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.

Slather Me With Peanut Butter Because…

These buns are toasted!

The first 3 days of our motorbike trip through Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi
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Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh City – Mui Ne

We set off from Ho Chi Minh at 10AM after a hearty breakfast and some coffee at our favourite HCM hot spot – Santa Cafe. It was later than expected, but hey, we’re on vacation (our excuse for everything these days hehe). I was a little apprehensive about how the roads were going to be out of the city, as we had experienced treacherous roads out

Awkward photo of the year goes to...haha loved this family

Awkward photo of the year goes to…haha loved this family

of the city previously on our way to the Mekong. We got incredibly lucky; no rain, bearable traffic, and great roads all the way out. Puttin’ along the highway, we were making great time. We had one extended stop at a highway-side cafe/karaoke joint full of hammocks and smiling faces. After a short photo-shoot with the local mamacitas and grandmamacitas, we hopped back on our bikes and continued on. If you’ve read our previous blog posts about road-tripping, you know we got lost a LOT on our way to Ba Dong Beach. But not this time! Nope. We headed to Phan Thiet, which lead us to Mui Ne.

At about 5PM we were popping our heads in to some hostels and guesthouses; we were determined to not pay more than $10. We found one lovely little place, Ly Ly Guesthouse and decided to call it home. After dropping our bags in the room, we set out in search of food. Famished from our first day of motorbiking excitement we went to one of the first joints we saw. The lady was also incredibly friendly, which we’re suckers for. A couple of unexceptional meals and some free fruit later, we snacked on some ice cream cones and sat by the sea, watching the fishermen do their thang farrrr out in the water. We walked back to our home and Louis was fast asleep and snoring almost before his head hit the pillow. I stayed up and read (finished Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coehlo. Very interesting book, I recommend it!).

Day 2 – Mui Ne – Di Linh

The next morning we had some breakfast down the road (mushroom and onion omelets), played with a puppy, and went for a cruise on our bikes. Sand dunes on one side, sea on the other – wow! I can see how people could get completely lost in the desert. Walking up and

Our faces say it all...

Our faces say it all…

down dunes with the sun shining so bright is disorienting. Tobogganing down the rolling sand dunes seemed like the natural thing to do, so we parked our bike and started the twisted trek up the dunes when an old(ish) Vietnamese lady came running over with two toboggans. We decided on a price of 50,000VND for both Lou & I. We all hiked up together, with a younger girl joining us, then another girl. The older lady cleared a path for us and I won’t lie, at first I was a bit nervous. It was hella steep, but really…it’s sand, get a grip, right Katie. We went down 5 times in total, twice with both of us together. It was pretty hilarious and we got entirely covered in sand. I could feel my legs burning as I climbed back up the

She gave us kisses

She gave us kisses

dune, and I was completely out of breath. As we thanked the ladies, and found some more breath to laugh with them, they decided to change the price from 50,000VND to 150,000VND. “You tip her!” the youngest girl said to us. “Yes, we were going to” was our reply, and we held out our hands with a huge tip. The older woman thanked us, hugged us, kissed us, while the middle girl looked at us disappointingly. She had tried to change the price on us at the last minute, not this time, sand dune lady!

We drove home, changed into our suits, and hopped in the South China sea. And ahhhh how amazing it was! It gets me every time how incredibly warm the sea is. A huge wave hit us…”Ah something touched me.” “AHHH THAT DEAD FISH TOUCHED ME!”. And sure enough, there was a dead fish floating in the water beside me that had just graced my back with its dead scales. It was close to check-out time and we had to get on the road so we got out, packed up, and headed out.

The spot we wanted to hit up today was Di Linh. We were excited about the drive there because we had a met a man at Santa Cafe that has a coffee plantation in Di Linh and had told us about the beautiful roads and scenery. Nothing could have prepared us

CLOUDS I tell you...CLOUDS!

CLOUDS I tell you…CLOUDS!

for the beauty of this day. Driving along the open roads with fields and rice paddies on each side, and mountain ranges in the distance, we were laughing and grinning like idiots. Then before I knew it we were in the mountains. Louis and I are both nutty about mountains. Twisting and turning up the mountain, both my bike and I could feel us climbing. She kept puttin’ away and didn’t let me down. Soon enough we were driving through clouds and ooh-ing and ahhh-ing at the mountain towns and fields etched into the sides of hills. Up and up and up, then down and down.

