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Old 01-07-2014, 01:22 PM   #76
SoloSurfer OP
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Location: Rossland BC, Canada
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Sapa - a day in pictures...



Day 11 - Friday, November 15
Distance - 0 kms = total for day ~ 0 hrs = rest day
Trip Odometer = 888 kms
Route - Sapa Day!
Hotel - Sapa Paradise View Hotel ($55US x2 nights)
Weather - Misty wet plus pea-soup-fog.


Sapa is one of the main stops on Vietnam's infamous 'packaged-tour'. Travellers generally take the overnight train from Hanoi, spend a few days in Sapa and surrounding area and then get back on the night train to Hanoi. (Ah-hem *clearing throat* we arrived to Sapa on motorbike in style of course ;)



Sapa is nestled high in the mountains at 1650m which makes it a great spot for hiking and trekking on clear days. Tour groups take willing participants all over the valleys along small pathways weaving their way up and down the hillsides. Many people spend time in homestays with various hill tribes in the area. Local hill tribe people are scattered through town in their super colourful traditional clothing. Sapa is well set up to accommodate all types of tourists with whatever they desire. It was socked in on our rest day which aided in our decision to lay low for the day and to check out the town on our own.







Complimentary breakfast at the Sapa Paradise View hotel was great, but unfortunately the 'paradise view' was non-existent. We woke up later, relaxed, strolled down to the restaurant for breakfast and then decided to walk around town.


The night before, we had enquired about the hotel's laundry service and one of the managers at the front desk gave us a large plastic bag and said to drop it off at reception. All our affairs were in order, so all we had to do was check out Sapa.


We had both heard that Sapa was a go-to for cheap, outdoor knock-offs and we had a few people at home in mind for some Xmas gifts. Unfortunately, we didn't have a ton of space on the bikes. We managed to find a nice North Face jacket for Amanda's father back in Canada and I managed to find a small, fleece layer and a pair of shoes rather than walking around in my wet Keens.


Now, I'll let the pictures do the rest... our day in Sapa:








































Cho Sapa - Sapa Market








































Triumph Street Triple, an unlikely place for this bike...






















The picture above was hanging in our hotel room... this was supposed to be the views from our Paradise View window. In actual fact, our views from the window were below:




It started to clear later in the afternoon - the same view in the picture above and below...


















Later in the afternoon, we were served another fruit juice smoothie, and more crazy-cake...




The Sapa Paradise View Hotel also had a restaurant (where we had our complimentary breakfast) and one of the managers told us about their traditional 'hot-pot' which we had only heard about, but never sampled. We decided it was time to try out the Vietnamese hot pot and we had these two wonderful girls helping us out.








Later that afternoon - our laundry was delivered back to our room, all freshly folded and the rest. We enjoyed our hot-pot supper and relaxed for the rest of the evening.


Next day - we headed from Sapa up to the Tram Ton Pass - Vietnam's highest mountain pass.










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Old 01-07-2014, 06:19 PM   #77
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Fantastic, too much fun

Love the market, but where's the frozen processed food?
I do have to say though; Amanda looks like she's ready for some McDs Double Arches in that last pic. What a trouper.
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Old 01-09-2014, 03:42 PM   #78
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When the road ends... 'I guess we get on the boat'?


Day 12 - Saturday, November 16
Distance - 234 kms = total for day ~ 9 hrs
Trip Odometer = 1122 kms
Route - Sapa - Son La. Sapa west on Hwy #4D then South on #32 to Than Uyen. West on #279 until road ended (not on maps) then on ferry south. South on #107? onto #6 to Son La.
Hotel - Hanoi Hotel - Son La (800,000d = $40 w/breakfast)
Weather - Clearing out of Sapa with a mix of clouds. Clear on Tram Ton Pass. Into clouds at lower elevations. Dry roads for most of day until nearing Son La then damp.




