We are not really sorry to leave Sapa – slowly we have had enough of the cold and we are all looking forward to be getting into warmer climes sometime in the next few days. On the one hand it was quite nice here - with the high mountains all around and all the women in the ethnic costumes but it is a typical tourist place and mostly interested in making you pay as much as possible. Friendliness feels false and comes mostly at a price.
We gossiping outside the hotel even with a young Frenchman who wants to travel further from here ( what a maso - it is even colder than here ) and then we head off first in a north-westerly direction and then the road leads straight south. The landscape is beautiful - here are the highest mountains of Vietnam and we are winding further up before finally arriving in lower and therefore warmer regions.
Fortunately finally we have some sunshine too we have missed that for quite a while now. This country is definitely made for wide-angle lenses and we have to stop for photos a lot – I am
rather pleased about every stop-one would have thought that by now my backside would have got used to this seat but this is not the case and to top it my back feels stiff from the hard beds and
the cold wet temperatures here and my twisted knee is still giving me grief. I am pleased whenever I can stretch - the only problem is the getting on
and off , because I have to squeeze onto the narrow bench and taking care that my bruised knee remains straight ..... well that’s enough moaning now.
Slowly the landscape changes and there are bananas and palm trees again. After 60 km it’s time for a break and we believe to be at the place where the road forks for heading south – that is what we think at anyway. We are looking for a restaurant - slowly we have learned to read the signs and can make out where the eating places are. There is only noodle soup with beef to be found – so Pho Bo it is … once again. We wag our coffee bags which we now always carry in stock and are understood - we get 3 glasses of hot water to make our own coffee . With $ 1.5 per person this is a cheap meal. Freshly watered and fed we want to continue on our way but cannot find the turn-off. We ride around in circles and finally we ask one of the locals on the roadside and he asks us to follow him. He brings us to a crossroads and explains how to ride from here and we expect that he wants to be paid for it now - like so many before him - but he surprises us and shakes us only the hand and wishes us a good journey.
The road to which he has sent to us can be found neither on the map nor on Johan’s GPS and over a steep mountain pass along a reservoir which is neither on our map and GPS. The road is getting worse and Kev and I are hopping with our bad shock absorbers through so many holes here that we are almost seasick. We are in a valley with many small villages. The women are all in traditional costume and I 'd love to take a picture of one because they have piled her hair into a hughe bun on top of their head and wear pretty colorful clothes and this is not for the tourists here, because apart from us there is here no stranger and it's nice because both the children and the adults greet us again all waving and shouting loud " Hello" s
According to Johan's GPS we are in the middle of nowhere, but moving just about in the right direction it only it seems that there are no large towns and especially no Nha Nghi , which translates as guest house and as we do not necessarily want to drive in the dark on these streets, we are getting a bit nervous. Eventually we arrive at a truly God-forsaken little town - very bleak and uninviting but there is a guest house - as dreary and run down like the rest of the place and the host takes shamelessly advantage of the fact that he has the only place to stay in here and the next one is 50 km away so he wants 240,000 Dong for a room in the up to now worst accommodation we had throughout the whole of Southeast Asia. After we have convinced ourselves that we really have no choice but to take this room we stop here.
The next morning at the crack of dawn we are woken up from somewhere with Vietnamese morning news, political slogans and patriotic songs at full volume. It's still dark so we turn on the rock hard bed until it’s finally light enough that we can ride on a safe. Everything here is so dirty that I even spare me to brush my teeth and pray to heaven that I have no caught fleas or even worse here.
Today we want to make as many kilometers as possible in order to finally come to lower, southern and especially warmer climes. It is more than 2000 km until we finally arrive in Saigon or more politically correct HoChiMinhCity . So almost three weeks of riding while I am so homesick for our good Liza and the cozy sidecar where I can see everything and take pictures to my heart 's content. Sorry but I am quite certain that I will not cry one single tear when we can get rid of this Indonesian Vietcong torture tool.
