Easy Riders! (Hoi An - Dalat - Ho Chi Minh City)
As promised more on our amazing Easy Riders tour. We want to remember every little detail so I (Charlie) have done a bit of a blow by blow daily account here. My apologies that it reads like a list. For a more rounded (and readable!) overview of our Vietnam experience, please see the previous blog.
The Easy Riders are a group of motorbikers based in Dalat city who will take you from north to south of the country on the back of their bikes showing you "real life" Vietnam along the way... It turned out to be a fascinating, educational and exhilarating 8 days.
To paraphrase the book "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance", most travelling (e.g. by car, bus, plane or train) has you looking at the countryside through the restriction of a small screen. Being on a bike lifts that screen to give you an unrestricted all around view. And being on the back means you don't even need to concentrate on the road and can relax and watch the world pass by.
Day 1: Hoi An, Pacific Hotel
"There's no rush sweetheart, they'll probably want to sit down and have a coffee, tell us about the route and give us a few pointers on how to travel on the bike, what to hold on to, what to watch out for and that sort of thing" - but not a bit of it. Our two drivers grabbed our bags, stashed them in plastic covers, tied them to the back of the bikes with strips of rubber (with skill born from years of practice), and 5 minutes later we were off. They did check we had got our passports back from the hotel reception though - I expect through experience.
My helmet logo had a tag line "Makes a fashion statement and promises a fresh and hot impression", I'd have preferred 'Promises to stop your skull making a fresh and hot impression when it hits the ground at 60kph' but maybe that would not have sold so well.
Lam, 48, ex accountant, had arrived in Hoi An the night before after finishing another 5-day tour through the central highlands. A true gentleman, he was always making sure we were comfortable on the bikes, as well as being well fed and watered.
Phuong, 31, had driven 800km from Dalat in a day and a half to get to us in time to start the trip. He had a Mekong delta of scars on his forehead which he informed us had come from a bike crash when he was 18. This was not the most confidence-building start for us, but it turned out he had grown out of his youthful exuberance and was an extremely assured and confident driver. He also liked to play the fool and have a laugh and was great fun to be around.
Their English was pretty good, and they loved using the more obscure expressions leant from other tourists - 'ticketyboo'; 'drop dead gorgeous'; 'unequivocally so' (had to have come from a British lawyer...) But there was the odd misunderstanding too, the best one being "Lavatory" for "Rubber Tree".
They both went the extra mile for us, wiping out our bowls before we ate (clearly not convinced by the hygiene standards of restaurants) going out of their way to find us interesting new sights, experiences, culture, food etc, massaging Louise's sore shoulder, treating my burnt finger with some mystical Vietnamese gel (which it transpired was no more mystical than toothpaste!), even checking our chop-sticks were even lengths before handing them to us - it was like having mothers/tour guides/body guards all rolled into one.
The 80 plus Easy Riders drivers all know each other and have done tours together over the years, and all hang out at the Easy Rider club in Dalat. It is a great job for them. Well paid, they get to ride their bikes and learn so much about their own country and about the world from tourists from many countries.
What we saw along the way:
1. Rice fields aplenty: farmers seeding, tending, harvesting, re-planting and ploughing/landscaping by dragging a heavy wooden beam behind a water buffalo or a paddle-wheeled tractor. Rice is a flexible crop - different small plots side by side were all at different stages of growth. The young rice crop, a stunning shade of light green, gave a colourful backdrop to many of our photos.
2. Rice cracker factory - roadside cottage industry with all family members involved in the process. Rice papers were drying on a giant lattice bamboo trellis, which gave them their distinctive criss-cross pattern. A couple of rats appeared to be living underneath feeding off the fallen tit bits.
3. Church of the Vietnamese-founded 'Cao Dai' religion and a very welcoming, smiley priest. Cao Dai started early in the 20th century and seems to be a great concept for a new religion. It comes from the notion that all religions basically worship the same thing so why don't we all do it together. But it is about worshiping life, rather than an all powerful overseeing deity and counts Sun Yat Sen and Victor Hugo amongst it's 3 saints. I loved the inclusiveness of it.
4. Beautiful freshly picked pineapple from the roadside, prepared for us by a girl with sweet shy smile, expertly cutting away the seeds with diagonal grooves (less waste that way). Really really juicy and tasty.
