departing the island.

Luca and Eva had read our blog the night before and paid us a wonderful compliment on its layout, look, and how the stories read with the exactitude of my speech. At least I took it as a compliment! I think?

Goodbye to our new friends!

Goodbye to our new friends!

The ride off the island was nice and so was the ferry ride to mainland. Although the ride from mainland to Hanoi was about as bad as the ride out of Ho Chi Minh City. What can I say? I think it’s only fitting that the first and last days of our trips are just shit. We got into the old quarter around seven and pulled over on the side of the road to look at a map and search for a hotel. We weren’t even parked for a minute when a motorcycle rolled up to us.

“Hello! You looking to sell your bike?”
“Uhh yah! But we’re looking for a hotel right now.”
“I have a hotel! You want to see! I can show you right now.”
“Thank you, but we want to drive around the area and get comfortable with it to see where we want to stay.”
“It’s ok! No problem. I think you came from Ho Chi Minh riding to Hanoi right?.”
“Haha…yah we did! It’s such a beautiful country. But how do you know?”
“I see your ad on Craigslist. You were on Cat Ba, yes?”
Katie’s eyes rotate out of her body and onto me. Which I can now feel, because mine are gravitating towards hers. What the fuck we both mouthed to each other!
“Excuse me. What’s the population of Hanoi? How many people live here?”
“11 million” he said.
“Wow!”
“So how much are you selling your bikes for again?”
“I am looking for $250 and for the Yamaha $400”
“Oh so expensive.”
“I know. I know. But that’s what foreigners are paying for them.”

And it’s true. Craiglist.com, expatblog.com and travelswop.com have hundreds of bikes posted daily and we did our research before posting our bikes up on the sites. We were asking the going rate for our bikes; nothing more, but hopefully nothing less. But somehow I felt that Michael Douglas would be getting the last laugh on me. Ahhh and he did.

The Old Quarter of Hanoi is where we ended up. It’s a mix of one way streets, lakes, café stacked on top of cafés beside more cafés inside hotel after hotel after hotel with tourism pop-up shops all with the name, Sinh Café or some twisted variant. On one street back-to-back-to-back sat three shops “Sinh Café- Formerly Known As Sinh Tours; Sinh Café- Official Hanoi Headquarters; and Sinh Café- The Original Sinh Café”. There are without a word of a lie 130 or more Sinh Café’s all scrunched into a considerably quaint and affable backpacker district; each and every single one of them offering the same package. The same bus trips. Same locations. Same poorly translated English on their signs. And the same eager worker trying to hustle you in for just a quick trip… just one day Halong Bay… come inside. No…No sir, just out for a walk. No…No mam, not interested. No…No, not even tomorrow. No…No…No!! Leave me the fuck alone (insert aneurysm). That is the chaos of touristy backpacker Vietnam. And if you don’t get that in you immediately, it will take a toll on you. As you can read from just fourteen seconds and 35 words ago.

That night we spun through the cities webs in search of a hotel and ended up at Violet 2 Hotel with vibes that started off bad and ended up worse. It’s too bad, too. The hotel itself was the nicest one we had stayed in for the last 35 days on the road;

35 days translates into 19 different hotels. And even though our hotels were definitely not dreamy or spacious or well kempt or on anyone’s must sleep list- we enjoyed them all.  So it was the only time that the odds would catch up with us, especially since we are on the final leg of our Vietnam journey and the only hitches we’ve had have been with goddamn Michael Douglas. We slept like babies that night and woke to a nightmare.

NOTE: The lack of photos is because there was a lack of scenery between Cat Ba and Hanoi. It wasn’t the worst drive, but not one worth pulling over and snapping photos. It was a “let’s get there” type of driving day, not much of a scenic one. Sorry friends and fam! But you’re not missing much. More pics next time, promise! ;)

Michael Douglas Breakdowns, Chilling Countryside, battle of the $5 hotel…and we keep on keeping on!

DAY 11- KILLER ROADS!

