December 3rd – 11:37pm Hanoi time – Hotel du Centre Ville, Hanoi
An adventurous and eventful couple of days have passed.
Yesterday morning in the midst of what can only be described as a wet monsoon, we decided to stick to our plan of visiting the My Son ruins – a UNESCO world heritage site – by renting scooters and making our way there without a guide or tour. Needless to say, it was a quest for the books.
After acquiring some much needed ponchos, we familiarized ourselves with our rental scooters, linked up with our German friend Tobias and started our journey. It took us less than one minute to get lost; just three tourists looking for gas. After stopping to ask for directions well over three times, we found the gas station. Loading up our tanks took a whole of 65,000 Dong (just under $4 CAD) and that’s when the real fun began – we joined the swarm that is Vietnam traffic. We were told to follow the same road as the gas station to make our way to My Son, which would later have signs on the side of the road telling us where to go. Easy enough.
Taking our time riding the shoulder, we exited Hoi An. Unbeknownst to us, the entire town is bordered by rice fields. It took us no time at all to witness a majestic herd of water buffalo roaming the fields, and even a scuffle between two of the males. The herd was surrounded by white herons.
The rice fields are broken up by trodden dirt paths and shanty’s crafted out of tarps and wagons, with boards and blankets serving as both flooring and bedding. The most drastic poverty line we could have imagined is drawn between our small town refuge and its surroundings. Further down the road, the shacks grow walls and rooves, but only just. There are men fishing in the creek on the side of the road, which seems to consist more of potholes than concrete.
Traffic behaves as fiercely as we expected, but it is no match for the battering rain smashing into our faces; the blinding drops forcing a squint for the entirety of the ride. Once past the slum-like surrounding area (of course, after stopping once more for some quick affirmation of our directions and some bottled water) our quest places us at the foot of the most beautiful citadels donning communist flags and symbols, spiking the poverty line once more. We stop a third time for directions.
We were either unintentionally misinformed or blatantly lied to about reliable road signage that could lead the way. Out here, we’re on our own. Yet, thankfully, the locals stay true to their proven character and friendlily point us the right way. We merge onto a main road and stop again for directions at the next largest junction (if you couldn’t tell, there’s a bit of a theme going on here). Not a road-sign in sight to point us towards what would presumably be the most significant landmark in the area.
Finally, we blast onto a strip of highway into maddening traffic. The rain is yet to let up and, if anything, keeps getting stronger. We fire past the first road sign we’ve yet to see and are forced to flip a u-turn on the highway which was thankfully uneventful. We’re now on the road to the ruins, gunning it as fast as we can through the maelstrom of water droplets pelting against our sodden cheeks and seeping through our ponchos at every opportunity. We take a quick break for some soup to warm up before making our way onto the last leg of the drive, but not before stopping to engage with the eeriest of sightings: a seemingly abandoned merry-go-round on the corner of a junction across from what appears to be a mill or processing grounds of sorts, in the midst of a beaten looking suburb. We have our fun, then mount up to push through the hills and up to the ruins. After parking our scooters and paying the entry fee, we board a stretch golf-cart shuttle which takes us up to the access path. The area is lush with vegetation. We draw pop-culture parallels to Jurassic Park as we soaked tourists anticipate our arrival at the top.
The ruins are spread out along a flooding looping trail which we start on from the drop-off point. Our eyes laid on the first grouping of brick, we are fascinated. Having been built as early as the 8th century and mostly completely destroyed by war, it’s an overwhelming sensation to stand amongst these structures. As we make our way through the various sites it’s difficult to encapsulate with words how awe-striking some of these creations are, not to mention their resilience given the arduous conditions they befell or how heart-wrenching it is to see them in such a state, knowing they became this way through acts of ignorance, greed and hatred.
Nearly every statue – even those laid into the walls – have been beheaded, raided by thieves to sell the fragments off to the highest bidders. It’s truly difficult to envision our surroundings as once having been bustling with life and society far up in the mountains that cradle these ancient arrangements. We soak in as much as we can (though not as much as our shoes – yes, it’s still unrelentingly rainy) and head back to our scooters.
Minutes into the ride back we manage to get split up, and stay that way the entire way home. Tobias and myself are under the impression that we’re behind Teaghan who we last saw up ahead. Little did we know that he turned around to check up on us and somehow we crossed paths without even knowing it. Tobias and I race back as quick as we can manage without bashing our eyes out with water droplets in hopes of catching up with Teaghan, who we ended up beating back to Hoi An. Thankfully, he arrived only minutes behind us.
With the storm still raging at full capacity, we link up with our UK friends for the final suit fitting before one last evening of food and beers to bid eachother farewell. The following day we’ll all take our leave from Hoi An in opposite directions.
We wake the next day, plot our course for our next destination, the northern mountain town of Sa Pa, and enjoy the last few hours in Hoi An with a final lunch at our favourite cafeteria before wandering the town's sunny yet flooded-to-the-knee streets after yesterday’s downpour. The river and the road became one as the pushboats may their way into the street to transport tourists across this newly minted moat.
To get to Sa Pa, we hire a car to take us back to the Da Nang airport (somehow this is half the cost of a taxi) take an $18 USD flight from Da Nang to Hanoi, stay the night in Hanoi, and catch a 6:45am bus ride for 7+ hours up to Sa Pa.
Our story takes a tragic turn when, at the Da Nang airport, Teaghan notices a crucial piece of camera hardware has gone awry, largely incapacitating the ability to capture quality images. Since the flight to Hanoi lands so late, there’s no chance for us to get to a camera store before our crack of dawn bus Northward tomorrow morning. To makes things more difficult, we only have one bar of battery left on the 2nd camera/GoPro, and no charger or cables with us to juice it back up. Thankfully it looks like, although limited, there’s still hope for some crafty measures to be taken in order to produce some worthwhile results with the main camera despite the hardware complications.
We’re now near the end of our latest trajectory, resting in our hotel in Hanoi awaiting the bus ride North tomorrow morning. Hanoi is bustling this Saturday evening. I take to the streets to explore the surrounding Old Quarter neighbourhood, grab some supplies, sample the street meat, and wander the night market while Teaghan stays in for some much needed rest.
Our journey continues as we push further North into what is reputedly one of the most scenic regions in beautiful Vietnam. We await this next chapter with eager anticipation.
Words by Baylan McGraw