Vietnam is flooded. Following the onslaught of two colossal typhoons and a fortnight of almost continuous downpours (raining cats and dogs doesn’t cover it, here it’s been raining bison, elephants, wildebeest, and lowland-gorillas) the centre of this great nation cannot really be called Vietnam any more at all. It’s a new country entirely. One that I personally have dubbed ‘Captain Nemo’s Under Water Adventure Land’. Everything is flooded. Farms, homes, roads, forests, even entire villages that are clearly marked on my Ordinance Survey map seem to have vanished, sunk beneath several feet of muddy brown water. The ocean has come to Vietnam.
I swear I saw one elderly bearded chap building an Ark.
And this is an issue for your bold adventurer friends, as we are fast approaching the halfway mark for our Vietnamese visas, and yet, less than 20% of the planned journey has been covered. Now, we could lay the blame for this failing squarely at the feet of our geriatric steed, who could likely be outpaced by a three legged dairy cow. However, spending 10 days drinking cheap beer and playing in waterfalls in the town of Da Lat, instead of the planned 3 days stopover must share the responsibility. Likewise, our original itinerary didn’t really account for us spending two weeks snorkelling and drinking yet more cheap beer in the beach town of Nha Trang. But nonetheless, these things we have done.
It was time to up the pace and make with all due speed to our next (literal) port of call, the ancient port city of Hoi An. But Vietnam is bigger than it looks on the maps, and even in the dry this was to be at least five days of hard riding. In the current aquatic conditions, the journey would be simply impossible unless we were to outfit Desmond with ballast tanks and an outboard motor. And if at all possible, surgically graft a set of gills to my arse.
Then I remembered, I’ve been here before. Some two and a half years ago in Goa, my penchant for beaches and bargain beer had left me with insufficient time to reach Varanasi for the Shivratri festival, and the solution then had been to load myself and the bike onto a train. And thus it was decided. “To the station Desmond, and don’t spare the horsepower!”.
No problem for Desmond, who was crated up and loaded on to a freight train on the spot, but predictably at such short notice, the only tickets available for ourselves were the most expensive, the air-conditioned, soft-sleeper bunks. This soon proved to be a blessing in disguise however because, while we could probably have managed the stated 10 hour journey on the rock-hard and crowded third-class benches, the actual trip might have proven more of a (again, literal) pain in the arse. Owing to the weather conditions and the fact that most of the country’s rail network is currently at the bottom of a brand new inland-sea, our train finally deposited us at Da Nang station a little behind schedule.
Not half an hour behind schedule, not even a couple of hours behind schedule. No, we arrived a full 11 hours late. Basically an entire day and night spent sharing a cramped train cabin with a Vietnamese family of four (including, of course the mandatory perpetually screaming infant). And with naught to look at through the window but an endless expanse of water where once there was apparently a country.
I wouldn’t mind but anticipating a much shorter journey, we’d brought little food, only one bottle of water and absolutely no beer at all. Probably the closest I’ve been to sobriety since boarding the plane in Luxembourg.
Then there was the moment of panic when, knowing that we were only three hours travel from our destination but that the train had been stationary for over four hours, I decided to get some shut eye. I woke five hours later and the train was moving. How long had the train been moving? Were we being diverted? Had we passed Da Nang already? (in which case, the next stop was Hanoi, almost a thousand kilometres from where we needed to be). All these questions on my mind and no English speakers to ask. And PA announcements only in Vietnamese, which might as well be Klingon for all the use they were to me.
Strangely, it’s these moments of abject bewilderment that I’ve come to love about travelling. Like just this evening, we called in a quiet little coffee garden and were unexpectedly handed, along with our coffee (and complimentary tea of course) a small plastic ziplock bag containing several suspicious looking seeds. Again, no one to ask for clarification. Were we supposed to eat them? Plant them? Smoke them? Pray to them? Guess I won’t know until I’ve tried all of the above.
Anyway, here we are in Da Nang, just an hours motorcycle ride from Hoi An. And it’s raining. It’s rained all day today and it rained all day yesterday. And almost every other day for the past week or more. We’ve checked online for the 5-day forecast and you guessed it, heavy rain every day, interspersed with the occasional thunder storm. It’s like England in July.
It’s a strange place Da Nang, it’s like the whole city has risen up out of the river bed in the last couple of years and aspires to Vietnam’s answer to Seoul or Tokyo. There’s so many neon lights and such massive wealth on display. The flashy cars, endless Hilton-a-like hotel towers, trendy boutiques, coffee shops and upmarket restaurants, totally at odds with the countless miles of flooded paddy fields and shanty towns we passed to get here. Not really my scene but it makes an interesting change so we’ll kick around for a day or two and live the Ritz life until the rain lets up for long enough that we can complete the ride to Hoi An without having to break into breaststroke along the way.
We’ll see how that goes but since the internet tells us that Hoi An is currently under a metre of water, perhaps I’ll need to invest in that outboard after all . . .