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Old 10-30-2012, 01:49 PM   #91
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Yep - if you have the time and inclination to write 'em some of us out here are waiting to read 'em.
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Old 10-30-2012, 03:58 PM   #92
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Fantastic ride report Jedum1 ! One of the few , best reports about Viet Nam . It's a great read how easy you managed to interact with locals and put myself into your shoes when '' cultural moments '' happened .
Thank you,
-zie egret .
Mads Mikkelsen - '' I'm a beer man. I tried to drink whiskey and Scotch but I don't get it. It smells like a girl who didn't shower and just splashed a lot of perfume on . ''
Jack FM - '' Vampires , what a pain in the neck ! ''
Unknown - '' I've learned to give away not because I have too much but because I know how is to have nothing . ''
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Old 10-30-2012, 05:38 PM   #93
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Old 01-02-2013, 01:47 PM   #94
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Working on it!

Setting some time aside today and tomorrow to get something new up. Going to take some time to get oriented. Got a lot of notes and images to sort through. Hope I can still piece it all together. Thanks for hanging in there with me, and for all the kind words!
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Old 01-04-2013, 01:08 PM   #95
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DAY 8 - Finally!

Hey everyone. It’s been a while. Sorry for the delay! Been a rough year. Between work and some physical issues, the report slipped off of the priority list. It might be slow going, but I’m going to do my best to finish this thing. Thanks again for the encouraging words, and for hanging in there with me.


Had a rough time the night before. The room next to me had been occupied by what sounded like a Chinese bachelor party. This coupled with filthy sheets; no mattress and my angst about following a guide for the next couple of days didn’t make for the best nights sleep. I woke up an hour and a half before my alarm was set to go off, and figured I’d be better off just getting up. Looking back, I’m glad I got up early. It gave me plenty of time to pack up, find an ATM, and grab a bite.

I found a small food cart just around the corner from my hotel. For roughly fifty cents you got a margarine-toasted baguette stuffed with pâté, pickled vegetables, cilantro and chili sauce. I ordered three. Half way through the second one, my guide came wandering up for some breakfast of his own. He didn’t seem very happy to see me. We had scheduled an 8am meet up in the lobby of the hotel, and it was only 7:30. I got the sense that he felt like he was now officially on the clock. I powered through the rest of my food and told him I ‘d see him at 8.

He showed up at 8:10. Normally this wouldn’t have been a big deal for me, but I was already resentful that I had to have a guide. I had also been thinking about how difficult the process of landing on a price had been the day before. You’d think they would have had a fixed cost, but it took them almost an hour to come up with a number. My lack of sleep wasn’t helping things. I was in a bitter mood, and him showing up late when I knew he was just around the block made me even more irritable. I took a couple of deep breaths, and tried to center myself. All is well! You are going to have a wonderful day! Just relax! This mantra was short lived unfortunately.

We had only gotten a few minutes out of town when we passed over a river that I wanted to get a shot of. I franticly waved for my guide to pull over, but I couldn’t get close enough to get his attention. Although we were both riding 125cc’s, his was thirty years newer, about seventy pounds lighter, and it wasn’t carrying a 250lb round eye. So catching him on a hill was nearly impossible. Eventually I was able to close the gap, and get him to the side of the road (well after the point I wanted to get a shot of). The location was still nice so I snapped a couple of shots, only to have him keep repeating, “Better spot. Better spot.” as he pointed up the road. Okay, I’ll take pictures there as well, but right now I want a shot of this spot. He seemed aggravated that this was the spot I wanted to shoot. He continued to pace, smoke and text on his phone, as I grabbed a few shots. I was feeling rushed, and I didn’t like it.
My Guide and his phone.

After stowing my camera, we set back out. I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but as I got further, and further into this trip I noticed that I was spending more and more time talking to myself while riding. As my guide and I continued to blow by scenic wonders that begged to be captured on my memory card, I went next level with my schizophrenic conversations. I got to the point where I was literally screaming at the top of my lungs. “SLOW THE FUCK DOWN!!!”. “FUCKING STOP!!!”. “LOOK IN ONE OF YOUR FUCKING MIRRORS!!!”. It was getting ugly. I can’t remember a time I was so angry. Every time I would get close to his scooter we’d hit an incline or tight curve that would cause me to loose my momentum. I screamed like a mad man for at least a half hour before he finally pulled to the side of the road.

