I’m selling the bikes today. I’m a little sad, and a little relieved. They weren’t free, and they were quite troublesome. That being said, these two monstrosities truly were the other members of the trip. They had personalities and problems just as much as did Michelle and myself. They became our friends.
The bike sales issue is one that I am sure many people will run into when motorbiking Vietnam, so I’ll try and dig into that a little bit before I get all nostalgic.
Everyone will tell you that there are more bikes in Saigon and less in Hanoi. This is true, but that doesn’t mean the bikes are any good in Saigon or that hard to come by in Hanoi.
Buying the bikes as I did, in Saigon, I had a week to ensure that the repairs on them were made and they were road worthy. Even after taking each of the bikes back to the mechanics and asking him to make further repairs, very little was done. The bikes were repaired only in as much as they looked serviceable and no further. We purchased from a guy named Kevin Raven, who I quite like and who was full of information. The problem may lie in the communication barrier between him and his mechanic, Anh. By the end of the first day, parts were literally falling off of our bikes.
We have spent the first several hours of every day fixing the bikes, and when we finally arrived in Hanoi, the mechanics that Mr. Raven referred us to were too busy to meet for several days until the day before I had to leave Vietnam. The mechanic was brutal in his evaluation of the bikes, and when I made any attempt at negotiation he simply said he would not purchase the bikes and attempted to leave. We got bottom dollar.
This is a tough market, and “the other guys” have the upper hand. Just consign yourself to dealing with it and realize the money isn’t everything. I would recommend going somewhere other than Kevin Raven’s shop for a bike, as the faults we experienced could easily have been deadly if they had happened at the wrong moment. “Gross negligence” is a phrase I would use to describe it… “complete disregard for human life” might be another. Nothing against Kevin, he’s a likable bloke, but I’d rather live to see another American smile.
Today, I can smell the Vietnamese coffee wafting up from the cafe downstairs. I know I’ll miss that, so I have purchased way too much of it to mail back home. My coffee purchase and subsequent shipping costs may amount to the most expensive cup of coffee ever.
I’ll miss Bahn Bao for sure… and even skinny girls, sometimes.
Vietnam hasn’t touched me the way that I thought it would. Most of it I could live without, but it’s the discovery of such personal facts that requires one actually go and sample the place. This country taught me a great deal about myself, people, tolerance, and about my good friend, Michelle. I’ve never seen a Vietnamese family; not in America. I have seen, kissed, and enjoyed the friendship of Vietnamese girls in the USA, but that’s about as close as I’ve gotten to seeing the other side of things.
These bikes have enabled me to have the most exciting day of riding in my life. They also allowed me to fulfill a dream I shared with one of my closest friends to ride the Hi Van pass. The have allowed me to get away from the cities in Vietnam, where it is so hard to find anything redeeming, and get out into the country and find real people, see the amazing green landscapes and truly find something to love about this place. These two wheels, as usual, spell freedom and peace; things so rare and hard fought for in sections of the world.
Today, though, with the sale of the bikes, comes a different kind of freedom. The need to maintain them, gas them up, lock them up, worry if they are going to kill us; all this is gone. While the bikes ultimately were something of a failure monetarily, they were an enormous success in the memories they helped us create.
This is the lesson Vietnam has driven home. Today, the bikes will be gone. Tomorrow, the money will be gone. The memories and the bonds of friendship forged on this trip will never leave us. The silent moments as we stood on mountain peaks and stared over an emerald series of chasms, the moments the brakes failed, the crashes, and the broken cookies eaten in wonder over Hi Van pass; none of this will ever be lost or can ever be duplicated.
These thoughts are what make days like this tolerable. We are reminded that we get to have more adventures and that we will see these friends again, and that we will make even more friends between now and then. We pat the bikes a solemn farewell and kiss the cheeks of friends and we say our goodbyes promising each other it won’t be forever. Even if it is, even if we never meet in this life again, we will both be richer for these memories we have shared and we should never regret these moments that made us smile.