Monday, June 1, 2015

Easy rider

It was still early in the morning when I arrived in Da Lat. The air was crisp and had a chill to it I hadn't experienced in months. Although only a few hours away from Saigon, the altitude's effect on the climate was widely apparent. The primary reason most tourists make the jaunt inland to the hillside town instead of continuing north along the coast was the same as my own: an Easy Rider tour.

In a country boasting three-times the amount of motorbikes than people*, it's easy to get caught up in the thought that 'no real trip to Vietnam would be complete without journeying on the back of a bike from city to city'. Having never driven one myself up to that point, I jumped on the bandwagon.

I met Peter (his Vietnamese name being Tran) moments after stepping off the bus. The older gentleman with a thick head of silver hair greeted me with a smile. He was a taxi driver, he said. He could drive me to my hotel if I already had one, or around to a few he knew of, he continued.

I complied.

Parked in front of my hostel, (the hostel I booked ahead of time that ended up being full and unable to accommodate me, that is) Peter began his spiel. He was one of the few original Easy Riders, he claimed, while pulling out a massive, black, zip-up binder filled with photos he kept in the under-seat compartment of his bike.

He wasn't satisfied until I flipped through every last page. And then he shoved an iPad in my face.

"See? This is my TripAdvisor page," he informed me. "Right here at the top, do you see? It says Original Easy Rider."

"Uh, huh" I mumbled.

I was cold. I was tired. I was mildly uninterested in what he had to say. But the hostel hadn't yet opened for the morning, so I was essentially cornered.

"And here," he pointed "five stars, do you see?"

Each comment had no less than a perfect rating. He went on, pointing out five-star comment after five-star comment, despite my many acknowledgments of "I see", until he was, again, completely satisfied.

I don't like making hasty decisions when I have plenty of time to explore my options. Especially when I'm tired. Or cold. Or ornery, which is what was beginning to happen. But it appeared as though he would never leave me alone.

And... he did have perfect reviews.

So when he said he'd give me a good deal - after few minutes of negotiations and my hesitancy, I again complied.

Peter, the bike and a river we crossed during our three day journey together

(Spoiler alert: definitely not a five-star experience. And from what I discovered at the end of our 3 day journey together as he forced me to sit down with him - before taking me to my final destination - to write a review on his TripAdvisor page was that he set the rating at 5 stars. He fed me what I had to type. And I was beyond grateful that for the miraculously divine intervention that caused my review to never end up online.)

* Not necessarily a statistically accurate statement, but close enough.