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Old 05-08-2013, 02:45 PM   #31
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Day 12

Our original plans had called for us to spend two to three days/nights on Ha Long Bay but after one night there both Zach and I felt we had seen enough. It was nice but way too many tourists, especially considering we had just come from the far north where, for most of the time, we were the only Westerners in town. Guess we became addicted to that celebrity status. The area was beautiful but we just felt we had seen enough and it was time to move on.

Also our original route plan had called for Day 12 to be a very long ride to some minority villages west of Hanoi. With our newfound knowledge we realized it would just be too long of a ride - we would arrive at our destination in the evening and then have to leave early in the morning, so what was the point?

Meanwhile before we started out in Hanoi I met a Russian, Ilya, who had just ridden up on a Minsk from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi on the Ho Chi Minh trail. He showed me some photos from a town called Ninh Binh that looked way cool. I had not heard of Ninh Binh and it was not on our plans, but now we decided to head to Ninh Binh which we could reach sometime in the afternoon. Continuing on from Ninh Binh to our originally planned route would be easy. So we left Ha Long Bay and headed off, our route calling for us to stay primarily on Hwy 10.

We spent most of the day on Hwy 10, a major highway (and also the first major highway we traveled on our trip), except for short sections when we could detour on smaller backroads. And this is what I have to say: insanity....madness....lunacy. I learned very quickly that, outside of the major cities, the Vietnamese are quite simply the worst drivers anyone could ever imagine. At the top of the madness scale are the bus drivers. They drive at high speed with absolutely no regard for any other users of the road. They overtake at whim, on blind bends, with streams of traffic coming toward them, whatever. As they careen toward you in your lane you have a simple choice: get off the road or get killed. Very simple. A solid no passing line, if such a thing exists, has no meaning whatsoever. The basic rule of the road is "if I am bigger than you get out of the way or die". So next in line after the busses are the trucks. While usually not as bad as the busses they also drive with no regard for others. And then the mini-bus and van drivers....they are perhaps even more dangerous because their vehicles are more nimble so they will pull out into the oncoming lane despite oncoming motorcycles. Of course, above bicycles, motorcycles are at the bottom of the food chain. I am convinced Vietnamese bus drivers are trained killers. They simply have no idea of road manners, road sense, courtesy. And the car drivers too have no clue. Twice, on two-lane sections, I saw cars simply stop in the middle of major highway traffic and execute multiple-turn U turns. So vehicles behind them and those coming toward them all have to screech to a halt while the idiot executes a U turn. Frigging unbelievable!
For long stretches of highway there was a (somewhat) designated motorcycle lane to the right of the car/bus/truck lane. We used this a lot but it also had its problems. There would be bicycles and pedestrians in the lane. There would be motorcycles coming toward you in the lane! Whatever. So Zach and I used both the motorcycle lane and conventional overtaking techniques to make our way. But the entire day was absolutely horrible, very stressful, and something no sane person should ever do.
How there are not human bodies strewn all over the road is something I cannot understand because by all rights there should be constant and frequent death amongst this mayhem. Words fail me, and I never want to do that again (but then later we had no choice but to ride similar roads, but by then we were hardened to this lunacy).
This whole situation brings up quite a paradox - well two really.
One is that taken as a whole the vast number of Vietnamese we met were nice, considerate, friendly and helpful people. Yet out on the highway its like stepping into a Mad Max on steroids scenario. Nobody gives a darn about anybody else. The driving style is very aggressive, or plain dumb, or a combination of both.
The second is that up to this point we had marveled at the motorcycling skills we saw from young, old, men, women...everyone. They would handle the very poor road conditions with aplomb, just riding through really bad, broken up pavement, gravel, rocks, steep slopes - all on small roadbikes of 110and 125cc.
It was very impressive how well they dealt with such poor conditions. But then on main highways they seemed to have very little road sense or awareness of others. Turn signals were seldom, if ever, used. They would make sudden turns left or right without looking behind to make sure there was nobody coming up, they would enter the highway from a side road without looking to see if anybody was approaching - just ride out into the road and everybody else would just have to take evasive actions.

At one point on the ride we had a ferry crossing. This is the only photo I have of this day:



There were also a number of toll gates, but we watched the other motorcyclists and learned that motorcycles just take the far right slip lane and dont pay. Nice!

