I woke up at 6:30 a.m. to get breakfast before an expected departure at 7 a.m. but life doesn’t usually follow such linear plans that easily. Our group of four was composed of Roman from Toronto, Dave from the U.S., and Thomas from Holland. After waiting on their luggage racks and other essentials, we finally got onto the road. Dave ran out of gas but luckily a petrol station stood within distance. I took the initiative to fill up my now empty spare water bottle with a liter and a half of petrol, which came oddly in the color of green. Impatient or not, Dave found his own petrol but got lost doing so which further delayed our efforts. I kept the petrol as my own incase of any unexpected mishap on the road. I am so glad that I learned my lesson from riding in Cambodia as my keys jiggled loose from the ignition several times but I prepared for such an instance with a string attached to the framework. Yes I will gladly pat myself on the back for that one. Once we got our proverbial shit together we officially hit the highway but not the correct highway as we soon found out. When we were the only motorbikes on the highway after the pack of Vietnamese turned off in another direction, I had my doubts, which I should have listened to more clearly, but the road was so crisp, devoid of the bumps and bruises that have befallen the vastly majority of roads out here. At a ticket booth we were ushered off to the side to be explained to. After some translations (via Dave’s Google translate; I haven’t quite reached that level yet), we took to the side roads cutting through lonely roads devoid of tourists to find our way back to the highway we were always meant for. On this particular highway I saw a variety of unusual riders pass me by. One man flew by carrying a large 15 foot long pole as the end hung back up and beyond him. Two separate riders carried animals within cages. One had a chicken coop packed to the brim without even the slightest space for the chickens to take turns stretching their wings. The other sadly contained two dogs. Maybe they are pets being transferred and this is the only way the man could carry them but I have my doubts here in Vietnam. To really think about it, I didn’t see many stray dogs on the loose in Ho Chi Minh. Myanmar and Cambodia had their limited share of dogs hanging around while Thailand wouldn’t be the same place without them as they filled the streets and alleys of each and every city and town I visited while there. Unless Bob Barker has made some serious progress over here, I can only wonder. Pet or plate? That makes me sick especially knowing that I have a lovable rascal of a dog waiting for me back home. The helmet had become a nuisance as an a blindside while my booty had been rubbed raw and numb over the many kilometers traversed. The heat just kept on getting me. Even though I barely walked 100 m the entire day I felt as though I had run the gauntlet due to the fact that my body was getting beaten to bits from the repetitive nature of this exercise and the pulsing sweat that I know and love. Out of nowhere my bike was giving me fits as it started to struggle up a slight incline. Soon enough that gave way to nothing which forced me to pull off to the side of the road. Despite my fuel gauge listing 3/4 of a tank full, I had now run out of gas. Luckily I had the same spare bottle to fill up with otherwise I have needed to push the bike quite a bit to reach the next petrol station. So much for fixing my fuel gauge, Sam! Sure the tank didn’t read empty anymore but now it gave me false hope of its current state. From now on I will have to track my kilometers to gauge myself how much I have got left. Eventually I caught up to the group who were waiting for me down the road. Riding in Vietnam is tricky business if you are not aware of your surroundings at all times. Typically the curb lane is reserved for motorbike traffic while the actual road and lane are meant to be used by cars, trucks, and faster traffic. Due to the clear as day presence of thousands of motorbikes on the roads ridden by Vietnamese (on top of the many other Asians in the countries that I have visited), I tend to assume that that is the only vehicle they (meaning Asians, I’m dodging the subject) use. So whenever I see a car or truck, I automatically assume in the back of my mind that those must be white people in there. It may be best to ignorantly assume such a thing because I certainly do not want to think about Asians driving cars and God forbid full fledge monster truck size semis that will breath down your neck like a fire burning dragon. They (still talking Asians here) sure as heck do not understand or want to contemplate the concept of basic traffic laws so the idea of them behind a larger, more powerful vehicle is emotionally arresting if not the onset of a full on panic attack. At times, trucks and similarly large vehicles such as the intimidating presence of semis approach without warning even though they should honk to alert upcoming traffic of their approach. These vehicles use every bit of their elbows to make their presence felt since they know full well they are the kings of the court or rather unsuspecting bullies of the playground. All these moments are rare, never have I breathed a greater and quicker sigh of relief when I know that I have been spared. I am always paranoid but not in the twitchy, uncontrollably fidgety, and uncomfortable sense of the word but I definitely tend to keep my eyes on the back of my head watching and waiting like a guard tower surveys a prison’s grounds. We stopped in Phan Thiet for a short break just outside of our destined city to see this lovely spot and town on the river with a similarly minded feel of Kampot but more local since I hadn’t spotted a white person outside our own personal four man caravan in ages. Phan Thiet had an inner town with the regular chaotic pulse of traffic that created the most difficult driving arrangements since the traffic was so jammed and confined with barely enough space to jockey for position. Although it laid low thanks to the dry season, the place had a certain level of magic thanks to the colorful boats lining the riverside while the backdrop was mounted up by hills dotted with similarly colored tombstones. Maybe it was the fact that I was long deprived of anything worth looking at/appreciating after the many kilometers that I rode on the dusty fringes of the highway, I left Phan Thiet after this brief time in its presence almost wanting to let the moment linger for even a day longer. Despite the onslaught of heat, rash, and intimidation, we finally arrived to the tropical paradise of Mui Ne with a palm tree lined coastline. We checked into Mui Ne Backpacker Village which was as much of a resort as I will experience as a backpacker with its pool, nearby bar, and A/C (sorry let me translate this to the worldwide audience: air-con) rooms. I spent my time in the pool to cool off in its somewhat balmy water before chatting with the guys about future plans. They were going to do the cheap tour of Mui Ne but since I have that bike laying around I wanted to use it to explore the area and frankly have my own personal time. As nice as it is to have safety in numbers I greatly prefer riding by myself without anyone holding me back. I have the luxury of stopping where I choose and have more interactions with locals if I would like to. Plus, I know way more about things than most people do. Despite my flaws and mistakes, I have realized while out here that a great deal of people (not naming names) don’t know what the hell they are talking about. As that has sunk in more and more over time, I now know I should be relying entirely on my own gut and conscience rather than someone else’s galavanting confidence and expertise. Anyways, tomorrow I look forward to riding again but this time with the joy of exploration rather than putting kilometers upon kilometers behind me. I will check out Mui Ne’s famous white and red sand dunes as well as whatever else I may uncover.
Riding Vietnam Day 156: Are We There Yet?