Discussion in 'Vietnam - Motorcycle Trip Report Forums' started by DavidFL, Oct 2, 2003.

  1. Frank Butler
    is in town.
    He rides a BMW F650 & has just been in Vietnam with his bike.
    I'll try to get him to make a post with some news.
    But if Frank's done it like he says, then he is the first into Vietnam (& safely out again) for a few years.

    Keep the power on
  2. Envelope-to: [email [email protected]][email protected][/email]
    Date: Tue, 18 Nov 2003 01:13:09 +0800
    From: Frank Butler
    Subject: Wouldn't be dead for Quids
    To: David Unkovich
    Reply-to: Frank Butler
    X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2800.1106

    Hi David,

    You may be able to use some of this old dribble on your site as it refers to Vietnam - up 2 u. I would also like to say a quick thanks for taking the time to show me some of the wild north and for all the other help that you were able to give.

    Until next time, you have my best regards...Frank

    Well, after I left Sinoukville on the coast of Cambodia I went back up ti Phnom Penh to sort out the travellers cheque issue, Amex paid up, they made lots of apologies that it had taken so long to settle that matter - over two months, but they were sure that I must understand that with such a large claim - US$ 7,500, they had to be careful. But to be honest I didn't understand and still feel that the whole thing, from beginning to end, was a complete disgrace. It is over now, but I am still a little bitter - can you tell?.

    I had picked up a Vietnamese Visa in Sinhoukville which only took a matter of minutes and cost US$ 30. I went to great lengths to explain that I was taking the bike and needed assurances that this would not cause a problem. They said that the bike would only be allowed to stay for fifteen days but that I was allowed to stay for I would organise this they were not sure. They all came outside to look at the bike and they were unanimous that he was the most 'Det Lam'..beautiful bike that they had ever seen. I stood there like a proud father patting the saddle and agreeing whole heartedly. I asked if they could give me a letter confirming that I would be able to take the bike in. The boss said that it was not possible to issue a letter, because they were Immigration and the final say was with customs and one department could not tell the other what to do, but he was certain that I would not have a problem.

    Off I went down highway 1, which links Phnom Penh in Cambodia directly with Ho Chi Min (Saigon) in Vietnam. The road is fairly ordinary, a few good bits and plenty of bad bits, infact something for everyone "formula GP and dirt biking with a splash of Enduro thrown in for good measure. It should take five or six hours to make the trip depending on traffic.

    All you have to do is keep on Highway 1 and it will lead you straight to the boarder and then on to Saigon - this old name for the city is coming back into fashion again, as Ho Chi Min City doesn't exactly slid of the tongue does it ?

    I followed the road to the market town of Lepong, were it just seemed to fizzle out into a bunch of fruit stalls. I asked the first smiling face that came up to me "which way Vietnam" I would like to think that it was a case off 'opposites attract', but it was probably more like 'birds of a feather'. Anyway the village idiot pointed toward a small road running past a line of shops and said "Vietnam". Being no body's fool I pointed to the other road and said "Vietnam", he shock his head and pointed back at the road going past the shops "Vietnam".. So that was good enough for me, and off I went. Needless to say it was the wrong road. I thought at some point this little lane must join up with the main road because I kept stopping and saying Vietnam and they would point further on down the road. It didn't seem right but they can't all be the village Idiot, can they ?. The road got worse the bridges got smaller and I had to start making detours to cross the bridges that had collapsed...then it started to rain. I should have bought a decent map. I had travelled ninety kilometres at an average speed of twenty kilometres and hour if I was lucky and it was getting late. I finally came across a bunch of young blokes who were sitting an a little lean-to bar drinking rice whiskey and eating deep fried sparrows, or one of their smaller avian cousins, and the beautiful part about this meeting was that two off them spoke some English. I had a slug of the rice fire water and a mouthful of sparrow and this put me in good standing with the Lads most of whom were a little the worse for wear. It turned out that I was only fifteen minutes away from the boarder crossing - not the one that I was aiming for but never the less a boarder crossing, and if I hurried I would get there before they closed. I refused the second glass of the locally made moonshine and jumped back on the bike...I could hardly believe my luck.

    I arrived at the boarder check point in good time. They were very thougher in checking the paper work, the officer said we don't get many farang (foreigner) crossing here...It was no great surprised to hear this. They stamped my Carnet, stamped my passport and said that if I had any problems getting into Vietnam that night I could come back and sleep there, there was no hotel but they would find me a bed. I thought the Cambodians were great from the minute I arrived in their country to the minute I left.

