Ejo #90 – Drunk In….. Hoi An

David and I just got back from Hoi An!! Vietnam, bitches! And, as always, we had a rip-roaring time. You might recall that we’ve been to Vietnam before, on a far more daring odyssey. In 2012 we rode old Russian motorbikes into the remote mountains of the central highlands, going WAY off the beaten track and totally off the tourist trail. It was scary as hell, and bloody amazing.

This time we were visiting our friend, Cath, who has recently upped stumps from Melbourne and moved to the beautiful and cultural, historic town of Hoi An. There were no fearless adventures this time. The gutsiest thing we did each day was to venture out of Cath’s house, and into the searing sun and withering humidity. This might not sound so heroic to you, but I cannot stress enough how UNBELIEVABLY hot and sticky it was. You’d think we are accustomed to high temperatures, having lived in Dubai for eight and a half years, but we spend very little time outdoors during summer. I tell you, I have never been so hot and so sweaty in my life. But hey, we were there to get drunk in Hoi An and we had no choice but to brave the hostile outdoors so that I could bring you this month’s ejo.

So, the first thing you do after arriving in Hoi An on a hot day is to get an ice cold beer into you, preferably under some shade, and ideally next to a fan. Air-conditioning is rare, so just get used to having rivulets of sweat constantly pouring down your body, and enjoy the hell out of that beer. And the next one. Beer in Vietnam is literally cheaper than water, and we paid less than 60 cents for a can. So crack one open and start hydrating. You’re gonna need it.


Biere Larue, a local beer, cost less than a dollar a bottle and is a necessity in the searing heat.



After arriving at Cath’s house we headed to the local market and walked around to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the local bazaar. Cath had mentioned that she’d spotted a huge pig’s head the day before and I was really keen to see it, so off we went in search of it, but alas it was gone. Luckily there was a cornucopia of other produce to stimulate the senses. In the morning heat, the meat and fish section was particularly stimulating.


The hubbub of Ba Le Market – we went by the market at least a couple of times a day.



All the fresh produce you could think of under one roof.



Super fresh fruit and veg, at super cheap prices.



Fancy some fish?  How about an octopus?



Some beautiful fresh fishies being chopped up for someone’s delicious dinner.


We rushed through and quickly made our way to a refreshment stand for a little pick-me-up of Vietnamese coffee. Now, Vietnamese coffee isn’t your regular cup of joe. It’s very strong syrupy coffee, slow-dripped onto lashings of condensed milk. In hot weather it’s always served with ice. It’s certainly a heart-starter and we made it a morning ritual to get up early every day to beat the heat and head on over to our favourite stall to sit down in little plastic children’s chairs and slam a couple of these down in a row. Trust me, your hangover will thank you for it.


You can get Vietnamese coffee, and juices (including the ubiquitous sugar cane juice) at any of the multitude of market stalls, but this one was our favourite (it’s on the main road – look for the sign) and we were there every single morning for our double dose of Vietnamese coffee.  They laughed at us the first time we ordered a second round.  But after that they started greeting us with a smile.



Strong, sweet Vietnamese coffee.  SO good.

Lê Thánh Tông, Hội An, Quang Nam Province



So what makes bánh mì so special? Have you ever had one?? If so, you wouldn’t be asking. The best bánh mì is served in a freshly baked crusty, French baguette smeared with pâté and then stuffed full of goodness with all sorts of yummy ingredients depending on the region, or the shop owner. Bánh mì was one of the things we really wanted to try on this trip, so one sweltering lunchtime we grabbed a cab and took off for Old Town Hoi An, straight to Madam Khanh’s. We were offered no menu, just a choice of vegetarian or pork bánh mì. We got the pork, with a little extra spice and, of course, beer! This is PERFECT hangover food. Greasy, delicious, comforting and filling. I couldn’t finish mine, but I had the rest later at home while we were laying low to avoid the heat, and it was even better, as all the flavours had intensified and soaked into the bread. My mouth just had an orgasm, remembering how good it was.


The famous Madam Khanh herself!  Still making bánh mì every day at the age of 79.  Hers are a special mix of pâté, pork char siu, sausage, fried egg, homemade pickles, papaya, carrots, parsley, chili sauce, soy sauce, and her secret sauce.



Seriously.  Look at that.  To die for.

115 Trần Cao Vân, Sơn Phong, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam
+84 90 666 03 09



Why am I featuring an ATM cubicle in a Drunk In….. ejo?  Because it’s the coldest 2m³ in the whole goddamn town.  No joke, keep this one up your sleeve.


You know it’s hot when all three of you pile into the eensy-weensy teeny-weeny little ATM cubicle just for a few moments of respite.  © Cath Grey




David and I don’t usually go for wine bars in South East Asia (it feels too much like a western concept), but Cath insisted we try this place for dinner one night and I’m really glad she did. The food was so good, and so authentic, that we went back again the next day for lunch and then again on our last day (it was those Money Bags damn it, we just couldn’t stay away). Each time we also consumed plenty of beer, tonnes of sparkling water and tonnes of sparkling wine. That’s how we roll, kids! The service here is impeccable and the food consistently amazing. Highly recommended.


