Realizing that I needed to outrun this damn Swineflu that was bound to hit Vietnam at any moment, I decided the best thing to do would be get off the tourist trail for a couple days. Plus, I had been feeling a little too comfortable lately and felt the need to get away from the masses for a bit. Or so I thought.
In Hoi An, I decided to rent another motorbike and set off for a 3 day trip along the coast and eventually to Bach Ma National Park between Danang and Hue. I tried to explain this 300km trip to the lady that I was renting the moto from, stressing that I needed a quality bike that wouldn't go on the fritz in BFE. She first pointed to a motorbike and said "yeah good." I shook my head a little at the state of it and then she pointed to another bike and said "really good" and pointed back to the original bike and said "not good." With these words of confidence I set off out of Hoi An, past the Marble Mountains, China Beach (where U.S. soldiers used to take R&R), Danang, and finally through a series of mountain passes, one so enclosed in fog that many motorists stop and give alms for safe passage at one of the many roadside shrines that line the road. I clutched my lucky rabbit's foot and rode on. Once the fog cleared on the highest pass the views around this coastal road where pretty amazing. The highlight of the ride was definitely the peasant women who flagged down my bike from a far distance for a ride but when I stopped her terror stricken face at who she had waved down told me she was experiencing some deep regret. Through some hand gestures I convinced her that she would probably live through this ride and we were off. I dropped her off about 20km down the road and not long later I arrived at the entrance of Bach Ma. Formerly a mountain retreat for wealthy french colonists at the turn of the 20th century, the area later saw heavy fighting during the Vietnam War. Weapons, munitions, and human remains are still stumbled across and visitors are advised to stay on trails due to existence of unexploded mines that still litter the rain forest.
At the parks gate they informed me that for safety reasons I could not take my moto to the summit, where I was planning on spending the night. Basically an excuse to charge visitors. If I had to pinpoint a time where my love affair with Vietnam started to wane, I would say this was to be it. They said that my only option was to hire a car to take me up for about the price of a domestic flight in Vietnam. Or I could hike the 15 km up the mountain. Not one to voluntarily take a financial raping, I opted for the hike up. It was a pretty tiresome uphill climb, although my mental picture of a nice Vietnamese run guesthouse, with a friendly family offering me hot noodle soup at the top kept me going. 4 hours later I arrived at the top and found a manager who couldnt be bothered by the fact that the park authority had booked me into his "guesthouse." Apparently the free market benefits had yet to hit the national park circuit and because visitors are randomly placed in one of the 3 (overpriced) guesthouses on the summit, there is no incentive for cleanliness, friendliness, or just general care. Deekhead was able to confirm to me that I was the only person staying the night and was shown to an empty, derelict structure about half a kilometer from everything else.
My set up was mattress on the floor with the naked bulb in my room serving as the only illumination in this abandoned structure. Strong winds violently blew open and shut the doors and shutters all night in the 15 empty rooms around me. With heavy fog making visiblity zero around me it was probably one of the more eerie places I have laid my head. I went to bed wondering just what in the hell I was doing on top of this mountain.
Things did not get better. The next morning I woke early and started the 15km descent down. At the bottom the park guard tried to swindle a fee for "watching my bike" and I about lost it. I left him looking up "F-yourself" in his pocket English dictionary and jumped on the bike to head back south. Besides raining the whole descent down the moutain, it continued for about 3 of the 4 hours of the journey back. My cheap poncho provided little protection and the ride back was wet and cold. I tried to keep spirits up while riding throught the downpours by repeating the lines in Forrest Gump in the rain montage--"big ole' fat rain, rain that came in sideways...." Yes, wet deliruim had kicked in but it would pass. I arrived back in Hoi An a day early and decided to stay the night to dry out and head back out the next day.
The weather was a better the next day and I took the bike towards the ruins of My Son. It was a ride into the countryside that I wanted and was off track enough to see some genuine smiles and a sidestreet cockfight.
Weather and greedy bastards could not dampen the trip and overall it was good to get out and about. Sounds like a good time for a scenery change..