Day 41 & 42- End of an Era! Bring on Laos!

Sapa, Vietnam
October 21-22, 2013

I guess we’ve known it all along. I mean, we weren’t hiding from the fact. We did the same thing back in Canada. I’m talking about being creatures of habit. We find a restaurant or Travel Vietnam Sapa Bookstorecafé and we shut the place down night after night like your Uncle does the all-you-can-eat breadsticks at the Olive Garden. So it’s no mistake that we went back to the same place for breakfast and then waltzed back through the market, sans le chien, and back onto the couch, and back to the same pho xao restaurant for dinner we’d been at the night of last three nights. We had seen all the Sapa we were going to see. The same fog hung in the air. The same cool drizzle. The same women were on the hunt. We had already bought a ticket for a sleeper bus to take us to Dien Bien, which was a drop off point for our venture into Laos.

the likeness is uncanny!

the likeness is uncanny!

Waiting in front of the station the 7pm bus was right on time. So much on time that we watched the bus roll right passed us.

“Was that our bus?” We said. We were both pretty sure it was even though we had been sitting around for the last hour saying that about every bus.

I jumped up and ran to the guy in the booth and motioned that I think our bus just passed. And it had. He made a call while the two of us threw on our bags and hustled down the street while the guy motorcycled ahead. We caught up to it beside the lake we woke up to just three days before.

This mist never let up - but we embraced it

This mist never let up – but we embraced it

We slung ourselves into our own single beds, Vietnamese size beds. Actually Vietnamese children sized beds. Behind us sat the only other foreign couple. Two Argentinians, Jimena and Bruno, whose leg hung off the sides like flapping chicken wings. It was going to be a long ride.

Travel Vietnam Sapa Sleeper 2

while we still thought the tight quarters was “funny”

I threw on Dumb and Dumber and rattled around for a couple hours; listening to Vietnamese phone calls underneath a flood of disco lights while a woman covered up like a hygienic ninja outstared me in a contest. The whole time stopping to pick up fruit and motorcycles and midnight trailblazers which are all shoved into the buses compartments or tied on the roof and off we roll thumpiddy thump thump through the night.

KT chillin' with Lloyd and Harry. & L's knee

KT chillin’ with Lloyd and Harry. & L’s knee

Katie, on the other hand, clung to her pillow for safety. Not being able to sleep, she was forced to endure the treacherous battles of the eroding and rutted cliff-side midnight hustle, fourteen hours of it in total. I heard it was actually used as a torture method to scare information out of prisoners of war. Now it’s turning a profit in the tourist racket.

DAY 42- Our Last Day In Vietnam

We woke up to find out our connecting bus had already left. We were four hours late. Now I understand why they operate on a sliding scale – we have seen plaques that read such and such bus ride 6-10 hours. That’s no stop-to-fill-up-gas-and-a-smoke-break. That’s more of a take-your-lady-out-to-dinner-and-dancing kind of break.  So, alongside the Argentinians, we walked into town and found a couple of rooms with big windows and comfy beds. Then we went and bought bus tickets for the next morning and rented motorcycles to explore Dien Bien. Which was the only thing really to do.

The cursed sleeper bus

The cursed sleeper bus

So Katie and I took off 50km down the road towards the next town that was popping up on the little stone placards that sit in the grass like mini tombstones. I can’t recall the next towns name, but we passed a rickety suspension bridge, a million oblong rice paddies, women with long black hair coiled on top of their heads like a sleeping snake, fuzzy Travel Vietnam Dien Bien KTpatchwork mountains that looked as though the range was draped in an oversized plaid thrift store jacket and everyone holding something; whether it be logs or buckets or kindle or fruit or children or tethered gerbil. The countryside was as peaceful and refreshing as it gets after being trapped inside a rolling deathtrap commissioned by a junked up madman, which truly are the only people in the world capable of operating buses through all hours of the night.

Travel Vietnam Dien Bien bridge lou

Drive-by shirt sales

Drive-by shirt sales

Travel Vietnam Dien Bien riding oxen

SAPA- GOLDEN STREAM LOVE WATERFALL!! WHAT?? & ATROCITIES!

Sapa, Vietnam
October 20, 2013

They were renting motorcycles next door, so we picked one up and with our scribbled map in hand we went to check out some waterfalls. The first was Silver Waterfall. After driving for thirty minutes in complete clouds we parked our bikes across the street at a Travel VIetnam Sapa bamboo ricehillside row of stalls all offering free tea if you spend 10,000 Dong to park your bike. Pulling in, every woman was yelling for us to pull into her designated spot, but I made eyes with one and we went right for her. In front of her on a little makeshift stove she was steeping some tea. We said our sinchow’s (hello’s) and sat down on a couple of toddler size plastic stools as she handed us some hot tea. Beside her stove she had a few wicker baskets of snacks: bamboo shoots packed with sticky rice, hotdogs on a stick, squid on a stick, and the teeniest whole chickens spiked on a stick. All finger foods good to give you energy for a good ol’ climb. We drank the tea and told her we would be back for some eats.

Across the street we bought a ticket and climbed alongside a sloping waterfall that ran down the side of a mountain. It was long and fluid without too many crashing breaks. We climbed up and then down and took some photos in between with a couple of Asian tourists we met.

weird

weird

Back at her stall we ordered a couple bamboo sticky rice and looked at all the other stuff she was selling. With my mothers birthday coming up I found a __________ (You thought I’d tell you…tsk tsk tsk) that I thought she might like. If I know her well enough she’ll like it mighty fine. (KT: It’s a chicken on a stick!!! Debby! Debby! He got you a chicken on a stick! CAUTION when you open the box hehe) I asked the woman where it came from and she said that people in her village made it. That was exactly the response I was looking for. Even if it was a lie. (KT: They imported the chicken, them bastids!)

mmm bamboo sticky rice dipped in salt & sesame!

mmm bamboo sticky rice dipped in salt & sesame!

On a wall to our right were about a hundred bags of dried leaves and herbs. What they were I enquired about, and she told me they were tea. I pointed to a translucent bag filled with giant hardened mushroom tops and she made a quick tapping motion over her heart as a big smile crept on her face.

“Could it be? The elusive magic mushroom!” I motioned my two hands to the sides of my head and shook them in a wackadoo disoriented fashion.  She smiled and nodded back.

In a country hell bent on putting a kibosh on drugs we had been offered marijuana almost on a daily basis in Ho Chi Minh City and were now sitting in front of a woman selling magic mushrooms by the pound. We may or may not have bought one, thanked her, and carried on to the next waterfall, climbing a bout of hairpin turns along the side of cliffs through an impenetrable hoary fog.

Fog stickin' in L's beard hehe

Fog stickin’ in L’s beard hehe

Pulling into the grounds, we bought our tickets and made our way through an untouched forest to the ill-named Golden Stream Love Waterfall. We walked along the streams edge Travel Vietnam Sapa golden stream louthen climbed our way past several cascades until our heads caught first glimpse. We pulled ourselves up and stood with our bodies morphing; jaws plummeting, eyes gaping, and arms drooping like an unplugged television cord. Neither of us could believe it. It was unbelievable. The Golden Stream Love Waterfall was a gushing straight drop of one hundred plus feet hugged into the curves of a mountain. The water free-fell into a natural swimming hole; somewhere you’d find Huck and Tom hanging about whilst ditching out on their studyin’.

