This morning started in a fairly typical way; I woke up, showered, ate breakfast and met up with the others. Today is 17 September and I was completely oblivious to the day’s events that lay ahead. Had I realised what was in store for me today I would never have got out of bed.
Last night we (my brother, his girlfriend and my brother’s mate Dan) decided that we would organise the motorbikes today and head for our first stop, Ha Long Bay, a total distance of 160km east of Hanoi.
We spent most of the morning finding a reputable motorbike shop to rent the motorbikes to us and make the rental arrangements which was all sorted by my brother and Dan. Another portion of the morning was spent walking around trying to find appropriate motorbike helmets for the four of us.
The last thing to be done before heading back to the motorbike shop was to organise payment which means cash. We find an ATM and each withdraw the cash required for the motorbike hire. I withdraw VND$4,000,000.00 (AU$317). This amusingly leaves me with a balance in my bank account of $114,676,328.40. I paid VND$20,000.00 (AU$1.58) in bank fees.
By the time all this was organised and we got back to the motorbike shop ready to begin our journey, it was nearly 2:30pm.
The bike that I am shown is a proper Honda motorbike. My first thought was good grief, what am I supposed to do with this huge thing….I pictured a Vesper/Scooter.
Dan gave me a quick instructional, pointing to the footbrake, the accelerator and the hand brake with a suggestion that I might want to use the foot brake rather than the hand brake …right!
We all got on our bikes and were officially off….but like any trip we had to do the obligatory first stop for petrol. The volume of motorbikes coming through the petrol station was fast paced and I must have been very slow because the attendant ended up pushing my motorbike out of the way while I was hurriedly trying to organised payment.
So, again…take two and we are off. Exiting from the petrol station we came to our first set of traffic lights at a cross intersection. The plan was to make a left hand turn into a two-lane road. I was sitting at the front of the lights, my brother to my left and a car to my right. My brother’s girlfriend and Dan made it through the lights and were somewhere further up the road waiting for us. The lights turned green and I went to turn left, next thing I know, the car to my right was nearly on top of me and my reaction was to kick my right leg against the quarter panel of the car. This movement caused me to adjust my right hand (my accelerator hand), causing the motorbike to suddenly accelerate forward. I somehow managed to keep upright while I went careering across all 4 lanes.
I somehow had the luck and/or the sense to continue to stay upright and, while keeping my hand on the handlebar, released my grip on the accelerator completely, which allowed me to bring myself to a rolling stop. I was now on the opposite side of the cross intersection, lucky to have narrowly missed hitting a brick wall along the way.
Safely stopped, I slowly dismounted, put the bike’s stand down and leant the bike gently onto its stand. I had “landed” opposite some shops and, on looking up, I saw the locals, amused by my situation, are openly giggling….great!
I walk back to the main road and beyond the brick wall and look to my right in the direction of where the others should hopefully be. I saw they were waiting further down by the side of the road. All I could do is wave for them to come back. Within a couple of minutes they reached me.
My first thought was thank god I am ok…the second thought was…the car driver is going to be so angry. As it turned the car never came back.
My brother called the guys from the motorbike shop who brought some tools with them to fix the foot pedal which must have been bent when I made contact with the car. There was a brief debate as to whether I should continue on the motorbike and there were differing opinions. As a compromise the guys from the motorbike shop offered to ride me (as pillion) to the outskirts of Hanoi and then they would pass the motorbike back over to me once we reached the main road to Hai Phong (and Ha Long Bay).
I agreed with this plan and I jumped on the back of the bike until we reach the appropriate spot. The bike was then handed back to me and I was on my own again.
I admit that there were some initial brief moments of enjoyment riding along but any feeling of enjoyment diminished for me I think in about the third hour or riding.
As we moved into hour number 4, and night began to fall, I was looking pretty miserable.
Hour 5 and I was praying for the motorbike nightmare to be over. It had been dark for some time and we were still not there but I had no option but to keep going. Lets just add that (at home) I generally struggle driving my car at night.
Somehow, up ahead, in the dark, I saw that my brother and Dan were waiting on the side of the road. Somehow, again, I managed to come to a stop next to them.
My brother explained (pointing to a hotel across the road) that we were stopping there for the night. I couldn’t have be more relieved. We had made it to Hai Phong, exactly 100km east of Hanoi, 50km short of our destination. It was 7:00pm and we had been riding for 4.5 hours.
If I had taken a bus from Hanoi (for instance) I would have been in Hai Phong in two hours. Hai Phong is north Vietnam’s principal port (and not a destination in itself). Further on from Hai Phong is Ha Long Bay and is a popular destination for tourists (and why I am going there). This makes the two lane “highway” between Hanoi and Hai Phong a very busy road with a constant flow of trucks, buses, cars and motorbikes, all tooting their way to their destination.
I think I had been riding in a frozen state for the last two hours of the ride and at one point I was too afraid to think about what I was actually doing for fear of losing the plot completely and falling off the motorbike.
Sitting across the road from the hotel…all I had to do was ride the motorbike across the road into the car park…no I couldn’t do it…I said to my brother I can’t do it…he thought I was joking. I finally convinced him I was serious and he (easily) rode the motorbike for me across into the carpark. I walked my way across the road.
I couldn’t believe I had made it (alive). The others agreed that, considering I had never ridden a motorbike before, they were amazed at how well I did, especially after my first …hiccup.
We are all exhausted. My brother’s girlfriend is so tired she doesn’t even have the energy to get some dinner. My brother, Dan and I walk down the road and find a meal (my chicken rice with a coke ends up costing me about AU$.60).
I am so lucky not to have been killed (several times). While I am pleased I ‘had a go”, I know now how stupid and foolhardy I have been. I would greatly discourage anybody trying this themself.
Now to work out what to do with the motorbike….