    I rode the bike about five hundred metres down along the south bank of the Mekong river until I came to the Vietnamese check point, it was late about six in the evening and they were all playing volley ball, or was it badminton - whichever. One of the players stoped, as the rest looked on and picked up his uniform shirt. He was only wearing shorts and tennis shoes, but he put his shirt on, brushed back his hair and pointed to the office. So in this semi official state he cleared me into Vietnam. He was not familiar with the procedure for a carnet and all he really wanted was for me to fill in the customs declaration and make mention that I had a bike and put down its registration number on the form. I don't know why - now that I think back on it, but I thought just in case there is a problem it is better to have all the paper work in place I asked him to stamp the Carnet, which took a further fifteen minutes. if I had it all to do again I don't think that I would bother even mentioning the carnet, it just created confusion going into the place and then again on the way out. After all the carnet is not really any advantage to you, it merely insures that if you do not re export the bike the insurance company will pay what ever duty should have been paid when the bike entered. So if they are not fused about it, why should I be.

    By the time that I had finished all the paper work the volley ball game was over and it was already dark. There's no accommodation near the boarder so I had to drive for an hour to the next town. The first thing that I noticed was that the Vietnamese are no where near as reserved as the Cambodians, by comparison they're bordering on a bunch of cheeky bastards. I had to take a river ferry to get across one of the tributaries to the Mekong. I had no local currency, so the ticket guy waved the small fee and said that I could go for free. While I was waiting for the ferry to return the bike started to draw it's usual crowd of motorcycle enthusiasts. These guys were a little different, one guy started pushing up and down on the seat to check the rear suspension and another moved my leg aside so he could have a good look at the engine - I mean I was sitting on the bloody thing while all this was going on. I got off so that they could have a better look, they didn't mean any harm they were just genuinely interested in the bike, and I like bikes so I can understand their interest. When I stood up the all the interest was immediately switched to me. Being exceptionally tall for my height, five feet, ten inches (178cm) they took it in turns to come and stand next to me and measure where they can up to on my shoulder, one of the local giants came level with my nose. The ferry came and I left, quietly hoping to myself that the whole country wasn't going to be like this.

    Getting directions was dam near impossible, but I did eventually find a hotel that was run by a Vietnamese guy that had been brought up in America, so he gave me some local info and changed some dollars for Dong (Vietnamese Pesos). I had dinner at the local market and was the cause of much speculation as to my origin. The food was cheap and tasty and the locals made a big fuss of me, running around to try to find a chair big enough for me to sit in. The market restaurant furniture looked like it had been nicked from a pre-school or Kindergarten...everything in miniature.

    Next day I was on the road early on my way to Saigon. Crossing to the north side of the Mekong river proved to be more challenging than one could reasonable expect, the hardest part was actually finding the ferry, I have come to understand over the past few months that distance is flexible and very much open to interpretation. One Kilometre can equal three hundred metres or close to a mile depending on who is telling the story. At a little service station I met an old guy who had worked with the Americans during the war and was enjoying the opportunity to show-off to the on lookers his linguistic skills, he actually got on his bike and showed me the way to the ferry. We had half an hour to kill before the departure time so he bought me an ice tea and told me a little about his life. Apparently he had been having a rare old time - he had learned English at a Christian mission school as a child and when the Americans had needed interpreters he was a walk-up-start. He was quite well regarded and worked for all the top brass and they looked after him as if he were an old mate, best-of-this, best-off-that. When the Army left his life took a dramatic turn for the worse, basically he was considered a traitor to his own people, he was sent to prison be re-educated for seven years, when he came out after learning the error of his ways the punishment continued, he was not allowed to have a ID card, he could not own or buy land or be employed by the government or any statutory body...consequently no wife - no kids and a life time of shit work. He was remarkably untroubled by all of this and didn't seem to be dirty-on-the-world at all. He actually reminded me a lot of a monk or a priest - very calm, very serine. Latter on I was to meet others like him, who weren't quite so philosophical about the same events.

    The Ferry sounded it's horn to signal that it was time to board. I lined up with all the other (little) bikes and took my turn to race up the boarding ramp, which I did with a remarkable degree of confidence and skill that I do not normally posess. It seems that every little kid or teenager in Vietnam makes their pocket money by selling lottery tickets, if you sit down or even just stand still for half a second someone will be waving a hand full of these tickets in your face. I was standing in the shade with the other passengers waiting for the ferry to finish loading. I was busily miming, smiling and nodding with my fellow motorcycle commuters about how big the bike was and doing lots of twisting motions with my wrist, all the time being constantly interrupted by little ticket sellers using giant smiles and dreadful frowns as part of their sales patter.I had just refused another one when the guy next to me poked me in the arm and pointed to the girl again. I explained that I was just travelling through and wouldn't be there for the draw - but thanks for the offer anyway. He pointed to the girl again and started rubbing his finger and thumb together. The girl pushed the ticket at me again and pointed to the deck - "alright then" I said "I will take one, one for me and one for the bike - one way please...sorry I am not too bright".