It started to rain and we were ready for a pit stop so we pulled off at a little shack with a few (very very) drunk men taking shots, eating snacks and chillaxin’ out hard. We took our coca-colas and strolled through this hill-farm-town. Knowing that there was much more to come, we got back on our bikes and headed out the last 30KM towards Di Linh.

Happy as a pig in...

Happy as a pig in…

It was getting rather chilly as we got to Di Linh at 7ish. We bartered some hotel rooms, found what seemed like a decent one, threw our bags down and went to grab some (cheap!) dinner. Just down the street we ran into a lovely little pho shop with a woman and her son running the joint. It was heavenly. The best pho we’ve had so far. Thick noodles, delectable broth, chunks of beef, fresh greens, steamed bean sprouts – YUM! Before calling it a night we went for a stroll to digest our drool-worthy meal then parked our butts in bed to watch a movie – Now You See Me – it was just OK. We were lights out pretty quickly after that.

 Day 3 - Di Linh – Da Lat

I won’t lie…I woke up groggy and grumbly. The mattress was, well, worth nothing more than the $6 we paid for it, and there was a table full of Vietnamese men down the hallway that I swear were up gambling all night. After some com tam (pork and rice, with a tasty soup side) and a ca phe da for breakfast, we flew out of Di Linh in pursuit of happiness – Da Lat.

It was another day full of breathtaking views and lovely roads. It only took us a few hours to get to Da Lat and we were driving along the centre river by 1PM. A river! And mountains! And french-inspired buildings! Da Lat is in the center highlands of Vietnam where the

Da Lat grows a ton of stuff - from strawberries to avocados to flowers, grapes, coffee, and tea!

Da Lat grows a ton of stuff – from strawberries to avocados to flowers, grapes, coffee, and tea!

French soldiers went to escape the heat of Vietnam, so all the architecture is largely french-inspired. Da Lat is said to be the city of eternal spring. It is very warm in the morning, quickly followed by a light drizzle and cooler temperatures. It’s everything we wanted. We’re escaping the heat of Saigon and couldn’t be happier about it. After checking out a few hotels, we settled on one basically by the very friendly owner and his willingness to barter and give us a good deal on two nights. Our room is on the third floor facing a field and mountains, and half the room is windows. The mattress is a complete 360 degrees (lol jk – a complete 180 degrees) from our mattress the night before.

We hopped on my bike and went for a scoot around town, stopping at the market to have a gander at a mountain market and get some grub. The meat market had live chickens and ducks for sale, that could be butchered while you wait. There were also dishes full of brains and other body-part substances I couldn’t name. Don’t forget the flies buzzing all around and women cutting meat on the cement ground. I’m still in awe at the handling of meat here. We wandered up to the second floor and grabbed a seat at a little stall selling Vietnamese things with a menu translated into English. I can’t remember what the dish was called now, but it was just alright. Something with mushrooms and pork.

We decided to kick back to our hotel to grab our computers and go to a coffee shop to do this – blog – but when we got back to the hotel we both crashed so hard…for 5 hours. We woke up and it was pitch black out, 9:45PM. Da Lat has a curfew of 11PM but we knew we had to get out of the hotel and eat something before being stuck in for the night, so we snuck out (not really, we told the owner we were leaving so he knew the front door would be unlocked) and walked through the light drizzle in search of cheap pho-ood. It was incredible. The city was fairly empty, just the odd motorbike whizzing past and the odd shop open. The air was so fresh – something we had really missed after being in smog-filled Ho Chi Minh. We came upon the night market and each got some vegetarian chow mein (funny, because Louis had JUST been talking about how much he would love some chow mein and we hadn’t seen any anywhere) and a couple of pops (or sodas for you American-type). We sauntered back to our hotel, walking along the river, and marveling at the gorgeous mountains and peacefulness of this Vietnamese-French mountain town.

We again started to blog, but Louis put on Kickass 2 so we watched that and passed out so hard – that bed! So comfy! We had looked at a bunch of stuff we wanted to do around Da Lat, and were contemplating living there forever as we fell asleep. Tomorrow would mean more Da Lat adventuring.

What kind of adventures have you been on? What has been your favourite roadtrip? What roadtrips do you hope to do in the future?

PS: Hey guys! We’re on Facebook and Twitter :) We’ll post little updates and non-bloggy things there as well!

Phu Quoc-ing Crazy Roads Part 3 of 3: Le Fin

Read Phu Quoc-ing Crazy Roads Part 1 of 3: Happy Birthday Lou! and Phu Quoc-ing Crazy Roads Part 2 of 3: Just The Tip first!

