Right now we are enjoying, (really really enjoying) the 3rd night in a cheap hotel, $8 US for the night, and its not bad either; colonial balconies, hot water and a grand(ish) staircase. We’d still rather be camping, being amongst our fears and facing them like heros, we feel closer to the country as campers and also we’d like to be saving that 8 bucks. But being human, we like comfort and it feels so good to have no one staring at us and no fear of being moved. It’s illegal to camp in Vietnam and even if we tried we haven’t found a decent site yet we would even consider camping at. A far cry from South Korea, where all day we would pass a perfect camping spot complete with amenities every 15 minutes. It’s so easy to fear monger yourself by reading other peoples experiences, and I suppose it would be more expensive to have a corrupt policeman knocking at your tent door then spending the $8 in a hotel.
Today was our second day of riding in Vietnam. The first was a battlefield on the road but wild enough for it to be hilarious. Finding food is much easier, it’s everywhere, I show them words I have written down ‘chay’ (vegetarian) ‘không thit’ (no meat) but it usually means I get a Phó with beef broth, so I just eat the noodles and leave the broth, probably offending them. I try to forgive myself because I can’t live off plain white baguettes forever but there are reminders of what my relaxing vegetarianism is feeding and its not the neglected and cruelly treated animals that are everywhere on the streets. Dogs eating rubbish with their pregnant nipples hanging to the ground, or tied up too tight around a pole so they can’t sit down, or the pigs bound in cages too small for them to stand up, bulls dragging their feet pulling wagons, or the dogs in cages off to be slaughtered for meat.
Today’s riding was full of children yelling hello and 60 cent lunches. The roads are loud, very loud, huge trucks honk right in your ears, it’s the traffic system in South East Asia; you drive and honk. I distance the sound by riding with my ear plugs in because I jumped out of my skin every few minutes when a horn was unexpected and very close. They honk as a greeting (even though I consider it an aggressive move) or they honk as a way to let people know where they are because no one seems to look anywhere but forward or their phones. To decipher which it is, a greeting or warning, a torso out the window yelling hello usually gives you the final clue.
It seems to be easy here to make meaningful connections, all you have to do is stop, get off your bike, and then you are in someones home drinking ice tea and getting the tour of their most beautiful room, complete with a fish tank featuring a dazzling blue light that gets turned on for guests. People also have no issue testing out your bike for you, seeing if it fits them, putting their babies on the seats, taking it for a spin, testing out the breaks, taking a sip of water from your water bottles.
The people of Vietnam really are cool, as long as they don’t own a shop, you can see the dollar signs roll over their eyeballs when they notice your white skin from seemingly miles away and all they want to do is overprice you. Dan and I are too shy to barter like we are expected to.
The way the Vietnamese use the roads is wild, it is a space for pedestrians, cyclists, electric scooters, mopeds, a couple of cars and thunderous trucks. It is a place for conversations with your pals on the moped next to you, it’s a place for trafficking your cattle, it is a place for you who owns a moped to pull your friend on his bike. It has to be my favourite place in Vietnam at the moment, I trust the drivers and myself and it leaves me to just enjoy the current of it all as long as I mute it with some foam ear plugs.
Vietnam is exactly how I imagined really, red dirt, dust, pollution, people hassling you to buy their food, culture up to your eyeballs. The French influence is mainly in the buildings from what i’ve noticed, people don’t speak French, they don’t have French writing, its just in the brightly coloured but dusty terraces, often look like no one lives there, but many people do. Oh and the communism, I wasn’t expecting that. It is everywhere, in street signs, in banners, in big billboards, in the deserted new concrete developments which are really wacky.
We are very far north, only 150 km from the Chinese border and remnants of the war are pretty obvious, the military hats people wear, road side army surplus stores, and many of the men wear khaki army clothing. Also people assume we’re American and when a withered and tired woman doesn’t return my wave and ‘hello’ I can’t help but think this is another remnant of the war.
I have to work on my obligatory group of children shots.
We chose Vietnam because I got refused a 3 month Chinese visa, giving me the reason of ‘not being a Korean Citizen’, which confuses me. They gave me a 30 day visa instead, which isn’t long enough for us, so we are coming at it from the southern end to spend 30 days in the mountains around south before dropping down into Laos.
I keep getting into a frame of mind where I fear I am not getting to know a country enough as we cycle straight for the borders, but I remember that we are trying to cycle around the world, we are on a mission to go places, we can’t stop to discover the secrets of a country… well maybe every now and again.
As a closing note, we are disappointed to of flown so far, we hate the idea and did so reluctantly, we hope to not do it again. Also logistically it is pain in the arse to fly with bikes, we had to get hand crafted boxes by a packing wizard at Seoul airport, I trusted him fully.