The Profound Lesson Learned Whilst Driving a Motorbike Off a Cliff in Vietnam

A secret to wipe anger, sorrow, and frustration from your brain?

Originally published January 2018.

It’s 10 am on my 26th birthday. We’ve been on our bikes for 30 minutes, traversing the drizzled, foggy hills outside of Dong Van, a picturesque town on Vietnam’s northern border with China.

The eight of us zip up and down the quarried slopes, our tracks flanked by the sheer drops that make East Asia’s limestone cliffs so awe inspiring.

Thang tears ahead on his enormous dirt bike, easily conquering the “roads”. By this point in our odyssey we’d come to learn these were little more than gravel, mud and potholes loosely connected by ribbons of tarmac — if we were lucky.

Directly behind him, I pick up speed and confidence as I acclimatize to the slip and slide of the bike. Cruising through slick mud and freshly formed rivers from the previous night’s storm.

Gathering speed on an uphill, the cliff side path veers left. The “road” is merely two deep, parallel trenches with a muddy bank between them.

Thang blasts through the right hand trench, closest to the cliff edge.

Bumps inward up the middle bank, and flicks his back tire around as he pulls out of the obstacle.

I kill off much of my speed from the uphill and follow his line.

Right hand trench.

“This is deeper than I anticipated….” flicks across my brain for a fraction of a second.

My back tire slides.

“Perhaps my 125cc semiauto bike isn’t as capable as our guide’s off-road monster”

Pull inwards.

Bike bounces up the bank, away from the cliff.

“Correct. Fuck. Correct. Fuck”

Back wheel flicks over the bank and into the left hand trench, knocking it’s side and directing me towards the cliff edge.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck”

I scramble to correct, leaning in left, pumping the breaks, knocking down the gears.

Existence shrinks down to a strobing set of images and gut punch emotional reactions.

Seconds stretch out. The edge hurtles towards me.

“FUCK. FUCK. FUCK.”….


Get ready for one of the most profound life lessons I’ve learned, wrapped up in a crazy story, wrapped up in a (hopefully) amusing highlight reel of my bike trip around North Vietnam.

The insanity of Hanoi was oppressive and overwhelming for many I’m traveling with. But I, I found the elevated discomfort in almost every aspect of my life exhilarating.

Want to cross the road?

Prepare to die.

Want to eat the food?

Prepare to die.

Want to converse with 99% of the population without pointing and hand gesturing?

Good. fucking. luck.

Hanoi’s streets are tight and sprawling, with countless thousands of people all living on top of each other.

Her roads a terrifying chaos of motorbikes beeping and sliding between each other.

Her smells flick and flutter from the rich aromas of garlic, galangal, and chili to the arresting kick of exhaust smog and sewage.

The magnitude of sensory overload is electric. The mounting discomfort makes my heart thump.

For me, being immersed to the neck in an uncomfortable situation leaves me awash with the taste of growth.

The opportunity to raise to the situation and conquer it. To fight and flow through it.

To come out on the other side a person I enjoy more today than I did yesterday.

So with the scene set, and your appetite for excitement hopefully piqued, let me share just some of the fun from my Vietnamese adventure.

Sunday: You sure we’re prepared for this?

After spending less than an hour learning how to actually drive a bike the previous day, Eddie, Tibor, Remy, Mark, John, Joe, myself and our guide Thang prepare to exit the mayhem of Hanoi and begin our adventure.

Thang, is a lunatic.

A tiny Vietnamese guy in his early twenties with an electric passion for off road driving.

He seems to mistake our excitement and eagerness, for an indication of driving ability when planning out our route.

He plans out the most beautiful (deadly) route he knows, and we head out into the moto-carnage that is downtown Hanoi.

We drive for 45 minutes and through a chorus of horn honks, and feverish mirror checks, we make it safely outside the greater city.

Safely that is, until another biker swerves in front of Mark.

He slams the beaks.

The bike doesn’t like it.

Mark bails, throwing the bike down and sliding.

