Hanoi, 11 day adventure


Aug 24, 2008
In the wee hours of Friday the 29th December, 2013, 9 Ulysses members (8 from Shearwaters and 1 from Yarra Ranges) left Tullamarine airport on a Thai Airlines flight to Hanoi for a motorcycle trip. What we got was more adventure than we could ever have imagined.

Some 9 hours flying found us in Bangkok for a 2 hour layover before our flight to Hanoi, arriving at our hotel (the Gia Thinh) in the old quarter (or backpacker country) around noon on the Friday. The afternoon was taken up dealing with the last bits of paperwork and final payments to Flamingo Travel who we had contracted to supply the motorcycles, a guide, and a support vehicle and driver. They also sent along a mechanic to look after us, and he was invaluable not only in that role, but also ended up a relief rider on the couple of occasions one of could not ride for a while. Australian Dollars were changed and we all became instant millionaires, lunch was found and a tasting of the local brew commenced. A short stroll took us to Flamingo’s garage, and then the trading began. We had initially booked 9 Minsk 125’s, but ones that Flamingo had modified with a modern 4 stroke engine, and an upgraded front suspension with a larger diameter tyre, and a set of dual purpose tryes. 3 of the boys eyed off the new Honda XR 150’s, the 3 girls decided that the Yamaha YBR 125’s would be better suited, 1 took a shining to the Sufat, 1 stuck with the Minsk and I grabbed a Honda Baja. (Ugly ugly bike, but ran beautifully)

Back to the Flamingo office to pay for the additional costs, then to the City View Cafe City View Cafe for dinner and drinkies overlooking Hoan Kiem lake.

Early start on Saturday, Flamingo picked us up in a minivan for a day at Ha Long Bay. three and a half hours in the chaos left us pleased we weren’t riding, then a relaxing 4 odd hours cruising around, picking some of our lunch from the floating village, exploring the caves, and did I mention a few drinkies? Back in Hanoi just after dark and down to Le Pub for a last Western feed for a while.

Some of the crew


And some more. The orange thing Rob has on his right arm is a spot tracker.


Meals on Wheels


and dessert


Floating Village


Most boats only had a small number of people on them. Hard way to make a buck.


Yours truely


And our guide Crazy Minh. he was to live up to his nickname...


Buying lunch


And the consumption thereof




Last Western feed for a while


More to come
Sep 19, 2006
Cool, I can't wait to see the entire trip! I looked into starting the "Ulysses" Club here but the Legislation and Costs involved seemed a bit much and I doubt that most Guys here would be willing to Pay that so I gave up on the Idea!


Aug 24, 2008
Sunday the 1st Dec. Off to Mai Chau. 160ish Kms.

A little background first. Minh (our guide), Hung (Flamingo’s owner) and Chris (manager Hanoi) had been on a whirlwind trip around the area the weekend before, looking at new tracks. That was when Hung asked Minh if he would take our group of 9 (and that was all he told him). Several days into our trip, Minh shared his thoughts of when he first saw us coming out of the customs hall......What tha???? there are girls, I’ve never had girls before, and the guys are all OLD....Hung, what have you done to me?

So his cunning plan to get us out of Hanoi was to have 3 guides pillion the girls to the outskirts, or they could ride in the truck. Don’t know if you remember Western girls, but their reaction wasn’t particularly thankful of his concern when told of his plan A or B. The final (finally acceptable) plan ended up with Minh in an Orange Hi Viz vest up the front, Leda (one of the girls funnily enough) in one and she played in the middle, and me bringing up the rear in one. We all tucked in tight, and all you had to do was keep a vest in view and all was sweet. Where I could see Minh turning, I would get up on the pegs and he could see me, so knew the pack was OK. One minor spill, but no one got lost.

Oh, we had 1 joiner, a Hungarian who Flamingo asked if he could tag along for the 1st 5 days. The girls nicknamed him ‘Scratch & Sniff’. You get the type, young, special forces, muscles....

