This is a first in a series of posts about the thousand dollar challenge. The thousand dollar challenge was a challenge that I and Edwin gave ourselves. The challenge was to travel south east asia for a month in under $1000. The amount includes flights, visas, insurance, stay, food and every other trip cost.
We did it under $900 but that’s a different story.
So after chilling out in Cambodia, visiting ancient temples and going down the sisowath quay enjoying the Mekong Delta we decided to do something crazy. This is where Chingari and Mr Hung Phi come in.
From Phnom Penh, Cambodia after running around bargaining at different travel agents we finally found a $9 bus to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh, on the 22nd of December. Edwin was hell bent on buying a bike and I being the force of reason decided against it and booked a $7 bus to Mui Ne from an agency called the sinh tourist. We did go bike shopping together though. Met a cool Jamaican guy who had been living in Nha Trang for around half an year shooting water films. Saw a decent $270 bike but decided against buying it. The next day we were taken to this motorcycle dealer called Hung Phi, who ensured that a sister shop would buy the bike for around $200 in Hanoi. He somehow convinced us to buy a not so great rat bike for $300. We call her Chingari.
After buying the bike I decided to stick with Edwin no matter what happens, ditched the bus and we started riding towards Mui Ne. The land of $10 beach houses.
The bike did around 200 kms on day 1 in about 6 hours. The next day, on our way to Dalat or Paris of Vietnam it did another 175 kms but the luggage stand broke. We got it repaired, nothing major had happened. The women selling gas scammed us.
Pro Tip: Never ask the gas pump employees to fill your gas tank. Always show them how much you will be paying and keep your eye on the meter
This is when we met Rocky. In the last 10 days in South East Asia we had met plenty of middle men trying to sell us anything and everything under the sun. Rocky was different, Rocky met us around 45 Kilometers before Dalat and rode with us for the next few hours so as to insure that we stayed at his hostel, Easy Rider Hostel recently rechristened to Dalat Intercontinental Hostel for $4.5 a night. Rocky is a nice guy, his hostel was good and the breakfast he got us was brilliant. The only thing Rocky did was wrong was to suggest us to remove the broken chain guard as it didn’t matter. That was probably the beginning of the end of Chingari. We spent Christmas eve at Dalat, it was beautiful
The next day we started riding down to Nha Trang. The ride to Nha Trang was almost error free though our oil was leaking so was gas. Nha Trang was probably one of the best places we visited. We met Richard, Odin, Catherine,OJ, Omar and others in Nha Trang. More about Nha Trang later. We stayed at the Backpackers Hostel run by Tintin. Tintin served us Vietnamese Curry with bread for breakfast which was perfect.
From Nha Trang we rode to Da Nang. We had to cover around 525 kms, and we did it in around 13 hours. Pretty good for a rat bike carrying two people weighing around 80 kilos each and 20 kilos of luggage. We reached Da Nang pretty late, around 11 pm in the night, even though we had decided to not drive in the night. On our ride to Da Nang we had our chain fixed as it was coming out frequently and even tried to get the leaking oil to stop leaking.
This is where the actual story starts
We stayed a day in Da Nang. The hostel was called Funtastic Beach Hostel. At $7/night it was the most expensive place we stayed at, for the entire duration of our trip. It had a playstation 4, a reading room, a foosball table, lots of computers to check mail on, great breakfast, great wifi and great hygiene. Despite all these facilities we liked Tintins Backpackers Hostel at Nha Trang the best. On the 29th of December 2015 we were to leave for Dong Hoi to visit the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.
It was a 350km journey, so we had decided to leave our hostel at 9.30 am max. We were only able to leave it at around 11. On our way down, we decided to get our engine repaired because of the fumes. The mechanic took 2 hours to get it done, we had lunch at Lotteria and left for Dong Hoi. In hindsight this was the first time we ate at Lotteria. Lotteria is basically the Mcdonalds of Vietnam. The rates are lower than Burger King or Mcdonalds and the food is okay. The best thing about Lotteria is Kem Cone Socola or chocolate ice cream which they sell for around 5000 Dongs.
Coming back to the point and the reason I decided to write this blog post. It was 2PM and our lunch at Lotteria was over. We finally started driving out of the city. We had to get our chains tightened again. At around 6 we decided to hit the coastal roads thinking they would be as good as AH1 or a continuation of AH1. We were wrong.
Pro Tip: Never Leave AH1 for a road you are not sure about. Google is not your friend.
The next two hours were spent on a road wide enough to fit one Sedan. The road wasn’t really a road, it had no lighting, it was passing through farms or what we thought were farms and no one except us seemed to be driving on the road. It was pitch dark and we couldn’t see anything. The only source of light was Chingaris headlight, which itself seemed to be bent upwards instead of focussing on the road. For some reason I was reminded of the Vietnam Wars and began thinking about the possibility of these roads being pre war roads and us driving over unexploded ordinance and dying and this wasn’t even the worst part of the day.The worst part of the day is yet to come. We passed the next two hours telling each other stories from r/nosleep and r/letsnotmeet.