After strapping my pack to my bike I noticed I had a flat (note to self) so I paid some guy SAMSUNG CSChaving coffee to fix it- turns out he was a mechanic. So far I’m 9 mechanics deep into my cruiser, which I named Michael Douglas, which was an offshoot from its original name “Mechanics Dream”. I changed the name because I thought Michael Douglas had a nicer ring and that it added a human feel to the bike, since each day it has been both my friend and my worst enemy. I’ve just about replaced everything, namely; seat, horn, tube, battery, clutch, and in a few pages you’ll read about my chain and sprocket and then in a few more pages something else-lucky me. I took a picture of the guy fixing my tire, because after at least three jobs this ordeal needs to be documented- I pay the guy $5 to kick-start my day.

The rain took a day off and the sun was like “what’s up everybody! Sorry I’ve been away, I was back to school shopping with my wife!” So that was nice. We jumped on our bikes and slid out for coffee before our 170km ride to Quy Nhon. The coffee was good. In front of us a grandmother took her daughters baby to the corner to pee- I hate to say it, but it was yellow. Last minute we decided to drive to Quy Nhon over Kon Tum. I know ehh, pretty crazy?? But really it was because we were tired of the poor roads in the mountains and were craving the beach and the sun.

See ya LATER Pleiku!

See ya LATER Pleiku!

We left early enough in the morn to drive the 7 hours. I know what you’re thinking…seven hours to drive 170km…pretty long? Well it sure is. I don’t know the facts, but the average speed limit has to be something like 30km/hr. You might want to look that up. At least that’s the way we were driving. Pretty wild ride, though. Pleiku sits at an altitude of around 750m in the ol’ sky and since we’re hitting the beach, well…you get the picture. After cruising out of town, the buildings swapped hands with rice paddies and bushy emerald mountains, casual wear for greased-&-earthed-up-workin’-garments, and cars for archaic machinery oozing with tar as if it bled from the years of use and abuse, years beaten by overtime, stolen golden years; fixed time and time again by aged farm hands in makeshift ways. Machines that ought to be taken out back and shot, sold for scraps, piled atop its fellow farmers in a rusty grave….But No…No…No…No….Those same machines I speak of chug along the country roads speaking their own old-world tongue…sputtering a charcoal smoke as if a chimney was fixed to chassis and four muddy tires. Today was a good day.

Sitting at the top of a mountain, with a valley cast out like an ocean’s view, I had no clue that the slithering road down was over twelve minutes. I threw my bike in neutral and weaved with the curves and whooshed with the wind. If my OCD had been switched with that of one who had to take a picture every time they saw a thing of beauty…then I might as well have called that place my home.

I reached Katie at the bottom a scared wreck. Poor woman missed too much she was in tears, apparently she didn’t catch me at the top filming her embrace the descent. We kept Travel Vietnam beauty daycruising the countryside passing mammoth oxen, scurrying piglets, scrappy looking pups, always itching some scratch, until my chain ripped apart and jammed up my bike as I slid across the road leaving a 25-30 foot skid-stain before coming to a stop. I rolled the bike backwards inching the jammed chain free. Katie took the chain and road off to find a mechanic after a man stopped and told us there was one 2km down the road. The rain poured for the first-fucking time today just as my bike came to a halt. I threw on my rain get-up, grabbed onto the handlebars and started running. Every time I got some steam I’d hop on Michael Douglas until I eventually hit a nice little hill that, I’m not joking here, rolled me along and stopped dead in front of the mechanics driveway…honest injun. Anyways, the new chain and sprocket ran me a cool $13.00.

Just another mechanic stop...

