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Old 03-05-2012, 09:35 PM   #61
davidbrundage
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Originally Posted by nicholastanguma View Post
We would also like to see more of you in the photos, as well. Wearing something lacy, please.


Hurry up wit yo story, homey!
no offense to nicholastanguma, but i would just like more photos in general (with or without the minsk and/or you in anything lacy)! just sayin'! we're all lovin' the report and photos as is, keep it going!

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Old 03-05-2012, 09:39 PM   #62
2WheelTrampin
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Awesome ! Thanks for the ride! Vietnam is beautiful!
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Old 03-05-2012, 11:15 PM   #63
Pete_Tallahassee
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Great report and pics. Glad you got over the solo travel part. Solo travel is now my favorite way to go.
I did north Vietnam for 30 days back in OCT of 2009. You are really bringing back the memories.
Thanks.

I posted a link to my report back then. This site and the gt-rider site were great for information.
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Old 03-06-2012, 06:29 PM   #64
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I think I have one shot of me that hasn't been posted yet. If I recall, I wasn't wearing any thing lacy. I'm always the one behind the camera, so I don't tend to show up in them too often.
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Old 03-06-2012, 06:38 PM   #65
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Great report and pics. Glad you got over the solo travel part. Solo travel is now my favorite way to go.
I did north Vietnam for 30 days back in OCT of 2009. You are really bringing back the memories.
Thanks.

I posted a link to my report back then. This site and the gt-rider site were great for information.
30 days! I don't think I could have done 30 on a bike out there. You're a better man than I. I'm looking forward to checking out your report!

It's funny too think that I had so much of an issue solo. I can't imagine traveling on a bike any other way now.
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Old 03-12-2012, 10:29 PM   #66
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Day 7

Sorry this took so long. Hope to get Day 8 up sooner than later. Thanks for checking it out. Enjoy!


As great as previous day had been, it was brutal on my body. I had hoped for a good nights sleep, but protecting myself from the pube-ridden bed meant sleeping in jeans and a long sleeve shirt. This made for a long, sweaty, pinchy, bindy night. I also had to contend with a karaoke battle that raged well into the night. By the time the roosters started crowing I’d only gotten an hours worth of sleep. As it became light out, I was finally able to drift into a deep sleep. I had planned on getting an early start, but figured I’d make up for the restless night by sleeping in. This would have solved the problem if not for the person that had opened my locked door and entered my room just after 8am. As exhausted as I was I couldn’t be sure that I wasn’t dreaming. It took a moment for my brain to reboot. I came to just in time to see a blurry shape rush out the door. I jumped up, ready to drop some justice on whoever had surely just cleaned me out. I flew out the front door after the intruder. The eighty-year-old maid turned sheet white when she saw al 6’8” of me exit the room, fists clenched. Awkward!

The adrenaline spike ruined any chances of falling back to sleep. Time to pack up and mentally prepare to push my bike in search for gas. I decide to just leave everything in the hotel, until I filled up. No point pushing the extra weight around. This place didn’t have a gate, and my bike was not pulled inside, so I was relieved to see it waiting where I left it. At dinner the night before I was told to head right and I’d find fuel about a mile from the hotel. As I started to push, I decided to try and kick it over a few times. Just in case. Sure enough, it started right up. I made a beeline down the driveway and took the right. Just get me there, please! Just as I started to feel like I was going to make it, I realized I’d left the bottle of oil back in the room. Being a 2 stroke, this created a problem.

All of the larger gas stations had oil, but the smaller street vendors didn’t. I had no idea which of these I would run into down the road. I felt the best option was to turn around, pick up the bottle, and hopefully be able to restart it. The last thing I wanted to do was leave the bike with a street vendor (did I mention the Minsk doesn’t have a key), and make the trip back to the hotel on foot. Lucky for me it worked out. I retrieved the oil, and the bike started right up. I almost made it to the gas station (a big one), and only had to push the bike for thirty yards. I emptied the oil bottle and was able to purchase a new one. This created a bit of a problem for me. There was no place to throw the empty bottle. Let me rephrase that. I wasn’t comfortable throwing it where the attendant gestured for me to throw it. He just pointed to a ditch on the side of the road.

From cultural stand point I know I should have done it. By not throwing garbage in the street I was saying that I knew better than him, but I just couldn’t do it. I guess Woodsy the Owl had a much more profound impact on me than I had been aware of. So although I’m sure I insulted him in some way, I bungeed both bottles to the bike and made my way back to the hotel. I was glad to see they had a trashcan at the reception desk. For all I know they just dumped it in the back, but I felt like I made a concerted effort to not let my visit impact this beautiful place.

