To recap from the post below, we met a fellow in Dalat and agreed to travel with him as our guide on a 5-day journey to Hoi An.

Day 1
After a restless night, we rose early to get things in order before setting off on our 5-day journey. Namely, we needed to find and review our insurance coverage. Like most RTW folks, we bought travel insurance–more for peace of mind if we needed a medical evacuation than anything else. We finally located it, only to learn that we weren’t covered for a motorbike accident. Great, just great. Reading the fine print, we learned we were covered for dismemberment and loss of life though. I used this information as a plea to Chris to back out (over the past day, my anxiety about our ride had grown exponentially). “I don’t want to go,” I whined. Upset for talking Chris into this whole mess, I chastised him for jumping on board with me. After all, one of us should be thinking about our safety. None of my whining and pleading had any effect, Chris just packed quietly and so I eventually joined him but with considerably less calm.

As the time approached to meet our guide, I felt defeated. There was no way out. I suggested this stupid idea and talked Chris into it. Now I was going to have to deal with it.

Meeting up with our guide, we decided he would carry our bags and I would ride with Chris. While Mr. Quang was strapping our bags to his bike, we walked to the closest cafe and nibbled on French baguettes with laughing cow cheese while enjoying our coffee. The best coffee houses in Vietnam aren’t the Western-style ones with their linen napkins and wooden chairs. No, the best are the little corner hole in the wall joints with plastic foot stools as chairs and toilet paper for napkins. The coffee is slowly brewed in a tin cup, somewhat like a mini French press. It is thick. But, served with sweetened condense milk–it is sublime. We are addicted to Vietnamese coffee.

With our bags strapped securely to Mr. Q’s bike, we were set to begin our journey. Chris had trouble starting the bike at first but after letting it idle for a while he got it humming again. We dubbed our bike Miss Q and set off out of town toward Lak Lake. Within 15 minutes, we were riding through the pine forests overlooking blue lakes. There was hardly another motor vehicle on the road, and fears of being on a motorbike washed away. We chatted about getting ourselves a motorcycle when we returned to the States. I could finally understand the popularity of Harleys and motorcycles in general. The wind in your face and the full 180 degree views are hard to beat. Plus, the smell of the pine forest wafting through the air was unbelievable. It was 10 times stronger than being on the bus. It was as though we were on a really fast hike. Granted, the occasional bug in the face spoiled the tranquility every now and then, but otherwise this trip was proving to be a great way to see the countryside.

Our first stop was at a minority village called Lang Dinh An, also known as Chicken village. It gets its name from a large concrete chicken in the middle of town. If it sounds pretty random, you are correct. This enormous concrete chicken sits above tiny little huts. However, it brings in the tourists. Little dirt shacks surround this chicken with local women offering lessons in silk weaving and of course their wares for sale. The weaving technique of these people was fairly interesting. They use a series of bamboo paddles that raise and lower the threads to change the pattern. Looking at the contraption, we both decided it was way too complicated for us.

Over the next few hours, we passed by coffee plantations. The harvest was just picked, so beans dried on blue tarps outside the growers’ homes. We rode past countless blue tarps with beans spread across them, and little ladies with rakes  pushing them around. The coffee plantations stretch as far as we could see in both directions from the road. Apparently, Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee. We made a mental note to search out the coffee when we return home.

As quickly as you can say Nescafe, the landscape turned to jungle. Our guide let us off our bikes for a quick walk up some stairs. I thought we were just walking to the top, but then he added “watch out for snakes in the jungle”. As we headed up the steps, I turned to Chris and said, “Did he just say snakes?”. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, it was clear why the snake warning was given. The concrete path ended and a dark, primitive jungle trail took its place. At this point, I decided to go no further. I battled with spiders on the stairs up, and the thought of snakes stopped me in my tracks. Chris simply replied, “ok” and charged into the darkness. Being left alone in the jungle only served to enhance my overactive imagination. Within 10 minutes, I started calling out to Chris. Within the next 5 minutes, I was certain he wad kidnapped or attacked by tigers. I yelled some more, but no answer returned. And so, I stepped hesitantly onto the jungle trail. I tried to continue up the path, but to be honest I didn’t make it very far. My fear was greater than Chris’ survival. I got about 20 feet and just kept yelling. No reason for both of  us to be kidnapped. Eventually, Chris returned my call and asked me what I was screaming about. He wasn’t surprised to learn I’d worked myself up into a frenzy.

Finally reaching our destination after 8 hours on the bike, our butts and backs ached. Lak Lake near the M’hong village of Jun was our resting stop for the night. Verdant rice fields and a large lake surround this minority village. Extended families all live together in long houses perched on stilts. Chris commented, “can you imagine living with your family like this”. My response was we probably would be when we returned home…. And clearly, he shouldn’t make comments like this if he wants to remain the second favorite son-in-law.

The pigs, birds, cows, and other livestock live underneath the house. From a public health standpoint, I am certain Japanese Encephalitis, Dengue, and Malaria must circulate in these villages. Mosquito nets seemed to only be around for the foreigners. Pigs serve as an amplifying host for JE, and they were everywhere in this little village. I tried to talk to our guide about these mosquito-borne diseases to see if the villagers protected themselves or if he knew how many people fell ill each year, but it was to no avail. Mr. Quang is much better at speaking English than understanding it. We quickly learned this on our first day filling up for gas. We thought we negotiated he would pay for gas and we would pay for lodging, but he told us otherwise. In the end, this miscommunication worked out in our favor since we only spent US$3 in gas a day but the overall miscommunication became a constant struggle.

For this trip, we agreed to split the food costs with Mr. Q. This worked to our advantage as he always ordered great meals for us. Our first dinner with him was no exception. We wish we could recreate a dinner like that again. We dined on breaded calamari, fried fish, pork soup, lemon grass tofu, and spring rolls. The calamari was cooked to perfection. It was by far the best calamari we have ever tasted. The spring rolls were made with a different type of rice paper than the Chinese rolls. The paper was thicker with a crunchier texture than usual, and it made these spring rolls amazing. We asked Mr. Q about the different paper and how to order them in other restaurants, but again he did not understand us. Thus far, we have failed at our attempts to find this type of spring roll. One restaurant had a picture of them, and I pointed to the picture but we received the same old Chinese spring roll.

Later that night, we fell asleep to the sounds of families in longhouses around us chatting into the wee hours of the morning. By 3am the roosters started crowing under our longhouse and another day began.

4 Responses to “Motorcycle diary from Dalat to Hoi An: Part 1”

  1. Jeannie says:

    thanks for the giggle about living in a long house with the extended family! ;-) Also sounds like Jodi needs a low dosage of prozac! It does work wonders for the psyche….

  2. mom says:

    I enjoyed it too, and thought the same about extended family. Prozac might not be a bad idea!

  3. Gary Udd says:

    The coffee sounds like the kind my dad drank-strong brewed coffee, 4 or 5 tsp. sugar and canned condensed milk. When he finished his coffee, sugar and milk ringed the bottom of the mug.

    After you return, would you consider doing all again as guides for your mom and dad?

  4. Gary Udd says:

    Whose the first favorite son-in-law? Are we counting Tom?