Vietnam Part 1
I woke up in what seemed to be a bare room and packed up the last of my belongings. 11.55 I met Lloyd in the lobby where we both settled the bill before heading back to the airport, we felt like we could probably complete the 45 minute trip blindfolded. We checked our bags in, ate a burger king and shopped for around for a few pointless goods, trying to spend the last few Hong Kong dollars we had.
It was only a two hour flight to Vietnam which probably explains the lack of on board entertainment however the foodmade up for the lack of entertainment; a delicious spaghetti bolognaise, which I'm glad I ate after the ten minutes of turbulence.
It's always a good feeling when you arrive at an airport and see your bag on the conveyor; mine must have been one of the first off however Lloyds took what seemed to be a lifetime. James and I carried our bags to the money exchange counter; the exchange rate here is crazy, I exchanged about £35 and received 1 million dong - we were both millionaires.
Outside the terminal we were chaperoned onto a nearby mini bus for what seemed to be a reasonable price, we were packed onto the bus like sardines, our accommodation was the last drop. The first thing we noticed when driving into Hanoi was the mass amount of traffic on the roads, I've never seen so many bikes swerving from lane to lane and bumping into one another, we had plans to rent bikes the following day but watching this chaos was slightly off putting.
The twenty four year old 'drivers assistant' told us that we'd arrived at the hotel except the hotel had a different name, different number and was on a completely different street to what we had told them. The street looked rough and dirty; we were too tired to be playing games so we said we'd walk the rest of the way and that we weren't parting with any money. The drivers English improved at this point and he whisked us away leaving the young lad on the grubby pavement.
Eventually we checked into the Sunshine hotel on Ma May road, 22USD per night seemed pretty good for a large room with a bath, computer and flat screen TV. We dumped the bags and headed onto the busy street; the roads were bustling with bikes and pedestrians; at the side of the streets were endless food stalls and street bars. We sat down at the side of the road on chairs which must have been no higher than 12 inch and ordered some food. It was pretty easy to order because there was only one thing on offer; chicken noodle soup; the women hacked into the chicken which lay beside her bubbling caldron. Another woman a few metres down the road sat in front of a large keg, I approached her and before I knew it she'd poured me two glasses of the local beer. I gave the women 100,000 Dongs (£3.50), I didn't expect any change however she handed me back over 900,00, the glass of beer cost 15p and tasted pretty good, at 15p a glass James and I knew we were in big trouble here.
We hadn't done a lot of research for Vietnam so we decided to use the day researching and sorting out our onwards travel plans, it was a good chance to catch up on with my blog as well as sort out the hundreds of photos we'd taken in Hong Kong. We had lunch near our hotel which was in a great location situated in the old quarter. Hanoi is the only city in Vietnam to retain its ancient, merchants' quarter, a congested square kilometre which was closed behind massive ramparts and heavy wooden gates until well into the nineteenth century. After our food we walked around the block, everything seemed to spill out onto the pavements which doubled as workshops for stone carvers, furniture makers and tinsmiths, and as a display space for merchandise ranging from pungent therapeutic herbs and fluttering prayer flags to ranks of Remy Martin and shiny wrapped chocolate.
In the evening we tried to locate La Mat snake village situated on the other side of the Red River. We were in a taxi on route to our destination when a motorbike pulled alongside us and passed the driver a card to his restaurant. The driver followed the bike and we ended up in a back street which looked like the kind of street we shouldn't be in. The biker introduced us to a woman who spoke good English the women asked us "do you wan to eat snake" we nervously nodded as the young biker approached a cage and opened the door, before we knew it there were three snakes slithering around on the floor, one of the snakes was a small cobra, both James and I backed off. The snake seemed overpriced but the women insisted that it was good quality and that she'd kill the snake in front of us so we could drink the blood and eat the beating heart, I wanted to try the delicacy but refused to pay the extortionate prices. We made a quick exit but ended up completely lost wandering around the unlit back streets until we were approached by another motorbike, the biker asked us if we'd like a ride, we jumped onto the back of the bike and the three of us rode back to the old quarter. We gave up the hunt for snake meat and ate on Ma May road instead. We sat on a tiny table with tiny chairs; the young Vietnamese lad provided us with a pan, stove, meat and vegetables which we cooked ourselves at the road side, the meal was delicious and cost us around £2.00 each.
