Highway To Heaven

This story brings you back to one of the best weeks of my life- the simpler days. Throughout this article, you will meet myself (George Game) and Tom Ward (my travelling buddy) as we raced through the spiralling roads Vietnam. 

Who is George Game?

Occupation: Founder / CEO of GoKo Travels

Early in 2014, with little money and no idea of where I wanted to go or be in the future, I packed my bags and hit the road. Since then, I have visited over 20 countries worldwide. Spending at least 1 month in each destination, I have gained an insiders knowledge of the backpacking lifestyle.  

 

Who is Tom Ward?

Occupation: Firefighter 

Just like myself, back in 2014, Tom joined me on my adventures around the world. Stating out in India, we made our way across south-east Asia, before purchasing our trusted motors and began an epic journey through the jaw-dropping wonders of Vietnam.

 

Great so now we have this all cleared up- let’s jump straight in…

Ahead of us was the legendary Ho Chi Minh trail, running from the south mountain paths of Vietnam, right up to the northern city of Hanoi. Chugging through the backwater footpaths on a motorbike is enough to leave anyone breathless, with simple collections of wooden shacks perching over the side of mountain tops, overlooking limitless rows of rice fields and untouched greenery. It was a lot to take in as we winded our way through the awe-inspiring mountains, barrelling down valleys into isolated communities and tribal villages.

 

The Ho Chi Minh trail was everything we could have dreamt of and more, but, unfortunately for us, between us and the legendary trail stood a deathly gravelled highway spanning a solid 30km out of the city centre and towards into Buon Ma Thuot. With the newly recruited ‘Helmet Angels’ member Lewis under our wing, we set off to face the highway. Everything starting off smoothly, we were more than happy to have been reunited with Hank and Ian (our tursted motorbikes) and be on the road again…well that was until we hit the AH1. The roads were half finished which meant the whole surface was covered in slippery gravel and it didn’t take long to figure out this highway was the main route truck and lorry drivers preferred to take: not expecting there would be a group of ignorant tourists on motorbikes waiting to be crushed between them or thrown off the cliff into the blue ocean below.

 

It took all of one hour of driving until our first accident. Unsurprisingly, it was our new member Lewis, who innocently broke on the gritty roads and found himself being flung underneath the bike and skidding painfully across the uneven surface. With locals coming to an urgent halt to help the helpless tourist lying on the floor, Lewis reluctantly clambered back onto his blooded scooter covered in cuts, gravel and iodine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until the second incident occurred as Lewis made an almost identical fall, but this time in front of a moving truck. Luckily for him, the oncoming traffic must have been used to falling tourists as they casually avoided the bloodied body lying on the ground. It was at this point we decided we had two options; we could either turn back to the safety of Nha Trang, recuperate and find a longer but safer route, or we push on and try to reach the sanctuary of the HCMT. Consulting the map and asking an Easy Rider tour guide who was driving past, we determined that the worst was over and the highway evened-out in a few hundred yards. Reluctantly, we licked our wounds and saddled up, with only a few scary instances of trucks blindly turning and a few more wobbles we eventually made it off the death trap and onto open roads.

Eventually arriving in BMT after a stunning, yet blooded journey, we reunited with Nick (friend and writter- check his website at: http://www.bodedotcom.com) and Aaron (an American, ex-military behemoth) before checking into our plush hotel for the night. Bandaging Lewis up and giving him a few painkillers, we left him to rest, before heading towards the night market to grab a convenient bite to eat; or at least tried to. Sadly for us, as this small town is well off the beaten track, they didn’t find the need to accommodate tourists with restaurants or cafes which only left us with street food we didn’t wholly trust. We went to bed that night with unsatisfied and empty stomachs. That morning with high hopes for our day ahead, which included a ride into the jungle and a dip in a waterfall, we popped into the local Honda mechanics for a checkup and oil change. 8 hours later we are still there with bills racking up to well over £50 for some of us; it turned out some of our bikes were in worse states than we anticipated. 

With wallets that weighed considerably less, we packed up our bags and headed towards the looming storm ahead. With our cheap and not so waterproof, waterproof jackets tightly zipped up, we raced towards to mountain paths ahead. Having previously lost Nick and Aaron as we left BMT, it wasn’t long before we were reunited once again at a small cafe shack, where we agreed a morning beer wouldn’t go amiss. Feeling slightly more confident and a little bit giggly, we raced on to our next stopover: Kon Tum. The beautiful lakeside town was a warm welcoming, after the gruelling journey we just completed, as we checked into yet another fancy hotel, hosting luxuries such as hand soap and a bath; flash packing at it finest.

That evening Tom and I agreed that we weren’t ready to share a bath just yet, so we settled on one round of rock, paper, scissors to find out who would get in first. Obviously, I won and sat back and relaxed. With pruned hands and ridding myself of a thick layer of dirt, I went to unplug and drain the murky, brown water that was facing me. However, for Tom and everyone else, the plug wasn’t budging; with all of our strength, it finally dawned on us this abomination of a bath was here to stay, as Tom reluctantly clambered into water that wasn’t much cleaner than himself- returning to the room cold and grumpy. The next morning, as Tom and the others set off to find some breakfast, I saw the opportunity to relieve my bowels. Locking the door behind me felt like the obvious decision at the time, but little did I know how much drama this would actually cause. Turning to leave the bathroom, I found myself well and truly stuck, with the handle on my side completely broken off, leaving me stranded inside the dark room and dangerously close to the grimy bath water. Sitting alone, with my trousers around my ankles, I eventually gave up calling for help and finally connected to the wifi. Unfortunately for me, Tom and the others found my situation hilarious, as they mocked me and told me to wait until breakfast was over. After a few phone calls to Vic and Connor, who were cuddling downstairs, the staff eventually managed to break into my room with little difficulty. However, breaking into the bathroom itself turned out to be somewhat of an ordeal. With over 20 staff members watching and giggling at my misfortune, they finally contacted a local handyman, who eventually pried open the door. With a wave of cheers and claps, I made my escape from the disgusting bathroom with a smile on my face.

