Posts from the ‘Vietnam’ Category

Crossing the border

At the Loas border Customs

“Who is the contact”?

“huh”

“You need a contact address and number”  I understood what the customs official was saying but I thought everything was going swimmingly until he announced this.  What was I supposed to do?  We had got the bikes all the way from Dien Bien Phu to 8km from the Laos border at Tay Trang.  We had been told previously the road conditions were sever, so so that supposedly another traveler on a bike possibly the same as our had to turn back as it was too difficult to pass.  Pff Pussy, if the Vietnamese can do it on scooters we were sure we could do it on our Minsk’s.

“What is the contact”?  I put on my broad boro accent and spoke no pigeon english for this guy.  “I’m sorry mate but I don’t have his number, I don’t have a phone you see”  I think I can remember where it was I bought the bike, but you see I did not take down his details”.  I went on further than this until the official finally gave up and stamped my papers.  Hugo was outside still looking for his driver’s licence, I made sure no one could hear me tell him to do the same when they ask.

A few more stamps and signatures and we were through customs.

No go! Hugo waits for the diggers

A little further down the road and we hit the road works.  The road was closed as they literally built a road before us.  We waited for about 2-3 hours for the work to be completed and so got out our books and read and sun bathed.

Still waiting...

A steep and long way down

 Finally after hours of waiting we were eventually at the Loas Border.  Here we had no problems other than paying what seemed like a lot of money to pass with the bikes.  Another off-road adventure ensued.  It was bad and the progress was slow but no matter we had to make it to the nearest town of Mung Mai to find a place to sleep and again we found ourselves fighting the sunset and the chance of the road being closed for more construction.  Some 35km down the long winding dirt track we made it to Mung Mai just as the sun was setting.

On the road to Mung Mai

Hugo braves the water first. "Watch ya sparkplug don't get wet Huho"

The River in the town of Mung Mai

After lunch it was dark in the town of Mung Mai.  There were no street lights at all and as I wandered through the streets in search of a local bar of some sort I felt a sense of complete isolation.  My only light was that of the moon and the occasional light from a window or from a shop still open just incase a passer-by may be in need for a snack or some cigarettes.  I walked hardly 100 foot before I realised I would be unable to go any further without a torch.  There were hardly anyone on the streets, this place really seems to shut down once the night set’s in.  It was only around 7pm at this time and I was in no mood to retire for the night.

I crossed an Indiana Jones style bridge across the river, the life source for this village.  Used not only as a bathroom but a laundry, a car wash and a source of fresh fish.  The bridge led me to a bar on the other bank of the river.  Here I was welcomed warmly by the locals.  Most of whom spoke no English at all apart from one or two of a group of teenagers sat at a table in the corner.  I asked if I may sit with them and of course I was pulled a chair and welcomed into the group.  I managed to convey my story in so many words and with a lot of sign language.  I mixed in humour as a certain ice breaker and left after only having the one beer.  It was hard work but I think they appreciated my efforts, and of course my custom.

Before I called it a day I spent an hour with the family of the Guest House watching a Loas soap opera and drinking another beer.  I of course had no idea what was being said but got the gist of what was going on, and because the whole family were transfixed to the show I could not really engage in any social interaction, so again my only vice was to use some simple humour in conjunction to what was going on the TV.  This made for some interaction which made my night.

Dien Bien Phu

We were setting off from Lai Chau and the first half of the days riding was pretty much the same as before, dirty dusty and bumpy roads.  By now we were both a bit fed up with it and prayed for smooth tarmac.  We got it!  The second half of the ride after lunch was perfect riding, we could finally get our bikes up to top speed and cruise along smooth perfect roads.  We made Dien Bien Phu in no time at all and had plenty of light left to see some of the sights.

Dien Bien Phu is a city close to the border of Laos in the North West Provence of Dien Bien in Vietnam and is known for the events which happened here during the first Indochina War between the French and the Viet Minh communist revolutionaries.  The battle occurred between March and May 1954 and culminated in a comprehensive French defeat that influenced negotiations over the future of Indochina at Geneva.  It was here in Dien Bien Phu the french finally lost the war when they underestimated the capabilities of the Viet Minh led by Senior General Võ Nguyên Giáp to transport heavy artillery including anti-aircraft guns to the surrounding mountains overlooking the french encampment.  The Viet Minh were able to surround the french and accurately bombard the french positions at will.  Tenacious fighting on the ground ensued and was reminiscent of the trench warfare of World War 1.  The French were able to fend off Viet Minh troops from there positions.  The french supplies and reinforcements were only by air and were fewer and fewer giving the anti-aircraft guns and the Viet Minhs tightly drawing in troops. 