After our lovely rest day in Sapa, we awoke to clearing skies. We had an excellent breakfast at the Sapa Paradise View Hotel (our hotel which finally earned it's name!), then we packed up and hit the road.








As I mentioned before, we were treated like royalty the minute we arrived to the Sapa PV Hotel and it continued until the moment we left. One of the managers came outside to wish us a safe trip and a fond farewell.




Highway 4D crept up and out of Sapa and we arrived at the Tram Ton Pass in good time as it is situated roughly 15km from Sapa. We had known that Tram Ton was Vietnam's highest mountain pass and my GPS logged it at just over 2000m in elevation. And, just as the guidebook stated, it is often cold and foggy on the Sapa side and warm and sunny dropping into the Lai Chau side. We had beautiful weather on the Tram Ton Pass.


























The road off the Tram Ton Pass was a pleasure to ride. It had a great deal of twisty corners and beautiful vistas as we worked our way down in elevation.


Our plan for the day was to stop in Than Uyen, but the road was in such good condition that we arrived at roughly 11:30am. We stopped for a bowl of Pho and decided to push on further south for the day. I looked on our maps and decided that Highway #279 would be a good bet to work our way south to the larger town of Son La.


What we were about to experience was a highlight for me on our entire Vietnam adventure.




After working our way out of Than Uyen and along Highway #279 our road ended. Stopped. No more road. Both my Vietnam map and my GPS showed Hwy #279 only, no lake, no boats. This was true adventure.




Amanda asked if we were lost and I said I wasn't sure. One of the ferry boat captains came up to us and nodded us to proceed onto his boat. I said 'Son La, Son La'... and he nodded, 'Son La!', so we nodded together in confidence and proceeded to board his boat in confidence. In actual reality, we had no idea where we were headed, but it was all part of the adventure.


































I have no idea where this boat is heading, but lets go!'


























































We eventually came to a large bridge crossing which showed on the map. We knew we were on Hwy #279 and came to the conclusion that the valley further north where we encountered the ferry was probably dammed and flooded at one point and this didn't show up on the maps.












Crossing the Song Da river (more like a lake system)




We arrived to a petrol station to fuel up and we had these young police officers come and check out our loaded bikes - specifically my Honda enduro. I pulled out my map book and asked them if the secondary road south #107 was suitable and then kept nodding yes, that was the best and quickest direction to go - that is what I took from the conversation anyway.








It was one of our longest days of riding yet. We had been traveling for roughly 9 hrs by the time we arrived to Son La. We found the 'Hanoi' Hotel in Son La just as it was starting to get dark. We put our bikes in the secure parkade complete with night guards, and checked into the hotel.


I'm certain we could have found suitable accommodation for much cheaper in Son La, but the Hanoi Hotel was relatively easy to find and it was recommended in our guide book. It was a first to enter an elevator and to press the '5' button which brought us up to our room.








The front desk manager suggested a restaurant for us to eat at which was conveniently right across from the hotel. I can't remember the name, but it was very good, filled with locals and with great choices and prices, and of course, they had very cold beer.










This was one of my favourite days of riding. We crossed Vietnam's highest mountain pass, we had great weather, our road suddenly and very surprisingly ended which put us on a random ferry boat and we had really exciting roads all the way to Son La.


Although the day was long, we both felt great after a long day filled with adventure...



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Old 01-09-2014, 03:45 PM   #79
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Picture Sizes...

Hey ADVers... sorry about the LARGE picture sizes... I've been trying and trying to resize them similar to most of this RR, but pasting them in from my blog is making them uber-huge regardless of what I do. Any suggestions??

They are a good size in the blog:

http://vietnam-top-to-bottom.blogspot.ca/
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Old 01-11-2014, 11:20 PM   #80
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Road conditions

Quote:
We saw very little traffic, moved right over for any larger vehicles, waved, smiled, and we both had an incredible day.
Great RR. You've captured the appeal of this wonderful country -- the food, the scenery, the friendly people.