First, the roads are still very poor and predominantly consist of holes with some tar around it , but eventually we find back to our actually planned route and now everything is better -
except for the weather, because it is still bloody cold and as have left we all the warm clothes with Liza in Cambodia ( Kevin said , we do not need them and we have to save space ! ) I got
dressed like an onion : leggings , jeans, fleece jacket , rain suit and motorcycle jacket . I look like the Michelin woman and walk like the men on the moon. I really have difficulty getting on
and off the bike - I can also not properly bend my twisted knee and which makes it all more difficult still. Kev now always tries to stop somewhere
where I can get on on an increase but of course this does not always work , because that every now and then he has to stop at my request in between
as I simply no longer sit on the little space left for me ( as I said, I am looking forward to Liza ) On the way we meet a huge group with big bikes - at least 15 of them. They have however, Thai
number plates , a guide and a support vehicle with them – so I take it’s a guided tour – which we a) could not afford and b ) since China we have
gone off the idea to travel in larger groups.
The mountains are slowly getting lower, everywhere are small villages on the way , the locals in their various costumes can be seen working in the fields , planting rice on the artful terraces. I ‘m still trying to get a picture of one of the women with the seemingly traditional high-rise-bun-hairstyle here. Most of all I like it however when I see on wearing a helmet on top of the bun - that looks really funny .
And always a good one are the vehicles and their interesting loads ( pigs and chickens in baskets , cane poles, firewood, basket ware and the rest of it ) . The villages are also worth seeing - so different than before – they look as you know them from American movies from the Vietnam War - all bamboo and wood on stilts. This building style is not usual here anymore - one rather actually sees stone houses which are extremely narrow and high everywhere.
To order food has now become easier for us , we sat just sit down , say Com (rice) or Mi (noodles) and then make eating movements with the hands and then just wait relaxed on what's coming . Everything here is delicious - I do not think that in the 4 weeks that we now gallivanting about here we have ever been served something that we did not like and a meal consisting of rice, two different meat and vegetable dishes with omelet, spring rolls and a vegetable soup costs rarely more than € 3 per person - it's definitely more expensive to buy the ingredients and cook for yourself and the portions are always plentiful
We are still north of Hanoi and it is still quite cold. ( I'’ll probably whine on back in Saigon, because it's so hot and stuffy ) but in the next few days we are making good progress and
also the bikes seem to behave for now - at least we have no further technical problems so we manage to ride 850 km in 5 days and are able to slowly unravel individual layers of the onion skins.
We still can’t ride in a T- shirt but when we stop and sit in the sun we start to sweat in the motorcycle jacket and I can now leave off the rain gear.
All over the country preparations for Tet( the Vietnamese New Year ) run at full speed. At the roadside peach branches are sold , which here in the north are put up in the house so they should blossom just at the right time for Tet. We see lots of people on their scooters laden with flower pots - especially with yellow chrysanthemums and orchids. The houses are decorated and scoured and there is a sense of excitement everywhere.
After 6 days of continuous driving we have arrived in Ke Bang National Park and finally have time to stop for 2 to 3 days, do some touristy bits and visit the wonderful cave systems of which we have already read so much in the guidebooks . For the first time since Sapa we meet tourists again but they are all to be found in a hostel mentioned by the Lonely Planet, we look at the outside only after we have studied the price lists and decide this is not for us.
Instead, we find a nice Nha Nghi at a reasonable price
We are awakened in the early morning once again from a speaker system , the obvious nationalistic songs roar at full volume from speakers that are completely overloaded by the Volume -
the result is an annoying distortion of sound that hurts in the ears. Opposite seems to be the party headquarters for the town – is there no one who
can throw a bomb? We sort our dirty laundry and give it to the landlady for washing and make our way to the tourist information . Here we can get a boat and tickets to the caves - the whole thing
will cost $ 10 per person and includes the boat trip and tickets for two caves. The boat we have for ourselves and are taken directly on a tributary of the river in one of the caves. Phang Na or
Paradise Cave served in the war as an arsenal , shelter , hospital and ammunition depot and was bombed accordingly - fortunately with little success and so we sit in amazement in the boat and
admire stunned a tastefully illuminated wonderland of stalactites , stalagmites and sinter curtains. This exceeds any cave we have ever seen by far. Our cameras run hot and then we are landed in
the middle of the cave on a beach from where we can explore the rest of the cave system on foot - it's incredible. Again and again I have to stop in wonder and amazement and when we finally
arrive at the cave exit I have already used up one battery of the camera.
