Hanoi to Saigon - Part Two

Day five should have seen us arrive in Khe Sanh after a two hundred kilometre journey through the most remote roads yet encountered. We hit a snag.

We knew from speaking to the hotel owner the night before, that we would not even see another hotel until we arrived in Khe Sanh. This should not have been a problem with a decent day of riding, but as we began steadily climbing into the hills Raj began to have problems with her gears. For some reason she was unable to change down into a lower gear as the bike struggled to climb the steep road, meaning the bike would stall and she would come rolling to a halt. Add to that, it is then more difficult to pull away when you are facing uphill.

We continued for a while like this, until it became apparent that at our current pace, we did not stand a chance of reaching our destination before dark. We were forced to turn around and head back to where we came from, which was very deflating.

We found a mechanic, who spent the next hour or so working on Raj's bike. She seemed much happier with it after that. Due to us now being unable to reach our intended destination that day, we decided to ride around fifty kilometres to Dong Hoi (in a different direction to our intended route) where we would find some ATM machines to withdraw some much needed money.

The journey there was uneventful, and we happily found an ATM without difficulty. It's surprising just how much you take these things for granted! We ate an early dinner, and were riding back to the hotel when it started raining heavily. Not a problem, simply pull over and throw on your waterproof ponchos and carry on at a slower pace. Except my bike didn't want to carry on. In fact it didn't even want to start. It was as if it had decided it didn't like me anymore and had just given up completely. I rolled it to the second mechanic that day, demonstrating the hugely annoying problem to him. He immediately went straight for the spark plug, replaced it with a new one and started the bike first time. I Love it when things are that simple! To make things even better, it had stopped raining.

The problem is, with the day we were having things were sure to get complicated again - very quickly. After fixing my bike, we were almost back at the hotel when it began raining heavily again. We were at the last turn for the road our hotel was on so I indicated, gradually braked and turned off the main road. Raj was customarily behind me, with Joakim following, so having made the corner I looked in my mirror to make sure Raj was still back there. It was at this moment I saw her slam straight into a low brick wall surrounding a kind of flower bed just beyond the corner. The bike came to an abrupt stop and Raj was catapulted over the bars, landing unceremoniously in the hedge/flower bed behind the wall.

It's hard to explain what goes through your mind in moments like this. Part of me wasn't actually sure if it was really happening or not. I swung the bike around and rushed back to the scene, where I saw Joakim had just arrived. There were also some shocked locals who had been waiting out the rain just near the corner and saw the whole thing happen. As I got nearer I saw Raj standing up looking dazed. Thank God for that, I thought. She was holding her side, unsurprisingly in some pain, but after checking her over she appeared to have no injuries. I'm still not sure how she managed this, but I think we all realise - especially Raj - how very lucky she was.

The front of the bike didn't look too healthy. The wheel was completely buckled, the mirror had snapped off, the bars looked very bent and who knows what else wasn't quite 'right' with it. We managed to get the bike to a mechanic thanks to a resourceful young local who scooted off on his 'moto' returning with a long iron bar which we put through the buckled front wheel. We lifted the bar so one end was resting on my bike seat to the left, and one end on Joakim's to the right, with Raj's wheel resting on the bar in the middle. With the whole front end of the bike lifted off the ground like this, we were able to slowly walk the bikes along the road, Raj's rolling on the rear wheel only.

Raj went straight to bed after reaching the hotel. Frankly, I can't blame her. Joakim and I stayed up a while longer discussing the incident over some beer. We agreed on two things. The bike would not be very quickly repaired the next day (if at all), and Raj would be very sore in the morning.

Rising early, we found we were correct on both counts. We heard from the hotel manager - who had kindly contacted the mechanic - that the bike would not be ready until 1:30pm. I was actually shocked it would be done that quickly.

Raj also confirmed she was aching all over, and had little inclination to even look at her bike that day, let alone ride it. She suggested Joakim and I go on ahead, and she would catch us up further along the route. We weren't really happy to do this if it meant she would be riding alone, and suggested an alternative option would be to sell the bike in Dong Hoi where we'd gone to find an ATM the day before, and she could get a bus or a train to Hoi An where we would meet up again. After a chat to the hotel manager he confirmed this would be entirely possible, and he would take Raj and her bike to Dong Hoi for a fee, so she didn't have to ride there.

With a new plan in place, we said our farewells and Joakim and I set off on the road through the mountains to Khe Sanh that we'd begun the previous day. The road was long, exhausting, but beautiful, and we were sad that Raj could not enjoy it with us.

