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Old 03-29-2006, 09:17 PM   #1
danno626 OP
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North Vietnam - Back in the Bush

My first post!!! I know this may be a bit bold and unorthodox, but I thought I would introduce myself by sharing a recent motorcycle tour of Northwest Vietnam. I realize that North Vietnam is not a new destination, nor an unexplored region nor original idea, but maybe I can add a fresh prospective with some original photos. I can only hope that this is story number one of many.
I remember my father, a Vietnam War veteran, telling me that if it was not for the violence, the rain, the enemy, the heat, the communists or the military that Vietnam would be an extraordinary beautiful country of rich resources and wonderful people. Well…..the old man is nuttier than a fruitcake! It would be just plain wrong to miss an opportunity to prove or disprove his theory.
After 10 months in Iraq I was ready for a little “me time” travel…..7 countries, 4 months and a savings account later I was ready to rap up the tour with a motorcycle adventure of Northwest Vietnam. I couldn’t convince my buddies to leave Thailand so it was a solo, which by local advice was far from sane. Those of you who have traveled via motorcycle in third world destinations can appreciate the challenges and dangers.
My only preparation was reading Lonely Planets guide with a section for “Motor Biking” which surprisingly turned out to be very accurate and helpful. The plan was to rent a 125cc Belarusian made Minsk motorcycle from Cuong, a local Hanoi motorbike legend. The Minsk is very typically Soviet…..well engineered with poorly made parts. I was pleased to learn that the rental fee for this fine motorad was $5 a day USD and $1 for the helmet rental.
Gear = 1 Minsk, 1 Camelback MotherLoad backpack, 1 pair Icon SuperDuty 2 Street Boots, 1 set 5.11 Tactical Gear shirt and trousers, 1 HJC Helmet and passport.

There is an import/taxation issue with scooters and motorcycles in Vietnam. Apparently, in an attempt to slow Vietnamese riders down and reduce some of the horrific daily accidents (some of which I have pictures of but will not display) the government has instituted a disproportionate import tax making the purchase of a bike larger than 150cc unfeasible for the average Vietnamese citizen. That is not to say there are not liter bikes in Hanoi, in fact most larger bikes I saw were ridden by American and European expats. This is Cuong on a Minsk Sidecar with rear mounted spare in mint condition.

The plan was to ride south out of Hanoi and stop daily in Mau Chau, Son La, Dien Bien Phu, Lai Chau, Sapa, Ha Giang, Bac Ha, Meo Vac and finally back into Hanoi. Clockwise and roughly 12 days.

During the initial trip out of Hanoi, I seriously considered returning the bike and finding a Vietnamese 5 star hotel where I could pickle myself for the next week until my flight returned to Los Angeles. Click here for a taste of driving Hanoi. http://media.putfile.com/Motorcycling-Hanoi-By-Day
The roads were so insanely crowded with scooters, pedestrians, dogs, water buffalo, cars, vendors, police, and the lawlessness was shocking ….no stop signs, no traffic lights…. no rules!! Drivers simply refuse to look, but there is a strange flow of traffic once you get the feel for it, confidence becomes high. Several hours out of Hanoi and bam……the fun began.


Animals are the biggest threat on the roads because they are unpredictable -unlike people…in a two hour period I hit a dog and ran over a pig.


Upon my arrival in Mai Chau I found a Thai stilt house to stay in for the night…..the cost…..which included a 3 course meal……$4.


A funny story…while in Mai Chau I stopped by a Café, the word is still used due to the lingering French influence. A café can be anywhere anytime. It is not unusual to build one on the bottom floor of someone’s home or in their yard. I saw the sign and entered the side porch of a home owner. The owner lived adjacent to a small lake. I asked for a beer and we sat and chatted in broken English for approximately one hour. When I left I observed a walkway which followed the now apparent arrow on the Café sign, and at its completion I found the TRUE café. I, in essence, had just walked into a family’s home and drank a beer in their living room. They never gave me odd look, a bad word or inconsiderate act for my interloping. Typically Vietnamese! Here is their photo.

On the road from Dien Bien Phu (very unremarkable) to Sapa, a northern mountain town, my Lonely Planet guide informed me that the road would be very poor and slow. Well this was the 10% of disinformation. Since the latest publication of the guide the Vietnamese had installed a beautiful new paved road directly north towards the Chinese border. I would find out later the reason for this. This road could be best described as a perfectly manicured, uncrowded 60 kilometer go-kart track. Other than the occasional cow, I had the road to myself, and as I swept up the mountain-side I couldn’t help to think that this path was built for the adventure motorcyclist.

I overshot my turn in Te Muong and ended up on the Chinese border….I don’t know who was more confused the Viet border guards, me, or the Chinese road builders looking at me over the border in the picture.

My final push to the mountain city of Sapa and I cross the Son Da river….

At the base of the hill climb I came across these three girls standing on the retainer wall of the road which was cut into the side of the mountain, 300-400 feet straight down!!

For those who have toured in mountainous third world countries the next picture will give you flashbacks…LANDSLIDE!!!!

The last summit prior to Sapa:

Looking back on the road to Sapa…what I would have done for a supermoto bike!

At the Sunday market in Bac Ha. This is my favorite photo….this dog should be VERY, VERY nervous!

Vietnam has a very young population, children having children, especially among the indigenous people. This infant is a Hmong.

