View Full Version : The idiots abroad - AKA The 'escape songkran' tour.
2nd May 2010, 12:11 AM
Best to start at the beginning.. Myself, my brother, and Lewis flew out on the same air aisa flight Phuket to HCMC, easy flight, all on time, quite a short hop. The flight was less than one quarter full by my guess, even with 299 baht tickets, so no wonder they are apparently dropping the route (shame as its a good city for a couple of nights visa run). Our motivations were to escape the Songkran madness, and have a holiday touring Vietnam on bikes. The emphasis was on having fun and a holiday as much as the ride, we were not looking for offroad and trail riding, we were not looking to make it too hard, and should we have a big night there was not going to be any one of us demanding 7am starts. It was to be a drinking group with a riding problem.
We had prebooked visa's online and were told to take 25 USD. I had read on a post somewhere that this wasnt essential as there was ATM's airside.. I figured this had to be true as otherwise it would be just crazy with many travellers getting caught out but no !! Thats exactly how it is.. After a bit of confusion and delays they let one go through to hit a local ATM for VND and pay.
So then to a taxi and down to the pre booked hotel, the Viet Nghi Hotel superior rooms at 27 USD per night.. Smack in Dist 1, right on the corner next to the girly bars and good food etc.. Rooms only OK but it did the job. Met up with Craig, got some beers in and started some mild pestering and games with the girls in the local hostess bars.
Mirror mirror on the wall.. Whose got the fatest head of all ?? :lol-sign:
Most of these next 3 nights we didnt carry cameras in the interests of marital harmony.. Fun was had.. Locals were friendly.. Drinks were cheap.. From memory big tigers were 30k (1.6 or so USD). Girly drinks did have a premium but it cant have been much cos I dont remember what it was. We were marvelling what a cheap place Vietnam was to have some fun but ohh how little did we know, as the trip went on it just got cheaper and cheaper.
Good bars in the area like crazy girls, vit c, ba ba bar, etc etc..
Day 2 was on and a bit of a mooch around the area
Before settling into what we seemed to do best.
Night time was a repeat of the night before.. More pesting and drinking of cheap beer..
To be honest the best of the bars were within 200m of our hotel, and while we did go and check out some places (something buffalo club, empty) etc we all are guys of simple pleasures.. Good feed, good beer, and a bar full of girls to have a laugh and joke with and we didnt see the need to change a good thing.
2nd May 2010, 12:15 AM
Day 3 (I think) we decided to go do something outside Dist 1 to get a bit of the city in, this turned into a mission out to a museum..
Which I dont think suited any of us much.. It was hot and sticky, the museum was kinda dull, so it was soon to be followed by some cooling ales..
As this was day 3 we figured we ought to go check out the bikes and make sure things were coming together on that front.
Some messing about over the address, found us walking up an alley (this cant be right) and arriving at a low rent cafe (this really cant be right) where they didnt speak any english.. Turned out this was right and the whole pickup thing was a bit weird. From the communication I had thought Hung had a HCMC shop.. Fact is Hung has a niece or cousin who has a cafe / lives in HCMC and the bikes had been sent down to her. Bikes had arrived that morning but were not in a 'ready to rent' state.
2 of them wouldnt start / had no battery charge at all.. One had broken mirror, another a broken front brake lever.. Ones back brake was non functional.. One was older than it should have been.. Etc Etc Etc.. Craig was especially unhappy with the situation being used to western levels of condition and was unhappily calling them dogs etc. To be fair they did get on the case fixing them, putting in new batteries, and sorting stuff out but not to a very exacting standard. As they were sourcing bits around town we had to leave them to it and nervously hope that by the mornings off all would be fixed up !!
2nd May 2010, 12:17 AM
So then comes the morning off the off.. Pack up our stuff.. Check out of Hotel.. And head back to the bike collection cafe..
To our relief they had sorted the bikes to a standard where we could feel safe setting off on them.. We packed our stuff up
And got ready to set off into the HCMC traffic, which was fairly insane.. The 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse !!
Now the city is large and confusing, the bikes needed juicing up, and I was the only GPS holder.. Garmin doesnt have an official Vietnam map so I downloaded one that is a user collaboration before I left. This was all on the GPS but untested and a bit unknown. We all set off, all in formation, me in the lead. We leave the alley, get onto our first large road and... The GPS screen goes blank !!!! Not redrawing, not lost signal, just blank !! Ohh sh1t !!!
OK stay calm.. Make like nothings happened.. Keep riding the direction it was showing (and start to get a bearing on the sun / shadows etc) and a few 100m down the road the screen resets and it recalcs.. Seems these homebrew maps are not as reliable as I am used to a a few heart stopping minutes and its all OK again. The rest of the group were none the wiser.
About 1 klick down the road, first fill up and ready for really getting stuck into the first days ride.
2nd May 2010, 12:21 AM
Ride Day 1.
Leaving HCMC was predictably crazy.. Mad traffic.. Non stop horns.. Occasional sirens.. Roads not built.. Dust and traffic on top of mega heat and humidity. 3 days on the piss and hotel airco had left me with the startings of a sore throat and the dust and smog was adding to it. Mix in a minor league hangover, dehydration, lack of sleep, and being all gloved and jacketed up in that heat and I was at the edge of woozy a few times. Plus there was nowhere in the first couple of hours to stop, chill, or get a cold water / drink.
After a hour or so we had crossed the rivers and gone through the worst of the insanity.. Here we found a spot for our first (of many) 'smokos' and grabbed some cold drinks.. It was all still very urban and industrial as we headed out to Phan Thiet.
Arriving to the town mid afternoon having spent many hours to do only 200 or so clicks we find your basic fishing port / provincial town, OK I guess but not perhaps tourist mecca..
We had a scope round town but decided to try a little bit further to a place called Mui Ne famous for its sand dunes. Lucky we chose that option as 10 or 20 klicks out of town it turns into a tourist strip, hotels and guesthouses, resorts and clubs, bars and restaurants. We pull up (craig sparks up.. A common theme you will discover) and instantly a waitress shouts out from the restaurant behind (herrow handsome man) while we scope some guesthouses for rooms cheap enough to make Craig happy.
After cruising the strip and looking for places with off road parking for the bikes, we settled on a beachside guesthouse for 12 bucks a night. I didnt get a card or address for this but the photos on flickr have its exact gps co-ords. Run by a nice old mammy called Hung and right on the water. Lew and I upgraded to beachside bungalows for 20 USD and the water was literally crashing under my window. Not bad view for a 20 dollar room !!
We hit the rooms, showered off and started the important task of reydrating / dehydrating..
While the beach was nothing to really shout about, this was a cool little strip.. A couple of KM's of tourist type businesses and reminded me of the southern Thailand feel.. Like a sleepy chaweng of years ago or a Krabi type vibe to the style of it. Was somewhere I could easily have spent a few days checking out.
After we got stuck into the beers for a few hours we went for a disappointing farang'y type meal (forgot to mention, food in Dist 1 HCMC was good, cheap, large portioned and great farang stuff. Lots of pasta and mexi dishes done well above average and well priced) and then back to Hungs place.. A night cap or two and while we were set to retire Sam felt the need to keep on going. I know theres no point in argueing when he wants to go raging against the dawn, so left him to it. you could hear the doof doof of a nightclub or beach party down the road and he went off to search for the waitress that came to entice us earlier.
The next morning, while 3 of us woke up fresh as a daisy, having had a good nights sleep, and feeling fully refreshed and ready for the road.. There was Sam banging down vietnamese espressos and clearly paying the wages of sin. Sympathy ?? Som nam Nah !!