That Napoleon Bonaparte knew a thing or two, didn’t he?!!



Hoi An spring rolls



The best damn Money Bags I’ve ever had in my life.  Probably the best you’ll ever have too.



Super fresh rice paper rolls stuffed with prawns, lettuce, mint, coriander, carrot, pineapple and vermicelli noodles.  So fresh and tasty!

98 Lê Lợi, Minh An, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam
+84 235 3911 862



We took a few trips into historic Hoi An. There are heaps of restaurants, shops, bars, cafés and stalls to while away several drunken hours, if not the entire day! One evening when we were rather drunk, we walked around the crowded riverside stalls, fending off overly friendly expat club promoters trying to beguile us into having a drink with them. As we navigated the thronging streets, one particular stall caught my eye, and even though I was absolutely stuffed full of Money Bags I just HAD to have a freshly made Vietnamese banana pancake. I’m a sucker for these things, and you should be too because they’re bloody delicious. Eggs, butter, banana, condensed milk. What else could you want? It was the perfect end to our evening out (because I shortly thereafter slipped into a sugar coma – totes worth it). But fear not, the party continued on Cath’s balcony with plenty of bottles of rosé and prosecco to revive me.


These are made fresh to order with your choice of condensed milk or chocolate sauce on top.  Condensed milk wins for me ever’ damn time!



Yes, you should.  © Cath Grey



Exploring the watering holes and eateries of any city is hard work and sometimes your body just cries out for some TLC. We made sure to look after ours by getting a restorative massage at Na Spa Escape. It’s a lovely, peaceful and air-conditioned (!!!!) oasis from which to escape the heat and noise of the city for just a little while. We were given the choice of a firm-pressure Asian blend massage, or a more relaxing Swedish massage. We all went with the firm choice. We needed it! And though the massage itself ended up being not as firm as I would have liked, I certainly walked away from it feeling super rejuvenated, relaxed and ready to take on the challenge of more eating and drinking!


The calming interior of the Na Spa Escape retreat.  We were asked if we wanted to go for the three-way massage, but we politely declined.  David and I had a romantic couple’s massage and Cath went solo.  I think it was for the best.

100/5 Le Thanh Tong, Cam Chau, T.P. Hoi An, Quang Nam
+84 235 3914 199



It’s never a “Drunk In…..” experience without at least a pinch of culture thrown in for fun. We’re not heathens, for god’s sake!! This time we hired a driver for a half-day trip to the seaside fishing town of Tam Thanh, also known as Mural Village for the multitude of murals painted onto the houses along its only street. About a year ago the South Korean government, in a lightbulb moment, commissioned a bunch of Vietnamese and South Korean artists and asked them to jazz up the tiny town with a lick of paint. The locals were supposedly a bit nonplussed about the whole thing, but they were completely shocked when people started coming from far and wide, just to take pictures of the wall paintings. It seems as though they still haven’t really recovered, because there’s not a whole lot of trade going on, which actually makes it a very charming little place. Everyone smiles and waves at you and no-one makes you feel like you’re intruding on them when you take pictures of their house.


Vietnam’s second most popular mode of transportation, after motorbikes.



Two types of local fishing boats, pimped up!



Gorgeous artistry.  © Cath Grey



Murals everywhere.



Tam Thanh is a super gorgeous village.  I reckon I’d love to spend two whole weeks here, doing nothing but drinking beer and coconut juice and gorging on fish.


We had plans to go to a local beach restaurant for lunch but at 9.45am it was still way too early, so when beckoned by a group of locals, we took a break under the shade of a tree on some tiny plastic chairs and ordered three coconuts, stat! The lady of the house (and it really was just the front of some woman’s house) chopped the coconuts right on the ground with a huge machete, and served them up with straws. Perfecto! We slurped up all the juice and then she split each coconut in half with her big-ass knife so we could get at the young, juicy pulp. So much goodness. When it was time to pay, she totally fleeced us and kept increasing the number of fingers going up until our faces started registering shock. Then she put up one more finger for good measure and everyone in her posse laughed heartily, as we willingly handed over the extortionate sum of $4.50, which is about double the price we should have paid.


Three coconuts please!



The remains.




It was almost time for lunch, but the coconut had given me some, uh, shall we say trouble in the trouser department, so we headed off to the Tam Thanh Beach Resort & Spa’s Ocean Breeze bar for a couple of refreshing beers – and the opportunity to use the only nice toilet in the vicinity. If you come to gorgeous Tam Thanh, I’d definitely recommend coming to Ocean Breeze afterwards to use the facilities, and of course to have a refreshment.


