Surviving a motorbike accident in Vietnam, part 1
Accidents can happen anywhere. As a child, I was very accident prone. On my third birthday I landed myself in the emergency department, getting stitches in my chin, after jumping from my bed and whacking my face off the windowsill. I had frequent hospital admissions for sprains and cuts but that never put me off being reckless and a bit of a dare devil. I was a real tom boy as a child, and often encouraged by my older sister to do things, like jump from the playhouse roof into an inflatable paddling pool, on a concrete surface (luckily my mum put a stop to that before I threw myself off and potentially broke several bones in my body).
My love of adventure and doing anything with an element of risk has continued well into my adult life. In New Zealand, I jumped off the Sky tower in Auckland, Skydived over Lake Taupo, completed a Canyon Swing in Queenstown and bungy jumped 43m off Auckland harbour bridge.
All of those activities have elements of risk, but luckily I managed to do them and escape unscathed.
Not all adventures end well however, as I found out one day in September 2014 in Vietnam.
After my adventures in Laos on a bike (NB: I say motorbike, but mean Scooter. Locals in many places in Asia refer to scooters as motorbikes). On the Thakeck Loop, and again around the Bolaven Plateau, I felt a wave of confidence, and thought bike riding was easy.
When I arrived in Can Tho in Vietnam, I revised that thought and feeling somewhat, after seeing the traffic and the way people drove. I swore I’d never get on a bike in Vietnam.
However, soon after arriving in the UNESCO heritage town of Hoi An in Vietnam, I booked an easy rider tour to take me from Hoi An to Hue. It was $45 but the scenery was meant to be stunning and someone drove you, with your stuff and you just enjoyed the ride.
I never did get that easy rider tour however ..
One day earlier, I had an unplanned day in Hoi An, and noticed a tour going to the Ba Na Hills. It looked amazing, but the price tag of $50 wasn’t so amazing. I looked up the distance; a mere 60km (in Laos I covered over 200km in one day) so thought it would be a breeze.
The ticket for Ba Na Hills was $25 and the hire of a scooter was $7 for a day. A saving of $18 (although fuel brought this down to a saving of $14) not a huge saving, but $14 in Asia as a budget backpacker meant 1 night in a dorm room and a meal, so I was happy.
I hired the bike from a guy who worked at the Guest house I was staying at. The bike seemed to be in good nick. It was an automatic, which was different to what I was used to, but a quick practice, and I was off.
Getting to the Ba Na Hills was no problem. I followed my nose and the hand drawn map and occasional road sign, and got there. Despite crazy traffic (4 lanes of traffic at times) i managed It. The Ba Na Hills were beautiful, and I had a relaxed time strolling around, without the time constraints that tours often put on you.
As I drove off back towards Hoi An, I felt pretty confident and pleased with myself that I managed to defy the need to pay $50 for a tour, and was even mentally writing a blog post in my head about it.
It was about 2pm, the sun was shining and beating down on my back as I rode, but there was a breeze. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. I was planning on getting to Da Nang, in between Hoi An and Hue and visiting the highly talked about Bread of life cafe (an NGO to help deaf people gain employment), for a big lunch, as well as chilling out at the beach.
That didn’t happen ..
As I turned into a little side road, I realised that I was almost back on the main highway, and was looking for the turn to the left that would take me there.
I wasn’t going fast, maybe 30km per hour. The road had some loose gravel, but otherwise looked fine. Then, all of a sudden I spotted a huge pothole, but it was too late. My front wheel went in, and I flew off with the bike landing on top of me.
A young girl who was riding in the opposite direction ran to me and picked the bike off me. I looked around and saw the mirror had broken off and that one of my flip flops had flown off (I know, flip flops on a bike … Not a good idea, and I had previously always wore closed toe shoes, but not on this day).
Initially I was more concerned about the bike, thinking I had damaged it beyond repair.
As I was helped up, a couple of other young Vietnamese boys came to my aid. They spoke very little English, and my Vietnamese was limited to hello and thank you.
I took out my water for a drink, shaking I looked down at my leg. The leggings I was wearing had ripped at the knee and on the right hand side of my thigh. There was blood. A lot of blood. I suddenly felt very faint (although I don’t consider myself to be squeamish at all).