Travel Vietnam Sapa Waterfall KT

Travel Vietnam Waterfall LOU

 

 

 

 

 
We cruised back into the city, returned the bikes, and went for a stroll through the market. The market was the same in every town we had been. All selling the same handicrafts, the same food vendors, same backpacks and outdoor equipment, and the same fruit stands…except the market in Sapa had one thing we weren’t expecting.

Our new Chinese pals

Our new Chinese pals

Travel VIetnam River KT

Travel VIetnam Sapa Waterfall River LOU

*DISCLAIMER – DO NOT READ, MOTHER (OR OTHER VEGETARIANS)- SCROLL DOWN

We have seen a lot of crazy things at markets so far- everything from the whacking and scaling of a live fish; gangs of chickens, ducks and roosters tied at their ankles and crammed into wicker baskets; skinless headless frogs kicking about; every kind of animal part from tails to snots to knuckles to brains; and as much as I have heard about them eating dogs it has never been in my face. That is…until today. Walking underneath a sky of blue tarpaulin and along an alley of butcher tables sat a severed dog head beside one of its own flanks. Speechless. Truly speechless. I gasped and had to keep on walking. I have a dog at home and even though I’ve walked past hundreds of pigs heads and lips they never once have phased me like seeing that dog’s head. I shook it off and chalked it up to a cultural experience and although I don’t condone it who am I to say that it is wrong.
KT: It was really horrifying. My stomach still gets tight when I think about it…

*GOOD TO READ AGAIN MOTHER AND OTHER ANIMAL ENTHUSIASTS 

After the market we walked around the town on our way to a café that we had peeped the day prior. And to our amazement there was a big ol’ comfy couch. Something that I did not know I missed as much as I do. Mmm…there really isn’t anything like flopping down on a big ol’ couch and letting it hold you captive like an overprotective bear.

Coming down a dark wet road, the sounds of asian flute blew through the mountain air. Draped underneath an umbrella & cut-out from a circle of streetlight sat a man hunched in rags. His melodies fluttering in the night mellowed the grunts and squeals that echoed from a truck bursting at the seems with wicker-capped sows. Three pigs were weighed then uncorked from their wicker cages only to be ushered down a set of damp dark steps. Their bones taught from hours of wet confined travel – a man guides them with a whip of a stick while another man weighs the empty caskets. the flutist didn’t lift his head or break a note. (KT: Neither Lou or I spoke until after the pig sale was over. We were both horrified by the treatment of the animals, and somehow lulled by the playing of the flute that didn’t relent. I tossed the flute player a few dong; his music had helped keep my tears behind my lids.)

We got to the café after and some beyotch was sitting on our couch with a pompous air. At least thats how we perceived it. We sat in a couple of chairs beside her eyeing her down for a couple of hours until she up and left. And can you believe it? She left three slices of a pizza behind. She didn’t wrap them up or offer them to us. Nothing. No respect for this woman. Good thing we’ll never see her again. We hung out writing and reading until it was time for dinner then went to bed. Tomorrow was our last day in Sapa and we had to get ready for another sleeper bus. Yippee!

Travel VIetnam Waterfall laughing

BIKE CRASH & HORRORS OF HANOI HOTELS

Hanoi, Vietnam
October 16, 2013

We woke up and walked the old quarter looking for a breakfast spot. After scouring the backstreets ogling menu after menu until our bellies were concave with hunger we ended up at Gecko. The breakfast set said: tea, buttermilk pancakes, crispy bacon, toast, real French butter, real homemade jam, and fruit salad. What I got was: a cold paper-thin crêpe, soggy wilted bacon, salted New Zealand butter, and average everything else. But hey I’m still healthy and life is good. But it was becoming apparent that the meat in this country has continuously been letting us down and the sanitation conditions have been on the lower end of orthodox. We were a couple of sudo-vegetarians in the making.
KT: I got eggs, bacon and a baguette and other than the let down of the bacon, my meal was alright. Trusty ol’ eggs & baguette ;)

KT: After our delicious breakfast (heh) we went to seek out someone to clean our bikes for us, or a tap for us to do it ourselves. Gotta pretty up the wheels before hockin’ ‘em! We Travel Vietnam KT bikestumbled upon a guy who had a little bike cleaning service set up beside his mothers hair salon, and he got to work, telling us to come back in an hour. We used that hour to wander around, in search of cheap Bia Hoi…but apparently it was too early in the day as no one had it stocked yet. Instead, we stocked up on some toiletries, and wandered as we’ve gotten so good at doing. Returning to our bikes, our jaws dropped. THOSE are our bikes?? They’re so beautiful! I don’t want to sell it anymore! We dropped our pretty puppies off at the hotel, with a couple awkward smiles with our hotel manager, and killed time at a neat cafe nearby.
Travel VIetnam Lou Bike

Afterwards, Katie had scheduled a meeting with this dude from Brooklyn to come check out her bike so we made our way back to the hotel to do some biddings. Waiting out front the hotel manager began pestering us about our bikes to a level of uncomfortability.

“How much you sell bike for?”
“I’m selling mine for $250.” I said
“And I’m selling mine for $400.” Said Katie
“Ohh so expensive. You sell me.” He said
He walks over and inspects Katie’s bike.
“I give you $200 for Yamaha Nouvo. You take $200”.
“No. I’m sorry. I can’t. I have someone coming to look at it now. I need to get what I put into it.” Katie said
He does a wrap around my bike and says I cannot get more than $100 for my bike and so I should sell it to him for that much.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t. I’ve put too much money into it.”
Katie and I look at each other with an ok, buddy just give us our space look.

The manager loomed over us with a sly grin on his face. Neither of us have trusted him from the start. When he showed me the room yesterday he rubbed me the wrong way, and it was my own blindness that confused me into accepting the room. It was just too damn nice to pass up. After agreeing on a price. He had dropped the room from $28 to $15, which was nice of him, but we simply couldn’t have stayed there for any more and would have had to simply turn down the room. So after showing me the room, he says…
You are Canadian. You have lots of money. You pay $18.”
“I’m sorry, we can’t.” I explained. “We are sleeping in hotels everyday for six months and it is over our budget.”
But you are rich. $18 is no problem.”
“You agreed to $15. If it is more, I am sorry we cannot stay.”

He followed me down the stairs and I could tell that he was sizing me up. It was an odd feeling. A feeling that I just didn’t want to be in his presence. I got downstairs and he finally agreed to $15. And since then every time we pass his desk he’s been hell bent on selling a tour, trip, bus ticket, or buying our bikes. Its been nothing but money, money, money and neither of us trusted him. He even charged us to park our bikes. He said that there was no room inside the hotel so he had to drive them to a parking garage and that it would cost 20,000 dong each. Which was a lie that we caught him in the act in the evening.

Now where was I. Ahh yes, we were waiting for the dude from Brooklyn to arrive to show him Katie’s bike while the manager was looming about. The guy finally arrived amidst the manager pressuring us to book our bus to Sapa. We left him to greet Robert, the dude from Brooklyn who rode up on a motorbike with his friend.

