Vietnam: The Long Unknown

This blog post describes a future trip and the reasons for it, delving into the thought processes of what might be required to travel 1600 miles from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh.

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I spend a lot of my time doing things for other people. I do it naturally without thinking, and it’s always been just the way I am. If someone needs a hand with something or I can be of assistance in any way, I’ll “down tools” and help. Simple things like swapping shifts to ease someone else’s troubles, picking up and dropping things off because someone isn’t in a position to hire a van or has no licence to drive themselves, or storing someone’s belongings long-term up the attic whilst they work abroad. If someone needs a lift to work, has some shopping they need collected, something dropped off at the post office or their kids collected from school, I’m the one to do it. Not to mention the three years I spent as a Special Constable Police Officer in London, giving my time every weekend and other spare hour to volunteer and help the city and its inhabitants. God knows how many hours of my time that was, and the countless human interactions I must have encountered and helped along the way. But these are all easy things to do at little or no cost to me. And whilst these examples are in no way any burden or problematic in any way, it was highlighted to me that I don’t necessarily look after myself in the same way that I might look after other people. And that’s a fair point. So when a discussion at work arose regarding a long, and rather daunting, off-the-beaten-track “holiday” to Vietnam, it seemed like it could be the ideal trip for me to take the time away and hit the “reset” button, and do something I wouldn’t normally do. And do it for myself. It’d be nice to be out in the wilderness, away from society and technology, and take a closer look at life elsewhere. An eye opener. Perhaps a slap in the face. We’re all of limited time on this earth and I’d hate to have missed the opportunity to take on such a task. Especially given my nature with not doing things for myself! So with my limited spontaneity (I don’t like unpredictability), I agreed with my friend, Clarence (not his real name!), to join the trip. There’s a high percentage of people who’ve suggested they’re quite jealous of the prospect ahead for Clarence and I, though I realise there’s also a handful (my family!) who’d rather I wasn’t risking myself in such a way. Hopefully all ideas of fear and dread will fade as time goes on, though I understand the situation and their thoughts completely.

Long story short, the journey involves myself and a friend flying to Hanoi in northern Vietnam, buying motorbikes and travelling southwards towards Ho Chi Minh over a period of 28 days.

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Easy, right? The distance would vary, depending on the routes we decide to take (and how lost we might get), but could be anything from 1200 to 1600 miles. We’ve worked out worst-case scenarios including delayed flights, how long it might take us to find second-hand bikes, weather conditions (it’d be at the end of monsoon season), accidents, getting lost, etc. With contingencies considered, we decided upon a target of roughly 60 miles per day. Given the length of time we’ve given ourselves, we could easily complete the journey in 25 days. With bikes that will likely only be able to do 30-40mph, we’d only need to travel two hours per day to achieve this. Depending on where we end up, and the weather conditions, we may end up riding longer than required just to get to a hotel or hostel (or beach). This gives us extra time at the beginning of the trip to find the bikes, and time at the end to get to Ho Chi Minh the day before our flights home. 28 days seems perfectly achievable. Today we sat down to work out a rough plan. One thing we’ve both agreed on is not to have a fixed itinerary. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve both researched other bloggers and travellers, reading reviews of similar trips, gathering do’s and don’ts, tidbits and gems. All of them seem to suggest taking it easy, and taking each day as it comes. Don’t plan anything. For us this is perfectly do-able, though we have factored in a visit to a friend along the way. This pit stop works in our favour as they live in Da Nang, which sits roughly half way down the coast. This basically means we should be half way through our journey by the time we reach Da Nang. With a few other key places along the way, we’ve more than enough days to take time, stop, and just look around. One thing we discussed was shooting travel documentaries for websites, in order to give future travellers an insight into what they might experience on such a journey. With this in mind, we’ve also agreed on taking camera equipment split between us so we can capture both photographs and video of the journey. As it stands, a lot of this trip is completely unknown. There’s probably dozens upon dozens of worthy sights I’ve seen online. Clarence has too. But the best plan, if you can call it that, seems to be just to get there and see what happens.

28 days in Vietnam with nothing but the unknown ahead. Getting to the start seems like the easy bit. What happens next is completely out of our hands. And that’s something I’ve fallen in love with.

Have I mentioned I’ve never ridden a motorbike?

A Symi Holiday: Day 11

In brief: The quietest day ever! I shuffled the holiday around to fit in a one-day scuba experience in Rhodes, searched for another geocache and ate in an empty restaurant!

I hit the sack last night before 10pm, clearly shattered from swimming during the days round-the-island excursion. I didn’t wake up in the morning, I woke up at 1pm. With nothing formally planned, except a small hike to find the closest geocache, what I really had in mind was an office day. I managed to finish writing yesterdays blog in between returning work-related emails. Several job offers had come through in the last week but all during the time I was still out of the UK. It’s a pity no jobs came up in Greece. Damnit. Should have thought of that!

