After a few days in Phong Nha, I continue my journey through the rest of Vietnam. Time is running short if I want to follow up on my plan to loop the Tonkinese Alps in the northwestern part of the country. Early in the morning, I am tying my backpack down on the motorbike rack and drive as far as I possibly can; 450 kilometres of dirt roads in 11 hours of heat. Definitely the longest stretch I have been driving in one single day on my journey so far. Occasionally, I stop for a quick Vietnamese coffee and a delicious Vietnamese Bánh Mì. About 100 kilometres before Cam Thuy, I cannot resists to stop and watch the sun setting between towering limestone karsts surrounded by green fields.
I am about to start my motorbike adventure in Ho Chi Minh City right after sunrise. A free breakfast at the hostel causes a changes of plans though. I end up in the middle of the morning rush hour. Constantly, I need to stop to check the map. One thing is for sure, Ho Chi Minh City is huge and definitely not the right place to learn how to drive a motorbike! Finally, I leave Ho Chi Minh City and am hitting the highway to Bà Rịa. The locals are really interested in my trip and keep approaching me while driving for a small chat. Several times, I am stopping because those conversations get too intense to keep driving. One local Vietnamese is even so kind and invites me for lunch.
Crossing into Cambodia from Nong Nok Khiene to Trapeang Kriel is an adventure itself. It all starts at the bus station in Don Det. A well dressed man from the bus company offers you help with immigration, handing out the required papers and asks you to give him your passport and the visa fee of $40. $10 more than the fee according to the German Department of Foreign Affairs. Questioning the extra costs, the $10 are broken down as follows: $30 visa fee, $2 stamp fee in Laos, $3 medical check, and $5 stamp fee in Cambodia. Unlike most other travellers, I am not handing out my passport. After a short discussion making the point that the bus is not waiting for me at the border, he wanders away with about 50 passports under his arm.
After Luang Prabang, I am moving on to Vang Viang on the Nam Song river with mixed feelings. Apart from the beautiful karst hill landscape, Vang Viang was known as a party town for tubing until about 30 tourists died, drowning or diving head first into rocks (The Guardian). To put an end to this, the government decided to shut down all bars along the river selling cheap alcohol and offering rope swings and zip lines in mid 2012. However, the surrounding area is beautiful and I decided to take a motorbike off the beaten tracks. At nighttime, bars give out free rice schnapps, sell laughing gas and offer beer pong contests. Korean tourist are everywhere in town due to a Korean reality show taking place at the Blue Lagoon. I like the place though.
After crossing the border from Thailand to Laos, I jump on board a bus full of beds. These beds are not designed for Europeans and rather small. My assigned bed is also broken. Cramped into my uncomfortable bed, I am starring out the tiny window and see miles of dense jungle while the bus crawls up the hills in first gear. The scenery is occasionally interrupted by trucks, fully loaded with cattle, overtaking the bus. I am talking to the other backpackers, but all of them seem to travel to Luang Prabang and leave me wondering what to expect from Luang Namtha.
After I had finished school in Sweden, I went to see the world. My flight took me from Stockholm to Bangkok in Thailand – the kingdom of tuk-tuks. Early in the morning it is already boiling hot and I fail to find my hostel. I am feeling miserable and am hungry. Somehow I manage to get there using a free tuk-tuk but must promise to come back if I need a ride later. Well … I am sorry.