He took a look at both our bikes and we both did our schpeel, but it seemed like he was leaning towards Katie’s bike since it was an automatic so I gave them their space to get down to brass tacks. There was no issue with the price, he just wanted to give it a spin around the block to see how she ran. Of course Katie obliged and handed him the keys while his friend hung back by our side. Robert saddled up on the bike and got comfortable before putting the keys in the ignition. It was an extremely busy one way so it took him a couple minutes before he could ease out onto the street. When he did, with the slight twist of the handlebar the bike shot out like a bullet jerking him back until he let go- similar to an Olympian bursting off before the bang only to have to restart.

“Woah. I didn’t expect it to start so fast”, Robert said catching his breath.
“Yeah it has a little kick. Just take it slow. Ease into it”, Katie said.

He waited again for the traffic to subdue before giving the gas another try. This time the bullet left the chamber and he shot out wildly, wobbling out of control with his body clung to the back of the seat and slammed into the side of a bus leaving a giant scar along the busses glass as well as lacerating his shirt from neck to belt buckle. Traffic stopped and we all ran over to lift the bike and him from the asphalt. Robert was shaken and alive in more than one sense. Miraculously, the bike came out unscathed aside from a nick on the handlebar. The bus driver stood there with a scowl written on his face that read “are you fucking kidding me?” Eventually he saw that Robert was avoiding him he started up and trolled off.

Almost at the same time as the crash I saw through the window of the bus Eva and Luca on the street corner opposite to us so I made a mad dash while Katie and Robert’s friend were taking care of him. His booboo’s weren’t too bad so he opted for round number three on the bike after Katie made it adamantly clear that she has $400 invested in this bike and she needs to get it out of it. Robert agreed that he would take responsibility and off he slowly rolled this time.

KT: I was shaking. Seriously shaking. He was fine, so I wasn’t concerned about his well being. I was concerned about my bike! She had been between my legs for the past 3 months, I had shared intimate and serene moments with her, and here was a stranger dumping her in the middle of the street for all to see. I got very serious with Robert, and after a few minutes of friendly debate, I let him try again.

I grabbed Eva and Luca and briefed them on the chaos that had just ensued and the five of us hung around until Robert returned. He ended up giving Katie an $80 deposit and said that he would come by tomorrow to pony up the rest.

Robert and his friend left and the four of us went for a coffee before they had to reach a train for their trip to Hoi An.

I still hadn’t found any buyers for my bike and was beginning to get a little desperate. We were leaving in two days and I was yet to nab any full-paying interests. I had my bike up on three forums and no bites. One of the workers at our hotel, who also wished to purchase my bike at $100 said he knew a mechanic that might be interested. Although I knew that would mean I would be getting middled. The mechanic would want to buy it cheap and then sell it to a tourist. I agreed to meet him at out hotel at six which I missed because we bumped into our German friends. I wasn’t too bent out of shape about it because I was putting all my faith in selling it retail.

When we got back to the hotel I apologized to the man and it turns out I missed the mechanic by five minutes. The manager and worker were sitting around and worked us with another round of money, money, money.
“Book your ticket to Sapa.”
“You want trip to Halong. One day tour.”
“Sell me your bike $100.”
Give me your bike. Souvenir. Souvenir.”

All to the point of extreme annoyance. As we were walking back to our room to drop some stuff off before dinner we told the manager that Katie had sold her bike so perhaps he would drop all the chatter. As we were about to walk up the stairs he says to Katie…

“You sell anything else?”
“Uhh No? What do you mean?” Katie replied.

With a seedy grin on his face the manager said, if you could really call him a manager, “You sell…you?”
We were overtaken with uneasiness and questionable brows “could he mean what he just said?”  We walked upstairs knowing that we had to get out of this hotel. That was the last straw. I was about to go downstairs and tear into him, but we decided to just forget it and move out. He could easily just say he was joking and it wasn’t worth the effort on our part. What a slimy piece of shit. We went upstairs and decided to check out tripadvisor.com and you wouldn’t believe what it had to say.
KT: & this wasn’t the first time he had made this kind of innuendo. When we were first moving in, he made sly “jokes” about “buying” me. We laughed it off, as two friendly Canadians will, assuming all is well and friendly. But this time was too much.

First off it was difficult to find anything about Violet 2 Hotel, which was because the hotel had recently changed its name! Oh I wonder why? On our nightstand there happened to be a price sheet for the beverages in the fridge, which, aside from the point, were three times more than the going rate. The pricing sheet happened to have the name AuLac Hotel on it – a couple of detectives we were typed that into the search bar and it came back with nothing but 1 out of 5’s. Oh GOD what did we get ourselves into? The search came back with headlines “SCAM HOTEL” “DO NOT STAY HERE” “DO NOT BOOK ANY TOURS THROUGH THIS HOTEL” Then we started reading through each one. It was everything that we had experienced although we hadn’t succumb to the pressure of manager.

We left to get Indian food from a little joint around the corner and tried to avoid him on the way down. That night we just walked around the town sticking to old quarter. We really didn’t get to explore Hanoi. We were too fixed on selling our bikes and spent all of our time in café’s posting and reading over emails. But our walk that night was nice. There is a lake in the middle of the old quarter and we went out for a walk in evening drizzle. After making a loop we went to get snacks to bring back home when we walked past the water puppet theatre. We had wanted to go in Ho Chi Minh City but never got around to it. So we bought a couple of tickets for the next night, 4th row and center at five dollars each. On the board outside it was posted that for an extra two dollars you could photograph the show and for a few more you could video tape. Not thinking much of this we carried on.

That night back at our hotel we sat on our balcony catching up on our blog until midnight. Our bikes sat outside of the hotel which we peered down on every time we heard a sound. Like I said, we didn’t trust this man and knowing that they were for sale we didn’t know what to think. I knew what I wanted to say to him. But I wasn’t sure what was going to come out when we tell him we are checking out a day early tomorrow morning. I heard some fiddling around downstairs so I peered over the edge. He was gearing up my bike revving it pretty good and then he took off down the street until he disappeared. I crossed my fingers. An hour or so later he had come back and we watched him pull Katie’s bike into our hotel. BUSTED! It made our blood boil. That sneaky S.O.B doing anything to make a buck. We slept with a little less comfortably that night as thoughts twisted through our heads.
KT: We got so worked up over this guy. A lot of the TripAdvisor reviews mentioned violence when he was confronted negatively, so we knew we had to tread lightly. At one point while we were sitting on the balcony, Louis’ bag fell off the counter inside the room and Lou JUMPED up and assumed fight stance. Our nerves were shot lol

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! ;)

We’re in Cat Ba Beaches!

Heading to Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
October 10, 2013

Have you ever heard of Halong Bay? It’s east of the capital, Hanoi, and rests as a port-cum-destination spot. Rich in beauty, tranquility, and one of the reasons that swayed my decision to visit Vietnam. At least that’s how all the pictures on the computer portray it to be and today was the day that it was all coming down to.  After travelling 2300km across the country we had another 150 and we’d be there. All across the country we talked to folks doing the same journey- a mere fraction of them on motorcycles, but scaling the entire country North to South/South to North nonetheless. Although not quite as badass as us. We asked and received a lot of feedback about the famed Halong Bay and a consensus came out that it was a filthy port, touristy and over priced. Wow! Dreams just came crashing down on me! Well, not really, but taken back a little. After looking at a map, you can see an island further out past the bay of Halong. An island that was surrounded by a Roy Litchensen painting of untouched islands. It was like Halong jacked up on steroids.  I had to go there. And to make matters even more in our favour, an even closer port took us to this new island. It was cheaper, less touristy, and less of a drive on the AH1. Fucking jackpot! So in the morning we had a new destination, one that included hopping across two islands and riding the span of each until we came to the farthest eastern tip. To a land of exotic langurs, white sandy beaches, national parks, 360 degree sea views, and a network of newly paved roads that mirror that of any Italian backstreet raceway.  A land called Cat Ba Island.