Like you, we found little traffic in the north whenever we were away from cities or tourist spots. And we managed to find some bad roads, which added to the fun -- it reminded me of riding an enduro in Louisiana.

We were in north and south Vietnam for most of March 2013 and never got rained on so I can highly recommend that time of year if you're visiting both areas. If it had been raining this road would have been REALLY fun.

We rode for miles in these ruts. Our little motorbikes were amazing. They pulled just fine through this slop and never overheated even though we were often moving at a crawl.



Work in progress



The finished product



It was amazing to see the changes happening all around the country. Construction is everywhere, everyone is hard working and has a cell phone in their hand.
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Eastbay Dirtbag screwed with this post 01-12-2014 at 09:11 PM
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Old 01-12-2014, 12:07 AM   #81
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Gloves

Hey Solo Rider, I noticed you still do not have any gloves.
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Old 01-12-2014, 03:03 AM   #82
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Great report. Subscribed
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Old 01-12-2014, 11:08 AM   #83
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Very well done. great pics. great attitude.
detailed nicely.
thanks for taking the time.
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Old 01-12-2014, 11:22 AM   #84
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Thanks ALL!

Quote:
Originally Posted by 10ecjed View Post
Hey Solo Rider, I noticed you still do not have any gloves.
I didn't end up finding gloves until Sapa and I was only able to find these crap 'fleece' ones - they managed to keep my hands warm at higher elevations, but that was it, they were bothersome otherwise so I went without.


For the rest of you following my RR... Thanks for all the words. It has been great to re-live this trip via this RR. 17 more days o' Vietnam Adventures to cover... I'm going to attempt another installment today, hopefully I'll be able to figure out my HUGE picture issue and get them back to regular size, if not, they'll be extra-large-and-turbo-charged!

Cheers
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Old 01-12-2014, 01:08 PM   #85
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Oil Changes, Vietnamese models and corn... lots of corn.

Day 13 - Sunday, November 17
Distance - 180 kms = total for day ~ 6 hrs
Trip Odometer = 1302 kms
Route - Son La - Mai Chau. South from Son La on Hwy #6, then off on Hwy #15 to Mai Chau.
Hotel - Mai Chau Inn (700,000d = $35 w/breakfast)
Weather - No wet! Cloudy and cold at elevation, and then hazy, sunny and quite warm once arriving to Mai Chau.




Our day started with a huge buffet (or as we call 'Jimmy-Buffet') breakfast at the Hanoi Hotel in Son La. The breakfast room was the size of a conference room at any hotel back home and it was packed. The night before I read a little about Son La and it turns out that it is the business 'capital' of the Son La province hence the packed buffet breakfast with loads of suits and the like.


Flamingo Travel in Hanoi where we rented the bikes suggested that we get the oil changed on the bikes every 1000km or so and seeing that we had rolled about 1100km when we arrived the night before, I figured our first stop after breakfast would be a place we could get the oil changed on the bikes.










We literally pulled out of the Hanoi Hotel, zipped down the road a few hundred meters and came upon a Yamaha dealership. It looked fairly empty and mellow in the shop section, so we pulled up and I motioned to the mechanics that we wanted the oil changed. They didn't speak any english and we obviously didn't speak Vietnamese, so it was fun communicating what we wanted. Both bikes were quickly brought in, Amanda's up on a hoist and oil was being drained. Not a very tough thing to communicate. I was also wanting to get a bit of slack out of my chain, so the mechanic quickly tightened my chain, lubed it up and that was that with my XR. Amanda front brakes felt really soft, so the same thing, the mechanic tightened that up after the oil change, all communicated with our gestures on the bikes.


(Above) Shop manager






It was lightening speed by the time we pulled into the Yamaha dealership, motioned what work we wanted done, took a few photos of the shop and of the 'shop manager', we paid up and were out the door... just like that. It was the quickest 10 minutes ever... and all the work, both oil changes, my chain slack and Amanda's brakes, the grand total was 180,000 dong = ~ $9 total. Excellent!


