July 6th, 2010
Ninh Binh, Vietnam

We want to arrive in Hanoi the same day the girls do, so that there’ll be somebody around to appreciate what we’ve just accomplished. That means sitting around for four full days in Ninh Binh, just 90 k’s south of the capital.

The staff at our guesthouse have been extremely rude, unhelpful and downright hostile, even by Vietnamese standards. We’re staying at the Than Thuy Hotel, Lonely Planet’s pick, which describes the place as “well-run and friendly.” I – along with most of the reviewers on TripAdvisor – beg to differ. They treat as us though we’re mangy old dogs that have slunk into their house and which they only barely tolerate.

I was talking to an Irish guy who lives in Saigon the other night and realised that I’ve been giving Vietnam a bad rap. His take was that the people in the south are quite friendly, whereas the people in the north are irredeemable fuckheads who won’t give a Westerner the time of day. And come to think of it, we did have some great staff in the places we stayed in Dalat, Nha Trang and Hoi An.

I can’t think of any reason to explain this other than the obvious war divide, but I can’t think of why that would have this effect. All of Vietnam has been socially and politically North Vietnam for the past thirty-five years, and the north sees just as many tourists as the south (if not more, because of Ha Long bay). It’s a puzzler.

Either way, I’m keen to be shot of this country, and if the girls weren’t coming up I’d be on the first train to Lao Cai. Just totally, completely over it. At least after tomorrow I’ll never have to ride that bike again.

Speaking of which, rather than sit in the hotel room downloading vast amounts of movies and TV shows off Bittorrent, we decided to actually venture out yesterday to go visit Tam Coc. This is Ninh Binh’s biggest draw, described as “Ha Long Bay on land,” and I wanted to check it out. It’s about ten k’s to the south of town, so we decided to ride our bikes there. I’m sure you can imagine how we ended up spending the afternoon instead.


The most depressing part is that I wasn’t even surprised. My gears broke less than fifty metres from the hotel, and we pulled over, and I said in a conversational tone, “My bike’s broken.” It was exactly what I had expected to happen. I literally cannot ride this bike without having to visit a mechanic in between my departure point and destination, and I’m completely resigned to that fact.

“This hasn’t turned you off the America trip, has it?” Chris asked over dinner the other night.

“Actually, it’s turned me off everything mechanical,” I said. “Bikes, cars, computers, everything. I can’t stop thinking about how no matter what man creates, it will always degrade and break down. I’m having nightmares about it and I just want to walk everywhere.”

Chris stared at me.

“Like you said. This bike has driven me mad.”

I’m at the point now where I don’t care what I get for it in Hanoi. I would be quite content with wheeling it into the Red River and walking away.

Anyway, that put paid to our plans yesterday, so we went to Tam Coc today instead. I rode on the back of Chris’ bike, not because I thought mine would break down again (although it probably would) but because I’m not feeling too crash hot. Just traveller’s diarrhea; I think I ate something bad. I woke up at about 4 am this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep even after multiple trips to the toilet. So I was exhausted all day too.

I’m really sick of getting TD. It inevitably happens every two or three weeks and it sucks. God, I miss the first world. Just look at it on a map. Those wonderful strongholds of health and efficiency and cleanliness… Australia and Europe and Japan and Canada and the USA… so beautiful…

Tam Coc was nice. You pay 60,000 dong each to sit in a rowboat with a woman who paddles you all the way up the river, which is lined on all sides by huge limestone karsts and runs through several caves.


Here’s me and Chris wearing the stylish lilypad hats our rower plucked out of the water for us.


I would have enjoyed it a lot more if we’d been on our own kayak, but it was still quite pleasant, and the first beautiful landscape we’ve seen since Phong Nha National Park.


Now I need to go pack, since we’re leaving – finally – for Hanoi tomorrow morning. We’re just going to take the 1A, since the Ho Chi Minh is out of the way and probably won’t be much better than the 1A in this part of the country. I’m really looking forward to getting into the city, getting some decent Western food and seeing Kristie again – not to mention accomplishing our goal, which comes with the added benefit of not being on this fucking motorcycle anymore – but I’m not looking forward to the actual ride itself. Neither the 1A nor the busy streets of Hanoi will be nice to ride in. In fact, they’ll be very unenjoyable and sometimes dangerous. A shame to end the trip that way, but I’m over it anyway.