Finally after a two month log seige the Garrison was overrun and apart from a few french forces who escaped to Laos the remaining French forces surrender defeat.

Shortly after the battle the war was official ended with the 1954 Geneva  Accords in which France agreed to withdraw from its former Indochinese colonies. 

The accords partitioned Vietnam in two; fighting later broke out between opposing Vietnamese factions in 1959, resulting in the Vietnam second Indochina War.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The A1 Hill were the french finally overrun by the Viet Minh

The A1 Hill where the french were finally overrun by the Viet Minh

Looking down from the top of the Hill you can see some of the trenches and a large bomb crater.

The missing week

Fixing the bike again.

Okay so during the week I did not post a lot happened.  We were about to set off from Hanoi, three bikes in total.  I shouted “Ok to Mia Chau” and as I kick started the bike the accelerator cable snapped. I hadn’t even moved.  So whilst the bike was being repaired the other stood around anxiously waiting to get on the road, we had a long days ride ahead of us.

So new accelerator cable fitted and we were ready to go.  20 Minutes later however the sound of my bike went from a meer hum to an ear piercing roar.  I knew straight away what the problem was and looking down confirmed the exhaust was hanging off and grinding along the road.  “Fuck sake”.  So again we were waiting by the side of the road as my bike yet again was being repaired.

Ready to go again we headed for the outskirts of the city along route 6, here we stopped to look back and we all had the same spontaneous idea of sticking two fingers up in the air and exclaiming “Fuck you Hanoi”.  Hanoi of course is a great place what we were  referring too was the traffic and the noise which we were all too glad to get away from.

The third in our party decided he would turn back now, having only promptly took it upon himself to join us on a day out, had now realised he would not be able to make it back before dark.  I sensible decision on his part.

So now it was just Hugo and myself.  Along the way to Mai Chau I lost power and to my horror realised the accelerator cable had gone again.  Stopping by a cafe (if that’s what you could call it) we took the blasted thing apart for the second time and noticed it had infact not snapped but the part where it attached to the handle had sheered.  I was about to go look for a mechanic when Hugo thought we could fix it ourselves.  He was right, by using a piece of electrical wire we found by the side of the road in some trash we managed to get it back on and working.

The repair however became an ongoing thing and for some 5 times more I had to stop take the thing apart and re attach it.

In some of the remotest places from Hanoi to Mai Chau and from there to Son La and onto Sapa the bike was to give me endless amounts of trouble and the thing would just pack up and die on me several times.  For the most part though the bike did alright and got me over some rough terrain.  We took a wrong turn somewhere along the route.  The road began to look more and more in a state of dis-repair.  In the distance I could see a large bridge still in construction which would eventually take a road across the valley.  Further along the road the bridge got nearer.  No surely we weren’t heading for this.  We did.

Back on the correct road, the amazing sights we saw as the road increased in altitude up into the mountains.  The view was breathtaking.

At a point the road disappeared into the river and emerged some 600 foot on the other side.  Our only means of crossing was getting the bikes onto a long boat and paying the guy to take us across.  It was a bit unnerving at first as the boat rocked from side to side.  I was worried the bike would end up in the river.  Well not so much the bike but my belongings strapped to it.

It was not long after this river crossing when night was approaching in the middles of nowhere on a winding mountain road my bike just keeled over and died on me.  We tried everything to get the fucker working but to no avail.  Hugo had to tow me along these steep mountain roads for what would be another 30K to the nearest town.  My lights of course were out as the bike was not on, and for a small section Hugo’s lights mysteriously switched off.  It was horrible, dangerous, but all the same we had no intention of sleeping out by the side of the road under the night sky.

By the time we had finally made it to Sapa, after fixing the bike all along the way, it was now probably ready for the onward journey but I had lost confidence in it.  Regrettably missing out on Sapa I bought a train ticket and took the bike back to Hanoi to change for a better one.

This I did in one day and got another train straight back to Sapa.  The road less traveled continues.

The road less traveled

Ok so I was in Sapa again, after having to return to Hanoi by train with the old bike because of having too many problems and breakdowns with it.  I was not confident to take this bike into Laos I know the roads are due to be very difficult there.

I arrived back in Sapa at the hotel where Hugo was waiting for me.  Tired after a long sleepless night on the train I grabbed my bags and headed for the room.  Hugo had already been in Sapa now for three days and was itching to get back on the road.  I felt tired but agreed and after a shower some breakfast and strong coffee I was ready to go.  While waiting for Hugo to sort his shit out I perused over the newly bought road map of Vietnam to plan the next leg of the journey to Dien Bien Phu, close to the border of Laos.  It was going to be a long ride and so finding the quickest roads would be my objective.

“Whats the plan bro?” Hugo exclaimed setting down his bags and admiring our new map.