Sunshine and smiles consumed our Monday morning. Another day on the bikes was ahead, and I was full of nerves and excitement. After a quick breakfast of french toast and glorious maple syrup for myself, and a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast for Lou, washed down with a couple of ca phe da at Buddy’s, we hopped on and headed out. We rode slightly inland for a while before reaching the road that snaked around the perimeter of the island.

The roads were what my motorbiking dreams were made of and we were making

Fisherman

Fisherman

excellent time. The road got closer and closer to the water until we were driving right along the edges, cue big grins. What’s that? A completely deserted beach? Why yes I DO want to go for a dip! This time I wasn’t afraid of jellies because the waves made it so that I couldn’t see what was in the water anyways – I put my blind faith in this water and it didn’t let me down.

After our dip we carried on down the road, finding ourselves driving through a quaint river-village full of hilarious Vietkids playing and yelling “hello!” as we drove past their homes. It was literally an alley with houses on our left side built over the water, and the houses on our right side built on the sand. The houses were but shacks made of corrugated tin and wood, and the alley was a mere 6 feet wide. Oh the places you will see! From trees to beach to boats to floating houses. We waved our simultaneous hellos and goodbyes, and made out for the “forest walk” where we hoped to see some animals.
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We found the entrance because of a few motorbikes parked there (or else I’m sure we would have driven right past) and hiked in with only a 1/3 of a water bottle left between Travel Vietnam Phu Quoc Bugboth of us. There were no trail markers, and certainly nothing in English, so we just hoped to not get lost. The tourist map showed animated images of monkeys and pigs, so we were under the assumption these animals resided in this forest. We accidentally happened upon someones farm, and strolled past rows and rows of pepper plants. The shade of the forest was most welcome, and we listened intently for the sounds of animals. At one point we did think we heard a monkey, but as we never actually saw it, we’ll never know for certain.

After exiting the forest walk, we bumped into the most gentle of gentlemen. His wife and daughter were just entering the forest walk while he, not interested in hiking at all, hung out near their cab. After chatting for a few minutes (he wanted us to wait to speak English with his daughter) we apologized but we had to get going, we were awfully hungry. Upon hearing this, he rushed to his hired cab and pulled out a bag of rice crackers, informing us that the next town was quite far away. What a guy! We apologized again, but we must be going, we were awfully thirsty. Upon hearing this, he rushed to his hired cab and returned with a bottle of water. What a guy, again! We thanked him profusely, not realizing then how long it would be until we ate. He gave us his phone number – he lives in Hanoi and we are to call him when we arrive there.

Finally we were on our way again, stopping one more time a while down the road to SAMSUNG CSCquench our thirst (the last bottle of water lasted about 30 seconds) again, and purchase a couple bottles of petrol off a roadside vendor. Yes. Bottles of petrol. That’s how far out we were. No petrol stations anywhere near, only roadside bottled petrol vendors. As we guided ourselves down and around the dirt roads, the mountain views were astounding. So much greenery and nature!

Travel Vietnam Phu Quoc road of death

These pictures are not even close to the worst of it

I was taking in all the beauty, until all of a sudden the road disappeared. I mean that literally. The road was no longer in front of us, in its place was an eroded section of clay and sand. Back to, “How is THIS a road?”. Turns out it USED to be a road, and the detour, now behind us, was not marked at all. I really don’t think I can express my horror in words, and I was too frightened to take my camera out of my bag, so all I have now are the  feelings of driving up the mountain over ramps made of sticks. “Just hit the gas and don’tTravel Vietnam Phu Quoc death road look behind you”, I kept telling myself. We got to the top and I was glad it was over. Oh right, coming down…that part sucked too. Then there were full out bridges made of sticks, crossing rivers and ravines. My palms were sweaty and my heart was racing, but I just kept telling myself (aloud) You can do this, You can do this. I also didn’t have any other choice but to go forward. This “detour” lasted an hour or two, who knows, it really felt like days. Louis was loving it! He was incredibly positive and encouraging, while he himself tore down the path like a natural dirt biker. My stomach is feeling tight just thinking about it!

Even after we seemed to have left the deathtrap roads behind, I was never certain they wouldn’t reappear. I’m just thankful I had gotten my wipeout out of the way the day before so I could master with a shred of confidence the stick-bridges and clay/sand hills.

