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stanegoli 05-05-2013 03:52 PM

VIETNAM - 30 Day Honda XL 250 Father/Son Ride
Distance 5233km/3252 miles

Roadkill 1 chicken, one chick

Falls 1

Shortly after graduating from college my 24 year old son took off on walkabout all over the world, traveling extensively in Europe, Egypt, Turkey, south-east Asia and India. He climbed mountains, went trekking, and generally set about having a blast. Early in his trip he emailed me and asked if I would like to join him about six months later in Vietnam, a country I had long wanted to visit for a motorcycle trip.

And so it began: at the end of April 2013 I met Zach in Hanoi and so began our epic adventure. I have ridden bikes since I was a youngster. I raced MX in my early twenties and have ridden a Triumph Tiger since 2006 on which I have accumulated a lot of mileage. Zach is new to motorcycling having bought his first ride, a Honda Saber 750, shortly before he left on his travels.
Vietnam is awash with motorcycles and they are easily available for rent or purchase. Problem is they are mostly small bikes under 135cc with a few 175cc bikes available. Not being one content to dawdle along on an underpowered bike I really wanted to find something larger. This proved quite a struggle but through a fortuitous meeting in a coffee shop in Kathmandu we learned of a guy in Hanoi that had Honda XL 250's for rent. We ended up securing these bikes equipped with oversize Baja fuel tanks and heavy duty luggage racks.

I spent months on the route preparation using ADV ride reports and the Rough Guide as my primary sources. Ultimately we ended up deviating from our planned route to an extent based upon experience we gained as we traveled. This is the route we followed:

This ride report will basically follow our day-to-day progress and there will be LOTS of pics. Hope you enjoy this. Suggestions as to how I can improve the ride report as I progress are welcome

Day One
We were packed and ready to leave by 8:00am. Hanoi is a hectic city and difficult to navigate if you don't know your way around. Not wanting to get lost trying to leave town I hired a local to lead us out of town on his bike. Here we are moments before our departure:

Our gear looks so nice and clean - things would not stay that way for very long
Leaving town was, as expected, hectic. The early morning traffic was pretty crazy. We managed to stay with our "guide" despite a few stalls on bikes we did not yet know. Eventually we reached the outer areas of town and took off on our own. The first hour or two were pretty boring as we escaped the urban area but as we got further into the countryside it started getting prettier and prettier with very little traffic. We turned off the main road and started hitting some nice twisty country roads. Eventually we stopped for our first break and got a preview of the awesome scenery that would soon become commonplace:

We continued riding until we reached our destination for the day, Nghia Lo. We found a nice hotel on the edge of town with a clean, spacious room for $16 and settled in. We took off to explore the town and this was the view from the back of the hotel:

Quite a start to our adventure!!
Just around the corner we had an experience that was to become commonplace during our trip - meeting locals who rarely see Westerners and were totally intrigued by us. We walked by a few guys drinking fresh sugar cane juice pressed by the vendor standing alongside them and were promptly treated to a round of juice by a friendly local.
We continued walking into town and soon ran upon another scene that was to become a favorite staple of our trip - the local market. This was our first time seeing a local market and we were quite taken with the riot of color, the variety of fruits, the raw meats of all descriptions, and most of all the people. We had already reached the area where the minority tribes are located and many of the ladies were dressed in similar fashion to this smiling face:

We tried some interesting street food, found some dinner with beer for about $4, and eventually made our way back to the hotel after a really cool first day.

Total mileage for the day - 180 km (112 miles).

Roadinator 05-05-2013 05:28 PM

Looks like a great trip. Can't wait for more!

stanegoli 05-05-2013 05:50 PM

Day Two

The first day we had headed north-west out of Hanoi. Day two we continued in the same direction. The first 80 kms we road smooth pavement but the road then deteriorated to broken pavement and gravel. Basically the road was breaking up and for 50 kms it was quite gnarly with lots of dirt, but no problem. We crossed over three mountain passes.

