Thursday, October 13, 2005
Vietnam or Bust?
Many apologies to everyone following our progress 'Run From the Sun' has hit a few problems and instead of updating we have been running around with our fingers crossed, we are sorry, the past three weeks has been fairly frustraiting.....
The problems hit when we realised due to a fault with the shipping the bikes were going to arrive in Beijing 2 weeks late so we made the decision to pick them up in Hong Kong and start our journey from there. Hong Kong was fantastic with many a friend made and good times had and the arrival of our bikes was pure genius, the bikes had been shipped to Dubai by accident so were Fed Exed to us, I was hoping they would air drop them onto Mount Davis where we were staying but we had to go and collect them like the average package. The paper work we had to get our bikes into China (issued in Beijing) gave us free passage into China, not an easy task...... unfortunatly because the bikes were now in Hong Kong we would have to re submit to bring them into the country... damm. We spent a couple of days scouting and spying the boarder crossings trying to find a smuggling route, the lorrys seemed to pass the check points without stopping we found our alternative way into China..... or so we thought. The boarder crossing have to be the most sophisticated in the world with huge X-ray machines checking every lorry that passes...means no passage for us....damn
We decided to cut our losses and ship the bikes to Hai Phong North East Vietnam, not an easy decision because customs are much tighter in the ports than they are at the boarder crossings meaning more people to pay off. There was also no plan B originally if we found it a nightmare to get into Vietnam we would take a trip to the Laos/China crossing and head South that way. But with the alternative a 4 month expedition around Hong Kong we sent them on their way.....
The bus journey to Hanoi, well several bus journeys through China took 23 hours, 1 day quicker than the train. Our shipping agent Claudia and local business man Mr Duong Duc Tho started helping us with the preperation of the imminant arrival of our bikes. Within a week it looked like we had it sorted with a little money, support from SOS Vietnam and Mr Tho's business/government contacts we would be the first guys to bike through Vietnam on bikes over 175 cc for a very long time! As we are now learning on this trip always expect the unexpected.......
Overnight our chances of getting the licences went from 95% to 50%.... The Traffic police would grant us plates if we had a document signed and stamped by the Prime Minister of Vietnam, not a guy I am in a lot of contact with. The paper trail seemed endless with well over 1000 pages of documents and 8 government/police departments to talk to, non of which talked to each other, getting to the Prime Minister seemed a tall order....
To cut a long and rather dull story short we did it, well a very little, lovely and unassuming lady named Mrs Hanh found a way......... we should be on the road by Friday 21st ...... but we are trying not to get too excited.
Of course it would be silly to sit around and wait for things to sort themselvs out so Chris and I have spent the time exporing what Vietnam has to offer, man is it beautiful. Our journeys have taken us East to the Cat Ba Islands, thousands of teardroped shaped mounds sticking out of the clear blue sea. We toured around in a little fishing boat that had no exhaust so the tranquility was slightly interupted but the scenery still jaw dropping. The bays were still recovering from the typhoon that hit earier in the week (which penned us into our hotel as we were surrounded by flood water) so not so many tourists. A good thing when we seem to be repeating our story of ill faited attempts to get started.
We stayed in a port town called Hai Phong which is where we will be picking our bikes up from, one night someone from the holtel let themselves in whilst we were sleeping and stole Chris's phone and travellers cheques. The hotel manager didn't seem to care too much so we got the police involved, two days after the theft we had 6 policemen visit us. Unfortunately we were not expecting such an early visit and after a night of drinking gin our statement were blurred at best. The excitement started when the police visited the crime scene (our room) not too sure what they were hoping to discover but Chris and I looked on willingly that prehaps they could spot some clues..... instead Chris noticed that his camcorder had dissapeared from his bag. It was there when we went to bed......... suddenly there was mayhem Chris and I launched ourselves at the hotel manager who we suspected all along. It was a relentless torrent of abuse aimed at our evil hotel manager, he tried to run but couldn't hide Chris had him pinned up against the wall downstairs whilst I pleaded with the police to arrest him. The fact that it took 6 policemen 3 hours to report a stolen phone the chances of them doing anything this century was nill. The police ran away from the scene never to be heard of again, despondant I returned to the room to see what else got stolen and what turned up in a bed side cabenet...... a camcorder.....ah. two hours later we were thrown out of the hotel.
It was time to get out of Dodge, back to Hanoi and we hired two russian 125cc Minsk's with a plan to head North up to Sapa, we had heard about this place in the mountains that was meant to be breath taking and a chance to home our off roading was irresistable, the round trip was about 1000 km spread over 4/5 days. We left with one t-shirt each two tin's of peaches and a bottle of water...... The first day was off road to Duang ho just south a huge lake, the trail was about 120 km long and ranged from rocky inclines to single path walkways. First time for a while where Chris and I had a constant smile on our faces, the feel of riding was making us really miss our own bikes that were still in the same box we had packed them up in 4 weeks previously.
A lot of people we had met travelling around SE Asia had told us they found the Vietnamese unfriendly, and I suppose coming from places like Thailand they seem that way as they don't always carry huge smiles on their faces. The people we passed on our trip were fantastic, High Fiving kids on the side of the road and waveing at everyone going by. Chris complained of a sore wrist because of all the waving he had been doing all day, I collected a bruised hand from high fiving a 7 year old whilst doing about 30, the poor kid was left spinning on the side of the road. Life seemed a lot calmer than the manic break neck speed of Hanoi and I guess people just had more time on their hands to take notice, after a great 2nd day we climbed up to Sapa early afternoon where again the people like the scenery were welcoming. It does seem that the women are much happier to talk and have fun than the men who work half as hard and are normally found at the back of the shop/cafe/hostel on a sleeping mat dozeing.
Apparently there were 54 different ethnic groups in the mountains I don't know how many we met but it seemed each village had a very different feel from each other. In Hanoi their direct translation for mountain people is 'savages', they are anything but.
The journey back took on a feel of driving through Peru with huge green mountains and a scar from a landslide about every 5 km. The roads we chose were free of tourists and more importantly mad bus drivers tearing around the tiny roads on the wrong side. The trip back to Hanoi was going well until we hit the rush hour traffic on the West of the city, everyone drives scooters in Hanoi we were in a scooter jam for a solid three hours, we probably moved 1/2 km in that time, it was chaos the traffic police had given up directing traffic and spent their afternoon watching from the sidelines as the anarchy ensued. By pure coincidence we bumped into Mrs Hanh who gave us the news we had been waiting for........ the prime minister of Vietnam had signed and stamped the documents allowing us to travel freely through his country..... Yippppe!
As I write this we expect this will be our last night in Hanoi we are leaving to Hai Phong in the early morning to sign the last of the papers needed for customs to release our motorbikes, I imagine our next entry will be a lot more up beat and excited but "in Vietnam....always expect the unexpected"
(Click on the "Vietnam 1" gallery to the left for more pictures)
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