HCMC and Mui Ne - a set on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hanleybros/sets/72157623942151330/)
2nd May 2010, 12:28 AM
I woke early and went out to scope out the dunes on my own pre breakfast..
Early morning light.
Heading on the Mui Ne Rd there was a load of fishing boats in loading up people with the shoulder baskets..
Round the corner of the bay you come to the actual dunes themselves.. Already at 7 or 8 in the morning there were tour buses dropping off scores of people, at basically a couple of piles of sand.. Kids had bits of vinyl flooring with handles put on it to make sled type affairs and they all seemed to be having a ball, but I personally couldnt see the appeal much.
A little further back up the new road (obviously built to make Mui Ne dunes a 'place' on the tourist trail) there were some more appealing dunes but with no one on them ?!?!
Maybe its my aversion to crowds and people but it just seemed they were all clustering around a spot half as nice as the one round the corner ?!? Then again, that follow the crowd this is very Asian tourist.
Anyway this is all pre breakfast, went back to the hotel, to hear Craig explain how he had locked himself out of first his room, then his toilet !!
The owner took the time to assure us that the coast route was 'much shorter but a little bumpy' we were going to double back and take the 28 north. She was certain it was shorter on the coast road but I think she may have been one wave short of a shipwreck as the GPS wouldnt route us that way until we had done nearly 25 clicks !! I am guessing it was 40 - 50 kms longer.
What was really weird was we were now driving through bone dry bush / desert. Sand and little oasis's.. Isnt this supposed to be the tropics ?? Did every vietnam war movie I have seen just lie to me ?? Was Apocalypse now full of sh1t ??
We were cruising some lovely coastline here but with real barren rock and scrub to the inland side, totally surprised at the dryness of it all.
Somewhere along the road (again Geo-tagging on flickr) we spied a beach restaurant, where the obviously kept the sand in front spotless and it was a ideal lunchspot. Sam was really flagging when we pulled in but he hit the water straight away and it brought him back to life. Some superb fresh squid and feeling better we were back to it.
Fully recovered ?!?! Or faking it ??
Soon after this we turned inland and the roads went to hell fast.. Lots of gravel areas, dustbowl towns, REALLY HOT, etc..
We kept on knowing Dalat was up in the hills and we should get some break from the heat as the day wore on.
After a while the road started to rise up from the plains, the corners started to become hairpins and we started to climb.. The road surface was fairly crap, and you had to keep an eye not only on your line and the corner, but if you were going to hit a pot hole or gravel, or come round a corner to find the road had slid down the mountain (as it had in many sections, the rebuild looked like a constant operation). Craig and I started to play, and we all sped up a bit, then a bit more, then a bit more.. Then like dogs worrying sheep we were all pushing that bit closer to the edge, on bikes we didnt know, with dirt knobblies on road, with no crash barriers and fairly huge drop offs and penalties for fcuking it up etc etc.
About halfway up we were treated to this view.
After this stop we kept going higher.. In the end Dalat itself was at 1560m from sea level which was quite a climb in an hour or two.. The air went from hot dry plains to cool mountain air which was lovely and the roads around here really reminded me of the higher altitude roads in N Thailand (the Mae Cham to Doi Inthanon one is a dead ringer). Plus the worst of the road works seemed behind us and again Craig and I started with the playing. I know one job of the lead rider is to set a pace everyone is comfortable with, but its a long time since I was on a dirtbike, and it was feeling good to get back into that swing, getting the weight a bit forward, and cracking on a bit harder.
When we reached a point high up and only a little way outside Dalat there was hints of rain and wet roads so it was time to back off, before something bad happened.. But that ride up, was possible 'the' ride of the trip for me to be honest, great roads and good fun.
When we got to Dalat it was actually turning cold, threatening to rain, and we had a bit of a time locating digs to begin with.. Dalat is kind of split up on levels and in the end we found what is normally the lake (it was dry) and what IIRC was called the lake view hotel (?? guys ??).. Rooms were kinda dusty and musty but huge and had HOT water showers which we all needed. 20 USD for a huge room with 2 doubles so we did the only room sharing of the trip here.
We also got stuck into the beers fairly hard, and they had the unusual method of counting how many beers you had to pay for, by how many bottles were left, eg they refused to clear them away from the table. This was in a fairly niceish hotel restaurant where diners came to with a lake view and us 4 drunk boguns had a table literally awash with 40 odd bottles. I dont know who took pics of that night (I remember a camera) but I dont have any..
We were going to head into town for a feed and a looksee, but Craig sensibly pointed out we were pissed and the menu looked decent.. We had 3 different kinds of cooked rabbit, loads of dishes, Sam and I shared some battered frog, all really good food. Also to mention this place without remembering our little table helper isnt fair.. This kid waited on us hand and foot, literally sprinting across the place anytime someone raised their hand prompting craigs accidentally comical liner of "I dont think hes retarded, hes just a good worker' as tho anyone that worked hard must need a head check. End of the night the kid walked with a 100k tip which while only being 5 bucks in the real world had him beaming ear to ear and skipping away and repeating his service at breakfast.
Somehow I managed to not take any pics of Dalat town.. A shame as it was oddly alpine and Euro looking, riding about there were gardens and horse drawn carriages for tourists and when I return to Vietnam I hope I get to spend a bit more time here high in the clean cool air.
Mui Ne to Dalat - a set on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hanleybros/sets/72157623942330014/)
2nd May 2010, 12:42 AM
We were now dropping into a nice working pattern of rising early, getting out and the days distance in, and hitting beers and food and crashing early. It worked for us and saw us up in the early morning mist of Dalat. Being so high meant that we were in the cloud until the sun got some heat in the air and it was genuinely cold (for a Thai resident) for the first hour. Sam and I as usual banged a few Vietnamese coffees down and got ready to head to Nha Trang.
Now according to my GPS and the large format map of Vietnam I bought in HCMC we had to retrace our steps the same way down the mountain that we came up, this was a side effect of taking Hungs route in but no one really cared as 1) it was a superb fun road and 2) it had given us a great coastal ride. We later found out however that theres a new road, of good quality, that cuts some serious distance out. Live and learn !!
Soon after this stop, on another downhill where Craig had been at least 15 minutes without a cancer stick, we paused for a smoko and had the funniest and weirdest bit of the trip to date.
While we are paused there, this school marmish looking woman turns up, dressed totally properly and conservatively, she tries to talk to us but had only the most rudimentary english and we had even less vietnamese.. No ones understanding much but everyone is being smiles and being polite.. So she gets out her phrase book and is struggling away.. For some reason Craig gets her digits, I have no idea why, by nightfall we would be 100's of kms away, and stood right next to her he couldnt understand her, so god knows what a phone call was going to be like. Anyway after a few minutes (and 2 cigarettes) we are all getting on the bikes, I think Craig may have even been on his and Sam and I are just getting the helmets on and the woman is trying to say something. At this stage she points at each of us in turn and goes "1 2 3 4.. Want.. Go.. Bed.. With me.." and points into the jungle while making a hand signal that was suspiciously like she was offering a blowjob (or possibly Karaoke)..
Now while it may well have not been what she intended, there was no mistaking what she said.. Sam and I looked at each other, trying to keep a straight face, and I was racking my brains for some innocent way to interpret the combination of pantomime, and words.. But for the life of me, trying as hard as I might, I could only think bad thoughts. We start cracking up, but shes getting more animated.. making more hand signals, all from a late middle aged woman dressed all prim and proper.. She starts on with something like bed me.. No horny.. no horny.. I mean, what are fools like us to make of that ??
