Sunday, February 18, 2007


We entered Vietnam, coming from Laos, on route #8, to route #8 (hmm…).
We went to the immigration, who requested each for $1, just because he has the stamp. After a short discussion we gave him 10,000 kip ($1), part of our leftovers.
He stamped the passports and the exit date, instead of 17/03/07 (30 days), 12/03/07 (the expiry date ;-( )
Why? Maybe because he doesn’t know what is the “validity” date? Maybe because of the missing $1?
The only thing he told us: was: “Hanoi”.
A month later, we understood, they don’t know what the validity day means.

Happy New Year!!!!!

Gal decided she wants to arrive to Vietnam before Tet – the Vietnamese New Year.
We read in the travel book, and were told, that everything will be closed, no public transport, hotels full, banks closed, etc., etc., etc.
So we rushed through route #8 in Laos and arrived to Vietnam 10 hours before the New Year.
We were told the road from the border, down to the beach, is 25km down hill.
We were not told how steep it is!
The road signs said 9% degree. We had to give our rims a chance to cool down a few times.
The cliffs were spectacular; Jungle everywhere, wet-green in all directions. We were twisting down, not able to see the bottom of the valleys. These were the highest, steepest mountains we had on our trip so far. Gal was terrified! She only wanted to go down. But, as opposed to other scary mountain roads, she cycled down, quite quickly, with full control.
After about 15km the mountains slowly turned to hills, and after 20km, we started seeing signs of civilization.
We finally reached a small village. We tried asking for food and a place to sleep, but came to the conclusion that we should continue to a bigger village. It was quite late, maybe 16:30, we were after a long day (did we mention that Gal has a problem with here steering wheel?), and it would be dark in 1 hour, here in the mountains.
We reached another village, after a short ride, in this green wet heaven. We managed to explain that we can’t cycle any more; we need a place to camp and food.
A woman took us in to here home. We didn’t know what the ‘coast’ of this step would be…not money (even though we had no Vietnamese Dong, only $ and a few Lao kips), but friendly harassment from the family/villagers. There is not much worse than friendly harassment after a long day of cycling; “What is your name? Where do you come from?” asked again and again by 80,000,000 Vietnamese! I must admit (and well discuss it later) that Lao people are very relaxed, nor nagging – ‘nidges’ in Hebrew, were Vietnamese are the exact opposite, maybe even worse than the south Indians!
Turns out the family took us in for New Year eve!
While the mother was preparing the first dinner (we had another one around 01:00, after the fireworks died out), we rested, wrote a bit for the blog, and communicated with the small children who studied a bit of English. Around us the kids were practicing their fireworks abilities, throwing them one on the other, enjoying the loud explosions, which will be following us the next 4 – 5 days.
Going to the bathroom, for a shower, we saw about 10 pigs, in cages.
We all sat for dinner. Lots of holiday food. They even have their local “gefilte fish”.
We went for a short rest. They insisted we took the bed of the children, which was 1m away from the bed of the parents. Ramis’ insisting of us sleeping in our tent didn’t help… we slept in a 1.5m long bed, with no mattress!
At 22:30, after no sleep, due to the Karaoke and fireworks, we got up.
At 23:45, the action was building. We all went outside to see the kids preparing the rockets. At 00:00 the fireworks were at their best. They were far from amazing (after all, were not in Paris, on Bastille Day), but the way the kids were enjoying it all – an excitement we haven’t seen in Israel on Independence Day for years!due to the remoteness of the village, the fireworks lit the sky in the darkness. For Rami, the highlight of the evening was when a scooter took the curve much too fast, in the darkness with no lights, & hit the rocks that held the base of the big rocket, and slid on the oily road, like chip margarine on toast.
The kid quickly got up, probably thinking of a good excuse for his parents…
This was the first taste for us, of driving in Vietnam..
Later we had a second dinner, too strong Vietnamese tee with the father, in front of the Vietnamese TV, and off to bed (the small one).Next morning, after a good breakfast, we were ready to continue. We had an emotional farewell, the result of a warm hospitality.

The Gulf of Tonkin

We continued down on route #8. Due to the holyday, everything was closed. We didn’t even find open restaurants! We thank our last-night hosts, again, for giving us a huge “Banh-Chung” (sticky-rice cake, filled with bins and pork), a traditional Tet dish.
We guessed they knew we won’t find food…
From that village onward, everything around us was build or cultivated. Very quickly, we understood how many Vietnamese there are, and how packed there are. Scooters and bicycles were all around us, fooling around on the road, even playing with the flags of our trailers (which we removed after 70km), quickly reaching the point of annoying us.
Gal was very worried about cycling in this traffic, a feeling that will stay with us till the Ho-Chi-Minh trail.
The next morning we reached Vinh, a first big city (a concrete city) since Thailand. Due to Tet, the city was still dead. We easily found a simple hotel. There was our first encounter with Vietnamese hotels/whore houses, and homosexual aggression towards Rami (Tom has warned us about it, in a heavy German accent).
Luckily, while searching for a hotel, we came upon a local cycling group, well equipped, with serious bikes. It took us by surprised. We jumped on the opportunity, and showed them the problem in Gals’ bike. One of them – Linh, the owner of “Linh-Ha” bicycle shop, took us to his shop (in the market) and quickly changed the broken piece (the shop & market were closed due to Tet).
He gave us a gift: Banh-Chung.
We stayed another day in Vinh, doing nothing (our only rest day in Vietnam, till Hanoi – a big mistake!).
The day after, we left to the beach – a tasteless communist-style tourist town, empty, due to the winter.
After many dilemmas, we decided to stay the night and enjoy the gloomy atmosphere at the beach.
We were looking for a hotel. The place was full with hotels, big, ugly ones, but not a tourist in sight. Like a ghost town, only without the town. The town was just a crossroad at the end of 3 km long strip of hotels. We finally found a good hotel, near the beach, not expensive…all well. We unpacked, but then understood they want us to leave our passports with them, as deposit. Gal insisted we don’t. We packed and left, finally finding a guesthouse. Rami, ingeniously, told the owner that our passports are in Hanoi, at the ’embassy’, and gave him a photocopy. We felt we have won a small battle!
This is a good time to describe a typical hotel/guesthouse in Vietnam: if you manage to ignore the sleazy rooms around you, and the people renting the rooms by the hour, you’ll see impressive, tall houses. Well, a bit funny, but – you’ll always have a balcony, even if it’s locked, due to safety reasons, you’ll always have the option of a higher floor, climbing the usual claustrophobic staircases, far away from the sewer and the horns from the road (many stairs to climb – you can get Hernia carrying your luggage), and you get good views & a breeze.
We had the top floor, with views to the nearby beach.
Gal enjoyed seeing the rain & wind playing with the trees in the garden near the beach.
It was also quiet, extremely quiet, like in a cemetery, on a rainy day.The next day we headed north, cycling about 20 km on route #1, a terrible experience. Beautiful scenery, green hills all around, but, traffic was like the jungle: the strong survives! And we are not so strong...
We finally reached the junction-town where we left route #1 towards Ho-Chi-Minh road. Fortunately, we spent another night just on the beach, embracing the tradition of making coffee & tea every night & morning, with our amazing MSR WisperLite stove, and our shitty MSR pot.

Doing the usual stuff in the hotel room.