5. Tree-stump wood carving shop - where tree stumps are carved, based on the shape they already have, i.e. if there is a bit of a tiger outline in the stump, then carve out a tiger; or if there's a large round shape, then a beautiful big-bellied Buddha - talk about working with the wood. Government has heavily regulated forestation, so any tree stumps of this type of wood are $300/kg apparently (although I question a few of the numbers we were told) and carvings here go for thousands. In a country of GDP per capita of $1,000 to 2,000 these are not for the masses. I am assuming the market is the new capitalist entrepreneurs and the old government officials - and maybe the odd posh hotel. There were enough of the latter being built, I expect, to sustain the trunk carving industry a few times over.
6. Lunch on Ho Chi Minh trail, near the Laos border at a memorial to what had been a VC petrol station. Here we saw various dead animals (eagles, snakes, deers' feet) fermenting away in great jars of wine to make medicines. And funnily enough the old Chinese show 'Monkey!' was on the TV which everyone was watching and loving. We're told it is like Tom and Jerry for the Vietnamese. It was incredible how nostalgic it was to see Pigsy wielding his rake and various baddies disappearing and reappearing in puffs of smoke - I can't have seen it for twenty five years.
7. Minority village - (there are many ethnic minority tribes in Vietnam, rather than name them all it was more simple for our drivers to say 'Minority village'). Phuong chatted away to a childlike old couple, squatting next to each other on the floor of their stilted house. Their dog was suckling her pups in the corner and the roof adorned with blackened animal skulls from hunts of years gone by. This had been a nomadic hunting tribe until 14 years previously. We felt a bit uncomfortable just turning up and climbing up into someone's home, but it seems that is the nature of Vietnamese hospitality and something we experienced time and time again on this trip.
8. Local school and community centre with a huge water buffalo tethered by his nose and wandering the grounds. The buffalo is a demonstration of the wealth of the tribe. Here we learnt that kids in Vietnam only go to school for half a day, six days a week. Education isn't free and many rural families keep their children at home to work instead. This school was built by a group from Finland.
9. Roadside waterfall - apparently with a lot less water due to one of many new HEP projects. We could see from the rock formations that this waterfall used to be 10 times as big, and many of the other rivers we past showed similar signs.
10. Overnight in Kham Duc after a great last leg of the journey winding up and down beautiful mountain roads, surrounded by lush green jungle - with hardly any traffic. Round the bends, beeping away to warn the oncoming buses who were cutting the corners all the way onto our side of the road, and snapping away one-handed with the camera.
Supper was a watery stew base with tomato and pineapple in a dish on a gas-cooker on the table into which we put raw prawns, mackerel and squid - and then ate with prawn flavoured super noodles. Really delicious!
It turned out Phuong was a good chef, as the eldest child he'd spent his childhood cooking for the other kids.
Met an Australian couple on an Easy Rider tour travelling the other way and swapped hotel recommendations as you do.
Phuong decided that in our wedding photos I looked like either Wayne Rooney or Alan Shearer (I should be quite upset, but I guess we all look the same to him). The next night he went for Julian Assange - thanks mate.
This was New Years Eve and yet we were so exhausted from our first day on the bikes we were asleep by 10:30pm!
1. Cinnamon and Sandalwood trees. Here we heard about the Sandalwood 'gold rush'. The roots of a certain type of sandalwood found very deep in the jungle are apparently worth $100,000/kg - I am sure there's a few factors of ten wrong here and would go more for $1,000/kg - but Lam insisted he was right on this one.
We took the opportunity to stretch our legs here and Louise and I went for a very pleasant little walk and waited for our chauffeurs to catch us up.
2. More beautiful mountain roads, enjoying the cooler climes. At one point we rounded a blind corner to find four cows lying in the warmth of the middle of the road. If we had been a bus, there would have been an awful lot of rare beef on the menu...
A little while later 3 little boys were sitting in the road, playing or chatting oblivious to any danger! But thankfully not on a blind bend, and near enough to the roadside.
3. Large scale ramparts - being built into the hillside to prevent rainy-season landslides, evidently a huge problem here. Went for another walk on the edge of the national park which claims to hold the last of Vietnam's tigers. I doubt there are many that have escaped the pot - or more likely the wine medicine fermentation room.
4. Crossed a very rickety bridge recently rebuilt after a typhoon ripped the old one out. The tapioca crop here is still sadly inedible due to agent orange contamination of the land
5. Generally stunning riding up the jungle covered hills and in the wide river valleys - mesmerising. All the kids shouted Hellooooo! at us - recognising the distinctive blue/black easy rider jackets. Interestingly, the kids stopped shouting hello south of Dalat - not sure why.
