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Week Four Chapter - 24 ~ 30 Sep 2007 - Vietnam

Starting Location for This Week: Hanoi, Vietnam (Asian Continent)
Ending Location for This Week: Mai Chau, Vietnam (Asian Continent)
Planned Mileage for this Week: 610 miles (982 kilometers)

Welcome to Week Four of The IndoChina Expedition

Stuck at the Vietnam to Laos border - that is what we are right now as I write this journal chapter of our 4th week on the road. In other words, finally some time to edit pictures and write a little story for all of you.  This week has been incredibly rich in experiences.  How about a bear attack, mud up to our knees, incredible nature and colorful Hill Tribe people.  I am sure Chris will write a story about his encounter with a Malay Sun Bear that gave him a cut next to his eye, and 3 stitches at a local clinic.  It all happened in the Northwestern part of Vietnam, Dien Bien Phu, only 35 kilometers from the Laotian border.  This was also where we had a terrible time finding a usable track out of town.  Heavy rain had made road construction in to a long muddy road that we did pretty well with, but once again, it was our chase vehicle that had problems climbing the muddy hills.  Despite all the hardship and trauma that day, we had a lot of fun and felt that we lived up to the "Expedition" part of this journey.

We had been told that it would be cold when we came to Sapa. I could hardly wait.  But it was a long day's ride from Hanoi and it was only in the last 25 kilometers before town that we finally started to climb up the mountain.  With the altitude, the temperature went down enough to feel a great relief from the previous hot and humid days.  Our two night's stay in Sapa was a complete change in phase from the earlier days of this journey.  Not much was going on in the town of Sapa, and visiting the different Hill Tribe people the following day was very relaxing and fun.  Well, it did rain most of the day, but that is just what it does in this part of the world.

After leaving Hanoi, traveling north, we rode trough different Hill Tribe villages. They are all different in the distinctive clothing that the people wear.  In Sapa, we learned how good the locals are at selling stuff to us tourists.  We had a lot of fun with this and at the end of the day we had some souvenirs that we really did not need, but Christmas will be here soon enough and these will be great gifts for, friends and family.

Usually, I am pretty good at fending off salespeople, and tend to loose interest if they are really aggressive. Well, there are exemptions to all rules. . . . .

We had been on the road for a good part of the day when we saw some colorfully dressed women walking along the road ahead.  As soon as we were discovered, all tree of them turned and started to motion that we should stop. Chris was behind me, so I was attacked first. It did not take long before one of the girls had helped me off with my helmet, then placed a colorful hat on my head, and tossed a jacket over my back.  It was all so funny that I just went with the flow of the event.  She talked up a storm in her own language, one that sounded very different from everything that I had heard earlier.  I could understand that she was repeating something over and over again.  Then her fingers went up in the air, indicating that a price was to be established for the clothing that she had put on me.  As soon as I looked at her fingers, my mistake, indicating that I was interested, she went from 3 fingers to 5 fingers, which I assumed to be 50,000 Dong ($3.00 US). As her fingers were right up in my face, I took her thumb and bent it down - very little resistance for this move.  She is talking up a storm as all of this is happening.  Next I start to bend down one more finger and feel a greater resistance, but not impossible.  I am down to 30,000 Dong ($2.00 US).  She has now picked her voice up to a high-pitched, almost screaming chant ,as I make an attempt to bend down one more finger, but this one is stiff as a stick, and I realize that the bargaining is over.

I have not had so much fun in a long time. She got her money, we had fun and as we are riding away she comes running after us waiving something in the air.  I stop to see what she got, and once again, there she is, trying to sell me some earrings.  Time to hit the gas and wave a final goodbye.

As our fourth week and final day here in Vietnam comes to a close, I am sad to go, but at the same time, happy to know that I will be back next year.  We have met so many nice people and seen so many incredible sights, so much that it is almost a little overwhelming to be able to take it all in.

If you are planning to travel with us next year on the GlobeRiders IndoChina Expedition 2008, you are in for a real treat here in Vietnam.  Please do not get scared by the muddy pictures that you see in this week’s gallery.  We will be taking a different route next year, where other adventures will be waiting.

Thanks for tuning in and we will see you soon with more material from the road in IndoChina.


Helge Pedersen

No Vacation

We're almost finished with Vietnam, are and currently stuck at the border to Laos, waiting for our visas to arrive from Hanoi. Even though we weren’t planning on staying an extra day in this small frontier village we nonetheless find ourselves obligated to do so, and make the best of it.  This is one of those ‘unplanned’ experiences that happens on an expedition like this – another kink to be worked through so that the trip next year with real GlobeRiders customers goes smoothly.

Our passage through the mountains of northern Vietnam began the day we left the crowded streets of Hanoi and headed up towards the village of Sapa.  It was a long day of riding made even longer by our slow progress as a film team, so we arrived at the hotel late at night.  We knew we were high up in the mountains in a beautiful location, but couldn’t be sure of anything since it was so dark.

In the morning, I woke up expecting to see a spectacular vista of lush green hills from my hotel balcony, but the weather had changed and we were socked in by rain and fog.  Not an ideal day for exploring the countryside on foot, but that was the plan and so we left the comforts of the hotel and headed out onto the muddy trails.

