Continued – Sunburn, squoodles and splattered chickens. Hoi An to Nha Trang, Vietnam (Day 2)

January 23, 2010 at 11:35 am 1 comment

It’s difficult not to get annoyed when every single car, truck and motorbike that passes beeps at you. This counts doubley in the morning when you have just woken up, have not yet eaten and are facing a 10 hour ride on the rock solid seat of a bike which is smoking as if it could explode at any second. After two days of this we were getting a little fed up – everyone flashing us, slamming on their horns and shouting out their windows. Why us? What does that strange clicking jiberish mean?

Some time around 11am the penny dropped though as it escalated and motorbikes pulled up alongside us to talk, bicyclists strained their quads to keep up with us and drivers wound down their windows to wave and smile. The sleeper buses brought most of the tourist through here in the middle of the night on their non-stop trip to Nha Trang so we were the first westerners many of them had seen in years.

When we pulled over at villages for water and breadrolls, people stopped eating and beckoned to us to join them, children crowded at a distance screaming “What is your name?” and whenever we slowed our bikes women came to stroke our arms and necks and run their fingers through our hair. One quick stop to reapply suncream attracted a gaggle of locals with outstretched arms. They thought we were using skin whitener and, concluding that whatever we were using must be the best stuff, they were desperate for a sample.

Suddenly all the annoying honking noises sounded a lot friendlier and, waving and shouting “Hello! Hello!”, we sped through what was to be our best day on the bikes. The run up to Nha Trang was the most spectacular stretch of palm groves, smooth road elevated above lush forests and the most impressive mountain passes we had ever seen. The first few passes were pretty quiet so we had the snaking roads to more or less to ourselves. Uphill labours (which I spent talking to my bike, making empty promises to change her broken tail light and get her an oil change if she would only just get me up this one last hill) were rewarded by sprawling views and steep downhill nosedives that flung us from the top of the world to sparkling blue water, rocking fishing boats and hammocks swinging on pastel porches. With the width of road at our disposal, we flew headlong into spirals and jarring hairpins, certain at every second that we couldn’t possibly get any closer to the bay below us without falling in.

Of course life on the road could never be as wonderful as that all the time so we knew there were hardships to come and sure enough they did, in the form of Joe’s bike Gladice. Pretty popular when she was first released some time around 1940, Gladice was growing tired of her workhorse life; tired of always being overlooked in favour of younger, prettier models; tired of being jolted this way and that into oncoming traffic; and tired of being ridden senseless by fat, lazy, sweaty men. She used to be top of the pile, beloved by the masses and well able to hold her own on the road. Now though, everywhere she looked she saw herself – filty, beaten down and broken. Now she was angry, indignant, tired and reckless. Until now, Joe had overlooked her flaws, shelling out 500,000 dong in hush money when she rammed a younger bike in a carpark in a fit of hysterical jealously. He had been patient but today Gladice took it too far. Today Gladice took an innocent young life.

“I was just driving down the road and she was running fine,” said Joe when he spoke to police later in the day. “And there was this tiny little chick on the road but I’m pretty used to seeing livestock on Vietnamese roads so I didn’t take any notice of it. I mean, just today we passed a water buffalo tied down in the middle of the highway and we all know that chickens have a bit of a road fetish so no big deal right? Well the rest is a bit of a blur. Maybe she was jealous of the chicken’s youth or maybe she’s bloodthirsty but Gladice suddenly veered straight for the chick and mowed it down like a woman possessed. The chick tried to run but he had no hope – all that was left after she had done with him were a few feathers floating in her exhaust smoke. I think I heard her laugh then and I’m positive she revved her engine but we’ll never really know will we? Maybe I should just have her scrapped. It might be kinder at this stage…”

Mourning our fallen feathered comrade we pushed on, battling kamikazee mosquitos which collected in our tear ducts, spattered against our tshirts and dove between our teeth as we raced the falling light to the beach resort of Doc Let. We also got our fill of mountain passes as that night’s tourist sleeper buses raced in either direction, choking narrow roads in their quest to overttake each other ten, twenty, thirty times before the journey’s close. I can honestly say that there is nothing more terrifying than approaching a corner on a struggling morotbike to see two huge buses filling the breadth of a narrow pass, honking and swearing at you to get out of their way. Desperately you search for an escape route only to find no ditches. You contemplate veering off the side of the road and sailing through the air to the beach 50m below but then you remember the metal barrier placed ‘for your safety’. You slam on your horn, slow down and cling to the side of the road, closing your eyes and gritting your teeth in preparation for the impact. Then just as it looks like your days are numbered (or would look if you could see through closed eyelids), one bus falls back, allowing the other to overtake and they zoom past you, waving and smiling as if they didn’t just almost kill you.

After such a day its not surprising that everything after it was a bit bland. Doc Let was nice but nothing to write home about and the 30km drive to Nha Trang the following morning was dull enough, apart from one wonderful stretch of completely empty Grand Prix track which wound its way up and down a mountain in a series of tight, smooth turns which climbed up the walls at parts and made us feel like we were in a video game. Finally, around 600km after leaving Hué, we hit our halfway point filthy, exhausted and gagging for hot shower and a cold bottle of Tiger beer.

More pictures from the road to Nha Trang are available in the gallery


Entry filed under: Travel. Tags: , , , .

Sunburn, squoodles and splattered chickens. Hoi An to Nha Trang, Vietnam. (Day 1) Hawkers and hookers. Nha Trang, Vietnam

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Ode to Asia « Chronicles of a year-long break-up  |  April 27, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    […] 3.Biking in Vietnam Yes there were near death experiences, crashes, break-downs on mountain peaks, monsoons, burst tires, broken engines, dodgy chains, hit and runs, guilty pay-offs, police bribes and painful sunburns but as the saying goes – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Biking around Vietnam we managed to get off the very sticky tourist trail and see a whole other side to a very beautiful country. Of course it didn’t hurt that we got to know some great Aussies on the way too. […]


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