3 Day Adventure of a lifetime: Rural Vietnam & the
Trip Start Aug 18, 2010
53Trip End Aug 31, 2011
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We proceeded further out towards the roaming highlands hills and stopped at a coffee plantation where Boh, who is incredibly knowledgeable, educates me about the different coffee beans found in Vietnam
A short while after the coffee stop we saw sheets of the weasel and other beans lying outside drying in the sun of most of the villages, a neceasry income for many in the area. We stopped at one of these houses with the drying beans outside, which must be a regular stop for Boh, and get to see some caged Weasels in action before heading to the backside of the house where vats and vats of rice wine are being boiled and distilled. Boh pours me one, and the shot travels down my throat and into my belly like a fiery furnace. He explains that it’s probably about 65% proof and then proceeds to pour some into a beaker and lights it, igniting a blue flame; probably not a good sign for my stomach.
We carried on our ride through more winding and elevating roads and the landscape changed constantly and was a continued stark contrast to the south of Vietnam. Out next break came in the form of a visit to the Cuong Hoan silk factory. With baskets of the silk worms sitting outside, Boh informed me about the process of collecting the worms and the elaborate task of unwinding the silk, which is put through a series of machines staffed by underpaid and hard working locals
Nearby we stopped at the Elephant Waterfalls. There was a fairly dodgy path down to the waterfalls, across a rickety bridge and some makeshift stone steps, but the view was worth it. At the bottom, there is a great view of the falls but also a path leading into a rocky entrance which takes you underneath the falls for some good photos and a free shower. We made our way back to the top and Boh leaves me to explore a nearby Pagoda (temple, and there are lots if not too many through Asia!). The temple is very decent though with massive statues inside and a short walk further on a massive Budha statue greets us and I again am ambushed by some Vietnamese armed with cameras and a impromptu photo session.
Our journey continued on through to steeper hills presenting great views of the valleys below and the ride is constantly accompanied by the smiles, waves and shouts of "hello" from the small children who respond with a massive smile when you greet them back. We stop for lunch at a cheap looking eating hall one of the highest hills, but the meals is probably the best yet in Vietnam and costs only $3
Our ride after lunch takes us through some very remote and rural villages and we decide to stop at some. At one in particular the people all look slightly different, much darker toned and it’s obvious there is poverty with no children at school. Apparently it’s a very matriarchal society here and when a wife passes away the younger sister has the option of marrying in and carrying on the family! Coffee is again a source of income, and we buy some local apples which are outrageously cheap. A while later we stop at a local market selling all kinds of wares and we buy some BBQ chicken as a pre dinner snick before our final stop Lak Lake.
We started encountering tire problems on the hills outside of Lak Lake, but were fortunate to bump into another couple of riders and borrow their pump and we had to literally motor it down the winding roads and past the lake to get to our destination before the puncture ends our ride completely. Luckily we make it in time but after a few hairy moments and Boh dropped me off at our accommodation before setting off to find a shop to repair the deflated tire.
After a satisfactory beer Boh returned with good news that the tire was fixed and also gave me the option of either staying at the cheap motel or in the longhouse at a local village. I decided on the latter and we got to sleep in a massive raised wooden house partitioned for the family and guests. Our bed is a simple mattress and mosquito net and I took a short sleep before we had another massive dinner. Boh then suggested we join one of the local guys for a beer who helped getting the tire fixed which I agree to. We took a ride through non lit the streets adjacent to rice paddy fields and sleeping oxen and go to a local bar where I am probably one of the few Western guests to have graced it and are joined by a few others and have some very cheap beers accompanied by dried squid, which is like their chips or peanut condiment to beer. At a decent hour we call it a night for our second full day.
Sleeping rural for cultural experience has is benefits for sure; getting a good night’s sleep might not be one of them though. With a restless night filled with dogs and pigs fighting, hens and chickens clucking and all other manner of pets and animals disturbing my peaceful night combined with a sore back from riding shotgun all day on the winding erratic pot holed filled roads had left me a bit tired. The morning also brought the news that the fighting pigs and dogs had managed to locate my sandals and partially eat them and disposed of them, so after a bit of a search we packed up our things
Sometime later we stopped by a local brick making factory, an odd choice I thought, but the way in which the workers toiled in collecting the clay and soil, put them through relic like machines, with all sorts of danger to their arms and hands and then stacked the brick for drying was pretty impressive. The workers were always smiling and full of jokes, translated to me by Boh, and they seemed intrigued by me and my size, something I had heard commented through the trip. So after some showboating and arm flexing between us, I was offered a smoke of some awful tobacco mix on some ancient looking pipe, took one drag and coughed up a long, which seemed to be enough to gain me an invite to join them for a boozy lunch, which we sadly had to decline as we had some distance to make up on the day.