This is typical of the scenery early in the day:

This is typical of what we were seeing a little further on:

It was not a long riding day and we reached our destination, Than Uyen, early in the afternoon. We found a decent hotel room at $15 and after unpacking took off to check out the town. There was a river running through the town with a lot of muddy areas alongside. Some women were trudging through the heavy mud, in the hot sun, collecting tiny shrimp.

While having a drink on the sidewalk this passed by us:

Soon we found the local market. We had not seen a Westerner since we left Hanoi and it soon became apparent that the locals were quite intrigued by us. Kids were following us around, teasing us and engaging us in play. The adults had big smiles and seemed quite taken with us, lots of interaction between us. Communicating was quite a problem though as nobody spoke a lick of English, and we spoke no Vietnamese. The market was a riot of color with clothing, fruit, meats, vegetables, meat and seafood.

The fish sellers were particularly friendly:

A lady who seemed more educated than the others and spoke broken English engages us in conversation with many questions of where we were from and what we were doing. She then taught us what was to become the most used Vietnamese word on our trip, pronounced phonetically "bow-ni-yoo" - how much does it cost?

We found a few decent road food items and then went to a restaurant for what would become the staple of our trip - beef noodle soup known as beef pho.

Total mileage for the day: 145 kms (91 miles)

mrphotoman 05-05-2013 06:11 PM

Thanks for the post, I hope to visit Vietnam in the next year or so. I will be following your thread!

stanegoli 05-05-2013 06:27 PM

Day Three

The day began in very interesting fashion: at breakfast in the local restaurant there was a group of guys at the table next to us slamming down shot after shot with their breakfast. Soon their attention turned to us and one of them came to join us at our table. Very friendly to say the least. The guy was offering us shots and trying really hard to get us to join in the party. Now drinking before I ride is not something I commonly do :deal and slamming down shots at 7:00 am is also not my habit :eek1
Anyway we had fun together. He gave me a Vietnamese bill and I responded with a dollar bill which he promptly folded so that George Washington's face was to the front and placed it in his wallet with George facing out from behind the plastic. Soon enough they hopped on their bikes and rode off to work and we rode out of town.
We were barely one mile from town when the scenery turned really beautiful with the limestone karst hills that are typical of the north country rising out of the vibrant green valley floor rice paddies.
The pavement was in good condition as we headed north. After 60 kms we turned east heading toward the town of Sapa, toward the mountains:

Soon I hit one of the best motorcyling roads I have ever ridden. The road climbed ever higher and higher into the mountains, one twisty after another. The pavement was in very good condition with one exception - every couple of hundred yards there was a pile of gravel blocking the lane that had been placed for road repair by a crew that I soon passed. Nonetheless it was an exhilarating ride. We were on the highest pass in Vietnam, Tram Ton Pass.

Zach had sped away when I stopped but we soon met up on the outskirts of Sapa after 30 kms of giggle-inducing joy. We descended into the pretty town of Sapa spectacularly located in high mountains with views of both the mountains and the valley stretching out below. We found a decent hotel room for $15 with a great view of the mountains, unpacked our gear and then headed out for a ride. And oh what a ride it was. There is a narrow road of broken pavement and gravel that leads out along the mountain through many small villages and hamlets. By now I had regained confidence in my dirt biking skills and Zach was doing great. We sped off on the road zipping along catching air over jumps formed by steep short climbs and drop-offs. In hindsight we realized we had ridden way too fast through this populated area but at the time we were feeling our oats and just wanted to let it rip, which we did :lol3
We the descended to the valley floor, crossed over a bridge and started to climb steep and narrow single track on the far side. We passed some isolated hamlets linked by narrow paths. The riding was very technical and we did great with no falls. Toward evening we turned around and headed back the way we had come, once again riding at pace. I was so into the ride I only stopped a few times to take photos, this being one:

Many tourists visit Sapa, which is really a nice town, and it has some lovely restaurants. We dined on a lovely 4 course meal for $5 with 75c beers! The day had been one of the best riding days of my life and we were totally pumped.:freaky

While I had been looking for a hotel room Zach struck up a conversation with a local lady who asked if we were interested in a homestay the following night. We agreed to meet her early the following day.