His hand and arm are bloodied. The bike is functional. We bandage him up and 30 minutes later we’re off.

Lesson learned — assume everyone is an imbecile with a death wish.

We’re on the road again.

Perhaps 3 minutes pass.

A woman by the side of the road stands there with her bike, and then without warning decides to walk it into the road.

I slam the breaks.

The bike doesn’t like it.

I bail, throwing the bike down and sliding.

The woman that caused me to bail just looks at me on the floor, pinned under my bike and continues on walking…

Cheers.

My right arm, leg and ankle are bloodied. My bike is not functional. I laugh it off, get bandaged up and we grab lunch whilst we wait an hour for another bike.

Lesson ACTUALLY learned — assume everyone is an imbecile with a death wish.

Great start.

Onward we ride. I’m now vigilant of anyone anywhere near the road, giving them extra room for unexplained crazy.

When we finally break from Hanoi we’re greeted by wide open roads. We ride across a gorgeous expanse of planes, greeted by my first real sight of Asia’s arresting limestone mountains.

John Michael Eubank

After a couple of hours we pull up at a junction in a small town. Whilst we figure out which direction Thang took we’re treated by the sight of, in 8 or so pieces, a cooked dog…

Interesting…..

So interesting in fact, that John somehow thinks this would be a good image to send to our 50 person Whatsapp group message.

It was not.

Silly John.

We figure out where to go, and as darkness descends we head up into the mountains. And with that darkness, rumbles in a spectacular tropical thunderstorm.

The heavens open and inky blackness is blown away by blinding cracks. The sky glows as tendrils of lightning rip it apart. Thunderclaps are so seismic I can feel them shake through my body over the rumbling engine beneath me.

It’s an electrifying end to a exciting first day as we pull into Ba Be lake to settle down at our local homestay.

Monday: We’re really dumb…

Morning breaks and we’re up early. I now get a chance to see the prehistoric beauty of Ba Be lake.

We hop on a boat and spend an hour on the lake.

Calm and cool, surrounded by dense rainforest. Towering, monolithic, jungle covered cliffs press skywards as clouds tumble and pour between their valleys.

If a triceratops burst from the trees, chased by a hungry tyrannosaur, I’d not be the least bit surprised. It is haunting..

📸: @jobob2992

We get back, gear up, hop on our motors and start our ascent from the lake. As we wind back and fourth on thin, hairpin roads, the rest of the group pulls ahead of Joe and I.

I just can’t seem to get the hang of these tight corners.

I try to throw myself into them a little more, but I still continue to drift out to the other side of the road on my exit.

Not being instantly good at everything, frustrates me.

I give it another go and can’t seem to get my balance right for long enough. I pull around a particularly sharp hairpin and find myself quickly drifting out not only to the edge of the road, but the edge of a cliff.

“Shit. Think quick.”

I pump the breaks.

Still drifting…

I tighten my sphincter.

Still drifting….

“Ahhh, fuck.”

I slam the breaks and throw myself to the floor.

I scraping along exactly the same side, in exactly the same places as yesterday 😑

100% accurate. No drama…

Wounds torn open again, I laugh that I’m not dead, check the bike’s fine, and ride on.

First hour of the day appears to be my danger zone. I’m pissed that I can’t get the hang of it as quickly as I’d like, but I’m keen to rise to the challenge.

Remy hangs back for a bit and gives some pointers.

Trial by fire — I learn how to do tight corners properly.

I kind of hope I don’t need to learn everything about my bike this way…

Today we climb up and down kilometer high cliffs, stopping at the tops to view tropical forests below. The sun shimmering across them through slithers in the cloud cover.

📸 @marky_mark38

John is apparently so distracted by this beauty, he drives straight into a ditch.

Silly John.

But no, the carnage for the day is only just beginning.

As we scale up and down drenched mountain roads, it becomes apparent to me, perhaps most so due to my acute knowledge of exactly what our bikes CAN’T do, that these slick downhill sections are ludicrously risky.