Both chains were lubed up and we were on the road again...




Gold fish anyone???




Loads of corn being dried in huge piles then sacked up - we passed a quite a few of these operations on our route south to Mai Chau. I think this guy was a few rice-wines in, he wanted to chat and he motioned for us to come on in and have a look. We politely declined as we wanted to continue south.




Farm equipment/people hauler - saw loads of these...






At our morning coffee-stop, we met these 2 Vietnamese models... they were hamming it up for the camera and then checking the pictures out, always with huge laughs and then more poses, it was a great time. The girls even shared their snacks with us. One thing I was meaning to load up on in Canada before heading over to Vietnam was stickers for kids, all kids love stickers. Unfortunately, it was one thing I didn't manage to do before leaving on the trip and I regret it, these Vietnamese kids definitely deserved some stickers from us Canadian kids. I guess we'll have to go back with stickers...
















Amanda being corny









Below... a Honda Super Dream 'Family Vehicle'... hilarious what english words they had on most of the bikes - and yes, this 'vehicle' would definitely support a whole family... AND a couple bags of rice and a chicken or three...




It was a speedy day of riding from Son La to Mai Chau. The #6 was a main route linking the north west to Hanoi and surroundings. With that, we had more traffic than usual, but more traffic usually meant higher speeds and better roads, surprisingly not our favourite. At times we were averaging 50-60kph which actually got us places way quicker over the long run, literally 50-60 felt like highway speeds back home, it was strange, but we were really getting used to the slow, snail's pace that is normal for Vietnam on smaller, rural roads, a slower pace we came to love and enjoy. Much easier to smell the hibiscus and contemplate 'why the chicken crossed the road' when you are rolling at 30kph.


I had read that Mai Chau was a popular tourist destination because of the influence of the White Thai minority village in the area. Tourists would flock here in hordes to stay in traditional White Thai stilt houses, complete with modern conveniences such as flush toilets and WiFi. We zipped into the main village out of Mai Chau with intentions to find a stilt house. We did a few laps in the village and then ended up on the edge of town at a new family run hotel called the Mai Chau Inn, just down from the expensive Mai Chau Lodge. We checked into one of the lovely rooms and started unwinding and unpacking. It was a shorter day of riding so we managed some time to relax on our private deck overlooking the areas rice paddies, drinking a cold beer and chatting about our day. Even though we were traveling together, you spend so much time in your own helmet and inside your own head, that it was nice to catch-up at the end of each day.








(Above) Drafting a plan for the next few days to come...




We had to make a decision to see Ninh Binh and area for a few days (which was highly recommended by a fellow ADVer) or to zip south to see Phong Nha National park for a few days - unfortunately we couldn't do both... it was a tough decision.





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Old 01-12-2014, 07:33 PM   #86
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Thumb Howdy and Thanks from New Zealand

Hi Solo Rider, I'm really enjoying your RR and excellent photos and vids!

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your adventures

'Nam is close to the top of our list, in fact if my Wife hasn't broken her heel driving Trucks in Texas recently, we may have been there now!

For that reason I'm especially interested in the info on costs which you include - certainly great value, - I loved the double oil change for 9 bucks!

Do you mind me asking the cost to hire the bikes?

Many thanks

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Old 01-13-2014, 10:36 AM   #87
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Vietnam Costs...

Quote:
Originally Posted by ShaftyNZ View Post
Hi Solo Rider, I'm really enjoying your RR and excellent photos and vids!

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your adventures

'Nam is close to the top of our list, in fact if my Wife hasn't broken her heel driving Trucks in Texas recently, we may have been there now!

For that reason I'm especially interested in the info on costs which you include - certainly great value, - I loved the double oil change for 9 bucks!

