Sunburn, squoodles and splattered chickens. Hoi An to Nha Trang, Vietnam. (Day 1)
From the very first day, our biking tour was the real Top Gear experience – our shoebox of money only bought us rattley old shopping trolleys; having the largest head in Vietnam meant that Simon almost had to resort to strapping a collendar to his head; and Gary obliged us by kickstarting our two day trip from Hoi An to Nha Trang with yet another copycat emergency.
“Oh crap!” I heard him shouting as we zipped down Highway 1. “My key fell out of my ignition and I have no idea when. I won’t be able to turn the bike off or open my fuel tank!” Fortunately for us, if there is one thing that every Vietnamese person knows how to do, it’s fix a motorbike. Any problem can be solved using two lollipop sticks, a tube of pritt stick, a handful of pipe cleaners and some coloured paper. Three minutes after he arrived, panicky and urgently pantomining his predicament, a small man covered from head to flip-flopped foot in oil handed Gary a brand new key tied on a string for safer keeping free of charge. Mechanical geniuses and they’re warm hearted – we were really growing fond of these curious, smiling people.
A little boring at the start, the road eventually developed into a pretty easy-going, flat ride through tiny tumbleweed towns. For hours we cruised uneventfully past flooded rice paddys, watching distant lime green tones develop into murky reflections of nearby mountains as they blurred in and out of focus. Thankfully, the scorching heat of the day was offset by the dusty, exhaust-infected air whipping past our skin so it wasn’t until we pulled in at My Lai for lunch that we realised just how badly sunburned we were. Not happy to let us eat in peace, Joe whipped out his trusty Lonely Planet guide and proceeded to tell us all about the town’s tragic history.
As it turns out, My Lai was home to the worst massacre of the Vietnam War. Under the pretense that they were aiding the North Vietnamese Army, the US army decided to make an example of the small market town. During the weekly market, when they knew that everyone would be in the town centre, the army landed nearby, pouring out of their helicopters and surrounding the town to cut off any chance of escape. Over the next few hours they threw grenades at houses, shops and bomb shelters and mowed down every person they saw. At least once, they lined over 150 people up in a ditch on the side of the road and shot them one by one. At the end of the day, every single person in the village was dead. Most were women, children or elderly people and not one single member of the NVA was found.
Sitting in a shaded porch listening to the kitchen staff’s easy banter, watching chickens dart between noodle stalls on the street and marvelling over the man zipping up the street with a full chest of drawers tied to the back of his bike, it didn’t seem possible that such a thing could have happened in living memory. How could such a close-knit town ever develop out of all the ash and corpses left behind that day? Not surprisngly, finishing our lunches was another impossibility so we morosely decided to press on in the hope that we could find a hotel before dark.
On that front we were incredibly lucky. Just as dusk began to spread it’s jaundiced fingers across the sky, we came to another rural town and, spotting those six golden letters glinting in the falling light, we pulled into a hotel on the side of the road. Rounding the building we were thrilled to discover a small lake crossed by a rudimentary bridge which lead to a beautiful white sand beach. This discovery and the sucessful completion of another trying day definately called for a few Huda beers on the beach so we settled onto a wall and reminisced over the day as the sun set and the boats on the horizon twinkled to life.
Later, after scrubbing violently at the black film smeared across our exposed skin and tenderly treating our excrutiating sunburns (well, Gary and I treated our burns while the Aussies admired their golden tans) we popped over to the canteen across the road for dinner. Fed up of pho (beef noodle soup), we ordered a feast of grilled beef, fried rice and sautéed chicken. As is the norm in Vientam though, what we had ordered was less important than what the cook felt like dishing up so our succulent feast came out as several bowls of squid noodle soup – squoodles – which the waitress identified as “rice” and “beef”. A second, and even third round of ordering was no more successful so, after downing four whole squid, six packets of instant noodles and three litres of chicken stock each, we decided to call it a day and get an early night so we would be ready for the ambitious 340km ride we had planned for the next day.
To be continued….