Saturday, January 19, 2008


Hello again (hopefully...)

Turns out blogspot is blocked in most of Vietnam, so we have been unable to update our site. Friends of ours have found the same problem but for some unexplicable reason it seems to work in the two main cities but nowhere else in the country. China blocks it nationwide...

We arrived in Hanoi yesterday morning after a 13 hour bus trip - longer than our flight here but in a "sleeping bus" with beds so it was a comfy trip. The highway is just too dismal to make cycling worth it. Between Hue and Hanoi there is not much to see so 700km in the rain and traffic (see below) seemed pretty pointless.

After we left Savanhaket in Laos we headed east for 3 days into a headwind, nothing much to see for a lot of it. Certainly well off the beaten track here, so it was 3 nights in tiny towns, no English speakers, and somewhat boring end to Laos. There was a bit of interest on the last day as we crossed the Ho Chi Minh trail, the supply route for the Viet Cong. The countryside was really barren with nothing growing over shoulder height - a legacy of the deforrestation from agent orange (and white and blue). There were a few war wrecks around, the back end of a helicopter, some tanks, and anti-aircraft cannons.

The change into Vietnam was immediately apparent after we fumbled our way through the border. From a tiny village on the Laos side to a pretty decent town in Vietnam, with highrise hotels even. Unfortunately this has proved to be the downside of cycling here - it is majorly populated. 82 million people and in most of central Vietnam, only one road. The traffic is insane, with little to no regard for any road rules (presuming there are any??). Saw a car crash on day one, a dead scooter rider a week later, and several smaller scooter-on-scooter incidents. But it is the horns that are the real issue for us. It seems that you can do pretty much anything you like as long as you announce your intentions with a sharp burst on the horn. The louder the horn, the more liberal your interpretation of road etiquete can be. We have taken to riding with earplugs in but it is still a nerve wracking experience. Even on the backroads there is constant traffic, towns, and people yelling at us.

Some of the towns we have been to are great, and it was a real relief after the tiny villages of Laos to be able to find something to eat at will. The first town we stayed in (Dong Ha), the guidebook described as dusty and of no interest. We thought it was fantastic because it had a bakery that we visited 3 times in our 12 hour stay. We have spent most of our time here so far hanging out with Claud's parents and their friends in Hue and Hoi An. Both of these towns are really nice and it was fun checking out the old citadel in Hue, and wandering the streets of Hoi An that are lined with 500 tailors. The vendors are all very keen to get you in their shop, so there are many cries of "Hey you, you buy something!!" This carries on as we bike, with some pulling alongside on thier scooters and taking advantage of our inability to easily escape. The best offer we have had was for some 7 foot high solid marble lions. The difficulty of transporting these on a bike was of minor concern to the seller.

We spent Claud's birthday in Hoi An and did a cooking class. A tailor gave her some flowers (Barbara was proving to be quite a valuable customer, easily swayed by the cunning sales technique of "You buy more?", so a bunch of flowers was probably quite a good bet to get us to return). There must be a particular flower or something that is given on birthdays as carrying them down the street people kept calling out "happy birthday".

We had a very average day of riding as we headed back north to Hue, with a really busy highway 1, and then once we reached a side road to avoid the traffic we had to deal with occasional groups of people yelling "FUCK YOU" at us as we rode past (according to one Vietnamese man these are the people from "bad families"). The next day we went for a ride in the coutryside around Hue and were invited into someones home for a tea. This was all very pleasant but after giving us a bowl of noodles we were asked to pay for the duaghter's university fees. We were a bit taken aback and after a rather awkward and finally bitter exchange we left being told we were not nice people. This was after going to temples and being told we had to pay to lean our bikes on a tree, twice, and on the same day told that we had to buy a ticket for our bikes on a bus for the same cost as our seats. We feel rather as though we are seen not as people but just a potentially open wallet. The only people that show any interest in us are those that want money and as soon as it is clear you are not going to give them any they either go away or get angry.

We are off to Halong Bay soon for a 3 day cruise. As this involved giving someone quite a decent amount of money, it might be a pleasant trip.

D & C

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