We arrived in Ninh Binh in mid-afternoon and found a nice hotel with a friendly owner who made us feel most welcome. There was a good small restaurant at the hotel and nursing drinks after dinner we met some nice Dutch men, and a cool couple from Australia. The couple had hired two motorcycle guides to show them the local sights the next day and they agreed we could tag along on our bikes so we would not have to spend the day figuring out how to find the different locations. Something else that was to have a profound effect upon our trip - the hotel owner, Xuan, told me he was a guide. He showed me a book of commendations from his clients written in many languages. I really had no interest in hiring a guide but anyway started reading the commendations. To say they were glowing is a gross understatement. Almost every commendation said that the tour they had taken with Xuan had been the singular best experience they had in Vietnam. It got me to thinking.........

Total distance for the day - 180 kms (112 pretty awful miles)
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Old 05-08-2013, 02:48 PM   #32
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I am sooo IN.

My Mom grew up in Vietnam. Someday I plan to take a trip there with her to see what her neighborhood looks like. Houses/families were regularly blown up in the middle of the night during the war, not expecting to see much there.

After that, I think I would go on a ride to see some country and send her off to visit family in HK.

Beautiful photos, looking forward to more!
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Old 05-08-2013, 05:48 PM   #33
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Love this thread.

I went to Vietnam in 2000 and traveled primarily by train. When I make it back I'll have to go by 250cc dirt bike instead! This is very inspiring.
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Old 05-08-2013, 08:41 PM   #34
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Very good reading.

I'm taking notes, I'd love to tour Vietnam one day.

Thanks!
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Old 05-08-2013, 09:43 PM   #35
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Day 13

We ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant, very nice, and once again the owner, Xuan, inquired if I was interested in taking an overnight tour with him. We would ride our bikes, and he his. I kept thinking about it. As we were heading south the weather was getting a lot warmer than it had been in the south.

We met up with the Australian couple, Josh and Samantha, outside the hotel to follow them on the tour. My bike would not start! Try as I might the darn thing just would not start. A number of locals were checking me out on this beast of bike (yes all 250cc of beast) and then I realized what the problem was - I neglected to turn the gas from "off" to "on". Very embarrassing for this big biker dude

Off we went following Josh and Samantha. Josh was on the back of a male guides bike, Samantha on the back of a female guide's bike. Our first stop, about 10kms out of town, was to be rowed up this river. Each small tourist group is assigned to a boat rowed, primarily, but local ladies. Off we went upriver. Totally, absolutely, awesome. Immediately we confronted just the coolest scenery, a lovely river with high cliffs alongside and limestone karst hills covering the landscape.



One sight after another, it was a photographers paradise. There were locals working fishing nets on the shoreline, and this man was herding ducks!



We continued upstream. There were lots of other tourists, mostly local school kids and some Chinese, very few Westerners. The Chinese (and perhaps some Vietnamese tourists) were taking photos of us! Western celebrities! We found this really funny - we are taking photos of the locals and they are taking photos of us. It was kinda fun having the other tourists on the river nearby, really did not bother us or detract from our enjoyment. Of course the local school kids, lots of them, were totally enchanted by us and we were exchanging "hellos" all morning. Vietnamese kids love to practice their "hello" on tourists. Really it was a lot of fun.

Josh and Samantha, lovely Australian couple



In his boat on the river, The Orchid Seller:



After about one hour we reached the turnaround point and started heading back. We again passed through the low caves we had passed going upriver. This fellow was sitting on his motorcycle alongside the river:



Mountain goats were standing on the steep mountain slopes paralleling the river. It was all so chill!

After a couple of hours we returned to the launch point and followed Josh and Sam to some Buddhist temples revered by the Vietnamese:



Inside one of the temples:



The keeper of the temple:



Then we rode about 10 kms to an area that looked like a state or national park, very few tourists though. There were some nice ponds and many interesting statues. The main reason to come here though was to climb the 500 steps that take you high up on the karst mountain overlooking the river we had recently rowed.

Some scenes from that area:



This cat statue was located in one of the many caves dotting the park:



At the base of the 500 step climb was this dragon figure:



While Zach the billy goat bounded up the 500 steps, and they were very steep, Josh, Sam and I trudged slowly up. There was a French-speaking couple from the Indian Ocean island of Reunion climbing alongside us carrying a young boy. Eventually we reached the top and were greeting by this stunning scenery:

The river we had rowed up earlier:



Facing back the other direction, the plain behind us, rice paddies dotted with limestone karst hills:



We descended to the bottom and walked around the park. More awesome scenery:



Finally walking back to our bikes we encountered this clever goat who had figured out how to remain well fed:



Following the guides we visited some more temples, passed more rivers where the locals were rowing much the same as we had earlier that morning. Finally, after some truly great sights, we made our way back to Ninh Binh. Our bikes had not been cleaned since we left Hanoi so Zach and I sought out a Rua Xe (bike wash) where for $1 each our bikes were nicely hand cleaned. We then returned to the hotel and out back did a little maintenance, tightening our chains, especially on Zach's bike. By now we had learned his chained needed frequent tightening.