Sometime during this bizarre pantomime Craig and Lew either came back or chimed in, and none of us could make head nor tail of what she was trying to communicate except it looked suspiciously like she was ready to take on any 1 (or all) of us in the woods.. Yet this was being delivered by someone dressed like my Gran.. God knows.. Not wanting to cause some international faux pas, and wanting to remain as polite as we could because I still cant believe thats what she meant, we just made like the saying goes, "your intrepid reporter made his excuses and left", slightly bemused but highly entertained !! Sometimes miss communication is a comedy all its own.
Craig Getting digits.
Once down out of the hills it was back to dustbowl heat and empty roads, some of which were rough and more gravel than hardtop but later improving, except for bloody big holes cut into them for repairs.. Come round a corner and mid bend theres a 1m x 1m square about 20cm deep cut through the tarmac.. Keeping your eyes on the road was essential.
This was a fairly easy days ride, not too much distance, and into Nha Trang by mid afternoon. We had now had 3 days ride back to back and were going for a lay day in Nha Trang to chill and check the place out.
Arriving to town (and passing a pushbike with a motorbike sideways in his front basket !!) we did a loop through reccy and stopped at the far end of the beach to get some cold drinks and recover a bit before scoping hotels. Craig sensibly always wants to be right in the action, to avoid touching the bike if he has a beer, but I dont mind being a bit more removed if the hotels are better deals. We looked at a few here, and settled on the 'King Town Hotel' which was right in the block with bars and restaurants all a 100m or so. IIRC we got it down to 25 USD with a breakfast for a (debatable) 3* due to the negotiating of its overtly flaming desk manager. Personally I preffered the Que Huong Hotel right on the beach rd with a more resort styled pool, which from memory I haggled down to about 32 or 34 USD if travelling with a missus that would have been taken for sure as it was more resort styled where the King was more generic biz hotel, but it worked fine for our needs.
A note on the flamer manager.. I was making a comment about him later and Lew and Craig were like 'hes not gay' (believe me, he would have made the queer eye guys look like Chuck Norris) and then Lew goes.. "Well when we got in the lift he did rub my belly and play with my belly button.. I had to tell him to stop" :lol-sign: yeah he sounds straight as an arrow that one !! He wasnt the only one, one of the bell boys was keen to show off his flamenco (flame-what-now) and it seemed we had the staff from a chorus line.
The usual ensued.. 30 mins allotted to shower and out to find cold beers.
This place had a bit of 'eau de backpacker' about it but the beer was cold and we aint fussy.. We ended up that night in some Italian restaurant having steaks, that while expensive for Vietnam were damn good, well presented, and hit the spot.. Sam was starting a debate that was rising in volume, and looked like it could rapidly become an argument with a crowd at another table and we were all a bit tired.. I had read in the guide Lew had that "Nha Trang is well known for the illegal activities that go on after dark in its discos" and that the horrors of "drugs and prostitution" were always a risk.. With those twin thoughts in mind I figured I would go see what was going on and took a late night look about the place. When I rode off Sam was still in the Italian joint holding forth and making like he could speak Italian with a vocabulary of about 5 words !!
As far as I could see the tourist side of town was dead.. I hit the sailing club solo (empty) and and checked a couple of other empty clubs the road one back from the beach.. To the north of town theres a bridge over the river and here seems to be the locals part of town.. Bars crowded, drunks in the streets, everyone looking like they were having a laugh. Returning to the main beach strip from what I could tell, it looked like all the 'action' was on the road one block back from the beach, with pool halls, bars and the like but very few customers except the few in the 1 block radius of our hotel. I found neither horror thank god !!
Next day was a rest day.. Very photogenic place..
2nd May 2010, 12:49 AM
The next day we had a rest day.. Time for Hotel laundry and some chilling. I went and explored the town, Craig and Lew went to some gay massage place that the hotel manager had recommended to them :smile1: and I cant remember what if anything Sam did.
Nha Trang looked like a cool place, but also seemed really empty.. Nice clean beach, a well laid out and planned beachfront, with lots of space between the beach, a wide promenade, and the road.. No hawkers or noodle stalls.. All pretty clean and organised.
Between the beach itself and the road they had shade trees and everything trimmed back.. impressively neat and managed, Phuket could learn a thing or two from the evils of communism as regards to town planning.
Up at the north end of the bay and then into the next bay round. 2 Pano's
While up there I accidentally ruffled some feathers of authority.. There was a river mouth and some state building, obviously to watch the water craft entering and leaving the river. It made a good shot with a red flag flying brightly over a decaying building, and I thought I might get a snap out of it.. So having parked the bike and walked back, I was taking a shot or two, and I still hadnt got one I really thought worked and as I am taking photos of the building, I see a guy in the building see me, jump up and start to come back through. I figured discretion was the better part of valour and started to walk away to the bike and heard a shout coming from the place I now had my back to, I put my helmet on to maintain plausible deniability (sorry I couldnt hear you) and just rode off.. Guess they are still a bit touchy about being photographed. I still didnt get the shot I thought was there tho.
On the way back into town, I am kinda splitting traffic, and notice something chasing hard to catch me, and then pulling alongside at pace hooting and hollaring away was this mad man. Complete with a tray of pastries on his head !!
I stopped, he asked about the bike (they all do, big bikes are nearly non existent there), tried to sell me a pastry and then tore off into the traffic.. You cant see it from the still shots but it was incredible how he balanced on the bike while simultaneously balancing the tray on his head, like having 2 pivots at the same time, like a circus trick but done all day simply to sell doughnuts and the like.. Superb !!
So nice easy relaxed day, in another place you could easily spend much more time, and time for us to keep moving..
Dalat to Nha Trang - a set on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hanleybros/sets/72157623942649512/)[/QUOTE]
2nd May 2010, 12:52 AM
Day 5.. The long hard one !! :oops:
We were now starting day 5, of 14 days rental, and had only at this point done a very small part of our overall journey. Plus talking between us we were looking to get 3 or 4 days around Halong bay and the islands at the end. Given we would need a day to return the bikes, this was starting to sound like we had used almost half our time, to travel maybe 1/4 of the journey, something that I was concerned about. Other factors were we had just had a rest day, but everyone had spoken of Hoi An in good terms and I really wanted to have a day to see it too. If we took 2 days to ride there getting that rest day was kinda out of the question.
A shufti at the maps showed a bit of a blank between Nha Trang and Hoi An.. Between smokos, food stops, general dicking about, and horrible road conditions, we seemed to average only about 50kph all up. Previous days we had done 200 to maybe 250 in real easy days, often pulling into town by 2 or so from a 9 set off. the problem we had was not only the fear of going slow, but also there wasnt much on the map at the 250 - 300 km range to stop at.. Hoi An was a full 500 plus kms, making for a 10 hour ride, vietnam being east of Thailand but on the same timezone means it gets dark early and no one wanted to be on the road after dark. We decided to push it and see what happened and where we got to..
We got away early and were making OK progress, slow but steady, the morning saw off as many kms as some days we had done before lunch. Each smoko I was nervously clock and distance watching, and we hustled through food and drink stops with a bit more purpose.
Shots from the way up this section of road.
At one of our smoko stops craig did his bit to advance Vietnamese / Australian relations by putting one of his trademark aussie flags on a little girls hand.. He then got the shits when she reappeared about 5 minutes later with it clearly washed right off :whistle:.. we did did point out that Vietnamese history isnt one too friendly to ex-colonial powers but he still had a sook.
