21 February 2015

Wrapping up the Road Trip

Sunday, 15 February, my day in Vang Vieng, was one of quiet relaxation.

In a town built on activities from kayaking to zip lines to hot air ballooning to swimming by waterfalls, I spent my day kicking back, watching the parade of young "adventurers", and composing my stories overlooking the river and the mountains from the day bed on the right...

These structures are popular in the guesthouses and bars of VV, though at my age it takes a few well-placed pillows to make them comfortable. I've never been a fan of the stress put on the lower back by sitting with legs stretched out flat in front of you and even designed my teardrop trailer with a footwell to avoid this position. Fortunately, the place was less-than-full, so I was able to grab enough pillows to make it quite comfortable.

Between this perch and another, I sat and relaxed and read and wrote most of the Luang Prabang post... all day! It was great! I'm liking this new permanently-on-vacation-in-paradise life..
even when it's more of a backpacker's idea of paradise than mine.

Later, after walking back to Jammee's for a shower, I thought about heading back to Amigo's Mexican Food for dinner. Instead, I wandered a bit debating my options and ended up at Gary's Irish Pub. After listening to an Irish accent tell me about the fish and chips, I ordered it. I ate the fish, leaving most of the HEAVY breading for the garbage it was. I doubt I'll return to VV, though if I do, I will be sure to steer clear of Gary's... at least for what he calls food.

The next morning I breakfasted early and was again on the road by 8:30. Okay, it was really 9:05 before I headed out of town. James requested that I get the chain oiled after every second day of riding and since I didn't do it when I arrived, I wanted to get it done prior to departure. Vientiane is only 160 km or so away, so I have plenty of time.

It took me a couple tries to find a shop open where I could get the chain lubed and this time was even more interesting (and fun) than the previous. The family was eating breakfast in the shop when I rode up and as I dismounted, a young man approached me. I squatted down, pointed to the chain, and said, "Oil chain." He smiled, nodded, and picked a catch pan of the floor nearby. As I thought, "Wow, they're so tidy that they even catch excess chain oil!", he put the pan under the drain plug and started to go back for tools. I said, "Not oil change, oil chain." Are you laughing, yet? If not, you need to spend some time in SE Asia where they have difficulty saying our soft g and apparently also hearing it, though I'm betting even a native English speaker would be hard-pressed to hear the difference sometimes. Like now.

I gestured for him to come join me on my side of the bike where I was then able to point to the chain and make a hand gesture that I hoped he would see as pumping the oil can—hold your right hand closed with forefinger pointing out (spout of oil can) and thumb on top. Then move the thumb up-and-down like flicking a BIC and you'll see what I did. He got it and went to find the oil can.

After I balanced the bike on it's kickstand so the rear wheel could spin free, he oiled my chain. Thank you! This time he thankfully had little problem asking for 8,000 kip (US$1) which I gladly paid. Then came the fun part... the father, who'd been watching all of this and smiling at the appropriate moments (as had the entire family), approached me with his daughter (~20) in tow. He pointed to the rear sprocket and she asked, "How do you say in English?" Sprocket. Rear sprocket. He smiled, said "Khop chai." and went back to sit down.

The daughter stayed with me and while making a writing-like gesture I asked her if she would like me to write it. She said yes and between the two of us we procured pen and paper. I printed "sproket", crossed it out and wrote "sprocket". Without quotes, of course. Next she pointed to the chain (she hadn't seen when I earlier pointed for her brother), said "This?" Chain. I wrote it. We then covered the front brake disc, calipers, and pads, as well as the wheel spokes and clutch lever, all of which I printed for her. Then she asked if I am a mechanic. Suppressing a laugh into a smile, I said, "No, I just know enough for a small emergency." She translated and the family shared my smile.

Thanking them all again, I said good-bye and gave them one more smile as I promptly stalled the bike while trying to ride off.

Today's road was straight forward and uneventful. Though there were some nice scenic spots, I didn't stop for any photos.

Riding into Vientiane, I headed straight for Satellite Burgers. The entire ride I kept thinking about having another of their eggplant burgers

and, even though I was hungry an hour out, I made myself wait 'cause it would be worth it—I might even have two!

I found the shop straight-away, pulled over to park and saw... "CLOSED"

DAMN! Then I remembered that it was Monday and, chances are, like hair salons in the U.S., it's the only day they're closed.

Greatly disappointed—I fly home too early in the morning to have one—I rode to the Avilla Phousk Hotel and checked in, once again turning down the first room offered and ending up with a nicer, quieter room. Once settled, I headed out for a bite to eat. I needed to be back at the hotel to meet James, turn over the bike, and collect my passport at 3:30.

James arrived 25 minutes late and blamed it on traffic. Since I knew you can ride from one end of town to the other in 15 minutes and he'd earlier told me his shop was close, I figured this was his attempt to save face. He asked how the bike was, "Fine"; how the trip was, "It was good"; and what I think of the roads in Laos, "Much better than those in Việt Nam!" His reply, "No, they're NOT!"

Why do some people ask your opinion and then tell you that it's wrong? WTF? It's MY opinion! You might disagree and that's fine, but, you self-righteous prick, DON'T tell me I'm wrong when you don't know me or the basis for my opinion.

My reply? Then you've not ridden very much in Việt Nam... He laughed sarcastically and said, "I can't believe how many people tell me that!" and proceeded to list a bunch of great roads in Việt Nam, all of which are north or west of Hà Nôi and none of which I've ridden. Well, pandejo, I've ridden 2500 km in VN and maybe 40 km of those roads are as good as the roads I rode here. (I used my internal voice for that part; at this point, he still had my passport). I guess it hasn't occurred to him that there may be a reason many people have the same opinion that is the opposite of his.

My face-to-face experience with James tells me that I will NEVER again do business with him. His people skills are those of someone who is used to bullying people to get his way and there is no room for that crap in my world. As the saying goes, "I wouldn't piss on him if he were on fire."

As soon as I had my passport in-hand, I excused myself and went back inside the hotel.

The next morning I took a cab to the airport and headed back home. The visa-on-arrival process went smoothly, though slowly, and I got to have dinner with Nhi, her brother, and her son, Thịnh, who's visiting from her home town. I'm writing this from Sin Viet (138 Bùi Viện), my favorite place in HCMC for a Western breakfast. All is well and I'll spend a week here before heading back to Dà Lạt on 24 February.

Here is the 153km route I took from Vang Vieng to Vientiane...

1 comment:

  1. John,

    I have to thank you for posting on the blog on a regualr basis! Some days when I get frustrated (multiple times per week) I go and read all the updated and get lost in your adventure. My love of travel keeps me working for now in hopes that at some point in my life I will be able to do exactly what you are doing! I will come over and visit at some point for sure! I think I would enjoy the people and culture. Stay safe and keep enjoying life as it should be lived "one adventure to the next"