I talked with Zach about staying one more day and going on an overnight tour with Xuan. Relative to the costs we were incurring on our travels he was asking a lot of money, but in American terms it was really not bad at all. It would dent our budget though. Zach was against it. He had been traveling for 8 months on his own, and we had by now toured the rugged north of Vietnam on our own with no need for a guide. I had never imagined using a guide on the trip. But something about Xuan, and the commendations in his client book, gave me pause. I just had a feeling that maybe we should take this chance, just this once. After all, all we had to lose was some money which would soon be forgotten anyway. But if it was a good experience...... So I told Zach we needed to juggle our dates to allow for this extra day with Xuan and we signed up to have him accompany us into a region to the west of Ninh Binh. It was an area not mentioned in any of the guide books or ride reports I had read, seemed to be completely off the tourist track. And the commendations said it was incredible. So we set it up with Xuan to depart at 7:30 the next day after breakfast.

Total distance for the day - about 50 kms (30 miles)
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Old 05-08-2013, 11:04 PM   #36
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Day 14

Our experience today is the reason why people travel. Why they take themselves out of their comfort zones, take chances, take risks, sometimes spend a lot of money, ride long distances.

Rather than recreate this I am simply going to copy and paste the Facebook posting I did describing it a few days later because I think that best captures my feeling shorty afterward.
A selection of the large number of photos I took will follow:

The FB post (including original grammatical errors):

Yesterday I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life as Zach and I continued our travels around Vietnam. For the first time we hired a guide. We were very skeptical about the assurances to show us a very beautiful area totally off the tourist routes (and unmentioned in our travel guides) but the recommendations from others who had been there with this guide were so strong that we took the plunge. The ride began auspiciously as we hit untrafficked back roads and rode into swarm upon swarm of butterflies. So beautiful. We then started climbing into the high country and the scenery became more and more stunning. Finally we parked our bikes at the home of one of the local minority tribespeople and started hiking. Over the next three hours what opened before our eyes was quite simply the most jaw dropping, stunning gobsmacking scenery: endless tier upon tier of iridescent green rice paddies stretching out in every direction forming swirls, natural amphitheaters and bowls. This was framed by ribbons of high green mountains in all directions. The fields are farmed manually and no machine or engine was seen or heard. Only the occasional local worker out in the fields or carrying a heavy load on his or her back. Three times we stopped in at the home of another local and were served delicious local tea. Everybody seemed to know and love the guide. The homes were all spotlessly clean and of a similar style with a large room built on wooden pilings, bamboo floor and adjacent kitchen. Finally we got back on our bikes and rode up to the village where we parked. It was perched along a high road with a panoramic view of the area we had just hiked. The guide, simply a lovely man,suggested we walk a few hundred yards through the village while he waited our return. Off we went: oh what a joy. As we walked dozens of kids came running out to us or waved enthusiastically from their houses, all chanting "hello, hello". Every single adult we saw or passed greeted us in the most friendly and warm fashion. Never have I seen so many happy people nor been so welcomed. Unlike in the touristed areas of Vietnam not a single person tried to sell us a trinket or souvenir. The entire day to this point was perhaps my best travel experience of a lifetime. When we got back to our parked bikes the guide walked us across the road where a friendly family had a rice wine still (not wine at all but the strong local home distilled liquor) on the boil. The finished product was flowing slowly into a 5 gallon container. The guide took a cup and proceeded to fill it time and again until we had our fill. All the while the host and his gathered family were beaming at our pleasure. With another ride ahead of us we moderated out intake! We then road 26 kilometers to another minority village where we spent the night at the home of a lovely family, after enjoyed a wonderful meal with them. Apparently an 85 year old village lady had died the previous day and a wake at her house was across the way was in process. We went to sleep to the constant sound of a gong with a resonant hum being struck every 15 seconds intrerspersed by the boom....ba boom.....boom of a beating drum.
We took many, many photos of our day which we will start posting when we return home.
For both Zack and me yesterday as a marker in our lives.