Do you mind me asking the cost to hire the bikes?

Many thanks

Shafty
New Zealand

Hey Shafty, thanks for the shout-out.

I plan to do a full costs overview at the end of this RR - hopefully I'll have enough steam to pull that off. (Bikes, hotels, food, tours, fuel etc.)

As for the bikes, we decided to go with Flamingo Travel out of Hanoi (they also have an office in HCMC) and they were great to work with all in all. I set it all up in advance in order to spend less time dealing with that stuff thus getting on the road faster.

Quick cost breakdown on the bikes:

2013 Honda XR 150cc was $25/day @ 23 days - 15% (long term rental) = $488.75 ($21.25 per day)

2010 Honda Future X 125cc was $12/day @ 23 days - 15% = $234.60 ($10 per day)

A lot of places will rent you bikes for as low as $7-10/day and I'm sure even lower here and there if you searched hard. Another option is to buy bikes, typically 100cc Honda Win or Chinese knock-off version or Russian Minsks for in and around $200-$400 for a used one in various shapes and then sell it at the end of the trip.

We chose to rent newer bikes for peace of mind and then not to have to deal with the selling of the bikes later on - just our choice. Also, Flamingo Travel was always a 'call away' for emergencies as they also gave us a pre-paid cell phone for the trip just in case (never used it).

Also, you can rent Honda Baja 250cc or something similar for anywhere from $30-$50/day (at the end of the trip, I saw Flamingo had a really sweet brand new XR 250 in Hanoi!) It would have been nice to have had a couple extra horseys 'CCs' from time to time, but to be honest, my 150cc and my Gal's 125cc were perfectly suitable for Vietnam. Also, the 'run of the mill' 125s are easier to get fixed and have regular sized tires for Vietnam whereas my XR had unique sized tires which would have been more challenging to get tubes/tires if needed (luckily we only had x1 flat the entire trip and it wasn't on my bike story to follow in upcoming days... )

It is all a matter of preference and choice with what you want to ride and how much you want to spend etc.

As mentioned, I'll complete a more detailed cost breakdown at the end.

Cheers, hope this helps...
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Old 01-13-2014, 01:30 PM   #88
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Chopsticks and the Twilight Zone Hotel



Day 14 - Monday, November 18
Distance - 160 kms = total for day ~ 6-7 hrs
Trip Odometer = 1461 kms
Route - Mai Chau - Yen Cat. South from Mai Chau on Hwy #15 to Ngoc Lac, then HCMT (Ho Chi Minh Trail) on Hwy #15 to Yen Cat.
Hotel - Khach San Dai Lam (250,000d = $12.50)
Weather - Hazy to dark skies to hazy sunny. No rain = Dry!




Our included breakfast at the Mai Chau Inn was fantastic. I should have waited to take these pictures as half of our food wasn't even on the table. Fresh fruit, meat, eggs, juice, coffee, tea, the list goes on... and all complete at our table with-a-view.










We planned our next few days of travel while in Mai Chau and we had some tough decisions to make, well, not that tough seeing that we were on an adventure trip in Vietnam. We couldn't stick to our original itinerary planned from home as we were realizing we wouldn't have enough time to do it all, we had to make a couple of decisions. We had enough time to either head to the Ninh Binh area to meet up with a great tour guide named 'Xuan' which was recommended to us by a fellow ADV (Adventure) rider named Stan, OR we would blast south for a few days and spend time in the Phong Nha National Park famous for it's caves and tours. Unfortunately, it was one or the other.


We couldn't do both. It was a tough decision. We had watched a TV program at home about the various cave systems in the Phong Nha Park which included a couple of caves that were quite recently discovered.


It was decided. We would go caving in Phong Nha, but it would take us x3 days to get there... after breakfast in Mai Chau, we fired up our trusty bikes, and we were off...






Chopsticks!