We follow a sign to the second cave and battle up 473 steps ( yes - I counted them ) to end up another cave system of huge proportions discovered only in the late 1990s and stretching all the way above what we have just seen . It's incredible . We follow the paved paths in the cave inside and apart from us there is no one else - not even a guide to hasten us on and we lose ourselves in wonder and take hundreds of photos. We are at the very end of the walkway right in the heart of the cave when suddenly all the lights go out and we are completely in the dark - we are a little uneasy (close to panic) , because the idea that it may already be closing time and no one knows that we are still here and we might have to feel our way out of this labyrinth in the pitch black is slightly scary but after what seems like an eternity but was actually just a few minutes the lights come on again. This happens several times but now we no longer panic and just wait till the generators kick in again.
After more than two hours, we finally get back outside and now wonder if our boat will still be there but we are so worn out that we need to take a brake on the long descent, and treat ourselves to a cold beer . The views down on the country are also beautiful. My knee however is now thick and stiff - it's been worth it though, and when we reach the bottom our boat is still there . We enjoy the wind on the way back stretch the joints enjoy the ride.
The next day we get back on the road and with a personal record of 215 kilometers we reach, the old royal city of Hue and thus the former Demarkation zone between North and South Vietnam . The difference is visible people are much more western oriented here both in clothing, as well as behavior - tourism has us again, and with it the feeling of being a dollar bill with legs. Hue is not really as wonderful as made out and the old Royal Palace , which was completely destroyed and is now being restored for the tourists does not really impress us as much compared to other sites that we have seen along the way
We still stay a few days , because we have to dawdle a bit now because of Tet looming so we get to Hoi An just in time for it.
Hoi An is one of the main tourist destinations in Vietnam and thus correspondingly expensive and crowded, but we were warned by all sides so
strongly against spending the New Year in the country side, because really the whole country comes to a standstill and all celebrate for at least 4
days.. In some corners , however, the holidays can take up to 10 days and as for Vietnamese Tet is the most important festival of the year in areas without tourism one can rather get into trouble
- petrol stations shops, hotels and restaurants are closed there and if you are stranded you’ve got problems.
So we take the warnings to heart and bite the bullet , which means for us that we have no chance to get our budget upright . Our road to Hoi An takes us along the coast and we find a road that was chosen by Jeremy Clarkson, host of a well-known English program on the subject car and motorsport to be the most beautiful coast road in the world. The views are really beautiful and the curves make the heart of every biker jump but whether it really is the most beautiful course in the world I want to leave just as subjective assertion of Clarkson here - we personally are sure that we have driven routes which are at least as beautiful - but everything is always in the eye of the beholder. On our way we passed a marker that indicates to us that we now finally have less than 1000 km until Saigon and this must of course be captured on pictures.
Hoi An is , as expected, totally crowded and we have trouble finding an affordable place – mind you it is already a mission to battle your way through the place because the narrow streets are completely clogged with tourists , markets and street vendors . However, we find our way through and after a while a pension that we can afford - because as so often the three of us share one room and we get our the food from street vendors it's more affordable but still relatively expensive and then you have to look for the happy hours and things are not too bad. The sellers of trinkets , sunglasses , greeting cards, fruit and whatever else are sometimes quite persistant and annoying, but the city is beautiful and well restored. In the center it is quite nice especially in the evenings because of the colorful paper lanterns and lots of light displays on the subject of Tet which really are beautiful and on the 30th of Jan at the beginning of the major holidays there is also a great fireworks display.
After 4 days, the two men decide against my explicit warning that it is now safe to venture into the country side again.
Today finally the sun is shining and it's also really warm - we are certainly not used to this anymore. It is our 44th day in Vietnam and 5 weeks of the time, we have been freezing. From now on this will probably finally change - here are again Geckos - a good sign. After an hour and 50 kilometers driven, we stop for a stretch cigarette break . Knee and bum are happy. It is wonderfully warm and also quite idyllic. Then we go on. We make every now and then a photo stop and everything is so wonderfully green - especially the rice. In the north of the country , it looked like at home in the autumn and the weather was like that too.