The road out from Son Tay to Hanoi was straight forward. 50km on a straightaway that lead to the south of Hanoi. Then since motorcycles aren’t allowed on the highway we had to skirt the perimeter and ride underneath the underpass stopping at every red light for 30 to 50 seconds only to be held up at the next. Lovely. Quite the dynamic from the past month on the road, but it’s all part of the battle. And in order to get the pie you have to buy the ingredients.

We had this to look forward to

We had this to look forward to

Along the side of the highway waves of women were perched on the railing like crows, all scrolled out for miles, all selling the same fruit. Something that resembled a lime. I didn’t really get it. It just seems a little trite to sit around all day, day after day, with no way of standing out from your competitor. It was a crapshoot that someone’s tires would stop in the 20 feet of highway you occupy, one foot further and it’s someone else’s limes they are going home with. Not one person had a sign. No one had a deal going on. At least no visible deals. And no possible way to know anything about the said limes unless I pulled over and asked. But then I’d feel compelled to pull up to the next and try to get a better deal.

And this!

And this!

Eventually we exited at a roundabout and found ourselves on the right path after being lost and grumpy for an hour or more. And would you believe it, as soon as we turned off the highway the lime salesladies morphed into baguette salesladies but the technique was the same. And on it rolled for a few kilometers with a dozen vendors all selling the same buns. We passed them too. Then a stretch of restaurants with workers all standing street side with fans in their hands causing a big stir and waving people on in. We zoomed right past. The road was another straightaway – 80km in 30 kph traffic. You do the math. I had my eyes glued on every marker counting the seconds it took to complete a single kilometer. Hai Phong was the name of the port we were to catch our first ferry and it seemed like we would never get there. But we obviously did.

The town of Hai Phong was a refreshing break from the monotonous escape of inner city blues and battling trucks, traffic and pollution. We probably couldn’t have spent more than a day there, but it was still refreshing. We navigated the town for thirty minutes trying to find the port swerving through back roads, uwee’s, and on and off  and on and off the bike

Our babies waiting for the boat

Our babies waiting for the boat

fixed on the cursed GPS until we finally found the road. A road that turned out to be pure shit. We were under the impression that the road to the ferry would be paved with gold, saddled up right along the sparkling blue waters filled with flapping birds and flopping fishes the entire way until we rode our bikes onto our maiden voyage that would sail us to our deserted island. NO! It was nothing like that. The road to the ferry was an industrial wasteland. Surrounded by huge factories and ship yards with mountains of colorful shipping containers pieced together like children’s Lego blocks. I once saw a home built from twelve pieced together shipping containers spaced together like two T’s pointing outward and an open family room in the center covered by a corrugated tin awning. A true work of art in sustainable development. Driving past, I thought about building my own container home in nature. Three stacked, one on the other, with a spiral staircase running from the ground on up and access to the roof to gaze out at the tops of trees  and sliding doors that open up to your own environmental oasis and full windows on each end to let in buckets of natural light. But my reality was dust blinding our faces from the debris from a thousand and one trucks schlepping product A from country Z and every letter in between. We pushed on until the road died at the water’s edge and then found our ferry by gazing down the shore.

WE MADE IT! ...to ferry #1

WE MADE IT! …to ferry #1

It was cheap. Three dollars would to get us to the first island of Cat Hai. We docked after a short effortless expenditure and geared up to cross the island before boarding another ferry to our destination. We drove across in one slug and saw everything the island had on display. It was an island that was on the brink – but I couldn’t tell of what. I felt like they Travel Vietnam making friendswere building the whole island over although it was still in its primary stages. Which is odd because the island wasn’t born yesterday. I had an eerie feel that the island could never sustain growth because every time they got ahead, a natural disaster occurred that set them back to ground zero. Cat Hai is filled with grandparents that look older than the island itself all sitting around like containers of paint. That, and a bunch of workers in fields and in floating tubs at sea tending to their tendables. We found the ferry and boarded for $2.50.

We docked at Cat Ba and road off climbing the forested bluffs with bleating mountain goats, then dipping to sea level to cruise against beaches and then zigzagging up and up

Gross bug that got stuck behind Louis' eye

Gross bug that got stuck behind Louis’ eye

along those sexy s-curves that skirt mountains like the brim of a hat. We rode for thirty minutes until construction brought us to a halt. They were blasting mountainside to give way to wider roads and an antique crane was using its arm to sweep boulders off to the side. We played cards and waited. When it finished we passed and cruised into town and found an $8 hotel after the manager hailed us on the street. It was on the 5th floor and overlooking the harbour. We saved $2 by cheaping out on the AC – we figured the breeze would be just fine. It was. We ended up at a restaurant filled with foreigners. The most we had seen since Hoi An. It was called the Noble House and we would end up there for dinner almost every night.

Travel Vietnam Cat Ba clearing roads

We had been riding since 8am and hadn’t stopped until 7pm. So we dedicated that evening to sleep. Only to have Michael Douglas screw me in the morning. And it wouldn’t be his last.

On the road again…see ya Dong Hoi!

Dong Hoi, Vietnam to Tan Ky, Vietnam to Son Tay, Vietnam
October 8-9, 2013

I’m not going to say it’s about time…but it was about damn time. If you have been following our posts you’d know that Michael Douglas and myself have not always been on the

See ya Dong Hoi

See ya Dong Hoi

greatest of terms – but as of late he has been the eggs to my baguette. No problems. No hiccups. Just pure cruising. Which is why it was about damn time for Katie’s bike to hiccup. And in my kind of fashion. She had begun to strap her bag on for our extended day on the road when the hotel manager came out and pointed to her flat tire. BAM! BAZINGA! OOOOH! OOOH It was sweet! I mean, I’m sorry baby…really, honest and sincere. Ok is she gone? Yes? Well damn I take it all back! WOOHAA! Michael Douglas high-fived me while Katie unstrapped her pack and left to get her tire patched. All in all it was a dollar and a twenty minute set back, but it was sweet. A beautiful day to start a long haul on the road.

KT Edit: Yep, I finally knew what it felt like to wake up to a flat tire. I was annoyed. I didn’t wan to deal with it. Ohhhhh bike problems, curse you!

Since we fell in love with the ease and simplicity of the Ho Chi Minh Highway over the chaos and bedlam of the AH1 – we hopped at the chance to get right back on Uncle Ho and ride his ass all the way north. For the first hour it was all the beauty we expected from retracing our tire marks from lore…and the seven hours that followed were possibly even more majestic.