The riding along Hwy #15 from Mai Chau was incredible. Really fun twisty roads that had tons of mini towns and villages road-side and lots to see. At one point, we came across a zone that was all about chopsticks. We would see operation after operation making chopsticks out of bamboo. We pulled over at one and snapped a few pictures (above).


I managed to strap my iPhone onto my backpack again and I attempted to shoot a video cruising through one of the many small villages. Turns out, the iPhone shoots very reasonable video with anti-shake similar to the GoPro. Below is my rendition with zero editing...







We then came across an area that was promoting a certain Vietnamese 'cuisine' which we opted not to stop at. I didn't think our x2 'man's best friends' back home would feel very good about us indulging in such a delicacy, instead, we opted to ride-on.








The riding alongside the Sg.Ma River was great. I pulled over to have a look at this river-dredge of sorts - (at least I think that is what it was), and just before shooting my photo, a man in a suit came along on his scoot to have a look as well, he walked right in front of me so I figured I'd give him the honours and include him in my picture.






Along this stretch of highway and while paralleling the river, there also seemed to be quite a few operations harvesting long poles of bamboo on the opposite side of the river, loading it up on simple bardges and ferrying it to the opposite side where the road was.




I know I've mentioned this before, but one of my favourite times each day was during our morning coffee breaks. 9 times out of 10 at these random stops, we would meet at least one or more of Vietnam's colourful characters. We bought some stale, dusty packaged 'wagon wheel' style cookies, a Coca Cola and an iced tea drink from this guy. He then proceeded to sit with us while we enjoyed our snacks and he enjoyed a cigarette. I showed him our map and pointed at where I thought we were and he proceeded to point at an entirely different area on the map. Turns out, he didn't know where he was either and it didn't matter too much, we were there together.






Above - our typical road-side Com Pho lunch stop




We arrived at our destination for the day which was Yen Cat. I noticed this grand hotel off the highway at the north end of town, but I figured we'd push on and maybe have a look around town to see what it had to offer, if there were any other hotels and some options for supper.


Turns out, Yen Cat was a dusty little road-side town with not a tourist in sight. We doubled back to the huge hotel and were approached by a very young and energetic man at the front desk. He checked us into a room and helped us unload our bikes. The place was huge. And, it was extremely creepy. The hallways echoed and there wasn't another soul in sight, we were sure it was empty other than us. We asked the man at the front desk about a restaurant and he motioned over to an adjacent building and said, 'Yes!, Yes!' energetically.




Have I mentioned how creepy this Hotel was?? We ended up calling it The Twilight-Zone Hotel and we both were hoping we would for starters, wake up the next morning, secondly, at this location, alive, ... and not in some alternate universe with zombies. I kept telling Amanda not to look too close at the sheets and/or floors once she already saw holes in the sheets and mysterious items on the floor. I kept saying the closer she looked, the more nasties she was bound to find



It was a place to spend the night, a roof-over-our-heads, and unfortunately this hotel wouldn't be the lowest ranked hotel of our trip. We aren't complainers, we don't have super high standards, but on nights like these, the following morning couldn't arrive any sooner for the both of us.


IF the main hotel wasn't creepy enough, our restaurant experience was another story. Once we were ready for dinner, we headed over to their 'restaurant', as they called it. By this time, it was dark, which was perfect for the setting, and, it was now raining. We walked over to an adjacent building with no lights on and proceeded to walk further to an outdoor area covered with palm palapas and a few people were sitting around a table there seeking shelter from the rain. I said 'restaurant' and a young woman got up and waved us over to the dark building we were just at. She brought us in the front doors, sat us down at a table in a very large, dark room and brought us each menus, only in Vietnamese. The room must have had 30 odd tables with enough seating for at least a hundred, and we sat at large table for 8.




