HITTING THE HO CHI MINH TRAIL
CROSSING THE PLATEAU TOWARDS THE RED RIVER
‘Hum’ mumbled Phong as he pored over the photocopied map spread across his bed, ‘finish your coffee quickly, I think we should make an early start’. Knowing Phong’s idea of humour well I had already decided to take no notice of him, but as he began packing with an element of urgency in his manner I idly enquired as to why. ‘Slight miscalculation with todays distance’ he chuckled. ‘If I may be as bold as to ask’, I enquired with all the casual indifference I could muster, ‘by how much?’ ‘Oh, um, not so much, maybe around, um, fifty kilometres-ish‘. I hurled yesterday’s socks at him, ‘this is why we call our journey, investigation‘ he laughed as he dodged all the random items I could find at arms length as he fled for the sanctuary of the bathroom.
Thus far, I can report with pleasure, our “investigation” of the Ho Chi Minh Trail has been going jolly well. The rather cramped and drawn out bus journey out of Hanoi was not exactly what I would have hoped for, but Phong explained that I am not a customer and therefor a local bus is a good experience for me, it will, apparently, help me to understand further the Vietnamese culture. I did notice how his brow furrow oh so slightly as an old man clambered aboard and plonked a box of chirping chicks on his lap, but he soon recomposed himself and explained that holding the chicks would help better my feeling for rural Vietnam, dropped them on my lap, and plugged himself into his iPod.
Once liberated from the tormenting clutches of economy public transport our bicycles were quickly reassembled,straightened, loaded with bags and we found ourselves safe and cosy in the tranquility of Mother Nature’s bosom. This is where our tour of Vietnams Ho Chi Minh Trail begins, a narrow rural road bereft of cars winds and undulates gently across a small plateau where rice is nurtured by the warm and welcoming Muong people. Before long the Plateau drops quickly away. The view here is breathtaking. I turn to Phong and he laughs, ‘Ha, you think you are at Ha Long Bay!’ There is no denying it, the karst hills soaring from the mighty Red River could for all the world be a part of Vietnam’s most famous scene, the World Heritage site of Ha Long Bay, only here, instead of hordes of tourists we share the view with two peasants beaming pleasant smiles from beneath their iconic conical hats.
We overnight with a family well known to Phong. He has stayed here many times over the years with clients he is introducing to rural Vietnam. It is a home stay and I have to say it is a most professional home stay. We sleep in a large traditional wooden room on stilts. The family have several of these rooms with views out over the rice fields that stretch along the floor of the valley. The food is served beneath one of the stilt rooms and is superb, fish, chicken, vegetables fried with garlic, spring rolls, all washed down of course by lashings of cold beer.
Phong and I will be spending the next two weeks working our way along The Ho Chi Minh Trail from Hanoi to Hoi An, investigating what we plan to offer as a tour next year. As and when the internet allows I will relay the story of our adventure as we go.
THE RED RIVER
OUR HOME STAY
PHONG, LIKE A COILED COBRA POISED TO STRIKE
A VIEW FROM THE HO CHI MINH TRAIL