Day 32 in Viêt Nam — by far the longest I've been in any country other than the U.S. — and I still find it fascinating.
Yes, I do still plan to go to Lao, Campuchia (what the Vietnamese call Cambodia), and Thailand. Myanmar is most likely off the table though, because the visa takes four working days and I will need my passport more frequently now. There is an e-visa option, so I will look into that.
Last night (New Year's Eve) was an early night because the bus to Ha Long Bay and a two-day, one night cruise picked us up before 8. There were stops at multiple hotels and, as always happens, one passenger held the rest of us up for over 20 minutes because he wasn't ready. What tweaked me more than waiting was his lack of apology or acknowledgement once he finally got on the bus, to the other 12 of us who got to wait. Can you guess his age group and nationality?
The tour bus guide is nice enough and his English is quite good. For the first 45 minutes, while most passengers tried to sleep, he went on and on about all kinds of things — first in Vietnamese, then in English. The only thing I heard (because I stopped listening after three minutes) was that the "entertainment" tonight is karaoke. Great! I may swim to shore instead.
It's probably a good thing he didn't ask if we had any questions... mine would have been, "Are you going to talk the whole flippin' trip?" Fortunately, he did give us some quiet time.
The last day of 2013 was also the last day I owned two motorcycles... at least for now. For the last week of the trip I was on the fence as to whether I would keep the YBR or sell it and travel more conventionally for the remainder of the trip. There were a few considerations:
1) My lower back took a beating on the rough roads.
2) Time. Riding takes a LOT longer than flying, especially on these roads.
3) The "Adventure Factor" is, we hope, virtually non-existent on trains and airplanes.
Boring and comfort won out over adventure. Especially comfort. Mr. Hung, the owner of Flamingo Travel, and I took only a few minutes to reach an agreement on the price for which he could buy it back. Net net, owning it cost me about $500--$100 less than if I had rented it... and somehow, it felt better to own it. I left the 12V outlet, the box on the back, and a bunch of tools I'd bought just for the trip. I kept the pricier tools like the tire levers.
Yesterday morning I met two guys from Europe at the Flamingo Travel Hà Nội garage. They bought 100cc Honda Wins from an outfit called Backpackers for the ride to HCMC. They paid $250 each (the bike is $700 new) From what I saw and what they told me, they overpaid by about $400. The bikes were FUBAR. So far, they'd spent over a day and I didn't ask how many $ getting them prepared for the ride to Ho Chi Minh City. When I met them, they were watching Hung's mechanics swarm over the bikes, one of which was down to the frame. They were also assisting in the hope that they might learn something they might need to know during their trip.
After hearing their story, I offered them my copy of The Motorcycle Maintenance Manual and suggested that they spend US$5 for the one-year insurance policy they'd better have if they got stopped by the police. I also gave them one of my SE Asia cards so that they can use this blog for reference re route, hotels, et cetera. I wish them safe travels.
I also saw Annika and Philine when they stopped by the garage. It was great to see them and I even got hugs! I'd been in sporadic email contact with Annika, so I knew that they'd just spent three days on Cat Ba, a beautiful island just west of Ha Long Bay. She'd also told me a week or so ago that cold and fatigue had gotten to them on the central coast, so they and the bikes had hopped a train from Da Lat to Hà Nội.
Ha Long Bay is spectacular! Unfortunately, we started the cruise with sun high and behind the formations, so the photos were less than ideal
It got better toward sunset and from a different angle
I'm hoping that we have a better angle in the morning on the way back to the mainland.
The Vietnamese karaoke was less painful than I'd expected, possibly because I had never heard any of the songs before and understood three of the words?
All of the other Westerners got off the bus at the first stop to go to Cat Ba Island, so I am the only non-Vietnamese in our party of 12, making it even more interesting and challenging. The others were nice and followed the apparent custom of giggling and talking among themselves every time I attempted to speak even a word or two of their language. I did learn a couple new phrases that I choose not to define here. Ask me later and I might tell you.