If I think about Vietnam, I think of the colour green. 50 shades of green. I think actually more than 50, but I thought this title sounded more catchy. Vietnam is incredibly diverse, in its landscapes, cities but definitely in its different colours of green. With sometimes some red details, because of all the (communist) national flags which almost every house has. I’ve seen rice fields, hills, mountains, jungle, rainforest, highlands, grasslands, forests… I can’t even describe the beauty of all this. My photos probably won’t catch the real beauty of it, but I did my best. I don’t have a GoPro, which I normally don’t think I need, but during my road trip through Vietnam I kind of wanted to film all this. Not only because of the nature, but also because of the crazy road situations. The immense chaos with streams of motorbikes in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh for example. Or, even more, the things you see people transporting on one single, small scooter. Sometimes you would drive past a giant pile of bananas… only to see the scooter which is carrying all of this after looking twice, somewhere hidden in the middle of the banana pile. Or a pretty large-sized orange tree, almost wiping the other people of the road with its branches.
My most memorable part of my trip through Vietnam was the three-day drive along the Ho Chi Minh trail, through the rainforest between Phong Nha & Khe Sanh. For three days, it was raining dogs and cats and I’ve been soaking wet, cold and tired, but the drive was worth every second of it. We departed from Phong Nah with a group of six. Well prepared with our bags covered in plastic and rain covers and with some extra bottles of fuel, we left in the early morning. For the coming 150-200 kilometers there were not going to be any gas stations and only one hotel. Because of the pouring rain and the curvy road, we drive slow. But we have time to enjoy the view of the deep green forest around us, and the sight of the clouds floating between the old trees. There is almost no other traffic and no houses, nothing but forest. After maybe 2 hours of driving we noticed we lost our two Polish fellow travelers. Although looking in our mirrors regularly, the curves in the road and the mist made it hard to see if people were just a little behind, or actually lost. In this case they were actually lost. One of us had to drive back a couple of kilometers to find them and learn that out the girl’s chain fell of. With some help of the modern world (we actually could communicate with our cheap Vietnamese sim cards on Whatsapp, even in the middle of nowhere) and Lucas (who knows a lot about bikes) we managed to explain them how to fix the chain temporary so they could at least drive to the next village. We passed by one small village with some wooden houses on poles. We drove back to the village to meet them there and asked the locals for some coffee to get warm. Apart from the fact that we were super cold, we were also really hungry (we didn’t think of bringing food, which was actually really stupid, given the fact we knew we would be driving in the middle of nowhere practically all day). There was a mini shop where we bought like 3 family packs of Chocopies. That instant Nescafé coffee and those Chocopies couldn’t have tasted better on that moment. Something warm and sweet. While one of the villagers quickly managed to tighten the girl’s chain (he didn’t want to have money for it), we’d drawn a lot of attention in the village. All the villager’s men seemed to have joined us at the table and started offering us beer and rice wine.
Since we already knew we were never going to make it to Keh Sanh and only had to drive another 10 kilometers to the closest (and only) hotel, we all took one or more shots out of the empty coffee glasses. A little warmer and happier we drove the last bit to the hotel, where we met another stranded Australian. Despite a hot shower, it was hard to get warm. So that night we ended up with 3 people in a double bed, just to create some body heat.
Unfortunately, it also rained the next two days… After breakfast the second day, me and Lucas said goodbye to the rest of the group, who were more in a hurry and wanted to drive a little faster, and started driving for another two days, in the rain. There were places where we could only see as far as 5 to 10 meters, because of the mist. I practically didn’t get warm during this 3 days. Everything was cold and wet, even inside the hotels we slept in.
But the sights of the rainforest, the waterfalls pouring of the cliffs, disappearing under the road, the stops we made to have Vietnamese coffee or Pho in the most remote places… it all made it so so worth it. We were both driving with our headphones and we were sometimes literally making dance moves on our bikes.
Every time I decided to slow down during this trip, good things seem to happen. Like in Hong Kong, when I was tired of travelling and met the most amazing people and had a wonderfull month. It kind of confirms the reason I wanted to make this kind of trip: without flying. I am never hopping from one place to another that quick… but still, even while travelling on a motorbike or by bus, some travellers are moving by a much quicker pace than I do. I had almost left Phong Nah two days earlier, because the people I drove with from Cat Ba Island to Phong Nha needed to get to Hue as quickly as possible. The first days of driving a motorcycle had been super tiring for me and after only one full day in Phong Nha I was still really tired and didn’t feel ready at all to leave again. But I would be alone again, having to find new friends to drive with. Luckily I decided to follow my gut feeling and stayed in my bed that morning they left. That evening I met a whole group of “Southbounders”, including Lucas (A Dutch guy I travelled with for the coming month), Gerrid and the group I left with from Phong Nha, two days later.
Although I drove most parts just with Lucas, we met up with different people of this group a couple of times along the road, mostly accidentally, in the middle of nowhere. Like the time we were driving in the mist and started following the red back lights of the two people driving in front of us, because that was literally the only thing you could see and focus on. When the mist cleared we saw it were two of our friends who we had been following; an American couple. The last time we had a big reunion was in Hoi An, where throw a big party night.
When we got to Hue after the three days of driving, we met up with our friend Gerrid and finally got warm again… but maybe this was because of the amount of alcohol we drunk and the dancing we did that night 😉