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Old 02-28-2012, 08:52 AM   #1
Bent_boot42 OP
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2up on 100cc Honda across Vietnam

Hello fellow adv riders, I hope Vietnam hasn't been overdone since the Top Gear episode a few years ago. We are a Canadians couple traveling around the world and the best part should be the 2 weeks spent crossing Vietnam on a tiny Honda with no plans just looking for ADVenture. We travel pretty light (7kg each) but we are still making that little Honda work pretty hard. Only a 4 speed tranny means highway cruising only sometimes gets above 80km/hr and that doesn't happen much in the mountains. That Top Gear Vietnam episode is what inspired this leg of our round the world trip and it seems like there have been at least a few others to ride this route before us. (Top Gear episode I'm referring to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top_Gear:_Vietnam_Special or http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/vietnam-pt-1)

Picture of us.


Some background info on us (feel free to skip this); I am a 29yr old Canadian from Victoria, BC. I have been riding since 18 but riding a lot more the last 4 years. I have 3 bikes I ride in Canada a Honda CBR600 F2, Honda XL250R and a Sherco 290 (trials bike). By the way trials is freaking awesome and was definitely worth selling my F4i for the Sherco. My girlfriend and riding buddy this trip rides a 50cc scooter at home and has had some practice on my XL250R. She is also a nurse at home and although this makes me feel slightly better about any little `get offs` that may occur, I am not eager to test her skills. I also do a lot of wrenching on my bikes and again hope to not need those particular skills much on this trip. We have been travelling now for 2 months and have 2 more before I need to be back at work. Only the Vietnam (about 2 weeks) portion of our trip is by bike and therefore I will not be posting much about our other adventures though we are travelling all the way around the world and so far it has been awesome. We started in Belize, then Guatemala and then 3 weeks in China from Harbin (-20 degrees celsius) in the North to Hong Kong and a lot of in between. After China we flew into Bangkok and spent about 12 days in Thailand (rented a couple of scooters on the islands which was a blast). After Vietnam we are flying to Istanbul to do one and a half months in Eastern Europe.

The plan is to ride from Ho Chi Min city (Saigon) North to Hue (about half way up the country) and then because of time restraints (and because Top gear cheated as well) catch a train (with the bike) North to Ha Noi where we will spend another 3-5 days touring the Northern part of Vietnam, focusing on Ha Long Bay.

We are currently in Da Lat and 5 days out of Ho Chi Min but I will start the story from the beginning.

Day one in Ho Chi Minn was fun and although the traffic looked a bit crazy it wasn`t the horrible chaos it had been built up to be. I was fairly sure I could handle the melee and since the speeds are always about 30 to 45km/hr not terribly scary anyway. Since our flight arrived at 9am (and Visa on arrival processing took only 15min ) we decided to save a buck and try and catch the local bus to our pre-booked $18 hotel (Blue River 2 near Ben Than market). The bus turned out to be super easy, cost about 22 cents for both of us and dropped us a 5 min walk from our hotel. After check-in and a shower (damn it`s hot here) we went looking for some street food and a motorbike. Since EVERYONE in Vietnam rides a bike, almost every shop or business looks like it is a motorcycle shop as there are about a dozen bikes parked in front. We asked a couple of bike repair shops if they would sell us a bike (nobody speaks English but miming works) but I guess the division between repair and sales is bigger than I thought it would be, since they all refused to sell us anything. I had spent 30min on Craigslist Vietnam back at the hotel and there were a few bikes on there worth looking at but the people selling were on there way to Ho Chi Min and wouldn`t be in town for 2 days, so we kept at it. Stopping to eat as well (of course) which is easy and fun (and cheap) but not moto related. We found the shop pictured below after only 1hr of wandering around and this guy was great, not pushy, really decent English, seemed legit and would either sell us a bike for US$350 or rent us the same bike for US$80 (for up to a month). After inspecting all 3 bikes he had, well the guy was operating out of an awning on the side of a building, how many bikes did you expect him to have, I decided I liked the kick-start only 100cc Honda Win. The chain wasn`t knackered like one of the others, the carb looked freshly cleaned, the gas tank smelled fresh, no leaks around the fork seals and the oil leaks looked pretty minor (of course it leaks oil, come on!). We asked him to hold it for a bit as we kept wandering looking for options. Of course the other options were pushy wierdo guys who wanted $10US a day and to hold on to our passports... no way! Our original guy wanted only a photocopy and was the one who suggested to us that we could easily return his bike from wherever we ended up by train, simply load it on a train (costs about US$25) and mail him the paperwork so he could pick it up.