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The whole trip long I’ve battled the battery game with my camera and every time I reach the epic most unbelievable view – the ol’ camera says sorry folks this one is for your eyes only. Either way, I saw, lived, rode & experienced the pure enchantment that is the HCM Highway. All the roaring climbs and gliding descents, the hairpin turns, forests so lush andSAMSUNG CSC never-ending that they all eventually blend into one immense emerald ocean. Passing villages that consist of only two neighbours and towns that rest their heads along fulcrum of a mountain. And millions of everything between here and your ideas of civilization. And as you ride past these slow, other worldly towns you wonder how anyone ever settled here and said this is where I am going to live…and actually did it. It’s unbelievable beauty. I just couldn’t imagine the obstacles of creating a world in the middle of nowhere. It’s surreal. Perfect. Calm. It’s everything I have been searching for. The entire day was filled with wonderment. All 350 kilometers of it.

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We ended up in the stop over town of Tan Ky after checking out a couple creepy hotels SAMSUNG CSCwith child drawings on the walls, cobwebs so large I thought the room had already been occupied, and stucco replaced with wallpaper. We apologized and found another. We ate dinner for the sake of it. It had been 9 ½ hours since we had last eaten and I think I ate the freshest chicken in town. Behind me the next batter up was being beheaded as we ate. He didn’t sound too pleased.

The next morning we woke up and could only find a coffee joint. Neither of us were really hungry so after taking out some money from the bank, we hit the road. Yesterday we hadn’t hit a single stop sign in or along our eight hour drive and today seemed like it was going to follow suit. Our destination was an unknown town called Son Tay. It was 50km from downtown Hanoi and 300km from Sapa, a mountain town that we heard had an SAMSUNG CSCamazing stretch of highway leading up to its mouth. The ride was, well less. It was still beautiful. And the day was great. But we had began to emerge from the untouched landscape. You could begin to tell we were heading for the nations capital. The ride was nice though. No traffic and the two red lights we approached turned green before we got to them. And then it happened. Our first red light. That mother scratcher. Over 500km without being forced to stop and bam it hits you. Well after that 17 second hiccup we got back on the road and eventually made it to Son Tay found a hotel and hung out in a café chatting with family and writing postcards until it was time to settle.

We also changed our flight. We decided to head to the island of Cat Ba over Sapa. A plan that would save us two days of travel and a smoother plan of execution out of Vietnam before our visas expired. So after being landlocked for the past week it was back to the beach.

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Yes Hue!

It took a little while to get our bearing out of Hoi An. It’s been a running theme for us to wait until our bags are packed and the roads just sitting there ahead of us, open, tapping its Travel Vietnam closeup Louwristwatch, with an enough already sort of chagrin. That’s about the time we actually open up a map. I wasn’t in the mood to look at any maps. I was in more of a fuck it lets just ride kind of mood. Which doesn’t really help any situation. We had been about three minutes out of the city when we pulled over to grab the GPS when a motorcycle pulls up. Now, I’m gonna be flat out when I say that I know I’m getting grumpier and more cynical, but sometimes I just plain don’t feel like making small talk. Hell, I never feel like making small talk and I’m not generally a rude guy, but this trip has been shifting my gears. So we’re sitting there on the side of the road when a guy pulls up and makes with the usual where ya from sort of bit…ok buster, enough’s enough. I’m just pulled over minding my business. There’s no need to get into my life story and it really makes no differenceTravel Vietnam Hai Van Pass KT what my name is to you. I’m tired of it and just want to get on the road, on with my day, and out of this damn town that has eaten up the last ten days of my trip. I hold my breath while Katie does the talking and he assures us that if we just go straight for 200km we will be at our destination. That’s it. That’s all folks. He smiled a big joyous helpful smile and took off down the road. He didn’t try to rent us a room. Offer us a ride. Nothing. But there I was shooting down his kindness. I wasn’t going to let him be kind. I’ve been tricked time and time again and now I’ve jumped into assuming everyone is wearing a mask of deception. A mask of greedy personal interest. A mask of what’s in it for me. I’ve been tricked into running from kindness. I apologized by giving him my final attention and thanked him, and again when I passed him on the road.

The road was your average Vietnamese road. Which means 100 different things all in rotation. Riding through the streets is like looking at old family photos on your projector, but on repeat. It’s beautiful the first time. And the second. Maybe even the third. But then you start noticing the smalls things in the photos. And you nitpick them. Each town Vietnam wide has about 10 buildings on repeat; hair salon, cellular phone shop, pho or rice joint, café, hotel, mechanic, corner store, baby clothes shop…hell maybe it’s only 9 on repeat. Either way it’s the people and the piglets that make the drive exciting; and the scrappy puppies and oxen that don’t give a fuck about you or the traffic or the whip coming down on them. It’s all this that makes the trip exciting and then you have endless mountains looming in all directions like they are waiting in line at the checkout with a cashier in training.

One of the many friendly Viet we met

One of the many friendly Viet we met

On the road to Hue we zoomed past Marble Mountain without stopping. It was too close to Hoi An to stop, we needed to zoom today- but it left me a little upset that I didn’t check the Lonely Planet to see what was close around to explore for the ten days I spent relaxing. I chalk this up as a fault, but something that ultimately I won’t regret when the end of the trip rings near. Marble Mountain sounds exactly as its moniker. It’s a goddamn marble mountain. You can climb it. Look over the edge. Sit on it, if you like. Or sing a tune and see how far it carries. We passed it with our eyes. By the foot of the mountain, shop after shop after shop sold marble statues of Buddhist gods; Shiva, Brahma and the other one.

Mm yes, chicken internal organs please!

Mm yes, chicken internal organs please!

We kept zooming. All the way through Danang which seemed like a pretty hopping city. The town was built on a river and three giant bridges connected it to the other side. One of the bridges was lavishly decorated with an enormous golden dragon that wriggled from the top rungs to its underbelly that ran below the bridge, snaking almost to the water, only before raising, and lowering again. We ended up crossing on another bridge. It wasn’t the same.

Hai Van Pass

Hai Van Pass

The road out of Danang followed the coast and we drove a good 15 minutes along the gulf without a car insight. It led us all the way to the Hai Van Pass. A monstrous mountain with a Travel Vietnam Hai Van Pass shrineroad sliced off the edge like an endless piece of cake. Up and up and up we swerved, taking turns with a delicate lean as if our bodies were being dipped over the edge in a foxtrot. The view held me captive. It was captivating. The bends gave way to multi billion dollar views – towering mountains like green skyscrapers; endless lumber scored the land and I thought about the billion dollars I could have in my pockets if I chopped it all down and sold it to Hilroy. I decided to let it live and just kept riding.  Each bend folded in and out of beaches and towns that looked a fraction of their size. We kept riding higher. Then it came to its peek and broke, broke, broke downward falling for 12 minutes past mountains wearing hats made of mountains, and big brother ocean patting little brother mountain on the back since birth – best of pals they are.

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We conquered it all in one swoop and road off to Hue (HWAY). A drug dealer welcomed us to town and even escorted us to a hotel that was sandwiched down a small back alley. He waited outside while we unpacked and reminded us that whenever we wanted drugs,

KT buying drugs...of the poem variety ;)

KT buying drugs…of the poem variety ;)

that he was our man. We thanked him and checked in & took a load off for a short while before heading out for dinner. On the walk we met a street corner poet selling his poems printed on 8X11 white paper. Katie bought one for 50,000VND. He pulled out another sheet. One he was extremely proud of as he pointed to the signature Umberto Eco. A woman had passed his poem on to Mr. Eco and in return he received a letter of gratitude for the poem that stirred his heart. The poet even offered us a ride around town not as a tour guide but “for our pleasure” – He was one sweet little guy.

