This trip is progressing much faster than my ability to write it down. I do visualization exercises at night to commit as much as I can to long-term memory. The places I have seen, the people I have met, the mystery meats I have eaten.
March 3, Hanoi -> Ha Phong : Separated highway, mostly motorbikes but also rural buggies pulled by orcs. The whole highway has a bicycle lane. Ha Phong is built around a park, which radiate a wonderful sense of place. Must be the feng shui. Share diner with some guys at a street-side booth, drink too much vodka for the amount of beer. Cheers abounds.
March 4, Ha Phong -> Cat Ba : Pay 3$ to the guys that loaded my motorbike on the pedestrian ferry. Ride up the mountain of this Jurassic island. Play pool at a street-side booth with 12 guys a girl and a shark.
March 5, Organized boat tour around Halong Bay, World Heritage Site : Wth I am doing in a tour? Talk politics with the Americans.
March 6, Cat Ba -> Lang Son : Breakfast pho in the fishing village. Locals feed me has much vodka as they can before the ferry leaves. Superbly cute baby plays wave-at-the-foreigner. Cute girls my age play phrasebook. In a village, share lunch with all the women of the family. In another village, coffee with impeccably fashionable 18 year old who dreams of travels (and is a killer at the phrasebook game). On arrival in Lang Son, share diner with the waitresses.
March 7, Lang Son -> Nguyen Binh : Ride up the mountains as the fog clears. Most fun driving since the Ridge Racer days. Share diner with the daughters at the hotel. Seems to be leaving behind a trail of brokenhearted 18y-olds who somehow got a hold of my phone number.
March 8, Nguyen Binh -> Ha Giang : More breathtaking views from the narrow coiled roads. Did not fall down the cliff, did not become a pancake on the front grill of a truck. Minority villagers surround my bike in silence, curious but careful, as I ask for directions with the best Vietnamese pronunciation I can manage. Share lunch with a Vietnam-China custom officer.
March 9, Stay in Ha Giang : An entire school ground of kids ask for the foreigner's name and wave, overjoyed that their hard-learned English is being heard by someone. Play phrasebook with the elderly owner of a tastefully decorated coffee house off the main road. Diner with the hotel staff. Spend most of the evening with the maids, in fact. They are learning trombone.
March 10, Ha Giang -> Hanoi : More pleasure driving. Takes longer than planned due to all the delicious coffee (and company) on the way. Lots of oddities on the road, such as a truck full of pigs, who are wrapped in stuff sacs, piled 4-high, with plugs in their bottom so they do not dirty the road. I follow it for a while, in horror. The pigs squeal.
March 11, Hanoi -> Saigon : By train, it's 60$ for me, and 20$ for my motorbike. The trains crawls at 50 km/h, feels like it's hitting turbulence every 30 minutes, and takes 33 hours to get there. The awful food is a reminder to never eat in a state-run restaurant in a communist country. Beer is plentiful though.
March 12, Arrive in Saigon : I'm in shock. It's like all the vietnameseness of the Saigoneses was pressed out of the Viets under the weight of too much money. A mere 1/5 of the faces show the happy, playful smile that I know from the North. A drive-by thief tries to snatch a handbag. Moms driving scooters stop by me : "see my daughter back, she give you gentle massage and f*k you." I haven't seen so much filth since visiting Amsterdam, and I've only been here 3 hours. Things may be better in a different district, we'll see.