OK, not going to bore you with the run out of Hanoi, I did this deliberately on a Sunday, figured it may be a bit quieter, but apparently it was Drive Around Day or something, so Chaos ruled. Strange bikes, wrong side of the road, big group, heavy traffic.... what could go wrong:) Minh had a cunning plan though, lots of running on little concrete roads, lots of between fields, stopped at 2 different lakes, stopped somewhere for lunch and into our Home Stay in Pom Coong Village in Mai Chau. Woo Hoo.

Flamingo’s Garage


Capt’n Rob looking serious


Spot the Bhudda?




Another lake. Should have taken more notice of the names.


Hmmm. Scenery somewhere. Really should have written down stuff. I had a map and Google, but we were rarely on anything with a name or number.


Mai Chau. Notice the smog. It only got worse the entire trip. Real shame after Brian & Mikes trip. Look at their photos if you want scenic.




Dinner. Yummmmm




Ming made a better guide than a waiter. Who stops off in the middle of serving dinner to text?


Rob looks a little perplexed. We’re sleeping here as well????


Oh, and the homestay put on a dance show afterwards. 6 local girls and a guy, and a band. It was sensational. So Engrossed I forgot the photos......

More to come

(Sorry it is taking so long. I am having to upload the photos 'old school'. My permissions don't allow me to add attachments, and I don't get the "add image" along with all the formatting stuff between the Title and Body part of the 'Your Message' that is shown in all the examples on how to do it on this site. Don't know why, maybe because I am not a Windoze user. Anyway, it is working just using all the BB codes, and hand altering all the codes generated by Flickr when I copy their link, just taking quite a long while)

Rod Page

Jan 7, 2010

I too am following closely your adventures. A great team of adventurers too in a configuration for which I've not previously seen a report. I'm enjoying the detail of your report which will be so useful for those that follow (& hence a few reflections that follow) - you remarked from the outset just how good is it cruising Vietnam!

I'm with the girls - I bought 3 bikes from Hung including 2 x YBR 125's & travelled the whole of Vietnam aboard one. There were no XR 150's at the time, a bike which looks ideal (though I prefer the comfort of a wider saddle). Look forward to your summary at trip's end.

Ha Long - its a sensational spot & I was wondering if you felt it warranted a longer visit? I certainly enjoyed a longer stay.

An invaluable piece of information is the haze you found over Mai Chau. The look-out over the town is a spot all who have travelled that way recognise so a good reference point but I'm surprised at the poor visibility you met well before the traditional burn-off period. The scenery where you are riding is nothing short of sensational (I can well understand how sometimes they are so good you forget to take the photo) & the haze you found raises the question of when you believe its best to be riding in the area?

Great report mate; keep it coming.


Aug 24, 2008
Monday the 2nd. To Son La. 180ish Kms

Thanks for the comments. The Viz (or lack thereof) was a real disappointment after the spectacular shots from Brian & Mike. I planned this for the 1st 2 weeks in December to fit in after the wet, and before they burnt off the rice. Best time in Thailand, I figured it would be the same, just a little (lot) cooler. And I was right, sort of. We had a cool but dry trip, not cold enough for thermals, but didn’t unpack wet weather gear once. The rice was harvested, but not burnt off yet, and the only fires around were the occasional leaf burning and home fires for cooking. What we had though, was a very stable weather pattern with a low inversion layer. That trapped everything below it with no rain and little wind to disperse it. Minh blamed the Chinese for the smoke, maybe they do the 2 crops a year, and were doing all the burning off to get an early planting in before the cold set in. Don’t know, couldn’t see as far as the border let alone over it.

Anyway, we settled into a pattern, up at 6, breakfast at 7, and on the road by 8am. We had settled into the bikes, neither Minsk had much in the way of brakes, both were problematical to start as was one of the Yamaha YBR’s, but Ding (our mechanic) was kept busy servicing them every night. We broke 1 mirror on the 1st day with a minor off in the mud, ego was the only other thing damaged.

