Day 18 – Nimh Binh to Ha Noi – 100KM

3 05 2012

Morning was a rather relaxed affair. Our new menage a trois indulged in the predictable beef based soupy goodness, although the latest entrant elected for a huge dish of fried rice…charlatan that she is ! Breakfast was swiftly followed by an excellent Ca Phe Se Da where we discussed the days plan of attack. Today was the final day, and it felt strange to be thinking about return flight arrangements and work.

In recognition of the huge influence that Ho Chi Minh had stamped on Vietnam, it was only fitting that we try to visit Uncle Ho’s final resting place in Ha Noi. Unluckily for us it was currently the hot season in the north, so opening times to Uncle Ho’s mausoleum were limited to 0700-1000. This is in order to preserve humidity for his body which is embalmed and on display in there. There was no way that we could reach it in time, especially as we were taking coffee at 9am ! So a “leisurely ride” to Ha Noi was in order. As we mounted the bikes one of the guys on the hotel came over to me, then pulled the hairs on my arms. A rather odd thing to do, but he just seemed to be fascinated with them !

We had loaded the motorbikes a little smarter today, and Rat Bike seemed better for it. Cruising through the busy traffic of Nimh Binh, we were soon back on the highway. I wanted to take the Ho Chi MInh Road for nostalgia’s sake, but it lay far away. The road was excellent in parts and would then disintegrate into gravel and sand. The gravel and sand itself didn’t present much of a problem, but when combined with the two lanes of oncoming traffic (on the two lane highway) it made the journey difficult, and at times terrifying.

We stopped about 30KM outside of Ha Noi for a water break. The vendor asked why we were travelling at the hottest time of the day ? I thought that his question was accurate, especially as the temperature was approaching 40c. I was riding without a jacket and could feel my arms burning. Perhaps not the wisest of choices. Continuing north we soon reached the outskirts of Ha Noi, and it’s legendary traffic. Now a familiar recipe, bikes, cars, trucks and buses all vying for the same few feet of road. I tried to take it in my stride, like the veteran that I am…but there were even times when I thought ‘Shiiiiiiiiit that was close‘. I heard an occasional squeal from behind me too, especially when we slide down a 1m gap in between two buses !

Toan was waiting for his ‘Brother without a mother‘ to come and join us. They had worked together years before, and Toan had help him gain a trade as a Stone Mason. We waited at a roadside drinks vendor, and I plied myself with sweet cold tea and sunflower seeds. Sylvie said that I was eating bird food !

First stop on the journey was the temple in the centre of Ha Noi. The scent of tourism hung heavily in the air and it was quite odd to see some many Westerners after being in deepest darkest Vietnam. The temple had a beautiful bridge which looked glorious in the afternoon sun. There was an American woman playing a Ukulele on the bridge for some bizarre reason. Don’t know if she was famous, but people were taking her picture ?

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The whistle stop tour of Ha Noi didn’t stop there, and cruising past the Ha Noi Flag Tower we eventually reached Uncle Ho’s house. I had never seen so many Police in Vietnam. Striding around, next to the Special Guard dressed in their white ‘Number One’s’ who were motionlessly guarding Uncle Ho’s house. Leagues of red flags displaying the Vietnam Star and the Hammer & Sickle thronged the lines towards the mausoleum.

This represented the end of the road to me, and it was a special moment. We had travelled around 2400KM in 16 days on motorcycles that should have been turned into Coke cans a long time ago. Yet they had conveyed us through desert, thunderstorms, mountains and perilously dangerous roads. These little beasts had performed well. Rat Bike – I salute you.

Anyways, back to Uncle Ho. Please forgive the pictures, as the sun was really in the worst place possible.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

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This seemed like a fitting spot for the gratuitous group shot. I prepared the Vietnam flag that we had purchased a few days before, and got Toan’s friend to take the picture. He may be an excellent stone mason, but he is a lousy photographer !

The worst photo ever

The worst photo ever

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A Police Officer came confidently striding over to us, and quietly told Toan that we couldn’t display any flags or banners near the tomb. Another brush with the law in as many days, although I suspect that this one could have been more serious. Luckily he was quite chilled and saw what we were doing, and not making any offensive gestures. I was really hacked off that the moment had been ruined, and we couldn’t repeat it. So I made do with a shot with Toan.

Me & Toan in Ha Noi

Me & Toan in Ha Noi

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After another late lunch, we made out way to the Ho Chi MInh Museum. Lady time was not on our side today, and we arrived too late. So a slow walk around the museum, and the adjoining temple was pleasant in the cooling afternoon air.

