My Motorbike Is Not For Sale…YET! (Part 13)
Pho Rang isn’t a town with very much to do. Ryan and I had long been on the hunt for some flip-flops since Hanoi. I can’t even begin to explain the agony we both went through trying to find footwear in the past week. We had given up on the idea and then in the back corner of a market we found the magical flip-flop palace. The bonus to waiting this long was we only had to pay 100,000 Dong ($4.40) for the best flippy-floppies I’ve ever owned. We were breaking in the sandals by walking around random streets, wandered into a wedding reception, got invited to sit down, shared some laughs, were given two cans of Redbull for coming, and then said our goodbyes to go grab dinner before bed.
We got up in the morning and hit the road towards SaPa. The ride should have been uneventful with increasingly beautiful landscape as we climbed into the rice field mountains. We were driving through the province capital of Lao Cai when we came to an intersection and traveling well within all traffic laws as we passed some Vietnamese traffic cops. That is when I heard the sound of the whistle and saw the cop point at us to pull over. We didn’t do anything wrong, but we were subject to what some people (not me) would define as racism.
The cops pulled us over because based on the color of our skin the odds were stacked in their favor that we didn’t have proper identification to drive a motorcycle in Vietnam. In some areas of the world people would scream that this is a form of racism. I think a better term for this situation would be “capitalistic cultural selection.” Without the proper identification it meant we would be subject to a fine. The cops were not wrong, neither one of us had a valid International motorcycle license.
When the cop came to talk to me I knew I was not in a situation to argue or ask questions. Questions wouldn’t have done me any favors because his English was limited. I showed him my driver's license, which he pointed out was not an international license. I kept a big smile on my face to let him know I wasn't going to argue to prove a point about why he pulled me over and that I had done nothing wrong. He asked me to step over to the truck where they would likely confiscate my motorcycle if argued or made a scene.
I met three other traffic cops and shook all their hands with a big smile on my face. At this point, none of us could converse any further due to the language barrier. They shyly muttered “500,000” which I knew was my ticket/toll (some people might say bribe) amount in Dong for not having a proper license. I showed them I only had 200,000 Dong hoping it would suffice. They shook their heads no, I smiled and gave a look of “what do we do now?” They used their last bit of English and said “ATM.” I said “O..” and then out of nowhere a motorbike taxi tapped my shoulder as I finished, “kay!”
We were off to the ATM where I withdrew 500k before returning to the cops. They wrote down my driver license number on a piece of paper where they had written several other law breaking citizens information down. I handed them the 500k with a big thank you smile to pay my toll and then much to my surprise they handed me back 100k with a big smile. I also owed the moto-taxi 30k Dong as this wasn't included.
This 20-minute pit stop ended up costing me $18.52 USD. It sucked to pay that money for not having done anything wrong. However, I knew before this trip started it was a possibility for not signing up to get an International driver license. After speaking with an agent in Ho Chi Minch City during y time there it would have cost me $200 to obtain one the appropriate license. I figured in the back of my mind that paying a fine would be less expensive and rolled the dice. Financially, I definitely made the correct decision.
Personally, I feel like Vietnam would be crazy-smart to offer motorcycle licenses to travelers for $25 USD when they enter the country. Every traveler would be insanely stupid not to pay this amount to avoid dealing with cops along the way and the country would have an even larger income because so many tourists visiting here rent or buy a motorcycle to get around. Then the stories of “corrupt” cops would decrease because they wouldn't have a good reason to pull over people who do not resemble the typical Vietnamese appearance. But, I don’t get to make the rules. I just pay the “ticket,” smile and chalk it up as part of the Vietnamese experience.
Ryan lucked out. He had a legit, but invalid international license printed on an 8x11 piece of paper that was crumpled up and half-ruined from being water-logged in his bag. They let him off the hook and he waited patiently as I enjoyed my experience meeting the local traffic authorities. We got back on the bikes and finished our ride into SaPa just as the rain rolled in to town.
Ryan took off towards Mama Ti’s house to gain his experience there. I wasn’t feeling the rice wine binge drinking session and stayed in town. And boy I made the right decision because apparently it was Mama Ti’s birthday and the rice wine was endless. The look on Ryan’s face when he got back the next day was that of a defeated, yet very happy man for getting to know Mama Ti (see Part 9 for my Mama Ti experience).
To bring Ryan back to life from his Mama Ti hangover I found a trendy wine and cheese restaurant in SaPa. We started with a glass of wine and a cheese plate at The Hill Station Deli & Boutique. Neither of us had eaten proper cheese in over 3 months. We scarfed down the cheese and guzzled the wine like Tyrion Lannister from Game Of Thrones. We followed that with a legitimate Western style burger and glass of IPA. Oh man, after three months a delicious glass of beer really satisfies your belly with a yummy burger topped with jalapenos, onions, cheese, pickles, and mustard. I love the cheap beer in Vietnam, but it sure was a fantastic feeling to reset my taste buds. The food coma was quick to hit us, we paid the bill and stumbled half-awake back to the Stunning View 2 Hotel for a night of rest.
Below are the photos from this part of the trip. I had limited photo opportunities during this portion of the trip due to consistent rains.