We’re on a long downhill stretch, perhaps 35⁰, everyone is in sight. Thang and Joe overtake two cars before a tight right corner. This alone seems questionable to me, but Thang know’s his shit, so I assume all is fine.

What I don’t think they notice is the car that pulls around that corner as they lose sight of it to make the overtake.

Mark’s next up and also hasn’t seen this car. He attempts to follow.

I’m slamming my horn to alert him but he moves out to attempt the overtake.

He quickly realizes this isn’t going to work, and hits the breaks to pull back in.

Too hard.

His rear wheel starts to slide, and then it goes.

Mark’s down, sliding with his bike down this slick hill.

If the cars in front of him hit the beaks, Mark’s fucked.

Remy’s behind, he slams the breaks to avoid Mark.

Remy’s down.

If he slides out towards the oncoming traffic, Remy’s fucked.

He joins Mark sliding down the mountain road.

Eddie pulls up behind, slam his breaks, and send his bike careening into Tibor, leaving both of them on the floor..

“Well that fucking was dumb..”

We all agree, laugh that we’re alive, and head on our way.

2 days in, everyone has gone down.

Everyone, except Joe.

Tick. Tock.

We end in the bustling town of Cao Bang. Finishing up in the best way imaginable — with a couple glasses each of Vietnamese coffee.

A coffee delightfully different than any I’ve had before, so chocolaty, smooth, fruity.

Yep, it’s that good you’ll want it in the evening.

Gazing longingly at that black gold…

Tuesday: No words.

We head to the garage to grab our bikes and there’s a family down there with a couple of ducks…

The father proceeds to quickly butcher one, drain it’s blood, defeather it, and chop it up, in front of his child (I assume), in approximately 4 minutes…

It was an odd way to start the day 😶

We’re on the road for an hour or so before we pass a small dragon fruit farm, grab one for the road, and have a short lived “debate” on taking a safe route vs the most beautiful one.

Weird morning, weird fruit. 📸: @marky_mark38

Debate quickly over, we pull off the tarmac to a small dirt and gravel trail up into the hills, a hundred yards of so past the farm.

What we’ve seen so far has been entrancing yes, but it pales in comparison to today.

Today is the first day I’m actually lost for words. So baring this in mind, I’ll attempt to paint a picture.

With words.

That I was lost for.

We ascend the winding dirt path through the center of a small, lush valley. Intermittent showers give us ample time to stop, take on and off waterproofs, and drink in the slowly increasing grandeur of our surrounds.

At the third stop, the valley floor opens up and on a distant valley slope is a single, enormous tree above all the rest.

It looks like a painting. A bonsai, perfected over decades, scaled up and just popped right on the side of this valley.

My heart starts to thump.

“Yep, this is up there, maybe top 10 most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.”

That’s the tree! 📸: @marky_mark38

We take off around two more bends.

I slam the breaks on, lean back on my bike and..

“Holy fucking shit balls.”

“Seriously?”

My gaze is thrust hundreds of meters down into a verdant, sun rippled valley.

Millennia sealed in stone, rise up from its base to tower over me. I’m dwarfed.

A tiny ribbon of dirt snakes back and fourth, marking the path of my descent into Eden.

“Mmm, this is likely the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.”

It takes a few minutes, but I catch my breath, quell my raging butterflies and begin my looping path to the valley floor.

The next hour is bliss.

The sound of the bike fades out and the wonder of my surroundings pours into my being.

The roads, too narrow and treacherous for anything larger than a bike, are completely ours.

The border between myself and my bike slowly start to evaporate.

Through dense forested fields, beneath the watch of the epic limestone, we twist and bob, up hills and through hairpins.

And all of a sudden.

The valley opens.

“Ughhhhhhh……”

My back tire screeches to a halt. Breath is savagely ripped from my lungs.

My soul is pierced. Shattered.

Primal majesty.

Wow…

A tsunami of splendor near knocks me from my seat.

The valley tears wide open. Vivid jade fields shoot out into the distance.

To the right, amber rice paddies, ready for harvest, dance upon terraces rising towards the heavens.