We hit the roads again, and passed several rural schools, each of which would hail a torrent of cries of “hello” to which my reply was met with all kinds of smiles, jumps and laughter: it’s easy to mistake yourself as a celebrity in these parts
We carried on the route along a massive man made reservoir/lake, and Boh let me take a walk along its edge as he rode up ahead to a cluster of trees for a break. I was busying myself impressing the locals with my awesome knowledge of Vietnamese thus far, each phrase causing a eruption of giggles before I proceeded to slip off the short wall along the reservoir and scraped all the skin off my right shin, good work I thought for one fall! After the short hobble to the patch of trees where Boh was waiting, hammocks and a drink stand were waiting so we rested up for a while, once again the locals steadily staring at the white guy, me
Not long after our break, the tire issues flared up again, or rather deflated us and after a few hiccups, eventually the tire was kaput, so Boh had to leave me by the roadside with the luggage and a note on my phone enabling to tell any locals in Vietnamese that I was alright and my friend had gone to get the bike fixed. Of course this was the opportune moment for the building clouds to let down a downpour. Luckily I was armed with some colorful ponchos and waterproof bags and had the sense to get Bohs number on my phone. He called to check I was ok, which I was, and I spent the next half an hour, getting all kinds of bemused smiles and double takes from the locals whizzing past on their bikes. Not too long after the rain subsided Boh re-appeared with a fixed tire, I had prompted him to get it replaced as it already bore a few scars from previous punctures but he took the cheaper quick fix option and simply had the hole covered up.
We hit the road again and made up for some lost time, speeding hastily along the narrow dirt roads, not necessarily placing us in danger but the thought of the tire exploding and sending us into the thick brush was always at the back of my mind. We eventually reached our main destination for the day, a waterfall set in one of the national parks, and it was basically deserted except for a few other riders we had met over the previous day and a half
We headed off afterwards and made our way to our stop for the final night at a biggish city, which we reached at peak traffic, which was an experience in itself as we meandered through the bikes, trucks and cars, where no rules seemed to apply. After checking in out motel, I had a shower and rest and Boh headed out for a short while before we went out for dinner at a local food hall which was already packed by 7pm on the Friday and full of people well on their way to being drunk.
There were also two football teams celebrating, I assume a cup final or end of season so it was pretty rowdy and fun. In the beginning I was the only westerner present but slowly others turned up (including the German couple), all accompanied by their guides and drivers; only a half a dozen of us
The night turned into a bit of a drinking session as all of us bikers and guides were lead to a Karaoke bar, which I had my doubts about. Sure enough within a couple minutes of us being seated in our booth room a posse of “working” girls entered, locally called “chicken leg girls” due to the long legs and short skirts. This was followed by a series of terrible songs and worse singing and the girls trying their luck but no-one was interested, well none of us westerners! We eventually called it quits around midnight and about a dozen of us squeezed into a single cab for the ride to the motels!
Our final day started with a bittersweet taste as the journey had been so memorable and exceeded expectations but alas had to end
Sure enough a couple hours in to out days ride and the tire issues flared up again, and we are forced to stop by a mechanic on a blind bend in the road called “Beckhams Mechanic”, does that mans reach have no end! Boh again opted for the quick fix but within a short while the tire blew again and Boh finally gave in and decided to get the inner tire completely replaced by a female mechanic- the women here are amazingly talented and can do everything! We didn’t experience any more issues after that, thankfully!
We only had a couple of stops left before the journey came to an end. Firstly we stopped at a small family’s home where they were making Rice paper and served us a meal of sweet poppy seed rice paper and spices which was so tasty. A short while later we stopped at local wood carving shops in which they were carving the most intricate furniture and ornaments and selling them for hardly anything considering the work involved. They also had a pet baboon or some sort of red-arsed monkey in the garden who performed tricks which was kind of funny and sad.
The final leg of the journey took us through more forested mountains, we had just escaped the downpour, and the scars from the Vietnam war were still very obvious with some hills unable to generate any flora while others bared the massive craters from the American bombing campaigns
The city is a busy destination for sun seekers from within Vietnam and beyond and also has a reputation as a party beach town but after spending the past few days in the countryside I had little interest in the city. Boh helped me find some very affordable accommodation and we parted ways, I was incredibly thankful to him for the days just passed as it was a real eye-opener and more eventful than I could have imagined. Despite the unbudgeted cost of the trip it was worth every cent.
My day and a half in Nah Trang was not so eventful. I booked my bus trip to Hoi An for the following day and lounged on the beautiful beaches for a while before catching up on some sleep and even visited a nearby cinema to watch a film, like I said the city and its nightlife didn’t appeal and I was ready to go explore elsewhere although simultaneously thinking the 3 days gone by would be tough to top.