We ate Chinese food then walked along The Perfume River. A river that got its name from the sweet smell that drifts downstream from the floating petals that overflow from buoyant orchards. All along the river booths were set up selling snacks and little trinkets and cacti and paintings and belts all on rotation.We walked for hours and ended up back at our hotel in a deep sleep.

Citadel

Citadel

The blinds won the battle and we woke up a couple hours later than expected. We left the room, found a restaurant serving eggs and bread, and then spent the next 45 driving in squares about an impenetrable Citadel.  We eventually found a parking spot after crossing a moat and paid a ticket attendant who we think jived us for 5000 Dong. After we parked we had to walk ¼ around the building to a further entrance.

Moats on moats

Moats on moats

Inside the first building a luxurious golden thrown sat risen above ancient wooden planks. The enormous room was empty aside from tourists, no photography signs, and 40 or more giant cylindrical pillars holding the roof in place. The citadel had been destroyed by the US in attempts to save it from the Viet Cong who had occupied it for three weeks during 1972. SAMSUNG CSCIt’s funny that it takes destruction to set a people free. Or does it? It’s best not to tempt the US. I was searching for truth, trying to get a feel of what life had once been like 200 years ago walled inside of a world of politics, philosophy, arts and aristocracy. We walked and climbed our way across the sprawling grounds, knowing both enveloped in morbid thought that we have walked the same paths where men and women stood and  fought and cursed and cried and bled and crawled and died. We found a lake in the north east corner of the citadel in as much despair as the remaining Travel vietnam hue citadel pondtemples-turn-ruins. The water flooding past its broken perimeter as if it was the crumbling stone that had raised the tide. I am blessed with the glimpse that I was allowed today and I can only dream of its once peaceful past. We left the grounds humbled and passed once again over the moat to rejoin the outside world. We drove over to a restaurant on an island to get a drink and cool off in the days extreme heat. We sat and read and wrote and drank for hours; Coffee with Baileys and cans of ice cold Huda beer.

Travel Vietnam Hue reading

This is what I wrote:

With my legs crossed

On a wooden stool
At the fork
Of The Perfume River-
The water folding like origami
Fused with a scope
Of blues and pinks
Drawn by hints of night sky.
Hand crafted vessels
Lay asleep along the skirts
Tired as the hands that built
These archaic beasts
With primitive tools
I’m on a mission
To unearth the unknown.

A looming motionless flag
Raising itself like a student chosen in class
Stands guard above the tortured citadel
Opposite the river
Once a home to emperors
Artists and intellectuals
Once a dream and vision
Once chaos and destruction
The unfortunate formula
That haunts the murky waters
That drifted past unable reach out its arms
And put out the fire
And now the vessels run tours
In search of tombs
Imitating Indiana Jones
For five dollars
I cringe inside

We left the restaurant after the DJ spent thirty minutes of mic checks and mot, hai, mot hai, mot, hai, mot, hai, tsss…tsss, mot, hai (the equivalent of 1,2,1,2) trying to get the reverb on the karaoke machine just right. If it wasn’t that mans first day on the job I’d like to see that he was taken out back and shot, reprimanded or belittled – and I am totally alright with any one of those options. The evening was capped with dinner at this delicious vegetarian restaurant; huge plates of roasted corn, fried tofu, spring rolls and noodles and sauces for next to nothing. It’s beautiful to get what you crave. We went to sleep full and happy and were once again deceived in the morning to the hidden sun. It was time to head north.

Ancient doorways of the Citadel

Ancient doorways of the Citadel

 

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.

My Intimate Meeting With The Pavement

Just make it stop. The rain. It wasn’t going to stop. So on we went…out of Buon Ma Thuot and onwards toward Pleiku. We had gone about 30KM when the potholes started getting bigger and bigger. And then bigger and closer together. Louis, in front of me, went through a pothole, and I followed thinking if his bike can make it so can mine. Nope, I was wrong.

My bike didn’t make it, and I fell. It suuuuuucked. I had a hard time getting up, and a super nice guy behind me quickly stopped and pulled me and my bike up. Louis realized what had happened and sped back. Inspecting my wounds, I knew I was lucky. Just a couple scraped palms and a torn poncho (my poncho was garbage anyways), but one largely bruised ego. I think the shock of the fall hurt more than anything else and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a few tears. I already wasn’t thrilled about driving, and falling just made it that much harder for me. I caught my breath, wiped my tears, gave Lou a big hug, and kept going. We kept on for a while, with the plan being to pull over soon at a cafe to get a coffee and wash my palms.

We ended up playing a few games of cards at a cafe while we waited for the rain to slow down. It didn’t. When the roads started flooding I made the executive decision to stop driving for the day. It wasn’t the most economical idea as we hadn’t even driven that far, and we still had a long way to go, but this wasn’t how we wanted to road trip. I didn’t want to be nervous while driving, and I sure as hell didn’t want to be constantly soaked to the bone. Our Visa’s allowed us five more weeks in Vietnam, why waste our days not enjoying ourselves?

All this was marshmallows and puppies compared to what we experienced the next day though…

It legitimately did not stop raining all day and all night, but in the morning we really did need to carry on. Buon Ho was in the middle of a rain storm and it wasn’t going to stop any time soon. We left Buon Ho with “Ok. Let’s just take it easy and go slow” because of the weather and the roads. That’s until I hit another pot hole and ripped my palms open…again!

AGAIN! This time it wasn’t just a little scrape. A rock lodged itself into my left palm while another made itself comfy in my left thumb. Dirt and gravel pockmarked my hands and my foot was stuck under my bike. All this happened in front of one of the friendliest mechanics I Travel VIetnam Katie Fallsever did meet, and he ran over to lift me and my bike up. After setting my bike off to the side, he helped me hobble over to his shop/house. My hands were completely immobile and my foot was throbbing, but I was much more calm than the previous day. Other than the odd swear, I was mostly muttering about my own stupidity. Mr. Mechanic pulled over a chair for me while his daughter got to work pulling the rocks out of my hands with my tweezers. She was incredibly delicate and something told me she had done this before. Mr. Mechanic knelt in front of me, icing my knee and scolding his daughter to be more gentle any time he saw me wince. I was too nervous about the state of my foot to call attention to it, but since it was slowly regaining movement I figured it wasn’t broken.

This all happened very quickly, and my homemade First Aid Kit finally came in handy for something other than shaving cuts. They applied some sort of magical-smelling green potion, and a fizzing topical disinfectant before wrapping my hands in the jumbo sized bandaids I had with me. They were a wonderful family and we had to plead with them to accept the few dollars we were offering in great thanks. Before allowing me to bike off into the gloomy, pothole-ridden day, Mr. Mechanic checked my bike over. He gave me the go-ahead after popping a few pieces back into place. That night we finally reached Pleiku. I’ll admit it, I wasn’t loving Vietnam that day. I was in pain, soaked to my core, and feeling mildly homesick.

