A Hair-Raising Ride Along the Hi Van Pass


We decided to rent mopeds and drive them to the next city. It's around 140km from Hue to Hoi An and we thought it would take about 3-4 hours including a few stops. I went to bed early so I was fresh and alert for the drive. I couldn't sleep at all. Then a really drunk girl came in and started rooting around in my backpack! I was in the top bunk and shouted down, giving her a fright. She apologised a lot before stumbling out of the room. I finally nodded off when a drunk guy and girl came into the room making a lot of noise. They got into the bed below me. Then started getting it on. Their friend then noisily came into the room and got into bed with them also. Luckily that stopped anything further happening and after a while they all fell asleep.

I was tired and grumpy when my alarm went off at 6am. I met the girls at their hotel, dropped our bags off which were being transported to our hotel in Hoi An for us, then picked up our mopeds! After filling the bikes up at the petrol station we headed across a huge roundabout crammed with cars, motorbikes, cyclists, pedestrians, all trying to get to their desired exit. I crawled along, eyes wide with fear. This was pretty much my face for the entire duration of the ride, mouth tight with concentration, forehead furrowed. We were carried along in a swarm of bikes, occasionally overtaken by a car beeping before whooshing past. I thought the traffic would ease but it got worse. Some of the dual carriageways were easier to ride on because of the extra space but the single lane roads were definitely death defying.

The rules of the road for driving in Vietnam are like this:
- Driving on the right is just a suggestion. It's okay to ride against the traffic. It's okay to overtake, using up the entire other side of the road.
- It's okay to overtake a truck, overtaking a truck. This isn't even a joke. There were 3 levels of overtaking! I was crawling in the gutter hoping not to hit a rock or something.
- The horn should be used instead of braking, signalling or checking mirrors. Beep when overtaking, going through a cross road, when going through a red traffic light or someone is crossing or near the road.
- Don't wait for gap in the traffic when turning. Just go. Don't look when turning, pulling off or joining a road. Just go.
- The biggest vehicle has right of way. Coaches, lorries, dumper trucks, weave in and out of traffic overtaking. You can hear their horn coming up behind you and it gives you that creepy feeling of being hunted down, like a small fish being followed by a shark. Some of them only beep their honkingly loud horns when right next to you, meaning you have to muster all the courage not to shit yourself and weave all over the road. They also pass you leaving about a 2 inch gap. No exaggeration.

A small part of the drive was through a winding mountainous road with breathtaking views over the ocean. The roads here were quiet and I loved this part of the drive. We stopped in a small town near the outskirts of Dalat for some food. Outside of a restaurant, I tried to park my bike. The curb was about a foot high with a bumpy ramp up. I tried to give a bit of gas to get up the ramp but somehow turned the wheel and accelerated too much meaning that I went up the ramp and turned flying straight off the high curb, flailing from the handlebars like a kite and crashing the bike on its side in the road. Whoops. Everyone in the restaurant saw and just sat watching. One of the girls helped me pick the bike up and the other gathered the bits of my smashed mirror and plastic off the floor. I had scraped my hand and knee but mostly felt stupid. We got back on the bikes and found somewhere else to eat.

We eventually found a local place that served food, after many unsuccessful attempts. We sat down and they brought us a menu. They spoke no English and the menu was totally in Vietnamese. We pointed to a bowl of soup and some pork skewers, but they brought us an absolute feast! It was a hot pot which is a soup on a stove at the table which cooks it. They brought us spring rolls, which you assemble yourself with salad, mint, coriander, meat and a dipping sauce. They brought us noodles and bread for the soup. It was divine. But then the bill came. 400,000 dong between us (£12), which is a lot of money over here and we were sure they were ripping us off. They had even charged us for the napkins! We grumbled and paid it. It had been a really good meal.

On we went on our journey, rattling away down the pass. We went too far and got lost and instead ended up going through some small villages. I loved this as the scenery was beautiful and the people so helpful with telling us which way to go. We ended up having to put the bikes on a tiny wooden boat to sail across a river to Hoi An. We arrived eventually after 8 hours, my face black and my clothes smelling of fumes. I was so exhausted and glad we had made it alive I fell asleep before 9pm.

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