Vietnam: The Final Chapter

So I returned from my Vietnam trip almost two months ago now, and I haven’t fully written about how it all ended. It’s taken this long for me to get round to it. For me, I came home early having reached a point during the trip where I decided it just wasn’t for me (see a few posts back). The first two weeks were fantastic, don’t get me wrong, and my life has definitely changed thanks to the experiences we had. I’m very glad I did it, and should such a situation arise again I may very well partake such an adventure again.

Matthew Ian Avis

Unfortunately for my traveling buddy, he was never to return.

Matt (Mavis to his friends, and Matthew Ian Avis to the newspapers) continued on with the trip without me. Being the biker he was, he fell in love with the trails and the stunning roads. A bikers heaven. He carried on with two other backpackers we’d met before I left (a team of riders whom I had previously nicknamed TIBULA). On Friday 6th December he sent me the map of the final route for the final ride:

Mathew Ian Avis

He knew I’d had enough of the bikes and continued to update me (and a biker forum, so I later found out) of all their breakdowns on that final leg. He was so keen to keep to the rough schedule we’d both agreed (get there 3 days before our return flight so we could sell the bikes on to other backpackers who want to ride back North).

Matthew Ian Avis

On Sunday 7th December they completed the trip. Well and truly within the time limits. I know he was over the moon to have finished the journey. And I was incredibly pleased for him to have done so, if not a little jealous (and annoyed that I hadn’t completed it). It was long, arduous, painful, costly and life changing. But he did it (unlike me). A fantastic achievement.

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Mavis died in the early hours of Sunday 8th in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. My understanding is that they had gone out that night to celebrate the end of the trip, and somehow (yet to be fully explained to me) he fell from a balcony at the hostel he was staying at and died from his injuries. He was 33.

It’s indescribable for me to try put anything into words that explains how I feel. People go through grief in a multitude of fashions. It pains me in unfathomable ways that I didn’t stay longer and complete the trip too. It pains me that I wasn’t there. It pains me that Mavis is no longer with us.

We all suffer the loss of such a fantastic friend, colleague, brother and son. But nobody loses out more than Mavis, for not being given the opportunity to carry on with the crazy, lucky, full life he lead.

But when he was here, we did incredible things with incredible people. And that’s what I’m taking from him. Be incredible.

Matthew Ian Avis

I tip my hat to our employer, Endemol and Channel 5, who allowed us to dedicate the first show of Celebrity Big Brother 2015 to Mavis as he was due to start pre-production Directing on the series when we returned from Vietnam in December. The entire crew (large enough that all our offices and portacabins are referred to as “the village”) have taken a huge blow with his loss. A donation was also made towards the charity chosen by his family at the funeral.

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?