Check out was smooth except for the fact that I almost rode away without my passport. The girl behind the counter made no effort to return it to me, and I’d completely forgotten that I had left it with them. It was only after I’d packed up and was ready to ride away that I realized it was missing. When I asked for it, she opened a drawer that was stuffed with Chinese passports, and a number of Vietnamese ID cards. Mine was the only American passport in a drawer full of burgundy books, but she couldn’t seem to figure out which was mine. She opened five of the Chinese passports before getting to mine. Each time looking at the picture then at me. Number six was the winner. She smiled triumphantly as she handed it to me. Time to move on.

Heading out of town.








I wasn’t on the road long, and I came across a small roadside market.


Other than freshly made bread out front, all they seemed to sell was candy, beer, and coffee. This would have to do for now.


Even though they were kind enough to print this sign in English for me, I had no idea how far north I’d come. Like most of the towns I’d passed, Vi Xuyen District wasn’t on my map.


This was a really strange spot. An entire hillside had been planed off with exception to this patch with a lone tree sprouting from it.


More of the river.




I’m not sure why, but I passed a small dirt road on the opposite side of the street, and felt compelled to see where it went.




At this point I’d come about of a mile into the canyon. The road up until this point was pretty easy going. The next mile was miserable. Steep hills, ruts, and rocks. The Minsk couldn’t make it up with me on it, and struggled even with me pushing it. The effort was well worth it though. After that small stretch, the road again became rideable .





At about two miles back the road dead-ended in a quiet little valley. It was incredibly serene. Nothing but chirping birds and the clanging bell of a water buffalo. At the edge of the valley sat three stilt houses.



In order to get to my good camera, I had to do this to my packing job. I never figured out how to pack efficiently.


As I was unpacking I heard a voice off in the distance. A young boy kept hollering at me from one of the stilt houses. I’d wave, and he’d hide. I’d go back to unpacking, and he’d scream something to get my attention, then hide again. We kept playing this game until two older boys made there way down from the houses. Initially they didn’t seem to know what to do. They just stood staring. I waved, and they slowly waved back. It took a good ten minutes, but they finally made there way down to me. Here’s the result.



















Like all of the other kids that I ran into, they loved seeing their pictures on the back of the camera. The boy in the striped shirt wanted to actually take some pictures. I was hesitant to let him do it at first, but figured I could always get another camera if he somehow managed to break it. For him this may have been a once in a lifetime experience, so I set it to auto, and let him shoot away.
He took these shots.






I hung out in the valley for about an hour, taking pictures and trying to communicate with the kids, then I was off.








I didn’t see anyone on the way back to the main road, and only a few scooters and Chinese tour buses until I hit the town of Ha Giang (in Ha Giang province). The first thing that caught my eye as I entered the town, there was a huge statue of Ho Chi Minh surrounded by adoring stone citizens.




One of the strangest things I’d seen occurred as I was riding up to the statue. An old woman was squatting topless on the walkway to the statue. She was quietly chanting and slapping her shoulders and chest with her hands. My first inclination was to see if she needed help, but I was worried that this may have been ceremonial in some way. I seemed to be the only one in the area that even noticed her. The locals paid her no mind, so I went about my business. I still think about that situation from time to time, and wonder if I should have at least approached her. Hard to say?

Just in front of the statue. I know! I should have taken one with the bike and the statue, but my time machine is broken, so this will have to do.


I found a small supermarket that was very similar to what we have in the States, although not as fully stocked. I was looking for bottled water, but settled for detergent. Here’s the result of being on the road for a few days.


Finding a hotel was a bit of a challenge. Most of the buildings looked identical, and few of them had signs of any kind. I walked into six buildings before finding an actual hotel. All in all, not to daunting. I was walked up to the room, and on the surface it looked fine. It was only after I had unpacked and lugged my gear to the third floor, that I realized my bed was nothing but a box spring. One more lesson learned. Always check the bed before checking in!

My view.


My Bed.


My Bathroom.


The “Beautiful” pillow and cigarette burn.


And by far the best find of the entire trip. A Chinese condom that was stuffed in between the stained pillow and the pillow case with the broken zipper.