Traffic in Ho Chi Min


The shop and owner


The next morning we showed up, strapped our back packs to the rear rack and followed him out of town. He dropped us off at a ferry crossing a river that he had marked on the photocopied map book he had given to us the day before and that was it... of we go. Heading to Vung Tau, somewhere East of where we were on tiny roads marked as highways on the map and not marked at all on the roads themselves, oh well at least we had some money in our pocket (only about $50) .

The bike with bags strapped on


Following The Bike`s owner out of Ho Chi Min


Ferry crossing out of HCMC. Our bike is bottom left of img with a green bag visible on the back


On the road at last


Stopped for a drink (fresh coconut) and met these kids


I hope this ride report is up to the high standard usually found on ADVrider and the detail given is reasonable and interesting, constructive criticism would be appreciated (flamers can suck it). What are you guys/gals interested in? More mechanical detail about the bike? How to ride in traffic? Our license/paperwork (or lack thereof)? Road conditions? How to navigate? Finding a hotel (not easy sometimes)?

Next post: Vung Tau

Bent_boot42 screwed with this post 03-01-2012 at 05:43 AM
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Old 02-28-2012, 09:11 AM   #2
JDK111
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I'm in.
I want pics pics pics.

And you're right - scootering in Thailand is a BLAST. Wife & I did a month there in Dec/Jan (including the islands)
Are you using Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor? We did, with excellent results
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Old 02-28-2012, 09:37 AM   #3
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I'm in.
I want pics pics pics.
yes!! what he said!

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Old 02-28-2012, 10:03 AM   #4
Bent_boot42 OP
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pics pics pics

do those skydrive links to the pictures not work for you guys? either way I have just signed up for photobucket and am in the process of uploading (second time tonight, it's almost 1am here and the wifi is not as fast as I would like ) so they should work soon.

How's this?
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Old 02-28-2012, 05:20 PM   #5
thomas.tc.young
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Originally Posted by Bent_boot42 View Post
do those skydrive links to the pictures not work for you guys? either way I have just signed up for photobucket and am in the process of uploading (second time tonight, it's almost 1am here and the wifi is not as fast as I would like ) so they should work soon.

How's this?
that's fookin awesome. the pics work, keep 'em coming!
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Old 02-29-2012, 07:52 AM   #6
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Cool2 Vung Tau

So on the way to Vung Tau we didn't get lost much at all. I was quite surprised by this as the signage on the roads is not very easily deciphered and the signs are certainly not plentiful. The ride today was a lot of fun, not too many amazing roads, just roadworks/detours and highways but it was pretty easy riding when the big rigs aren`t careening past blowing their air horns (just in case you don`t see them). The country is beautiful though, even though today was pretty flat the scenery kept us `ooing` and `aahhing` all the way. Hot though, air conditioning at the bank made me glad our debit cards didn`t work so we had to hang around talking about it for 15min.
Our bike`s top speed is about 80km/hr (don`t know for sure as the speedo is busted) and cruising speed is around 70km/hr but rarely are we able to cruise for long. The roads aren`t in the greatest shape and quite a few times I`ve had to slam on the brakes (drum brakes front and back) to slow for a pothole/slump/ledge in the road. The little Honda takes these bumps well enough, spring damping is almost non-existent so pogo-ing is the norm but considering the almost 40lbs of bags hanging way out over the back and the two adults riding I am just glad the huge bumps don`t just blow the shocks out completely. That weight out back is also a bit of a bitch for the steering... when we first pulled in to traffic in Ho Chi Min the steering wobble was crazy, almost a tank slapper just from the terrible weight distribution. A light touch at the bars is SO mandatory on this thing it is ridiculous (thank you trials riding, I surely would have dumped it without that experience).

On the road again


Arrived in Vung Tau about 4pm and found a hotel surprisingly easily, only $7.50cdn for the night with air conditioning and free wifi (though it turned out the wifi was busted). Dinner cost more, a whopping $10 at a fancy restaurant on the ocean with a spectacular view of the sunset.

View at dinner


Riding around after dinner was fun, the traffic at night is heavier as everyone (or the younger crowd at least) goes for an after dinner cruise. The flow of traffic is quite easy to get the hang of, the rules are simple; keep an equal distance from those around you, don`t change direction quickly and don`t hit/flow around stationary objects. Our bike doesn`t have a working tail light (brake light does work) which was something that really freaked me initially but half the bikes out at night don`t have one either and no one is too upset about it.