The complimentary breakfast was a complete surprise; I thought it would be traditional Vietnamese cuisine, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw bacon and eggs with proper bread. After breakfast we caught a taxi to Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum where we'd visit the pickled corpse of Vietnams number one icon. The wide open space of Ba Dinh Square, 2km west of Hoan Kiem Lake is the epicentre for the nations ceremonial events. It was here where Ho Chi Minh read out the Declaration of Independence to half a million people on September the second, 1945. In 1969 Ho Chi Minh died of heart failure at the age of 79 and his corpse was embalmed but not put on public display until after 1975.
We entered the mausoleum in a regimental style, the Vietnamese guards told us to quieten down. The quote "nothing is more important than independence and freedom" which is Uncle Ho's most famous quote greeted us as we walked into the marble building. We headed up some stairs into a cold dark room where the charismatic hero lay under glass. Despite the rather macabre overtones, it's hard not to be affected by the solemn atmosphere. It was Ho's last wish to be cremated and have his ashes divided between North and South Vietnam; the ostentatious building seemed a funny choice to display the corpse of an unassuming egalitarian man.
We walked past the Presidential palace and managed to take a sneaky photo without the guards seeing and passed the botanical gardens where couples were posing for their wedding photos. Amongst the gardens stands Ho Chi Minh's house and it was there where he lived for the last eleven years of his life, even during the American war. After getting slightly lost we eventually found Ngoc Ha Village where a mangled undercarriage of an American B-52 bomber was lay, half submerged in a small lake which looked more like a bog. Apparently the plane was one of 23 shot down in the December of 1972 during intensive raids known as the 'Christmas Bombings'.
After lunch we walked along the causeway which flaunted views of the Truc Bach Lake on the East and the West Lake on the west. Along the causeway we spotted the Tran Quoc Pagoda which occupies a tiny island on the West Lake. Connected by a narrow brick path we walked around the pagoda before heading back on two motorbike taxis.
Changing traveller's cheques here was far easier than China and now we had a bit of money we decided to rent bikes for 4 days so we could ride to Ha Long Bay the next morning. $7 a day got us two newish semi automatic Honda Waves which we filled up with juice before returning back to our hotel. We needed to leave Hanoi ASAP because the roads are frightening, we saw a girl come off her moped within minutes of riding; the only road rule in Nam is 'there are no rules', driving on the right most the time and constantly beeping the horn seems to be the norm; we said a quick prayer before joining in with the carnage.
Back at the hotel we packed our smaller rucksacks ready for our excursion to Ha Long, the plan is to leave our large rucksacks here and pick them up in a few days before heading south.
In the evening we headed to Le Mat village in another attempt to try snake meat. As we left Sunshine Hotel we met two lads called Nick and Martin who joined us on the snake hunt. Nick, a twenty four year old from Ormskirk and Martin a twenty two year old from Bonnie Glasgow had bought two old Russian Minsks motorbikes and had a month's riding experience on the appalling Vietnamese roads, as soon as we saw their bikes James and I wanted one. We finally stumble upon the Bamboo Snake Garden Restaurant where we were ushered in by the friendly owner; the place was empty but had a charming appeal to it despite the collection of caged snakes and rice wine containing dead snake and other animals including a baby goat.
The owner pulled out a spitting cobra which seemed really pissed off; we all backed off and negotiated a price for the slithering reptile, the snake was too expensive so the owner brought out another lengthy snake which seemed reasonable priced; we all agreed to buy it. Just as we made the transaction he slit the snakes' neck right in front of us pouring the blood into a vat of rice wine making sure not to spill any on the tiled floor. He reached inside the wriggling snake and pulled out the still beating heart, he placed the heart into a small bowl and passed the small organ around; the heart can apparently carry on beating for up to fifteen minutes. We followed the owner into the kitchen where his family started to prepare the snake removing its skin and bones, every bit of the snake get used up. The headless / skinless snake was still wriggling around until eventually the movement stopped and we returned to our seats. We drank shots of the blood before the still beating heart was placed into my shot glass, not many people believe me when I tell them I've necked a still beating heart but the whole thing was filmed. The four snake meat dishes were delicious and tasted a little like chicken / squid, as for the heart - well it was like necking a warm oyster with blood.
The meal came to about £8 each (including drinks) and was probably one of the best meals since travelling, it was definitely the most interesting. The four of us made it back to base in one piece and went for a drink on Ma May Street; we were joined by an annoying Israeli called Yael who Nick had befriended over the last week. When Nick and Martin had first met the petite American dialectal Jewish girl they didn't realise that she would latch on to them like an unwanted parasite, now she wanted to join the four of us on our trip to Halong Bay. Later that evening we concocted a plan - we'd get up early and leave without her.