    The roads in Vietnam are fairly good, but the road users are really bad, perhaps the worst I have ever seen. I kept being reminded of that old know the one... "what's the last thing that goes through a grasshoppers mind when he hits a trucks windscreen - His Arsehole". So I was heading towards Saigon trying to keep my arsehole out of my mind...and that's not a joke. These guys come around a corner three abreast and make no apologies, between the trucks, dogs, and cows I am surprised that there is anyone left alive in Vietnam. I am not even going to mention the millions of maniacs on little bikes...alright I know, I just did.

    Rush hour in Saigon lasts about as long as happy hour in a Bangkok Girly Bar, that is too say all day and most of the night. There are not that many cars in the city but they make up for that by having more motorbikes per square foot than any other city in the world - I swear it's true. Apart from the horrendous traffic Saigon is a very nice city. It has tree lined avenues, good hotels and guesthouses, all the goods and services that you could ever wish for and some of the most industrious inhabitants that I have ever seen. The food is great and there is still a strong legacy of the French colonial era - bread, pastries. wine, cafes, and archicture. All-in-all not a bad town, but my visa was for fifteen days only and I had to travel the length of the country in that time so there was no time to hang around any where for too long, so I was soon on the road again.

    Na trang is a coastal town and is something akin to Australia's Surfers Paradise or Brazil's Rio De Janeiro, except a lot smaller and much quieter, but never the less a lovely town. It is Vietnams Scuba diving Capital and a popular holiday destination for locals and foreigners alike. The town council/local government are spending big bucks landscaping the seaside boulevards and generally making the place more attractive. I was looking to meet up with a guy called Jeremy Stein, who runs an outfit called Rainbow Divers I had promised Fred in Cambodia that I would talk to him and see if they could set up a referral network between the two operations. I found him at the Sailing club and we had a chat about the possibilities and I left it for them to sort out the details. I met a nice German girl called Beatrice over on holidays from Hamburg and we hung out for a couple of days. Then it was time to continue the trip north, basically I was following the main Highway up the coast and with eighteen hundred kilometres to cover I could not afford to stop anywhere too long.Three hundred kilometres a day is big driving in this country, you really have to concentrate and keep the radar on maximum the whole time.

    As anyone who has ever observed teenagers can testify, particularly the female variety, they have an uncanny capacity for conversation. Western teenagers indulge this passion with incessant use of the mobile phone. Vietnamese young ladies do so by going for rides on their motorscooters four abreast, all the time jabbering madly and gesticulating profusely whilst paying no attention to other road users and laughing constantly. This practice would be considered rather charming if it were not for the traffic hazard that it presents. So if the jabbering girlies, the kamikaze truckies, the bastards in the buses, Bovine beasts, Crazy Canines, and myopic motorists don't run you off the road or simple knock you over, then some dickhead on a revved up moped will want to race you, he will let you know this by cutting in front off you and wiggling his tail as-it-were and then taking off with more noise than speed, he will repeat this little exercise until either his mum calls him on his mobile and tells him its time for his bed or you get the shits, give your wrist a twist and just leave him behind. It would be fair to say that driving a bike in Vietnam is never dull. The country is often breath taking and on the whole the people are friendly enough, but lack the warmth of their close neighbours in Lao and Cambodia.

    For more stories and scary tales go to

    Keep the power on
  3. Hi David, I have just enjoyed your account of what seems to be a rare event: A BIG bike (and biker) getting into Viet Nam. I am in the planning stage for a trip starting next April/May to go overland to Thailand (where my Thai wife and I have a place in Hua Hin). I would love to be able to travel by 'road' the whole way (without using a plane from Katmandu or where ever, if possible). So your account has come like a breath of fresh air to me and, no doubt, several other bikers. You did not name the border you used to cross into Vn, do you think that it is generally possible to use any border or do you think that place was a one off? My intended mode of transport is a GL1100 Aspencade Goldwing, what are your views about this? (i.e: too big etc) I look forward to reading your future posts, I enjoy your style of writing. Good luck with your travels and may your arse stay out of your mind :)
    Oletimer (George)
  4. George
    The Vietnam trip report was from Frank Butler himself, I just copied & pasted the email he sent me.
    I don't like your chances getting too far in Cambodia with the GL1100 Aspencade, before you start dropping it in the rough dirt & potholes.
    Take a look at
    to get an idea of what it can be like.
    Your best bet might be to fly in & rent a dirt bike in PP & ride from there.
    Contact Jim at
    for anymore info.

    I’ve just come back from Luang Prabang in Laos, & hear that there are supposed to be another couple of new border crossings open between Laos & Vietnam. I will check it out & see what I can find out.

    Keep the power on

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