Around 8 PM we were able to join AH1. The entire day I was thankful to my Friend Chaitanya for giving me his power bank. The day sadly wasn’t over and we were still pretty far away from our destination, Dong Hoi.
The ride continues, its around 11.30 in the night and we are around 30 Kilometers from Dong Hoi, sand on both sides. Nothing visible except the road ahead of us. No signs of civilization except the cars passing by. We are trying to pass time by listening to songs and singing them loudly. I remember this is when Khwaja Mere Khwaja from the movie Jodha Akbar starts playing. Something happens to our chain. We ride for another ten minutes, it starts raining. A few minutes later our chain makes weird noises, it comes out and we get down to fix it only to find that the cog that holds the chain is broken. We shouldn’t have ever taken Rocky’s advice. There is no way to fix it. We have no tools. It’s around 12 am in Vietnam a country in which foreigners aren’t allowed to drive anything even if they have an International License. This is a country where people don’t speak English, leave alone Hindi. A country in which people somehow love the show Balika Vadhu and especially Anandi. I guess that isn’t relevant to the story. So basically we were done. Edwin started dragging Chingari forward, and I was trying to stop busses/trucks and whatever.
Pro Tip: Don’t trust Rocky.
30 minutes passed and none of them stopped.
Finally a truck stopped. Trucks in Vietnam are highly developed and beautiful. The truck driver and the co driver came out. They didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Vietnamese. The only Vietnamese we knew was Pho Bo or Beef Noodle Soup and Com Ga or Fried Chicken Rice. Now one of us had the bright idea to talk to them using Google Translate.
Pro Tip: Google may be your friend. Google Maps certainly isn’t. Always have some data to talk to people via translate, if you are doing something crazy in a Foreign Country
We explained who we were and what had happened. This guy went back to his truck and got us a water bottle and offered us his rain coat. We said no to the rain coat. He even bought his tool kit and tried to fix the bike. The other guy lit up a cigarette as it was very cold and rainy, and just like any other Vietnamese guy offered us smokes. I politely refused as I don’t smoke. The repair guy spent some 20 minutes trying to repair the bike before finally giving up.
The story continues, it’s around 12.30. Around 45 minutes have been spent waiting for someone to stop, some finally stopping and them trying to repair the bike. It’s been raining. We don’t have umbrellas or raincoats.
The driver and the co driver of the truck tell us that they don’t have space in their trucks for the bike. Maybe they can take us, but we would have to leave the bike and collect it next morning if we wanted to. We had spent $300, that is $150 each out of a budget of $1000 for a month and we did expect around $200 after selling the bike. After thinking a bit and telling ourselves that the bike was a bad idea and we shouldn’t have done it in the first place we slowly started considering the option of leaving the bike. In the meantime we and the driver/co driver tried to stop more trucks and busses, so that we may go with them and take our bikes with us.
Very few of them stopped, those who did stop said no and made some excuses. No one agreed to take the bike with them. Almost an hour and ten minutes had passed since the had chain broke. The driver and the co driver had spent at least 50 minutes trying to help us. They were finally able to convince one of their mechanic friends who lived 15 minutes away to come, pick us up and repair the bike for us. Google helped us understand what they said. They told us that the guy would be there in 15 minutes.
Even though they had been trying to help us for the past hour, we were somewhere in our hearts doubtful if the friend would ever show up. Is there even a friend. Is it safe for us to wait? Why didn’t we ditch the bike and go with the truckers instead? How stupid are we? Why didn’t I ditch Edwin in the first place and take the bus to Mui Ne?
The guy luckily came and realized the vehicle wasn’t big enough for both of us and the bike. Went back and came in a pickup truck.
He drove for the next 15 minutes and took us to a mechanic near his home. He wasn’t the mechanic. He was just a guy with a big vehicle. This guy could speak some english. I think Edwin is friends with the guy on Facebook. I hope he reads this. Thank you again Man!
Continuing with the story. We reach a mechanic’s house. He pulls up the shutter and starts shop. His wife is also up and can be seen making something. We are trying to dry ourselves. The mechanic starts working on the bike and takes around 20 minutes to repair it. After the repairs are done he asks for around 450,000 Vietnamese Dongs or $20. Edwin and I just had $13 to spare. We started showing him our empty wallets. This guy called the guy who brought us here. Somehow he made the mechanic agree and we got a discount of $7. This is when the mechanic’s wife brought hot tea for us. All for us sat down and had tea. He served another round of tea and then we finally left for Dong Hoi. Somehow we were all quite and didn’t talk at all for the next 30 Kilometers as if we had done something wrong and we were ashamed.
We reached Dong Hoi at about 3 AM and decided to stay at the Buffalo Backpackers Hostel and Bar. Good place, great food. The next day we left for Phong Nha, which was around 15 Kms from Dong Hoi on Chingari, riding as if nothing had happened last night. Phong Nha was beautiful.