My Journey - Summer 2009
Collecting some texts/stories here that I've written mostly during the process working on Roots of Coincidence - Vietnam & Beyond, and which were revised by Teresa. However, later we decided to leave them out from the book (not to make the book feel too much like a blog), so that only Teresa's poems would accompany my photos.
The first few days, I spent in the bustling city of Hanoi. Then, I took a one-day trip to serene and captivating Halong Bay. On my way there, I decided that I would look for a bicycle after this trip. I traveled by bus from Halong Bay to Hai Phong where I then stayed for two days. In Hai Phong, I got tremendous support from a friend who helped me to find a hotel, showed me around town, helped me to organize my journey on the bike, and helped me find necessities for my travel that would have taken me days to find since there were no shopping malls around, as most of us know them. When I finally got on my bicycle and started to ride on Vietnam's roads, I felt a sense of freedom. It was just me and an entire country waiting to be discovered by me.
In the late afternoon, short before it would turn dark, I arrived in Ninh Binh. Later, when I found a lovely hotel room and wanted to go for a little walk, there was a blackout in the city. For about fifteen minutes, I was surrounded by a stunning evening scene.
The next day was hot and sunny. I continued on my journey and I was just feeling great. Occasionally, I would take necessary breaks during which I met many kind and helpful people. I had my dinner at a small, but lovely restaurant in the middle of the countryside along the Hanoi-Saigon Road.
Meanwhile, a mechanic was struggling to fix the spokes of the bike. As I was eating, the owners and guests in the restaurant communicated to me with smiles. Then, two guys began to speak to me in English and others tried to speak to me in Vietnamese. In the end, I didn't have to pay for my food though I attempted to. I still wanted to pay for my broken rice-bowl which I felt sorry about, but they refused with a smile. When I returned to my bike and tested it, the mechanic’s little son cheered. I was happy that the elderly mechanic had finally completed his job. I payed him for his work, exchanged heart-felt goodbyes with them and continued on my journey. The hot sun was shining brightly. However, I noticed dark clouds approaching from behind as I rode into a small city. As I was riding in the same direction as the wind, I felt that I was "flying" through the city, outrunning the dark clouds. Soon, I was riding in a slightly different direction, the clouds to the left of me.
While at the borders of the city, I felt raindrops trickling on my skin and seeked shelter at the side of the road in a "tuck-shop" that looked like some kind of garage. Heavy rain pounded down on the tin roofs.
An hour later, the rain stopped and there was a sudden sense of calmness. I could continue my journey along very bumpy and then dusty roads. I worried a bit about the bike, because of the bumpiness of the road. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the ride along the exquisite landscape. Again, due to problems with my bicycle's broken spokes, I had to find help and came upon a Café on a woody hill where the afternoon sunlight shined through radiantly. The owner of the Café came along with two grippers and together we improved the situation. He also gave me tea to fill up my bottle for free. One of the nice things that happened that day was that I wasn't asked to give money for things.
I left the Café and a wonderful ride downhill followed with the sunset right beside me and its reflections on the water of the fields. I was filled with delight and expressed my joy with a shout of "Woooooo!" as the moment continued its escalation of beauty before my eyes. Along the road, I saw some kind of building that looked like a hotel and wondered whether I could stay there for the night, since I wanted more time to take in this lovely sight and knowing it would turn dark soon. However, I zoomed by too quickly, missed it and figured that I would find another lodging along the road.
I stopped for a moment to shoot the sunset and fields. As I was just about to continue my ride, a Van suddenly stopped next to me. Inside were three young guys who asked me if I wanted to get in. At first I hesitated, since I was in a cheerful mood and had energy to bike more kilometres, but then I decided to ride in the Van. It had turned completely dark when, about 30-45 minutes later, we arrived in Thanh Hóa where I was dropped off next to a hotel.
On the second day, I rode my bicycle most of the way, then, for about 15-20 km, traveled by car to arrive at my destination in the town of Thanh Hoa known for its seaside resorts. My journey had taken me through broken bicycle spokes, heavy rains, a spectacular sunset and meetings with strangers. The entire day was filled with generosity from the people around me. At the end of the day, I was pleasantly surprised by such an accumulation of unexpected gestures.
I met these children on the street of a smaller city, some tens of kilometers down south of Hoi An. I was smiling with the kids and took a couple of pictures. Soon, a dozen older women came out of a temple on the other side of the street. Then, an old man came across the street towards me. He seemed to smile, so I smiled back at him. Later, when I looked at the photos I had taken of him, I felt different about his "smile", it looked more like an agonized expression then. He had revealed to me an empty eye-socket behind his eye-patch, of which he wanted me to take pictures.
When I took the pictures, I didn't notice the eye-socket; it was rather dark and raining. I wanted to be there for only a few moments to get some bread and to come in from the rain and to leave again on my bicycle.
