Rough Start: Motobike VietNam

by Gregoryg November. 16, 2008 2717 views


In the morning Kate and I prepare to leave
Getting routes figured, packs packed, and tied down.
before the take off I wanted to take a ride around town with the packs but without my passenger, to get a feel for the balance with out putting her in danger.
Passing by a market, a police officer runs out in the street to stop me (side note: it is illegal for a foreigner to own a motobike in VN, and I have given him no other reason to pull me over). I'm a bit nervous about it, but haven't heard any stories of travelers being harassed in Hanoi… yet.
He has his hand on my bike as he coaches me to pull to the close by police station, directs me to stop the bike and follow him inside. There, he speaks to the authoritative looking older man behind the desk in Vietnamese for a few minutes as they both occasionally share glances in my direction. All I'm thinking of is that I should have decided to leave earlier, this was going to put me behind schedule, and Kate was gonna think I stole her pack… I doubt they'll arrest me-
After they talk, the man behind the desk speaks to me, I think asking questions but I haven't a clue when it comes to Vietnamese unless I'm ordering food or beer. I stare blankly after telling them I don't understand Vietnamese. This doesn't stop him from continuing though all the while he's getting more frustrated as am I.
“English?” Is my reply when he starts to raise his voice. The only english he knew was “where are you from?”, “what is your name?”, and “where are you stay?”… to which I happily answered. In between repeatedly asking these identifiable questions he would speak at me in sturn Vietnamese.
An hour passes with other men entering and staring at the situation with out much expression. I tell the men that “I must leave town”, “I'm leaving Hanoi”, “ I go now”, “I go, ok?”, so I stand up to leave and they kind of freak out for a second, “SIT, SIT!”. By now I'm laughing nervously, frustrated at my aimless captors. I pull out my camera to snap a shot of them all standing behind the desk staring and wave at the camera, “NO!”. That was it for me. I shout “OK!” as I stand up. Reach into my pocket and pull out my lesser money stash of 150000 dong. When they don't yell at me to SIT, I know I'm on to something. I say “ok, I go now…”, place the money on the desk, smiling as I pat it a few times, and walk out of the office backwards. No one stops me.
I should have known better earlier, this could have stopped with the first man in the street

… So now we are finally ready to roll out of town…

Packed tight on the bike.
go time

Heading south on highway 1
The loose plan is to travel about 4 hours and cover over 200km per day, stopping at any town, detour, view, picture opportunity, or random moment that strikes us.

This picture was taken on the road about 10mins north of Ninh Binh…
5mins later, with the city in view, I pass on the right of a green beast of a dump truck. A local woman on a motobike closes the gap as I approach the front of the truck. With out the room to pass, I let off of the accelerator and drift back within arms length of the rear dual axles. Just then, a local man on a similar bike tries to cut between the woman and us, clipping my handle bars and/or foot peg as he does. I'm cursing the man as I realize I've lost control as we wobble wider and faster. We're falling left directly into the center of the four industrial tires, and my first thought is to reach out and stop our fall in the same moment I recognize the consequences of loosing my arm and being sucked into the knobby spinning rubber. The impulse of awareness jerks my arm back just before impact. My elbow hits the tires and I get tugged forward as I feel the top of my head hit the wheel well. Opening my eyes to look down upon tire and road I think to myself “dead”.
The next thing I remember is skidding along on my right side in the stony gravel of the roads shoulder trying to keep my head off the ground. After about 6 meters we come to a stop. I call behind me “Katie! Are you ok?!” to find her standing if front of the bike, “Yeah, I think so”. Confused and disoriented, I notice that the bikes tank is dumping fuel over my leg. A short struggle (I'm kicking at the bike while Kate pulls) before freeing myself, and I lay laughing at the sky in total disbelief. This is about the time where locals who had seen the accidents result start surrounding. They want to pick me up and I first refuse, not sure as to how damaged I am at the time. Worried about spinal injury, the first pain I feel is in my back and my chest hurts to breath, then I see that my left hand is crumpled into a beak shape and feels a bit useless. My left knee starts throbbing just before all of the road rash blossoms. Katie has no memory of how she came to be standing, and as for her injuries? One scratch on her shin. All in all, I'm pleased with the out come in light of its potential, so I ask for help up.
A woman brings me a chair where I sit until she returns with a metal tub filled with warm salt water and two dirty rags. I'm covered with dust and dirt, my wounds filled with small stones and she starts at wiping me down. Katie's busy asking me if I'm ok and trying to find a local who speaks english…

…Trying to keep wits about me as people talk at us in Vietnamese. One man helps Katie pick up the bike and (I think) offers to repair it. Our packs are removed and placed beside me. Staring nervously at the dirty rags, I repeatedly ask for alcohol. A girl come out the the crowd who speaks some english and translates for us. Alcohol arrives, and I ask Katie to find a place near by to stay just before they apply it to my battered skin. Here's where it gets painful. I'm cringing and hollering in pain as the locals laugh. It was all very surreal. I remember being mad at them for laughing, as though the accident was their fault, but not being able to do anything about it cause I was fucked up and needed their help. The whole situation was like a weird dream; screaming and laughing, unable to understand a word, and a man pulls up on some sort of rickshaw cart and they tell me it's to take me to the hospital if I want or to a near by guest house. I choose guest house and hobble over to the carts bed along with our packs. The driver starts pulling away before I figure things out with Katie, but that doesn't occur to me as I'm half conscience and just happy to be alive, moaning and giggling to myself.
A motorbike pulls up next to us and tries to direct us in the other direction “Friend. Friend”. The man pulling the cart argues with him for a moment before I shout to turn around. Five mins later we pull up to the guest house with Katie out front, “where did you go?!”. I had no idea. Once in the guest house, everyone who had “helped” us at the scene shows up wanting to be paid. About 100,000 dong each for the alcohol, bike, and cart. I'm tired, but not too tired to argue price. After getting a room, eating a life saving cliff bar, and collecting myself, I realize that my hand is in a bad way and should be seen by a doctor.
A cab as an ambulance and we arrive at the Ninh Binh Hospital. Thankfully Katie has a phrase book as we ask for assistance. The nurse moves us to the front of the line as we try to explain what happened. Although very friendly, the worst medical care I've ever received. They lightly pat my open wounds with saline and ointment followed by a poor bandaging. Next, I'm asked to pay for care before I receive an X-ray for my swollen knee and busted hand. After the X-ray, the doctor tells me “ok… no break”, though as he says this I'm looking at an image of my hand on the monitor… “What's that?” I say pointing to a small dark line in my wrist…

… He looks closer for a moment before getting the attention of another doctor. With both of them looking at it together, they turn to me “broken”.
Yeah, no shit.
After receiving an elementary equivalent of a cast, and a prescription for a dozen items including liquid morphine and a syringe, we head out for a bite to eat before going to bed

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