844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Shit Ton Of Fun (Ha Giang Province, Vietnam)

For a revised version of this post, go here.

Sept 27th, 2009 – After fetching my Irish compadre Shell from the airport we returned to the hotel for a nap. She just spent a bazillion hours getting here so a respite was in order. Outside forces conspired to frustrate us almost immediately. As soon as we set foot in the hotel lobby I was approached by the manager and asked if I would please switch to another room……..in another hotel. Growl.

The owner also owns a few other hotels in Hanoi. I was aware of this because I had already agreed to switch hotels once. The day before my friend arrived I switched to the hotel we were currently in. There was a “booking error” and I was implored to help out the pretty-smiley young Vietnamese girl behind the desk. I acquiesced. Call me a push over.

Now I was being asked to move again for the same reason. Actually, ‘asked’ would not be the proper description for upon having discussion number two with said manger I suddenly realized that I was not being ‘asked’ at all. In essence I was being kicked out of the hotel. I was not a happy camper. She was gracious enough to give us until 5 o’clock pm to vacate. What a woman! Fortunately, a comparable hotel was right next door but I was still miffed.

The reason for the inconvenience? A large group had reserved my room but the e-mail had been misplaced. Misplaced my ass!! It even reached the point where one of the employees (another young smiley female) told me she would get fired if I did not agree to move. Uh-huh. Had I been solo I may have taken this to the ridiculous conclusion of me sitting in my room refusing to move just for farts and chuckles. However, this is not how I wanted to christen my friend’s vacation so we moved. The five days I spent trying to organize a decent hotel went right down the poop shoot. Best laid plans of mice and men…..

We spent one more day in Hanoi making final preparations for the trip to the extreme north of Vietnam. On the morning of the 24th we began our voyage from Hanoi to the city of Ha Giang in Ha Giang province. Just a short 290 kilometers and we'd be there.

The beginning? Not so auspicious. Firstly, the traffic out of Hanoi was stupid-silly. As we were leaving the city I suddenly recalled being told to avoid departing between 7:30 am and 8:30 am. It was 8 am. Atta boy! I also remembered leaving my passport at the front desk of the hotel (all require you to hand over your passport upon arrival). So we had the pleasure of driving through Hanoi twice before heading north. Super.

A 300km drive on a small 125cc bike is a recipe for permanent ass injury. On the way we were treated to a near death experience. As I came around a corner a freight truck passing another freight truck almost had a new hood ornament (i.e. us). I pulled off to the side so we could collect ourselves and inspect our undergarments for fecal remnants. Truthfully, we had very little time to even be scared. After taking a moment to let the gravity of what nearly occurred sink in we moved on.

We stopped at a café hoping to get a bite to eat and give our gluteus maximuses a rest. What we got was a luke warm reception, a half naked woman, and a couple glasses of a tar. The folks that own the place did not really know what to do with the two white folks that entered their establishment. The reaction was similar to the one given to the arrival of annoying relatives. You do not want to be rude but you still cannot manage to quell your distaste for their arrival. The place did not serve food, only drinks. We ordered Vietnamese coffee, which is just a step above syrup laced with cocaine. Strong, bitter, vile. Yummy in my tummy.

A trip to the bathroom yielded another bizarre surprise. Painted on the wall tile was a rather sharp picture of a half-naked Vietnamese woman. Keep in mind that this is not only the customer bathroom but also the family bathroom. How does the wife feel about that?

We pressed on and arrived in Ha Giang in the late afternoon/early evening. Upon entering the hotel we received the usual welcome of begrudging tolerance. They gave us a room but they seemed none to pleased about it. Maybe it’s my hair.

In order to drive further north it is necessary to obtain a permit from the local immigration office in Ha Giang. Why? Dunno. I am sure it has something to do with the proximity to China but beyond that I am clueless. The Lonely Planet states that your hotel can assist you in obtaining the permit. Nuh-uh. 

The woman at the hotel was nice enough to draw an inaccurate and therefore useless map to the immigration office. We were told the office was open until 8 pm so we went for a ride to see if we could get our permits. After driving in circles and attempting to follow the map we returned to the hotel in defeat.