Unfortunately, I deleted the photos of the man later, because they frightened me for some reason. I speculated that, perhaps, he wanted to show me his war injury, since I'm caucasian and might, in theory, be a descendant of those who came and bombed his nation's land and left 3 to 4 million Vietnamese dead.
Not so far away from this city, something abhorrent took place on March 16, 1968, which later became known as the My Lai Massacre: a mass murder conducted by a unit of the U.S. Army, in which about 500 unarmed citizens, all of whom were civilians and a majority of whom were women, children, babies, and elderly people were killed.
The next day, I saw the heaviest downpour and just felt very uncomfortable all day. I needed a lot of motivation to bike from Nui Thanh to Quang Ngai in order to catch a train out of this predicament. When I was in Quang Ngai in the afternoon, I ended up on a street where my feet were ankle-deep in water while I was still on the bike and the rest of the city was also drenched.
Next day, all I could think of was leaving. The young lady at the hotel greeted me with an enthusiastic, "Hello, Good morning, Sir!" Her friendliness encouraged me to ask her where to find the train. Unfortunately, that seemed all she could say in English. So, I drew lines that depicted rails and added the typical crossbeams. She indicated that she got what I meant and wrote down the address for me and directions on how to get there. I payed and left for the other side of town. As it turned out, I arrived at the bus station. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that I could put the bicycle on the bus, so I continued my quest to find the train station. At an internet café, I succeeded by using the online translator for Vietnamese which I showed the owner. I traveled back from where I came from, passed my hotel and about 300 meters later, on the same street as the hotel I was in - there it was, the train station! I went there and found out that the only train for that day had just left... so I had to wait until the next day in this hot, rainy, damp city. So, it turned out that the train station I was looking for was just a few meters away from the hotel where I started from. So, I had to stay one more day in this rainy and damp city.
The train, which provided me shelter from the rain as well as time off from biking, took me to Nha Trang. I spent my day in the sun, until dark clouds came. This time I didn't get all wet from a heavy downpour, instead I enjoyed a short swim in the ocean. Only in the evening some rain came.
I have beautiful memories from my ride to the coastal site, Ca Na. The same counts for the morning after. It was sunny and there were fewer people all morning than I met at the hotel at night. Soon after I was back on the bike I felt exhausted though, which I noticed soon through the heavy headwind from the sea, which expected me after Ca Na. I decided to take another break for a day in Phan Thiet, which I reached by the end of the day. I met many friendly people there and enjoyed my stay. From Phan Thiet it took me two days more with about 100 kilometers per day, until I reached Vietnam's old capital Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, as it is officially called today.
During my last two days on the bicycle, I thought of selling it in Saigon, as I was feeling more and more exhausted. When I got there I realized how helpful it still can be, without having to take taxis and each time bargain for the price. So I kept it and used it to follow friends, when they showed me around town, mainly to different restaurants..
When I left Saigon, after a few days there, I took the bicycle with me on the bus to Da Lat. The mountains, woods and fresh air inspired me to decide biking again all the way to Nha Trang. However I didn't make it to Nha Trang on the bike, as it broke along the way - in the mountains, in the woods, in the rain, and in the dark - at the end of a rather mixed, but then enjoyable day. By the time the bicycle gave up I felt in peace, so that what eventually had happened to the bike didn't shock me much. Not too long after the incident a Van stopped for me and took me to a place next to Nha Trang. There I found a small but suffocating room for the night. Suffocating on one hand because the temperatures in Da Lat were comparatively much cooler than in the lowlands, on the other hand because there was no air-conditioner, instead only a tiny window next to the street, which ultimately provided the room with hot, thin air. It was a hot and sunny day when I got to Nha Trang in the morning - on a motorbike, the bicycle pushing next to me. I didn't have the time to think about enjoying the beach again and just took the next train to Hanoi.
Back in the North - Núi
(this part wasn't thoroughly thought-out anymore, because at that time we decided to leave out the text...)
Back in Hanoi I missed my plane the following day, due to lack of preparation, but also due to lack of an organized public transportation system. I wanted to go back home by train. Arrived in Sapa/North Vietnam I had to realize that it might be easier and not necessarily more expensive to take a plane, because visa for China & Russia are not cheap and take days to get them, plus one has to get them in the capital of the country you're at (which for me would have meant back to Hanoi). After a couple of days in beautiful Sapa, I went on a two days bus ride through bumpy roads of the mountains of North Vietnam. to end up in East Laos. After a boat trip and another two bus rides to the capital of Laos, I decided to go to Bangkok, from where I wanted to find a plane back home. I changed my mind and took a plane to Singapore. After a couple of days there I went to Kuala Lumpur by bus and after a three-day stay got on my plane and left for Germany.