The plan worked we left pretty early and there was no sign of Yael, I felt pretty bad for her but I'd only met the girl for an hour and found her pretty annoying, the lads had to put up with her for a week.
Route five was good fun but an awful road, heavy goods vehicles swerved close to us honking their customised horns whilst other motorbikes veered precariously across the duel carriage way. After about two hours of riding Martins bike broke down, luckily we were right next to a mechanics but after a couple of hours of fettling, the bike failed to start. Martin decided to leave his bike there and ride pillion to Halong Bay; we'd pass the mechanics again in a couple of days and hopefully pick his bike up. Eventually we arrived in Halong; hungry and tired after the long journey we ate a massive chilly burger before checking into Ngoc Linh Hotel for about £3 a night, great value for a room with a balcony. The only downside of the room was the absence of hot water; we were black after the ride on the dusty roads and had to brave the cold shower before retiring to our balcony for a couple of beers.
The hotel owner helped us source a boat to Cat Ba which is the biggest member of the archipelago and home to the Cat Ba National Park. After a lot of waiting around - tourists started to board the old wooded boat, we were the last ones to board and found it extremely difficult with our three bikes. It was low tide and the steps down to the boat were pretty steep, it took six of us to get the bikes into place before we set off on the voyage. It was a hot day so we sat on the upper deck with a group of southerners and drank beer like a scene from booze Britain (but not as rowdy). After about ten minutes on the boat it was easy to see why Ha Long Bay draws people to the Northeast coast of Vietnam; the mystical scenery was amazing; thousands of limestone islands jutted out of the emerald sea and formed bizarre shapes as to invite comparisons with anything from chickens and dragons to champagne corks or General de Gaulle's nose. The boat stopped off at a huge cave which was the most impressive natural cave I've ever seen, multicoloured lights shone on the limestone rock lighting up the most interesting formations. We sailed for another hour before reaching Cat Ba where the captain demanded more money from us for the bikes, we explained to the crew that we'd already paid and from talking to other passengers we'd already paid over the odds for a meal which we didn't receive. Tempers where on the increase and tension was building; the other passengers who were of a mixed age were backing us but the captain refused to dock until we'd paid his demand. The standoff lasted for about ten to fifteen minutes before the captain docked and let the angry passengers off, as we tried to carry the bikes off the captain set off again and the gap between us and the jetty increased. The devil was now taunting me to kick one of the crew members overboard and after a lot of shouting and swearing we pulled out a couple of dollars and the plump captain took us back towards the jetty to dock. We lifted the heavy bikes back off the boat flicked swore a little more to the crew before setting off on our bikes, after about ten minutes both my bike and James's broke down because the crew had tampered with our chokes - I wanted to kill somebody. After flicking the choke into its correct position and giving the bikes a once over we soon had smiles back on our faces as we road from the north of the island to the small town in the south, the island and it's windy roads were beautiful to ride on.
6pm we checked into the Noble house for £14 per room (including sea view balcony) the only problem being there was only one room which we decided to take. The four of us dumped our stuff in the reasonably sized room and headed to the Noble House's restaurant which was outside on the front. The hotel had a quality bar and pool table which we made good use of before piling into what should have been a couple's room.
After a pancake breakfast, Martin hired his own bike and we cruised around the island in the glorious sunshine working on out t-shirt tans. The roads were the best I've ever been on, it was like a scene from a James Bond movie except instead of an Austin Martins we were riding Honda Waves, still the bikes were great fun and the scenery was out of this world. We rode through a small town and spotted a man welding, Nick had wanted his bike stand welding for some time now and within minutes the bloke had fixed it for about 50p.
We stumbled upon another cave and ventured towards it, this cave wasn't as extravagant or as big as the first cave however there wasn't a tourist in sight. We walked quite far into the caves before an iron gate stopped us going any further, we could see bats flying just above our heads and the dim light overhead lit up the floor illuminating a large spider.
Back in the town we changed hotel, this time we had a sea view two rooms with four double beds for £3 a person. In the afternoon we chartered our own boat for three hours, the four of us a deck hand and captain sailed through silent, secretive channels passing bobbing clusters of fishing boats. We eventually came to a stop near a floating fishing village, we stripped off to our swimming shorts and jumped into two sea kayaks; the captain told us to be back for 5pm so we had just over an hour to explore the archipelago.We glided through the lime scale rocks and found our own secluded beach and a remote fishing village; we just managed to make it back to our huge two story boat for 5pm and headed back to the mainland.
