Craig’s Travel Diary

Friday, 15 Jun 2007

Location: Vietnam

MapHi all,

From my last entry I've covered nearly half the country on the back of a motorbike which has been an amazing journey.

Made my way inland to a place called Dalat last weekend which was a lot cooler than the coast which was a relief. Stayed in the nicest hotel in nearly 6 months and it was worth all of the 4 quid paid! Dalat is a sprawling city in the middle of a mountain range which makes the scenery pretty stunning. The place has a huge farming community with tourism a definite second place. I met one of the guys who call themselves Easy Riders. These guys take you around Dalat and to the surrounding sites or wherever you'd like to go in the country on an inland route on the back of their bike. As I was getting fed up with the cattle tourist buses which ferry you up the coast to the next tourist trap I decided to hire an Easy Rider in hope to see the 'real' Vietnam. I was really lucky and found an entertaining fella called Mr Peter. His past includes a 10 year stint in Canada where he was in education for 5 of those years and spent the other 5 in a Hells Angels gang running from immigration. Not sure just how much to believe but he was a crazy rapping Vietnamese fella with never a dull moment. The first day we spent driving around Dalat where he grew up and I saw the sites including waterfalls, coffee plantations, pepper plantations, rubber trees which to my disappointment aren't bendy or soft! The rubber comes from cuts made in the tree and collected in bowls and melted together. He was telling me about the big cheese that owns all the rubber plantations in Vietnam and how corrupt he is. The next day we set off with my pack strapped to the back of his 110cc Indonesia Vivid motorbike which never reached above 60 km/h with me on the back! The first day was spent looking around 'minority' villages which house the ethnic minorities in Vietnam. I was really surprised because of how I thought a traditional Vietnamese person would appear, in fact all the traditional farming communities are ethnic minorities in Vietnam with all the Vietnamese working in the cities...I got the feeling there was a bit of discrimination but my driver Peter never admitted this. We spent the night in one of the village houses on stilts and the evening was spent with the locals drinking rice wine. As the liquor was called wine and it was being passed round in shots I made the mistake of underestimating the power of this rocket fuel.....20 or so shots later of this lethal stuff and I was not in the best shape and the memory blanks out although I do remember trying to join in with old Vietnamese war songs.....unsuccessfully!

The next couple of days were spent driving through the country staying in cities at night on our way moving North. These cities had very few other westerners which was good as you get a sense of being off the tourist trail. Also got to sample the local food which was good but the ominous 'meat' in the title without being specific was always at the back of my mind!

The final day and we made the gruelling 340km last leg of our journey which took us along the Ho Chi Minh trail which connects North with South through the central highlands. The journey starts with flat plains of rice paddies and coffee plantations, turning into mountainous jungles with seeing only a handful of other bikes for a 300km stretch. This was amazing to ride through but it was at least 38 degrees with no where to hide from the sun apart from the odd overhanging tree.....I got burnt just about everywhere the sun could reach. We arrived in Hoi An last night, the tailors capital of the world where you can anything made for next to nothing, a Kashmir suit costs about 35 quid made to measure. Unfortunately I'm not here to shop but I know where to come on my way home!

I definitely feel as though I got a taste of the real Vietnam as I certainly got off the tourist trail and got to meet lots of locals and see how they live. Not only did I get to see just how beautiful Vietnam really is but I also got an insight into the Vietnamese past and how the country feels after it's recent war. Like many other Vietnamese, Peters father died in the war by an American bomb but he holds no hostility towards the US. I didn't know that a lot Vietnamese where on the side of the Americans, reluctant to be a communist country before the war. Peter told me about the corruption in the country now and that for example if you want a government job or assistance you need to have a communist family history, if like him you didn't support the communist movement then your pretty much on your own. It's certainly a strange country where communism isn't clear to see for the tourist, it can only be seen and felt if you live and work here.

Tomorrow I move North attempting to cross the border into Laos but its proving more difficult than I thought and involves a good couple of days on buses to reach the capital which is going to be fun!!! In my last couple of weeks before I head to Oz now which has just dawned on me so I'm going to make the most of it!

Bye for now and keep the messages coming!!!