From the Delta to the DMZ

Length warning, this is probably my longest post to date and it’s probably still not finished.

So I managed to title a post that also quotes the film Good Morning Vietnam in Vietnam that also is significant to my trip, not sure what bonus points I do or do not get for this? Allow me to explain, on this trip I have already been to the Mekong Delta for just a day trip but now I have been out to the DMZ too. I will say that it has become apparant that you can do more with your time if you don’t plan and open your heart and mind to a world of possibilities. Maybe it just seams this way because if you make plans you have expectations and if you cant fulfill those expectations comes disappointment. By not making a plan you avoid that nasty situation, take care of the basics and let the rest happen from time to time. Doing this is potentially hard but then all it takes is the ability to let go. Okay enough of the theories on how I got into the state I am in and on with the so called main story.

I was in Hoi An a little over 48 hours ago, to be honest I was not feeling 100% there. I think something I ate in Dalat has disagreed hugely with me giving me stomach cramps throughout the 12 hour journey from Nha Trang to Hoi An and then for the next two days too. So I didn’t really enjoy Hoi An as much as I feel I should. I walked around the old town of Hoi An and found it super quaint but ultimately the quaintness was destroyed by the number of tourists taking advantage of the services they offer to make cheap clothes for people. I did mention that I managed to spend a few hours on the beach in Hoi An completly at peace with my surroundings which felt incredible. The food in Hoi An is great and yes there are still bunches of young and ignorant tourists from the U.K. on their gap year or Uni break who come there just so they can pay 80,000 Dong (approx £2.50), to drink all night and wonder why they are still feeling the effect 24 hours later. That’s their choice, they have come to this country for their reasons and I have come for mine. If I keep saying that it’s because I am trying to accept this and finding it difficult to do so. So I leave Hoi An having not done very much apart from rest and try not to aggrevate my stomach and head for Huê a city (according to the youngsters) that only needs 24 hours, well I had a few hours more because of my flight back to Bangkok from Hanoi.

Arriving in Huê I was accosted by the usual bunch of people offering me a room or a bike. I was in a good mood having not been plagued by stomach cramps for the last 18 hours so someone was bound to get lucky. I had no plans for Huê had no idea what was there or what I should see or do and I only had just over a day here so time was short. It’s at this time while people are complimenting me on my beard (I have had this SO much in Vietnam) I look to grab my bag one guy in particular is not overly pushy and is actually helpful. I stick my hat on his head telling him to hold it for a bit while I grab my bag like the independant person I am. Bag on back and hat back on my head he offers me something none of the others did, a beer…

I follow the guy who introduces himself as Thanh to a local cafe and we sit and have a beer together. I knew I was paying for them but I saw it all as part of the game I was about to play, what do I have to loose by buying a total stranger a beer? I chatted with Thanh and he showed me his book like other Easy Riders I have encountered and the reviews are good, one particular one catches my eye from two ‘mature travellers’. It’s at that point I commit to using him and all I have to work out is cost and where do we go, adventure lies ahead. Thanh takes me to my hotel first which a sensible move so I can drop my big bag and grab a shower. My hotel are really upset that I have not booked things through them but I am avoiding tour buses right now, on top of that Thanh and I have an unspoken contract (the beer) and it is as much my duty to trust him as it is his to trust I wont just say no thanks. After the shower I head back out with Thanh who takes me to a local pagoda, emporer temple and a short tour of the city by bike before he suggests we go for a beer and something to eat. Now you should know by now that I want to both drink and eat with the locals. I may have more money than them but I want to involve myself in their world. Thanh takes me to his home to meet his two children, his daughter who is about 6 years old and beautiful and his son who I don’t get to interact with.

I eventually co-erse the conversation round to business. Thanh had already offered to take me about 70km out of the city by bike to see some of the DMZ, and he still had not wanted any money for his services so far. He tells me to tell him what I think? This for me is a dangerous place to be in, I don’t like being the first person to throw a number on the table. I think back to Mr Hung in Dalat and what I got with him and how much I could afford and what I thought it might cost. My theory was it might cost about one million Dong which is about £35 but this was not the number I wanted to start on, complicated isn’t it? So following a general rule of half it and add a bit I start the bidding at 600,000, Thanh just shakes his head, I knew it was too low but I wanted him to make his move next. He comes back to me with 1 million, this is a number I can work with and after he explains that he has to pay for fuel and feed his beautiful family and that he is not ripping me off I ask one more time can he not go any lower, to which I get a distinct no. Not wanting to offend my guide I fake running through some numbers and agree to 1 million. I meet people he knows, drink more beer with him and eat dinner with him where we split the bill 50/50 (I left a tip). The food was incredible, some sort of squid dish with scallion tops (spring onions), onions and even I think mango in there, served with some noodles and fried morning glory (green stuff a little like boc choi) in garlic. He takes me back to my hotel after we settle the bill for food and drinks and I crash out for the night knowing he will be by my hotel at 8:30 the next morning.

After a very long nights sleep I get up and check out dead on time and meet Thanh. I prepared for a long ride with long trousers, my boots, long sleeved bike top and my trusty Buff which I used to cover my neck and face. The sun was out, I had my sunscreen on, I hopped onto the back of the bike and we rode off on the tour on a bike that was a lot faster than the scooter I was on with Thanh the day before. Settling into the ride with helmet on putting my life and trust in the hands of a man I had known about 12 hours I took in the scenary as we rode north out of the city. First stop was about an hour’s ride out at an old church. This church once housed around 400 or so Viet Cong defending it against the Americans, they battled here for 81 days which left the church a now aging derelict hull. You can see bullet holes in the walls and could not imagine 400 people being in the building at any point in time but this is not a surprising number as I suspect the building once had a second floor too. From there we rode further North into a town to have breakfast, something I am going to miss about Vietnam is my almost daily fix of Bahn Mi Op La, a small french style sub served with a fried egg, vegetables and sauces they are seriously delicious. We leave the locals to their energetic card game and head off to the next destination, a memorial dedicated to the Vietnamese people who lost their lifes in the war. Here only Vietnamese people generally come to remember their ancestors, its a peaceful place with a small musuem attached. I tell Thanh about the time I rode to Paris and saw the memorial there. “Same same, but different” he adds in true Vietnamese fashion. This is a general response from anyone Vietnamese who is trying to tell you that the thing they are trying to sell yoh or tell you is exactly like this other thing you know, but it’s not that. For example, Creamo’s look and taste exactly like Oreos but they are not Oreos.

Our next stop was way out in the country along some beautiful beach that was once defended by the Viet Cong against the Americans. To help them do this they built a huge network of tunnels so they could live underground and defend the area from the American soldiers. They dug through rock and chalk to make this network available so they had a place to teach, place to have babies and everything. It’s human ingenuity and determination at it’s very best right here. Of course I barely fit in the tunnels and Thanh found this highly amusing from time to time, I laughed along with him of course. We left here and took the bike down to the border between North and South Vietnam, on the south side again they have a memorial and small museum dedicated to the lost lives of the Viet Cong and on the north something similar for American soldiers. It’s hard to imagine with todays modern bridge and traffic that this place was a place of divide for Vietnam. I get the feeling there is still a bit of a divide between North and South but that’s just more of a sibling rivalry than another potential onset of destruction.

I did take a few photo’s but sadly as I am writing this on my last night in Vietnam and have a plane to catch tomorrow morning I need to finish up and go to bed. I will edit with photo’s and stuff when safe and sound back in Thailand.

Goodbye Vietnam, it’s been a true adventure and you have made me want to come back someday.

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