Tam Thanh beach (dotted with fishing boats).  It’s gorgeous, but it was brutally hot out there and we couldn’t even muster up the fortitude to venture down to the water.  Luckily, Ocean Breeze has toilets, beer and an air-conditioned lounge from which to gaze upon the lovely scene above. 


It was finally time for lunch, so we sauntered across the street to a row of open-air beach restaurants and made a beeline for the one on the far left (since that was the one that Cath had been to before).  I bet they’re all amazing though, and I bet they all serve the freshest seafood you’ve ever had. We negotiated the confusing, handwritten English menu with the help of the staff and kicked back with some beers and peanuts, contemplating what a lovely day we were having. If you’re looking for any recommendations, I will have to insist you get the calamari and the crabs. These were incredibly fresh and delicious. And even though we were quite full, the calamari was just so good we had to order another round.


Fresh peanuts while you wait.  A perfect beer snack.



Coz they could see us coming a mile away, they brought us a little cooler full of beer and ice. Which was most welcome.



Coriander, pepper and lime salt.  Delicious on EVERYTHING with a squeeze of fresh lime on top.  We went through six plates of this stuff.  Sure, some of it ended up on the plastic table cloth – but that didn’t stop us from dipping our food into it.  Waste not, want not!



The crab was super fresh.  How fresh?  Let’s just say that those lovely crabs sacrificed their lives for us about ten minutes after we ordered them.  Best crab I’ve had in 30 years.



What was left of the fish that we didn’t really mean to order.  © Cath Grey



The calamari was so good we ordered another plate of it to the bewilderment (and amusement) of the waitress.

Get yourself to Tam Thanh Beach Resort & Spa where Ocean Breeze is located. When you’re ready to go to the No Name Beach Restaurant, just cross the road (DT614) and head to the restaurant closest to the beach.



At the end of nearly every day of our stay in Hoi An, we ended up at Restaurant 328, a local dining establishment where Cath was greeted like long lost family and David and I were welcomed with open arms.  And every time we went, we each devoured one of these delicious, home-made frozen confections, delightfully (and aptly named) Mango Delights.  And how delightful they were.  The first day when we excitedly ordered them, Aunty told us that she had only just popped the ice-cream in the freezer 15 minutes earlier and that it would be too soft to serve.  I guess the traumatised expressions on our faces convinced her to offer it to us anyway.  This stuff alone is worth travelling to Hoi An for.  My mouth is spurting just thinking about it.  Oh, it’s spurting.


Is it any wonder this is called a Mango Delight?  LOOK AT IT!!  It’s fucking delightful!!!!!


On another visit we ordered three Mango Delights and three shots of their home-made rice wine to wash it down. Uncle was chuffed and proudly brought over a plastic water bottle filled with the potent clear liquid, and poured out three measures for us. This stuff is STRONG. I’m not ashamed to say that there was some enthusiastic table banging, and a little bit of strident gasping for a few minutes there, but it’s still something I’d definitely recommend. It’s wine. Made from Vietnamese rice. Of course you have to have it. On our last visit to the restaurant, Aunty somehow knew that we were leaving the next day and wanted to give us a little surprise.  She furtively crept up to our table and burst into fits of laughter as she revealed what she was hiding behind her back. Yep, the plastic bottle of rice wine and three little glasses. Of course we had to partake. Twice. It would have been rude not to.


Rice wine.  Tastes like a mixture of sake and petrol.  With slightly more petrol overtones.



After I started writing this ejo I asked Cath if she wouldn’t mind going back to Restaurant 328 to get a photo of Aunty and her plastic water bottle of home-made rice wine. Unfortunately Aunty had better things to do that day, but Cath figured that this wonderful drawing was a pretty good substitute.  I tend to agree.  (But seriously, Cath, lay off the rice wine, OK?) 😉

328 Cua Dai, Hoi An, Quảng Nam
+84 235 3862 095



C’mon, we had to have one final hit of phở before we left Vietnam.


A farewell meal at the airport.  There are some airports around the world where I much prefer to eat in the terminal rather than the airport lounge.  This includes pretty well all the South East Asian cities.  This farewell phở really hit the spot and helped to ease the anguish of leaving Vietnam.

Level 3, Noi Bai International Airport, Hanoi



Yes, we did.


When the going gets hot, the hot get in the blow-up wading pool.  Sure, the two little girls next door laughed uproariously at us as we were filling it up with water, but in the end we were in a pool and they were not.  So, who’s laughing now little girls?!

Ejo #31 – Second Gear: Our Vietnam Motorcycle Adventure (Part III – The Rest)

Following is a bunch of high (and low) lights of the last four days of our Vietnam Motorcycle Adventure.  I hope you enjoy it.



The scenery was just incredible.  Unfortunately, it was cloudy or foggy or rainy for most of the trip, and we could barely make out where we were going (more about that later).  But there were several moments when the sun shone down on us as we traversed winding roads that took us past gorgeous sparkling lakes, or mountain passes overlooking the ocean.  Vietnam is really very beautiful, and the further out from the cities you go, the more beautiful it becomes.  It really is an unspoilt paradise and sometimes it felt that we were able to see and experience things that you never could, unless you were sitting atop a Minsk motorcycle.


