The “Top Gear Dream” Part 3: Ninh Binh to Vinh
After having driven in the rain which was my greatest fear, we set off for Vinh under clear skies. The journey from Ninh Binh to Vinh was going to be a long day on the bikes as we had over 200 kilometers to cover. Now 200 kilometers doesn’t sound like it should be a long day of riding but in Vietnam it is. You can be going 90 km/h one minute on a beautifully paved highway to suddenly being run off the road and going 5 km/h on the dirt shoulder. On average we could expect to go about 40 km/h with mandatory rest stops to give your butt a break from the lack of suspension on our overloaded scooters.
It wasn’t long after we had gotten back on AH-1 that our group started to get spread out on through the traffic. By early afternoon Alice and I found ourselves alone on the highway. After getting lost we decided to call a couple members of the ‘Sons of Vietnam’ to get an idea as to where everyone was at. It soon became clear that the group was scattered far apart along AH-1 as some people suffered mechanical issues, there was another minor crash and a few others were flying along well ahead of the rest. Besides getting lost briefly and the kickstand falling off of the scooter, Alice and I were able to catch up to the Norwegians who were stopped at a small repair shop getting some more serious issues sorted out.
As we all waited for the bikes to be repaired, we called ahead to the other members of our group to learn that they had arrived in Vinh. After finishing dinner and with the Norwegian’s bikes still being worked on, Alice and I decided to take the risk and push onward to Vinh as the sun sank lower in the sky. We were only about 40km outside of Vinh and what I assumed was an hour left of daylight. Unfortunately my assumption was incorrect and darkness was upon us shortly into our approach to Vinh. We now had to make the decision as to whether or not we were going to continue in the dark or try and find a place to stay.
We opted to continue and soon realized that this was not going to be easy. With the absence of streetlights the road was pitch-black and the headlamp on ‘Muffin’ was just like every other part of the bike…crap. It was so poor that in top gear the bike didn’t generate enough power to fully illuminate it so I had to drive in a lower gear to keep the engine revs up. It was nice when a larger vehicle would come up behind us so that we could see if we were still on the road or not. Although this extra light was quite helpful, it was a bit unnerving as you hoped that they had seen you. In one case we had a bus pass us so closely that Alice gave us a push off of it. Due to the lack of visibility our speed had declined to a mere creep along the shoulder in order not to hit one of the Vietnamese potholes that could swallow the front wheel of your scooter whole. At one point we found ourselves off the bitumen and on the soft muddy shoulder and ended up getting stuck.
This went on for another stressful hour, where I wasn’t sure if each passing car was going to be our demise or maybe I would stroke out while driving. This short 40km ride was the most stressed I had been in a long time, it certainly took a few years off of my life. Thankfully we made it safely to Vinh and chose to spend the next day recovering from the tense night drive. The Norwegians made the smarter decision and stayed in a hotel outside of Vinh to avoid driving in the dark and rendezvoused with us the following afternoon.