To the left, a waterfall explodes from the summit. An ephemeral rainbow shimmers in it’s spray.

The titanic cliffs made all the more striking against these softly rolling hills, and tiny dotted dwellings.

As the sunlight flutters and twirls across this vista I’m awash in ecstasy.

My heart aches. My fingers tingle.

Hell, I even shed a tear.

📸: @marky_mark38

 

Words don’t do it justice. Pictures don’t do it justice. Videos don’t do it justice.

This raw.

Emotional.

Gut punch, needs to be seen for even a slight appreciation of just how awe inspiring it feels.

If you get the chance to explore some of Asia’s off the beaten track countryside.

Fucking. Do It.

Anyway, I get my shit together and head on wards through the valley.

We run into some locals who direct us to a nearby waterfall and cave.

So off course he head off with them to check that out!

We find an awesome little waterfall, flowing from what we assume is the cave — something that can be seen into via a crack in the cliff, but not entered.

We go to walk off before we’re beckoned back by another local. He gets us to climb up the cliff with him over the waterfall, where we actually find the cave.

It’s a spectacular, alien world.

Like some eerie Lovecraftian cathedral.

Enormous limestone tendrils drip down from the ceiling.

Stalagmites line the floor like the fossilized teeth of some long dead behemoth.

Crystal clear lakes shoot off around submerged corners and corridors.

Apparently, with snorkels it’s possible to traverse a kilometer or two, coming up in another valley at another village!

Gives me chills, in the best way.

📸: @marky_mark38

We finish up the first day with the long ascent out of the valley.

It’s absolute bliss.

I take off by myself to enjoy the climb without having to start and stop for everyone else.

I really can see why people get so passionate about bikes.

There really is nothing between you and nature. You’ve got this amazing ability to reach difficult locations. With the twist of a key, you can be off your bike ready to silently drink in whichever gorgeous view has caught your eye.

And then there’s the feeling.

Oooof it feels good.

When you’ve been out for a few hours, the difference between you and the bike really just disappears. Everything becomes fluid.

Is gumming your brain up with too much testosterone a smart idea?

From experience, clearly not.

Are bikes whirring metal death machines?

Obv.

But, do I now understand why people love them?

Hell fucking yes.

Once again, I get the pleasure of finishing up the last hour of my day seeing the sky set ablaze in a crazy tropical storm as we arrive into Bao Lac.

Also!

Didn’t crash today.

Boom.

📸: @marky_mark38

Wednesday: It gets better.

Today we continue our journey towards the China boarder.

The jungle thins as we pass through lush mossy hills. The cliffs are very different now. Jet black,ominous, even more towering.

📸:@marky_mark38

A small passage opens at their base, and we pass across the floor of a narrow valley.

And then,

I’m no longer in Vietnam, I’ve ridden into Middle Earth, the gates of Mordor.

An enormous basin opens up before me.

A river and lake just below me.

Thang’s favorite road, the “Happy road”, hugs the side of the obsidian cliffs to the left, snaking it’s way up them through the clouds.

Today is every bit as awe inspiring as yesterday. Diametrically opposite, but equally arresting.

Again, I merge with my machine and take to ripping up the cliffs, bursting through the clouds, adrenaline sharpening every second into a tiny eternity.

Falling prohibited. 📸: @marky_mark38

After an amazing drive we arrive in the town of Dong Van. Thang takes the lead, and we follow, assuming he’s taking us to a hotel.

We pass through the town, down some small alley, and then start to climb a hill with an incline that is rapidly increasing.

I make no comment, blindly following Thang’s lead.

Turns out, he’s trying to take us and our bikes up to Don Cao, an old military fortress from France’s colonization days.

Up a 50–60⁰ incline!

Did I mention he was crazy..?

Most of our pathetic little bikes have no chance of making it.

Joe’s in front of me and on a gravel filled corner, tries to power up it and goes nowhere.

His bike starts sliding backwards, before falling on him, pinning him.

He’s not very pleased.

So we all immediately rush to his aid

Oh no wait, until this point, Joe was the only one of us not to crash.