Johan with his scooter goes faster than us and soon has disappeared, and suddenly our Minna dies and we can’t even kick start her. Oh great - for a while we have come only through small villages and most of the shops were closed. A Xe Mai ( Scooter Workshop ) I have not seen anywhere . However, before us, it's all uphill and so we decide to turn around and let it roll back to the last village. where we stop and Kev decides to check the oil . We have made an oil change not too long ago and there are no visible leaks anywhere - but you never know and yes
There is actually not a drop of oil on the dipstick - when kicked she tries to turn - so we have at least no piston seizure . We ask one of
the residents for a garage and he points down the road and writes 6 km in the sand. Oh no - we really don’t want to push for 6 km now. Kev thinks we should wait for Johan - if the notes that we
are not coming after him , he will turn around and can take Kev down the road for oil. We push everything in the shade and wait ..... and wait. But there is no Johan .
After a ¾ hour wait someone takes pity on us and comes to the rescue - he takes Kevin on his back seat and off they go to buy oil, while I stay with the Minna and wait for Johan. More people are coming over, waving and calling Hello in a neighboring garden sits a group of women who constantly tries to invite me to them. I try to make them understand that I'm waiting for someone, but eventually they just pull me over to them and press me down on a chair in the shade and give me some tea. We try to communicate but further than the fact that they celebrate the New Year and I'm Kerstin we do not come. Kev is back after a while and with the oil in the engine the bike actually starts . Now he is drawn into the garden ( the girls are all quite merry ) and we now have both a beer with them and certainly 20 times a toast to the New Year.
Meanwhile, two hours passed and no trace of Johan - slowly I 'm getting worried .
We say good bye and continue - there are still 20 km to cover until the next town. Although we keep both an eye out everywhere there is no sign of Johan and in my head I imagine all sorts of what could have happened to him. This is so not Johan’s style - ok he might have already been far ahead, but no later than at the next intersection , he would normally wait or turned around.
When we come to town , he stands there at the roadside and whistles loudly waving like a mad man - it turns out that he has on the way met a Spaniard at a photo stop , with whom he has maintained a chat and now thought we rode past him so after not finding us in the town he then decided to stay because he assumed that we would eventually come back to look for him.
Here we now find an affordable place to stay and also reasonably priced meal - well thank goodness - at least everything has turned for the good.
The next day we drive on in a cheerful mood and slowly into reach the central highlands . It is increasingly clear that with our Minna something very serious is wrong. She really struggles to climb up the high mountains and the engine is getting hotter and starts to stink mightily . At the top of a mountain in a small village we see a workshop that is open , but more than to fill new cool oil in the engine, with which we hopefully will come to the next bigger town is not possible to do here.
With a queasy feeling we drive straight ahead, and at the next assent the problems start again, and then when we come to a small town Minna completely gives up the ghost - she goes out and that's it. Here even the little restaurants are closed - we are hungry and helpless by the roadside and to our questions after Xe May and Eating we only get rueful shake of the head and the answer : " Tet " – well now we have a problem. A nice woman takes pity on us and invites us into her house for dinner. We get a packet of rice in banana leaf (which is actually for Buddha ) and Vietnamese sausage. Soon other family members come and we are being admired and the usual photo posing done and then we also get 50000 Dong each as a gift from the head of the family . He says it is lucky money and heavy hearted we accept the gift, a payment for the generosity shown to us is now out of the question , because then we would even offend our wonderful hosts. In the end they bring us to a hotel and show us where we can probably have our motorcycle repaired the next morning - we are completely overwhelmed by the friendliness .
Early the next morning Kevin and Johan take the bike to the workshop and after 4 hours they come back with a repaired bike, the timing chain bracket was broken and thus burned a valve completely - a miracle that nothing worse has happened. Although the mechanic did not have the right spares. But he has an identical motorcycle from which he takes the whole cylinder head and timing chain mechanism and installs the lot on our Minna again - the whole thing cost us $ 25 - hard to believe . After loading ourbikes and getting ready for the off I note that the rear wheel is suspiciously flat - great - now we have to find someone else who despite Tet will fit us a new tube! Slowly I 'm really getting sick of it!
It's after noon, when we can get finally back on track .
