Road trip. Those are the magic words. Bringing a smile to my face as I splash water in my face. Been up since 4 am. SMS’ed James to see if he really would make it at 5 am. “Yes”, he texted back. That’s what a road trip will do for you. Even more so when bundled together with photography. Just ask my clients, they know the drill. If they want to be there for all the shots, they have to get up early. That’s the great thing of most of my clients, they do share the same passion of getting the best out of every situation.
Typical travel assignment for a resort involves getting there the day before, then waking up at 4 am to make sure we will capture the sunrise before heading for breakfast. Then more work until lunch. Then more until late dinner. Then some night shots if the conditions are good. Sometimes it means waiting until 11.30 pm for the moon to move into the right spot before hitting the sack only to repeat the the procedure the next day. Throw in some time to transfer files and back up to multiple drives and you soon find yourself on 3-4 hours sleep a day. Still would do it again.
5 am and the dogs are barking. Right. Time to get the bike on the road. James and I are sharing one bike. A Yamaha Nouvo, 125 cc and with two equally tall foreigners with over 160 kg combined weight. Off we go. Decide to get as much milage as possible before a breakfast stop. We have been on this road before. We are hungry for new locations and speed past previous stopping spots.
The bike has just been serviced. New gear oil, new motor oil. New, extended side mirrors to provide better view than the original ones. New tires, tubeless, so not to worry too much about getting flat tires. A rain cover for the seat, works brilliant when you park the bike in the hot sun as it prevents you from frying your behind when you get on after a rest. Yamaha ought to sponsor us for all our praise of their bike as it took us safely from Saigon to Nha Trang, then Nha Trang to Da Lat before back to Saigon. A true work horse.
First stop for breakfast. A petrol station with an adjacent restaurant. We ordered some coffee and food. Once we started photographing their bonsai tree, we were approached by the man of the house, proudly explaining details of the tree and that it was a certain breed. My Vietnamese skills could not keep up with all the details, however, that the tree received his love and attention, there was no doubt about it.
We pushed fast ahead, well, fast for us, but not for the trucks and cars speeding past us. The law of the road. Smaller vehicles, if they want to survive, give way for bigger ones. The purchase of extended side mirrors was a direct consequence to this. Having side view mirrors were not common a few years back, nor were helmets, until they enforced the law late 2007. When buying my first motorbike I had to insist that they put on the side view mirrors.
Having side view mirrors is one thing, making use of them is another. Hence the constant use of horns to warn people in front. As the honking intensifies your chances of survival are getting slimmer unless immediate evasive action is taken. Consider yourself lucky if they do warn you. At night they don’t think anybody will be crazy enough to drive on the roads and no horns are used at all. Something we discovered on our way down from Da Lat at night. Quite an experience.
We were traveling on a section without street lights. I was on lookout behind. James was riding and looking out for potholes in the front. If we hit one of the deeper potholes we would go down for sure. Slow speed necessary. Add rain to the weather conditions. On a positive note, we had a bit of moonlight in between the rain showers.
Roughly every five seconds I would glance over my shoulder and look for incoming lights. Once spotted, I yelled incoming and James started the evasive manoeuvre. Slowing down the bike to almost walking speed, riding along the road shoulder as far as the asphalt reached.
This we did throughout the night from around 11 pm when we left Da Lat until 4 am in the morning, when we were too exhausted to go on and had a nap at a road side pagoda.
That’s how we made it through without any scratches, because when you are seeing incoming lights just after you have passed a long curve, that means they will catch up with you soon. Three buses, at full speed, two buses overtaking the slowest one, filled the entire road, going at 80 km+, leaving us very little space and out from the darkness in front of us was a massive pile of gravel, intended for road work and blocking our way forward. We came to a holt. The slowest bus drove past around 15 cm from my elbow. They did not notice us at all, nor did their sleeping passengers. We continued our journey after acknowledging that our defensive driving system actually worked.
All that came later in our trip. Now, we did not know what would be in store for us, only hoping for better weather as we had encountered quite a few rain showers. Taking the coastal route to Nha Trang, first stop would be Phan Thiet where we planned to lunch. Getting closer, we had to do a U-turn and back track as I spotted it too late. A billboard advertising a resort. Not any billboard and any resort. This was Sea Links Beach Hotel, a client of mine and they used the panorama image I took. Always a joy to see your own work printed big. Definitely worth a stop.
Lunch time. We had reached Phan Thiet and ordered some lunch. “No warm liquid or food. Also, remember not to chew with your front dentures.” The dentist’s instructions. Great. Ice drinks and waiting for the food to cool down. Suddenly I realised I could qualify as a member of the slow food movement.
Lunch consumed and we headed out of town. We had set our sights on a pagoda that we wanted to photograph. James and I have a tendency to stop at pagodas on our road trips. They are fascinating worlds on their own. Always butterflies flying around. A touch of nature within the city. We parked the bike and started our stroll, heading in different directions for only to compare our captures later over a cup of coffee. Here are some of the images that made my edit, enjoy!
Nice piece Mads. I was out on the beers with James & Mark until 1am the night before so very impressed that he made the 5am start 🙂
Thanks Tim! Yes, I knew he was out, that’s why I had to text him in the morning to make sure he would make it 🙂
An interesting trip. I’ve been dreaming of a trip like this for a long time.
It is really worth doing. I am still dreaming of doing one from Saigon to Hanoi on motorbike. Started first with small trips out of town to longer and longer ones.
Nice one Mads! Thanks too for the great trip. I’ll never forget sleeping on a concrete bench at a pagoda at the bottom of a mountain due to sheer exhaustion. Great photos buddy! Let’s start planning the next one 🙂
Howdу! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new apple iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts! Keep up the outstanding work!