I asked him if he had seen me trying to wave him down, or if this was the “Better spot” he had refereed to earlier? Nope, he never saw me. This was the first “photo op” spot on the tour. Although it was actually a really nice view I choose not to take out my camera. I was too frustrated, and stubborn to give him the satisfaction. I’m sure I showed him.
I couldn’t go on like this. I was going to have an aneurism. I explained that I couldn’t keep up with him, and that I really wanted to stop when I saw something worth photographing. I asked to run up in front, so he could see when I wanted to pull over. Simple. He agreed and we headed out. After a mile or two I pulled over, and without even looking in my direction he flew right by me. My first thought was, “Holy shit! I need to catch up with him.” My second thought was “I’ve got the receipt for the permit, and I registered with the police. I’m legit.” A calming wave of goodness washed over me. For the moment, I was on my own. For the moment, I was free.

I always wanted to cross a rickety bridge on a motorcycle. This was the best I could come up with. It wasn’t really that rickety, and it wasn’t heading in the direction I needed to go. So I just rode over it, took a picture, then crossed back over on to the main road. When you tell your friends, try and make it sound more treacherous.

Heading towards Quan Ba.

A bit closer to Quan Ba, but not much. You can see by the amount of stops I made in just 15km, why I’m better off on my own.

So roughly an hour has gone by, and no guide. The scenery is like nothing I’ve ever seen. The roads are chock full of curves, and even though I can’t get out of first gear on these hills, I’m enjoying myself. I’m in a great mood. Then I round a curve and see this.

That’s my guide at predetermined spot number 2, surrounded by Muong children. Looking back, it may very well have been a coincidence, but at the time I was convinced that this was pre planned. They weren’t selling anything, but I had been made aware that the Muong people had begun posing for tourist pictures, expecting payment after the fact. It’s not a pattern of behavior I wanted to reinforce, so I left my good camera in the bag. I would like to note that of all the people that were kind enough to let me photograph them, only two expected payment. So although the claims about hustling foreign shutterbugs may very well be true, I didn’t see much of it.

After looking at the view for a few moments I let him know that I wanted to keep riding. Once again he sprinted past me, not to be seen for another hour. No worries. I figured at some point we’d bump into each other again, so I just putted along until I rolled through a small cluster of small houses along the road. There were a couple of children playing by the side of the road. They waved, screaming “Hello” at the top of their lungs. This impromptu encounter was more in line with what I was hoping for. Not a staged photo op orchestrated by a tour company. As I pulled over, the few became many. By the time I had stepped off the bike nine of them had grouped together. As always, smiles a plenty.

Their front yard.

Rode a bit further up the road into another town.

Trusty “Ole Blue”.

This kind of structure is pretty common in all of the small towns I passed through, but there are usually a bunch of them. This was the only multi-story building in 20km.

And just down the road.

Once again, it’s taken about an hour to cross paths with my guide. This time he’s parked on concrete slab that contained roughly twenty parking spaces (all empty). At the end of the vacant parking lot was a small building with a thatched roof, and a stairwell that ran up the side of a large hill. Great another tourist attraction. I considered just waving him on, but I was in a better mood than I was earlier, and realized he was just doing his job. Not to mention the fact that most people probably really enjoy having someone point out these sites. Hell they probably expect it. I decided to let go of my piss pore attitude and give the guy a break. I’m glad I did. Although the walk up was a bit of a struggle, it was well worth it. The valley below was gorgeous.