Total mileage for the day was mere 120 kms (75 miles).
Fun factor was 10++ :clap

stanegoli 05-05-2013 07:40 PM

Day Four

Early in the morning we met up with Vang, the lady who had offered us a homestay yesterday. She offered to show us around the local villages before we headed to her place so she hopped on Zach's bike and off we went:

We rode about 15 kms along some of the same roads we had ridden yesterday but then off in a different direction. We dropped down into the valley and rode to a small village, all the way along narrow dirt and broken pavement roads. We stopped at a restaurant alongside a river and Vang set about arranging some lunch. Zach and I took the opportunity to shoot some photos and do a little local riding.

These three ladies crossed the bridge and provided a good photo op:

Zach on the bridge:

Vang, our host:

With her limited English Vang explained to us that her house did not have a "toily" (which I eventually figured out meant "toilet" after, in response to my question if they were Christian or Buddhist, she explained that although her daughter went to "catholy" school they were not "catholy"!). So she proposed that we should spend the night at the house of another lady whose house had a "toily" after having dinner at her house. So we rode with her on Zach's bike to her village and she directed us to a house where we left the bikes and set out on a hike - a hike straight up the hills into the tiered rice paddies surrounding the village.

Up we go, Vang and me

In the far north it was still planting season at the high altitude. The farmers were preparing the tiered paddies for planting. This fellow was using his water buffalo to prepare the tier, going back and forth creating the furrows:

The hike was pretty intense, at least for an old guy like me. Zach is a bit of a billy goat, especially after climbing in the Himalayas and Mont Blanc on his travels, and he bounded up leaving me way behind. The villagers had erected sophisticated irrigation systems and really had quite a neat set up.
In the evening we made our way over to Vangs' house where we met her family and they prepared dinner for us. The housing is very primitive, dirt floor, single room structure with separated areas for cooking and living space. The sleeping area was in a hay loft above. Electricity was hooked up to the village about 5 years ago and they do have TV and limited lighting. It was quite dark inside, this not being evident in my photos due to the flash lighting up the scene.

Vang preparing dinner:

Zach with Vang and her family

After spending a few hours with Vang and her family she walked us back to where we were spending the night, the house of a lovely lady who earns a living by basically running a primitive inn at which she provides board and lodging to Westerners who come to the area for hiking and home stays. There were four Canadians and their local guide, a man and woman from England (who were volunteering as English teachers at a school in Sapa), the homeowner and her helper. As we arrived they were all sitting down to dinner. We joined them thinking we would just enjoy their company and not eat but once we tasted the delicious food we had no option but to join in :D

We spent a fun evening with the group and enjoyed our stay.

Comrade Art 05-05-2013 08:24 PM

Enjoying the story and pics :thumb

Watercat 05-05-2013 08:53 PM

Nice ! ! ! ! !


Hoping to do the Vietnam trip soon.

stanegoli 05-05-2013 09:55 PM

Hey Comrade Art!!
So nice to hear from you, and now you are enjoying my ride report.

A shout out to Art for his input early in my planning, which gave me the confidence to go for it!!:nod

Comrade Art 05-05-2013 10:36 PM


Originally Posted by stanegoli (Post 21341444)
Hey Comrade Art!!
So nice to hear from you, and now you are enjoying my ride report.

A shout out to Art for his input early in my planning, which gave me the confidence to go for it!!:nod

Thanks. Hope the Go-Pro camera came in handy.

stanegoli 05-05-2013 10:37 PM

Day Five

This was the day we expected the ride to get serious, and we were not disappointed!
We are now heading due north intending to hit the Chinese border, and then start moving east.

