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Soundtrack: 'One More Night' - Bob Dylan

Roads in Vietnam are Bedlam.  In Laos, there seemed to be no rules, but there was little traffic so it generally wasn't too bad.  In Vietnam, there are also no rules but it's a congested country in every sense, so the roads are full like an old space flight-simulator game where you have to dodge the oncoming asteroids.  Back home, a road sign of a red triangle containing an adult and a child walking hand-in-hand would be interpreted as "Warning, children crossing, drive slowly and carefully".  In Vietnam, the exact same sign means "Warning, children crossing, carry on at full speed but beep your horn a lot".  You wonder why there aren't many accidents and deaths on the roads, but the sad truth is that there are many accidents and there are many deaths. 

The 11:30 bus to Danang finally set off some time after midday.  It was a Ford Transit van with enough seating inside for thirteen people, including the driver.  We were full when we set off but were continually waved down from the roadside by other passengers.  Often they had luggage which meant opening up the back, taking half the bags out and reloading them in a new way which somehow allowed everything to fit.  To be more specific, it meant opening the back doors, trying to catch all the luggage as it fell out despite me and other people on the back seat leaning over to hold on to it all, then picking it all up and cramming it back in again.  If the luggage felt squashed though, it should have counted itself lucky.  At one point in the journey I counted twenty-six people squeezed onto all the seats.  In a left-hand drive vehicle, the driver had three people sitting to his right and one even sitting to his left! 

After a couple of hours, the road climbed up into the mountains.  The mist was so thick up here that, when I first saw it in the distance, I thought that we must be heading towards a big fire.  The higher we got, the slower and twistier the road became.  Crucially, I think, the oxygen thinned in the higher altitude.  It was about this point where the travel sickness suddenly kicked in with me.  I thought I might be the only one until I saw a couple of small plastic bags of vomit being passed towards the window to be jettisoned.  I was wondering if I could ask the driver to stop and let me out but couldn't see what I would do after that, abandoned in the middle of nowhere on a chilly damp mountainside. 

Thankfully, we soon began to slowly descend.  An hour after reaching the nadir of sickness, we pulled over at a village 'cafe' where free food was provided.  To see the looks in everyone's eyes as they sat silently around the bus, you'd think we'd all just crawled out of an air crash, not a parked road vehicle.  Having eaten little all day, the food was well appreciated and made the journey more bearable, but it had bigger consequences than that later on, I reckon. 

Back on board, we completed our ride to Danang.  Exiting at the bus station, we were mobbed by motorbike-taxi riders who will, under no circumstances, accept any indication that you do not want a ride with them.  Saying 'no', shaking your head, walking away, pushing them, hitting them with my guide book, shouting at them to "F*** OFF!!!", spitting at them, kicking their bikes . . . nothing seems to work.  Despite the 4km distance from here to the city centre, on point of principle I refused their services and the services of their colleagues who accosted me throughout the walk.  Especially the guy who drove his bike onto the pavement in front of me, blocking my path, grinning and asking "Motorbike?". 

Awaking in my hotel room in the morning, I found myself being harried by the hotel staff to tell them what time I would check out.  It turned out that they had thought I was staying one night when, in fact, I wanted two.  The result of this being that my room was already booked for the next night so I had to move.  Once in my new bed, I felt increasingly sick.  I was also very dehydrated but it was late afternoon until I could even force myself out long enough to buy some water.  Unfortunate, as I later realised that the fridge in my room was stocked with a few bottles. 

I ended up not eating a bit of anything all day, but constantly rushing back and forth to the toilet.  By night time I was planning to pull on some clothes, stumble to reception and mutter "Taxi, hospital".  It didn't come to that, although I can honestly say that one of the reasons was that I didn't feel well enough to make it into my trousers and out to reception in the first place. 

The cause, I figured, was some kind of food poisoning so when I felt a bit better on the second day I thought that I would soon be well again.  This was partly true, except it took a lot longer than I expected.  This day I made it out to the western bar a few doors down the street to order a cheese & tomato sandwich, half of which I was able to eat.  The next day I felt up to a short tour of the town, but didn't have much success. 

I did manage to find a barbershop where they would give me a shave though.  Initially, I compared the role of the barber hacking his way through my thick beard as being very similar to the American troops in the Vietnam war.  The over-confident force entering a battle that they assumed would be no different from their many previous successes but quickly become bogged down in terrain they don't understand and end up wishing they'd never got involved in the first place.  However, he did do a lot better than the poor lady in Beijing who had struggled so much.  He didn't have to resharpen his blade once and, after a lengthy process of trying to apply foam, only had to re-apply it on two more occasions.  He was also remarkably thorough, once the traditional beard areas had been dealt with, he set to work carefully shaving my forehead, nose and even my eyelids!  Now, I know I'm a bit hairy, but surely my eyelids aren't becoming hirsute?  Can someone check next the see me please? 

I hobbled off in search of an art gallery I never found and just came back to my hotel room instead.  I ventured out that night to the bar to buy a pizza, which I could just about force down.  They were showing the remake of Planet Of The Apes on the TV in the corner, which everyone was glued to.  The Mark Wahlberg hero looked ridiculous to me, especially compared to Tim Roth's cool, evil monkey.  I used my failing energy to cheer for the bad guys, which mystified the old American guy sitting next to me; "But they won't win" he told me, without irony. 

Every day I kept telling the hotel staff I would stay for one more night and every time they chased me the next morning to find out why I hadn't checked out yet.  By the end they didn't even bother chasing me any more, fed up of me wasting their time, perhaps.  On this new day I grew fed up of waiting for a recovery that never came so I walked across town to a doctors.  Here I was diagnosed with acute gastroenteritis and given some antibiotics to help me get better and some big tablets to replace the lost minerals every time I went rushing to the toilet.  I really was told to take these after each visit, so had I had them from the start this batch of a dozen would have lasted me about three hours, but now that side of the illness had died off so I only used a few in the remaining days.

I was still only eating one or two half meals a day, but the next morning I felt confident that I could definitely leave the next day.  So, I went over to the train station to book a ticket to Hanoi for the day after.  I booked myself a bed in the luxury tourist carriage.  Partly this was because it only cost a little bit more than the normal beds.  Partly this was because when I arrived late in the day, the luxury tourist company's ticket desk was the only one still open for business.  I was glad I did though as when I subsequently went walking through the rest of the train, it all looked like prison conditions outside of my carriage. 

I had been a few times to an American-run cafe/restaurant to eat.  They run it as a charity for deaf Vietnamese people.  This means that the profits go towards supporting their work and that most of the staff were deaf.  I was sitting here on my last morning in town, getting a big meal before heading to the train station.  The problem buzzing through my mind was how I was going to get to the station though.  Essentially, the only option was to use one of the motorcycle-taxis which I hated so very, very much.  It was too far to walk with my heavy backpack so early in the day, but it galled me that I might be giving any of my money to these human scum.  Salvation arrived though!  One of the deaf waiters asked me what I was doing today.  When I mimed a train by way of explanation, he insisted on taking me there himself on his bike.  He refused all of my efforts to pay him for this also.  What a top guy! 


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Danang, Hanoi, Vietnam