We eventually reached the main highway again and let our maniacal laughter loose into the Travel Vietnam Phu Quoc waterfallwind. The tourist map had a picture of a waterfall nearby so we stopped by to check it out. Hailing from the Waterfall Capital of the World (Hamilton, Ontario), I wasn’t too excited about a measly waterfall. Louis was all amped up to swim in the fresh water though, so away we went. We payed an admission and parking fee of about 50 cents, hiked on over to the waterfall, and took in the hypnotizing powers that only waterfalls have.

It was starting to get dark when we reached Duong Dong again, and we were adrenalized by the thought of having the freshest of fresh seafood at rock bottom prices, especially since we had only eaten rice crackers since breakfast. As we walked into the Night Market Travel Vietnam Phu Quoc bluecrabit went completely dark. Pitch black. All of the power had gone out! Shoot, now what? Slowly, vendors powered up their generators and we went to the first one up and running. We each picked out some scrumptious sea creatures (Louis a blue crab and myself a red snapper) and sat in the makeshift restaurant in the night market. Louis’ blue crab was succulent, and my red snapper was probably the best fish I’ve ever had.

A couple people we had met at our resort joined us for dinner and we had a hell of a time chatting about past and current travels and adventures. Picking up some booze and continuing our little party at Beach Club where we could sit on the beach and chat in peace seemed like the logical next step, so Lou & I hopped on our bikes in search of cheap Vietnamese rum and beer. As all of the local stores were closing up shop, it took us a while to actually GET the booze, but we finally made it back to Beach Club. By the way, a bottle of Vietnamese rum costs 50,000VND ($2.50CAD). The five of us (Alex, Emily, and Max from the UK) relaxed on the beach swapping stories until we were too tired to talk.

The Gang!

The Gang!

The next day consisted of swims, reads, chills, eats, and chats as we soaked in the last of the sun before heading back to the mainland. Alex and Emily left a couple hours before us, saying they’d meet us in Ho Chi Minh City on September 5th, while Max still had a week left at Beach Club, finishing his three month Asian adventures. I left Beach Club, Phu Quoc Island, with a few scrapes and bruises, a sunburn, a thirty-year-old boyfriend, and the idea that Phu Quoc just MIGHT be the best place on Earth, but I am willing to give some other destinations the opportunity to prove themselves ;)
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Gettin’ Hogs in Ho Chi Minh

There’s nothing better than being a foreigner in a new land. Vietnam is no exception. It’s not that rules don’t apply to you- it’s just that ways and laws may be bent or broken to see fit that your stay is more enjoyable. Half the time pure ignorance just ends up fitting the bill and the other half perhaps you just roll with the punches. I see to it that I don’t take too much advantage of local laws, but when it comes to licenses, insurance, contracts; that kinda jazz, that’s where the life of a foreigner truly trumps that of being just another local at home.

The plan after getting our apartment was to pick up a couple of motorcycles. Well, a motorcycle for myself, and motorbike for the misses. After a couple of days on craigslist, expat blogs and forums- I deduced that the bike I was looking for was a Honda Win. I really don’t know much about the bike, aside from it being manually driven. It has four gears and is one of the more widely known bikes for touring the countryside and playing in the hills, swamps and beachfronts. Although the Honda Win is not a Vietnamese bike, there is such an abundance of them in Vietnam- parts and labour I would find out are readily available and mind-blowingly cheap.

Katie, being new to the bike world, opted for an automatic bike, the Yamaha Nuovo. With more horsepower than my bike, 115hp to my 100hp, it’s a nice bike to break her into feeling comfortable on two wheels and more importantly cruising the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh.

MOTOBOKO

Now back home in Canada, the process of acquiring a bike is I’m sure very similar to that of acquiring one in Vietnam. One would write a test or perhaps have a driving test along side that and once that was settled, you would pay a fee and get your drivers license. Then you would find a reputable, aka cheap, insurance company and sign a contract for a year (which is bullshit back home in Canada because the riding year is only good for 4-6 months, 8-10 if you’re ballsy) and then assuming you already have a bike picked out- you would register that and then pay taxes on top of everything. Sounds like a very worthwhile system… Uhhhh, no thank you! The whole ordeal of receiving my M license cost me a hundred dollars or so in tests, then plates and a license are another hundred or so, on top of $1400 /year insurance and then $3800+tax ($494 to get specific)… all in all costing me just over of $6000. Which is pricey, but, like all bikers, we all justify the cost because of that sweet rumble between our legs and the wind kissing our face…I’m taking about freedom- and sweet Jesus it is!

