Easy Riding through Vietnam
Trip Start Jul 20, 2006
37Trip End May 10, 2007
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Vietnam is in full force a Communist Country. As I write this the Vietnam Voice is blaring through the streets it's propaganda, but in this small town it has little to do with the upcoming Presidential election and more to do with how to safely handle your chickens due to the presence of bird flu. Hammer and Sickle signs line the streets that read " Vietnam is forever, Communism is forever." Ho Chi Minh's (or Uncle Ho, as he's referred to by the population) face is on each and every note of currency.
I have put my adventure hat on and taken it to the limit this past week ( I know what you are thinking, how can she get more adventurous than climbing through the Cambodian jungle?) But, fret not dear friends and family, I am now among on the first and few tourists to ever travel along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Allow me to introduce my latest travel partner. His name is Thai and he is a 53 year old former vegetable farmer from Dalat , Vietnam and he is part of a motorcycle gang affectionately named after a former US flick, "Easy Riders." You can hire Easy Riders to take you through their beloved country on the back of their motorbikes on tailor made trips. And, while Thai was an expensive travel partner (double my daily budget) I knew from the moment that I met him he was going to show me a Vietnam that most tourists never see. The type of Vietnam you can only see with government issued permits.
My adventures with Thai took me through remote mountain villages where the women and children were so surprised to see a white person that they were often touching my face and hair in wonderment. I would walk into a village market, a lone white woman, and soon be surrounded by the entire village staring at me like I was some rare species in a zoo. Amazing to be standing there looking at them in awe, as they look back at you in awe.
We visited rice paddies, pepper and cashew farms, brick makers, pineapple growers, flower vendors, minority villages, and more. Stopping at local markets and villages where people were handing me odd fruits and foods to try - waiting by anxiously to see how my face would react to such foreign foods, laughing with the red teeth died from chewing betel nut for years on end. I walked through a 'city' one day and said hi to a group of men having beers and before I knew it, I was sitting down with them drinking Bia Hoi (fresh beer, bad taste, dirt cheap) and attempting to communicate with them in what little Vietnamese I knew. Turns out, the way I said 'hi' to them actually meant ' I am hungry for rice soup.' It's that uppity, valley girl voice I can't get rid of.
I came across one village where the medicine man (the most revered man in a village) came out to greet me with a toothless smile and invited me back to his high house ( a traditional hut with a high thatched roof) where he performed for me traditional music used during rituals in his village. He even let me make a sorry attempt at playing the bamboo, wind instrument. His grandson strummed the drum laughing at me the whole time. The villagers stopped peeling corn to come and watch me play their traditional music, while the kids danced around and sang loudly "hi, hi, hi!"
Not only was this an adventure through remote villages and outstanding countryside, completely untouched and undeveloped, it was also an incredible history tour. Stopping at battle grounds, seeing mountains tainted with agent orange, climbing through gaping holes next to old bridges where napalm bombs had struck during the 'American War."
Each night we stopped in remote places and enjoyed Vietnamese food and beers over conversations ranging anywhere from what it was like to be a student during the many years of war to how he sneaks into his wife's sleeping quarters at night when his children are asleep, "and only the mosquitoes see, but they do not talk, so it is ok," he says.
Zooming through the jungle with flowing rivers and waterfalls, alongside an extraordinary amount of yellow butterflies, I thought to myself, this is amazing. Since tourism is relatively new to Vietnam (they do not even have direct flights from the USA to Vietnam) people are amazed to see you off the beaten track. I was tired of seeing the same faces, in the same places and was trying to avoid running into James the horny Brit, so teaming up with Thai the Easy Rider was the perfect way to experience Vietnam first hand.
Language lessons at gas stations over green tea. Stupidly sweet sugar cane juice next to old military vehicles left rusting in the street. Spending the night in the forest sharing my room with geckos and singing cicadas. Whizzing through the Truong Son Mountain range and putting one foot in Laos, one in Vietnam and a hand on Cambodia - call it Indochina Junction Twister. In the end, Thai was my Vietnamese dad, making sure I had enough "elephant ears" and "Vietnamese pizza" to eat along with a sufficient amount of beers, coffee, and cigarettes to keep up with him.
Now, after 5 days on the back of a motorbike, I've settled into a riverside colonial town, Hoi An, filled with white people and tailor shops (i'm pretty sure there is 1 tailor shop for every local in the city.) I have a cold, I feel like shit, and I have to dash out to pick up all the clothes and shoes I've had made while here, I hope the post is reliable, cause my backpack already vomits every time I open it. My next stop will take me over the 17th parallel to the North to visit Halong Bay before flying out to Malaysia via Hanoi.