Stopped for lunch in a very dirty fly-ridden place: rice, omelette, pork stew, fish stew, chicken - for a sum total of under 50p each
6. Stopped for a view of the Laos-Vietnam border. Lam went the wrong way here, but luckily I'd seen Louise and Phuong sneak off to the right. Lots of war memorials in this area, near Hamburger hill, so called for the horrific reason that continued bombing rendered the human remains to mincemeat.
7. Old US airbase "Phoenix" (now a tapioca farm).
8. A Vietnamese 'American War' memorial recognising the team effort - three human statues, one carrying a spear, one a gun, one a gong (representing the local hill people) and a woman with three missiles strapped to her back. It highlights the huge disparity in weapons technology between the US and the North Vietnamese. Nearby, a Chinese and Russian tank redressed the balance a little. Lam started to tell us about his father dying in the war fighting for the South and how badly this city had been bombed. He giggled and smiled as he told us, a very high pitched girlish giggle, he used this same giggle whether he was sad, embarrassed or amused - or maybe he just found everything funny. Lam was very keen we should pose for photos on the tanks, neither of us was particularly keen, but Louise kindly jumped up to keep him happy.
Very aggressive sunglasses salesman, grabbed my arm, scowled and shouted "you buy!" - I didn't. I have often thought of this guy since. Selling cheap plastic sunglasses on the streets of a non-tourist city must be a really tough way to earn your crust.
9. As we left this city Lam went in front for a while and told me he was looking for his 'Uncle'. It turned out that Lam was looking for a man he had never met. The man had been his father's best friend during the war, had been with him when he died and had marked out his resting place so that he could bring the remains back to his family in Dalat after the war. Lam had been looking for this man for three years, every time he came through this particular village on one of his tours. And this time he found him. It was really rather amazing. We were invited home, as honoured guests, met by the 72 year hunkered-over old man, who vigorously shook our hands smiling away, and his beautiful wife of a similar vintage. They gave us meat spring roles, fruit and 'medicine' wine (which could have been snake, eagle or goats penis wine for all we knew, but turned out to be ginseng - good for the back). The old guy spoke little English and us no Vietnamese, but he very much enjoyed using the few words he remembered - I assume not used for 40 years since he was fighting with the Americans: "souvenir" was a favourite; and he and Lam chatted away for a while before it was time for us to move on. Amazing to be involved in this reunion.
From there on it was fun, fast twilight driving into Kon Tum city, where Phuong amusingly ran out of petrol. By the time we'd sorted ourselves out, we had just missed the sunset from the bridge out of town.
Was a great and long day's riding (230km) and we needed a few beers to get rid of the shakes at the end of it!
Dinner was in a crowded backroom bar, where we had a small brick barbeque on the table, and cooked up and ate venison, java deer and sparrow (yes, Louise ate BBQ sparrow). They were out of porcupine that night...
Bloke at the next door table came and toasted Louise's health several times - but eventually got bored and left with his friends.
Eggs for breakfast - very runny fried eggs and pork served in a hot frying pan. The Vietnamese version of a McBreakfast, and like the McMuffin it was great going down, but the slightly nauseating eggy aftertaste stayed with me all day.
Witnessed a bit of a street fight between a young girl and an older woman. The guys reckoned it was a money lender who had asked for her money back a bit too brusquely, and these girls were really going for it. The Vietnamese are a restrained race - emotions are rarely shown, so I guess when they are, there is a lot to let out. We had also seen a big shouting match in Hoi An between two adjacent market traders, which was still going two hours later when we came back the same way.
1. Rode around the city and stopped off to see the stilted Ba Na community house, with a crisscross mesh of bamboo beams supporting a high high gable roof. The walls were adorned with not just images of the Vietnamese star and Uncle Ho, but the hammer and sickle and Uncles Lenin and Marx as well.
Met an Italian American man cycling round Vietnam on his tod. And listened to an old francophone Ba Na man play his bamboo xylophone for us - and in true tourist style we had a go as well. The Ba Na are a matriarchal society, the babies were all strapped to the front of the men not the women
2. Went round the corner to a church, built by the French, destroyed by the Americans and rebuilt by the Vietnamese and wandered around the orphanage playing with some of the younger kids, which was a little desperate and didn't feel right for some reason. I expect because we wandered in for twenty minutes and then had to wander away again, with no time to build any relationships with these kids, we felt like voyeurs.
