Editor's Note: Most of us can only dream of setting off on a world tour. This year, Jake Burton and his family will be living the dream, embarking on a 10-month trip to snowboard all over the globe, covering six continents and following winter the whole way.
Jake, Donna, George(13), Taylor(10), Timmy(7) and niece Victoria (15) set off in July for a year of adventure travel. They will be snowboarding at resorts and in the backcountry of Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Morocco, throughout Europe and in the Himalayas (India). To round out the trip, they will be surfing in the Galapagos Islands, Peru, New Zealand, Tonga, Australia and Hawaii, sea kayaking in Thailand, and touring through China, Tibet, and Vietnam.
After China, Hong Kong and Taiwan we flew to Hanoi, Vietnam. Our visas to get into Vietnam were waiting for us in Hanoi, but they wouldn't let us on the plane without them, so we found ourselves stuck in a catch-22. No visa, no flight. No flight, no visa. After some begging and some convincing, we finally got on the plane. After some more bureaucratic shuffling upon arrival at the airport in Hanoi, we hit the city.
This town is the most densely populated city on earth and it made Chinese cities look futuristic. Cars are the exception. It's all about motor scooters and bicycles. There is a helmet law, but no one wears a helmet. The streets are wide and there are very few traffic lights. Consequently crossing the street on foot is pure sport and a frightening experience. Board sliding an S-rail is cake compared to crossing the street during rush hour in Hanoi.
The rules are simple: move confidently, establish eye contact, and NEVER, EVER take a step backwards. After a while we really got into it. George, Victoria and I hit the widest, busiest street and timed each other crossing the road. At times we found ourselves pinned in the middle of the road for up to 30 seconds, unable to take a step, with motor bikes streaming on both sides of us at reasonably high speeds, just inches away. All we could do was laugh.
While in Hanoi, we saw a lot of cool stuff. Having lost an older brother (also named George) in the Vietnam War in 1967, it was somewhat awkward checking out the historical sites. The fact that all the other tourists seemed to be Americans who were Vietnam War Veterans made it even more weird. The American vets all seemed to have this look on their faces of confusion over why we went to war here in the first place. I can fully understand why they might feel that way, and the reason is simple. These people are as friendly as they come anywhere in the world. They genuinely love Americans, but when we started shooting and dropping bombs on them, they didn't have much choice but to fight back. You would think that beating the U.S.A. in a war would be visibly demonstrated all over the place, but they are remarkably low key about it. I found myself really respecting that.
After a couple of days in Hanoi, we took an overnight train up to Sapa. Sapa is a cool little Vietnamese mountain town up near the Chinese border. It reminded me a lot of Stowe, Vermont where we live. All we did was hike and mountain bike all over the place. The people here were insanely friendly. When you rode past just about any house the whole family would come out and scream 'hello, hello' at you. You got the feeling they were sincerely stoked to see you. We stayed in Sapa for four nights, which we hadn't done anywhere since Australia, and it began to feel like home.
We got along super well with the locals, but we tested their patience on Halloween. We showed up for dinner at our hotel restaurant with several of us cross dressed, one bride (dress rented locally for US $9) and one Goldmember. Fortunately Donna was dressed up as a local tribeswoman and that bought us some tolerance. That night I finally got up the nerve to taste some of the local spirits. I opted for the Goat's Balls, which is a local favorite and is supposed to help with a sore back. Yeah, I think it worked, or maybe it was the four Advil that I took for my hangover that made my back feel better.
From Sapa we headed back through Hanoi, down to DaNang, Vietnam. We stayed in a beach town called Hoi An just out side of DaNang. We were right on the beach and the surf was actually OK. Only waist high, but clean, and consistent at low tide. Surfing there made it all worth carrying the surf bag through China. One afternoon when surfing, we saw this elephant with a few people on it walk right into the ocean and start swimming. I've never seen an elephant swim before and this guy was duck diving under waves with passengers on his back. At first it seemed somewhat cruel, but we found out that the elephant used to haul hardwood out of the jungle and he was way more into this job of going for a dip with some tourists aboard once a day. He loved to swim and was well taken care of, especially at the dinner table where he would eat over 100 kilos (220 lbs) of bananas a day.
The culture we experienced all over Vietnam was very cool. The food was a lot better than China, and as I've mentioned the people were super friendly. The influence of the French (who controlled Vietnam on and off from 1883 - 1954) as well as the Americans who were here from 1957 - 1973 was everywhere. On our way back to the DaNang airport to fly to Bangkok, Thailand we drove over a river which pretty much said it all. There was the French bridge, the American bridge and the Vietnamese bridge, and they were all packed with a never ending stream of scooters and bikes.
Bangkok presented a whole new dimension to Asia. This city was as vibrant as one can be. The roads were packed with Ferraris and bicycles, and everything in-between. This country had never succumbed to colonialism or communism and the proof was in your face. Despite this onslaught of free enterprise, the Thai people are as service oriented as they come. Everywhere you go, people are bowing at you non-stop. They aim to please. If you want to be pampered, this is the place to come. Fortunately we were there during Loy Krathong, a holiday where after a big feast eaten on the riverbank, you send a floating candle with incense (a krathong) down the river as a tribute to the river goddess and to wash away your sins for the year. The sight of this river in the middle of the city with thousands of candles floating down it was pretty cool.
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Jake Burton, Burton Snowboards