Whilst going through my emails I discovered a diving school in Rhodes had written back to me. Last week I had enquired about a one-day scuba diving experience with them. I figured the slow reply was due to it being near the end of the season and business tailing off. Nevertheless they did get back to me, and informed me they could still take a rare booking and I could either book to dive on Thursday or Saturday. Today was Thursday, so that was ruled out. So off I went to look at ferry timetables from Symi to Rhodes on Saturday. I had meant to look at times sooner as transport wasn’t running as often as they did when I arrived just over a week ago. End of the season. Blah blah. The Dodekanisos Seaways catamaran I had arrived on was already dropping Mondays and Tuesdays from their timetable.

This was a problem. My first flight back was on Monday evening from Rhodes to Athens. Meaning I’d have to get the catamaran or ferry from Symi to Rhodes on Sunday, and stay over somewhere (preferably not the airport. Been there, done that. Never again). With the diving experience now on the cards it sort of made sense to get the ferry over for Saturday morning. But that wasn’t running either. The answer was to leave behind the beautiful island of Symi on Friday evening to stay in Rhodes for 3 nights. Not only did this plan allow me the scuba experience on Saturday, it allowed me the weekend in Rhodes. In an actual hotel!

So the accommodation was booked, the diving was booked and I was more organised for getting myself home. I’d be sad to leave such a beautiful and wonderful place behind. So many friendly characters, both the locals and the ex-pats.

Having been in my make-shift office (sat on the spare bed) for far too long I had the urge to complete one simple task for today. I say simple. It could have been excruciating. The geocaching.com website informed me there were eight cache sites on Symi, as opposed to the three I seemed to think there were. From the choices available I decided I was likely only going to have complete four of them by Friday, including the one I managed to find on Tuesday. With the light fading I chose to go for the closest one entitled The Beauty Of Symi.

Knowing the short cut to the church behind the apartment saved me probably an hour. I imagine most people hiking for this cache would be day-trip visitors to Symi who’d need to climb the Kali Strata steps first, as well as make their way through the ancient ruins towards the church. It took me 5 minutes to get there. Another half hour later I was still marching around the rocks, on several occasions just stood there like a lemon, staring at my phone. I got caught at one point, by muggles; non-geocachers who aren’t playing the game. They were walking along one of those conventional walkways. Oh, you know, what are they called? Ah yes, pavements. Those things I’ve hardly used this holiday. I was up a section of rock, where there clearly is neither a route nor anything of general interest. I had my phone outstretched in front of me, using GPS to hone in on the coordinates of the cache. I must have looked like an extra from Star Trek. I should have played on it, putting a finger up to my ear and pretended to talk to some other being whilst scanning the rocks for life. Then again, perhaps not.

Using the geocache app made the find much easier, considering it shows you a map and draws a line from you to the cache, telling you how close you actually are to the find with an arrow and a distance. I didn’t have the app on Tuesday when I was up by the windmills. Back then I did it by sheer determination. And the help of Google. This app is my new best friend.

Five minutes after being muggle-spotted, I had scampered further up the rocks. I’d come to realise I should have used my eyes more than the app. Looking for different coloured rocks that seem out of place in an unnatural formation, seemingly hiding something, are how I’ve come across both caches so far. And there she was…

The Beauty Of Symi GC13WNY

This was a micro cache. A tiny old plastic film roll, with a wrap of brown tape around it, wrapped in a worn zip lock bag. A very small item to find. Inside the film roll were two sheets of post-it notes with scribbled names and dates on. Page one stated “Temporary Logbook”. Again, I had no pen. I’d figured I could probably find a pen from somewhere, if not buy one, and maybe I could hit the two caches again to get my details onto the logs. Time was a challenge now. So if not, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

The Beauty Of Symi geocache GC13WNY

As you can see from the image, it would be a shame not to have an entry in the logbook. Geocachers from Slovakia, Germany and the Czech Republic had found it. And The Lighthouse Family. I wanted my name on there too. and a stamp for the UK.

Darkness was rapidly descending as I snapped the picture and hid the cache away again, leaving it just as I had found it (unofficial Rule 3). The only thing left on my mind was food! climbing back down from the church, I wandered back down to the local shop and bought some milk for the next mornings Coco Pops, and my coffee that I still had left in the apartment. Whilst walking back I wandered passed a restaurant that hadn’t been open on other days. Maybe I just hadn’t noticed. It looked like a couple were enjoying dinner and the menu looked alright, so I popped in. I then discovered it wasn’t a romantic couple. It was the owner and the chef, playing backgammon. In fact the place was completely empty. The owner seemed genuinely shocked that he had a customer, his eyebrows raised and his mouth open. I asked if they were still open and he smiled and waved me to a table. The backgammon disappeared. Suddenly a greek CD started playing, or at least skipping, and I was offered the days specials.

Yet again the food was great. The salad was suffice, and that was just the starter. It must have had two whole tomatoes (large), a whole onion (large), green peppers (large), lettuce (fresh. And large) and a fair chunk of seasoned feta cheese in it. Then came the lamb with potatoes. Succulent is one word to use. It fell off the bone when you touched it. Perfectly cooked. And after that I was given a small cube of spongecake with a sticky base and coconut sprinkles.

I thanked the owner, and made sure my shout of appreciation was loud enough for the chef to hear too.

Overall, a short day with a wonderful last supper on Symi.

Oh and of course, Cat(s) Of The Day:

Symi Biker Kitten

Symi Biker Kitten