I’m writing this 8 days later. I only told my family 2 days ago about the fall, showed my mom

Infection

Infection

via Skype, and she knew instantly that it was infected. Jeez Mom! I had never even fallen off my bicycle as a kid! And now here I was, on the other side of the world, with an infected hand. Fuck. I spent the night after telling my mom tossing and turning from the pain. It wasn’t getting better, it was getting worse. I found a doctor in Hoi An (the town we’re currently in) and Louis and I walked over. He spoke fantastic English and everything was very clean. It was a private practice, seemingly with his home above (very Vietnamese). The consultation was over fairly quickly as he knew immediately that it was infected and after checking my temperature and such, he knew the infection hadn’t spread. With a quick peak down my shirt as he checked my lungs (no joke), and a look up my nose, he also concluded that my cold was just in my head and not bacterial. Fantastic!

My bill was 650,000VND (~$30) in total for anti-inflammatory pills, amoxicillin, a tube of Silvirin, 3 gauze bandages, and the peep show. Louis called this the package deal “The Works” since it included the brief and unnecessary feel up. You should’ve seen us biting back our laughter after Doc got a peek at my goodies – I’m just disappointed I wore my bra with the rip in it!

Healing process

Healing process

PS: It is about two weeks later, and my hand is totally healed. I have some light scarring, but other than that I’m great :) 

THREE DAYS OF RAIN, TWO MOTORCYCLE CRASHES, EEL & CHICKEN LIVER FOR DINNER, & SWEET CHOCO PIES

The last four days we’ve been plagued with Vietnam’s monsoon season. With distorted

We found & climbed this big guy. See Louis?!

We found & climbed this big guy. See Louis?!

vision, I tried to find pleasure in the unfamiliarity of villages, faces, landscapes and everything that I whooshed past. It’s the only tangible thing to hold on to when you begin to question the purpose. It’s the kind of rain where you postpone plans and cozy up on the couch with a book- If I were back home I’d be putting everything off for tomorrow, but that’s kind of hard when you have to push on. Although pushing on does have its benefits- even when you have rain blinding your sight.

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We ended up in Lak after a brutish day. Try spending seven hours ducking and dodging raindrops like a goddamn bobble head…I wouldn’t advise it. We found an $8 hotel after scouring the town and after almost being forced into one…I’d never been grabbed by the arm in attempt to be dragged into a hotel…but it wouldn’t be my last.

“NO!” I shouted, breaking free from her grip.
“Katie let’s get out of here”
The woman, now desperate, shouted insults at her competition…
“You find dirty hotel in town…very expensive…you stay here!”
Well either way, you’ve just lost our business you backstabbing swine, show your town love…desperation wears a stinky cologne…and we pulled out of her driveway gagging for air.

Travel Vietnam motorbiking

We randomly ended up in a restaurant after being hailed by a table of would-be-drunks. It’s no fun being sober around drunks…and they must have known that for they filled our glasses the second we finished them. Expecting to order dinner we flipped through a menu, but we weren’t able to read one thing…instead they offered us to help eat their dish. It looked like elbow pasta. It wasn’t. After being force-fed by a bunch of drunks with chopsticks pinched between these little dark noodles, dangling in front of our mouths we reluctantly accepted. Well, it wasn’t pasta…and there was definitely some sort of bone I had to crunch through. Thank god for the cellular phone, because without its dictionary we would have never known that we just ate some sort of eel. It didn’t taste too bad, and I’ll even put that down in print- it’s not something I’d order again…mostly because there are shitloads of dishes I could think of I would rather eat…but, hey, it wasn’t bad! Even the chicken liver we ate afterwards tasted better. Mmmm nothing satisfies your cravings after seven hours on the road quite better.

We parted from the guys mainly because we wanted to get a real dinner, but more so because we hadn’t been able to properly speak to each other for the last hour, and it’s honestly damn tiring, especially when all you want to do is relax, have a couple beers and eat a decent meal at the end of a long day on the road. Next door we found a little hut serving pho. It was cheap, dirty and tasty…and we didn’t even have to make any small talk.

Looking for a snack, as I have grown accustom to at the end of the evening…hell, I deserve it after getting smacked around by a monsoon all day. We ended up across the street in a typical all-in-one shop-cum-living space. There was a family sitting around their television surrounded by mounds of chocolate pies, toilet paper, knock-off-but-authentic-versions of Mr. Noodles. I was in the market for Choco Pies or some delicious variant, a comforting snack that leaves your teeth smeared in chocolate and bits of marshmallow cookie crumbles. I found a competitor and after handing over the money I tore the box open, while some real-life cartoon popped up onto the tele. And almost immediately the whole family, from grandma to daughter, alongside Katie and myself became completely engrossed. They pulled up chairs and soon I was handing out Choco Pies while we sat around the TV in their convenience store watching a half-pig half-human cut his enemy in half, only to have him morph into two miniature versions, in which he ended up swallowing one. Now he was reeking havoc on the inside of his stomach… I don’t think any of us got it, but it left us all in tears, with the grandma losing her shit a handful of times. It was a warm way to end the night… a slice of home with all our family members swapped for their Asian counterparts.

You’ve got a lot of time to think when you’re alone on the open road, and when you’re faced with battles- you don’t necessarily second guess your pursuit, but you begin to

woof

woof

question if you’re on the right path. An open road wears a different mask when you’re facing the brunt of downpours, broken roads, hell raising tour buses, and a battle of mechanical breakdowns- the pursuit of happiness, the real quest for my purpose, the big question- WHY? becomes a little bit distorted. Instead of love in my heart- I’m deflated- I’m left cursing the world, cursing to the goddamn world, wishing for a handful of rocks and steady aim to burst through the window of the next bus that musters even an ounce of wind that smacks my face as it screams by. I’m cursing the earth for the rubble they call roads…the sky for the rainTravel Vietnam Floating Village that blinds my sight…the drivers for who’d been handpicked from some asylum… and cursing my bike for failing me time and time again- WHY? Why the hell did I foreclose on my past life? Why am I in the middle of Vietnam screaming at the world- praying to reach the next town- over and over again- praying for a town that has never once registered on my radar, and now this one insignificant, obsolete, deadpan, country town becomes the only focus of my thoughts- I’m sick in thought- if only I make it to Lak…if only I make it to Buon Ma Thout…to…somewhere dry…all will be OK- tomorrow will be another day. Tomorrow…will be another day!

Buon Ma Thout is famous for one thing…NO!! Not that you twisted pervert, you should be cackled in wrought iron from neck to toe and tossed into the sharky Isles of French New Guiana…I’m talking about coffee. They grow coffee. I mean a lot of it. I told you before that I’d been driving through it for the last 200km…picture your front lawn draped in a bosom of caffeinated bushes halfway to your roof…then your backyard as well…but your backyard isn’t a 10X10 green getaway…it’s a goddamn 50 acre oasis… and so has your far off neighbour. Well bam, I guess this is all what it leads up to, some buzzing epicenter.

