6,200 miles for the British and American amongst us. I’ve been riding with my speedometer set to miles-per-hour since leaving the UK despite the fact that every sign post and distance marker has been in kilometers since getting off the ferry in mainland Europe. This involves a lot of mental arithmetic while riding and results in a far less impressed stranger when I show them how far I’ve ridden, and then try to explain it’s not, in fact (only a mere) 6,200 km.
While I’m on the subject, since being welded back in Switzerland after only 1/10th of the current mileage the bike has held together impressively – I changed the chain and cassette back in Tehran, and the bottom bracket in Hanoi, and have done nothing but lube the chain since. Only 4 punctures and a handful of broken spokes despite carrying a bit too much weight and riding on some awful roads, as well as the freehub implosion – the abundance of sweat and humidity have rendered my leather handlebar tape a mould breeding ground but it’s nice to have the company.
So we’re currently somewhere in the vicinity of the site of the My Lai Massacre, where American soldiers killed 504 unarmed civillians before covering up the whole affair at every level, military and government. 42 years ago is very recent history. Could it happen today? I can’t help but wonder what all the toothless old ladies, straggly grey bearded old men and elderly amputees have seen, from Independence to colonisation to Independence again to starvation to war and an old age under communism. I wish we shared a language as there is so much I’d love to know and so few genuine sources to hear it from. Iran was such a special experience because the ability was there to ask questions and learn from the man and woman on the street. Despite apparently being on the increase as a second language, English at any deep level (i.e. deeper than those sentences dealing with financial transactions) seems very sparse and pretty much nonexistent outside of the tourist centres. I can’t even get people to understand my pronunciation of ‘bread’ so aside from the simplest of pleasantries my Vietnamese is never going to develop.
So a fun time was had playing the tourist in Hue, Vietnam’s old capital and ‘intellectual and cultural heart’. As always with these places it seems that the future has spoiled the past and history is covered up by snack foods and fashion – every second shop sells one or the other. We glimpsed some of the country’s varied past, from Emperors and their eunuchs and concubines to the Chinese, the French, independence, war, communism, theism and atheism. Does anyone remember the immolating Monk in the Sixties? We saw the car he drove to the site of his immolation in to protest about the repression of Buddhism in favour of Catholicism.
Georgie and I gave up our independence for a day to be lead around the city’s spread-out highlights, and while enjoying not having to find our own way for a change we both resented the lack of freedom. After 2 days we were ready to move on and take the short ride down to Hoi An. An incredibly pretty old trading town and home to no fewer than 200 tailors, out of approximately 250 businesses, with the other 50 being restaurants and hotels, or so it seemed. Chicken and the egg, Catch-22 – a place has a genuine reason for interest, people visit, people capitalise on those wanting to visit and before you know it the original reason to visit has been all but wiped out. Hoi An must have some kind of preservation society as things hadn’t run away too far, but strolling around the narrow streets of the Old Town while being serenaded by ‘hey you, come in my funky shop’ and the less refined but refreshingly upfront ‘BUY SOMETHING!?’ it was hard to get into the mind of a fellow doing the same a century and a half ago. Still, we made the most of these 21st Century ruinations and enjoyed a hotel with a swimming pool, a ridiculously decadent chocolate tart and the best dinner I’ve ever had that wasn’t cooked by my Mum.
We’re now into the beach-focused leg of the trip and will hopefully spend a few days lounging on one of the many white-sand and clear-water beaches the southern coast has to offer, in between the bursts of monsoon rain that make the temperature plummet to a chilly 25 degrees C (can you imagine?) before hitting the chaos of HCMC which is currently 520 miles away.
My waving and helloing energy is seriously depleted so I hope the Cambodians are significantly less friendly or else I won't make it to Singapore! Adam, where are you when I need you?!