Styled in the form of a montage of events and photos of the travels thus far, I have decided it necessary to briefly recount the previous 8 months of my travels. Much like the “Previously on:” montage employed by certain TV series (think Heroes, or Supernatural). So, let’s see how it goes.Previously: I graduated uni in June 2010. B. of Science (Biological Science). Useful huh. To celebrate, I went to New Zealand for a 18 day snowboarding trip.
After a brief return to Australia to swap the snowboard bag for the backpack, I left for Kuala Lumpur, in the company of a good mate, Matt, who was heading to Spain for a teaching job. After 2 consecutive overnight trains, I was in Bangkok, and parted ways with Dave, another mate I met up with in KL. After an admitted excess of eating and drinking over the weekend, to celebrate my birthday (courtesy of an old friend from my Thailand teaching days in ’06), I pushed on through Thailand to Cambodia. My goal: Saigon, Vietnam.
Sihanoukville saw me continually forget to apply sunscreen. Kampot was quiet, with apparently world-quality pepper, but allowed an opportunity to explore the Bokor Hill Station (definately worth exploring if you get the chance). Unfortunately, Bokor also delivered a heavy blow to my camera gear, after a misplaced step ended with both film and digital landing in almost 2 inches of dirty mossy water. In hindsight, the heavy winds at the Mui Ne sand dunes weren’t overly helpful either.
After that unfortunate event, it was through Phnom Penh, then along an alternate border crossing into the Mekong, recommended by a British fellow I met leaving Sihanoukville. He spoke of a short bus trip, followed relaxing boat ride down the river to the Vietnamese border, and onward to Chau Doc.
The reality was a short-ish bus ride (despite a late start, thanks to the night before) ending in a departure from the bus as the only white person in site at the “port”, then an assurance that no more boats were running that late in the day (It was lunch time). Solution? A 60 minute moto taxi to the border, through dirt roads under HEAVY construction, past villages and villagers that made it obvious I wasn’t taking the same path as the other tourists who planned this route (and no doubt succeeded in taking the boat). After stamping through the border, I found out that apparently, no busses ran from there to Chau Doc, especially at 4pm. Another 45 minute moto taxi saw my arrival at a seedy looking hotel. Sure, it wasn’t the relaxing boat ride I was expecting, but when you are riding on the back of a little scooter along horrible dirt roads in a remote corner of Cambodia, with your backpack balanced between the drivers legs, it’s actually damn fun.
After a brief stint through the Mekong, I had arrived in Ho Chi Minh City. It was time for my big plan to start. The one I was looking forward most to. The one which my father and brother were both quick to dismiss as foolish, or a deathwish, or… well, basically, they weren’t overly supportive, or confident in my abilities.
I bought a motorbike. A beautiful motorbike. A CHEAP motorbike. A Minsk, 125, single piston. Matt black. Built in Belarus. Nothing like a communist bike, to ride through a communist country (Never mind the climate difference. Yes, she did overheat)
No speedo, no tacko, no fuel gauge (pfft),
No blinkers (Noone uses them anyway, I was assured)
No horn. This one worried me.
The kickstart had snapped off, and been welded back on.
The headlight was good for about 10 metres.
I named her Svetlana. She was my baby. She smoked and drank like a Russian, that much was true. She was temperamental, she took a lot to get started, she was oily. The truth is, I have never before, and never since, felt as free as I did when I was on top of her.
Svetlana and I rode through Vietnam, from HCMC to Hanoi, over the period of about 3 weeks. The most amazing ride, for me, was heading from Buon Ma Thout to Nha Trang. There was a solid 40km section of windy mountain descent, full of beautifully smooth roads, no traffic, and amazing corners, along with a beautiful view. It was so good, I rode back up there two days later. Yes, she had a handful of mechanical issues during our time together. The electric box died, but I had a spare. During one of the storms I rode through, water got through her air filter to the carby, and fouled the petrol. She overheated a few times. She “ran out” of petrol. Well, she didn’t “Run Out”, she just started to run low, but in the central highlands, the hills pushed the petrol to the front/back of the tank… away from the petrol hose, so that litre of petrol still remaining didn’t matter. She didn’t run empty though. I’m not that careless.
For anyone wondering, I bought her from a man named Kevin Raven, who has a bit of a business selling bikes to people like me, and he operates out of HCMC. I personally had a great experience dealing with him, and he was extremely helpful. He was in touch a few times to see how the trip was going and everything. Unfortunately, I can’t find his contact details anymore, so I can’t pass them on. But if you are curious about doing a similar trip, stay away from Hwy 1. Get into the hills, past Dalat, along the Ho Chi Minh Highway. Seriously the most amazing roads to ride. Hwy 1 has nothing on them. Except the Hai Van Pass. I will accept you riding Hoi An to Hue for the Hai Van Pass.
Unfortunately, I recognised that my relationship with Svet was purely a holiday romance. I had fantasized about shipping her back to Australia, and having a life together, but I realised it was foolish. So, after leaving it too late to sell her on for a reasonable price, I left her with an orphanage on the outskirts of Hanoi. I hope she was looked after.
After Hanoi (And a brief sortie to Halong Bay, following the surprise arrival of my father in Hanoi), I flew to BKK, then was straight on an overnight train to Malaysia. After a plate of Pad Ka Pow. I love Pad Ka Pow.
So ended the South East Asia leg of my trip. From there, I had to return to Australia for what was, at the time, an important Med School interview, then I was back off, destination London.