23 April, 2008
Well folks, I do apologise for not keeping you all updated, but life has been fairly chaotic over the last week. I arrived without incident in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) on the 17th. I've struggled to buy a bike here but eventually had to give up as it is not standard practice for foreigners to want to purchase bikes and it just all became too hard.I did end up renting a bike - a newish Honda 110cc stepthru (remember the old Honda Cub folks, well it's been updated for the 21st century and now has disk brakes, electric starter and gear indicator lights, otherwise it's basically a postie bike). I rode out to the beach at Vung Tau (125km or 3 hours riding each way) and ended up totally sun and wind burnt.
Now, take your OH&S hats off before reading further folks because I'm going to upset some of you at least. I rode as the locals do - shorts, teeshirt and pudding basin helmet - it is far too hot and humid to dress any other way. Even with only a teeshirt it is soaked in sweat in under 2 minutes once you leave the hotel airconditioning. In town trafic speeds never get over 30kph and on the highway I think I momentarily reached a heady 60kph.
You have probably heard about traffic in Ho Chi Minh city - it is truly the worst in the world but just works because everyone is always looking out for the next person.
The rules are pretty simple - NEVER stop for a red light, and don't think that just because vehicles are coming from the opposite direction you can't turn across in front of them! Keep on pushing your way through no matter what. Don't worry if you are riding on the wrong side of the road - that is standard.
For every road there are 6 streams of traffic - on the immediate right, bikes come towards you, next lane to the left bikes go away from you, next lane to the left cars go away from you, next lane to the left cars come towards you, next lane to the left bikes come towards you, next lane to the left bikes go away from you. However, I think I'm oversimplifying things because it is far more chaotic than that.
Ok, what are the 3 scariest things to do in your life?
.....Number 3 - try crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh City - pretty scary!.
.....Number 2 - ride a bike in Ho Chi Minh City (even try riding whilst holding a GPS in your left hand to guide you (BTW the GPS doesn't have street maps from Vietnam but before you start riding you mark the position of your hotel and then just turn the GPS on to show a dot and whether you are riding roughly in the right direction)) - even scarier!.
.....Number 1 - take a ride as a pillion on a bike in Ho Chi Minh City - the scariest of all!
.... and then wait for it to start raining - here's a shot of the latest in motorcycle wet weather gear -Vietnamese style.
I also had the opportunity to visit the cu-chi tunnels (where the Viet cong lived and launched attacks on US troops,, and Saigon, from) and almost got stuck in the tunnel - that's me at left trying to hide from a bunch of American tourists :-) (N.B. I was originally planning on entitling this Post "travelling with Charlie" but thought a few of our international readers may take it the wrong way. :-) Although it's obvious that my derriere is much larger than the average vietcong, the tourguide said that even most Vietnamese nowadays are too big to go in the narrowest tunnels so I responded that it is a sad indictment of communism that the vietnamese are now getting fat, affluent and lazy just like westerners! :-)
I am now in Hanoi. I took a sleeper bus (it has lay down beds) for 2 days (48 hours straight) to travel the 1,900kms to Hanoi. It stopped every 6 hours for food breaks otherwise you are onboard the whole time. I am now planning to take another bus to cross the border to Nanning in China and get back on two wheels again by buying a local bike as soon as possible.
Till then enjoy the photos, and keep tuned in.