I showed him a route which included what appeared to be a highway to Dien Bien Phu passing through a major town Lia Chau as a back up should we not make the whole journey.  He was not too optimistic with the amount of extra road we would be covering but I assured him taking the major roads and the highway would be much faster than backtracking along the winding mountain roads.

We both agreed and quickly got our bikes ready for the ride.

Lost in the middle of nowhere

In the north of Vietnam they seem to be getting organised with the roads and are at this moment starting to finally fix and expand the road system.  Only thing is, the Vietnamese had decided as it appears to fix and expand every road in the north at the same freaking time.  The road from Sapa to the highway was bad.  Steep in places winding continuously with construction you just drive through regardless of diggers, gravel, sand – you name it its all going on making the road even more dangerous than it probably first was.

We made it to the highway with only one small set-back.  My crashing! I hit a corner heading up the mountain and skidded into the ditch over loose sand.  Normally I would get myself out of this as on these roads you skid all the time, this time however I lost all control and ended up in the ditch with the bike on top of me.

“Fuck man! Fuck! you alright!”  Hugo was trying to lift the bike from on top of me.

“Yeah man, I’m alright bit my leg is stuck go easy”.  At this point I did not know if I had broken anything or what, the bike had my leg but I managed to wriggle free.  I was alright apart from a large bruise appearing on my leg as we got the bike back on the road.  It was a shocking reminder to the both of us to take it easy.  Had there been an un barrierd cliff edge it would have been a different story and one not worth thinking about.

Pushing on we finally hit the highway, but wait no “What the fuck is this”?  The supposed Highway clearly added to the road map, was still in construction the road they were replacing was the only road to our destination.  When I say it was bad, I MEAN it was worse than bad.  However what was supposed to be our fast passing Highway turned out to be an incredible off-road adventure.  The bikes were really put to the test, every possible bad condition you could think of was on this road, and there was a long way to go.  Passing trucks and cars kicking up clouds of dust that stopped you in your tracks making the whole road and your surroundings disappear into a cloud of yellow dirt.  Riding through deep slippery sand and water-logged roads this was not only a major challenge but fantastic fun it turned out.  It got so ridiculous at times you just had to laugh.  We were covered from head to toe in dirt and wet and muddy.

And then… The road cleared for a large section and now we could see we were following a large ravine along the Nam Na river.  The view was spectacular and made the tiresome road so worth it.  Around us towering lush green mountains, jungle and that river. Stopping to admire the beauty before us taking it in, taking a photo that just cannot capture what we were seeing.  -Simply Breathtaking

The road finally sloped and wound down towards the river and at a perfect spot by the rocky foot of the mountain we took the opportunity to unwind and relax.  Stripping down to our underwear we could hardly wait to jump in and it was the best thing we could have done at that point.  The water was slightly cool and looking up all around us at the wonder of this incredible land was the perfect respite from the dirty dusty road.

We of course didn’t make it to Den Bien, so stopped for the night in Lai Chau a small town with a bit of a wild west feel to it.  There was one hotel in the whole place, where we spent the night.  There were group of cyclist staying there too, who had also arrived there via the same road. 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

…Robert Frost

La cucaracha no hable

I was just sat there on the bed, updating my blog as ya do and this cockroach just come sauntering over to see what I was doing.  I mean the effing cheek of it.  So I says “Alright mate”.  It was hard to tell really but I was pretty sure he gave me a look and then just wandered off.  Maybe I should have said Em Oi!

Bike Finished and ready to go

Met up again with Anthony to sort the bike out.  I bought a map that would do to get me on the right roads south then we headed across town to his mechanic.  The horn needed fixing, the chain tightening and we gave it a oil change just in case.  30 Minutes later it was done.  So that’s it.

I’m going away this weekend to a homestead in the mountains for a jungle trek and when I get back I will be putting together the plans for my trip.  Can’t wait.

You dont know man you weren’t there!

So I decided to finally do some touristic sight seeing and so payed a visit to the local Vietnam Military History Museum.  This I thought was were the remains of the Citadel featured on Top Gear was but alas it wasn’t so still need to find that.  The museum itself is actually quite small but there are many relics to see and most of the information is also written in English.

 

 I then hailed for a waiting motorbike taxi (Xe Om) and after negotiating a fair price set off for the Victory B52 Museum.  There is really nothing else to see here other than some wreckage of B52’s shot down by the Vietnamese but it was worth a visit all the same.

 From here I headed for the Lake B52 Museum which isn’t a museum at all really just the wreckage of a B52 that was dumped into a pond but it was cool to see.

This was featured on the Top Gear episode.  I need another visit to this as I only got one shot before I ran out of memory on the camera.

I will upload the rest of the photos to Facebook as soon as I can.