It’s been ages since I last posted but thanks to a Travelstart blog competition, I am getting back into gear to write about our latest adventures in South East Asia…I hope you enjoy reading about it!
Light drizzle had accompanied us the last hour of our ride through the lush green central highlands of VietNam. I sat behind Truong as he led my husband, Willie on I on a four day trip through a small part of his fatherland. We had departed from the quaint riverside town of Hoi An that morning in the hopes of exploring a less tourist-ready part of the country by motorbike.
The morning’s ride had involved back-roading the countryside of outer Hoi An, going past the eerie ruins of the My Son Cham temple complex, and heading onwards towards the jungle-lined, mountain passes along the Laos Border. The four day three night trip would take us on a part of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail, past local villages, and renown battle sites, onwards to the DMZ and the sobering Vinh Moc tunnels, finally to end in the imperial city of Hue.
This North Central region is home to a diversity of ethnicity, to several renown war monuments, battle sites and memorials, and is home to the Unesco heritage sites of Hoi An, and Hue. It is a bridging region between the North and Southern regions where mountains, jungle, farmlands, isolated villages, bustling towns and coastal roads can be explored in pretty moderate weather.
We loved just watching Vietnamese life unfold: navigating farmers and their water buffalo, dodging schoolkids zipping around on bikes, stopping to check out an infamous dog butchery, taking shelter with other locals in a mountain tunnel in heavy mist, watching people offer up alms to the buddhist monks, watching a guy drive with three single beds loaded on his scooter..these and many more encounters fascinated us.
Vietnam is a great country to travel through as a foreigner whether you enjoy the comfort of the tourist trail or are interested in getting a more personal experience – there is always someone eager to share a part of their world with you. We were fortunate enough to come across a gentleman whose passion truly lies in sharing his story with visitors in the hopes that we gain greater insight into his culture, his life and the inner-workings of his home. Mr Trong our motorcycle guide, a member of the Easy Rider community, had an intriguing story of his own being a Catholic war-orphan who had been adopted by a Japanese family. He went out of his way to make these two camera-laden, pescetarian South Africans feel at home. He patiently allowed us to stop annoyingly often to take photographs, went to great lengths to ensure our mainly vegetarian meals were tasty and reflective of the areas we were in, and for me, the most important thing, was that he was a safe rider.
We had heard horror stories of bad injuries occurring on these wet mountain roads and after seeing a scooter accident earlier on our trip my husband and I had been having nightmares of leaving our faces behind on a rugged stretch of country road. So much so that we decided to have a giant cheesy pizza – our first western meal in a month as a commemorative last meal just in case we didn’t come out in one piece! But Mr Trong navigated some messy roads like a nimble dancer, and he gave good tips to my husband who was just behind him on his own motorbike.
We stopped for a lunch of a steaming bowl of noodles topped with the freshest-smelling herbs and crisp sprouts at a quaint roadside restaurant. A scrawny ginger cat enthusiastically greeted us as we sat down to our meal. Hot long-brewed green tea was served up with great relish once they heard that we were South Africans. A hilarious conversation ensued of acted-out words, clumsy translation, peppered with our bad attempts at Vietnamese. We mounted our bikes full from a simple but tasty meal, with a few more local phrases under our belts and grateful for having made the acquaintance of such kind folk. This would happen several times on our trip and the moments shared with locals really made the stories behind the war-ravaged landscapes or majestic natural spaces all the more poignant.
A country with a past steeped in rich culture, such tragedy, complex socio-politics and immense natural beauty is such a treasure to explore. If you ever do consider a journey through the country by motorbike, Mr Trong would be a person you want along with you as a guide, a storyteller, an adventure-seeker, a great cook, an excellent rider, a gentleman, and friend. Getting to see his country along with him was an honour and as we curved round mountain passes, scooted through rural by-ways or stopped to take in a particularly photographic view, or nervously navigated crazy traffic, he would always share a piece of history, culture, a hilarious joke or, if all else failed, would march into people’s homes or shops to find something to show you.
Trong is an authentic Easyrider, and can be found here and here. We ended our trip even more in love with Vietnam thanks to him. And again were reminded that travel is as much about the places you see as the wonderful people you meet.
All text copyright of Verushka Vogt Nel
All photographs property of Willie Nel & Verushka Vogt Nel