Theresa and I developed a rapport during our five days together. I was sad to say goodbye to her. She and I experienced a lot together – she never let me down (except that one time when she tried to break my ankle).



I really enjoyed the sense of freedom that came from riding a motorbike.  As I’ve mentioned before I am a pretty cautious person so I never really did anything risky but honestly, just riding around the Vietnamese countryside was enough to pump me full of adrenaline every single day.  Several times as we zoomed down another deserted mountain road, or roared past a stunning waterfall I found it impossible to restrain myself from shouting with joy.  Just yelling into my helmet (or if the weather was nice and the visor was up, into the wind).  It was truly exhilarating.



Taking off after a break on Day 2, I forgot to put my kickstand up (oops!).  When I tried to veer left to follow the bend in the road, the kickstand butted against the ground and prevented me from actually turning the bike.  In my panic, instead of braking I accelerated (something to do with how white-knuckled my grip was on the handlebar, perhaps).  And this acceleration took me directly towards a four foot deep concrete ditch.  For a second there I honestly thought I was going to end up in the ditch with the bike on top of me (again!).  I was saved by the fortuitous engagement of my brain telling me to cease accelerating and (for the love of god!) commence braking.  Disaster averted.


There were plenty of other scary moments though, for all of us.  Nic came very close to coming off her bike on Day 4 simply because the quality of the roads was so bad that it was virtually impossible to avoid potholes.  Combine this with the number of crazies out on their bikes and scooters, and there were some definite hair-raising moments.  We were in Vietnam during the Lunar New Year, and around ten o’clock in the morning on New Year’s Day I’d estimate that around 75% of the other riders on the road were three sheets to the wind (i.e. staggeringly drunk).  There were two types of drunks that I personally encountered.   The young, aggressive ones who would ride next to you and try to get too close, almost pushing you off the road.  And the old, oblivious ones who drove super slowly but swerved from side to side completely unaware that they were creating a hazard to other riders.  Both were equally dangerous, and I was so happy to leave the big towns behind and head back into the countryside.



If you are involved in an accident with a Vietnamese person, you are automatically liable whether you were actually at fault or not.  This doesn’t seem fair, but it’s just the way it is. We knew this before we signed up for the tour but it wasn’t until Day Four of the ride that Pete mentioned that if we accidentally hit someone on the road we weren’t to stop.  We were to keep riding and get the hell out of there, even if it was a serious accident.  Especially, he emphasised, if it was a serious accident.  Because if you killed a Vietnamese person in a small town in a biking accident and you stopped, there was little chance of the matter proceeding through legal avenues.  The townspeople would take care of you themselves, doling out their own justice.  As you can imagine, this scared the living daylights out of me, and while I would have perhaps appreciated some warning of this fact before we’d set out for the trip, I think in a way it was better that I didn’t know it.  I was nervous enough as it was.  I’m not sure what the knowledge would have done to my ability to ride.



Everywhere we went, the children would run out screaming and shouting with joy, waving at us and even putting their hands out for high fives as we rode past.  We felt like rock stars!  Though occasionally the high fiving did get a little robust, almost knocking us off our bikes!  The ultimate experience was on Day Four, when we stopped for petrol in a tiny village and the entire population of children came out to greet us.  There were about thirty young kids all looking up at us in awe and excitement.  It was a really lovely experience.  They were so intrigued by us, but also adorably shy.  It didn’t take them too long to warm to us, particularly when Chris started showing them photos of themselves that he was taking on his iPhone.  They all started clamouring for their turn to get their photo taken and then would burst into ecstatic giggles when they saw themselves on the screen.  It was just delightful.


As soon as we pulled up to the petrol pump all these kids just appeared out of nowhere to look and smile at us. It was awesome!


They loved Chris and David as they are so much taller than anyone they’ve probably ever seen before.


Chris started taking pictures and showing them to the kids to break the ice. It worked a treat!



The Vietnamese people are renowned for their hospitality, and we were warmly welcomed everywhere we went.  On Day Two, our group split into two after Chris’ bike had a major malfunction.  David, Nicole, Joe and I pulled over next to a small town garage to wait while Hung worked his voodoo on Chris’ bike.  After standing around for a few minutes chatting amongst ourselves, the garage owner and his daughter brought out a little plastic table and chairs, some tea and a few snacks for us to nibble on.  I can’t imagine that happening anywhere else in the world.  It just warmed my heart.  I don’t think it was expected, but when we packed up and got ready to leave Joe gave the garage owner some money to say thank you, which I think was a nice gesture in return.