If you possess an interest in the tribes of Asia, Vietnam is an excellent choice to visit. Within the borders I met Hmong, Flower Hmong, Montagnard, Black Thai and here…..Red Zhao.

The Hmong and Montagnards were not always excited about being photographed so I ended up with a lot of photos like the next one.

Sapa is a phenomenal place both in beauty and hospitality. Click here for a sample: http://media.putfile.com/Road-To-Sapa


After an unexpected 5 days in Sapa it was time to move on. Ha Giang and Meo Vac are some of the most remote areas of Vietnam. Availability of lodging, food and friendliness come into question but what is not in question is the motorcycling. The roads get hairier and steeper and more exciting by the kilo. This area is protected by the communists for reasons I do not understand so I had to request permission to enter this area from the local police. $10 and 24 hours later I received the permit but not for an overnight stay.

The trip back to Hanoi was hectic and dangerous; I completed it in 8 hours. By this time I was so confident on the Minsk that I was not passed by one car, scooter or motorcyclist until downtown Hanoi…over 400 kilometers later.
For the report card on the Minsk, I have to say it is a simple machine that simply worked great. 1600 Kilometers in two weeks without a flat and without a mechanical problem. Just a cheap predictable Stallion. Only problem I ran into was shifting down from 5th to 4th once the gear box warmed up, and I just avoided that by going from 5th to 3rd and back up to 4th. Not sure why that worked…..but it did.
As a Marine I have hard time admitting that communism just works for some people, but if it works for anyone it’s the North Vietnamese. They place little value on income and possessions and in general concentrate on family. The Vietnamese are kind generous people and I highly recommend a trip there, for no other reason than the price. I could comfortably live on $25-$30 a day on rentals, lodging and food. The beer is good…a 12 ounce Bia Hoi cost me 1500 Dong…..about 8.5 cents…..yeah cents! If you go, I recommend buying or renting an open faced helmet, unless you don’t want to be the center of attention in town.
As far as proving my father right or wrong, well I did find proof:

Proof…getting there is half the fun…getting there quickly is ¾ the fun.
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Old 03-29-2006, 09:25 PM   #2
Marbleless
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Talking Ho, Ho, Ho, Chi Minh

Man, what a beautiful country. I've been thinking about a Vietnam trip ever since I heard it was a beautiful and inexpensive ADV riding destination. Thanks for sharing!

-M
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Old 03-29-2006, 10:23 PM   #3
turkish
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Great report Danno, and welcome!

I was on those same roads myself last year. Glad to see others riding there too.

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Old 03-30-2006, 04:25 AM   #4
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Makes me feel very boring - your a stud! Thanks for the great story!
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Old 03-30-2006, 05:19 AM   #5
GB
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Very nice pics! That's one sad lookin' bike, but it did the job!

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Old 03-30-2006, 05:33 AM   #6
Raidrallyrider
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Great report and pics. Thanks for sharing
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Old 03-30-2006, 05:54 AM   #7
pilot
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Danno626
My first post!!! I know this may be a bit bold and unorthodox, but I thought I would introduce myself by sharing a recent motorcycle tour of Northwest Vietnam.
Actually, this is the best possible way to introduce yourself. Nice report, great pics.
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Old 03-30-2006, 10:42 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by pilot
Actually, this is the best possible way to introduce yourself. Nice report, great pics.

Yes it is, the black text is a little harder to read, but great report and pics.
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Old 03-30-2006, 11:58 AM   #9
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Outstanding!
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Old 03-30-2006, 05:08 PM   #10
gypsy77360
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forget?

http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=32394
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Old 03-30-2006, 05:15 PM   #11
Eaglebeak
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Went to 'Nam in 94 with Mrs Beak No.1.
Trains and buses all the way from the South (Ho Chi Minh City) to the Chinese border. Finally got to ride a bike around Sapa where I hired one for a few days.

Great scenery, I enjoyed the far north the best. Thanks for posting, brought back a few memories.

Andrew Linton.
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Old 03-30-2006, 05:22 PM   #12
Jeff Munn
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Fantastic first report

Thanks for taking us along. (The black type is hard to read though)

So what are you going to do for an encore? Surely you've done some good riding in Thailand?
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Old 03-30-2006, 06:12 PM   #13
danno626 OP
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Thanks Guys.....lesson learned....contrasting text colors. Jeff, I have reports for Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas and Nicaragua to Panama, but there was something about Vietnam. Thailand and Cambodia were great but Vietnam was so "non-tourist", desolate and primitive it made for great touring. I really would not have known what to do in an accident....I think that made it more exciting.
I have never been to South America...maybe in a year.
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Old 03-30-2006, 06:20 PM   #14
Jeff Munn
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Vietnam was a great choice

You chose well. I can only dream of riding in Vietnam someday. But who knows? I love the remote areas as well, but they are becoming fewer and fewer with the world opening up. Great first report! Can't wait for the next one? Maybe a ride report from Iraq?
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Old 03-30-2006, 07:06 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by danno626
During the initial trip out of Hanoi, I seriously considered returning the bike and finding a Vietnamese 5 star hotel where I could pickle myself for the next week until my flight returned to Los Angeles.

I had the same feeling traveling in Thailand's larger cites. It seemed out of control at first, but road rage didn't seem to exist there. Maybe its a Buddhist thing.

Great trip report and incredible photos. If the scenery doesn't hook you the price will. Looks like a good trip for a globetrotter!
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