Also Sam found his next VN ride..
Anyway, we kept on keeping on.. And by about 2:30 we had only 150 kms still to go to make Hoi An.. If we kept at it and / or upped the pace a touch we could make it before dark easily.. We had now spent a LONG time in the saddle (dirtbike saddles are not touring saddles) everyone was tired and sore, and we were racing against daylight..
Then around 3 or 3:30 the road started to go to hell.. Masses more traffic.. Then the schools all chucked out and 1000's of kids on pushbikes filled the village roads.. People out for their afternoon stroll.. It was just crazy..
You also have to remember the vietnamese are simply not calibrated for speed, they dont have big bikes, when they look, and see a bike headlight, they assume your going slow, and pull out on you.. The bike speed limit is 60 kph MAX on the highway, its 40 in towns, so they look, see a single headlight and just step in the way, expecting you to be doing 20 or 30, and you to slow and avoid them. They dont think with the perception of bikes doing even 80 or 100 kph, let alone the western perception of sportbikes.
This slowdown was killing our time.. The day was wasting.. We couldnt safely ride quicker.. The roads were crowded to hell.. And we were running out of daylight.. But also there really was no where to stay in the tiny provincial villages we were going through, and to stop and stay in a town, when Hoi An was just another hour away was annoying as hell.. The stress and pressure was rising and tempers were getting tight. No one really had a fall out, but if we had a tense day in the whole trip these last few hours were it.
We ended up approaching Hoi An, just the last 30 kms or so in dusk, then 10 kliks out of town it properly went dark.. In the dark you cant see the GPS.. You have less depth perception, its all so much more dangerous.. We got there, by about 6:30 or 7.. With 10 or 11 hours in the saddle, tired, tense, with sore eyes, swearing never again after dark or as many kms in a day.
We made it there.. Arriving after dark and taking the first barely acceptable rooms we could find. This place was the Thien Trung Hotel at 12 USD a night for fan and 15 for AC. This place was a total backpacker / gap year hangout full of Quentins phoning daddy to send a bit more money so they could discover themselves by drinking cheap local beer and screwing girls who go to the same colleges as they do, before checking their facebook pages. The place was kinda dumpy but it did what it needed to.
We bit off a lot of distance that day, doing maybe 1/4 of our total route in a day, and for all the hardship that bit of toughness put us ahead of the ball for the future and bought us a worry free chill day in Hoi An.
The usual 30 mins for a shower and out for a beer. Sam was feeling rough, had been suffering all day and just sacked out.. We hit the nearest bar for beers and soon recovered.. Someone even started smoking carpet ;) (check the wind burn / batman call sign on my face) and after a few beers I found my next VN ride.
2nd May 2010, 12:55 AM
Hoi An and the rest day.
Another chance to wash grubby gear (for everyone except Sam) and to have a look around Hoi An.
Very pleasant little place, quite obviously with its own vibe and character, along with architectural style. Our day was a simple one of exploring, eating, drinking and relaxing.. So will just put up some photos of the place to get a feel of how it looked.
As I think those show, the place had real charm. It was however quite busy with westerners, mostly backpacker / studenty types. And while I had possibly my best asian meal of the trip in Hoi An, it felt like it was lacking much in the way of a nightlife or bar scene after dark, surprising considering the amount of tourists.
I should also point out that each stop we had made so far, was clear and distinct from each other, this wasnt a country where 'same same but different' applied.. Phan Thiet was totally different to Nha Trang and Dalat and Hoi An obviously widely apart in every visual way. This presents the traveller with great value for their tour as you get such different impressions simply a couple 100 kms up the road.
2nd May 2010, 12:59 AM
Even ahead of the game if your going to do distance, you gotta keep moving. So once again it was up and packed and on the road. After the hard ride to Hoi An everyone was agreed that we would not be trying any more days like that, and a slow short hop up to Hue sounded good.
Now on day 2 we had some good coastal riding, and a couple of bits of winding coast roads crossing hills to play on but that was nothing compared to the views and road we got on this day.
Nice road, not too much traffic, lush greens with a pretty ocean off to the right side. Long sand beaches empty of people and just superb.
Every once in a while the road would have to pass a ridge and we got playtime (and temp drops) twisting up into clouds and back down again. This was a fun start to the day for sure.
All in fine spirits.
Messing with the local hawkers who appeared from nowhere.
Soon after these pics we crossed a ridge and headed a little more inland, by now the climate had changed, the south was hot and humid like Thailand but then as we kept heading north it was changing, not that we had had any real cold yet (except that dalat morning in the clouds) but the temp was down a notch and so was the humidity, in fact Nah Trang and Hoi An were superb, warm but not sticky, just a perfect balance IMO. Now as we came down the ridge away from the coast the sky settled grey and rain was threatening. We had experienced only a drop or two so far the whole trip, even having clouds dump before and after us on the Dalat road so had been incredibly lucky. This time it looked like our luck would finally run out and we started to batten down the gear for a wet day.
When the misting started to turn into real rain drops we pulled into a shack and got some coffee, while Sam entertained the locals by dancing to his cellphone. :lol:
After 40 mins or more the misting rain that had been coming down slowed and we got back out, even tho you couldnt say it was raining, it was cool and there was water in the air, so we did our last kms to Hue a bit damp and chilled.
We scooped town and found a district with bars and hotels that looked more suited for us, and Sam and Craig grabbed 15 buck rooms one side of the road while Lew and I treated ourselves to an upgrade in the Ngoc Huong Hotel which at 35 or 40 USD was our most expensive hotel of the trip. To be honest it wasnt much of an upgrade over the 15 room (a bit but not >2x) but the 4th floor walk up over there put me off. I am sure theres better value than this place but when damp and tired a hot shower was much more important to me than the 10 bucks.
View from my hotel breakfast level.
As you can see the grey has settled in on us a bit, as it would for the next few days. Weather info on TV was showing large storms over E Asia and I think we got the tail end of these.
Usual pattern, shower and 30 mins and out in search of a feed and some drinks. We got some annoying pesting from bike touts and pimps (a theme that would develop) and one in particular a 'Hue easyrider' called Vinnie was a total ass. He was friendly at first and we got his number in case we needed a guide or a local to find some bars, but in doing so he (of course) dialled himself to get ours. He then called over and over through the night, getting drunk, showing off to giggling girls in the background, calling us names saying 'all americans sh1t like this' etc (even tho none of us are yanks). Just a d1ck with small man syndrome playing up on the end of a phone for no reason we could see.
Only other thing that was entertaining was the Hotel laundry swapping Lews only ride jeans for some pair of slacks leaving him pantless for a few hours until they found them.
To Hue and Cao Lo - a set on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hanleybros/sets/72157623943061312/)
2nd May 2010, 01:07 AM
We rose early and well rested but set off into what looked like it would be a wet day, leaving Hue we saw the old city walls and the reinforcements to what must have been the old 'imperial city' etc.. We didnt have a clear end point in mind, Vinh was 350 plus kms away, and we still had the memory of the long ride fresh in our minds, if it rained that would be a tough one.
The road skirted the coast in places and was an OK ride if a touch grey to begin.. We came across a rolled truck
The most common occurrence of the trip.
A bit later..
Or we could play caption competition.. Whats the sign translate to ??