Just another mechanic stop…

The sun returned and we continued along our new found road- entirely etched with the beauty and tranquility.  On the road you have nothing but time, it’s like taking a sick day, sitting on a couch and flipping to the discovery channel. On our left we saw an armoured tank perched on the side of a hill. Turning around, Katie and I made eyes in agreement so we spun around and pulled up the side road. As we got closer, it turned out it was just a painted sculpture, unless they embalmed this one. Unknown to us, we had just walked onto an army training camp. Soon we were flanked by military; yielding rifles, grenade launchers, and AK’s, or that’s what they all looked like to an uneducated eye. One stopped five feet in front of us without even acknowledging our foreign presence and dropped to the ground in combat mode. Then we saw more running through a field and towards us, all dropping to the ground or beside a tree. From a bow of the bumpy dirt road, I saw a giant white smile glowing in front of the murky backdrop. That could be me. I mean in a way I am him. We are all like him. At least we used to be, and hopefully still are. What else is youth than a state of immaturity & innocence? His smile represented an existing youth, unknown were the tortures his parents and grandparents experienced. War is nothing but a youth destroyer. I hope he keeps that smile till he grows old. I smiled back.
Travel Vietnam soldiersWe reached our new home a few hours later after finding a $10 hotel and stopped at a night market to explore our dinner options- it ended up being noodles and octopus.

DAY 12- HEAVY DAY!

The next morning we paid, got our passports and strapped up our bags for a 300km trip to Hoi An we were trying to attempt. I put the keys in the ignition and saw a fucking flat tire in front of me. I didn’t scream in the sense that I made a sound, but I felt the same shockwave inside my body. Instead of losing my shit, we went for breakfast. A pretty below average one at that- just a pancake, not even proper Canadian one, three slices of banana and one strip of wilted bacon. The owner called a mechanic. He said for an extra $2.50 he’d pick up Michael Douglas himself. 45 minutes and $17.50 later we were on the road.

The road…Ohh the road…there were two out of town and we opted for the leisure coastal-countryside one; it was like if you had two children and one was gifted, which one would you love more? We had read that one of the worst crimes during the Vietnam War happened at My Lai, an area that we would be driving by if not through. It was an undercover mission gone awry. I mean how can it not, when over 500 innocent, unarmed women, children, and men were led to ditches to be slaughtered by machine guns while their homes were massacred and set ablaze. People’s lives. Real people. There were a few courageous Americans that, like helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr., saved a few tormented souls from being killed by the horrors, but ultimately, I could only imagine saved from the horror that is now life.

The street divided the flowing villages, one side with homes and the other with mountains flooding into ride paddies. Families, like families in any country, sat on their porches, drank coffee and played cards, and unbelievably, smiled and jested me “hello”‘s upon passing. I know it’s been about forty years since the war ended, and although I’m Canadian, I also wear the complexion of an American- and it amazed me the love that was shared.

Travel Vietnam beauty night

Ahead in the mountains were giant craters, more so earth that died and created a ring of burnt trees along the ring of the battered earth. There were two of them. To me, the only thing I could think of was chaos- it didn’t look natural in anyway, and it added to the chills the village had already bestowed upon me. Soon it began to rain. And not rain that drizzles and then disperses, the kind of rain that is worshipped, the kind of rain that African’s dance for. So much fucking rain. I told Katie we bought the wrong jackets…we bought rain jackets…not typhoon jackets. Shut up, you had to be there!

After quickly changing our destination to the town of Quang Nhai 100km closer, we switched routes to the highway QL1/AH1 to make better timing. The rest of the road was uneventful. We arrived into town soaking wet looking for a bed.

I found a lady, but it would be more appropriate to say she found me. “hotel… hotel” she shouted, with a baby in her arm, running to get my attention. Wanting me in her hotel, she grabbed my arm with a free hand and, if I had let her, would have dragged me up three flights to the best room in the joint- but before it got to that, I asked her how much for the room.
“150!”
“150?”
“Yes…150!”
“Ok Katie, I’m going to check this place out- go next door and check out how much for a room there!” Seeing as that we had found a strip of hotels, all standing like tall houses in a row with giant garages as entrances with a little desk that reads Reception, we wanted to play the “which hotel is cheaper” game. So I walked inside with the woman, who adamantly put her baby on the ground in a “just stay here” sort-of-way, she went to get keys. Coming back, I asked her once again, because I don’t trust this woman in the slightest, “how much for a room?”