So that's the FB post.
A selection of photos:

On the road up we passed this field of recently harvested pineapples. There were a lot of unpicked pineapples. Xuan stopped and he and Zach went into the field and picked a lot, which then formed a staple part of our diet the next few days. While they were busy another local lady climbed off her motorcycle and proceeded to get a large sackful.




Passing through a town we came upon this propaganda billboard. There are hundreds of these all over the country, and usually they are far larger. I only photographed this one cause I realized I kept on forgetting to shoot one, and I had better shoot at least one before I forgot about it:



Xuan stopped and had a long chat with this man who was leading yoked water buffalo pulling a load of wood. Never did figure out if he knew the man or it was a chance encounter:



One view of the landscape and rice paddies:



A hamlet nestled in at the foot the hills.



We passed this man out in the fields on our hike:



The White Thai houses set in amongst the paddies and hills:



Swirls of terraces:



And more....



The cicadas are plentiful, and noisy:



A village nestled in between the valley floor and the mountains:



Cooking area on one of the houses:



These boys followed us around from the moment we arrived until we departed:



Love those kids:



The locals in the village were lovely people.



The village crew:



One of the houses where we stopped for a drink of tea during our hot hike. This nice lady and Xuan chatted on and on. Xuan knew and was liked by a lot of locals. He has been going to the area since he was a driving instructor for the Vietcong army during the American War (which we call the Vietnam War!).



And finally, the Rice Wine (not a wine but an alcohol) that was distilling. The hostess filled cupfuls for us from the finished product pouring slowly out of the end pipe:

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Old 05-09-2013, 02:50 AM   #37
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Nice RR! Especially like the photos of the locals.

I did a similar trip a few years back on an old 125cc Minsk. Would have definitely preferred a 250!
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Old 05-09-2013, 03:57 PM   #38
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Day 15

This was the midway point of our 30-day trip.

After a refreshing shower our hosts provided a nice breakfast. I took a walk with Zach in the rice paddies across the road from our hosts house and we got our shoes really muddy. I found these structures in the middle of one paddy. They appeared to designed to attract or breed birds (the Vietnamese love to keep caged colorful birds of many descriptions - you see them everywhere - and the bamboo cages they hand make are really neat).



We packed up and took off with Xuan heading to different villages and locations in the area - all inhabited by the White Thai minority group.

At one village we walked around for about an hour and got to marvel at the very basic but effective irrigation system the villagers have created to water the crops in their fields. They have built an elaborate system of waterwheels in the river flowing past the village - each wheel brings the water up out of the river and dumps it into pipes which then flow into the fields. Everything is constructed of bamboo, there is no metal. The wheel is entirely bamboo. The transport pipes are bamboo lengths cut in half lengthwise to resemble rain gutters, which are then connected on to the next length forming an elaborate system. There were at least a dozen waterwheels in the small area we viewed.



The water is drawn into bamboo tubes tied to the waterwheel, and as the wheel rotates and each tube reaches the apex the water is drawn out by gravity and dumps into the bamboo pipes. You can see the water running out of the top tube in this photo.

As always the locals seemed to know Xuan and there was a lot of greeting and chatting. This man was clearly a war veteran and told us how much he loved Ho Chi Minh:



We rode around the region for about three hours and then headed off in the direction of the Ho Chi Minh trail where we were going to part company with Xuan and continue on our journey south.

We passed this guy headed to market with his bananas:



That is an appropriate photo to initiate this digression:

The Motorcycle as delivery vehicle in Vietnam

From the moment one arrives in Vietnam and until one departs there is the ubiquitous sight of motorcycles being used to deliver every type of product or item one can imagine. The motorcycle is the dominant form of transport so it only figures it would be the dominant form of delivery vehicle. The Vietnamese are incredibly skilled at putting huge, ungainly loads on bikes and somehow tying them down in a secure and balanced fashion. This is no small feat considering how large, bulky and heavy some of these items are. Eventually one does not pay too much attention to what at first is very novel. But as Zach and I rode the length of the country we made a list of the more unusual or memorable items we saw being transported. This list is by no means comprehensive but we had a lot of fun, and many good laughs, compiling it. I use the term "man" or "woman" generically as in any single case it could be either:

1. Banana delivery man. See photo above. His load is not remarkably large, just happened to be the one we photographed. We saw instances of way more bananas than this in one load.

2.Egg Man. A huge stack of filled egg trays (the open 36 egg carton variety) one above the other behind and to the sides of the rider. And if the load tips???