However weather held off, the sun began to break through and we made good time.. Somewhere along this road we pulled into a petrol station to be accosted by a American on a scooter. He was fully prepared, all guidebooks and maps, talking about having just visited the largest cave in the world (which Sam snappily replied that it sounded like a tourist trap.. That one liner had Sam laughing for hours even days.. Simple things !!). Anyway the fella whose name was Willy had a nugget of information that the guidebooks advised that the beach resort of Cao Lo was to be avoided, as it was full of prostitutes and that its massages were known more for the after services they provide male customers. We thanked him for that warning and made sure to find out exact GPS co-ordinates of the place so we could ensure that it was well avoided.
Strangely enough, by sheer coincidence, later that afternoon, just around packing in time, we found ourselves driving into Cao Lo.. Now how that happened, when we took every step to follow the advice is a mystery to me.
And thus began the night of the strange !!!
Now I am sure however I write this, it simply cannot possibly begin to explain the oddness of the next few hours. Mere words on a page wont manage to convey the deeply eerie, strange and downright freaky nature of this place. It must have been built on a convergence of lay lines of weird.
First off we approach on the new coast Rd.. Stopping for Craig to suck down a couple of cancer sticks in double time we were at a beach, with a large brand new road in, with the beach all divided into plots, and even roads into and around those plots, with a beach side path all laid out.. But not a thing built. Someone is obviously expecting this place to expand.
We continue in.. Passing massive building projects.. And it started to look normal enough as we passed a golf course and resort, new build villas going up on it etc.. Then we start to reach the outskirts of town and heres where it all just started to hint at the later madness. For a start even the road was just being built, they were actually laying paving slabs and every building seemed to be recent.. There was hotel after hotel, big 50 room things, for a whole block or two back from the beach, along it for kms.. But all totally empty and deserted except for one desperate looking manager or bellhop out front.
We rode the strip and people actually came out and stared, as tho they had never seen a tourist before, yet they had built a whole town to accommodate 10's of 1000's of them !! The place reminded us of a movie set that had been built before the actors took the stage, it was as tho it was all fake somehow ??
We rode the entire strip, being followed by aggressive hotel managers on bikes and hawkers desperate for any custom at all in this huge town devoid of visitors. Trying to shake them off we rode right through town and out the other side. We stopped and polled each other for reactions and we were honestly at a loss, those that know me know how rare it is I am speachless, but this town had taken my voice and rattled my mind.. I didnt want to stay, or what to think, but we had nowhere close to go.. It WAS a resort town, it was just like some resort town after a viral outbreak or a zombie attack !! A resort town without tourists makes you think of films like 'hostel' and wonder if theres a thriving trade in human organs being operated in the region.
Anyway with nothing else to do we went back through it, looking for something that looked a little less scary than the rest, something with a human face or a massage calling out. None of these things appeared.
We ended up at some place with 10 or 11 buck rooms, hot water, and no other guests.. Downstairs was a space large enough to have a roller disco in, next door was a empty nightclub, it sure wasnt getting any less freaky. In fact our resort was just one of many, it was like 'the shining' had multiplied to become an entire town. If some little child had come round the corner on a tricycle or anyone had said 'red rum' I would have been out of there at any hour of the day or night !! Heres fcuking Jonny allright !!
For some reason none of us needed our 30 min shower time, we were all ready to be out of our rooms in one speed shower and out to find some human contact, anyone, anything..
We walked out of our empty hotel, onto an empty street, past empty bars, and other empty hotels.. To an empty beach (getting the point yet ??).. when we got there we found a empty beach restaurant where they had set out tables and chairs of 100 plus people, but didnt have a guest. They did however have beer and were willing to go get us ice so as we had nowhere better to go we settled in.
You may notice I have no photos of this place, I think sub consciously I wanted no record of being there, as tho a lack of evidence would scrub its poisonous record from my mind. We were debating what could have made this place like this, Chernobyl like radiation ?? Zombies ?? Disease ?? We jokingly cursed Willy for his advice, deciding maybe he was secretly in the employ of the Cao Lo tourist board, like a tout outside of a bar he travelled the petrol stations of Vietnam telling groups of male travellers tall tales about the hostesses of the town, as the only way to lure poor unsuspecting traveller to their doom.. Then as if by magic, his scooter pulls into the lot over the road. Sam was up in a flash sprinting after him as he rode off (at this point I was sure if he was going to say hello or do him an injury !!) and he was caught and brought back to face some hard questioning :) !! His response that 'you should see it in june july and august. You cant get a room' seemed like mockery or high sarcasm, but we figured being a American he probably didnt 'do' sarcasm..
Cao Lo Tourist board Official AKA 'Big Willy'
So we did what we knew.. We drank beer.. We struggled to order some food.. We drank more beer and called it a night..
Now I should point out, I am not someone who gets spooked.. I dont mind the dark.. I dont fear ghosts (I wouldnt be hanging around for a chat with one mind) and dont usually get the heebie jeebies.. But this place had unsettled something in me, there was some deep down part of my central nervous system telling me that fight or flight were viable options this night.
I retire to my room, which seemed even creepier after dark.. Oddball ornate dark wood furniture, in a dusty grubby pastel room.. a big screen TV with 80 channels of static.. a nasty picture that looked like something out of the 'ring' movies hung on my wall..
It even had a cracked glass (did that hint at previous violence in here ??) and the whole place was just unsettling for reasons I cant even put my finger on. Put it this way, I wasn't volunteering to 'go down into the cellar to investigate' !!
So with nothing else to do, I just hit the sack.. I must have slept a couple of hours, but I woke in the night to the pitch dark room.. I turned around in the dark and then as I was settling I look into the shadows in the corner and I see a shape in the gloom.. I blink a couple of times, and feck me if there in the shadows isnt a body shape.. Stood in the corner.. WTF !! Theres someone in the damn corner of the room with me watching me sleep !!! I hit the lights and jumped up adrenalin pumping to see...
My own coat and helmet on a coat stand !! :D I am ashamed to say I left the light on the rest of the night like a child.. I didnt sleep a wink until dawn and then got maybe another hour before everyone was getting up.
We were up and out of that hell hole at first light.. No coffee.. No breakfast.. No stopping.. I wanted a tank of gas between me and there as soon as humanly possible.
Cao Lo I curse you !!
2nd May 2010, 01:15 AM
So once again.. On the road.. Once enough distance had been covered to clear us from any lingering zombie / viral / radioactive threats of Cao Lo we stopped for coffees..
The faces of 3 men who have had a good nights sleep ??
The roads now were getting worse. We had entered the area near Hanoi that was industrial and the buses and trucks were just killer crazy.. It was non stop horns and madness, with dust everywhere and quite hard work. You needed to concentrate while getting facefulls of dust and being missed by trucks by inches and being forced off the road. Quite frankly the countryside was far less scenic here and the contrasts from the south (say Hoi An and below) and the north were becoming evident.
By now we had worked out the easy sustenance when you just needed a bite was the bahn mi or vietnamese sandwich.. These ranged from the simply delicious (fresh bread with all the good bits of a noodle soup, red pork, coriander, chilli oil and sesame oil, etc) to stomach turning pastes of offal so you had to keep an eye to see what you got. Most were at least good, some great, the Vietnamese really seem to understand bread, and serve up these hot crusty french breads with light fluffy centres.. Just great when you get a good one.
Happy to see me or is that a bahn me in your pocket ;)
As the day wore on we came to Ninh Binh.. But we drove around it and saw no life or action, looked like a provincial town without much for us.. Struck on further and through Nam Dinh where there were at least hotels, but again nothing appealing.. We kept on to Thai Binh looking but I must admit I worried that passing hotels in search of some action was risky.