Now let’s say I skipped the insurance and skipped the license and just bought a bike… well that wouldn’t work in Canada because I would need plates. And then it’s over from the get go- but if I had plates and threw them on, lets say, well then perhaps I could get away with it, that is until a cop saw I had outdated stickers and bam… huge ticket, bike taken off the road, and so long freedom.

Hop on over to Vietnam, Xin Chao everybody, and lets pretend you are a foreigner. You want a motorcycle, what do you do? What I did was search all the websites until I found another foreigner looking to unload his bike. Usually foreigners travel from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi or vice versa and then sell their bikes before heading to another country. That’s the usual story. Along with your new purchase, not only do you get a license plate, but you should also receive the original papers to the bike (inscribed with original owners name), and if you are lucky, a couple of helmets, tie-downs, and a map.

But what happens if you get pulled over in Vietnam? Well, something that I have already witnessed in front of old presidential palace was a cop slipping a bribe into his shirt pocket. The going rate I have been told is $5 dollars for locals (100,000 dong) and upwards of $10 (200,000 dong) for foreigners. Hell, I could be pulled over 140 times back home and break even just on the insurance alone. What I have been told countless times from traveller’s is to not even show your papers and just play dumb. If the officer knows English… You do not. If you don’t know another language- try counting to ten in Spanish over and over again until they brush you off for the annoyance you are. If that doesn’t work, pull out a small bill- nothing large.

post bribe photobomb

post bribe photobomb

Now, I’m not saying any of this is ethical. No, I never said that. Nor do I condone my behavior- I’m aware I am taking advantage of the system. But honestly, I’m not going to stop. It feels too damn good to be above the law. Too damn good. I’m flying over here.

Well Jeeze Louise I’m so excited, I forgot to tell you the best part. So it took me a couple days to contact a seller- he was leaving in three days and needed to unload and he fortunately lived a ten-minute walk from my house. Katie and I walked over and met Raphael, a 22-year-old medical student from France who was on a volunteer/vacation in Vietnam.  I looked the bike over, hopped on and gave it a test drive. By no means is it a pretty bike. Oh, she’s beat up and abused- loved too much one might say, but she ran well and Raphael seemed like a good guy.  I ended up giving him $300 for the bike and the three of us went out for a couple beers to settle the deal. We did. We finished our beers, shook hands and parted ways. I didn’t even have time to be excited about being a new bike owner because Katie had made plans to meet a potential seller almost immediately after I wrapped up my deal.

lousbike_Fotor_Fotor

We walked across the street and there was this Thai bloke with the thickest UK accent- it really threw me for a loop. Tattooed up and dressed in a t-shirt that read ‘I fuck on the first date’ he was lined up to be a real salesman. KT Edit: I asked if I could consider this sale a date. He just laughed awkwardly. Damn! I jumped on the bike to give it a go- spinning through the Saigon streets and back. This bike was in much better running condition. So after a little bargaining he took 20 bucks off and she landed it for $420. A steal considering Katie could put 5-6000 km on it and then sell it for the same price to the next newbie.

katiesbike_Fotor_Fotor

We both hopped onto Katie’s new bike and doubled back to Raphael’s pad where the bike was still sitting, Raphael was there with a friend. Hopping onto my new bike he walked over and said ‘I think you paid me too much- I was asking 500,000,000 dong, that’s only $260’. Raphael then hands me $40 back and says ‘this will be incase you need to fix anything on the bike along your travels’. Marveled by my good fortune, I accepted and promised him I would keep him posted along the travels and be sure to put some good kilometers on the bike.

With new bikes under our asses and an unknown world that surrounds us, Katie and I explored the wild city, throwing ourselves front wheel first into oncoming traffic, it’s the only way to learn the streets and how the traffic works and what we have to do to stay alive on these wicked streets. We got home safe, parked our bikes on the inside of our house in a designated area that sits eight more for our household. I’m already getting antsy to get cruising. Perhaps we will take a look at a map tonight and be off before we know it.

SAMSUNG CSC

House Hunting – Ho Chi Minh City Style

For those of you who don’t know, Louis & I had thought we would settle down in Ho Chi Minh City for a while before motorbike trekking North through Vietnam and ending up in Hanoi. We not only wanted to be “in” a foreign culture, we wanted to be “part” of a foreign culture. What better way to do that then become residents?