Breakfast, egg and something rolls, and 3 in 1 coffee packets. Sensational.


Lovely quiet spot except for the Bl...dy roosters, dogs, snoring...We were out in a little village down a country lane. Only Home Stay in the area.


As opposed to the tourist area in Mai Chau. Lots of Home stays here, but very commercial.


Typical roads. We ended up with 2 punctures on the Yamaha YBR’s. They are town bikes afterall.


And roads less travelled. None of these were numbered or featured on Google.


Relatively clear day


No John, it really is this way. Baja in the background. Ugly ugly bike, but it was sensational and didn’t miss a beat. Nice lot of low down torque and decent rev range.


What a fleet...


Beauty of a big group is that there was always lots of taste sensations for meals. This is lunch somewhere. Ding, the mechanic in the front left, and Long, our driver is the blurry one on the right.




Tea plantation.


Some very grubby people in a very very nice place for afternoon tea. Must have had some mud today, splatters of it on our gear.


Coffee and ice cream.


Nice Hotel tonight, but ding took us out to somewhere in a back alley up some stairs for dinner. Support vehicle came in very useful as our taxi.


It was Grahams birthday today, and Flamingo organized a cake for the occasion. This was unprompted and shows the level of detail they went into with our trip.


Got his name a little wrong, used his middle name instead of his surname, but sensational.


Tonight was in the Hanoi Hotel

More to come


Aug 24, 2008
Tuesday the 3rd. To Than Uyen. 160ish Kms.

Breakfast in the Hotel. Good choice of foods, and they would do you eggs, omelets etc.

Today we finally realised that this was going to be way more adventure than we had realised. We were not off road riders....many had never done it before, ever, I hadn’t done any for 40 odd years, one of the girls had done a BMW off road course a few years before to improve her general riding skills, but here we were, dodging the mud and the dust and the dirt and the rocks. Even the proper bitumen roads were rougher than our unclassed roads at home, and we were on bikes with poor brakes. We were all accustomed to big Brembo discs pulling up our 300kg sports tourers or cruisers with a mere 2 finger pull. It was quite a learning curve, and there were quite a few spills. Fortunately, these were generally at a lowish speed, and the mud was soft. Total damage was 2 mirrors, 1 twisted ankle, a few bruises and some dented egos. And did I mention the the 3 girls were on the Yamaha YBR’s....essentially a town bike. But just when we thought we were doing it tough, along would come a family on a Honda wave, Mum, Dad, the kids, a pig or 2 and the weekly shopping, and they would breeze past us on the roughest of sections......


Early morning from the Ha Noi Hotel in Son La


Ready to leave Son La


Ruins of the French penal colony in Son La


Minh figuring a use for this for some of his group


Traffic Jam. Waiting for the truck to unload its building supplies


Que for the bridge. This was probably the best one (in the best condition) we crossed.


Tiny little of burning, and a relatively clear day.


Lunch stop. Feeling grubby by now.


We took along a heap of goodies, frisbees, soap bubble blowing thingys, colouring books and pencils, Minh also took along 2 bags of kids clothing. This is the post for the photo


This is the hand out. We did this a half dozen times through the trip. Minh knew where to go for the poorest kids.


Song Da Dam (Black River Dam) which is the largest in SE Asia. Up stream (on the Chinese side) it is known as the Lixian River where the Six Dams have been placed.


Big body of water...


Perfect spot for a House boat franchise, with a water ski park....just need some tourists with money to come.


This is the last for a few weeks, I am going back to work and won’t have computer access for a bit.
Dec 27, 2007
Looks like you had a fantastic trip! Looking forward to the ret of your report! :happy1:


Feb 16, 2007
Great start to the trip report! But no doubt that VN is a "whole nuther country" vs Thailand. Happy to see everyone made it through intact.


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Wow, how did I miss this one.
That surely looked like a wonderful trip for a good crew from downunder.
It certainly looks like you guys were having a great trip & mixing right in with the locals.

How did it finish up - everything ok?