We got to Thai Binh.. And drove through the centre of town.. There was a section with cafes and looked semi promising but rooms were in short supply.. We stopped at one that I can only assume was either an ex or very old knocking shop, we tried a posh place (with some Thai name that escapes me now) which had a price list in VND and USD, the VND price was acceptable at 350 / 400 thousand dong.. When I said that sounded fine she said no I had to pay the USD price (which worked out to be 700k ish dong) I pointed out I didnt have USD, I had dong, and would pay the dong price but no, foreigners had to pay the USD rate even if paying in dong. The only place that seemed to have a openly stated dual pricing policy was this one, a Thai branded hotel !! I obviously told them where they could stick it..
So it was looking like a couple of pretty low rent options which didnt appeal.. I wanted to keep trying and as we rode a little bit out of town we saw a combo truck stop / room / massage and sauna.. Things could be looking up.
So we go haggle this place down to about 11 bucks for a room (cant find the card so no idea what it was called)... Grab a shower and poke our noses into the 'spa'.. Pictures of naked women on the walls ?? check.. Red lights around ?? Check.. Women clip clopping into work at 5pm in high heels ?? check.. Is this a score ?? check..
But all in good time.. First we needed a belly full of beer so over the road to the corner where guys on plastic chairs were supping ales.. Here we discover that about 2l of beer (a pitcher) of very acceptable lager is 15,000 dong or about 75c.. Craig starts to complain that "it isnt that cheap" and we start to calculate out that its about 10c a 250ml glass.. Finally he grudgingly concedes that "Ok well its not expensive".. Feck me its possibly the cheapest beer I have ever drunk !! 3 baht a glass cheap !! Anyway after about 5 bucks worth of this we were all warming to the place, the locals were cheering us, everyone was smiles, and all was right with the world.
We did check out the massage.. Where I got a painfully beaten up, by a very amateur masseuse, who appeared to dislike me.. I 'think' there may have been extras but the lack of communication, the fact she had just been punching me for 3/4 an hour and generally seemed a moody bint, put me right off..
2nd May 2010, 01:18 AM
So back to our usual MO, up early, and onto the road.. We had now not had a rest day since Hoi An and this was I think the 4th ride day.. We wanted to get up around Halong bay and chill for a while, maybe even unpack the bags, get everything cleaned and pressed, eat a few nice meals.. Just recuperate a bit.
Grabbing a breakfast bahn mi.. You dont think I keep this physique by skipping breakfast ???
Chicken anyone ??
Guide books seemed to say that Halong city was a bit of a dump, and people used it as a jumping off point for Cat Ba island.. We had a route to the island on google maps that looked like bridges, but turned out to be ferries. It was a short hop now, but the roads and country here was as industrial as it comes, trucks, container ports, large ugly mudflats dotted by large industrial factories.. Looking through my pics it was hard to find anything that looked attractive from this area, in fact this one kinda sums up my mood and impressions..
Taking a dumpy rusty ferry over to a very plain looking swampy island wasnt filling me with hope.. In fact as the access to the ferry appeared to go through a industrial park, complete with chimney stacks spewing smog, I really wondered what we would find.
Crossing one island and doing ferry no 2 and we get to Cat Ba.. It started off kinda plain, but was improving as we took the coast rd.. We come to cat ba town (where the locals live) still not having seen much that was too pretty but following signs to 'Cat Ba Tourist area' you come down to an attractive harbour, hotels, bars, all we needed to sustain life and have a couple of days sleeping in the same bed.
A scope up and down the beach front we scored rooms in the Cat Ba dream hotel for 10 USD per night.. This was possibly the best 10 USD room I have ever stayed in, I mean 10 bucks is usually a dump even in poor countries, but this had nice granite tiling, an elevator (more on this), clean rooms, nicely furnished, TV with cable, a modern clean bathroom, and this view.
Outside my window.. You gotta admit thats one hell of a 10 dollar view !!
I was up on the 5th floor, and when we checked in we were told the electric was off but would be back at 6pm (it was) what they didnt mention was it was off every day !! Cat Ba gets its electricity from a hydro somewhere which is short of water, so they ration electric day by day and block by block.. One day this place has it the next the next door has it.. Getting the view on the 5th floor was looking like a less than genius move !!
Anyway showered we hit the strip, found a superb eatery called the green mango (top food) which had sofas and got the drinks in.. We settled there crashed out horizontal on their sofas for about 6 hours..
Relieved to be somewhere scenic enough, clean enough, with food and drink on our doorstep. The hard miles were done.
Cat Ba - a set on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hanleybros/sets/72157623818917367/)
2nd May 2010, 01:24 AM
We had decided to have a couple of rest days after the last stretch and the relief of getting to somewhere nice. During the first night we had mega storms and early morning the view from the window was a little less appealing.
So we were lucky again in that we were not riding in rain. Soon enough it cleared up and we went for a walk along the 'tourist whart' :lol:
Cat Ba seemed a cool little place, a bit quiet and sleepy in the off season but we were thankful to have found a place to pause.
We went off as different groups around the island but as theres only a couple of roads we ended up bumping into each other in the afternoon. The island is mostly national park and nicely wild.
A very rugged kinda looking place with lots of caves and the like.. Kinda reminds me of the Phang Nga / Krabi kind of area with the limestone cliffs and jungle.
After we bumped into the boys Craig had a smoko pause on a nice slope and started a bit of a wheelie comp that would continue between him and Sam for bragging rights.
Before we retired to our favourite bar for sundowners..
Day 2 was a semi repeat of this.. Just taking it easy, catching up on sleep, food, laundry, etc etc.. Lew went for a bay cruise for the day, while we just did some email, and bar hopped the beach strip.
The only annoying thing was the persistent pimps. They would be out the front of the hotel and literally follow you around pestering.. We discovered (without them) that there was a bunch of h00ker joints on the back of the loop road that went up the hill behind town, but a walk up around there showed a scene I really wasnt comfortable with.. Pock marked faced pimps, with their captive hareems, who seemed unhappy and unwilling. The whole think felt like coercion and didnt look like fun. We were just looking for a bar with some girls in it to have a laugh with, flirt and joke with, that would have been great but the whole "you want fcuk girl ?? Want fcuk this girl ??" pressure from pimps just wasnt inviting and started the moment you stepped out onto the street. They really wouldnt leave alone as well, I thought Sam was going to deck one at one point as he kept pulling Sams arm.
Also on (I think) the 2nd night in town, who rolls in on his scoot ?? Willy !! Our Cao Lo advisor.. He turned out to be good company, had been riding through central and southern America, Europe, and now Asia, leaving his 1200 GS to exchange for a 150 SYN scoot.
2nd May 2010, 01:32 AM
So the clock was ticking on the bike rentals, and Big Willy was full of more 'places to avoid' on the coast that were full of ladies of negotiable affection.. Of course given the Cao Lo experiences we were sceptical to say the least, but Do Son was closer to Hanoi, got us off the island, and we could have our last 2 nights there and have a short hop to return the bikes on the final day.
There is a ferry leaving the north of the island, going through the limestone islands of Halong Bay and into Halong city.. Willy got the timetable from a travel agent and we were all going to set off the next morning.