Several times during the trip we encountered severe fog, which limited the visibility to as low as 20m.  It was pretty frightening riding around in that.  Also, during some mountain riding we were actually driving around in cloud, and that had pretty much the same effect.  My already high levels of concentration had to be tripled in these conditions and the result was fatiguing.  Several times Joe would try to convince us to take a longer course to our destination, and if the weather had been blue skies and sunshine I would have been more than happy to take the scenic route.  But when it’s foggy and drizzly and you can’t see and you’re getting wet, it’s no fun.


Day Two: Walking around a war memorial in total fogginess. Riding in this was really frightening.


Cold and wet. Thank god we were provided with these ponchos and rain pants or the entire trip would have been a bust. Not the fanciest attire, but SO worth it!


And speaking of getting wet, I got wet.  My python skin leather boots were no match for the rain, or all the water spraying up from the bike and by Day Three they were completely saturated.  This, as you can imagine, was very uncomfortable.  David’s boots were slightly more heavy duty and offered a little water resistance, and Nicole had brought her waterproof riding boots so she was good as gold.  Chris, unfortunately, was in the same boat as me having only brought sneakers.  On more than one rest stop I took off my shoes and socks, in order to wring my socks out – about half a cup of water’s worth.  And you know what’s worse than wringing out half a cup of water from your socks?  Having to put them back on.  Chris took up Joe’s suggestion of wrapping his feet in plastic bags before putting on his shoes and he reckons it helped a little bit, but the idea didn’t particularly appeal to me and I was happy to be miserable with my wet socks and shoes.


Day Five: Chris finally taking off his plastic bag socks. They may have protected his feet from the rain but I reckon they would have been pretty gross and sweaty!



On our last day, heading back to Hoi An, we encountered a pretty large patch of wet, soft clay that we had to ride through.  Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to ride a motorbike through clay but it’s extraordinarily difficult.  The clay is soft enough to be slippery, but firm enough to resist the direction that the tyres want to go, so it’s impossible to go straight and you end up kind of slip, sliding along.  This makes it super hard to keep your balance.  I had the additional challenge of, again, being so nervous that I squeezed the handlebars super tight, and by doing so I (again) inadvertently revved the accelerator, lunging forward and sideways.  Unfortunately, I saw only two possible options.  One, keep going and end up face first in a big mud bath.  Or, stop and plant my feet in the mud.  I chose the latter, my gorgeous python skin boots squelching into the mud, which reached half way up my shins.  Not my finest hour.  I looked ahead at Joe, who had (naturally) made it all the way through.  Then I looked back at the others, waiting expectantly.  I was probably about mid-way through the 100m long mud patch, and the last thing I wanted was to keep going.  I wanted to just dismount and be transported to a nice beach somewhere with a pina colada in my hand.  I actually yelled back that I couldn’t do it.  I saw Joe preparing to come through the mud to help me and I guess my pride kind of took over.  I gave it one more try, determined to ride slowly and surely (and to keep my hand off that damn accelerator) and a minute later I was on the other side.  Sure, I had bright orange mud all over my shoes and jeans but I’d done it!



So, I’ve mentioned Hung before.  The man is a legend and we were lucky to have him on tour.  During the five day ride he fixed David’s gear box, which kept popping out of fourth gear, Nicole’s footstand, which kept dragging along the ground, my spongy foot brake, Nicole’s clutch cable and motor chain (on two separate occasions), David’s horn (which, at one point, decided it liked the sound of its own voice and wouldn’t stop blaring), and Chris’ engine block which completely exploded on Day Two spraying oil and parts all over the road.  Now, this might sound like a pretty major repair job, right?  Right!  It took Hung all of half an hour to fix it.  I bet it would be a two day job for some mechanics, but Hung eats, drinks and probably dreams Minsks.  He knows them inside out and it is just magic to watch him working on a bike.  In addition to the repairs that he carried out above, he also made a multitude of minor adjustments as well as swapping bikes a few times so that we could continue on the tour while he stayed back carrying out the mechanical work (which I thought was rather lovely of him).


Hung worked on every single bike – a lot of minor repairs and a few major ones. The man is amazing. It’s like he was raised by Minsks.


He was a true gentleman and had a gorgeous, free-spirited laugh which was joyous to hear.  Oh, and he also taught us how to do a Vietnamese drinking cheer!  Raise your glass, shout, “Mot, Hai, Bah, YOH!!!!!!!” and drink!  No-one did it with as much enthusiasm as Hung but I, at least, nearly lost my voice trying.  Fun times.



Chris made a rather profound observation about our trip, that I think I’d been subconsciously aware of during the ride but hadn’t really been able to articulate.  He said that while you are riding, you aren’t thinking about work.  You don’t worry about emails piling up, or accounts that need updating.  You don’t concern yourself with your annual performance review or about making credit card payments.  You don’t think about those extra kilos that have been creeping on, or the noisy neighbours who keep you up all night.  All you think about is staying on that bike.  You might think about swerving around that great big steaming pile of buffalo shit too.  And that’s OK, because it means that you are completely and totally in the “now”.  For someone like me, who tends to worry about the past and stress about the future, it was a welcome holiday for my brain to just switch off and look at the scenery and focus on staying alive.  It was the deepest type of meditation I’ve ever experienced, making the journey not just a physical one, but spiritual too.  And one I’ll never forget.