So we stand above him and laugh for 2–3 minutes before offering to help.

Now he’s really not very pleased.

Silly Joe.

After sticking our bikes in first gear, leaving the throttle full, and walking them up, we manage to reach the top (still have no idea why we didn’t just walk up without them..)

And guess what?

The view’s mindbogglingly gorgeous.

We have a 360 of the whole area from hundreds of meters up.

Below us is Dong Van, with rice paddies extending down the valley floor left and right, as far as the eye can see.

Behind us are the formidable mountains that cloak China.

After soaking in the sights, we spend an eternity trying to get out bikes down the same incline — again, no idea why we took them up there, before reaching our hotel.

Another crash free day for me.

Boom.

We get freshened up and head down for a hot pot dinner — Thang’s favorite (favorite road, favorite dish, making Joe finally fall over, Thang had a good day).

As it’s my birthday tomorrow, it takes little time for the beers to escalate into several hours of rice wine, finding a massage place, befriending the guys that worked there, getting driven around in their bus/golf cart hybrid at 4am and other silliness…

📸: @marky_mark38

Thursday: It gets worse.

“Fak.”

I could feel better today, but it was an amusing birthday.

So, I pull myself together, and on wards we ride to Ha Giang.

It’s 10am on my 26th birthday. We’ve been on our bikes for 30 minutes.

The eight of us zip up and down the quarried slopes, our tracks flanked by sheer drops.

Thang tears ahead on his enormous dirt bike, easily conquering the “roads”.

Directly behind him, I pick up speed and confidence as I acclimatize to the slip and slide of the bike. Cruising through slick mud and freshly formed rivers from the previous nights storm.

Gathering speed on an uphill, the cliff side path veers left, the “road” is merely two deep, parallel trenches with a muddy bank between them.

Thang blasts through the right hand trench, closest to the cliff edge, bumps in up the middle banks and flicks his back tire around as he pulls out of the obstacle.

I kill off much of my speed from the uphill and follow his line.

Right hand trench.

“This is deeper than I anticipated….” flicks across my brain for a fraction of a second.

My back tire slides.

Next thought blast;

“Perhaps my 125cc semiauto bike isn’t as capable as our guide’s off-road monster”

Pull inwards.

Bike bounces up the bank, away from the cliff.

Back wheel flicks over the bank and into the left hand trench, knocking it’s side and directing me towards the cliff edge.

I scramble to correct, leaning in left, pumping the breaks, knocking down the gears.

Existence shrinks down to a strobing set of images and gut punch emotional reactions.

The edge hurtles towards me.

I’m airborne for a moment as I leave the road.

Everything is flashing.

Off I fly, 15 or so feet down a pile of boulders.

On the same, fucking, side 😑

.

.

.

Breathe in….

Breathe out….

.

I’m alive.

I can’t move. But, I don’t think I’m hurt.

“McCreesh….”

Mark half yells, half questions.

“Ha! I’m o-kAy!”

I holler back in what may have been an Italian accent..

Mark now starts a laugh that lasts the best part of three days.

An uncontrollable laugh that pretty much prevents him from talking to me, as every time he sees my dumb face, he imagines me flailing off that cliff….

Ten to fifteen locals seem to emerge from the bushes and before I know it, my bike is being picked off me, and we’re all pushing it back up the side of the cliff.

Ironically, one of them is wearing a tshirt with the emblazoned slogan:

“Shit Happens”

Brilliant..

Video starts about half way up 😑 📸: @where_is_remy

By the time I get to the top, Thang has cycled back and he and Joe are incredibly perplexed by just how cheery I am.

“You keep almost dying… Why are you not a trembling mess?”

Asks Joe.

“I no understand. You crazy”

Says Thang, who we’ve established, is actually crazy.

And here we come to the profound lesson….

There’s no point holding on to the negative emotion that your mind at first wants to thrust upon you.

It eats into you.

The lesson from this incident is; be WAY more fucking alert in the first hour of riding. I know it’s the danger zone.