We set off slow as everyone met up and when we got over the island we found that we had missed one boat, the timetable from the travel agent was totally wrong and working out the options wasnt easy. One of the pimps from Cat Ba town was there and was being snide because we had refused his services for a few days of non stop pressure. He lied that the boat was finished, there was no boat, the other ferrys were not running and we could only get the bikes off the island with a boat rental he could organise. All lies but difficult as no one at the ferry terminal spoke much english and he went and stuck himself into every conversation we struck up, pulled down timetables, scratched off posted times, and generally made life a pain. We eventually worked out the next boat wasnt until 1 and as it was 10ish we opted to go back via the ferry route we came on (which of course was still operating). Willy choose to wait out the Halong ferry and we said goodbyes.
It was a very easy days ride, real short and only the ferrys slowed it down. We arrived to Do Son to find theres 3 beach areas and as was common in the north lots of pesting touts and hotel managers who really knew how to bug you. We drove about a bit, sizing the place up (looking for fun bar life), and found some rooms for 140k VND a night (7ish bucks) in beach zone 2.
To say Do Son is another odd place is an understatement.. Its a very odd mix of honeymooners, and student / childrens tours, with a fairly ugly sex scene all mixed in. There were lots of attractive overly made up girls around, but there wasnt any bar scene liek we were looking for, only pimps and brothel type arrangements. Given the hassle from pimps so far we just followed our usual MO of getting some beers and seeing where it took us.
While wandering the streets we encountered 'mini pimp' this kid came out of one of the 'karaoke' places and shouts out "you want fcukee lady" while making obscene hip movements and squeaking away. It was simply too funny, this kid probably didnt have hair on his balls, but he had a big gold ring, and a harem on call. A classic pimp of the future. Craig branded him with an Aussie flag and we saw him many times over the next few days. It was hard to dislike this little guy.
On our wanders we walked into a karaoke joint, where they got us sat down and said they would get girls coming, as they arrived, seeing westerners, they all were nervous, and the pimp roughly grabbed one girl by the upper arm, and dragged her in, while she was resisting and pulling away. I dont know what kind of person you would need to be to be involved in a situation like that but it was way too much for me, I just got up and left. I am no moralist, and have had fun with girls all over the world, but it always seemed like something they choose to do, the whole scene here was just a bit nasty, controlled by pimps, and lacking freedom of choice or maybe even freedom. I wanted no part in it.
So our first evening in this strange town ended oddly, the place was swarming with working girls, but we all called it quits and went to bed alone, as none of us could stomach the whole pimp aspect.
2nd May 2010, 01:39 AM
The next day I went off with Sam to explore a bit.. Theres some oddly fitting 'art' around the area for a h00ker town.
We didnt really do much, got a massage, mooched about town, sorted bikes, found an ATM, joked with the locals, etc.
And Sam and Craig continued to argue about who was the wheelie king and if 'draggers' counted. Sam blagged a locals bike and showed em how to do it.
Usual evening of drink, food, and a few more drinks.
Do Son and Hanoi - a set on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hanleybros/sets/72157623943677594/)
2nd May 2010, 01:40 AM
And so began our last day with the bikes.. It was a short easy route up to Hanoi, but was heavy traffic, trucks and as with a lot of the north we had seen kind of industrial.
We managed our usual breakfast roadside stop for bahn mi's again.
And before we knew it we were entering Hanoi and getting into the old quarter. We grabbed a fairly nice hotel called the Camellia 4 after haggling them down to 350k VND (about 18 ish bucks) with breakfast from 25 or so they wanted. Good location right in the old quarter with all we needed.
Sadly it was then time to drop the bikes back and finally meet Hung and his staff. This was it, done, 2500kms, 2 weeks, not an accident or drop, not a breakdown, not even a flat tyre or a petrol problem. Mission well and truly accomplished.
So all sorted, no arguments over damage or problems, the staff were great, but they asked us to come back later to collect my passport (I left a spare passport as a deposit). When we came back to Flamingo travel at 3pm, Hung was there, friendly, happy we had enjoyed a great time, and really enthusiastic about bikes, touring, and providing a great service.
We dragged him down to the local 'beer corner' with us, where beers were a very reasonable 4000 vnd each (20 - 25c) and started to get him oiled up ;)
We talked over the good and bad points of the bikes, the small communication mistakes, the way they turned up in HCMC, etc.. Hung was totally straight up, admitted and apologised for the little things and generally seemed a real straight shooter and honest guy. He impressed me and really earnt my trust and I know for sure that I wouldnt consider renting of anyone else, he absolutely has my return business and I hope he goes from strength to strength.
He was so friendly he told us to come back the next morning where he would comp us some free bikes for the day, and take us on a bit of a city tour !! Top bloke.
2nd May 2010, 01:44 AM
The next morning, our last full day in Vietnam, 3 of us went back to the shop to go on a city tour, Hung was there, took us round the workshop just around the corner, where we find the 250's all having had an overhaul. New Tyres, new chains and sprokets, etc etc.. If we had been delivered the bikes this way even Craig would have had a hard time to find something to moan about. It really showed how committed to doing things properly he seemed to be.
We grabbed a couple of small bikes, I took a fairly old wave, and we set off into the city.. Did a tour of the lake, etc etc..
While at the lake some guys all arrived to have a c0ck fight, Hung explained this wasnt 'to the death' fighting, no blades etc so we stuck around.. They seemed fascinated but it went on for ages and seemed pretty dull to me..
Hung had to get back to work and Craig went with him, Sam and I choose to explore a bit more on our own, circling the lakes, checking out the old quarter and the government buildings.
After a day riding about.. We got back to the hotel, where craig was paying some poor fella to clean his boots.. Yes mate, they do smell..
We had a last night on the town, checking out a very quiet 'Relax bar' and then heading back to the local beer corner for the cheap stuff. I should also say that the women around Hanoi had a high ratio of amazing looking girls, some simply stunning, and walking around for half an hour would have your head spinning, I think Hanoi probably beat anywhere else in the concentration of beauty.
That was it, last night of the trip.. Next day was just an up and out, flying back to HCMC and onward to Phuket.
2nd May 2010, 01:57 AM
Collection: Vietnam (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hanleybros/collections/72157623941665688/)
Flickr: Explore Hanley Bros' photos on the map (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hanleybros/map?&fLat=14.7642&fLon=106.7871&zl=12&order_by=recent)
Thoughts and conclusions.
My overall impression of Vietnam was very positive, the people were on the whole simply amazing. They are not hardwired to smile like Thais are, but they are on the whole friendly to foreigners, and everywhere we went we had crowds, trying to talk, saying hello, and playing about. Obviously smiles helped, and if you can make people laugh your always going to get good reactions. Sam can play up and be a clown, and can make visual humour work for him thats a great ice breaker. Having him there to clown about and entertain the crowd helped a lot in some places where language was tough.
I found the south of the country far more accessible as a tourist. The places we stopped in the first week, seemed more suited to tourism, more attractive, and easier to find places to stay, eat, etc. I also found the people of the south more friendly and think the northern vietnamese guys especially a bit harder to get on with. This thinking may well have been shaped by being pestered by pimps and hawkers non stop in the north, which became a bit wearing. But in the north I also saw Vietnamese on Vietnamese fighting, and seeing a man woman argument, shouting hard in the street, is very different from Thais who bottle that up. Also Hung told us that we should have avoided the coastal highway (which was busy, industrial, etc) and gone inland to the HCMC highway which has less traffic and far more scenic. Live and learn and advice for next time.