We pulled into the first hotel we saw, some fancy thing, white and stocky, maybe 16-20 Buon Ma Thuotfloors high, and a police cruiser escort pulls into the roundabout with an entourage of  jeeps…I don’t suppose they have any rooms from 6 to 8 bucks…for the both of us, so we lit out for skid row. Turns out it was two streets back…4 bucks each for an antique smoker’s lounge dressed in wood panel, an original matching 1973 Hitachi television…knobs intact, and two mattresses that were more like someone dressed up a sponge, we stacked them on top of each other for the sake of comfort.

Next door we found a restaurant that was famous for this dish called Nem Nuong, I hope you are aware that you will be reading about me eating many a meal throughout our journey together. If that’s cool…then all you have to is keep your eyes on the page, and move them in an easy snaking pattern…that’s it! I know super easy. So back to the meal.

Step 1. Grab a piece of rice paper. It’s looks like, if a ghost was holding a sheet of paper. 

Step 2. Put some greens on it, then a little shredded carrot & papaya, toss a couple portions of grilled pork and a sticky heap of vermicelli, and obviously saving the best for last- this awesome bundle of crunch, its some sort of deep fried rice paper roll. Well you roll it up and dip it in this boss sauce. I never asked for the ingredients so that doesn’t really help…then put it in your mouth.

Step 3. Make sounds.

That meal was highlighted by a walk through the night market. We’ve all had fish SAMSUNG CSCbefore, but it usually comes on a bun, under a lemon, rolled up in seaweed, or in frozen pieces in your grocery store- not being grabbed out of a tin that spills out onto a filthy street, thrown onto some bloody stump, and whacked unconscious with an iron rod leaving an opaque smack. Then if it’s lucky enough to be dead, is then descaled by a cheese grater-esque sadistic looking instrument and gutted from lips to sack, all by a hunched over woman fish-monger dressed in pyjamas. I can actually feel the pain in my bones just writing this.

Yeah, so that was Buon Ma Thout. Well, that and a couple of coffee’s. They were pretty good.

Ready to get oota here!

Ready to get oota here!

I think the second we woke up the big guy upstairs decided to turn on the shower, He must have thought life was pretty good for us…living it up, cruising the countryside on cheap motorcycles, taking in all the views for the price of a $10 room, $5 fill up and a few bowls of rice or soup…and you know what, Nguyen Von God was right. He was right NGUYEN DAMNIT!!! Even through the hardships of facing a day full of rain from the second you hit the road, knowing the whole damn time that its not slowing down…It somehow sucks so much more than starting your trip dry, even if it’s only for a minute. Just me?

Cheeky Mooncake Festival Mask

Cheeky Mooncake Festival Mask

And the day didn’t start off good. About two hours into it Katie crashed. It wasn’t her fault the roads and the rain were truly unride-able. And the worst part about driving on foreign roads is that you don’t know the sweet spot…you can guess, and you can be right 99% of the time, and then BAM! But these roads were full of potholes and with the intense rainfall, all the holes filled up leaving you guessing their depth…you’d be swerving along with traffic, with your eyes on the motorbike ahead as if expecting him to explode like a misplaced step on a land-mine. BOOM…BAM…BLAMMO!!

Well that ended our trip for the day. I think we made it 50km before we turned around andTravel Vietnam Buon Ho found a windowless room for $10…I think it was a sex hotel, you know rent the room for short or long time business…What kind of man are you? Yeah whatever you say big talker!! Four rooms down from ours  I peered in and saw a bed that could fit 3 Presidents…and a few alibi’s.. It rained all through the night. And then the next morning.

It was one of those days where you have to push on. Bite your upper lip and take one for the team. We had about 165km to Pleiku- a town we weren’t even really looking forward to, aside from it being our next connecting dot…hey I’m not saying I wasn’t looking forward to it, I’m just saying it wasn’t our main attraction- it’s like listening to the opener…they might sound good, but it’s not who you’re there for.

We were cruising along, rain in the face sort of deal when Katie went down againThis time it was worse. By the time I got off my bike a neighbour had ran over and was helping her up. Her palms had both been split open, one a lot worse than the other, and she had a sore ankle. Hands are something that hold a lot of value when cruising the countryside via motorcycle…ok yes…pun intended.

We all went over to the neighbours house where him and his daughter went into nurse mode. On her knees she fished out pebbles and gravel with Katie’s eyebrow tweezers, while he was running back and forth with ice and bandages. I felt helpless- the two of them were taking such good care of her. They even had a little bottle of antiseptic that fizzed the way Pop Rocks feel in your mouth. As good as she could be we carried on until I ran into a flat tire. So I had it filled with air and carried on. Then I ran into another flat so I  had it patched for $1…then carried on some more.
SAMSUNG CSCWe got to Pleiku some time in the evening. Katie had been a trooper all day, and at night all we were craving was pizza. Surely in a town of 200,000 plus people, one would have pizza. I know some lead ehh? Anyways, I asked the bell clerk, I even drew him a picture, well perhaps it was a triangle with circular pepperoni slices. I mean 100 people out of 101 could have guessed it, and the guy assured me there were 2 in town…and even better they were both around the corner. So Katie hobbled out of bed and we went off into the night…very, very slowly.

As you guessed – there was no pizza. But we kept on asking. First a hotel. They went onto the computer and even drew me a map. It was 3 long blocks down and one over. They didn’t serve pizza. So I asked a lady at a stall across the street who didn’t speak English. Luckily a man overhead and translated to her. She assured him, to ensure us, that there was one 2 blocks over and 1 block down on the left. There was no pizza there either. So I walked across the street to another hotel. She told us that Pleiku was dry…not a slice in the city. I have to salute all the dreamers out there. One day Pleiku…One day!

Angry and pizza-less we needed a beer so we stopped at a restaurant beside the last hotel. There we met a woman named Anna. A half breed, looked Vietnamese but spoke with an Aussie tongue. Her family owned the restaurant and she was in town for her sisters wedding.  She bought us beers and hailed us a taxi home. Sweet woman.

So we ended up walking 45 minutes for pizza through streets filled with people railed from façade to façade gawking at flailing dragons and furry tigers, all the while dancing to the beat of a monotonous drum. The Moon Festival carries on. Everyone breathing in the birth of good fortune…a new beginning…oh yes, prosperous times await…I wish them all the best…and if nothing else…it was entertaining and brought the people together. A beautiful thing in itself.

We ended up having fried chicken and pinkish rice from a restaurant a minute from our hotel. The owner came over before we had finished. We told him it was delicious…and we weren’t kidding. Dinh was a laid back 60 year old with a passion for chicken… haha, that might be true, but we talked about the war instead.

He joined the Americans in the good ol’ fight. He got a job fixing warplanes and moved to Pleiku because the base was close. He’d been hit in combat…even while working at the airfield he said he saw action, bombs, fighting, death…shrapnel hit him in the arm and left him out of commission for a year, he said rolling up his sleeve.

“What are your thoughts on the North? Do you have family there?”, I pried not getting many chances to speak to a war veteran.

“Yes I have brothers and sisters in the north…they are the same people, but they have different hearts.” He said.

Someone pulled up to his storefront like it was a drive thru…someone ran out to grab the order. It was raining and they were closing up. We were their last customers.

“that’s so cool…drive-thru dinner” one of us said, or thought together.

A man ran back with the order and slipped it through the window and took the money.

That’s so & so my worker, he’s deaf and dumb…but he makes great chicken.”

We thanked Dinh and walked home in the rain.