My emotional response of laughter vs terror is largely irrelevant to me learning that.

Laughter is more enjoyable, so I chose that.

It wasn’t until this incident that I realized just how pervasive this mindset change had been in shaping my life.

As soon as the epiphany hits, example after example, going back the best part of a decade, flood into my mind.

  • You’re pushed into a swimming pool, destroying your phone. Irritation and anger become laughter and acceptance. Tears won’t fix the phone.
  • Someone has an opinion you find distasteful, idiotic or abhorrent. Frustration and anger become curiosity. You won’t convince anyone by telling them how wrong they are. May as well be interested in how they’ve arrived at the opinions they have. Great way not to hate everyone.
  • You and your friends are brutally assaultedBlind rage and panic become sharp focus. Anger exacerbates angry situations. Much more important to defuse and protect.
  • A stranger insults you. Upset and irritation become pitied amusement.Snap judgement and pigeon holing based on surface or extraneous characteristics is narrow minded. Do this robs them of beauty held in the depths of others. Their stories.

My oldest example of this response rewiring wasn’t clear to me until the end of my month in Vietnam, at our farewell event.

Roughly thirty of us are at an eco-lodge, retreat outside the city. We are all sat in a room discussing failure, and what it means to us. The question is posed:

“What does failure mean to you?”

I run the question through my mind, puzzled as I let it percolate around my brain.

“Not being able to meet the expectations of my parents.”

“Not being able to buy a house”

“Not achieving my career goals”

These are just a few of the answers offered up.

And for me? I let this question burrow deep into me.

I really, really strain to come to my answer.

And…

Absolutely. NOTHING.

It’s not that I don’t understand the question. Or that I couldn’t think of what failure meant to me.

It’s that failure has COMPLETELY ceased to hold meaning as a concept to me.

There is a technique to achieve this, and it’s equally as powerful for you to completely sever a tie between an action and the emotion you respond with.

This may seem different the previously mentioned examples, but I assure you it’s the same mechanism.

Here’s are the steps to change your emotional response to a negative situation:

1. Identify the trigger and your normal emotional response. For example, the normal emotional response to failure is to be humiliated, upset, embarrassed, dejected, perhaps to give up. Often the fear of these results may prevent you from putting yourself out there in the first place.

2. Think about what this trigger actually means. What does it actually mean to fail at your goal? Will you be homeless? Will you starve to death? Is there no route to repair the damage that failure does?

Often failures will lead to some personal or professional discomfort, but rarely are they the end of the world. Our minds like to overemphasis fears into unconquerable monstrosities, regardless of how true that may be.

3. Focus on embodying the emotion or persona that will pull you through the reality of the situation. In the case of failure, it’s something that happens for an instant. You then have the choice of how long you carry it’s emotional baggage around. The longer you carry that baggage, the longer you waste not trying to achieve your goal in another way, or not trying to repair any damage done by the failure.

When I was perhaps 16, I just decided that “I would be successful”. It was that simple.

I then started telling that to everyone I knew, regardless or not of if I believed it. Saying it created a persona that I tried to live up to, creating a sort of self fulfilling prophecy.

Over years, more and more people started to attach that characteristic to me. Over yet more years, I actually internalized this message so deeply that I started to believe it myself.

If I was going to be successful, than failure was only temporary. There was thus no point dwelling on failures (or fuck ups as I now call them). It was just wasting time. Time I should be spending towards the future “successful” me.

4. When the trigger happens, practice your embodiment. It won’t just magically work, so give yourself time to experience your normal emotions. But not for too long. Give yourself a time limit, then pick yourself up and focus on your embodiment.

If you fail; kick and scream a bit, pick yourself up, and get back to moving forward. You can’t change the past, so don’t live there.

5. Practice this! You won’t just magically change your response. It takes time. It takes patience. You really need to be considered with it.

It took me years to internalize, and be convinced by my “I will be successful”message through exclaiming it to everyone that I met.

It may have taken me years longer to completely sever my connection to my concept of failure.

But!