3. A recycling shed - full of various metal objects - 90% of which was old shell cases, bullets, helmets and rolls of rusted barbed wire. The Vietnamese are big on informal recycling. Anything with any resale value, i.e. most things, is collected and resold. I saw one poor old guy crouched down in the middle of the road collecting rusty nuts and bolts, heavy traffic weaving around him - a hard, dangerous way to earn ones living indeed.
4. Dragon hill and Death Valley - where there had a been a large minefield and where many had died since the war. Phuong of course pretended to get blown up.
5. Tea plantation, with the pickers returning through the fields with their morning loads on their motorbikes.
6. Rubber plantation - raw rubber does not smell nice. The heritage of rubber in Vietnam is not nice either with the local populations co-opted to work on the plantations by the French colonials
7. Pepper tree farm - an orchard of trees growing pepper
8. Lunch was in a lovely road-side rest-stop with hammocks. Louise and a pretty 6-year old girl were fascinated by each other, and quickly made friends. Like 99% of the kids we have met in SE Asia she loved having her photo taken.
The taxi of choice in this part of the world is a bloke holding the handles of a big lawnmower, and towing a tractor trailer behind full of people - chugging along at 10kph
9.Coffee plantation - an orchard of bushes growing coffee
10. 'Messenger' memorial from the war with many many young names on it
Dinner in Buon Ma Thuot was a goat restaurant. So barbequed goat, marinated goat (barbequed) and goat curry which was all very nice indeed. It turned out that Phuong's girlfriend worked at the next stopping place, and this evening her sister joined us to eat too.
1. Sugar crystal factory, making sugar crystals from raw sugar and honey, mostly for the fizzy drinks coke/pepsi market. Men toiling in a hot warehouse, with wood fires blazing away to cook the sugar. . It was interesting to note there was not much attention to hygiene.
2. Noodle factory with two ladies working the noisy powerdery rice-noodle-making machine one lifting and pouring sacks and water into the huge bucket at the top, and then jumping down to cut the strands to the right length as they came out the bottom. The other, perched above the machine, scraping and spooning the mixture into the grinder. Strings and strings of noodles out front drying by the road.
3. Louise and I had a lovely walk through a national park. The guys dropped us off and sped away to the end of the road, so we could walk through the sunlit high trees accompanied by the distant sound of rushing water ahead.
Lam then took us to the waterfalls where the water level was again well below what the rock formations suggested - even in dry season. A few people were fishing including bloke with battery pack on his back and long stick-prongs to electrocute the fish. A dangerous way to fish indeed as easy to get the charge too close to your own unprotected feet - and I doubt entirely legal. Lots of local students were climbing right out to the edge of the falls for photo shots. Lam said there were many deaths from drowning here as not many know how to swim. Phuong said that he'd lost two cousins when one was trying to teach the other how to swim. The rest of the family had since been banned from trying.
We then rode away up dirt tracks through herds of cattle sharing the road.
4. Mushroom farm - a dark shed full of columns of plastic bags full of sawdust, tied one above the other, hanging from the roof, the caps of the mushrooms oozing through slits in the plastic.
5. Granite cutting/sculpting home.
Up to Lac Lak for the night - a popular resort not far from Dalat, particularly popular with Easy Riders, all their tours go through here so there were a few others around. Even more popular with Phuong whose girlfriend was a waitress at the restaurant.
Had a rat in the room, which Louise had surprised as it leapt from the waste bin and quick as a flash ran away under the cabinet (so fast in fact that she wasn't 100% sure it was really a rat). Lam helped us to shoo it out with a stick while Louise stood on the bed (to cut off the upwards escape route). Turned out to be a gecko - so we made friends and all went to bed and slept very well.
1. Left Lak Lac and went to the nearby very touristy minority village to see long-houses on stilts, Vietnamese pot bellied pigs, and to not go on a touristy elephant ride. The road here had been half taken over to dry tapioca, so all the traffic was sharing one side - it seemed to work.
2. Stopped on a bridge over a new HEP created lake, with a new floating fishing village. There was a basket hanging down from the bridge for passing punters to buy the fish straight from the boats below.
3. Anther rickety bamboo bridge to cross, ingeniously built into an arched tree bough.
4. Lunch with a dozen other Easy Riders tours as we were very near to their base in Dalat. This place was obviously kept in business by Easy Riders.
5. Stopped of to see curry plants. The farmer had left a tarpaulin of these plants in the middle of the road so passing motorists would help break open the husks by driving over them.
