Day 16 – Vinh to Thanh Hoa – 240KM

30 04 2012

Toan’s and my night in the Asean Hotel in Vinh was without incident. The room although small was fine, and quite cheap at VND300000 per night. However there is a definite quality difference between hotels in South Vietnam and the North. The hotels in the north seem much poorer quality, looking tired and in need of renovation. There seems to be a difference in the people too. They aren’t as friendly towards me, and I hear “Tay Ba Lo” (Foreign Back Packer) much more frequently here.

Vinh is a major city in the north east of Vietnam. It is the closest city to the birthplace of Ho Chi Minh. Unsurprisingly most of the day’s activities were dedicated to Uncle Ho. In the centre of Vinh is a 20m statue of Uncle Ho, and the first stop on the tour. It is surrounded by manicured lawns, pristine pavements and lots of red flags. The first thing that I noticed are the rousing Vietnam songs played by multiple loudspeakers over the area. Approaching Uncle Ho, a young Army Guard approached me and asked where I was from (Vietnam Standard Question Number 2). Then he said “NO” as I approached the statue, and moved me on ! At least he didn’t add Tay Ba Lo to the sentence. I think it’s because tomorrow is Independence Day here in Vietnam, and statue had probably been secured.

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After a rather tasty Bun Bo Ha Noi, we rode north towards the tomb of Ho Chi Minh’s mother (Loan). It was a relatively short journey to the site, which was bustling with Vietnamese tourists paying their respects to Ho Chi Minh’s mother. Toan seems to have a fascination with making me lose weight through exercise. So pressing a pack of incense onto my and arming me with a lighter he said “Go and light incense for me, give thanks for Ho Chi Minh and what he has done for Vietnam”. Climbing the all too familiar steps now in the heat, my old friend perspiration said hello. I looked a mess, even more so than usual.

Reaching the top of the plateau, Loan’s mausoleum was huge.  Devoted crowds were gathered around, all lighting incense to pay their respects. I felt very out of place and this was exacerbated by the stony stares delivered to me by the faithful. One older lady was faithfully praying, reading a huge prayer from a book. Her devotion fascinated me and I watched her for several minutes.

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I lit the incense as Toan requested. This produced even greater stares from the faithful. ‘Why is this Tay Ba Lo lighting incense?’. Nevertheless, I did and hopefully made Toan proud.

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Next stop was Sen Village, birthplace of Ho Chi Minh. It was a very small place, with the bamboo hut showing how him and his family would have lived. I bought the tackiest Ho Chi Minh gift that I could find, along with a T-Shirt. However It did provide the first opportunity for me and Toan to get our picture taken together though.

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We had a very long ride ahead of us to Thanh Hoa, which was going to be our overnight stop. We rejoined the now familiar Ho Chi Minh Road and pushed east wards. The road was excellent and quiet, so it allowed us to really make progress. We averaged 90KPH and it was amazing just blasting through the green tea plantations, over taking the slower traffic such as buffalo pulling trailers or ploughs. I felt alive, I felt energetic, I felt free. Yes it may seem like a cliche but riding today made me feel like I did not have a care in the world. Rat Bike had some open heart surgery yesterday on it’s carbs. The difference today was amazing. It purred like a kitten,

Whilst on the Ho Chi Minh Road we can across orange growers selling their wares. We stopped to purchase some oranges and share some ‘monk biscuits’ with the kids.

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However I did muse upon something. Something that has been itching and tickling me since I arrived in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is a demi God in Vietnam. He is everywhere. For most of the journey we have ridden on the Ho Chi MInh Road. The road has taken us into bustling cities, high into the mountains and today into arrid almost desert like areas. He is like the friendly Big Brother always looking down on you, trying to bestow his knowledge onto you. It’s not difficult to see why. Ho Chi Minh came from a very humble background. His major philosophy was that the Vietnamese should study to make their country great. This to me seems like a fine desire. During this past trip I have ridden all over Vietnam. I see a country that is still early in the throws of major development, but a country that is still strong. Like any developing nation they have their growing pains, but don’t we all ? Ho Chi Minh and his teachings have unified all aspects of Vietnam, enforcing a national identity and pride. If you have read my blog ‘A Sense Of Pride’ you will see that I have talked about this before. It’s something that I feel Brit’s lack.

The other thing that I have noticed is Ho Chi Minh’s words everywhere. Generally in red and on the roadside. The propaganda posters always show two things. A small picture of Ho Chi MInh in the elevated corner. Also a member of the Army or Navy, the ubiquitous AK47 assault rifle in the background. Just a reminder about who is in charge.

In conclusion, I feel that the heart of Vietnam is in the country. The Viet Cong recognise this and place banners and posters everywhere in the country. The farmers who toil every day to provide for their family. The small shop repairing motorcycles (Rua Xe Om) giving people mobility and freedom. These are what makes this country proud.

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Cue the cheesy picture…

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