When you do manage to do this, you’ll realize that the neural muscle (so to speak) that you’re training, isn’t unique to your one example!

After I’d practiced swapping out wallowing in failure, or fear of doing so, it was easy to swap all of the negative responses I bullet pointed above.

Once you do this once, you can apply it to a vast amount of problems you face. In quick succession you can unburden your mind from a multitude of fears, worries and imagined pressures.

It feel amazingly liberating to:

  • Not get annoyed, angry, worried etc. about situations you cannot change, past, present or future.
  • Not care about things that are of no consequence to you or others, for example, what strangers think of you.

Back to the bikes!

Anyway, for those more interested in travel than becoming all zen, lets wrap up the rest of the bike trip 😅

So, I’m alive, bike’s fine, off we go.

Thang, thinks the roads we’ve been on so far as too good, so he decides to take up over a mountain on an road that’s mid construction.

We are literally driving over piles of boulders, on piece of shit bikes.

📸: John Michael Eubank and @marky_mark38

Joe crashes twice more.

Lol…..

They were both VERY slow so he was okay, but he was irritated for a long time none the less.

Emotional responses 😉

Today the scenery was, you guessed it, breath taking!

The black cliffs make way for rolling green fields and alpine forests.

It reminds me very much of Britain, if the landscape were vertically stretched to give hills four times the height.

Just how far the hills stretch from valley base to summit evokes thoughts of gargantuan Sci Fi O’Neal cylinders. Massive cylindrical spacecraft, rotating along their long axis to create spin gravity and leading to landscapes that reach up the insides of the cylinder, before looping back over your head.

📸: @marky_mark38 & kromekat.com

We finish up at a homestay outside Ha Giang, trekking through fireflies to a secluded waterfall where we all go swimming.

And by we all, I don’t mean me. I’m covered in holes as I insist on testing my apparent inability to break myself…

Adorably, the homestay owners have gotten me a birthday cake with my freaking name on it! 😍

It’s beyond lovely, so we finish our delicious dinner and cake desert, and turn in early.

📸: John Michael Eubank and @marky_mark38

Friday: Once more, just for fun.

By this point, I’ve had more than enough of crashing.

We cruise over a mountain range covered in dense jungle.

Tight valleys and magic waterfalls are around every turn.

📸: @marky_mark38

We pass over the mountains, and come towards to a small town for lunch.

I hear a tire screech (the sound of which still sends shivers down my spine to this day).

I look forward to Mark.

I see his tire skid out a little before he recovers it. I figure that’s what the sound was from.

It doesn’t take me long to see that I was wrong.

All though I’ve had enough of crashing, Remy, it seems, has not.

He tears through a dusty corner ahead of me, underestimating how sharp it is.

His front wheel locks up and he proceeds to superman over the handlebars.

Onto his face.

Ouch.

He laughs it off, despite missing half a tooth, and with a few big gashes. We head over to a conveniently placed hospital in the nearby town to get him stitched up.

We grab food, wait for Remy, and we head on our way.

After the descent, we follow a river on a (surprisingly good) road that hugs the bottom of a steep valley.

Another treat awaits….

We’ve seen lots of rice paddies so far, but none overlaid on such mesmerizing gradients, and few quite so close up.

Terraces stack hundreds of meters up. The landscape takes on an enchanting blend of man made and natural. Unharvested rice grass dances with a prismatic shimmer. Orange, yellow and green pulsate and wave in the breeze.

Interestingly, The strange geometry transports me to Minecraft. Are we in a simulation? 😏

📸: @marky_mark38

A darkness closes in, we arrive in Xin Man, a sooty mining town with not a second thought given to tourist catering.

This is real industrial Vietnam.

And tucked in it’s dilapidated streets is the best food I ate in my entire time in Vietnam! Thang, as always, has full reign to pick what we eat, and really outshines himself this time.

Vietnam doesn’t appear to have a massive range of signature dishes: Pho, bahn mi, bun cha, spring rolls, omlette, stir fry meat and rice are likely to make up the majority of what you eat here.