Even though it was raining, we made the best of it and had a great day of hiking through the terraced rice fields on muddy trails through farmlands and small villages.  The locals were ready for us with a bombardment of souvenir textiles for purchase, and a small posse of girls followed us everywhere we went that day, refusing to give up until we at last made a purchase from one of them, or several.

I was surprised to learn that here are more than 50 different ethnic minorities in Vietnam. Many of them live in the central highlands or the mountains in which we found ourselves traveling here in the north.  They are often referred to as the ‘Hill Tribes’.  It's not hard to tell who is who because they all wear very distinctive clothing and I imagine it wouldn’t take long to learn which type of clothing distinguishes one tribe from the next.  When we were traveling further south in Vietnam, it was common to see young women wearing the ao dai, the traditional long white gown that women wear.   Up here in the northern mountains I, don’t think that I have seen even one woman wearing an ao dai.  But what they do wear is perhaps even more spectacular in other ways.

The worst stretch of road so far was a section under construction from Dien Bien Phu to Son La. We tried to get out of town three times before we found a stretch that was passable for the Mercedes Sprinter that we are using as a chase vehicle. Even then, the road conditions were unimaginable and we only made 50k in 6 hours. Another long hard day brought us to our hotel way past the setting sun.  Fortunately, the next day's ride was much easier and we had enough time to shoot a couple of segments on the road – one on a gentlemen who raises silk worms and another on one of the many families who raise corn and dry it by the side of the road.

When I look around here in northern Vietnam I see people who are hard working and adaptive to the changing circumstances of the environment.  It looks like they are good at doing several things and I suppose they would have to be in order to make it. One cant be too much of a specialist here, that’s for the city folk.  Out here in the highlands the skills that one could learn include raising crops, tending to livestock, fixing machinery and motorcycles, loading and hauling goods, buying and selling things as a vendor on the roadside, and on and on.  There is no shortage of hard work to be done in this frontier environment and a person has to show adaptability and practicality in order to survive.


Sterling Noren

Hello There,

Our week started out in Hanoi, where Sterling and I took a city tour. We stopped at Hoan Kiem Lake and took some photos of Hue Bridge. We visited a few Pagodas and Temples and finished up after lunch with a tour of the Museum of Ethnology. We passed on a visit to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. Of course we had to check out the advertised "coldest beer in Hanoi" next to our hotel in the Old Market. Mighty tasty draft Tiger Beer, and yes it was cold, very cold.

We arose early the next day for a ride north to Sapa. Sapa is right on the border with China. It is in the mountains and the scenery is stunning. It was raining the next day, but that doesn't stop us. We rode out to a Hmong village. We parked the bikes and took a 4km hike to a Black Thai village. It rained the whole time and we were in our motorcycle boots, a bit slippery but not bad. We got some great video/photos of the local villagers and the mountains.

From Sapa we rode to Dien Bien Phu. This was my favorite ride of the trip so far. It was still raining (36 hours and counting) when we left, but it cleared up after a couple hours. The road was good and the scenery was just spectacular, beautiful green mountains, deep valleys and the terraced rice fields. Needless to say we took lots of photos/video.

We arrived late into Dien Bien Phu and our hotel had been taken over by the communists, so we stayed at a resort outside of town. I guess things hadn't been exciting enough for me at the resort - there was a cage with 2 Malaysian Sun Bears in it next to the restaurant where we ate. I went over to take a look and as I was standing there at what I thought was a safe distance one of the bears reached out through the bars of the cage and snatched my eyeglasses. I couldn't believe it and yelled at him to give me my glasses back as he was chewing on them. I then tasted blood and realized I had been cut by a claw. After a quick trip to the local hospital and 3 stitches later, we had lunch and head out on our bikes for Son La. This would turn out to be a very trying day. Yes it is raining and it takes us 3 tries at different roads to get out of town. Helge and I weren't having too much trouble with the slippery mud but our chase vehicle could not find traction. With the help of some locals we find a secret sealed road and finally are moving. It ends up taking us 12 hours to go about 120 miles. There was road construction most of the way and lots of mud. The poor chase vehicle had to be towed out of a mud hole by a backhoe that was working nearby. We got into Son La late, very late.

We had a nice ride the next day to Mai Chau and stayed with a local family at their stilt house. It cost 4 dollars a night and we stayed there 2 nights. That was to be our last night in Vietnam, but. We ride to the Vietnam/Laos border arriving around 11am. Our guides had assured us we could get our Laotian Visas at the border, but that was not the case. We had processed out of Vietnam and now couldn't get into Laos. We are stuck at the frontier. After a quick conference we send an agent with our passports to Hanoi to get the required visas. Hanoi is 300km (a 7 hour drive) from the border. It is Sunday afternoon and they will have to leave right away so they can be at the embassy at 8am when it opens.

They got our visas this morning and we our waiting at the Na Meo border for them. We will head for Laos and more adventures as soon as they arrive.

Ciao for Now,

Chris Poland

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