As soon as we hit the bottom, my guide was off again. Although I’d dropped my negative attitude it seemed pretty clear at this point that my “legal” need for a guide was less about protecting the area from outsiders, and more about the $20 permit fee. He was doing nothing to regulate or restrict my access. Oh well, it was a small price to pay to be surrounded by this landscape, and as the trip progressed I realized that without him I would have missed out on a number of experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

It had been a while since I filled up, and I was getting a little worried about running dry. About ten minutes after genuine concern set in, my little guy started sputtering. This wasn’t a good thing. I’d already learned the hard way that the reserve valve on this thing was sketchy at best. I was kicking myself for not taking the time to locate some fuel before we left. I had all that extra time, and I squandered it. My guide was gone, traffic was almost non-existent, and even if I found a roadside vendor I knew they wouldn’t have oil. Where the hell was my guide? Wasn’t he supposed to be taking care of refueling? Oh yeah, I spent the whole day trying to get rid of him. Good job Chad! You’ve stepped in it now. What the hell are you going to do if… Wait! What’s that up ahead?

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen any fuel that day, then smack dab in the middle of the valley I had just been looking down on, this place appears.

I literally pulled in on nothing but fumes. When I cued up I killed the engine, and I couldn’t get it started again. I popped the lid at the pump and couldn’t see an ounce of fuel in the tank. The petrol gods where smiling on me that day. After waiting about fifteen minutes for my turn, I was back under way.

The next time I bumped into my guide I was glad I did. He had parked at a fork in the road, and motioned for me to follow him to the left. This was in the opposite direction of our final destination. I know that if he wouldn’t have been there I would have stayed the course and blown right by the village he took me to. Here’s what I would have missed.

Although we split up again after the village, I only made it a few miles up the road before I saw him stopped again. He was on a ridge overlooking a number of rice terraces. Turns out I was there at the wrong time of year. All the rice had been harvested in this region. Still a pretty striking view.

My guide asked me if I wanted some water from the store below. I hadn’t had anything to drink since we left that morning, so I was due, but I hadn’t remembered passing any store. Yet again, I was glad he was there. I thought this place was some kind of repair shop.

He ran down while I snapped a few more picks, and returned with a couple of bottles. Then he asked me if I liked sugar cane. I’d never tried raw sugar cane before, so I was keen to give it a try. We left the bikes on the side of the road, and made our way to the shop. The owner excitedly waved me over. After frantically shaking my hand, he grabbed a small piece of cardboard, set it on a bag of rice and gestured for me to sit. My guide (I hate that I don’t remember his name) placed our order, and the old man got to work cutting a full size stalk into more manageable pieces.

I just stared blankly at it after being handed a piece. Luckily my guide was there to walk me through it. In just a matter of seconds he had used his teeth to strip the outer husk, exposing the sweet pulp inside. It took me a bit more time to tear through mine. A lot more time actually. Once I clumsily got it striped I was instructed to bite off a de-husked section and chew on it until it lost its flavor. At that point you simply stand up, walk to the edge of the road and spit it over the side. After we’d each worked our way through our mid morning treat we engaged in some more hand shaking, a quick bummed cigarette, and we were off again.

My guide stayed pretty close to me for the next leg. It was time for us to eat, and he wanted to stop in the next town. The scenery started to change pretty dramatically as we got to higher elevations. It was beautiful, but because my guide had been such a good sport I chose to stick close, and limit my photo stops. I know I was starving and I’d powered through three breakfast sandwiches to his one.

The only shot from that leg.

We got to the restaurant at around 2pm. I’d been struggling when ordering food, so it was pretty nice to have someone that actually knew what he was ordering. It ended up being a pretty simple meal, but it hit the spot.

The next thing that happened really put me in my place. I had been having some issues with my camera, and was fidgeting with it while we were eating. Across from us where two monks, that had politely greeted us when we first came in. One seemed to be in his twenties, and the other in his teens. The whole time I had my camera out, the older monk kept staring at it and commenting to his younger friend. At one point he came over and motioned for it. In my arrogant American mind, I was convinced that this must have been some once in a lifetime moment for him. WOW, a magical device that can capture our likenesses. I set it to Auto mode and handed it over. After fumbling around with some buttons he handed it back, pointing to the LCD screen. He’d managed to pull up the last image I’d taken. I thought this was the result of him randomly hitting buttons, until I noticed his Nikon D300 sitting in the chair next to the younger monk. He wasn’t mesmerized by my piece of first world technology. He just wanted to see some of the shots I’d taken. I felt like every big fat boisterous American stereotype that I try and distance myself from. After looking at some of the shots on his camera I felt even more embarrassed. This Vietnamese monk was taking better shots than some of the professional photographers I work for, and definitely out shooting me. Luckily this was all played out internally. I don’t think anything I actually did came off as condescending. I’m just glad I saw his camera before I made a fool of myself. One more lesson learned.