Some nice flags

Some nice flags

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Ho Chi Minh Museum

Ho Chi Minh Museum

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Sylvie commented that I have an ‘ze obsession with taking pictures of ze flags‘. Perhaps she is right, but they looked wonderful ! Whilst we were walking past another Buddhist temple, we could hear music coming from inside. Toan said that the Buddhists were having a funeral, and if we looked we would see people with white bandanas, with the deceased persons name written on them.

Feeling like disrespectful intruders, Sylvie and me ventured into the temple. It was an explosion of colour and smells. Bunting and flags everywhere, and a huge tree with the same image of the deceased adorning it. No one was crying, people were smiling and seemed happy. It struck me about the huge difference between a western funeral compared with this wonderful occasion. What more of a fitting tribute could you have to the end of someones life ? I have decided that this is how I want my funeral to be. No black, no church…just colour and fun. People didn’t seem to mind us being there either. It was beautiful.

I had deliberately chosen a hotel close to the airport in order to minimize trouble. What I didn’t realize was that the hotel was 35KM away from Ha Noi City Centre, and it was now rush hour. With stares from the Police Officers, we rode off into the madness.

Madness is probably too small a word to describe the traffic. It was a sea of people and wheels, all noisily moving around. Imagine how red blood cells move within your blood stream, gliding along next to each other in unison. Passing the huge lake in the centre of Ha Noi we watched the sun falling into the sky. People were paddling huge swan shaped pedaloes around the lake, the white of their bodies painted orange by the setting sun. Not that I could admire the view for too long, otherwise I risked death ! We made our way towards Noi Bah along with 75000 other people, but had to stop to take a picture of the setting sun against the bridge. At the risk of repeating myself, it was beautiful. Obviously we were not the only people who thought so, and others were stopping to do the same.

Sunset on Ha Noi Bridge

Sunset on Ha Noi Bridge

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The bridge was to be the next part of our road trip. I am really glad that Sylvie took pictures and video of the complete madness, because it’s actually difficult to describe. The cars and trucks have a normal road, and the bikes have a path approximately 2m in width. This wouldn’t be a problem was it not for the sheer number of bikes, including the one in front of me carrying a wardrobe. If I thought that the bridge was bad…the end of the bridge was hell. I simply burst out laughing at the wall of people ahead of me. I tend to do that when I am nervous. Imagine being in a football (soccer) match, and then trying to ride a motorbike through the crowds. Factor in a poor road surface too, and market stalls on the road…it was interesting ! We got through onto the highway intact, and the going was good. Toan nearly ‘came a cropper’ when a silly person riding a scooter on the wrong side of the road with their headlights on full decided that they wouldn’t move. I heard the squeal of tyres, and seen his bike lurch to the right. Sylvie screamed and I expected the worst. Amazingly there was no crash, and the lady just sailed on by as if nothing had happened.

Toan wasn’t sure where the hotel was, so we stopped many times for directions. The locals seemed to be excellent in sending us in different directions. In fact we stopped at a bus stop, and I saw each one of the locals point in different directions. It was completely Python-esque. This was repeated several times, nd we even rode down a back alley. I said to Sylvie “I will be so happy if we survive this”  and I wasn’t joking.

The Airport Hotel AVI was on the same street that we had passed several times before. It was set back therefore obscured from our view.

Never had I seen a more welcoming sight.

2500KM - time to rest

2500KM - time to rest

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So, Toan on his Bonus 125 and me with my Rat Bike “125” had completed the mammoth tour of just under 2500KM. However I was too tired and in need for a shower to celebrate. I would describe myself as smelling like the contents of a farmyard, and probably looking like them too. Unpleasant for all concerned ! Toan gave me a high 5…it was a fitting tribute. Toan and the ‘Brother without a Mother’ disappeared off for me bit, which gave me a chance to turn the A/C to maximum Arctic and rest. I decided that I would love the celebrations until later. The hotel was really nice, with comfortable beds and most importantly it was clean. Mr Vi who is the hotel manager was warm and accomodating and made us feel most welcome. I said my goodbyes to Toan, and wrote something appropriately sarcastic in his note book. I’ll miss him !

Sylvie was hanging with me until tomorrow, so we explored the area surrounding the hotel. It was a small town and at nearly 10pm most places were shut. We found a scabby looking Pho joint and ate, well you know what we ate. Sinking a couple of Ha Noi beers, I felt elated but exhausted.

Sleep was not going to be a problem tonight…

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One response

29 05 2012
katei

Hi, Avi Airport Hotel is the best you will find near Hanoi INternational. Having said that it is a “one star” hotel. So do not expect the Novotel. What you will get is friendly staff (limited English), an interesting and friendly surrounding “village”, a great restaurant experience about 1.5kms up the street and a smooth and faultless departure for the airport the next day. We had been travelling in SE Asia for 8 months – the hotel held no surprises.

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