The five of us just completed a 5 day tour through Vietnam on 4 motorcycles. Our guide Binh (Thanh Nguyen), a Vietnamee´s patriot with 15 years´ military experience and 10 years as a motorcycle guide, belong to the Easy Rider co-operation based in Dalat (www.easyrider-tours.com). The tour was off the typical Vietnamese tourist track, something confirmed by the fact that we hardly saw any other tourists during our entire trip and thus making it truly authentic!
Mona handled her 50cc Yamaha moped like an expert, in spite of the 30 years since her last motorcycle-ride, carefully balancing the motorcycle through difficult areas. Binh, Kristian and I each rode 125cc motorcycles of Taiwaneese make – one cylinder 4 stroke engine. The tour went from Dalat to Hue some 830 km to the north with stops in between in Dalcat, Lak, Lak, Buon Ma Thuot, Pleiku, Plei Kan, Thanh Mi and finally in the port of Hoy An. We were sad to finally say goodbye to Binh, wanting to adopting him and his polite and easy manners for the rest of our expedition…!
Along the route, we had the benefit of Binh´s great knowledge of Vietnamese history, geography, agriculture and even cuisine. Binh turned out to be a very wise man who, in spite of familiarity with the ways of buddism, recommended to start the day with a hot shower, a half glass of vodka followed by a warm breakfast (as a part Confucism), instead of meditation… (and at least to an ignorant as myself it sounded quite ok…!). We, however, quickly learned to appreciate Binh´s breakfast habits, with exception of the vodka, starting the days with a big bowl of noodle soup with beef and salad. During the tour towards the north, we regularly stopped to meet Binh´s contacts along the road, visiting a coffee-factory (where weasles are included in the production process…), a silk-factory, a small workshop pealing the skin of tree-branches for production of glue (one of the old ladies working there was 87 years old and still going strong…) and a Vietnamese war veteran with the communist leaders´ photohos and the Vietnamese- and communist flags well positioned as decoration in his humble home. Patronism and communism hand in hand – we noted communist propraganda along the road – seem to form part of the Vietnamese psyche, though the economy appears solidly market-driven these days in spite of the quasi-democratic one-party government.
Our tour gave us excellent insights into rural life, seeing and often eating what the earth gives, that is amongst other bananas, cashews, “monkey” peanuts (so called because the nut resembles a monkey´s face), tapioca, cotton, silk, pineapple, rice (wet and mountain), bamboo, caterpillar (I ate 3…!), latex trees and many different vegetables and salads.
Our excursion with Binh also told the stories of the Vietnamese wars and struggles. First against the French, then internal struggles and most lately with the USA. It also told a sublime story about other superpowers´ involvement. The war story was illustrated by riding along the Ho Chi Min trail and a visit to Hamburger Hill, so called even on the official Vietnamese map, due to battles with heavy fighting and many casualties. We also so the forest devastation caused by the US´ use of Agent Orange more than 30 years ago. Not surprisingly, here we heard a different version of the most recent Vietnam war and based on which one can´t avoid being impressed by how this relatively small country and it´s people managed to resist and ultimately force through the US redrawel from Indo China. No war has winners, but maybe this one may be considered an exception in spite of the heavy losses and great sacrifices by all involved (a visit to the war museum in Ho Chi Min City is shocking, but well worth it).
We left Binh feeling blessed with an excellent guide and companion, though a little sad for turning off the engines and lowering the side-stand of the motorcycles for the very last time.