One of the guys took my water and poured it over the wound. He then picked a few leaves off a nearby tree, chewed them up and stuck them onto my wounds (a natural antiseptic technique perhaps?).
One of the boys then said, in his best English “hospital, hospital”.
I agreed. However at this point I was feeling incredibly faint. My vision was blurring and I was finding it difficult to breathe. Panic took over, and I tried to calm down, and sip water.
I then mined to the group of young people and said “food, I need you to get me food.” I pointed to my mouth and stomach and this was enough. A few minutes later, one of them returned with a bag full of sweet cakes. Shaking, I are three.
“Hospital. 1km”, one of them said. So I struggled back onto the bike whilst the boy drove me up the road.
I hung on to the young boy at the waist, resting my head on his shoulders, as I went in and out of consciousness. I have little memory of the short journey. The next thing I remember is being helped off the bike outside a small building, set in some beautiful gardens.
I sat on a plastic stool in front of a desk with various medical related equipment around.
I put head on the desk and waited.
A few minutes later, a few nuns appeared and looked at me. The young Vietnamese boy that took me, explained to her what had happened.
She then motioned to me to follow her. I slowly limped to a room not far from where we were.
Inside there was a long metal bed frame with a bamboo sheet, and a small pillow.
I lay down, unsure of what she was going to do, but I figured it was better than anything I could have done at the time.
One by one, the nun cleaned the wounds on my feet, elbow, knee and thigh. It was painful, but I knew that keeping it clean was essential for avoiding infections.
Another nun then came in and spoke French to me.
“Bonjour!” She said cheerfully.
“Ah, Bonjour!” I replied – trying to scramble with my brain to find any French words in which to communicate.
“Parlez Vous Francais?” She continued.
Now despite gaining a grade A at GCSE at high school, the best I could come up with was the following:
“Je Suis Bien” (I am good). “Je … Sortie” (I exit) – I was trying to say, is it ok if I leave.
She smiled at me, and said “hotel?”. I reached into my small day pack, and luckily had a map, with the name and number of where I was staying, so she gave them a call.
A little later, she passed over the phone to me, and an annoyed Vietnamese woman (one of the receptionists) said “you see this is why English people shouldn’t ride motorbikes, now what we do with you!!”. I told her that I thought I was fine to drive back myself, but instead, she got the owner to ride out on another bike to meet me, and guide me back.
20 minutes later, he appeared – looked at the bike and had a conversation with the nuns and younger Vietnamese boys that had helped me out.
I wasn’t sure whether I needed to pay anything to the nuns or clinic, they didn’t ask for a payment, so instead I said my best “Kam ‘Un” (Thank-you), and greeted them with my hands together.
Flips flops on, and we were off. We drove the final 40 km back to Hoi An, very slowly. I got various looks from local people, as I stopped at the traffic lights, with a bandaged knee, and a ripped shirt. Many of them pointed to the bike, and I nodded and confirmed that I had indeed fallen off.
After my return to the guest,house I went up to my room, and immediately used the entire contents of my first aid kit. I later had a skype call with a friend, who is a final year medical student, and advised me to get to a pharmacy and get some supplies.
That was easier said than done. Again, my dodgy charades technique came into play, and I came away with several bandages, antiseptic, and other dressings.
(Edited to add – I paid the owner of the motorbike 150,000 Dong (US$7) for repairs to the bike).
I sent a quick text to my parents and said “had a motorbike accident, but I am ok!” (That is all they needed to know at that time!) I later gave friends and family a better update on my Facebook Page.
Rest should have been on the agenda after this. However, I hobbled into town, and met another traveller called Gerry, who I met in Mui Ne, I fuelled myself with pizza and coke to get my energy levels back, then had him walk me back to my Guesthouse and agreed to meet later in Hanoi (which we did).
My plan was to get to Hue the next day, and by train, rather than bike – that happened as planned, but after uncovering my dressing in Hue, things were about to get a whole lot worse …
Live and learn. Motorbikes are not toys, and if you want to drive in Vietnam, make sure you are very experienced at doing so.