Late on Wednesday afternoon of the twenty eighth of July, at Noi Bai International Airport, there was a large cardboard box, crumpled and open along one edge with bits of sticky tape torn and ripped protruding in all directions. My bike had arrived safely from Istanbul. Thank you Qatar Airways.
Cycling out of the airport having reassembled the bike, I began to daydream, had I really just travelled 10,825.30km in little over 17 hours? It was a very strange feeling to be in this new country. Very strange indeed. The daydream came quickly to an end with the blare of a thousand horns sounding simultaneously. Welcome to Viet Nam.
Twenty three kilometres later I arrived at my next destination; the Kitchen at 30 To Ngoc Van, Tay Ho, Ha Noi. This is where I would meet my friend Donna and so begin our tour of South East Asia and our slow journey home. Predictably, with the logistics involved in international air travel and visas on arrival, I was late for this appointment. A fistful of Margaritas later and the tardiness is all but forgotten.
August in Viet Nam is rainy season, when it rains, it pours so it was with some relief that I spent the next week holed up in Donna’s cosy house in the heart of the Tay Ho, home to Ha Noi’s Major ex-pat community. We visited CAMA ATK, the coolest club in the old quarter for a Motown night, an underground speakeasy serving overpriced 333 lager by the can and sweat by the gallon at no charge. I would be getting wet on or off the bike. I also attended the London College of Design and Fashion Graduate Fashion Show (Donna’s final hurrah after two years in post). It was fantastic.
In the early hours of Friday of the following week we flew to Ho Chi Minh City for 48 hours. Donna had been invited to guest judge Viet Nam’s Next Top Model. We arrived in Saigon at 8am on Friday the seventh of August. Donna was whisked off to a secret location to film with the models in a special I-can’t-mention-the-theme-because-it’s-not-yet-aired themed episode. I went to the War Remnants Museum. It was overwhelmingly harrowing, graphic and very, very real. A must see for anyone visiting this wonderful country.
With a deep sense of humility and huge respect for the Vietnamese people I walked around the city snacking on street food and enjoying the intensity of the capital. This evening I would meet my friend Peter Bloor, he’d cycled here in 2010 and never returned home, I was keen to learn what he’d been up to for the past five years. I was also keen for a beer after the morning’s cultural education. Happily, Peter’s office was just around the corner and in a flash we were in Phatty’s Sports Bar guzzling ice cold Tiger beer.
Our catching up was a triumph. How marvellous to see this man after so long! I last saw Peter at his leaving party in London, now five years on here we were in Saigon, together again. Later we were joined by Steph, Peter’s girlfriend, housemates Quinn and Craig, and finally Donna, after a long day of filming, came in for a nightcap. Next day we would meet for lunch and play a round or two of Kubbing.
Six am on Sunday the ninth of August and we were again in a taxi headed for the Tan Son Nhat International Airport, back to Ha Noi in time for breakfast. Forty eight hours in Saigon. Done. Next day I left for Sa Pa and a grand tour of the north of Vietnam.