Back at our hotel we freshened up and headed a few metres down the road to a lively bar, we made a huge mistake and ordered four portions of Mantis Shrimp. When the plates arrived we looked at each other and started to laugh, we were starving and the 4 crustacean per portion looked unappetising and Jurassic like. I tried to finish the dish but struggled, the shrimp had hardly any meat on them and smelled funny, we piled up the heads and tails onto another plate which resembled a used ashtray and ditched the remains in a nearby bin - lesson learnt never order Mantis shrimp. When the bill arrived the owner had only charged us for the drinks and not the shrimp, we swiftly paid before making a sharp exit. Further down the road we ordered pizza, just as we'd made the order a bike pulled alongside our table; it was the chef from the last place demanding his money for the ghastly shrimps.
10.30am we checked out of our hotel, had breakfast before riding to Ang Coi situated on the West coast of Cat Ba Island, from here we'd be able to catch a ferry to Haiphong. We bought our tickets and rode onto the small ferry; the ferry had a box van on it and about ten bikes, the waves rocked our bikes so much we had to sit on them in case they tumbled over. We thought it was a direct ferry to the mainland little did we know we'd have to stop at another island and follow the speeding box van through tiny villages for twenty minutes. The van driver honked his horn for the whole journey and left a trail of dust and sand behind him reducing our visibility; still like a level from a computer game we kept up with the hasty driver and made it onto the next ferry joining about twenty other bikes.
Back on the mainland we joined highway five and located the mechanic and Martin bike, the bike fired up and Martin settled the bill (approx £20). The four of us cruised down the highway with big smiles on our faces , that was until Martins bike packed in again; me and James had to have our bikes back before five and were forced to leave Martin and Nick behind. 17.00 we were just entering Hanoi and the traffic was ridiculous, like a shoal of fish we were trapped amongst hundreds of bikes, if the pack of bikes turned you'd have no choice but to follow the flow. 17.20 We arrived back at the bike shop and the young lad who'd we'd rented the bike from was sat asleep on the busy street, he gave me back my passport and failed to notice a gash on the side of the new bike which I'd hidden with mud.
The perfect end to the day would be if Martin and Nick rode into town on two healthy bikes however that wasn't to be. The lads arrived back at Sunshine Hotel at around 20.00 with one bike, after a visit to two other mechanics the Minsk was well and truly knackered; the lads stripped the bike of parts before ditching it somewhere along highway five.
In the evening we shared a BBQ on Ma May road; we were a bike down but had survived the road trip.
After a bit of a lie we checked out of Sunshine had lunch at Gecko and headed to Ninh Binh; Lloyd, Martin and I would travel on the bus and Nick would meet us there on his bike. The two hour bus ride was reasonable comfy but the driver was crazy and played chicken with on the oncoming traffic, we sat nervously on the back seat playing cards. We arrived in Ninh Binh at around the same time as Nick and checked into the Queen Hotel which seemed friendly and clean (£6 per room), we ate a late lunch before freshening up. Ninh Binh is a dusty town straddling highway 1 and isn't particularly attractive however the surrounding hills shelter Tam Coc, where sampans slither through the limestone tunnels of what is described as 'Ha Long Bay on land'.
22.00 we decided to go out for a drink but the owner of the hotel had locked up and told us we weren't allowed to leave the building, it was like being a naughty teenager again. Our plan B was to grab a crate of beer from the hotel owner and play drinking games back in the room and have a bit of ablues session with the guitar, at about 23.30 we were all on our way but had run out of beer. We planned a covert drunken mission to grab another crate of beer from the fridge in the hotel lobby but got caught, the hotel owner counted the beers and we returned to our cell to continue the card game. Nearly every card thown resulted in someone drinking a shot, Nick necked a quadruple measure before running to the toilet to be sick, and at around about the same time the hotel owner knocked on the door beseeching us to quieten down. 2.30 We decided to call it at a night.
We ate breakfast a few metres down from Queen hotel on Hoang Tom Road (beef and onion with rice £1) before returning to Queen to hire motorbikes, however the bikes on offer didn't meet our requirements and the morose employee from the Queen stormed off in a mood so we walked around the dusty town looking for a reliable machine to rent. Nick circled Ninh Binh on his bike and eventually we got fixed up, Nick on his Minsk, James on a Yamaha Jupiter, Martin on a Honda Wave and me on a an old school Honda Wave which came complete with a granny basket. In the UK my Honda would get laughed at however in Vietnam it seems to be a popular bike used by a number of drug dealers who've approached us here.