The landscape is now becoming barren , all hilltops deforested and where is still a little jungle left it burns. I ask myself whether it is due to the effects of Agent Orange that the area seems to devastated or if it has been burned by the Vietnamese to make room for coffee tea and rubber plantations. Probably both are true - the American friends have contaminated large areas with the toxic chemical in this part of the country and ensured that in some corners still nothing grows and still the local population to this day suffers health problems , of which a high rate of diabetes is the lesser evil - different varieties of skin disease, liver disease and a high rate of cancer can also be attributed to Agent Orange but the Vietnamese government is not interested to make this is public so that tourism does not suffer . In addition the desire for wealth causes that the people have no qualms about burning off the remaining residues of the forest. The absence of the natural jungle ensures that the soil dries out, the fertile soil is washed away in the rainy season - coffee, tea and rubber seem indeed to thrive , but even these plants often look rather poor.
We are after a few days of travel still about 300 km from Saigon, as we separate for the first time since Ulaan Baatar from Johan for a few days . He has again increased problems with Grunpuss and is slowly fed up . On the Ho Chi Minh Highway the traffic is now unbelievable. The whole country seems to be on the move - back from Tet holidays with the family toward their jobs. The numerous buses are overcrowded and race down the road in breakneck style. Often we have to use the hard shoulder or even the ditch , because the bus drivers overtake honking loudly without regard to losses.
Johan therefore wants the fastest way to the Mekong Delta and then to Saigon to get rid of his piece of junk there, but we still want to make a detour through a side track of which a backpacker has raved about and then we also intend to travel around HCMC to make a short visit in the Delta too. We relly want to say farewell to our friend , the Mekong which we met repeatedly since China in every country..
The goodbye from Johan is difficult , but we will indeed meet in Saigon again to travel together from there back to Cambodia so it is not really quite so bad. We take back some speed and enjoy the quiet side route, which also is still much better than the heavily traveled highway with it’s road works everywhere . Although we miss Johan’s company we can enjoy to drive our own pace. Johan was extremely impatient and moody in the last days and racing like a mad man to get out of this trip as fast as possible.
We visit a waterfall, which is not so great though, as we were told and is used by the Vietnamese rather like an amusement park ( with roller coaster to the bottom of the waterfall ) – we walk down and then use the part of the roller-coaster that brings us back to the top –
Thank God for that, as the ride and Vietnam in general has not been too kind to my knees.
Back at the scooter we see that the rear wheel wobbles again so we look for a workshop in the next bigger town wheel bearings again - the last lot were not quite the right size and now they are worn out quicker than usual.
We continue with the intention of soon finding a Guest house, but if you are looking for one , then just can’t find it and it is already dark when we discover a hotel. I work my way off the back seat , hoping not to have to get back on again since I am extremely knackered. This is probably a super luxury hotel it costs 1.5 million per night and that's at least 1.2 million over our budget, which we anyway have already exceeded for today.
We wind down the mountains in a super beautiful sunset, from which I can’t take a single beautiful picture because there are either power lines or trucks in the way once I do have a view.
At the end we do find indeed something affordable in the middle of nowhere but no WiFi, but at least they sell snacks and beer so we do not have to run around in the dark and search for food and
drink in the dark - a bit more expensive than normal but not overly.
The next morning we continue towards Saigon and just before we get to the city we break down with a snapped rear shock absorber - super. A new one would cost 500000 - man it’s enough now- so we just have it welded and hope that it holds for the last few days – this is certainly much cheaper. We try to make our way across Saigon - the map does not help much because there are no signs to be found so we navigate on the sun and actually come out on the other side and even exactly where we wanted to be . Miracles do happen ... !
We decide to drive to the next slightly larger town, and push forward to the Mekong Delta tomorrow. Again, we find after some searching and squeezing through the evening hustle of the town a cheap place to overnight but our eagerly awaited shower will have to wait further there is only a barrel in the bathroom, where you can pour some water over yourself with a plastic trowel. We walk through the evening traffic and search for a cafe with internet ( Johan is fine – good!!!). We use the Internet connection to apply for our e-visa for Cambodia - and I almost fail the exam in waiting-patently-for-connection.