When we arrived we found out that she had discovered she could transport herself and her bike on the train from Dong Hoi to Hoi An. She had booked her ticket and was all set to meet us there when we arrived.

We set off from Khe Sanh after an early start, but not more than one hundred metres down the road I discovered a problem. My ignition barrel had snapped in half down the middle. Again, I can only attribute this to my phenomenal strength when putting the key in and turning it...

It turned out to be a five minute job to rip out the barrel and replace it with a new one. 60,000 Vietnamese Dong (or £1.84!) later, we were on our way. The roads coming out of town were some of most fun yet, long sloping corners round the base of mountains, easily taken at high speed safely due to the freshly laid tarmac. Amazing.

We felt it getting steadily hotter as we approached the coast and travelled further south. We also encountered the infamous Highway 1 for the first time on our journey. This is the main road linking Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and consequently it's packed with huge lorries, coaches and maniacal cars all travelling between the two. In stark contrast to the beginning of the day, this road was horrible! However, as bad as the traffic was we made excellent time due to the straightness of the road and the decent surface.

We finished off the day on a high (literally) as we rode over Hai Van Pass before descending towards Hoi An. The trucks and cars here get demoted to a boring tunnel, while bikes are free to enjoy the twisty roads in peace. Possibly some of the best views yet from this road.

Arriving in Hoi An we discovered Raj had booked into an eighty dollar a night resort. This is compared to the fifteen or so we'd be paying. She said she needed pampering. I think she bumped her head in the crash.

Hoi An is the place to come to get clothes tailored in Vietnam. Everywhere you go you will find a tailor, presenting their goods on mannequins at the front of their store. With this much choice it's hard to know where to spend your money, so I went with the one with seemingly the best reputation online, Yaly. You will be sat down when you arrive and handed multiple books with countless fashion photos allowing you to pick out a style you want for your clothing, if you do not already know.

You then get measured up, and choose the fabric you want from a bewildering range on offer. I went with one dark grey suit, one light grey, a dark grey overcoat, a blue blazer and some shirts. These then got sent home so I don't need to worry about travelling with them.

On a side note, Hoi An is also the place to come if you want to experience the sweetest waitress ever. Go to Ganesh, the Indian restaurant and every time she greets you it will be with a cute "excuse me!" ... would you like another beer? excuse me! ... are you finished? and so on. Joakim and I both agreed we could do with one of those at home and were quite ready to carry her as a passenger to the next stop.

From Hoi An, we travelled further down the coast to Nha Trang, Raj by bus (with her bike) and Joakim and I riding. This is party central, a typical beach resort type place. It was a nice enough area, but a little too crowded for my liking. The beach was also not as nice as we found at Hoi An, but regrettably did not spend any time at as we expected Nha Trang to be better.

The beach at Hoi An where we should have stayed!...

Nha Trang had nice crabs though:

You will also constantly be hassled by people trying to sell you things. On one such amusing occasion, it was the turn of a young boy who had a bunch of images whereby if you turned them by a certain number of degrees in either direction, the image would change. After a few failed attempts at impressing us with puppies playing together happily, or flowers coming into bloom, he rummaged around in the bottom of his box to produce an image of an attractive young lady, who got her breasts out as you turned it round. We found this hilarious, he was clearly a professional at judging his audience.

Da Lat could not have been more different from Nha Trang. A short one hundred and forty kilometer ride away, you're in cooler air, a more peaceful area and generally a nicer atmosphere. This is where locals come for their honeymoon, and you rarely see foreigners around, which is a nice treat. There is a big lake which is a magnet for locals (and visitors alike). Seemingly every child in town came out each day to fly kites by the side of the lake, a breathtaking sight.

Raj sold her bike in Da Lat. She said it seemed like a fitting place to leave her, a nice resting place if you will. She made the final leg of the journey by bus and Joakim and I carried on by bike, to our final destination; Ho Chi Minh City.

We arrived and all of the effort and early starts had been worth it. It's quite a sense of achievement to say you've travelled the length of Vietnam, over eighteen hundred kilometers from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City I can tell you. There are inevitably high and low points, but at the end of the day none of that matters. You can look back on an incredible journey and know that regardless, you enjoyed every single second of it.

Here's a few random images taken by Joakim along the way:

A short detour that didn't quite pay off, nice ride though!
Local kids laughing at the foreigners!
The marathon day from part one we thought would never end...
Mechanic fixing a puncture on my bike...