It felt like an awesome achievement for all of us to return unscathed!




Ejo #30 – Second Gear: Our Vietnam Motorcycle Adventure (Part II – Day 1: Riding to Ba Hom)

Our first stop on Day One was at a small, ancient Cham temple just sitting in an empty lot overgrown with weeds.  There was nothing to proclaim its importance in Vietnamese culture or history, but it was still standing after enduring several wars and several hundreds of years of neglect.  And amazingly it was still in use, as was evidenced by the offerings laid on a table inside.  In places the walls were at least a metre thick, so even though we were right by a main road, the moment we entered into the belly of the temple all outside noise disappeared and an eerie, but peaceful, quiet pervaded.  Looking around I was startled to find a tiny kitten stretched out behind the altar, reaching into a bag of potato chips.  On closer inspection I realised that the kitty was actually dead.  Awww.  The scene led to the question of whether the pussy cat had died whilst trying to eat the chips, or if some kind soul had placed the chips in front of the poor animal in the hope of providing it with some sustenance (and if it was the latter, had it been intended for this, or the after, life)?  How existential!


Milling around the Cham temple


Stone elephant outside Cham temple


After taking a few photos of the temple, we hit the road again.  I tried really hard to take in the verdant countryside, but I must admit that the bulk of my attention was focused on remaining upright on the motorbike.  Even though the rain had stopped, the roads were still wet and I wasn’t yet 100% comfortable going around corners.  One thing that I didn’t have to worry about was changing gears.  True to Mark’s word, my motorbike stayed in second gear that whole first day.  I’m not entirely sure she was happy about being in second gear all day but I didn’t hear any complaints!


Flung into the madness of Vietnam’s main thoroughfares was certainly a baptism of fire.  It was a matter of sink or swim, and to be honest I needed a little help keeping afloat in the beginning.  The first point at which I said, “Nope, I cannot do this,” was about an hour in.  I reached a T-intersection at which most of the others in our group had managed to turn left, in a gap in the traffic (keeping in mind that they drive on the right in Vietnam).  By the time I reached the intersection though, there were no gaps to be had.  Just a seemingly endless stream of motorcycles and scooters in both directions, as far as the eye could see.  Every time I spotted a small opening in the oncoming traffic from the left, I’d turn to the right to see that there was nowhere for me to squeeze into the traffic coming from that direction.  I was stuck.  I started to go at least half a dozen times before slamming on the brakes at the last second.  These false starts did nothing for my confidence, and my spirits were quickly dampening.  I felt very small and helpless, and a little bit sad.


Suddenly, amongst the riders approaching me from the left I spotted Pete, one of our trusty tour guides.  He zipped around beside me and shouted that I should just go.  I looked at him blankly, “Say what?”  He nodded sagely and said, “Stick close to me.”  Okey dokey then.  And with that he just weaved into the traffic, veering left towards the centre of the road.  With no chance to think about the fact that there was no room for me (or my bike), I closely followed him, semi-flinching in anticipation of the inevitable crunch of several motorbikes smashing together.  I may even have closed my eyes.  I’m not proud of that, but I think it’s true.  Amazingly, the other riders just naturally avoided our bikes, making room for us on the right hand side of the road, and just like that we were back on track.


One of the great things about the tour was that all the food was included so when we stopped for lunch, our lovely guides put on an amazing picnic spread for us.  Roast chicken, olives, tomato, cucumber, lettuce, cheese, bread and a super delicious ranch-style sauce that we just couldn’t get enough of.  After we stuffed our faces with that, we were treated to thick slices of home-made banana bread.  There really is nothing like eating good, simple food in the great outdoors after building up an appetite (and it’s astonishing how much of an appetite you can work up just sitting on your ass, astride a motorbike)!


Lunch on Day One: a relative Smorgasbord!


Excitable puppy we made friends with at lunch


The place that we’d stopped to eat was a very basic, general store with a few tables and the tiniest chairs I’ve ever seen outside a daycare centre.  In fact, the chairs at all the cafés we visited on our trip were positively Lilliputian.  They were literally children’s chairs.  Of the four of us, Nicole was the only one that could comfortably fit in them.  They were a pretty snug fit for my child-bearing hips, and for the two boys (who are both over 6’3” tall) they were just comical.  But we managed to squeeze into them, several times over the next few days.  We didn’t always manage to squeeze out of them – not without help anyway!


Chris wedged in his little chair playing with the crazy puppy!