6. Coffee bean processing - a dusty, loud, vibrating machine hulling and sieve-sorting the beans
7. Silk worm / silk factory - intriguing to see how the silk is woven off many cocoons into a single thread, and then fed through the loom to become cloth. All girls in the factory, one with a young 3 year old daughter patiently sitting in a chair behind her mother, waiting for her turn for some attention.
8. Saw a cricket farm and sampled some crickets. Eating cricket was particularly apt as it was about this time that England were winning the ashes in Sydney (I managed to get Wifi every morning and night for a score update) - maybe that's why even Louise decided she could eat one too, to help me celebrate.
9. Stopped on top of a hill with beautiful views all around. Lam taught me how to make a certain plant look like a caterpillar and make it move on its own to scare my wife. So I did and it worked.
10. Day 5 ended in Dalat and our $100 per night hotel (discounted to $25 thanks to Louise's unrivalled hotel sourcing skills). The Easy Riders guys are used to backpackers only, and were very surprised by where we were staying. It didn't help my price negotiation for the next bit of our trip with them.
In Dalat, Lam would not let us pay at his wife's restaurant, and we were invited back to Phuong's house to meet his family and his kids. Had an amazing night as witnesses to a raucous family dinner complete with naughty old story-telling Uncle, young daughter kicking up a storm when it was time for bed and little brother's sweet new girlfriend. We could not understand a word of it but were very well looked after and fed. Had very nice steamed fish spring rolls, which we rolled ourselves from the whole steamed fish in the centre of the table.
Old Mrs Phuong treated Louise's sore shoulder by scratching a coin over the area, leaving three long red welts, and then rubbing in a good helping of tiger balm. The marks took several days to heal, but it did help!
Day 6 Dalat to HMC
After 2 nights in Dalat, it was great to be back on the bikes. We had asked the guys to take us inland over the highlands to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) rather than either of their usual coastal route, or by the direct busy highway. This was a good option as we had to explore a little bit and even the Easy Rider guys found a few new places.
1. Visited Dalat Buddhist monastery, on top of a hill with stunning lakeside views. A great place to find peace and inner tranquility and maybe achieve enlightenment - except for the endless, chattering, teeming tourists of course.
2. Went to a rice wine distillery - 40% proof, had a sample myself, but stopped Lam from drinking all of his, preferring him totally sober to keep out of the way of the oncoming buses.
3. Chicken village with the giant statue of 9-spurred cockerel - we were told about the associated legend (incidentally, c*** fighting is still quite popular in Vietnam)
4. A Buddhist nunnery - also in the business of making joss sticks. Old Nun asked me my religion and encouraged me to have vegetarian days now and then, and like a good sustainability consultant, I will.
5. Lunch upstairs in a café next to a table of forest rangers getting drunk and swapping stories on how to make the most money from corruption
6. Tea retail outlet, with a girl showing us how to make the perfect cup of Oolong green tea. I had to buy some.
7. Another waterfall - but this one had been surrounded by a huge sprawling fairground-ride theme park. Luckily it was all closed for pre-TET (Vietnamese new year) holiday maintenance so we had the place to ourselves.
Dinner in Boa Loc was baked rice in hot stone pots with a delicious coffee at the next door cafe.
Back at the hotel room was the most challenging mosquito net mounting that we'd had so far, very few places to tie to meant I had to create a three pronged pulley system to keep the net up and the Mrs bite-free. Obviously this was the highlight of the day for me.
Told Phuong one of my favourite dirty jokes on the way home and have never seen someone laugh so much. He said that he didn't sleep well because he kept thinking of it and laughing again, and was still tittering the next morning. It would have been very ironic if his lack of sleep and distracted attention had led to a prang. My wife could have really become the butt of one of my jokes she loves so much!
1. Tea drying/sorting factory - all done by hand, various people sieving different sizes of leaf into different piles on the floor. And then scooping these up into bags to become different quality of tea - complete I am sure with a bit of sawdust and, who knows, maybe some rat poo for extra flavour and nutrients. It turns out that the dregs are sent off to be made into Lipton tea...
2. Bamboo basket weavers, two old ladies weaving away, getting through a basket in no time at all. It was amazing - and sad - to see the routine skill and speed of the ten thousandth repetition of the same basket.
Stopped off for some very yummy freshly pressed sugar-cane juice, and a quick lie down in a hammock at the side of the road.
3. Another joss stick factory - this one on a much larger scale. Phuong who had never been there before wandered in and started showing us around as the guys worked away. That seems to be the way it is.
