I mentioned in my Dalat post a few days ago that our visit to Vietnam coincided with the worst floods there in living memory. This was to lead to probably the worst journey of my life!
We had made our way to Nha Trang, a place described as Vietnam’s paradise. Not when it rains incessantly for the whole two days we were there it isn’t!
To make matters worse, Hamish had bought some poisoned water from an urchin when we had visited the Mekong Delta and despite only taking two gulps was sick as a dog by the time we arrived in the land of milk and honey.
He was really bad. This found us searching out a pharmacy where he was prescribed a pill the size of a gobstopper. I am not kidding when I say that his eyeballs rolled, so all you could see was the whites of his eyes just a few seconds after swallowing. Pretty scary!
To cut a long story short, we wanted to get out of this place as quickly as possible. Trouble was that public transport was grounded everywhere in the south due to the weather. No trains, buses or planes. The hotel knew somebody who would take us in his seven-seater.
A deal was struck to take Hamish and I to Hoi An some 500 km northwards leaving at nine next morning.
With Hamish still pretty ill, our transport arrived thirty-minutes late. To our chagrin, we had the two seats right at the back squashed in by rucksacks. In front of us sat three Dutch giants, who all needed plenty of legroom, so we were trapped in what resembled a padded cell! At least the rain was easing!
To start with the journey was just about bearable. The sun had come out and the scenery was very pretty as we left the coast behind. The sounds could have been better – blaring Vietnamese music and intermittent groaning from my suffering friend.
In time, I could feel different parts of my body becoming numb due to the cramped conditions. When we eventually stopped for a lunch break, these body parts needed a fair amount of persuasion to set to work so I could clamber out of my confinement.
Happily Hamish had started to feel well enough for a banana and some black tea.
We were travelling on Vietnam’s Highway One, the road that stretched pretty much from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. Despite it being the country’s primary road route, it was only two lanes for most of the way and full of potholes that were now of course full of rainwater.
The rain started lashing down again and as the levels of traffic noticeably increased, conditions became increasingly difficult. Huge puddles were forming and potholes previously skirted round had to be traversed, meaning that we took the full force of shocking bumps. At least I was too numb to feel the inevitable bruising at this stage.
As night fell, the journey became very scary. Huge lorries zoomed towards us, lights blazing, horns blaring to warn us to keep out of their path. They of course also churned up waterfalls of spray temporarily blinding our driver and causing him to swerve alarmingly.
All this time the awful music continue to blast out incessantly.
It was bad enough that the sounds had no musical merit by my tastes, but throw in that the cassettes were all warped and the player so old that the tunes were also distorted and I swore I would never moan about Eurovision again!
At one horrendous point the vehicle started to aquaplane towards a ditch, the half blinded driver having broken hard to avoid a lorry. We pulled up with the front wheel actually over the edge, but luckily managed to continue on our way after a brief pause to restore calm inside the car!
We were already nine awful hours into the supposed seven hour journey when we encountered the highlight (not)!
We joined a massive traffic jam, later finding out that the main bridge had been swept away in the floods and replaced by a temporary single lane pontoon version.
We edged forwards every fifteen minutes when it was clearly our lane’s turn to progress across the river. The distances covered got shorter and shorter as the oncoming traffic presumably jumped the red light.
This all became too much for our driver. With the outside lane clear and our time to ease forward upon us, he pulled out and we were soon racing in the dark, bouncing over potholes and churning up spray.
We had gone at least two kilometres this way with our adrenalin pumping when we spotted lights coming in our direction at what seemed a rapid pace. Hearts in mouths time. The traffic on our proper lane was solid and we had a head on crash approaching at a rate of knots.
Just as the blaring horns started too, miraculously a space appeared which our man took in a flash. It was only due to a kindly driver pulling over into a small piece of wasteland that this had been possible. As a stream of traffic went past, I think we all said a little prayer!
Amazingly, he repeated this manoeuvre again twice. Thankfully he did not leave it so late to pull in on the further occasions, but again relied upon the courtesy of other drivers or perhaps Lady Luck.
His Highway Code defying overtaking probably saved us a couple of hours, but the journey still took thirteen, very nearly double the quoted norm. There was a final twist still to come before we arrived at our destination.
Having turned off the main highway, we followed a minor road into Hoi An. We were just cheering ourselves by the fact that we had left the ‘Road to Hell’ when we stopped abruptly. The road ahead was completely flooded. There was no way around it and the puddle appeared to be at least twenty centimetres high and fifty metres wide. There was nothing else for it but to try and gingerly cross the ford.
Once more hearts were in mouths as we crawled through the impromptu river. If we had conked out in that we would have been spending the night there at best and at worst would have had to trudge the last ten kilometres in the driving rain. Happily neither nightmare scenario was necessary as we made dry land once more to a huge sigh of relief all round.
We eventually arrived 11.30PM and all gratefully agreed to be taken to the same hotel for the night. This was the one time that we were glad that our driver had a ‘friend’ who owned a hotel as none of us fancied trawling the sodden streets at this time of night to find a longed for bed.
There was still time for one final drama. Hamish had not eaten for three days and with his illness subsiding he was not only starving hungry but also his blood sugar levels were dangerously low, so much so that he was close to passing out. Our hotel had no food and all shops and restaurants were shut.
There was nothing else for it – I was soon banging on the door of the nearest food establishment and begging for take out food. A couple of bananas was the best they could do. I was first offered fried chicken but as Hamish is vegetarian this was declined (I soon regretted not buying it for myself but all I could think of was helping my buddy). So two bananas it was and top dollar willingly handed over for them.
When I returned wet through to the hotel I found that Hamish had already eaten banana and bread rolls courtesy of the house next door. Oh well, it was the gesture that counted!
That was a journey and a day never to be forgotten!