Scott tares passed us on his battered red semi-automatic Yamaha. He eats the hot road and leans into corners as we navigate the oil rig lined coast. This is a man in his element.
Like us Dan takes things easier. His moped was probably made before he was, so a little caution is wise.
At least he’s able to speak in broken English to the smiling locals as they cruise past him.
“Where are we going?” was the cry as the four of us take turns in leading the pack.
It didn’t matter. For the day we were our own tour guides and under the watchful eye of the looming Jesus statue, we are free.
A brief night in Saigon
We made the journey from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City fairly easily. In comparison to somewhere like India, travelling through SE Asia has been a breeze.
Tickets can be booked online, drops are made in central “backpacker” areas and the Giant Ibiz has leg room and WiFi. Luxury.
We’re in HCMC to meet my older brother (Dan) and his friend and travelling companion (Scott). They’re on a two week holiday so we’d all arranged to meet for a few days of fun.
When we arrive on a bustling street in District 1 Scott is not well. A virus has taken its toll on him for the last couple of days but he’s determined to shake it.
We walk the street hopping between bars and street food vendors. I take a risk on a dried dangling squid which is rapidly barbecued and then pulverised before being handed to me in a paper tray. A dry, salty, cotton texture. It looks like offal. Not even the sauce could save it.
We hit a few more bars and indulge ourselves on cheap cold beer. Soon we’re in a club blasting hip-hop and electonic music, our own keg of Tiger in front of us. Scott calls it a night and was fortunate enough to miss a lad next to us vomit his dinner onto the already sticky floor. Regurgitated rice splashes on Dan’s leg. Time to leave.
We sit in a quieter bar whilst France play Germany on tv, and share stories of our trip so far. The beer and the conversation flows and in the end me and Dan get into a debate about the “truth” about 9/11. We argue, disagree and fight our corners because thats what brothers do. It all ends amicably.
Sinking our last beers we call it a night around 2am. We’re heading south tomorrow to Vung Tau to enjoy their last 3 days with us by the sea.
The Black Pearl
Because of its proximity to HCMC, Vung Tau is a popular weekend break destination for the overworked of the city.
The quickest way to get their is an hour and a half boat ride which takes you down through the cites river ways and out into the Chinese Sea, docking in Vung Tau port.
The area is famous for oil production so the coast is doted with oil rigs and shipping containers. Beacons of a modern, industrial world.
On arrival Dan and Scott make their way to their pre-booked hotel. Me and Hannah are less prepared and ask our taxi driver to take us to the beach and any kind of guest house.
We settle for a nameless guesthouse in a busy part of town. No frills. Its around 6pm by the time we’ve freshened up and the street is coming to life.
The smell of barbecued octopus, squid and chicken fill the air. The odd tout makes a pitch for fake Ray Bans. A small, fat dog in our Guest House begs on his hind legs for scraps.
We eat a bowl of Pho each and head out to an Australian Bar to regroup and formulate a plan. The bar was dead and depressed. My bad.
As it’s low season and not really a backpacker town, it became difficult to find the right area for our needs. Our needs were simple, music, drink and people.
After a few drinks we get in a cab and ask the driver to head to the coast. Surely there must be a strip. Something! This is when we found the Black Pearl.
The Black Pearl looks like a nightmare. It’s decorated to look like Cap’n Jack Sparrows bedroom and the bar staff and waitresses all reluctantly don their pirate uniforms and swashbuckling garb.
I gave us twenty minutes before we’d be on the trail to find somewhere else.
Soon though the live house band took over. They slammed covers of Guns’n’Roses and Journey with a sexy lead singer who’d come and join us occasionally for a shot of tequila.
The crowd was mostly from outside of Vietnam. Koreans, Sri Lankans, Americans, Japanese all mingled and punched their fists in the air like this was the only place they could let go.
The amount of money being spent on drinks naturally attracted a calibre of “working girls” to the venue who would swan from table to table in sleak dresses looking for a potential customer. Their figures drew them attention. They knew how to play to their strengths.
We danced and drank and mingled with the other punters. Hannah became the most popular kid in the class by taking photos of smiling groups. Scott reluctantly talks Brexit with a new American friend.
The night ended as all good nights should, with people wanting more and being ushered out by the cleaning staff. So happy were we with our experience that we’d return the following night for more swashbuckling debauchery.
A day on the road
Renting mopeds after an evening enjoying Jonny Walker and sharing street food with locals until 7 in the morning might not seem like the smartest move.
Sometimes though you have to trust your instincts and push past the apprehension.
Our Guest House offered moped hire for 150,000 Dong (£5) a day. Or at least they said they did.
After a few phone calls were made, one by one our chariots arrived waiting to be tamed. I’m pretty sure they were just bikes who belonged to locals that were’t using them that day and fancied a bit of extra cash.
It mattered not to us, as we were soon set loose on the streets of Vung Tau.
With the wind in your face and the traffic flowing organically your senses feel alive.
We circled the island laughing and revving. Anytime we stopped Scotts bike needed a rolling start to kick into action. It was all part of the fun.
Eventually we stumbled across a small road which winded up a hillside and gave us a spectacular vantage point of the city we’d spent the last two hours racing through.
We enjoyed a drink on a cafe overlooking the hillside and then returned our machines home.
One final dinner with Scott and Dan followed by some Mai Thai’s signalled the end of out time by the beach.
We embraced on the side of the road and were grateful for the three full days we’d spent together in Vietnam.
As me and Hannah walk back to our guest house for our final night before heading back to Saigon a taxi speeds passed and two familiar voices shout out at us “Safe Travels!!!” A lump sticks in my throat.