Once I finished washing all my riding clothes in the sink, and hanging them on the coat rack that I moved to the outside patio, I decided to take a shower. I had just put on a pair of underwear, when there was a knock on my door. “Hold on a second.” This obviously meant nothing to the woman on the other side of the door. She walked right in. Although she was surprised to see me standing there half naked, she made no attempt to leave. Instead, she gave me a slight apologetic bow, and rushed over to the TV cabinet, and retrieved a briefcase from one of the drawers. One more quick nod and she was gone.

I was really hoping to get some shots in town before the sun went down, but I had important business to tend to. I learned from the teachers the day before that the route north of Ha Giang was a protected area, and I would need to get a permit in order to travel beyond the city limits. None of them were really sure how to acquire one, but thought that a local hotel would know. My concern was that I wouldn’t be able to communicate what I wanted, and even if they understood me, how would they walk me through the steps to get one. Up until this point, everything just seemed to work out, so I wasn’t to stressed about it. I walked out my room headed for the stairs, and fate (don’t really believe in fate, but it works here) stepped in again. Two employees were plugging in a Linksys router that was sitting on a table they had set up right next to the stairwell on my floor. What are the odds of that? I ran back to the room, grabbed my ITouch and made my way to the front desk. With the help of Google Translate I was able to find exactly what I needed to do. It was simply really. Just go to the police station, give them a valid Vietnamese drivers license and they would issue the permit.

In case you’ve forgotten, driving in Vietnam without a license is illegal, and getting that license is impossible for the average non-Vietnamese speaking tourist. I’d been taking a chance by riding this far without one, but I hadn’t been to worried about it. I figured that if I didn’t drive like a mad man, or hit anything I’d be okay. Walking into a police station was a whole different beast though. As I saw it, I had three options. I could turn around and head back the way I came. I could risk making the trip without the permit. Or, I could walk into the lion’s den and plead ignorance if they asked for a license. Because the hotel now had internet, I decided to look into the issue online. What’s the worst that could happen if rode on without the permit? What I found wasn’t “Midnight Express” bad, but it wouldn’t have been good. In all the cases I found, riders were shaken down for excessive bribes, and in the best cases, forced to turn their motorcycles around, or in the more severe cases, bused out of the area, and their bikes were either placed on trucks back to Hanoi, or confiscated. It didn’t help to read that all but one of these cases involved locals. Locals that most likely had a valid drivers license.

Heading back the same road I came in on wasn’t an option for me. I hadn’t come this far just to turn around. Option number two didn’t seem very desirable either. The guy at the front desk also mentioned that I would need a local guide to lead me through. This made riding without the permit seem more dangerous. Unlike the rest of the trip thus far, I’d be painting a huge bulls eye on my back if I rode up alone. No guide would automatically imply that I hadn’t secured a permit. This only left one option.

When I asked how to get to the police station, the guy behind the counter shouted, and man in his forties appeared from the area they had me park the bike. There was a back and forth between them, then he waved me over. He pushed his scooter out of the enclosure and motioned for me to get on. On more than one occasion I almost tapped him on the shoulder to get him to turn around. This trip had been an emotional rollercoaster so far, but this was the first time I was genuinely scared. The image of me pulling out my cool Vietnamese prison story at a dinner party was quickly loosing its luster.

My ride pointed at the correct building, and as soon as both of my feet hit the ground, he was gone. When I walked through the front door, I saw two women in uniforms sitting behind a partition that ran the length of the small room. Standing behind them was a woman in a white blouse and black skirt. I smiled and said hello. They all smiled and greeted me right back. I was feeling a lot better about this. Before I left the hotel I typed “Can I purchase a permit for the north” into Google translate, and left it on the ITouch. I handed it to one of the uniformed officers, and she immediately started speaking in Vietnamese. When it became clear that I didn’t understand her, the woman in the blouse stepped in, and began to speak English. Are you kidding me? She spoke better English than the English teacher from the boarding school. This was either going to make me or break me. She could either hold my hand through the whole process, or interrogate me about riding without a license. As with everything up to this point things worked out in my favor.

All I needed was my passport (back at the hotel of course) and a local guide. She gave me the number of the company that took people up, but when I reminded her that I couldn’t speak the language, she delegated the task to one of the other woman. Ten minutes later my guide showed up to take me back to pick up my passport. I had been keeping my Vietnamese Visa inside my passport, and had made a habit of checking for it whenever I took the book out, or put it away. This time as I opened it, this fell out.