But what this does mean, is you can really find some exquisite variations on these if you search hard enough.

We grab a big assortment of dishes from a tiny family diner. Never before have I tried such a transcendental omelette! The spring rolls are mouthwatering. The soy sauce is the most deep and delicate I’ve ever experienced.

And the coffee…

Ohhh my…

This was the best Vietnamese coffee I’ve ever had. Which is in itself the best coffee I’ve ever had.

I want to fly across the globe to this (arguably) dirty nowhere just for this coffee again.

Also!

A random stray rottweiler bites Mark on the ass for no apparent reason 😂

It was funny.

For me.

He didn’t seem to think as much…

Saturday: A chipper red head.

Today brings our trip to an end. We head out for our last full day ride towards the town of Sa Pa, located to the North West on a high plateau.

On our way we have yet another captivating mountain ascent. As we head up to higher altitudes again, the jungle makes way for more alpine trees and scrub.

The transitions are striking, and hard to communicate visually. The rich smell of pine resin fills the air. The humidity dissipates.

It feels like another continent.

Atop one of the highest peaks I stop for a brooding picture.

As does everyone else 😆….

📸: @marky_mark38

Heading down the mountain, the steep road quickly turns into a muddy river.

It’s pretty damn slippery, as Eddie finds out.

We’re all stopped waiting as bikes pass one by one through a slick, thin passage caused by a landslide.

Eddie pulls up behind me and pushes his breaks lightly.

His wheels stop moving.

His bike does not.

Impressively, as the bike slides and goes down, he steps off it onto his feet as if nothing happened.

Joe, isn’t so lucky..

Whilst traversing the passage, his bike isn’t playing ball.

Without the space to hop off, he falls into the landslide, which is just an enormous pile of mud 😑

Poor Joe.

The upside — he seems way more chipper this time!

Perhaps all of our laughing in the face of near imminent death is rubbing off on him…

At the bottom of the mudslide we reach a bustling rural market, full of all manner of occult trinkets and exotic(risky) foods.

I grab some assorted goods on sticks. Chicken feet (not good). Mushrooms (not good). Pink mystery balls (you guessed it).

To left I can be seen donning a voguish armored jacket. Thang insisted after, you know, I drove off a cliff…. 📸: @marky_mark38

The exit from the market marks our last stretch as Vietnam’s rice paddy game is upped once more.

Over the next mountain we are treated to another massive expanse of wide open valleys and peaks. This time littered with hundreds of golden rice terraces ready for harvest.

And that’s not all.

For one of the few times during the trip, we are treated to..

GOOD FUCKING ROADS!

We get like two hours riding without constantly dipping and swerving to avoid potholes. What a treat.

That is until we’re about an hour out from Sa Pa…

Then it’s not the roads that are the issue, but the ludicrous amount of semi trucks that seem to be heading up the steep roads to the plateau town.

Bumper to bumper traffic. Bikes darting in and out. Crazy overtakes needed to get past two or three semis at a time. It’s pandemonium. And also really quite fun 😆

📸: @marky_mark38

We arrive in Sa Pa early evening and head out for too many cocktails to celebrate, not dying? Before heading to Lao Cai to catch the overnight train back the following day.

Would I recommend it?

I’m not convinced if this is an endorsement for a Vietnam bike trip or not. On the one hand, I have NO FUCKING IDEA how none of us were severely injured.

We crashed a LOT.

On the other hand, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The pictures and my description barely scratch the surface. It was natural splendor, exhilaration and wonder that likes of which I’ve never felt.

Enrapturing, visceral beauty.

Personally, I would do it again at the drop of a hat.

You made to the end, WOW!

Thank you so much.

I’m currently putting much more focus on my writing, so if you enjoyed this in any way, then sharing this with interested friends, or in relevant locations, would be truly mean so much to me.

I’m getting a lot of enjoyment from people’s thoughts and feedback on my writing, so the more that see it, there more I get to experience that.

Thanks again ❤️

Yo, I’m Connor!

I’m a smart person. I don’t do smart things.

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