Upon becoming a bit exasperated by the language barrier a male employee decided he would just hop on the back of my motorbike and point out the location of the office. It was about two minutes from the hotel. When we arrived there were no lights coming from within. I assumed it was closed. We went back to the hotel where I looked up the word for ‘closed’ in my handy dandy phrasebook to ask if the office was still open. He insisted it was and reiterated that it was open until 8pm (he wrote 20 00h just to be clear). We returned to the office to discover it was in fact closed.

Time for dinner. We found a small place selling pho ga (Vietnamese chicken noodle soup). The folks there were as equally excited as everyone else to make our acquaintance. They served us but they didn't seem to like it. As we were still hungry afterward we went to a market and stocked up on junk food and water. The folks at the market were also exceeding friendly (insert sarcastic tone). Maybe it’s my nose.

The next morning I asked the front desk about breakfast but received a semi-scornful shake of the head and a finger point in a direction down the road. No hotel breakfast. To immigration we went. More friendliness. It was here we discovered that not only did we need a permit but we would also be required to have a guide. The motorbike rental agency told me I did not need a guide. The Lonely Planet says a guide is not required but the female immigration employee (Ms. Happy Fun Pants) was adamant on the subject. She was kind enough to offer to call a guide for us. Yaaaaay!!

I called the gentleman at the motorbike rental agency (Mr. Hung) back in Hanoi and handed the phone to one of the immigration folks so he could get to the bottom of this. After a discussion he told me that a guide is required for our safety in the event we become sick or injured in which case the guide will be able to provide assistance. Fair enough but it still felt a little like immigration may have been trying to generate business for the tour agency. Then again, who the fuck am I, really?

After discussing our options and vacating the hotel we returned to immigration and asked for the guide. Not five minutes later a Mr. Hai presented himself. We followed him to his office and procured his services. The folks there were a bit more friendly but not overwhelmingly so. While waiting for our permits we had breakfast in the small restaurant in the back. More Vietnamese tar and some meat (described as veal) that was mostly fat and skin. Scrumptious.

At about noon we finally set out. We were both glad that we decided to press on and not ditch the itinerary in favor of an alternative route. The scenery was magnificent and like no other mountain backdrop I have ever seen. Filled with countless rounded irregular peaks jutting through the sky like a series of malformed bony knuckles it is definitely worth a gander. Many of these peaks are covered with black flaky rocks and little vegetation giving the landscape an otherworldly and almost sinister feel (Actually, at this point just about everything felt sinister). To me the rocks resemble hastily carved gravestones. All the sensory input made driving the motorcycle a bit challenging.

The roads in this region are often subjected to heavy rains (especially during the monsoon season) and regularly succumb to landslides. They are frequently in a state of disrepair or in the process of being repaired. Not such big a deal but a small bike over rough landscape can be punishing to the back and asshole area. This is when a larger dirt bike would have proved most felicitous. Strangely, Mr. Hai did not seem overly concerned about leaving us behind and staying at least a kilometer or so ahead of us. I found this to be a might queer in light of all the hub-bub about our safety. But seriously, who the fuck am I, really?

While we were moving along we can across many work crews improving the road. In Vietnam improving the roads apparently means laying down a foundation of golfball-sized limestone rocks and chucking dirt over it. Upon approaching a mostly female crew at work I was startled when a woman threw a substantial pile of rocks right in front of the path I was taking. Had I been going a little faster she may have actually hit my front tire. Not sure what that was about but the indifference with which she committed this act forced us to giggle. Maybe it’s my eyes.

We arrived in the town of Dong Van in the late afternoon. Nothing too exciting about the town but the backdrop is beautiful even if the town itself is not. A simple meal, a bizarre café, a decent night’s rest, and we were off the next morning to Meo Vac, twenty-two kilometers from Dong Van. This was without a doubt the most spectacular scenery of the drive north. A winding mountain road carved out of the side of a rocky cliff. You want it.

We were fortunate enough to encounter some local children playing soccer in a rice field along our route. We spent a good ten minutes watching the game before moving along. Shortly thereafter we thanked Mr. Hai and bid him a fond farewell. He offered to lead us to our next destination (Ba Be Lakes) but we had a map and a shitload of false confidence so we declined. This would prove to be most unwise. Thankfully, we did accept a hand-written note with some useful phrases in Vietnamese should we become disoriented. We did.......

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'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim