November 2014. Somewhere in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam, waiting for our hired guide to escort us to our bus that will take us (my friend, myself, and our two 100cc Honda motorbikes, plus gear) through the night to Dong Hoi. Dude rolls up, makes sure we’re good to go, starts leading us through the hectic rush hour traffic of Hanoi toward the bus station. Something didn’t feel right.
Once at the bus station, we get extorted to pay for the “escort,” which we already paid at the travel agency. Nope. This is a scam, and I’m instantly pissed at the dude. Fuck it: pay the guy ($5), get back on the bikes and head back through Hanoi rush hour, AGAIN.
Finally get the right escort and find our bus, barely. We were told that we’d get dropped off at a bus station. Wrong again. “Bus station” meant the side of the road on the outskirts of town at 4 a.m. in a torrential downpour. We hang out underneath some random awning until the rain lets up with an even more distraught girl from London. Rain never breaks.
First light finally shows itself, maybe 5:30 a.m. We decide “screw it, let’s ride,” so we get on and head toward Phong Nha-Khe Bang National Park and the town of Son Trach. Luckily, or unluckily, I didn’t sleep much on the bus (surprise!), especially when being jolted awake 10 minutes before our stop by Vietnamese radio blasting at a solid 12 out of 10, at 3:45 a.m. Whatever – I’m glad to be off that bus.
Midway through our ride to Son Trach, I had to stop for coffee since I was so out of it – riding through rural Central Vietnam on maybe 1.5 hours of sleep, in the rain. Pull into the first place that looked like they might have something caffeinated – middle of nowhere, tiny house on the edge of a rice paddy at the edge of the road. (I remember) the warm cups of coffee. The hesitant smiles of the family we were commissioning for our morning buzz. The fog/rain clearing and (being) almost to the destination.
I’m still not sure what made that part of the trip incredibly memorable. To this day, I believe it was the true sense of adventure and uncertainty I had found myself smack in the middle of, whether I enjoyed it at the time or not.
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