Vietnam: Cao Bang to Ha Giang

Close to the top of a giant climb, I see a pack of six little kids running down out of a steep field. Nothing unusual, kids are constantly running out to scream “Hello! Hello! What’s your name!”

I wave to these ones, and say hello, and keep moving up the steep hill. They’re down to the road now.

Then they grab my bike, chattering, and try to pull me backwards. I laugh, and pedal harder, drag them along.

But they won’t let go. They finally yank hard enough that I have to get off. This is less cute now.

“Ok, ok. Let go, that’s enough,” I say, and try to drag the bike away from them.

One of them is holding out her open hand and starts screaming “Tien tien tien!” Money money money!

“No, no” I say, still kinda amused. “Get outta here. Go on.”

Then another kid grabs a stick and starts smacking me with it. It doesn’t really hurt because she’s a six year old and only like three feet tall, but still.

Then she jabs me in the ass with the stick.

“Alright, get out! Enough! Fucksake. Get!” I yell at the kids kinda lose my temper (I mean I’m getting beat and poked with a bamboo pole), then I pry their tiny dirty fingers off my bike, grab the bike back and tell at them again “Outta here! Seriously, damnit.”

Then the one that had been whacking me lays down in the street and starts this super fake wailing routine. Little prick.

I wait a little farther up the hill for Colleen, who’s also ambushed, but with a little less energy, and thankfully no bamboo rod.

Then we’re close to the top, another pack of kids drops out of a field. Goddammit, here we go again. I yell at them as soon as they touch my bike, and they back off.

Colleen isn’t so lucky, but these kids are nicer. They’re just giggling and pushing her up the crazy steep climb. Seems fine, so I let it go.

I round a switchback, Colleen in the kids are about 50 feet back, and they’re kind of pushing her into the middle of the road.

Then I hear a crunch, some yelling, look back and Colleen’s bike is in the road, a little old lady laying in the ditch next to her scooter.

“What the hell happened?”

“They pushed me into the middle of the road!” Colleen yells. “I couldn’t move!”

The little old lady gets up and starts yelling in Vietnamese. The kids have disappeared. I look up the hill and see all five of them hiding behind a busted fence. Fuckers.

Colleen’s fine, the women seems fine, I walk down and pick her scooter up for her, and she keeps yelling at me.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand you.”

She keeps yelling.

“No Vietnamese, I can’t speak Vietnamese.”

Still yelling. I try to show her on Google translate, but she doesn’t have her reading glasses, can’t see the text. Shoves my phone back at me, keeps yelling, pointing at the rubber foot peg on her bike, which is covered in dirt, but not broken. She and Colleen were each barely moving when they collided.

Finally she finds her glasses, and points at my phone. I give it to her, and she types out a run-on word without any spaces, then thrusts it at me. It obviously doesn’t translate at all.

I type in “I’m sorry, it was not her fault. The children pushed her, what can we do to help you?”

She reads it, then yells at me some more. Jesus Christ. I’m about ready to just leave.

Finally a Vietnamese guy our age stops, and although he doesn’t speak English either, he knows how to use a smartphone. So he does the translating for the lady, and the app finally comes out with:

“The time for sorry is done. Now I have pain.” She shows me that, then points to her leg, which is not injured. Christ.

“I’m sorry, what can we do?”

“Give me money.”

Ok. “Hey, Colleen she wants some money.” Colleen gets out her wallet, which has like 120,000 dong (four bucks) in it, and hands it all to the lady. She looks disgusted by the small bills, throws them back and keeps the hundred.

“That’s all I have on me,” Colleen says, looking about ready to cry. The lady turns away. Ok, let’s get the hell out of here. I thank the younger guy, and he buzzes off, then we sprint the rest of the way up the climb.

That was some serious Lord of the Flies shit on top of that hill. I think that road might have been part of the Ha Giang Loop, which is a popular route for people to drive rented motorcycles on, so maybe those kids have grabbed handouts from tourists before. But whatever the case, the kids were totally out of control.

I know I look a rolling sack of money with my super nice bike and crap, but still. Actually, I guess I am technically a rolling sack of money, due to global economic things I don’t understand, and that’s the main reason I’m allowed to visit this country anyway, which is a nice thing. And I would never expect anyone here to like me, given our country’s histories. I feel like if roles were reversed I might not like me very much. So I am consistently impressed with how nice the vast majority of people are.

But these kids.

It’s not ok to whack a random traveler with a bamboo pole, I don’t care who you are. I might have 500 dong on me (20 bucks), but I’m not a fucking pinata.

I don’t blame the older lady for being pissed, but the fact is it wasn’t Colleen’s fault.

Anyway, that’s the only time anything remotely like that has happened. Every other one of the billion kids we ride past every day has been all smiles and waves.

All the other old ladies we’ve met have been in markets, and they just want to charge us triple for carrots. So I guess they’re never actually very nice, but at least they squeeze us for cash in a civilized way.

In Cao Bang we stay at Mr. Tuan’s guesthouse. We pay for another family style dinner, and it’s great. Duck, chicken, rice, a bunch of other delicious stuff I can’t remember because there’s also rice liquor. A couple from Israel, and their Vietnamese guide and van driver are at dinner as well.

And there’s this hilarious kid that works there, maybe eight years old, that keeps initiating rounds of shots.

“More happy water!” he screams.

Colleen and the Israelis try say no, the Vietnamese guys say “Same same!” and pour the rice liquor anyway, then “Mot hai ba dzo!” “One two three cheers!”

After dinner the kid busts out a karaoke machine. If there’s drinking here there’s karaoke. Instead of watching Sports Center in a bar, guys sing karaoke. And they suck so bad at singing. The Israeli guy and I also suck at it, so we’re in the right spot.

After some real painful stuff, the Israeli does this Radiohead song I hate and I do this Clarks song that I love, he challenges me to a game of chess.

Which turns out to be not so fair, because although the Israeli and I have had a same same amount of happy water, the girls have not. And his wife is advising and conspiring and generally playing very smart sober chess, while Colleen is about as helpful as a stump.

Rather than be invested in my chess results, she’s happy to laugh at me when I forget that I’m supposed to be playing the black pieces, not the white ones, then watch me spiral miserably.

And then there’s this other thing about swapping the king and the rook’s position, and the Israelis show me this phone page full of Hebrew to prove it’s a real rule, and I reply that they’re just flashing me a page full of funny squiggles, but whatever.

Long story short, I lose.

I blame Colleen.

And also that kid with his same same happy water.

Super fun evening though, I also blame the kid with the same same happy water for that.

The guesthouse cat. When you eat in Vietnam, you throw bones and stuff on the ground or in little trash cans under the table. His job was to eat those up.


The ride the next day is pretty cruisey, and we stay in the little town of Pac Miau for the night.

Wouldn’t recommend it.

Our hotel is a karaoke bar, and the window in our room opens to the stairwell above the bar.

Did I mention how bad drunk Vietnamese dudes are at singing? It would blow you away. And Vietnamese pop, man. Just imagine the sound track to Disney’s Mulan, then add this baseline that goes BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM.

Fortunately everybody goes to sleep early, so it’s over by 9:00.

Another 60k of nice roads, then slop roads, then nice roads, and we’re in Ha Giang.