The next morning we had breakfast at an Australian place (kind of out of the blue) but it was very good and the beans on toast were excellent. Then we headed for the beach.

The Beaches of Vung Tau

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Old 03-01-2012, 06:38 AM   #7
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La Gi the worst beach resort town

Great day of riding along the coast today, though we didn't leave Vung Tau very early (about 2pm by the time we got off the beach etc.) so we weren't planning making many kilometers today. We ended up in La Gi near sunset and were having some trouble locating a hotel, we ended up following some signs to a "Resort and Spa" that was just 9km down the road. That was a mistake as the Resort/Spa was super pricey ($50USD/night) and now it was getting pretty dark. We kept at it for another 10 minutes and found some smaller resorts that were still a bit steep but at least right on the beach, after checking out 3 and almost getting stuck in the very loose sand on one driveway we settled for the one on the wrong side of the highway for only $15cdn/night. It wasn't bad, had A/C but when we went looking for dinner the market was a gong show. I like a gong show most of the time but this had the atmosphere of a really cheap carnival with garbage EVERYWHERE. This market was right on the beach too... sand all littered with styrofoam and empty cans/bottles. It was super crowded with Vietnamese (on vacation I assume) and pretty lame. We did get dinner and made friends with one local kid and some Norwegians who had hiked down the beach from their super Resort/Spa a few kms away.

The ride out the next morning on our way to Ma Lam was amazing though, mile after mile of twisty beach side road with really good pavement and stunning views. Both our cameras were pretty low on batteries today so we, unfortunately weren't able to get a lot of pics on this leg, but we picked up more AA's in Phan Thiet.



More good food, this time in Phan Thiet


We were now heading inland towards the mountains of southern Vietnam. Our destination in the mountains is Da Lat but we are stopping first in Ma Lam for the night. We did get a bit lost on the way to Ma Lam and during this period of being unsure weather we were on the right road or not we lost the left rear shock! That felt pretty weird, riding along at 75km/hr and suddenly losing half the rear suspension. We were fine though, pulled over, figured out pretty quickly that the lower mounting point had simply slipped off the swing arm and walked the bike 150meters to the nearest farm house. They found us a 12mm wrench and 5min later we were on our way again (still going in the wrong direction as per their instructions).

fixing the rear shock


All fixed and ready to get lost


When we finally figured out we were going the wrong way we turned around and headed back towards Phan Thiet. Luckily before we had gone more than 10kms we stopped for gas and also to confirm with the gas station owner where we were going he seemed to indicate their was a shortcut to get back on the right route as we were kind of parallel to it. After stopping twice more to ask directions we found the little dirt path that should cross the farmland between the two roads. That was a great bit of dirt road, potholed to the extreme and narrow as hell with huge trucks heavily laden both coming at us and needing to be passed. There were also (as always around this time of day) a bunch of school kids waving and grinning at us. What a beautiful country and so much fun to ride through. I REALLY wanted to stop at the little stream where a few kids were swimming to cool off but it was getting dark and we needed to find somewhere to sleep.

On the way to Ma Lam

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Old 03-08-2012, 04:25 PM   #8
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Whut's Tha Dealio?

Where be sum mo' words and pix, mate?

Have you abandoned your fellow inmates for time with your hot girlfriend and beautiful Vietnam?

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Old 03-10-2012, 02:40 AM   #9
Bent_boot42 OP
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abandon

umm..... yes? Wouldn't you?

actually I am almost set for another post but the actual riding keeps getting in the way

Actually most of the problem is the lack of internet. Most hotels have it but the last few days we have been out of internet and most of the time when we do have access it is pretty slow.

More soon but here is a pic to keep you going:

This is just after She had spent 30min learning to ride the bike
Photobucket
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Old 03-10-2012, 02:58 AM   #10
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I'm in....!
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Old 03-10-2012, 06:58 AM   #11
Bent_boot42 OP
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Cool2 Da Lat

The road through the mountains to Da Lat was breathtaking but also STEEP and our little bike was really struggling. Some of the switchbacks are so steep/narrow/blind the Vietnamese have placed those rounded parking garage mirrors so you can see if a huge MAC truck is about to knock you off the side of the mountain. 100cc's is not really enough for this and we had to stop every 30min or so to let the poor thing cool off. We rode most of the day today in 2nd gear going up and up and up at 20 to 30km/hr which is pretty slow but made worse by the extreme heat. Normally while riding we get a bit of a break from the heat by making our own wind (though sometimes it is like riding through a furnace) but today we just baked. By the end of the afternoon the gain in altitude did seem to make a difference and we had some relief. This heat plays a huge role in gear choice as well, when I ride at home I am always in a full face helmet, biker boots, armour and gloves but here I have been riding in thin cotton pants that are so light they barely exist and the thinnest T-shirt I have. Still we are better geared than the locals simply by wearing proper shoes instead of flip-flops and helmets that actually have foam padding, not just pieces of tin in the shape of a hat.





