Vietnam: The Long Unknown – Update 4

This blog covers the drive from Ninh Binh to Sam Son, an awesome resort, the drive from Sam Son to the middle of nowhere, and an awesome experience with a local family. Police checks avoided; 7. Distance covered 240km.

Total distance; 780km.


I felt sad to leave Tham at the Anna Tham Hotel. She was incredibly grateful and such a hard working young person. She runs that whole place (as the only English speaking person in her family business). So much to deal with. She was so happy to have had us, and grateful for being such model guests. She even asked me if I’d come back and marry her friend, and hopes we have the wedding at her hotel! (I even gave my address, just in case!!).

After breakfast we said our goodbyes to the Dutch couple (Eric and Renatta) who we’d sat and had drinks with both nights before, and hit the road. The journey was a short one of only 80km, so not much compared to the monster journeys we’ve done before. There were lots of smaller towns along the way which slowed us down, thanks to traffic lights and crazy no-rule junctions where kids bolt out from nowhere. On one of our stops, a security guard appeared from a factory and walked over to see us. He spoke no English but pointed to his own ID Card. He also pointed to the licence plates a couple of times. We think he was trying to see if we had ownership or licences for the bike. In the end, we’ll never know. We tried to tell us the route we were planning, and he recognised Hanoi, Ha Long, Da Nang. That kept him content that we’d ridden quite a distance already. But just in case we decided to move on, so as not to draw more attention. He nodded and drew out “150km” on my bag as indication to our next location, then waved us off. Nice enough!

We headed towards a place on Google Maps where we knew there was a 9/10 rated hotel. It was a beach location in Sam Son. But when we finally got there, both Clarence and I were quite shocked. The entire town, beach front and all, looked completely desolate. Everything was closed down, worn out, sun bleached, and wasting away. It was like an abandoned film set. There was even a mini theme park with roller coaster and tea cups, but it was truly degraded and broken. A handful of locals were sorting out fishing nets, and ladies in nón lá (leaf hats) spreading tiny shrimp out across swathes of the road to dry them out. A very strange sight indeed.

We stopped to double check the map and see if we were in the right place. When we looked up, an old man was stood beside us. He was more interested in the bikes than us. Usually it’s the other way around. Turns out an expensive (for Vietnam, but in reality only £20 per night per person) resort was just around the corner. The Van Chai Resort is a huge luxurious place with indoor and outdoor pool, gym, sauna, massage, beach front, gorgeous rooms and a large restaurant. We worked out it could probably host over 100 in the houses (they were individual little flats, like a small village), but only 6 of us were actually staying. The staff were very keen to help us and keep us pleased. A typical Vietnamese custom.

At sunset I took out my QuadCopter for a fly around the area. What I didn’t see were the workers at the other end of the resort who were building another restaurant by the outdoor pool. They all stopped to study my flying camera. They didn’t see me, so I nudged it over towards them and they jumped around with glee. One of them coaxed it like a dog to come towards him. He directed it around, and I entertained it. Fun to see. When I wandered over they were fascinated to be able to see the shot on my iPhone from the camera. I pointed up and fired it straight up over 800ft and showed them the whole resort from above. They were awestruck. One of the workers pointed out to a fishing vessel and directed me to fly it over them. I took it out over the water but lost visual with it. The downlink video just showed sea and a tiny boat, and without line of sight I felt uncomfortable. I pretended to lose it. The workers clapped and jumped, thinking it was gone. So I turned off the controller and crossed my arms, shaking my head. They looked surprised and incredulous. But I knew the QuadCopter would trigger the Return To Home function. About 20 seconds later it shot out of the fog towards us, climbing to 60 feet. With no signal from me it hovered then slowly dropped before landing at my feet and shutting down. By their reaction you’d think I’d have won a gold medal. None of us spoke each other’s language but I tried to explain it needed to recharge. There were smiles, nods and handshakes before the who,e thing was over. It was a rather interesting 20 minutes.

The rooms (or little dorms) held two beds with mosquito nets, stone slab floor, shells embedded in the floor, a huge bathroom with bath, and an outdoor shower. I mentioned this was just under £20, right? It’s the height of decadence for my experience!

The next morning we headed off. I strapped my GoPro to my helmet to get some footage. I ended up leaving it till the battery run out. In a bizarre turn of events we’d ended up taking s wrong turn. Down back streets and criss cross roads, we’d turned into a rundown slum area. Tiny kids played dice in the street, hit each other with sticks, helped their parents in the fields. Every single one of them smiling. Even though they were covered in dirt, ripped clothes, proper slum kids. And every time they saw Clarance up ahead and then me, they’d shout “hello!!” And we’d get a wave.

Waving hello and peace signs have become a regular occurrence. Though I’m still not convinced we are saying “hello” with a peaceful V sign. Online there’s blogs where people say it’s a happy way of saying hello by the younger generations. They do it constantly on their Twitter and Instagram feeds. The older generation link peace to the war. Others have said we are simply announcing the number two, as “Hi” in English is “Hai” in Vietnamese, which simply means the number two!

Several hours later we rolled into yet another dead seaside town. This had much more people, but certainly no fancy hotels. We booked something online and rolled up to find the place looking closed. The owner directed us behind the building and we ended up locking our bikes inside a desolate restaurant. The hotel was open, but it was more like an asylum or prison. Not a great place, but there were beds and wifi. No toilet roll though.

Wandering the streets for food became an experience. Clarence and his massive beard drew crowds, and kids began surrounding us on bikes shouting “hello!” and flashing the V gesture. You’d think we were rock stars. A bit too close for comfort though, so we headed back to the hotel after grabbing a bag of biscuits from some baby store. Looking defeated we headed over to the last cafe-looking place just before the hotel. An older man was sat eating what looked like potato fritters. He gestured for us to come in. I thought he was going to serve us, but he actually pulled alongside two chairs and handed us slices from his plate. I’m guessing they were mashed potato with herbs and onions in, pan fried. Tasty though!

A few minutes later we had beers, and the old mans son, Called Bee (?) came and joined us. He spoke English and invited us to have dinner with his family. We sat shoeless and cross legged on the floor, eating cabbage, fermented eggs, boiled meat, fish slices and rice. An authentic Vietnamese meal with a real family. We swapped interests and discussed football, TV, and skirted around the war. We talked about marriage and travel, and he translated the news channel for us (one story was about a couple importing 2kg of heroin. He told us they’d be shot instead of imprisoned. That’s what happens in Vietnam).

Being tired after our longer trip we agreed we’d see them in the morning before we go, and Bee said he would have breakfast and coffee ready for us at no charge. This place is such a friendly happy place…

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