The four of us cruised to Tam Coc and Bich Dong which is situated about 7km southwest of Ninh Binh. Here we rode around the touristy village ate lunch before off roading through a number of paddy fields, the tracks were narrow and quite hairy at times however it gave us a chance to take in the dramatic scenery and ride close to paddy workers, water buffalo and remote houses were children and dogs would run out to greet us. On our off road return journey we stumbled upon what looked to be a temple high up on a jagged rock, we parked the bikes and climbed the steep steps to watch the sunset from the peak where a religious female figurine monument stood.
The ride home was good fun but spoilt by the number of insect which seemed to be attracted to our sunburnt faces. Back at Queen Hotel we ate some food and removed the insect from our faces; Lloydy came out the worst; a fly's wing was trapped in-between his pupil and his contact lense.
Later that evening we had another card session which ended up messier than the night before.
Slightly groggy and mole eyed I rose from my pit at around 12.00. We woke the rest of the gang up and had some breakfast, the hotel owner who had been pretty moody over the last couple of days seemed to be in a much better mood - maybe because we were checking out the following morning. He helped us plan our onward journey to Hue as there were a few logistic complications with Nicks bike; it turns out that putting the bike on a train was no longer an option unless we were going direct to Ho Chi Minh so James, Martin and myself would catch an overnight sleeper bus the following evening and Nick would ride his bike down the dangerous highway 1 the following morning. Once we'd exchanged some money the four of us rode to Trang An and visited a huge temple which seemed to be bustling with Vietnamese tourist; we were the only westerners in the large complex. From a distance the temple looked impressive but once inside the compound it reassembled a building site; the whole place was under construction.
We road back on some superb roads before returning our bikes, the last two nights had caught up with us and we had to check out the following morning so we called it a night.
When we woke up Nick and his Minsk had gone, he was blasting his way down highway 1. We hired some more bikes and set off for a leisurely cruise around Ninh Binh, within ten minutes of riding Martin was struck by a cyclist knocking him off his bike, fortunately he was ok. Within twenty minutes of riding we found ourselves off road amongst paddy fields, we took a direct route towards the large rock formations in the distance cutting through small villages and fields; the scenery was good except for the large quarry site which was a bit of an eye sore. On the way back to the Queen Hotel we stopped for lunch, I realised that the key for my bike was missing but the bike was still running. Luckily the Xe May (mechanic man) was located next to the small restaurant and it turned out that you could start my bike with a number of keys. When we returned our bikes to the Queen hotel the hotel owner realised the key had been switched because the wheel lock key and saddle key were also missing, at this point I thought I was going have to pay a hefty fine but the hotel owner laughed it off like an Indiana Jones baddy.
18.30, the three of us killed a bit of time playing cards and used the internet. Nick phoned us and he had stopped 40K from Hue, he ridden 500K in a day and was exhausted, he'd finish the ride in the morning arriving at approximately the same time as us.
21.00, the luxury bus arrived and at first appearances the bus looked pretty good, however when we tried to settle into our top bunk pod we realised that whoever designed the bus had got the anthropometric data slightly wrong and made the pods to suit a small Vietnamese girl. An Australian guy told me that if you push hard with your feet the pod wall would break through giving you more room, he was right and once I broke through you could hear other unhappy punters kicking their way through the thin plastic walls. We had taken a beer on to the bus to help us sleep but Martin got his confiscated because he dropped the bottle from his bunk splashing a sleeping Vietnamese man below, the unhappy chap woke up and blamed a random foreigner next to him.
4.00, the beer on the bus was probably a bad idea. I tried to make it to the toilet in the dark. Propping myself up and relieving my bursting bladder was one of the most difficult toilet manoeuvres I've ever had to undertake, I think about 50% hit the target which wasn't too bad considering.
