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Hoi An

Written on: Sunday December 2nd, 2007

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

Travelling as we are, especially through this part of the world that we currently explore, it is actually very difficult to find the raw, real parts of the country. Our experiences are all still quite cocooned, as there are literally thousands of Westerners all following a similar route down through Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, where a somewhat artificial world exists to thrive upon the pound, dollar and euro being thrown around here like no tomorrow.
However, that cocoon, that bubble, was definately burst, rather forceably it must be said, while we were in the bustling merchant town of Hoi An, on the central Viet Nam coast. The town itself thrives on it's brightly coloured, tailor made clothes shops, of which there are over 500, and as Dave and I found it's quite lively nightlife. It's other main draw for us tourists is the My Son ruins, left by the Cham kings almost a thousand years ago.
Dave and I wanting to be different and constantly searching around for that extra snippet of adventure, decided we wouldn't do the run-of-the-mill bus tour taking you the 50km out of Hoi An to the site, but instead, almost miraculously forgetting the tragic accident we witnessed in Hue, we hired two more Honda motorbikes. Once again, here are two reasonably intelligent guys (although after this episode that is very debatable) with only 1 days experience on a bike, now attempting to tame a powerful, potentially life-taking beast between our legs (calm yourself ladies I'm still talking about the bike).
On the way out to My Son we took it reasonably carefully, as like the rest of the volumous traffic loads of Vietnamese on the roads, we were wearing just a shirt and shorts and insanely, no crash helmet. We wouldn't dream of doing the same thing back in England, so what possessed us to accept and conform to it here I don't know, but we didn't give it the slightlest consideration.
The My Son ruins were reached with little hassle, despite not having a map or really knowing exactly where we were going. The 1,300 year old ruins left by the Cham kings also proved to be well worth the journey. Set up in the highlands of central Vietnam they consist of 8 sites of sanctuaries to house the buried kings. In addition we jumped the hell out of the way of a snake as it wiggled across our path and took careful tread to avoid the unexploded bombs that still lie in the area from the Vietnam war.
With dusk fast approaching we lept enthusaisatically back on to our bikes and took off through the rural ricefields of Vietnam with a renewed thirst for speed. Zooming precariously round lorries and flyinh past just about every other bike on the road (and there's a lot of them) we motored through the country at speeds approaching 60mph. Luckily for both of us we were free from incident, but as I was to find out that night it could have been so different.
The great thing about the travel scene is that everybody is happy to find out everybody else's story, normally over a few drinks, and before you know it you're all Facebook friends. That very thing happened that night back in Hoi An whilst partaking in some Killer Pool, and getting hussled by a couple of Vietnamese fellas. There was a big group of Irish falling about the place, some fellow Brits, some Aussies and a couple of Kiwis to boot.
As the night and the alcohol levels progressed we were shepherded to the latenight club in Hoi An called King Kong, and no word of a lie, I'm sure that at that point in time it was full of the most inebriated people on the planet, thankfully all having a great time. After having shared a few rounds with our two Vietnamese pool hustlers, named Minh and Tong I stayed chatting at the bar with them, the bar staff and a Scottish guy named Steve, while our fellow revelers fell about us and danced on the pool table (actually I might well have been up there too).
By 4:30am the owner had had enough of us and beckoned us all out the door. As regularly happens at that time of the morning though, the munchies kick in and we stumbled out determined to find a noodle house. Once again without even comtemplating the possible dangers of not only riding a motorbike without protective clothing, but riding a motorbike excessively drunk, Steve, Minh, Tong, myself and one other Vietnamese guy jumped on to the bikes to head back in to town.
Steve, who had been staying in Hoi An for the past two months led the way, with the other Vietnamese guy sitting behind him, while I followed on the back of Minh's bike, with Tong sitting inbetween the two of us. I don't actually remember a massive amount of the journey back through town, but what I'll unfortunately never forget was turning a corner and seeing carnage ahead of us.
The street lights illuminated the road like a stage, and there lying upon it was Steve close to the gutter and a Vietnamese girl probably in her 20's, both of them completely still. I can't actually recollect seeing the bike or the Vietnamese guy who was on Steve's bike at all, probably as my attention was turned to what condition we would find both Steve and the Vietnamese girl in.
