I am currently writing this blog from the depths of mid-Vietnam; in a town I couldn't tell you the name of if you paid me! We've visited countless towns, cities, villages and weird little smatterings of huts along the roadside as we make our way down the country…the names are beginning to slip our minds as soon as we've been told them!
This blog post is going to be slightly disjointed as, I'm sure you can imagine, after 5 days on the road, we've seen and done so much that its all a bit overwhelming…and we've still got 5 days to go! This tour is amazing: if you get a chance to do it, don't hesitate!
We were picked up by our guides, Chin and Spencer, on Monday morning and since then they have ridden us, on average, 150km a day and shown us all sorts of interesting things! This is definitely the way to see parts of Vietnam you wouldn't ordinarily get to, and spending so much time with these guys has been great! They have taught us a lot (for instance, crossing your fingers is a sign for See You Next Tuesday…we got informed of this only after I had done it numerous times without knowing its alternative meaning over here!) and are really good fun to be around! We've also got to experience all the road side stops for food…we've eaten in some odd looking places but, generally, the food has been pretty awesome and cheap to boot! One night, they took us to what looked like someone's garage …for a barbecue! People just wander in from the street, sit down at a table and are given flower pots filled with burning hot embers, on which you grill the meat of your choice (we had buffalo, boar and ostrich)!
I will only touch on a few things we've done, otherwise this post will be a small novel! The things that stand out for me are the following:
Vietnam appears to have a plethora of beautiful waterfalls, which Chin and Spencer have been kind enough to stop at for us to enjoy. On the first day, as we were getting used to being in the saddle in the beating sunshine, we stopped at a waterfall for Alex and I to have a swim. Chin showed us the way through the rocky surroundings and, once we were safely in the water, left us to our own devices for an hour or so! The water was amazing after feeling so grimy and sweaty from the morning on the bikes. While we were in there, a local popped by for a dip…now, when I say “dip”, I actually mean that this man climbed up the waterfall! Have you ever tried to do that?! It's impossible! He managed to make it look effortless but, believe us, it's seriously hard! We had a great time communicating in sign language, yells of excitement when jumping into the pool and cheers as he reached the top of the waterfall and then he continued on with his day, heading off into the surrounding area in soaking wet clothes!
We also stopped at a waterfall where we met a fellow Brit called Ronnie who is doing an easy rider tour on her own. We keep bumping into her which is nice! This is us on the bridge over to it:
Bridges….which lead me onto the “crazy bridge”. This stands out in my mind because I could have died!! Haha! Chin asked me if I was up for him driving across the “crazy bridge” and, as I'd seen a local do it moments earlier, I decided to be brave and go for it. Worst mistake ever! This bridge is so tilted that its practically a vertical plane, and so wobbley that its impossible to keep your balance. Couple that with the fact our bike was way heavier than the one I'd seen happily buzz over the bridge, and the sides of the bridge came up only to my mid-shin in height and you have yourself one scared Milly! However, thanks to some expert driving from Chin and a vicelike grip on his shoulders, we managed to get across it unscathed not once but twice! Phew!
Minority group villages:
Chin and Spencer have been teaching us about the local cultures and about the minority groups that live in Vietnam. We've been able to go into a number of tiny villages and see how they live. Each of them have been fascinating in their own way but one group that stands out for me is the Ede group, who live in “long houses”: one long building in which they eat, sleep, socialise etc. The community is matriarchal and the buildings themselves reflect this! The number of windows in your long house denotes how many daughters you have and, if a window is closed it means that daughter is married. Also, the long house is raised and there are 2 ladders up to the front door: one for general use (including men) but the other is reserved only for the matriarch of the family. This ladder has breasts carved into the top. I haven't got a photo just at the moment but will try and put one up so you can see what I mean!
Another village we went into was a lovely experience but mainly because it appeared every animal and family had recently had babies! There were ducklings, goslings, piglets and 5 day old kids (the goat kind!)