After lunch, the lady that ran the store offered us coffee.  With the exception of Chris (being a die-hard tea drinker) the rest of us gladly accepted.  Now, Vietnamese coffee is not your average, run-of-the-mill cup of joe.  A glass is presented with about 1cm (sometimes more) of condensed milk in the bottom.  On top of the glass sits a tin contraption filled with ground coffee and hot water.  The coffee slowly drips through the tin filter into the glass, and once it’s all through, you stir, and voilà, Vietnamese coffee!  Taking Joe’s lead, we added ice-cubes for a Vietnamese version of iced coffee.  It’s certainly a lot sweeter than I normally have it, thanks to the lashings of condensed milk, but I admit to very quickly developing a taste for it.


Yummy Vietnamese coffee. I kinda miss it!


Riding off after lunch, even I was able to register the changes in the landscape.  We stopped a couple of times at particularly picturesque spots (ostensibly to take photos, but I suspect really for Joe to have a cigarette break).  One of these spots was at the top of a considerably steep hill, overlooking Da Nang.  Chris and Nicole had fallen behind because of mechanical problems, and Hung had hung back (see what I did there?) to sort them out.  As I pulled up behind David on the verge, I turned the engine off and attempted to dismount.  I guess I forgot to put down the kickstand and, losing my balance, I found myself falling to the left (towards the road).  Now, Theresa is heavy.  I may have mentioned this before.  I’ve since looked it up and I now know that a Minsk motorcycle weighs about 105kg unloaded.  Mine was fully loaded.  So, I was on one leg (the other one flailing helplessly in the air) rapidly losing verticality, trying to hop away from the beast that was doing her utmost to flatten me.


And…. well, I’m not going to lie.  I didn’t make it.  The entire weight of the bike forcefully propelled me towards the ground, which I hit like a sack of potatoes.  First to impact was my left elbow, which I landed on with all my weight.  And shortly afterwards, my head bounced on the paved road.  Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet because I hit the road pretty damn hard.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten to actually do up the strap (oops)!  So, while the first bounce of my head was protected by the helmet, it was so forceful that the helmet was flung off, and the subsequent thump (not as hard, but still bloody painful) was all skull.  I blacked out just for a second, and for the next three seconds I saw stars.  And then… well, then came the pain.  I felt the full mass of the motorbike crushing my left ankle, and it was at that point the howling and the swearing commenced.


It all happened so quickly, I’m not sure our guides even saw it.  David says he helplessly watched me go down, unable to get off his bike fast enough without falling over himself.  Joe turned around to see me lying half on the gravel shoulder, half on the road, and (rather redundantly) suggested I get up.  I cursed and suggested that he remove the @#$% bike off my @#$% leg first.  Please!  There was another moment of hesitation before the situation seemed to sink in (during which I let rip with a few more curse words), and eventually the bike was lifted from my poor, smashed up ankle.  I rolled away from the road and helped myself to a little cry.  My ankle hurt like hell, and my elbow and head were also feeling rather bruised and battered.  Joe anxiously asked me to try to get up and, luckily, I was able to (tenderly) place my weight on my foot and walk around on it.  So phew, nothing was broken, but I could definitely feel my ankle swelling up.  I took a moment to gather myself (and wipe the tears from my eyes) just as Nic, Chris and Hung rode up over the crest.  Peter suggested we keep the “incident” a secret between the four of us, and at the time my pride was so wounded that I was happy for no-one else to know of my embarrassing, stationary crash.  Looking back though, it seems silly to have kept it from our travelling companions.  Sorry Nicole and Chris – I should have told you about it.  Perhaps my punishment for not sharing is that my ankle and elbow are still kinda messed up, even four months later.


You can rest assured that before we set off again, I made 100% sure that my helmet was tightly strapped on, and less than an hour’s ride later we arrived at Ba Hom, our destination for the night.  Well, technically we arrived just outside Ba Hom.  To get to Ba Hom proper required riding our motorcycles over a rope bridge laid with crumbling wooden planks precariously swaying about 25 feet over a wide, flowing river.  This was some Indiana Jones shit, right here.  OK, so even though I had agreed to go on this crazy trip, I am at heart quite anxious about putting my life at risk.  I’m no adrenaline junkie.  And yet here I was, contemplating riding a (heavy) motorised vehicle across a bridge that was barely more than a metre wide, and which dangled rather alarmingly over a rocky river.  My mother would have been horrified.  It just seemed like insanity.  And whilst I pondered that insanity, the others just casually rode across, as if there was nothing to it.  For the love of god!  Now, there were no excuses!  I kind of thought that I’d reached my limit for enduring physical challenges that first day but I steeled myself and, guess what, I just did it.  My heart pounding in my chest, I rode over that Indiana Jones bridge and I even managed a quick peek over the edge to the river below before deciding that wasn’t the best idea in the world (unless I wanted to lose my balance and flip over the side, bike and all).  Before I knew it I was across, joining the gang on the other side.  We were in Ba Hom!


Crazy Indiana Jones bridge we had to ride our bikes over!!! OMG, are you CRAZY!!!