Just one more encounter with the incredibly generous people of Vietnam.

Not long after our lunch, the cover that protected my air filter popped off. Luckily I felt it hit my leg. Who knows how much I would have been dinged for returning it without what I’m sure the owner would claim to be a vitally important and expensive piece? Turned out the bolt that held it on was just behind me. Lucked out once again. I knew my tool kit didn’t have any kind of a wrench, so hand tight had to do. This would bite me later in the trip.

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful in terms of drama, or chance encounters with the locals. Just a great ride (and a lot of photo stops) for the next three and a half hours.

Made it into Dong Van a little before 6pm. I can’t for the life of me remember where or how I hooked up with my guide, but we managed to reconnect, and he checked me into the hotel.

Looking across the street from the hotel.

View from my patio.

The room was a good size, but once again, my sheets had been slept in. This one had an added twist. I got the previous guest’s damp towels. You can see them in the lower right corner of the picture below.
Travel tip #1: Don’t forget to bring a towel.

We met down in the lobby once I got my gear stowed, and he took me out to dinner. Another simple meal, but very satisfying.

After we ate he offered to take me out for a coffee, but I was beat. We had made plans to meet at 7am the following morning and I was already running on back up power. I knew I’d regret not going, but I needed sleep. I just hoped that my new neighbors would be a bit less vocal tonight. Turns out I used up all my luck with the gas situation earlier. As soon as we walked into the lobby it was clear that tonight was going to be another rough one. The little room was packed with young locals, each shouting to be heard over the TV that was blaring in front of them. Apparently “Who Wants to Be a Millionare” marathons are all the rage in these parts, because for the next three plus hours I listened to muffled theme music, and a group of people that seemed disproportionately excited about the contestants answers. According to my watch, this went on until exactly 12:17am.

Travel tip #2: Always bring earplugs.

My day had started out rocky, and wasn’t closing much better, but ultimately these two bookends were a very small part of an absolutely incredible day.

Hopefully I’ll have day 9 up sooner than later. Thanks for being patient!
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Old 01-04-2013, 01:36 PM   #96
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truly great report !! thanks for getting back to it, made my day.
That'L do Pig,, That'L do
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Old 01-04-2013, 02:50 PM   #97
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Great photo's still enjoying the read.
You took the right course in the end and stopped when you wanted, they always come and look for you if you wait long enough. It's against the rules to loose the tourists
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Old 01-04-2013, 09:14 PM   #98
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I had a guide that I more or less followed until Meo Vac. I told him I was going out the back way to Cao Bang. After he left I circled around and back to Dong Van and stayed at that same hotel again. They just rented me a room with no questions.
There was no way I was not going to take my time through that spectacular canyon !!! Next day I rode back and forth through the gorge and then went to Cao Bang.
You are seeing some really breath taking geography. Thanks for taking me along.
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Old 01-05-2013, 01:21 AM   #99
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This is great reading, and I love the pics.

My brother and his wife are going to Vietnam when they tour SE Asia next month - I'll tell them to take towels and ear plugs

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Old 01-09-2013, 10:55 AM   #100
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Originally Posted by Pete_Tallahassee View Post
I had a guide that I more or less followed until Meo Vac. I told him I was going out the back way to Cao Bang. After he left I circled around and back to Dong Van and stayed at that same hotel again. They just rented me a room with no questions.
There was no way I was not going to take my time through that spectacular canyon !!! Next day I rode back and forth through the gorge and then went to Cao Bang.
You are seeing some really breath taking geography. Thanks for taking me along.
Well played! It's such an amazing place. Glad you got the opportunity to see it unencumbered.
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