Some of the loads carried on bikes in Vietnam are a bit ridiculous but here are a couple of crazy guys riding the crazy mountain roads



View from the side of the highway just before we got to Da Lat



Da Lat itself is somewhat un-remarkable. There is a lake in the middle of town and for a couple of bucks we took the typical touris pedal boat that looks like a swan out for an hour but that's about it. The market at night is alright (pictured) but there are a lot more tourists here than most of the places we have been and that sucks. The coffee is still amazing and the bakery downtown was good as well.


The next post will be our ride from Da Lat to Na Trang along a new highway that is almost finished and the most amazing road, I think, I have ever ridden.

I have been taking pictures of the cool little thumpers I have been seeing here in SE Asia and couldn't resist posting this one, let me know if you want to see some more.
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Old 03-10-2012, 05:49 PM   #12
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Love your pics. More pleaseeeee. Thanks.
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Old 03-11-2012, 07:55 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Bent_boot42 View Post

I have been taking pictures of the cool little thumpers I have been seeing here in SE Asia and couldn't resist posting this one, let me know if you want to see some more.

Ohmygoodnessgracious YES! Small displacement single cylinders are the best fun! PIX, young man!
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Old 03-11-2012, 08:48 AM   #14
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little thumper pics

Hey nicholastanguma, glad you like the little thumper pics , here are a couple more good ones.


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Old 03-14-2012, 12:23 AM   #15
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Talking Best road ever Da Lat to Na Trang

This post is the reason for Ride Reports... I have to share this amazing road with other riders who would appreciate something so perfect. This is probably the best road I have EVER ridden, the mountains were incredible, the waterfalls went for thousands of feat, the weather was perfect, almost no traffic and hundreds of breathtaking vistas… and it lasted the WHOLE day, about 150kms. It was AMAZING. The mountain pass we went through must have been a few thousand feet up and was pretty chilly for an hour or two but the clouds (in pics) were just for ambiance and we didn’t get rained on a bit.
The map we are using for the trip is just a bunch of photocopies stapled together given to us by the guy we rented our bike from, he also suggested a lot of our route and marked this road with pen on the map because it hadn't been there when the map was printed. (it still isn't completed so that is understandable) Here is my best guess at the route we took (marked on this google map pic as TL723)


Leaving Da Lat and heading up into the higher mountains we were still very warm, wearing Tshirt and shorts, stopped for a Vietnamese coffee and it must have been almost 30C but then we started to really head up hill


Only a kilometer or so was still being constructed but the guys working on it were all super happy to see us and waved and shouted as we rode through taking pics and weaving in the loose sand


As we got higher the temperature fell rapidly and we stopped to get our jackets out


Here is the classic ADVrider pose at the top of the pass, from here on it was downhill out of the mountains to the coast of Na Trang


A break in the clouds as we start the decent



That is a waterfall on the far side of the valley, it was huge!


One of the hairpin turns that littered the day with fun


Another gratuitous posing shot


A good view of the road clinging to the edge of the mountain


Same shot as above but without zooming in on the road




View down the valley


After we came out of the mountains and dodged some water buffaloes and pigs crossing the road we stopped to snap a shot of this beautiful river


The highway was in pretty rough shape after we got out of the mountains, crews were repairing it though. We were dodging steam rollers and other huge road building machinery all over the place, no signal people or organization, just up to us to not get squashed

The change from towering mountains to dead flat rice paddies was pretty quick, here I am as the sun is setting about an hour outside of Na Trang


After stopping to admire the view and take pictures for so much of the day, not to mention our tiny bike's miserable top speed we got into Na Trang after dark and stopped at a hotel on the main road so we could eat and sleep. The next moring we took off for the beach and found a proper hotel to relax in for a couple of days, here is the view from our ($10) room.


And the beach right outside our hotel


Cruising around Na Trang, a beautiful city with good food and just a few too many tourists
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