Riding there is no harder, just different.. Trucks and buses rule the road, your expected to remain to the right and give way and they will over take onto you, The expectation that your doing scooter speeds effects their decision making. That said I found them more likely to yield than Thais, Vietnamese dont seem to have problems with roundabouts, and seem quite willing to slow down / give way in a merge situation if it keeps things flowing. Thais seem to have a need to never back down or yield in a face based way which makes some road junctions not work. Also on arrival one of us was quite concerned about the mental HCMC type traffic.. 1000's of bikes, horns all blaring etc. But personally thats not the bad stuff, in that crowd you all move together, like a flock of birds your all moving the same way and its only cross points where theres the danger of collision. Out on the open road theres buses and trucks who will simply honk, and drive right over you if you dont get out their way.
On the route and bikes, I have to say I liked Hung immensely, he seemed really honest and keen for everyone to have a good holiday. I have no hesitation recommending him or his bikes, but a smart person, doing a route like us, would pick the bikes up from Hung and ride them to be delivered to the south. You would get the bikes properly sorted before you leave and spend the later time in an area that appeared more suited to holiday / resort type feeling. All that said, we saw some amazing photos of Sappa and the north, and Sam and I are already talking about getting back there, taking bikes from Hanoi and doing a northern loop inland. As we said to each other, this was a once in a lifetime trip, that we fully intend to do again in another few months :) !! Really if theres anything more fun than riding bikes with your mates, exploring a new country, I dont know what it is.. Maybe doing the same with a sailboat and islands. Either way I want to spend much more time doing trips like this.
Also for others thinking of doing the trip, all but a couple of the days we could have done on much smaller bikes, in fact a small roadbike, like a CB400 or even boxer 250 might even have been more suited for the roads we went over. I would advise against doing the minsk thing, we met people with them, that seemed a constant hassle, going from repair to repair daily, and getting people to work on them and parts for them is apparently getting harder. Seeing a white guy pushing one for a couple of kms in the heat sealed this impression for me, I want a bike trip to be about riding one, not repairing or worse pushing one.
I will also say I learnt something about my own reactions to pimps during this trip. As I said before, I am no moralist, I have met party girls all over the world, and one constant was that I felt the women you meet were there willingly, I wouldnt want to be a part of anything where they were not willing parties free to choose. But in Vietnam, really for the first time in my life, I encountered pimps. Pestering nasty little guys, telling you to just pick one, who seemed unhappy, and unwilling, and forced into the process, something I was uncomfortable with and had not previously experienced. Vietnam (esp what we saw in the north) wasnt a happy fun destination for bar scenes.. Yes it was there, yes it was apparently cheap but it seemed like a very funless situation. Not resembling Thailands bar scene, with some fun, drinking, flirting, and (possibly the illusion of) choice at all.
But that element aside, it was a superb trip, outstanding in every way, I cant really imagine how it could have been better. Vietnam is simply a great place to explore and the freedom of bikes just made it great for us.
2nd May 2010, 03:27 PM
What a brilliant, informative and very entertaining report LivinLOS.
I cant get over those sand dunes, looks like the australian desert, and yet just down the road from there its looks the same as southern Thailand. The landscape is far more diverse than I imagined.
I like the way you included daily maps of your progress.
Thanks for sharing your experiences, which included helpful information and amazing photos, with good humour. :clap:
By the way, how was the Saigon lager?
2nd May 2010, 03:58 PM
Yeah the 2 Aussies on the trip commented that the Mui Ne coastal region looked like Aussie bush.. I was totally shocked as to how dry it was and how desert like the region is. Yet a short ride and Dalat is like altitude N Thailand, diverse to say the least.
Beer Saigon was acceptable, and cost effective but a bit less taste than Tigers. What was interesting was the Beer hoi / homebrew type bars, I thought that was great lager and at cents per glass you really cant complain. If we thought 30k big tigers was cheap in HCMC when we arrived, we were bargain shopping 4k Beer Hoi shops by the Hanoi end. Fast learners ;)
3rd May 2010, 12:33 AM
That's a mega report & trip. I'm glad it all worked out ok for you guys in the end, as you certainly had some booking doubts beforehand.
Thanks for the contribution. You did a good job there alright.
3rd May 2010, 09:50 AM
Yeah there was some miss communication.. Most worryingly was the way it felt like a bait and switch, but we overcame those and in the end Hung was a superb person to do biz with.
3rd May 2010, 10:31 AM
Interesting report. You guys saw a different side of Vietnam than we did, in more ways than one. It reinforces my opinion that flying in and renting bikes is the best way to go.
3rd May 2010, 11:04 AM
Well as I said this was as much a holiday with bikes as it was a bike tour.. We wanted to have fun, and act like tourists to Vietnam as much as ride it, sometimes the whole riding into town in the evening, and out again at first light, means even tho you were technically there you dont get time to see it. I would have loved more time in Nha Trang, Dalat (definately want to check this place more), Hoi An, etc.. We never even stopped in Vung Tao, or Da Nang.. Just the nature of the beast in touring through.
Oddly perhaps tho, the parts my brother and I are talking about doing next are the Sappa and northern routes, which look more ride biased than bar hopping biased. I think Vietnam offers lots of options depending on your goals, it was a great trip for us.
3rd May 2010, 11:32 AM
Intrepid explorers indeed! Glad you had a good time. Thankyou for the excellent photos & write up.
7th May 2010, 05:24 AM
Wow, Thanks for that report and pics. I just read the entire report and it makes me want to go see the rest of Vietnam. I did the northern loop in Oct 2009 and it's way different than what you guys did.
Bia Hoi is readily available in the north and the different ethnic tribes are colorful and make for great photos. The scenery in Ha Giang is spectacular.
Thanks again for taking the time to post this.
17th September 2010, 05:21 PM
thanks for sharing the ride report hv nice ride especially in northern vietnam..people still in village thinking.
23rd March 2011, 10:33 PM
It was a great tour and very meaningful trip report.
I am local here but has not been done a full trip by bike as you guys.
I done twice but all by my car with my family. The feeling must be much different from riding with the wind...
Expected I can ride along Vietnam one day...
24th March 2011, 03:29 PM
Fantastic pics and report guys-THANKS!
I remember those Bia Hois, really fun and was made to feel welcome by the locals.
Again, thanks for sharing :)
24th March 2011, 04:38 PM
Hell of a Trip there! Great and the Best Time to leave Here, I Hate Songkran!!! You certainly covered the kms and the Sights! Well Done and Food for thought!
31st March 2011, 08:08 PM
I just found this thread.
Congrats on making the trip and a great TR.
Two of us did a similar trip last year, but the other way round (N-S). We figured that improving weather and Western facilities as we went South was the best option for us old codgers.
We also had a different bike strategy.
We knew we didn't plan to go far off the tarmac (well we hoped not anyway) we quickly decided that we didn't want Minsks and the hiring option looked problematic.
We flew into Hanoi on Valentine's Day aka Chinese New Year = first mistake.
We eventually bought scoots there (re-manufactured Chinese Yamaha copies) for $300-400 and set off for Halong Bay and then South all the way down to HCMC (except I went solo from Nah Trang). We sold the bikes down there and, them being Chinese and us being lazy and in a hurry to sell, we dropped about $200 apiece. There were no mechanical problems or costs apart from fuel and an oil change, so I don't think $200 was bad for a 5 week holiday covering about 2000 km.
Thanks again for a good read and reminisce. I just wish I was there for this Songkran 2011.
I've got a new D-Tracker here now (no Green Book yet), so I'm thinking of heading for Ubon and then across maybe as far as Chiang Mai - but only maybe. I just don't like Pattaya Songkran.
If anyone wants to look at the trip the other way up, my TR is here:-
I hope that's not against the Forum Rules here. Registration may be required.
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