The “Top Gear Dream” Part 1: Pre-departure
It was a little over 3 years ago when I sitting on the couch with my college roommates watching the Top Gear Vietnam Special in lieu of studying for finals. In the episode, the three hosts of the show were challenged to buy a vehicle for 15 million Vietnamese Dong and ‘do what the American’s failed to do’; get from southern city of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) to Ha Long City in the north. Unfortunately due to an import tax of 200% and cars being relatively new to Vietnam the 15 million Dong budget (roughly 700 dollars) could not buy them a car. This left them with one option, to use the preferred method of transportation of millions of Vietnamese, a scooter. Before the episode was over, I had decided that this was something that I had to do before I died. As it would turn out there was a very real chance that this would actually be what caused my demise.
Unlike many other dreams and aspirations in my life I was determined not let this one pass me by. So after several months of hard work I set off to Laos. Yes Laos, I was going to head directly to Vietnam but I failed to organize a visa ahead of time (my poor planning also almost got me deport from China en route) and I had a month to kill before I met my friend Ben who was going to join me on my ‘Top Gear Adventure’. As it turned out in that month in Laos I managed to entice an additional five Norwegians to join myself and Ben. By the time I reached Hanoi Vietnam (which I should clarify was our starting point as we decided north to south would work better) our party had grown to a whopping twelve people. This was no longer a bromantic ride down the coast of Vietnam but a full on motorbike gang, or in our case a scooter gang, known affectionately as the ‘Sons of Vietnam’.
In a week in Hanoi, our group had grown by one more Canadian, one Spaniard, and three Aussies; one of which would be joining me on the back of my little scooter lovingly dubbed ‘Muffin’. It took us five days to sweat out the seventeen cent ‘beer hois’ (Beer Hoi or ‘fresh beer’ is home brewed beer served out of kegs on the side of the street) before our group rallied to get our scooters equipped for the journey. Since I was the first to arrive in Hanoi I had scouted out a scooter shop where we all purchased our steeds. I will not mention the name of the stop as it would turn out that they provided less than satisfactory service.
Prior to our day of departure we were under the impression that our (paid for) scooters which were parked at the shop would be ready to go. When we arrived at 9 a.m. we were greeted with a closed shop. When the owners finally got there we learned that none of the luggage racks were attached to our scooters and mine had actually been sold the night before! I’m not sure how they managed to drive it away as I still had the key, but this really didn’t surprise me as it was Vietnam. As we waited for luggage racks to be affixed and in some our cases 30 year old Russian made ‘Minsks’ to start we looked over our route and were briefed on the Vietnamese road rules. When I say road rules I use this term very loosely as there aren’t any, or so it would seem to the average foreigner. I quickly decided to write a last
minute Will after learning that if truck drivers are going to hit you, they are going to make sure they finish the job as a funeral is much cheaper than paying for ongoing medical expenses. Six hours later a new scooter had arrived for myself and everyone else’s scooter was ready to go so we hit the road. The journey had finally begun.