It had to have gotten in there at the hotel from the night before. Luckily I was heading to a police station. I gave them the card, had them Xerox my passport, and then my guide and I were off to his office. Once we arrived he didn’t do much, but smoke. A woman who was waiting for us brought me inside and started pounding away at an adding machine trying to figure out what to charge me. For some reason this took almost forty-five minutes. For $60 I got the permit, the guide, fuel for both my bike and his scooter, a nights hotel stay for both of us, and food. I was fine with the amount; I just hated the idea of having to follow someone else’s lead. It was at that moment that I realized just how much I preferred solo riding.

I didn’t get out in time to take pictures prior to the sun going down, but I managed to get the essentials handled. Here’s what I was able to get.












As I was taking this picture I could hear people giggling. When I turned around I saw a two children, a woman, and a young man that was tatted up.


He invited me over to his little storefront restaurant, where we sat for over an hour. He spoke no English, but I found him to be the easiest person to communicate with on the trip so far. I learned that it took him four days to ferment the rice wine he made right there on the spot. I learned that six shots of it goes down way to easily. I learned that he got his first tattoo when he was sixteen, and that he now had fifty-seven of them. His son had the same birthday as me. The bamboo water pipe that we smoked was his fathers. He was a better cook than his wife. The list of things we were able to share with each other went on and on. It was a really nice way to wrap up the night. The only drawback was that my camera died just before I sat down with him. Other than the memory of that experience, this is the only shot I have to show for it.


Day 8 ASAP

Jedum1 screwed with this post 03-13-2012 at 12:28 PM
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Old 03-12-2012, 11:18 PM   #67
davidbrundage
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Sorry this took so long. Hope to get Day 8 up sooner than later. Thanks for checking it out. Enjoy!


Day 8 ASAP
this continues to be a great report! the amount of effort you put into your write-ups is very evident and is greatly appreciated.

why is the north of that town off limits?
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Old 03-13-2012, 10:15 PM   #68
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this continues to be a great report! the amount of effort you put into your write-ups is very evident and is greatly appreciated.

why is the north of that town off limits?
Thanks for the acknowledgement. I appreciate it!

I've heard a few different versions of why the permit is required, but they vary wildly. The most common answer I heard was that it is simply a protected area, much like one of our National Parks. Some of the other things I heard included something about it being a military zone, and another story that it had something to do with the area's proximity to the unsecured Chinese boarder. I'll get into a little more detail about my take on the whole thing in the next report. Bottom line, regardless of the reason the permit is required. You don't want to be caught without one!
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Old 03-14-2012, 09:59 PM   #69
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This story just keeps getting better. Thanks!
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Old 03-16-2012, 01:21 PM   #70
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This story just keeps getting better. Thanks!
Thanks Dave! I appreciate everyone hanging in there with me. Works kicking my ass right now, so Day 9 might be delayed a while. Get it up as soon as I can.
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Old 03-16-2012, 04:01 PM   #71
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Thanks so much for taking the time to share your adventures in Vietnam with us.

I love reading your report, especially as I will be flying to Hanoi this october to tour the north of vietnam with some friends (yes, on Minsks).
And I guess I will share some of your experiences, being 6'10"

Looking forward to it even more now.
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Old 03-18-2012, 01:27 PM   #72
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Thanks so much for taking the time to share your adventures in Vietnam with us.

I love reading your report, especially as I will be flying to Hanoi this october to tour the north of vietnam with some friends (yes, on Minsks).
And I guess I will share some of your experiences, being 6'10"

Looking forward to it even more now.
That's awesome! You guys are going to have a blast. I fell in love with that stupid little bike. If you have any questions that aren't answered in the report, feel free to PM me.
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Old 03-28-2012, 08:10 PM   #73
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Lots of work, not much writing!

Sorry for the long delay in posts everyone. A couple of huge projects landed in my lap a few weeks ago, and I'm still about two weeks away from seeing the light of day. Rest assured, I'll be continuing the report as soon as I get a bit of a breather. Thanks for hanging in there with me!
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Old 04-08-2012, 06:28 PM   #74
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almost there

We leave the beginning of June for Vietnam. Hoping to meet relatives of my daughter. A couple of questions: do you need a driver's license, what medical shots did you get, if any, we plan on buying mc's in Danang, will we have any legal hassels? Thanks in advance. Hope to post the trip right here. Dan
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Old 04-08-2012, 08:22 PM   #75
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Thanks for your story so far, I am enjoying it. You capture the spirit of the people well and I enjoy reading about your interactions with them. Very impressive that you are so willing to dive into all of these conversations, despite the obvious embarassement on both sides due to language.

Keep writing as you have time, as I am looking forward to reading what you have to say.

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