3. Buddha Man. Well actually three Buddha men, each on a bike. Three large Buddhas per bike, one to each side and one to the rear. Each Buddha in a metal compartment, part of a single large metal frame.

4. Ming Vase Man. Two huge "ming" type vases, about 6 feet tall, in metal frames to the sides of the bike.

5. Motorcycle tube men. Three men, each on a bike, and each carrying hundreds and hundreds of motorcycle tire tubes loaded in every conceivable, and inconceivable, place on the bike.

5. 3 Pig Man (we actually saw a lot of these). Three large live pigs, each one in a separate metal tube. We also saw the same tubes filled with dogs, cows (yes, cows), goats.....

6. Dead Pig Man. Two dead pigs just slung over the front of the bike at the feet of the rider. No cages required.

7. Cardboard people. Many of these. People go around collecting large quantities of flattened cardboard boxes and stack them impossible high on the bike.

8. Chicken man. Lots of these two. Large cages holding many, many chickens.

9. 40 foot pole man. Delivering at an industrial construction area near Cam Pha, carrying steel rebar. It was so long, the front and rear of the rebar were just inches off the ground.

10. Closet man. Yes a guy riding along with a large wooden closet roped to the back of his bike. He even had things tied down atop the closet.

11. Motorcycle man. Two guys on one bike, the passenger holding a motorcycle!

12. Jackfruit man. Just like banana man but far more impressive because jackfruit are really large. Huge cages to the sides and back of the bike brimful with jackfruit.

Oh it goes on and on. The largest number of people we saw on a single motorcycle was five - two adults and three kids.

Back to Day 15 report:

We reached the Ho Chi Minh Trail and parted company with Xuan. We headed south, he continued on eastward back to Ninh Binh. We had a lot of mileage to cover so we put the hammer down and rode hard. The HCM Trail is the old route the Vietcong used during the American War to transport troops and supplies south. It was not actually a single road but a network of roads, paths and trails. Now it has two main sections, the eastern and western legs that are nicely paved roads in good condition. Aside from the coastal Hwy 1 this is the main north/south (actually the only) inland route in Vietnam. The scenery remained very nice but we did notice areas where the vegetation was stunted and the hills scarred - apparently the long term effects of Agent Orange still evident.

We made good time and reached our destination, the town of Tan Ky mid-afternoon.

Total distance for the day - 240 kms (150 miles)
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Old 05-10-2013, 02:33 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by stanegoli View Post
Day 15

9. 40 foot pole man. Delivering at an industrial construction area near Cam Pha, carrying steel rebar. It was so long, the front and rear of the rebar were just inches off the ground.
If it was near road 18A then he may have been going to our plant.

We're in Seoul waiting to board our flight to Hanoi. I've got 3.6 million VND in my pocket. I'm finally a millionaire!
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Old 05-10-2013, 02:16 PM   #40
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I can add to your list

Coffin man: a coffin strapped across the rear of the bike.

Goldfish man: Dozens of plastic bags containing live goldfish and water hanging from a rack on the bike.

Enjoying the report, I would go again in a heartbeat.
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Old 05-10-2013, 03:01 PM   #41
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Originally Posted by gavo View Post
I can add to your list

Coffin man: a coffin strapped across the rear of the bike.

Goldfish man: Dozens of plastic bags containing live goldfish and water hanging from a rack on the bike.

Enjoying the report, I would go again in a heartbeat.
Coffin Man. Oh man you got me there - never saw that one.
Wonder if it was full or empty?

Perhaps this could become the definite list of weird and wonderful transport sightings in Vietnam....
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Old 05-10-2013, 03:59 PM   #42
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Day 16

We had a lot of distance to cover today, and we were not expecting great scenery. so we planned a hard and fast ride south down the HCM Trail to our destination of Son Trach. As we were to find, things do not always go as planned.