So, our apartment search all started at the Manor 2. Well actually, it started back in Hamilton before we even left for Vietnam. “What do you want in an apartment?” Louis asked me casually one night. I wasn’t really sure. Safety? Somewhere I can be comfortable? No more student house? “I’ve never lived with anyone before…” “Me neither…”. Not only were we looking for somewhere to settle down for a short while in Ho Chi Minh City, we needed somewhere to please both of us, and a place where we could get away from each other if needed.

Thanks for letting us crash, Haider!

Thanks for letting us crash, Haider!

Skip forward to Ho Chi Minh City. We had been crashing at Haider’s apartment for a few days when we decided it was time to find our own place. Haider was incredibly hospitable, setting us up in his spare room, letting us use his spare phone, and having us pick his brain a bunch about Ho Chi Minh City, but we didn’t want to outstay our welcome.

How does one (or two) go about apartment searching in a foreign city when they’ve hardly learned to cross the street? We started by walking down one street we had become familiar with, Le Than Ton – an interesting area full of Japanese restaurants and relatively close to downtown. We entered some buildings that looked like they might contain apartments and asked “Apartment? How much?” over and over. We quickly learned that Le Than Ton was out of our (jobless) price range. Now what? We buckled down at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf coffee shop on Le Than Ton and decided to divide and conquer the online apartment ad world. One of us took Vietnam Craigslist while the other took expat-blog.com.

We started calling, texting, and emailing the places we were interested in. We repeatedly got the same response, they wouldn’t rent for only one month. Then Louis found what *seemed* to be the perfect living situation. $300/month plus electricity for a place with a balcony. But it *might* be shared kitchen and living room, we couldn’t tell from the ad.

The address was 258/37 Tran Hung Dao in District 1. We walked and walked and found what we thought was 258. The woman Louis talked to on the phone said the house was at the end of an alley. So we walked down a pitch black alley (it was 8PM by this point). At the end of the alley was a pool and a restaurant/bar and all around were doors that we assumed led to apartments. It felt a little eerie and the woman we were looking for wasn’t there. Something felt off. We finally saw her at the entrance to the alley. When we met her she was laughing and shaking her head – we were in the wrong alley. Whoops! We walked a bit further down Tran Hung Dao, past a construction site, down a couple more alleys, and stopped at the very last house at the very end. Louis and I were shooting each other unsure glances behind An’s back as we walked – what were we getting ourselves into?

Living Room #1

Living Room #1

An unlocked both doors for us and we were greeted with a front foyer with five motorbikes, a big plush couch and chair, Buddhist shrine found in most houses and businesses, a flat screen TV, a piano, and an elevator. It was all very modern and clean – much nicer than the student houses I had stayed in at home. So far so good. Walking up a few steps into the kitchen we met George, an Australian chef, and Tu, his Vietnamese girlfriend. George assured us he loved the place, after a few days you don’t notice the noise from the construction next door, and even though you share the kitchen with 5 other people, you hardly ever see them.

We started up the steps to view the bedroom, stepping over a cockroach…uhhhh…Another sitting room and the available bedroom were on the second floor. The bedroom was very spacious, containing a large bed, desk with a mirror, two

Partial view from apartment roof

Partial view from apartment roof

bedside tables, air con, fan, flat screen TV, mini fridge, and armoir. Connected to the bedroom was a pretty standard bathroom, nothing fancy but with all the essentials. After seeing the bedroom we climbed the four floors to the roof top terraces. They gave a stunning view of the city and we immediately started envisioning us working out up there, writing up there, and drinking a few cheap beers up there.

We took the elevator back down (an elevator! cool!) and An informed us we would get all that, plus maid/laundry service/security three times a week for $300. Neither of us cared too much about the maid/laundry service but after a quick discussion, Louis and I agreed and told An we would take it! She said we could move in the next morning.

We got back to Haider’s apartment that night excited to move into our new place. It had only taken one day! Then we got a text from An…she was sorry but her husband said no, he wanted a minimum three month commitment. Shit. Ok, well…so much for that! We were pretty bummed. We loved that place! But not enough to stay there for three months…shit! We decided to text An proposing to stay for two months. This seemed to please her husband as she agreed to that, and the next morning we moved in. The maid let us in and we met An later that day to fill out the Registration Form and sign the lease. In Vietnam you need to fill out a Registration Form even if you’re only staying one night (which we would find out the hard way on our long trip to Ba Dong Beach…). & just like that, we had maid service, laundry service, security (kind of…), and a super cozy place to settle in to.

We were soon to add our motorbikes to the foyer's collection

We were soon to add our motorbikes to the foyer’s collection

-Twisted KT