The day started out with an easy and very scenic ride to the large town of Lao Cai. Here for the first time my GPS proved worth all the hassle of setting it up by steering us through the complicated route through and out of this town with no fuss. Uh, well that is until we hit Hwy 70. Somehow my GPS missed the critical turn to head us north toward Muong Khuong. We headed about 20 miles off course in an easterly direction. I knew something was very wrong when the Garmin told me to turn south. I knew we had no southerly routes unitl late in the day, so what the heck is up :huh
Stopped the bikes and of course, as we later found out, the biggest problem is to figure out exactly where you are. Asking locals is a dangerous thing to do as they usually have no idea where their town is located. They look at the maps and are seeing foreign objects. So we had a bunch of locals arguing about where we were right then. Eventually it seemed the only lady in the group was the smartest and had the best idea of where we were - she seemed real certain of herself, it jibed with where I figured we ought to be, and the men seemed, well.....a bit clueless. So following her gestures (no one spoke a word of English) we did a U turn and headed back the way we came. About 18 miles later I see a sign for the road we wanted heading north. We took the turn and followed a lovely road up through pretty scenery. We stopped to take a look at the scenery and a passing couple on a scooter stopped to talk. Turned out to be a German tourist who had hired a female guide on a scooter to show him the area. I was VERY impressed. She was the cutest, sharpest dressed guide I had ever come across. Very nice! Smart German! Onward north we went. Finally near Mujong Khuong we came upon the road up to the Chinese border, a 17 km detour. Off we went in the direction of China and soon enough we arrived at the border post, China not 25 yards away. Immediately behind this pic of Zach is the border gate and on the other side is China.

We then went back to Muong Khuong and started heading east, and immediately conditions became very tough. Totally messed up road, very rough, under construction. Harsh riding conditions. But the scenery remained great. We climbed up into the mountains and were now riding parallel to China about 20 miles, at most, from the border. The tough conditions continued for 130 kms, by far the most difficult riding of the trip to date. It was very isolated. There were no villages, no pedestrians, no road signs to reassure us we were on the right track, only the occasional motorcycle loaded down with large sacks of goods of some sort (probably coming in from China). It was difficult to be sure we were on the correct road but there were so few roads in the area how could we be wrong. Well we weren't wrong fortunately, but it was a long hard ride only made easier by how beautiful it was.
Our destination for the day was the town of Bac Ha which has a large weekly market attracting minority groups from far and wide. Fortunately our plans had worked out such that we were going to be in town the next morning on market day and we planned on visiting the market before leaving town. Finally after a few small villages, and stops to ask if we were on the correct road, we reached what we thought was the town of Bac Ha. I asked a local if this was Bac Ha and he grunted reassuringly. There was a large but empty market area so it all looked right. But the town was really small for one so renowned for its' market, and we could not locate the main intersection or few hotels mentioned in the Rough Guide. Of course as usual no one spoke any English. We spent at least 45 frustrating minutes going up and down, all the side roads, everywhere, trying to locate a hotel.....but nothing of the like to be found. Finally a passing truck driver spoke to us. In his reasonably understandable English he told us Bac Ha was another 30 kms further down the road!:nono
So off we went in search of Bac Ha. Finally toward evening, tired and worn out, we reached Bac Ha. Much larger than the hamlet we had mistaken for the town. We soon found a hotel, pretty darn nice and $20, checked in and headed for the shower. We were really, really dirty by now.
We took some time to walk around town, had a reasonably decent dinner, quite a few beers, and then headed for bed, totally wasted. It had been an epic day, the first really hard, tough day of the trip.

Total distance for the day, tough miles, 240 kms (150 miles)

Throttlemeister 05-06-2013 03:10 AM

Good stuff. Nice shirt too btw. What no pics of the hottie scooter guide:ddog


Marine By Choice 05-06-2013 05:39 AM

I'm really looking forward to this report. I spent over three years in Vietnam, one year "up north" and two years in Saigon during my military days. Have considered a trip such as yours for a couple years. Looks like things have calmed down a but since I left in 1970! Be safe.

bbtowns 05-06-2013 11:04 AM

Awesome so far
Can't wait for more Stan. So nice to see that red stitch getting a second life, it sat around for way too long in a closet. Damn that looks fun. You'll have to share your photos of the hottie tour guide with me in private apparently!

JNXPILOT 05-06-2013 11:36 AM

I too spent some time there '71-'72 and would love to be making this ride with you! Maybe some day...:hmmmmm:hmmmmm:hmmmmm

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