The scenery started out better than expected, pretty darn nice actually. Low mountain ranges, tea plantations and the general greenery you get so used to in Vietnam. Going through one town I lost Zach. As I did a u-turn to go look for him the bike died, and then would not start. I had plenty of fuel, there was no kill switch so that could not be the issue. The bike just would not start. I then remembered that about 300 yards back I had passed a Honda dealership, one of very few to be found in that area. So I pushed the bike back to the dealer, and as I neared it Zach rode up. We had miscommunicated our route. I coasted down the last 30 yards into the dealer shop, and immediately all work ceased as the shop manager and every mechanic came over to look at this bike, the likes of which they had never seen. I communicated to the manager that it would not start. He fiddled with the electrical unit attached to the kick-stand that prevents the bike from engaging a gear if the stand is down, but that was not the issue (I had made sure the stand was down when trying to start and in any event it would still start even with the stand down). He indicated to me he did not know this type of bike and was unsure what to do. He then tried the starter and lo and behold the bike started first try. I was a little embarrassed to say the least, made profuse apologies, and hopped on the bike as quickly and graciously as I could and we rode off. I will add that this stall happened again a few days later and I developed an idea of what caused it - but we will get to that later.

We continued riding hard and as we now neared Laos, riding parallel to it and very close at times, the vegetation became very thick and verdant, basically thick impenetrable jungle. It was the first time we had seen this true jungle fauna on our trip and we were pretty amazed. My trip notes say we were stunned!

I was out far between towns and Zach had ridden ahead to shoot some footage of the jungle on the GoPro when the back started to slide all over the road. The bike handling immediately declared "flat" to me and as I slowed to a stop and took a look indeed my rear tire was flat. I was not sure whether to continue in the same direction or turn back, unsure as to where the next town was located. Some guys riding by stopped to offer help and indicated I should continue onward, not turn back. So I rode slowly on the flat and a few kilometers later at the top of a rise I found basically a truck stop: a small restaurant and a tiny shop next to it that apparently repaired truck tires! Nothing else. The young guy who owned the shop, later turned out to be the son of the lady that owned the restaurant, took the bike over to his shop. We jacked it up on some wood blocks and pulled off the rear wheel. It soon became apparent that he had no experience with bikes but I had no option and had to work with him. His tire levers were about 5 feet long, designed to remove truck tires, so as you can imagine we had quite a time getting the tire off. Finally we did, pulled from our toolkit the tube we had replaced and repaired at BaBe Lakes and installed it. With a lot of effort we finally got the tire back on, the wheel mounted, the tire inflated, and I was all set to go. Man was I grateful! The next town was nowhere in sight and this guy had really saved me from a bad situation.
And then........pphhhhhhhht.....with a big sigh the tire went flat again. We were not happy, it had been a heckuva job getting the wheel off, the tube replaced, and the wheel back on again with no suitable tools.
Anyway we jacked the bike back up on the wood blocks, removed the wheel and tire, and found to our dismay that the tube had a rip about 20 inches long along its seam. It was an old tube that had basically just ripped apart when inflated. We had no more tubes and were now in a real bind. My 250 rear tire took an 18" tube and these size tubes are very hard to come by in Vietnam. The many and frequent bike mechanics have plenty of 16" and 17" tubes, the size that fit the smaller bikes, but 18" tubes are hard to come by. I thought Zach would have to ride back to the town where the Honda dealer was located, the last sizeable town we had passed, and that was about 100 kms back. A truck driver had come over to look at our goings on, and he and the shop owner indicated there was a town, off the HCM Trail on a side road, about ten minutes away. They thought we could get a tube there. So Zach rode off in the direction of the town. I expected him back within a half hour. And then I waited, and waited, in the very hot Vietnam sun. Eventually an hour had passed and no Zach. Now I was starting to get real concerned, worried that he may have had a fall. Another nerve-racking 15 minutes went by and then Zach rode up, and lo and behold he had a tube. He later told me that he took so long because he had a real hard time in the town finding a tube. He got sent from one shop to another and then another and then another with no luck. Finally when he had despaired of getting one and was about to give up and return he hit pay dirt. He did have to pay double the going rate though.
During the long wait for Zach the helpful truck driver had taken a good look at my rear tire and pointed out that there was a very rough spot inside the tire, and matching it up with the tube we found a severely worn patch that would have resulted in a hole in the near future. So the young shop owner, together with the very capable assistance of the truck driver, fashioned a patch from another tube and, after sanding down the rough spot, adhered the patch to the inside of the tire covering the rough spot. Perhaps it was just as well I had the problem I did when I did, as things could have been a lot worse later if they had not found this problem.
With a lot of effort we got the new tube installed, tire on, and wheel mounted. And when inflated it held! Oh joy We had lost close on three hours now but at least we were ready to go.
Now I went to pay the guy who had spent the better part of three hours working on my bike. I asked him how much. He consulted with his mother, and then indicated there was no charge for all they had done!! In disbelief I took 100 Dong ($5) out and handed it to him. He would not accept it. I absolutely insisted and eventually he accepted it but his mother pulled out her money and tried to give me 50 Dong change. I refused to accept it so she ran into the restaurant and came out with two large bottled waters and insisted I accept those, which I did. Frigging unbelievable.......here these people spend so much time helping me and then are very reluctant to accept money for their services. Very humbling experience.