Going to Steve first, he was in and out of semi-consciousness with severe wounds from his head. One of his eyes was already beginning to shut with the swelling. As the others also came to Steve's side and he was able to talk I moved across to check on the girl. She also, was in and out of consciousness, muttering ineligible words at me, but the most concerning thing was the immediate swelling that had taken place in the centre of her forehead and the rapid loss of blood coming from it. While this was all going on, probably through a result of the alcohol, Tong seemed intent on taking out his anger on nobody inparticular, but just stood in the middle of the road shouting in Vietnamese. The situation was one I'd never encountered before nor ever want to encounter again.
I conveyed to another older Vietnamese lady who was apparently working with the injured girl sweeping the streets when the accident happened, to keep on talking to the bleeding girl and to keep a good grip on her hand while I went to check on Steve again who was starting to get up. Sure that an ambulance would arrive at any time, I tried to tell the other Vietnamese that were there to leave them where they were because of the extent of their head injuries. But they knew better than me, no ambulance would arrive and we would be left to our own devices to get these people to hospital.
I glanced back over to the girl and people had begun lifting her up and to put her in to the back of a white taxi that had arrived on the scene. Convinced to their way of thinking I picked Steve up from the road, where he was still bleeding from several places on his head, and as carefully as I could put him in to the passenger seat of the taxi.
With the car quickly heading to the hospital, myself, Minh, Tong and out of nowhere, the guy who had been on the back of Steve's bike, followed on motorbikes. The girl had been whisked in to a private room in the emergency area, while some nurses attended to Steve who was now fully conscious in the main ER. The night was nowhere near over though, as after only a few minutes of being in the hospital, Steve was bizarrely intent on leaving. For the first 30 or so minuites both Minh and I calmly tried to explain to him what had happened, and that he was still bleeding heavily from his head. Making matters worse, every time he jumped up the bleeding became much more forceful. Disorientated and with his left eye now fully closed Steve started to become aggressive, pushing us out of the way to leave the hospital. For another hour and a half, Minh and I wrestled with him physically and verbally to get him to stay, but he was having none of it. Around 7:30am four of us pinned him to the bed while the doctor approached to sedate him, and still he fought.
The most harrowing thing about it was standing there seeing the young Vietnamese girl lying in the bed, now alongside us, joined by what seemed to be about 10 of her family, all of them silent and just watching us. None of them voiced their anger, not one of them shed a tear, they merely stood in melancholic silence observing the tragic scene.
While Steve began to slip in to a slumber, the girl was transferred north to Da Nang to have a CAT scan on her head, which thankfully we found out the following day to prove all clear. The other Vietnamese lad who was on the back of Steve's bike, somehow or other escaped with just his knees cut. The sun now fully up, I apprehensively was put on to the back of another motorcycle and dropped off back at my hotel, and after a manic 4 hours was given the opportunity to fully take in what had just happened and been witnessed. At the time my body was just reacting on auto-pilot, there didn't seem to be any thought process, but on reflecting after the accident it had taken quite a mental toll on me and will be something that I'll never forget.
Returning to the hospital after a few hours sleep, it was good to see Steve in a much less agressive mood (those feisty Scots), albeit with a vicious headache. The girl was fortunstely sitting up in bed talking brightly too, and it seemed Steve was going to be extremely lucky and escape with just a $1000 fine, and the promise of getting the girl some sort of token gift for his idiocity. Back in Britain he'd be staring a prison sentence firmly in the face.


Although a dreadful experience for all of us involved, it brought myself and the Vietnamese guys that were with me very close very suddenly. That night we met up with them once again, all of us slightly drained as none of us had had too much sleep at all, but content to sit with a few beers and mill over the events once more. For probably the first time on the trip I was removed from that temporary safe traveller haven for just a short amount of time, and whilst obviously not enjoying it, come the end of this journey the event will be one of the strongest recollections of my trip, and the people involved in it, Minh especially, will be some that I will remember most fondly.