Ba Hom is a small, Vietnamese village inhabited by just 300 Co Tu people (one of the smallest ethnic minorities in the country – numbering only 60,000 out of a total 89 million Vietnamese), and we were lucky enough to be spending the night as their guests.  We parked the bikes in the centre of the village (a large, sandy square the size of a soccer field), lined with thatch-roofed huts on stilts.  This is where we would be eating and sleeping.


The bikes resting after an eventful first day! In the background is the hut David and I slept in.


We cracked open some well-deserved beers and watched a group of rowdy kids playing a game on the other side of the square.  After a while we wandered over, trying to figure out what the rules of the game were.  They were taking it in turns throwing their shoes at a bunch of candy piled up about a dozen feet away.  Their throws were rather wild and most missed the mark, but once in a while a kid would score a direct hit, spraying the candy all over the place.  They would all shout and dance with excitement, before gathering up the lollies and making a new pile to start over.  Deprived of video games and computers, this simple game kept them occupied for the rest of the afternoon, reminding me of my own carefree childhood.


Enjoying a well-deserved beer.


The kids of Ba Hom entertaining themselves with fun games.


The little nutters – they may look sweet and innocent but I assure you they are possessed!


The kids inspecting David, wondering who this giant man was. Check out little Binh wearing his best suit.


After we unpacked and settled in we were shown around, checking out the newly built school, as well as the separate men’s and women’s community areas.  The men’s hut was pumping, and as we walked past we were raucously invited to join them in their gambling games and to share a drink of rice wine (a drink closely resembling moonshine in its potency).  We politely declined, but they drunkenly insisted!  Only after extracting a promise from us that we would return after the tour were we allowed to continue on our way.  On the one hand, I think it would have been kind of fun to stop for a while.  On the other hand, I have a feeling that had we done so, our motorcycle adventure would have started and finished in Ba Hom.  So it was probably for the best that we broke our promise, quietly sneaking back to the square after the tour of the village.


Ba Hom’s water and electricity run on generators, which are turned on after dark.  Unfortunately, that evening there was a problem with the water.  The problem being that there was none.  Which meant no shower.  No toilet.  Oh well, I’d known that we would possibly have to “rough it” a little on this trip, so I just surrendered to being somewhat grubby for the next couple of days.  To answer nature’s call we took a roll of toilet paper for a walk into the surrounding forest (and hoped that a wandering Co Tu didn’t chance upon us “in flagrante”).


Nature’s bathroom – the picturesque river running next to Ba Hom.


Soon enough it was time for dinner and we joined the others in the open dining hut, where a fire had been built in a pit.  Several plates of tasty food were brought to us by the village cooks.  One really groovy dish was a platter of steamed bamboo tubes, each about ten centimetres in length.  We watched as Hung demonstrated how to peel the bamboo away to reveal incredibly delicious sticky rice that had been cooked inside the tubes.  Amazing!  Next were massive skewers of yummy pork and chicken, cooked over the open fire.  Super delicious, fresh green beans and stir-fried morning glory followed.  I do believe I had about three servings of everything, all washed down with the incredibly robust local tipple.  Sated by the food, and warmed by the fire, the rice wine went down pretty smoothly, especially considering it was probably 20-30% alcohol.  David and I certainly had our fair share. Chris and Nic, more wisely, abstained (and probably suffered less of a hangover the next day as a result).


Nom nom nom. Please sir, I want some more. Check out the bamboo tubes of sticky rice.


After dinner, the campfire stories started, and Joe (being a consummate storyteller) shared more than a few tales of coming to no good after a night of rice wine consumption.  While we chatted, the village children snuck into the hut and started playing on a mattress on the other side of the room.  Hung, perhaps feeling a little left out of our conversation because of the language barrier, went over and joined them.  Even though they’d been loud before, his presence seemed to ignite them like rocket fuel and they went absolutely berserk!  They squealed, shrieked, and flung themselves on top of Hung as if they were high on crack.  It was very entertaining (and not a little frightening) to watch.


The kids attacking Hung!!! I have a feeling he loved every minute of it, judging by his delighted laughter.


Around 9.30pm the children’s parents started calling them home and they slowly dispersed, leaving just the grownups behind.  We were briefly joined by one of the tribal elders, all dressed up in his three piece suit, pinned with medals (I wonder if he wore this outfit for our benefit or if that’s just how he liked to dress every day).  We were told the story of how he’d been wounded in the Vietnam war, whilst working as a courier for the tunnel-dwelling Viet Cong, bringing them food and other necessities.  He proudly showed us his scars and his medals, beaming at all the attention before shaking our hands and retiring to bed.  Taking his cue, we all yawned and stretched and made our way to our own huts to rest before a dawn wake up call the next day.  Apart from a slightly scary foray into the pitch black night for a toilet break in the wee hours of the morning, I slept like a baby.  And thus ended Day One.