 

That afternoon we decided to go on to explore the countryside, finding a farm where a family were fishing. After spending some time with them we headed back through a small village and stopped off in a park where some local kids were playing the game of volleyball: obviously, we asked to join in. 20 minutes later we were getting competitive and a rather large crowd had built up; mostly of kids who were just here to see the spectacle of white, hairy men. As we were getting ready to head back home we were approached by a polite Vietnamese girl around our age who spoke impressive English and she invited us back to her home in the tribal village a few minutes away. We agreed and followed her back. As the evening went on we met more and more of her family and friends and were being given delicious, homemade and homegrown food and a strong flow of Rice Liquor (not for the faint-hearted). Not before long all of us were more than a little shaky and the guitar was brought out, luckily our friend Rhys dabbled in the instrument and we all had a singalong. Strangely, our first request was from the wrinkly and cheerful old lady who somehow knew all the words to Hey Jude by The Beatles. At the top of our voices, we all sat around singing other classics that this isolated tribe mysteriously knew, including Let it Go from Frozen (you can never underestimate the raw power of Disney).

 

After a while, we had sobered up a little and was escorted home by our new friend, who had grown very fond of Tom, who for some reason arrived back at the hotel later than everyone else. It transpired that while driving along the highway the girl from the village had asked Tom if he was single or had a girlfriend. Misunderstanding her meaning he naively said no and somehow, accidentally agreed to be her boyfriend. That evening she messaged me on Facebook thinking I was Tom, we assumed because we were both white and had beards; surprisingly, they don’t speak anymore. 

The morning after one the best night we had in Vietnam, we saddled back up and headed north along the spectacular Ho Chi Minh trail. Every turn we took left us breathless, as the endless greenery and towering mountains left little to the imagination. Riding through rain clouds and weaving in and out of stampeding water buffalo, we really felt like we were on top of the world, as a satisfying shiver ran down our spines.

However, being in a large group does sometimes have its disadvantages, especially while being distracted by the incredible vistas. We soon found that our group had splintered, mainly due to fact myself and several others stumbled upon an official Sunday league football game between two village tribes. All kitted up, with two linesmen and an elderly referee, we took a seat to watch the two competitive teams somehow elegantly play along the dried up mud patch they called the pitch. Already running behind and with Tom nowhere to be seen, we thought it would be a brilliant idea to challenge the winning team to a game. With the referee, linesman and the screaming crowd of girls all on board, we set out to embarrass the locals. However, with an extreme lack of fitness and having 2 Americans who felt the need to pick up and throw the ball every 2 minutes on my team, we were undoubtedly outplayed. With a painful stitch and sweat dripping down our faces we came away losing 3-1: although the scoreline doesn’t represent how badly we lost. Grabbing a quick picture, we stiffly go back on our bikes and headed towards the angry and frustrated Conor and Tom Bell who were sitting emotionless at the side of the road, next to a mechanics who were fixing Tom W’s bike, even though he was nowhere to be seen.

 

** To clear things up I (Tom) will explain where I was in the time between losing George and then. Me, Conor, Tom B and Vic were driving through villages across the mountain until eventually one of us realised everyone else had fallen behind; so we pulled over, sat down and waited. Half an hour passed by and there was no one to be seen, worried that someone had crashed we decided to head back to look for them- Tom and Conor sped off ahead leaving me and Vic lagging behind. After only a few minutes of driving, my bike decides it’s a good time to give up and breakdown, it wasn’t long before I was surrounded by 30 or so small tribal children clambering over my bike and holding my hand. Laughing and enjoying the attention I suddenly realised two of the kids had started running away with my bike back towards where the others were. It was when they vanished down a hill on top of my bike I realised what happened, my bike had been stolen by two 10-year-olds. 

Vic drove off after the two thieving scoundrels and left me alone, surrounded by dozens of children, staring at me with wide eyes; I put my bag on my back and strolled after them. After walking for 30-40 minutes I had convinced myself that I had no more bike and was now a lone wolf, abandoned in the Vietnamese jungle just like Rambo. It was then that I rounded a corner and spotted a scruffy white man, with glasses and a bushy beard- I had never been happier to see George. As it turns out, the two kids who had stolen my bike were sons of a mechanic in the next village along and had wheeled Hank back to their dad (who had lost a few fingers in the Vietnamese War) who had completely fixed my bike. He only asked for $3, but I was so happy I gave him $10. It was at that moment that I realised I would always love Vietnam and the people who lived there.

Tom Ward
squad goals
me (George Game)

Finally being back as a team, we headed towards the sunset and the mountain town of Kham Duc. 

TO BE CONTINUED….

George and Tom

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