We find a roadside soup kitchen where we we’re being fed for $ 1.5 , buy some beer which we drink in the Guesthouse, while we watching some Vietnamese soap opera on television - well, at
least today we remained below our budget .
The theme of Vietnamese soap opera is really worth mentioning - they all appear to be addicted to them here . If you want to eat something in a restaurant where there is a telly and they are just watching the latest episode you have to make massive effort to draw attention, because they all act as if they are hypnotized by the screen - although we do not understand a word we find the acting is extremely "low budget " that is as bad as daytime TV if not even a touch worse . Often we have to actually stand before a waitress and snip with fingers (which is supposed to awaken from hypnosis ) so we can pay. When everything is settled , they soon dive back into the show and we are completely forgotten.
I often fancied the idea to just try and see what happens if we just get up and go out…..
We have actually, planned to do a little round trip
across the Mekong Delta but when we arrive in the first major town we decide that both of us have had enough now. My bum can barely stand longer than 2 hours at a on the Minna , my knees feel
like being in a vice and it is now just enough. We are looking for a place to stay and decide to spend
two days here. In the morning we want to take a round trip on one of the longboats in this section of the Delta and then we ride back to Saigon where we will meet with Johan again and that’s
The planned boat trip is truly an experience - with the knowledge that we get to see only a fraction of the vast delta moves the whole thing into a completely new dimension and we learn on top of that the Vietnamese maritime shipping art is just as crazy as the loads that we were allowed to see on the road and on the small scooters. After 5 hours on the boat we come back and have spent a wonderful day - but somehow we are totally exhausted and just about had enough so the next morning we start our way back toward Saigon, glad to have experienced so much , but also more than willing to leave this country and finally resume the trip on our Liza. again
Back in Saigon, we are experiencing a moment of WOW : Suddenly the bustle that has thrown so off track on the first day does not seem so bad anymore. We just go with the flow and it all seems normal to us now. No panic attacks, no nervous breakdowns - even when we get lost , stuck in traffic and do not know where we have to go we stay totally cool and ask our way through. Now I can even walk across the street without having to think about it - as you can see again that my mother is always right , she claims that a steamroller can to run over you when you’re only used to it!
We have arranged with Johan that we meet at the station and stay in a hotel there so with Google translate I research the name of the train station ( ga sai gon) and we ask ourselves through - it takes a while , but we arrive.
The reunion with Johan is exuberant, the hen has all her chicks together again and the same evening I put our Minna on Craigs list in the Internet - it only takes a day and she is sold - we bought her for $ 300 and sell her for 6 million Dong (about 270 USD) - for two months and 4500 km a $ 30 loss plus repairs - this is definitely a reason to celebrate.
Johan is also quite quickly finds a buyer for his Honda Wave and after it is sold there is actually only a program point left that we definitely have to do before we leave Vietnam - a museum visit to the famous tunnels in which the Viet Cong fought against the Americans - an absolute must,
The next day we book for a tour to the Chu Chi tunnels. The beginnings of the tunnel system are far back - in the Indochina war - but really expanded and used they were of course, by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War against the Americans. The tunnel system was built on 3 levels and over 200 km long and home to hospitals, schools, ammunition depots , and more - perfectly camouflaged and provided with ventilation shafts and traps made of bamboo skewers , they were an important factor that ultimately helped the Vietcong to victory. The original tunnels had a height of 80 cm and were 60 cm wide - so a little larger than rabbit holes . We squeeze ourselves through just about 200 meters of the tunnels – and you have to know that this bit of the tunnels has been specially enlarged for tourists and we ask ourselves , meanwhile how they managed to crawl through the original tunnels with backpacks and all sorts of gear and even win a war . Part of the museum is a shooting range where you can try your skills with a machine gun but the prices are totally astronomical but to us it is not really worth the money or the effort.
When we get back to the hotel in the evening from the interesting museum visit we want to exchange our remaining Vietnamese Dong back into dollars only to find that 2 million Dong have been stolen from us from the hotel room - fortunately not all our money but enough to hurt ( almost a hundred dollars) and now I 'm completely mad - of course we have no recourse to compensate for the loss and now I am glad we are on the go, to leave the country.