We hit it hard and arrived in Son Trach around 5:00pm and found a hotel room in about 15 minutes. A short while later the heavens opened up and there was a huge lightening and thunderstorm, the rain absolutely pouring down as it only can in tropical areas. After the storm we tried to find something to eat, but no restaurants. It had been a long and hard day, and we ended up buying dry crackers, yoghurt, a few fruit drinks and a Top Ramen-type noodle package for dinner. There was no boiling water so Zach ate dry noodles while I had crackers and yoghurt.

Total distance for the day - 280 kms (174 miles)
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Old 05-11-2013, 01:07 AM   #43
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[QUOTE=stanegoli;21379546]Coffin Man. Oh man you got me there - never saw that one.
Wonder if it was full or empty?

I thought exactly the same thing
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Old 05-11-2013, 12:54 PM   #44
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Day 17

Our plan was to spend the day around Son Trach as it's near the Phong Na caves and Phong Na National Park, both of which we wanted to explore.

First, having realized that with our late arrival yesterday we had checked into a hotel far from the town center, we relocated to a hotel in town. Then we took a walk, had some breakfast, and on the way back stopped to interact with some American War veterans who were having some kind of reunion. They were very friendly and most welcoming to Americans. Quite a few of them had lost limbs. They were happy to pose for some photos with us:



We had been on the road for over two weeks always wearing helmets and riding gear. The weather was now hot and humid and we really wanted to enjoy the change from the cooler north. So we opted for a more relaxed riding style - no helmets and minimal clothing. Well at least I was wearing sneakers but Zach opted for thongs!

Then we rode to the caves about 6 kms from town. Apparently, we later learned, there is another recently discovered cave formation even better than the one we visited. Nonetheless we rented a kayak and the guide that came with it, and paddled in to explore the caves. The first couple hundred yards had lighting and is the area frequented by tourists who are boated in. However with our guide we paddled through far deeper into the caves, no lighting there other than that from our headlamps. The caves were really cool. After about an hour of paddling we got out of the kayaks and scrambled over rocks further into the caves. Finally back to our kayak, and we paddled back to the starting point.

We then rode off to explore the Phong Na National Park. This was the terrain as we neared the park:



We rode through the park for about 10 miles, very thick jungle with occasional views of the surrounding mountains and cliffs. Then to our surprise we stumbled upon the remote western section of the HCM Trail. My Russian friend Ilya, who I met in Hanoi, had told me about this section. He said it was very remote and a "must ride" but hard to locate. On the maps it was very confusing, but here we had found it so now we could incorporate this into our route for the next day. We decided to explore and rode north on it, the next day of course we would head south. We entered an area of very thick jungle with great views of the limestone karst hills and mountains. Totally remote, not a soul to be seen.



We explored for a few hours finding some interesting caves, rivers, and always the incredibly lush jungle. At one remote spot, nothing for miles, we were hanging out and I was really surprised to find I had 3G service on my cellphone - there was a cell tower on the hilltop near us. It was the only time I had 3G service the entire trip except in some areas of Ho Chi Minh City.

We made our way back to town and reset our route for the following day to incorporate the remote western section of the HCM Trail as we now knew where to access it.

Total distance for the day - 50 kms (30 miles)
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Old 05-12-2013, 08:54 AM   #45
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Day 18

Leaving Son Trach we headed back through Phong Na National Park, the same road we had ridden the afternoon before, until we reached the western section of the HCM Trail. We now entered the most remote section of our entire 30 day ride. We were heading south, parallel and very close to Laos. The vegetation remained the impressively thick jungle of the past few days, with high mountains off to the west (behind which lay Laos). The road was very twisty as we rode one mountain pass after another, so twisty that on our knobby tires it was just not possible to ride fast, so slow going it was. For well over an hour we did not see a single vehicle of any description. The only sign of people was one small army post, and then a bridge tender who had a small house alongside the bridge crossing a ravine. In terms of being remote this was even more impressive than anything we had encountered in the far north.