The people seemed happy for us to wander through their village and Alex took some lovely pictures of the girls and women sitting together (and the two gorgeous 4-month old babies!)
Chin took us to see an orphanage a few days ago which was bittersweet. The children there weren't generally orphans, their parents were alive but they'd not been able to care for them either due to financial constraints, too large a family or because the child was disabled. Luckily for these children, the orphanage is open to receive them and, on the whole, they all seemed pretty happy, well adjusted kids. However, Alex and I were told to head up the babies' room where we found 6 children, mostly under 2 yeas old, in a pretty bare room with only a few blocks of Duplex scattered across the floor to play with. I picked up a baby girl who must have been about 9 months old of so, who was lying in the middle of the room with no stimulus, and began to play with her. While i was playing with her, Alex started to film me, which caught the eye of the most adorable little boy. I reckon he was about 2 years old and bright as a button. He immediately came up to Alex, with a big smile on his face, asking to play with him and see his camera. He then plonked himself into Alex's lap to play with the camera, filming his friends, himself and us. Considering all the staff appeared to be women, I was surprised that he was so at ease with this strange, tall, white man…but he was completely happy to have a cuddle and playtime!
In the same room there was a little boy who must have been about 5 years old but clearly severely disabled. He was unable to walk, speak or communicate, but he pushed himself across the floor, on his back, and was happy to be near us and for Alex to waggle toys at him. Utterly heartbreaking to think he wasn't getting proper care and was left to entertain himself on the grubby floor.
Spencer took us to a prison that was used by the French, when they occupied Vietnam, to torture farmers they deemed to be revolutionaries (for the crime of refusing to work, unpaid!). We were told some awful things, such as how they would pull the inmates' hair out, by hand, and force their wives to watch the ordeal, before shutting the men up in solitary confinement for the remainder of their lives. In solitary, they were shackled to the bed by their ankles and, once a week, given a pail of water and a pail of food. The prisoners had to choose which to finish quickly so they'd have something to use as a toilet. We both found it pretty harrowing walking through rooms where countless people (innocent people at that!) were tortured and murdered.
Vietnam civil war:
We've stopped by a few monuments dedicated to the Vietnamese civil war between the North and South. Very interestingly, Spencer's father was in the Southern government as a Captain during the war, so he has a lot of information on the subject. Neither Alex nor I had realised that the monuments only list those on the Northern side who died…anyone who died fighting for the South has been struck from records: there will never be any monuments to those people. When the North won the war, Spencer's father was sent to prison for a sentence of 2 years to be “re-educated”. He was sent there by his own brother who had fought for the North. Spencer's grandfather had been on the border as war broke out and so he'd sent one son south and one north, hoping at least one would survive. Luckily for him, both survived and Spencer's uncle was able to reduce Spencer's father's sentence by 6 months.
A day or so ago, we stopped by a tea plantation and pitched in with two workers who were picking the tea. They were both so inclusive and welcoming, chatting away to us in Vietnamese, not caring that we didn't understand a single word! Lovely people!
Today has been pretty….interesting. In so much as it has poured with rain from beginning to end! As Brits, you'd think we'd be used to rain, but this rain is like no other you've ever experienced! Imagine those water guns police use on protesters, turn it so the water is vertical…and duplicate it so it's covering every inch of land you can see! We stopped for lunch and had to give up trying to speak because it was just too loud to hear each other!
Chin and Spencer poo-pooed the ponchos we had brought with us, and kitted us out in waterproof jackets and trousers instead. However, we've had a bit of bad luck in that department! Firstly, it's impossible not to look like a complete and utter berk in that get up and secondly, as happens with all of his trousers etc, Alex got a rip in the crotch area almost immediately (*make your own smutty joke here!) so he has been pretty much sodden all day. A soggy Alex is not a happy Alex.
We've seen and done so much more than just this but I have a feeling this post is getting far too long so I will begin to wrap it up now as we are pretty much up to date! We're about to head out and brave the rain again to have dinner and then probably straight to bed…this motorbike malarkey is tiring!!