Sa Pa Travels, Part II

Jeff and me: looking cool with our Motorbikes!

Jeff and me: looking cool with our Motorbikes!

It has been awhile since I’ve posted anything and by popular demand I am now attempting to write Part II of my Sa Pa travels. As you all can recall, the first part was about the trek I took with my friends through the hills. Part II, is a bit different and is about my experience renting a motorbike with my friend Jeff.

The Respol and the Wave, posing with a waterfall!

The Respol and the Wave, posing with a waterfall!

Upon arrival back to the town of Sa Pa, Jeff and I decided to rent motorbikes. We’d talked to this one man, Tom (probably not his real name!), who said he’d rent us motorbikes for $5 a day. We were sold. The catch is that whenever you rent a motorbike, they never have fuel. My guess is that when you bring the bike back, they siphon out the fuel for their own use or to sell it, as it is very common to see people sell 1 liter bottles of petrol on the side of the road.

Jeff and I are not necessarily experts on motorbikes; in fact I had only ridden a motorbike twice before this trip and that was once on the empty night time streets of Hanoi and another time on the narrow and winding roads of a rural Vietnamese village. Nonetheless, those two experiences led me to belive that I knew what I was doing. Cocky? You betcha! Prepared? Mmmm, not so much! However, the show must get on the road…so we went.

The beautiful scenery north of Sa Pa and less traveled by tourists.

The beautiful scenery north of Sa Pa and less traveled by tourists.

We headed north, to the less touristy parts of the Sa Pa area and visited several villages and a few waterfalls. We traveled over every terrain imaginable: paved roads, gravel roads, mud wallows, dirt tracks, over stones, steep descents, and even steeper ascents. By the end of the day, we figured that we had become versed in they ways of motorbiking! We’d used every gear imaginable to help us over the various terrains and we went from walking our bikes to riding them up to probably 50 to 60 km/h.

After riding for around 5 hours we were nearing Sa Pa proper again. We were coming home on the same road we came out on so figured after all we’d been through we would be fine. Little did we know, we were wrong. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I remember that I was leading and I took a fairly sharp turn on a paved road going down hill, probably a bit too narrowly. Maybe I was even going to fast. I’m not sure. All I know is that one moment I was up riding confidently, the next I was sliding on the ground with the bike on top of me!

Jeff 'sleeping' on his bike, like a waiting moto-driver in Hanoi or Phnom Penh.

Jeff 'sleeping' on his bike, like a waiting moto-driver in Hanoi or Phnom Penh.

Jeff saw me take my spill, so he started breaking thinking maybe I had taken the turn to fast…and then he did the same exact thing! We had bothed crashed or bikes on the same turn, in the same fashion! As I was laying on the ground I heard his crash and looked over my shoulder to see him sliding off towards the edge of the road. I quickly assessed my own state, afraid of the large trucks that we had seen passing up and down this road. I didn’t want to get run over on a blind curve so I quickly got up and pushed my bike off the road and urged Jeff to do the same.

I wasn’t, at this point, aware of any injuries and was too worried about any damage to the bike instead of myself! I was thinking that I could not afford to pay for a new bike. Thankfully, adrenalin had taken over my bodily movements and thoughts and I wasn’t feeling anything yet.There seemed to be no real damage to myself, only a few scrapes and bruises. My jeans had saved my leg from getting torn up, and took the brunt of all the scrapes. It wasn’t until the next day did I really appreciate my injuries as I felt them and saw the large bruises blooming on the entirety of the inside of my left leg from where the bike had laid itself on me.

Workers north of Sa Pa working in a field on the edge of the road...mostly women, no surprise since men always seem to be asleep, drunk, or doing nothing!

Workers north of Sa Pa working in a field on the edge of the road...mostly women, no surprise since men always seem to be asleep, drunk, or doing nothing!

Just as the crash happened, a few kids had popped their heads outside of a nearby gate to see the accident, and I assume after seeing we were fine got bored and went back inside. Then an old, old man, walking with a stick came over to us and pointed to our injuries, chuckling to himself and looking for damage on our bikes. We weren’t sure what he was saying, but we let him know we were aware of our state. My crash had broken the left foot rest off and I noticed scrapes on the body and a tear on the seat cushion. Jeff’s looked better than mine, with only a few scrapes. We devised a plan of action for when we gave the bikes back: We would pretend that only my bike had been in an accident and show Tom the broken foot rest, hoping that would distract him from Jeff’s bikes damage. Boy were we wrong.

An example of the road we drove on. This one is being re-built and covered in large stones to later be crushed by a steam roller.

An example of the road we drove on. This one is being re-built and covered in large stones to later be crushed by a steam roller.

When we drove back into town (rather gingerly and afraid of turns I must say!) I showed Tom the damage to my bike. He was a little upset, but figured he could pass all the cost of the damage on to us. We didn’t want that to happen so we figured we’d haggle to reduce the price arguing that he was in a business where he should expect damage to happen and should intigrate that cost into his rental fee, and he should take a deposit from his renters (we paid no deposit, nor did we give him anything for the rental except our $5. If we were bad people we could have just left the bikes on the street somewhere!). He wanted me to pay 250,000 VND (roughly $15) for the damage done to my bike. Then he noticed the scrapes on Jeff’s bike.

We were soon quickly surrounded by many Vietnamese men who all were inspecting our bikes. Tom quickly said we had to pay 300,000 VND total for my bike’s damage and the scrapes on Jeff’s bike. We still tried to haggle, thinking it was ridiculous. Suddenly one of the men squealed! He had found more damage on Jeff’s bike that we had previously been unaware of: part of the frame had cracked! Tom was unsure about how much this would cost Jeff, so he said he had to go ask his body shop guy. Jeff agreed and went along with him, and I quickly decided to cut my losses and just paid the 250,000 because Tom had yet to see the torn seat cushion. I didn’t mean to leave Jeff hanging high and dry like that, but he understood afterwards.

Jeff and me posing along our journey, using a timed camera shot

Jeff and me posing along our journey, using a timed camera shot

Jeff wanted to make sure that he wasn’t being swindled and had control of the situation, so the entire time Tom had the conversation with his ‘body shop guy’ Jeff recorded it using his Flip cam, unbeknownst to the other two men. After their discussion Jeff was quoted 400,000 VND for the damage, to which Jeff thought this was ridiculous. He told Tom he wanted to go check the price of that part on the Internet back at the restaurant that I was at with Katie and Bernice. His real motive, however, was to play the video for some employees at the restaurant, and then later at our hotel.

Trying to look cool with the Respol, unfortunately it out-cooled me everywhere we went!

Trying to look cool with the Respol, unfortunately it out-cooled me everywhere we went!

After playing back the video to a few people, Jeff realized that the price I was quoted, was more or less correct. The body shop guy told him my damage was around 230,000 VND, but Jeff’s was less than 300,000. Jeff used this knowledge to catch Tom in his swindle, and proptly said he’d pay 250,000 VND, no higher. Tom readily accepted this, because we could tell he wanted to close the issue.

The next day we joked, rather gingerly because we were so sore!, about what happened. We had a great time and decided we would do it again if we had the chance. My injuries were now becoming painful. I had a cell phone shaped bruise on my hip, and the entire inside of my left leg was one giant yellow bruise which lasted for two or so weeks. Boy, was Sa Pa an adventure! It was the best trip I’ve taken so far in Vietnam, and probably the most beautiful part of Veitnam. If any of you are ever here, don’t miss it!

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