Behind the hills is Laos:



After well over an hour we finally started seeing signs of humanity. First a few road workers riding on their bikes, and then slowly a few small villages. It was really hot. After crossing a long bridge I was accelerating up the hill on the far side when a motorcycle suddenly appeared coming toward me in my lane. I had little room to my right but we both managed to swerve and avoid a collision. Very close call. Zach later told me the motorcyclist turned around to stare at me after we passed each other causing him to drift back into our lane and narrowly missing colliding with Zach. Later still after crossing another bridge I was accelerating up the hill on the far side when a lowered boom suddenly appeared bare yards in front of me. It all happened in a flash - I avoided being decapitated by lying flat on my gas tank and ducking under the boom. Zach was riding behind me and also did not see the boom until he saw me ducking. Another narrow escape for both of us.

The scenery started to change as the dense undergrowth thinned. Finally we reached the town of Tanh Ky where we intended to get gas. The town was a lot smaller than I had anticipated with no gas stations, but we were able to locate a small roadside store selling water, soft drinks and basic supplies that had a 25 gallon container of gas from which we filled our tanks. We had a good time at the store interacting with the young owner and his family - his lovely wife, newborn baby, mother-in-law as well as a few locals who dropped by to ogle the Westerners who had blown into town!

Now heading on the HCM Trail toward Khe Sanh, site of a huge American military base during the American War the going was a little faster as we were riding alongside a river and flatter land. Finally we reached Khe Sanh where we had some lunch, and then 15 kms later linked back up with the HCM Trail, heading further south. The road was now more trafficked (but really not too busy at all) and the going easier - it remained very pretty as we rode along another river for many miles. At one town we took a wrong turn and seemed to be heading back into the mountains and the dense jungle. It felt wrong, and this was confirmed by a sign indicating the Laos border was 1 km ahead. We turned around and headed back toward the missed turn 12 kms back when the sky quickly darkened. Within minutes we were riding in a fierce downpour, but the weather was so hot it was not that uncomfortable - except of course for the slick conditions made a lot worse by our knobby tires. We rode on through the downpour for about 20 minutes. I was amazed at how quickly my soaked gear dried after the downpour - within a half hour I was completely dry as if there had been no rain. The heat is quite impressive.

Climbing a pass in one remote area we saw a Western couple sitting on a wall alongside the road, their bikes parked next to them. We had seen very few Westerners on the road our entire trip and stopped to chat with them. A nice English couple, they were riding the HCM Trail south to north heading to Hanoi. They had plenty of time and were taking it slow over many weeks. We shared some mangoes with them and watched a large snake in a pool below us hunting frogs.

Finally we reached our left turn off the HCM Trail to take us down to the city of Hue, our destination, on Hwy 49. For the first 20 kms there were extensive roadworks causing multiple delays while we waited, with a lot of locals, for the bulldozers and excavators to do their work removing huge piles of rock and dirt. Some of the delays were at least 10 minutes with the result that we lost a lot of time making for a late arrival in Hue. I guess all the waiting got to me, because by the time we left the last construction delay - and we were still riding through a lot of dirt as the road was being rebuilt - I put the hammer down real hard. I was feeling very confident on the bike, throwing it around and just riding screaming fast. It was totally exhilarating, I had not ridden a dirt bike in that manner for years and it just felt SO good, just tons of fun I rode like this for about an hour until we reached the busy roads approaching Hue.

We arrived in Hue during evening rush hour. It was pretty chaotic and we had no idea where to go. I asked one young guy on a motorcycle stopped alongside me at a traffic light for directions to downtown. I guess he was kind of shocked by this Westerner on a big bike alongside him because he just blew me off but he must have had second thoughts because he caught up with us a little further down the road and led us to the main road into town. After a lot of bother we finally located our hotel, really nice at $20 including breakfast.

We took a walk to the riverfront after dinner. It was a Thursday but there were thousands of people hanging out on the waterfront, mostly teenagers. And motorcycles - never seen the likes of it. Row upon row upon row of parked bikes. Thousands. Zach and I talked about the ride and he asked me why I had been riding so hard and fast the last section. Said he had a hard time keeping up with me and he felt I was overdoing it, going too fast and taking too many risks. I had to agree with him. I'm not too sure what had gotten into me but in hindsight it was not smart. In my riding experience when your confidence gets that high and you overdo it, it's often the precursor to a fall. So we agreed to ratchet down the speed in the coming days, take more care and be a little more sensible. Thank goodness I had my son there to knock some sense into me
.

Total distance for the day - 410 kms (255 miles)....a long distance on a 250cc dirt bike!
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