4. Phuong and Lam walked into another random house - we followed - to see cocoa being harvested and passion fruit trees, the owners seemed not at all bothered by our presence there, not particularly interested in us either, but happy to give us a little sample of the raw cocoa plant - which tasted almost, but not quite, entirely unlike chocolate.
They had planted lemon grass to keep the snakes away (a good tip for those ophiophobics amongst us)
5. A long hammock rest from the hot dusty road, opposite another rubber plantation of perfectly straight rows and rows of trees
6. Wooden roof-tile factory with an old truck engine powering a lathe to shave layers of wood from logs. The operator had his bare foot on the back of the blade to control the thickness - rather him than me.
The rest of the day was about an hour on a very dirty road, being rebuilt, and in various stages of disrepair. Ended up with eyes, nose and ears clogged thick with red dust. I think we now know why so many people wear face masks when on their bikes. The shower back at the hotel had never been more welcoming.
Our last evening meal together was crispy pancake rolls from a street vendor, followed by a pavement fruit juice bar.
Pho for breakfast (noodle soup with beef)
A Swiss girl traveling on her own joined us for breakfast with her Easy Rider and for the first few visits of the day.
1. Went to a cashew nut factory - and now know why they are a pricey nut. Each cashew fruit has only one cashew nut, which then has two layers of shell to take off. The girls in this factory were very much enjoying the diversion we created -one whipping out her camera-phone to take photos of us! Louise and our Swiss friend had a go at shelling, placing the nut carefully in the vice and using the foot pedals to crush and shell the nut. Phuong was teasing me as one particular girl was apparently very interested in me, but only because of the hairy beard and chest - somewhat of a coveted novelty out here.
As in some other places, there were a few kids working here with their Mums, which on one level seemed very wrong, but on another, they are with a parent helping the community and their families, and are working half a day and getting an education with the other half. It will be nice when there is no child labour left in the world, but this is far from the worst of it - it seemed more analogous with the after school paper round than the child labour sweat shop.
As usual nothing is wasted, for example the cashew nut oil is used for waterproofing ships.
2. A blown up bridge from the Southern army's 1975 retreat after the American withdrawal from Vietnam. The idea had been to slow the advancing North Vietnamese and give time to reinforce Saigon. In the event Ho Chi Minh outflanked the south, through Cambodia so it meant little. But the ruined bridge had been kept next to the smart new one as a memorial.
3. Factory turning raw rubber into latex, using sulphuric acid. Phuong assumed the run off was allowed to seep into the water system, but it seemed to be going into some sort of sump, and I hope will have been collected and processed somehow. Otherwise I'll be on to Messieurs Dunlop, Bridgestone and Michelin.
4. Stopped for a pineapple snack in a tiny home on stilts over a little stream. We effectively sat in their living room, which was most of their living space, and ate our pineapples.
5. Cu chi tunnels - a network of VC tunnels 40km west of Saigon. We have been conditioned (perhaps partly by those Hollywood films) to sympathise with the Americans, innocent kids picked out of school/college and sent to fight a war in a country they'd never heard of, in jungle territory against a cunning and vicious enemy. But of course the other point of view is very much sold here. America dropping bombs from afar on innocent women and children, invading a land they don't belong to, bullying with their superior weapons. The Cu Chi people responded as they could with rudimentary but ingenious traps, a few of which we saw, and a series of tunnels that the bigger American soldiers didn't have a chance of fitting down. The propaganda film made after the war profiled VC fighters as "American-killer Heros"; and shared the ethos of "'A rifle in one hand and a plough in the other, we will fight in the morning, and farm at night".
We were offered the chance to crawl down a tunnel, which had been widened from 50cm wide and 60cm high to 60cm by 80cm to allow us tourists to squeeze our burger-king butts through. I quite enjoyed the 100m journey almost on hands and knees.
Met a couple from Holland and Germany riding through Vietnam on their own mopeds. They had recently spent a night in jail because of accidentally going on a military only road, but said their captors had been hugely polite and accommodating, and wanted to make sure this experience didn't ruin their good view of Vietnam. They were handed over to the police and negotiated a medium level fine.
6. The final trip was from Cu Chi into Ho Chi Minh city. competing hard for road space with thousands and thousands of other motorbike road users. Absolutely mad, and already covered in the previous blog.
Thanks for getting this far, and we'd love to hear from you. News from friends and family is so much more precious when you are far away!