A tout approached us at the bus stop in Hue, dazed, disorientated, and a little confused we hopped into a taxi and headed towards the touts hotel. The Phong Nha hotel was situated amongst the hotels recommended in the Rough Guide and had WiFi, free breakfast and a friendly atmosphere; all for £3 each per night. Nick arrived in Hue at around the same time as us so Martin headed onto the main road to greet him; we all piled into the spacious room dumped our bags and headed to the 'Cafe on Thu Wheels' which is a lively bar opposite out hotel. After recuperating in our room we decided to eat back at the 'Cafe on Thru Wheels' and play cards, Alex a 26 year old Minsk rider from Summerset joined us in what turned out to be a big drinking session. Alex and his Dad were riding through Nam together; it was probably the third time we bumped into the father son combo, Alex wanted a bit of time with lads his own age and his Dad who we called 'Big Red' after his bike and matching red t-shirt had an early night. We drunk a measure of Redbull and 'malty' vodka for every card picked up; with the vodka costing a mere £1.30 per bottle the night turned into a bit of a messy one. Nick ended up locking us out of the room and then we ended up locking Martin out, Martin fell asleep in the lobby and was woken by one the hotel workers who guided the Glaswegian back to our room with a spare key.
The plan was to get up early and head for the Ho Chi Minh trail; however we were all slightly groggy and didn't get going until about 10.00. After our complimentary breakfast the hotel staff sorted us out with some semi automatic bikes and we were soon blasting our way up Highway one passing through Quang Tri, exiting the highway at Dong Ha. The road on route 9 was beautiful; we could gaze down at the river as we followed it up stream towards the Laos border next to the DMZ. Under the terms of the 1954 Geneva Accords, Vietnam was split in two along the seventeenth parallel, pending elections intended to reunite the country in 1956. The demarcation line ran along the Ben Hai River and was sealed by a strip of no man's land 5km wide on each side known as the Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ. All communist troops and supporters were supposed to regroup north in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, leaving the southern Republic of Vietnam to non-Communists and various shaded of oppositions. When the elections failed to take place, the Ben Hai River became the de facto border until 1975. It's hard to imagine that not too long ago the area we were riding through would have seen so much fire power; it took years for things to grow back on the chemical laden soil after napalm and herbicides doused the land.
We eventually turned off route 9 and onto the Ho Chi Minh highway which is a wet dream for bikers; we passed through glorious scenery from jungle occupied mountains to ethnic minority villages where the local children ran out to catch a glimpse of the four of us. All of us seemed to have close encounters when riding through these villages; animals including dogs, ducks, cows, pigs and buffalo strolled out into the road doubling our heart rate as we swerved around them. We certainly got a lot of attention, Nick and I had shaved off our beards for the ride sporting comedy moustaches and the four of us like typical Brits abroad were riding bareback. We were tempted to head off road however the risk of stepping on an unexploded ordnance is quite real as local farmers are still occasionally killed or injured in the DMZ. During the American war the trail had to contend with almost constant bombing, using napalm and defoliantsas well as conventional bombs, to be joined later by the notorious carpet bombing of the B-52's, dropping two million tonnes of bombs over an eight years period.
18.00 The last stretch back towards Hue was pretty scary; the hair pins were getting tighter and the ground was quite loose. The jungle was now alive; you could hear the hum of insects every time we stopped to regroup and the road was pitch black lit only by our bike lights; we had to squeeze past a number of slow moving quarry trucks which was a particular dangerous manoeuvre.
20.00 We arrived back at our hotel suffering from sun stroke and motion sickness but had the best days riding yet. We ate next door to the 'Cafe on Thu Wheels' then had an early night, we were all exhausted.
Our bodies couldn't take another days riding so after a lie in and breakfast we went for a walk to the Citadel. Within the citadel's walls lies the imperial city, containing administration offices, parks and dynastic temples, with the royal palaces of the Forbidden Purple City at its centre.Wars, fires, typhoons, floods and termites have all taken their toll on the Forbidden City and the buildings are still being restored.
Our next stop was the Century hotel which is a five star hotel located on the edge of the Perfume River. We packed a bag with beer and paid a £3 entry feebefore basking on the sun loungers in beautiful surroundings; to top things off there was a function taking place in the ball room so we had the whole pool to ourselves.
In the evening we ate at 'Cafe on Thu Wheels', Alex met up with us again and we played cards until the early hours of the morning. We exchanged biking stories with Alex and his father; the two of them had seen a pretty unpleasant site on highway one - a biker had been clipped by a truck and killed on the highway. Apparently blood was coming from his head and the locals had already placed joss sticks near his feet, this is believed to aid spiritual communication and serve as an offering, joss sticks also symbolise the brevity of material things. The number of registered motorcycles in Viet Nam boomed by 29%, while road deaths rose by 37% in 2001 and road injuries consume 75% of urban hospitals medical care budget.