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Goodbye Vietnam

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

My last stop on the road out of Vietnam was the town of Diem Bien Phu. I really knew very much about the place but I learned that it was the site of the Frenchs last stand in Vietnam. Basically, the US tourists come to visit the DMZ and the French come to visit DBP. It turned out to be a fairly interesting town as they focused on the history rather than strictly knocking everything down and rebuilding it like every other new town. Everywhere you go there is some old piece of military equipment lying around as well as some recreated bunkers and such.

I think this is where one of the French commanders committed suicide after his plans went to hell.

The view from a hilltop overlooking the city and the valley.

The new Vietnamese border complex which looks like it will be opening soon. The Tay Trang border which I crossed had just opened within the last couple of years and has made life a lot easier for travelers visiting the north. Immigration was a worry as I had the bike but also because I lost my customs/exit card (actually I never got one because I didn’t go to customs when I came into Vietnam.) It turned out to be nothing as the Vietnamese was a quick five minutes for passport stamp and nothing for the bike. FYI, you are not supposed to drive through the Immigration area so you have to dismount from your bike and push it through.

On the Laos side it was also fairly straight forward although they did register the bike. Again, they don’t like people driving through the Immigration area so you have to follow the arrows around the complex and back to the building. Where there is a stop sign you have to park and then walk into the admin area. I ended up paying $35US for my Visa, 50,000K for registering the bike, 5000K for processing, and 2000k for spraying the bike to prevent Bird Flu. It took around 45 minutes and I was on my way.

One huge swing came after leaving the Laos side. The skies cleared and the sun came through. No shit. It was the weirdest thing. Five minutes after leaving the check point (which is at the top of the pass) I had my jacket off and was basking in clear blue skies. It hasn’t been cold since.

And that is the end of Vietnam.

A Hmong New Year.

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

After Sapa I made my way towards the newly opened (2007?) Laos-Vietnam border at Tay Trang. It took a few days as I stopped in New Lai Chau, Muong Lay (the old Lai Chau), and Dien Bien Phu. Once past Sapa the mountains turn to more rolling hills as the road follows a river valley.

About the only thing I new about the northern part of SE Asia was that it was home to Hmongs. Hmongs make up a large portion of the EM’s in the areas around northern Vietnam and Laos. I was actually familiar with them as I actually grew up with them in Fresno, California. I don’t know about the specifics, but in the late 70’s a large population was brought in and one of the largest settlements was in my hometown of Fresno. I am guessing as Fresno is mainly an agricultural center right in the central valley of California, the farmlands would be close to what the people would know. Since I grew up with many of them, I found that it would be interesting to see where they had come from. It also won’t hurt when I go back and tell the younger generations that I am more Hmong than them since I have been to the homelands and they have not, just like when I go back and start telling people I am African (year and a half baby.)

While driving along the windy mountain roads, at the highest points there would be villages and it was most of the time the colorful hmongs (EM’s). Being Tet holiday season, there were lots of festivities going on and primarily the women and girls were all dressed to the hilt. I was kicking myself because there would be groups of beautifully dressed girls walking along the road but I was too focused on going to stop and ask for some photos. I thought I had blown it when I pulled up to one village and they were having one of the ball tossing ceremonies. I remember these from school when they talked about the ritual of marriage aged teens getting all dressed up and the initial meeting between candidates would be to stand in lines of males and females and play catch with a potential suitor. Coming over a hill I drove right into one. I stopped and took a bunch of photos as there was a local guy with a nice SLR taking photos and he asked me if I wanted to join him as he took photos. It worked out great as I was able to wander around without feeling like a total outsider. I was even offered a bride of my own but I had to bow out as Sasha couldn’t handle another passenger.

A perfect over view.

My potential wife.

This was the info if you can read the language.

Like most dances, girls hang with the girls and guys hang with the guys.

They guys played this violent game of tops.

From floor level.

Playing catch for love.

Younger girls practicing so they are ready when their big day comes.

That’s right, forever. No more carousing around with the boys, no more late night partying, no more girlfriends, no more, no more, no more. Little guy is just not feeling the love.

A family affair.

A couple of generations.

More playing ball.

Break time.

Girls checking out the action.

Journey to the pinnacle- Sapa

Saturday, January 31st, 2009
dscn0081.JPG After Halong Bay I decided to take an alternative route north bypassing Hanoi and heading in the less popular counter-clockwise route to Sapa. Most motorcyclists go clockwise starting in the central highlands ... [Continue reading this entry]

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Friday, January 23rd, 2009
copy-of-dscn0065-1.jpg I was under a bit of a timeline as I needed to be out of Vietnam by the 30th. I had already gotten a visa extension so I really had to get ... [Continue reading this entry]

Shopping in Hanoi: Merry Christmas to me.

Friday, January 23rd, 2009
Capital cities are not necessarily my favorite places, but when it comes to shopping, often times the capital is the only place to either find items or to get the best deal. Making my way north, the climate definitely ... [Continue reading this entry]

Photos: On the road, Vietnam

Friday, January 16th, 2009
100_7012.JPG 100_7017.JPG 100_7020.JPG Limestone rock formations. If you can picture these around Nimh Binh the place where the camera finally died ... [Continue reading this entry]

Dong Hoi to Hanoi: Lost in rice.

Friday, January 16th, 2009
100_7015.JPG Wow, talk about being lost. Picture this. 8:00 pm (the sun sets at 5pm), it’s been raining the whole day, I’ve been on the road since 8am, your in the farm ... [Continue reading this entry]

Photos from the Ho Chi Minh

Friday, January 16th, 2009
part1-1.JPG Display of weapons from Khe Sahn Museum. part1-2.JPG The old Khe Sahn airport runway. Still there after all these years. part1.JPG[Continue reading this entry]

Hue – Aluoi – Khe Sahn – Dong Hoi – Vinh (ouch) – Nimh Binh

Friday, January 16th, 2009
part1-12.JPG You don’t know how miserable of a feeling you get watching the rain come down out your fully equipped luxury pad and knowing that you have to ride through the stuff back into ... [Continue reading this entry]

Happy New Year 2009!

Friday, January 2nd, 2009
copy-of-100_6946-copy.jpg It was a dark and rainy night. At the stroke of midnight it turned into a dark and rainy New Year. And it kept raining and it’s still raining. Hue ... [Continue reading this entry]