Monday, May 31, 2010

The Great Northern Vietnam Motorbike Tour-Day Eight

By now we’re feeling very seasoned with this motor biking thing. Looking out the window of the hotel we saw the sun shinning brightly signaling another hot day.

Some of us decided to wear shorts but also lathered on a thick dose of sun-block for good measure. Others decided to wet their hair and clothing to induce some conduction cooling.

The roads from Sơn La south and east was wide and well paved. I poured it on as much as I could muster keeping in mind the overheating issue. The others too were keeping an eye on me always ready to give assistance.

The heat wasn’t oven hot, but you could feel the strength of the sub-tropical sun. Whatever hair or skin exposed would almost crinkle a bit. Or at least it felt like it was. Luckily we were constantly moving. Whenever we did stop though that warm air would envelope us.

Yên Châu was where we took our first break. All along the roads here you could buy fresh pressed sugar cane juice. And unlike the city where they have to spike their sugar cane juice with sugar, these are so fresh that they only needed to add lime wedges to the rollers giving the drink another hint of spark to what is already a thirst quenching delight.

I also took the opportunity to get the Minsk washed and cooled down, and while walking over to where the ladies were enjoying their drink, a little girl not yet three years old said in perfect English, “Hello! How are you?”  I was floored. Her caretaker said that her mother had lived overseas. Here in the middle of nowhere a Việt Kièu, someone much like me, had taken or retaken her residence.

Maybe not right next to this highway but up there at the base of those green hills amongst those few remaining tall trees, I could probably hideaway for some time. I thought. Thoughts that frequently visited me during this trip whenever there was a meandering river exiting a thicket of trees and bisecting rice fields.  Or when there were craggy limestone walls set back behind a lake where water buffaloes were cooling.

Maybe this happens to you too when you travel. 

Anyway, after a little while longer on the road we took a break to have lunch. Instead of the normal rice meal we opted for Bún Chả, a dish of rice noodles and fresh herbs dipped into a stew of a fish sauce induce papaya broth and bbq meats.

Then more dousing with cool water ensued and we were off again. But only for a little bit until we decided that it was time to visit-with-the-locals to learn about the regions specialty and to fix another flat tire on the Minsk.

One new inner tube, a bag of green tea, some milk candy and many laughs later we were back on the highway heading for Mai Châu, with plenty of time before sundown.

Mai Châu is in a little valley 5 Km’s south of Highway 6. Even before getting to the junction to turn the landscape was already beginning to change. The hills were steeper, the air cooler and the road more winding. Then as we turned off the highway we climbed up a short section of big sweeping turns to find an expansive green valley.

This is an Hanoian weekend retreat. Throughout the valley are guest-houses and home stays. When it’s sweltering in the city the temps here are more tolerable being about 3,000 feet higher. To top it off, the whole valley is a big rice field, which means that the whole valley for most of the year is covered by five inches of water underneath the vibrant green stalks, contributing to the lowering of the heat.

We pulled into town just as the sun began to duck underneath the western hills. Before getting here we were told about a couple of guest-houses to stay at so we stopped to ask for directions.

While parked and while I was listening to directions from a man at a shop selling drinks across from a shop doing metal work, we all heard a loud explosion. But I didn’t flinch, neither did the man giving me direction. In fact, as I looked across the street to the guys welding I noticed that they had halted from what they were doing. Then they gave me a big smile and pointed back down the road a few houses to a repair shop. The flat tire that I had been getting fixed the last couple of days blew once again. 

The only people unsympathetic were Mandy and Kay. With hardly a few words they were off down the road. All I remember was something like, “You get your bike fixed and we’ll find a place to stay.” There may have been some parenthetical remarks like, “What a piece of junk! We’re out of here.” But I don’t remember.

Luckily the mechanic that made the repairs this time was the most cheerful of the bunch. He was young and complained that he was a little tired from playing soccer the day prior, a year since he had played last time. He said that if he wasn't sore then getting the tire back on the rim would be a great deal easier. And he said all this with a smile.  You can see him here in this picture bouncing all his weight onto the tire.

I kept looking at the sky as he was doing this. It’s not yet dark and for sure our resting place was nearby. Would I have to turn on my headlights to get there this day?

Half an hour later, I found the ladies at this nice and tranquil little lodge out within the rice paddies. It was a Thai village of stilt houses and our room was this one.

So from there we watched the sun set reveling at the fact that we had done it, finally making it to our destination before nightfall.

Great Tour-Day Eight from Linh Nguyen on Vimeo.

*Photos courtesy of Kay Okamoto.

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