By that time in the trip, we knew how to order chicken, so we ordered chicken and rice and were lucky to order a plate of morning glory (fried spinach) as well. This building was equally as echoey and even more creepy. The next thing we heard is something that we both remember clearly. Just after ordering, we heard our chicken being hacked up on the chopping block, continuous loud 'thunks' of a clever smashing against a thick wooden block followed by an immediate ignition of a hissy propane burner. Not to be a drama-queen here, but it was quite startling.


Dinner was served. We ate. We filled our stomachs as best as possible, paid the bill to a random man who came out of the shadows and then we walked back to our 5-star room. Without discussion, Amanda locked and bolted the door upon entering and I placed a chair under the knob for good measure.


The next morning couldn't arrive soon enough...










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Old 01-14-2014, 01:03 AM   #89
ShaftyNZ
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SoloSurfer View Post
Hey Shafty, thanks for the shout-out.

I plan to do a full costs overview at the end of this RR - hopefully I'll have enough steam to pull that off. (Bikes, hotels, food, tours, fuel etc.)


A lot of places will rent you bikes for as low as $7-10/day and I'm sure even lower here and there if you searched hard. Another option is to buy bikes, typically 100cc Honda Win or Chinese knock-off version or Russian Minsks for in and around $200-$400 for a used one in various shapes and then sell it at the end of the trip.

As mentioned, I'll complete a more detailed cost breakdown at the end.

Cheers, hope this helps...
Awesome Solo, thanks Man

Shafty
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Old 01-15-2014, 01:20 PM   #90
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Location: Rossland BC, Canada
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Yen Cat to Huong Khe



Day 15 - Tuesday, November 19
Distance - 240 kms = total for day ~ 6-7 hrs
Trip Odometer = 1701 kms
Route - Yen Cat - Huong Khe. South from Yen Cat on HCMT (Ho Chi Minh Trail) Hwy #15 to Huong Khe.
Hotel - Khach San Son Ha (250,000d = $12.50)
Weather - Started out dry and cloudy and then got dark, darker and then wet, wet, wet, 'soggy-bottom-boys-wet', and then a bit more wet, some very cold, and finally soaked.




Undoubtedly, unequivocally, and fully-completely our wettest day yet. Our theme song for the day was 'Soaked to the Bone', which had absolutely no harmony, lyrics, and character like that of 'Bad to the Bone'. Now, it didn't rain all day long, but when it did, it ramped right up and it became that cold-wet as well which makes riding a motorbike quite the challenge both physically and mentally.


On a positive note, we woke up in the morning from our Twilight Zone Hotel and we were in the same reality, still in Vietnam, both alive, and both very happy to get back on the road. Sorry Yen Cat, but you didn't make the cut on our Top-20-in-'Nam experiences, better luck next time.




In the morning not too far south of Yen Cat, we came across this overturned rock truck. It was hard to say how long it had been there, but we didn't see any ambulance or police, just a few people milling about. It took up most of the road, but when theres a will, theres a way,... all traffic just seem to work their way around it and that was that, traffic was still flowing on the #15.




The rain started shortly after the overturned truck and continued for a good hour or so of riding. When pulling into the town of Pho Chau for our later afternoon lunch break, we were both quite cold. We were anticipating a typical large bowl of Pho for lunch, but instead, they were serving something different at the family run restaurant we stopped at. We had a really tasty alternative which was a combination of rice with pork, fried cucumbers and assorted veggies. It was a delicious meal and the family was great, really interactive with us. I'm guessing this was their daughter below and their grand daughter who was the entertainment at the lunch party.



I ordered a hot coffee and proceeded to ask for some extra hot water to top it up, mainly an attempt to warm my core temperature and also to dilute the extremely strong, syrupy-like consistency of the normal Vietnamese coffee served with sweetened condensed milk. The extra hot water came, but the owner and his wife were also pointing at the coffee poster on the wall motioning that the coffee is often served on ice.




Not before too long, I was double-fisting my hot coffee with an iced coffee as well, they were really interested in showing me all the types of ways coffee is served in Vietnam, and they wanted me to try all of them. Seeing that Amanda doesn't drink coffee, I had to step up to the plate and try them all.