“300!” she said after fumbling around for a price, a reoccurring theme that would take place many times over this trip.
“Come on! What? You said 150!”
“No!”
“Yah you did!” I say as I turn my back and start to walk out.
“No…I never say 150”

Then the two of us get into some semantics, but I have already lost all interest in rooming at her hotel. I shout out to Katie, “babe, she just doubled the price on us…let’s go…”

As we get on our bikes the lady begins saying “ok…150…150!” I feel bad and all, and I would deep down love to support her business…ultimately for her babies sake…but not from someone playing tricks. She lost out and I hope she doesn’t pull that trick on anyone else. But really, I just hope she learned a lesson- but who am I anyways. So we cruise about four seconds up the street, pull into a driveway and she says she has a room for 100,000 dong ($5). We took it.

Makeshift market kitchen

Makeshift market kitchen

What does a $5 room look like? It looks like the most comfortable thing in the world when you’re soaking wet, so wet that even the inside of your pack is soaked, which was wrapped in a waterproof cover much like yourself. But really, a $5 room is equipped with a bed, table, TV, fan, and sometimes AC, hot water and a stranger walking into your room in the middle of the night. More than anything you could ever want when you’re on the road.

DAY 13- HOI AN BOUND

The next morning Katie searched for some dry clothes while I threw on the same getup as the day before. No point in changing and throwing a round of well-travelled clothes in a pack of semi-clean ones, it’ll stink up the pack like a shoe in a closet.  We had the last stretch of 100km to Hoi An, a town that had been on my radar when first researching this little journey of ours. Knowing nothing about Vietnam, I considered Hoi An for its fusion of beach-town meets classic French architecture. Other than a few photos on Google maps with Asian lanterns lining streets and hand-crafted dragon boats bobbing about, I had no clue what to expect. Nothing like betting it all on red and diving in head first.

The road was open as the sky above and our tanks full of petrol…a liquid, which is worth as much as gold to the biker going further. Leaving town we had no choice, there was only one road. Now a little deeper than half way into the country we had covered between 12 & 1300 km, and the road signs had now began to read ‘900km to Hanoi’, the capital in the communist north. Well it’s all commi really. Call it a socialist republic or whatever you like, but Vietnam’s steady minimum wage of ten cents an hour keeps everyone in check. God bless ya if you’re one of the lucky ones.

Well we weren’t heading to Hanoi, not just yet. We were heading to Hoi An. Same letters, but 700km closer. A town spared, much like Dalat, from the atrocities of war, and now stands as a UNESCO heritage site the whole village wide. And by driving along the highway I’m beginning to see why it was spared- there are no fucking signs ANYWHERE that point us in the right direction. Fortunately we had our GPS that kept us updated with “nope not there yet”’s & “just keep going straight.” We did.

Somewhere along the road we flew past a row of ancient temples that loomed behind gated grounds. Now I’m a firm believer that when the road offers you bounty, you reap the harvest; the whole point of exploring is to discover the unknown, and it’s hard to do that strictly glued to the seat of your bike. So we circled back and put on our adventure caps. Parking our bikes outside the gate, we got our first glimpse of the three towering temples without the blurs of flight.  Set behind a field of ruins, we humbly creaked past the gate, which, in a sense, acted as a portal back in time. The year 2013 had vanished. It was the 10th century. I try to visualize a group of people sitting around a stone table drawing up plans for these temples 1000 years ago and I’m lost in awe in every aspect of the word.
Trave Vietnam TowersOut of nowhere a woman walked over to us to sell us a ticket. It was Sunday and the grounds were closed, but money talks. I paid her 50 cents and she ripped a ticket out of her book. A bicyclist entered the grounds and walked over the same time as I asked the guide if she spoke English…she didn’t, but he chimed in. Wanting to know the history of the temples I now had a translator. It was a perfect balance of worlds colliding.