After a great deal of 'cảm ơn bạn' (thank-you), we paid up and then put all of our layers back on for the cold road south. I had a very generous caffeine buzz flowing through my veins before getting back on the road.




We arrived to Huong Khe in mid afternoon with time to hunt around for a hotel. Huong Khe was a much larger town than that of Yen Cat, so we stopped at a bank machine as our supply of 'dong' was running low. We then toured around town looking for a hotel. Huong Khe has a man-made lake right in the middle of town which makes it much more appealing and picturesque. We toured around the lake and found a few hotel options.


We stopped at the first hotel which had a 'palace' type feel and inquired at the front desk to look at a room. They immediately asked for our passports and I motioned that we only wanted to 'look' at a room. Amanda even had this phrase on her iPhone from the day before and she showed the translated phrase to the man and woman at the front desk. It was painstakingly difficult to communicate that we only wanted to look at a room. We ended up checking out a few different rooms, and in all cases, we came across puddles on the floors and black mould on some of the walls. We thanked them and told them we would go and look at another hotel before making our decision. As we were getting back on our bikes, the manager came out and asked us what the problem was. We gestured that all was good and that we were going to look at rooms in another hotel before making our decision.


The same thing happened at another location. The front desk staff were great, they got the message that we just wanted to 'look', there seemed to be good communication at this one, but the manager had an offended look on his face when we decided to push on. I was fine with moving on from this place as the manager seemed like a jack-ass from the beginning anyway.


Our take is that we had time to look, there were a few options in town, so why not be like Goldilocks and find the right situation for us.




Our third option was going to be the best it was going to get in the town of Huong Khe, it was the Son Ha Hotel. Unfortunately, the room was somewhat dank and that was even before we threw all of our sopping wet gear throughout. Again, it was the best option we found, so we decided to go with it as it was a place to crash for the night.












Huong Khe was quite nice situated with a fairly large lake right in the centre of town, it reminded me of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. We decided to stop at a restaurant to eat which was alongside the lake and as we proceeded to sit down, a young man came out and gestured to us that we were not welcome to sit down. This wasn't in a negative manner, I was assuming that they were technically closed or something of the sort, maybe they were out of food?


We headed two doors down and sat at another establishment. We had a young teenage girl come to us as we sat and the first thing Amanda asked her was if they had WiFi. She gestured yes and Amanda typed a phrase on her iPhone. Even in the midst of a perfect 'Google Translation, the young girl's teenaged angst seemed to prevail. Awkwardness followed, she made a call and then passed her phone to me... sure enough, there was a guy at the other end speaking broken english and I told him we were looking for dinner.


My guess - this town rarely sees foreign tourists. BUT, I had the feeling that Huong Khe was in fact, a tourist town. With its situation on the lake, all of the choices of hotels, and the plethora of restaurants and stands lining the lake, I'm sure Huong Khe is a go-to destination for local tourists when the seasons and weather is right. I think we arrived in the low-season.














(Above) - Our Son Ha Hotel.




We both enjoyed the experiences we had with communication, whether it be looking at a hotel room or ordering food. This was sometimes frustrating when we felt we were clear with our communication and then adding the help from good old Google Translate. The bottom line was that if our communication wasn't clear at the receiving end, then we were back to square one, sitting there waving our arms and smiling, making shoveling motions towards our mouths like cavemen... minus the grunting


We would always end up with food or a room, but sometimes the 'getting' there with communication was more exhausting than the day on the bikes... it was all part of the adventure.


We knew our next night was going to be in Phong Nha National Park and our plan was to stay at the Phong Nha Farmstay - a combination Aussie/Vietnamese owned hostel complete with tour guides and meat pies... I was fairly certain that at the Farmstay we would be able to order with ease, and most definitely with the same smiles











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