The three temples represented three gods: Vishnu on the left, Shiva in the center, and Brahma on the right. Made of a rustic brick they stood about as tall as a three-story building with the center at around four. Shiva’s temple was decorated with sculptures of Travel Vietnam tower thingsdancing women and a fight scene laid out like a comic strip all showing no wear. The facade of the temples were set like giant fireplaces, with an entrance eight feet high by four feet wide. Walking inside, the only light intruding was beckoned by the entrance. I heard the whoosh of bats before my eyes could adjust, then they came in clear. If I were a bat it would definitely be a nice place to call home and raise bat children- shielded from the elements and in the arms of god(s).

The ruins ahead were grounds for the worshippers. Now reduced to rubble, the crumbled perimeter still exists in a haunting exhibit of antiquity. It reminds me of The Hermitage back home in Dundas, a turn of the century estate nestled in the middle of the conservation area- it too a product of fragments from fire and a century of being exposed to the elements.

The outside of the temples have circular dents that can easily be distinguished and I’m told that it was from facing combat during the American War. It’s as though they have left scars on everything and everyone they came across. And even though the nation is in the process of rebuilding itself, it still wears the scars on the outside, a credo to forgive but never forget.

We left and pressed on eventually finding a placard the size of tombstone head half-hidden behind a bush that read Hoi An. Only 7km left.

Pulling into town my first impression was that it was just another tourist trap. Before we even stopped to get our bearing a woman on the back of a motorcycle was welcoming us to the city. “Where are you from?” -a line that would soon lose all value. “When did you get here?” “Just now”, I responded. “Are you looking for tailor?” Ahhh that’s the point. At least she got to it quickly. “No thank you” I replied, wanting to get on with my day. “You looking for cheap hotel? I can get room $8-$10”. Well ya I am, but you have already bothered me and thrown off my equilibrium so I excuse her even though the purpose of our stop was to get our bearings and locate a hotel to drop off our bags. It’s the same as leaving an airport and being bombarded by taxis. Yeah you need one, but you want to find it on your own terms not by some in-your-face-slick-talking-greasy-whore-monger. I prefer, and always have, the laid back salesman, the one in the back doing their own thing. Maybe they get business today, maybe they don’t. Undoubtedly they want it, but perhaps they are too tired of the hustle, annoyed with the hustle, cant bother with the hustle…so they just hang around waiting for people to come to them. Now those are my people-and you’ll always find them-they appear broken, but will warm up quickly. Good folks, probably been in the game a long time to see the flood of newcomers sweep in and steal their clientele. I get it, I understand it all too well, as a person that hates playing the game. I sympathize with these folks and try to seek them out any chance I can along my dusty foot journey.

After blowing her off…or leading her on…because these people really don’t get it, you could tell them right to their face “no…get out of here you bothersome flop, I don’t need your help or a room at your cheap hotel. I’d rather pay twice-fold than speak to your loose jaw a second longer” and they’d come right back with the old ok, you want a shirt made?- no self respect. If I were them I would have jabbed me right back, called me an American to really get my rotisserie churning, but it’s all dollars that makes this mad world circulate and if she had popped me back that would have put a halt to her little scheme.

We decided to drink instead of search for a hotel. A few beers would ease the process and we found a spot serving them up for 15 cents a draught.  (later in the week I ran out of money, or hadn’t any on me to be more accurate, so I asked Katie to borrow a 20,000 Dong bill so I could grab some beers while I went out writing…which is basically like saying- No- it’s exactly like saying- ‘hey babe, can I borrow a dollar? I want to go out drinking.’) The beer was good too, your average back-room lager, brewed and bottled in house and served up cheap. The restaurant beside had the same menu and 3000 Dong draught, but was utterly empty- I don’t know if had something to do with their name… Lamé Café.

It took an hour to find a hotel, and of course it was the first hotel in the book- pretty typical for us. The room was $8 but was about as small as a $4 room, though it was late and the cheapest we’d been offered. So we ended up staying three nights.