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Old 05-06-2013, 06:23 PM   #16
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Day Six

Got up early and went to the Bac Ha weekly Sunday market where vendors and shoppers, especially the Flower Hmuong minority group, come to buy and sell. It's a really large market with an astonishing array of merchandize, a riot of color and activity. Zach and I found a few things for ourselves and gifts for family and friends.
I bought a really cool satchel-type purse from this lady. I had seen people from a number of different minority groups carrying this specific item, really pretty and I wanted one.

[

There were a lot of family groups with all the women dressed to the nines:



I got quite a kick out of this lady, leading a horse and carrying a chicken



Then we set out on our ride, and oh what a day it turned out to be. We wanted to take a route not clearly identified on the map, and certainly not on the GPS. One of the guys working at the hotel said he knew the road well and he gave us instructions where to locate it off the main road, and a few pointers to stay on it. Things started out really well. The road started 12 kms out of town and we found it pretty quickly, it even had a signpost to Xin Man, the first town en route. The route was very rough and quite technical for about 25 kms but no big problem. There was a Y junction miles down the road and we took what appeared to be the correct fork based upon directions received. Soon I heard a weird noise coming from the rear wheel. Thought I must have a flat so stopped to check it but tire appeared fine. Hopped back on and continued. Zach came up alongside and pointed out the problem: the plastic chain guard mounts had broken from the rough conditions and the chain guard was loose and wedged between wheel and frame. Grabbed a wrench and removed the chain guard and threw it in the tool bag. The scenery was pretty good and then we encountered some very steep rocky sections. No problem, the 250's powered up them nicely. We then came to the crossroad we had been looking for and turned toward the town of Huong Su Phi.
We passed through Huong Su Phi and located the next road, following the route of a river in a long, very high canyon. Awesome scenery. The river was at least a mile below us, and the mountain stretched out high above us. Essentially we were riding along a steep mountainside that had a road carved out at about the midpoint. After about 20 kms we hit a few serious mudslides. The earth had simply given way above the road and come crashing down on to the road. The mud was hard in some places, quite soft in others, and reaching up to about six feet high. We made our way over the first three slides without too much difficulty



Then we came to one that presented a far greater obstacle. The only line over it went VERY close to the cliff edge, so close that if we made a slip we would go crashing over the edge and get smashed far down below. We decided to walk the bikes over one at a time, in gear and using the throttle for power to get through it, but with one of us on either side in case the bike started to tip. Gingerly we made our way over with both bikes. It was a little nerve racking but we got it done. Then a couple of hundred yards further down the road we came upon a much larger and more dangerous slide. It too had a single line over it and we decided, with much trepidation, to use the same technique as on the last slide. We got the first bike about 3/4 of the way over when things went all wrong, very wrong. The line went right to the edge of the cliff at the point where there was a steep V in the mud - we had to go down the first arm of the V and up the second. As we hit the bottom of the downslope the bike got wedged stuck in the crook of the V. We were teetering on the very edge of the cliff with the bike stuck, no way forward, no way back. Between the two of us we did not have the strength to pull the bike forward or backward. In a nutshell we were in big trouble with the distinct possibility of one of us, and/or the bike, going right over the cliff to meet a nasty end. Actually it was not in the least bit funny.
Suddenly, and understand we were now far from any town, no villages in sight, we see a lady walking toward us over the mudflows ahead. She came up to us and started to help by grabbing a lot of rocks and helping to build a little platform on the edge of the cliff such that the person on the edge (me - Zach was on the mountain side of the bike) could place my foot and gain some leverage to at least hold the bike in position and not have it go crashing over. As she was doing this two men walked up from the same direction as the lady (the road ahead of us) and she issued some instructions to them in Vietnamese. One man went to the front wheel, the other to the back wheel, Zach and I on either side, and we started to drag the bike backward inch by inch. At one point I nearly freaked out as it felt to me as if the bike was tipping over its axis toward the cliff. But we managed to hold it and drag it backward until finally, totally exhausted and spent, we had the bike back on the road. Our rescuers made it very clear to us with emphatic gestures that there were more and worse mudslides ahead and that there was no way we could go that way, we had to turn back. Which meant negotiating our way back over the tough mudslide we had walked the bikes over, plus all the others. But there was no choice. Back we went and retraced our steps.
By the time we were done I was physically spent, and emotionally pretty wound up. Essentially we had made a bad decision: we should have turned back earlier when the mudslides got real gnarly, instead of trying to get through. We were very fortunate the locals came along when they did as we could not have got the bike out of the V and back on the road without their help. After we were done they continued walking down the road toward the town we had left an hour earlier and then a vehicle drove up and picked them up. We realized they came from the town toward which we were headed - they had somebody drive them as far along the road as a vehicle could go before being stopped from further progress by the mudslides. They then walked several kms over multiple mudslides until they reached a point at which a vehicle from the town behind us could reach and pick them up.

Chastened by our experience we rode back to Huong Su Phi. We took a break, bought lots of liquid, and consulted the map to figure out another route. We found an alternate route that took us way south and then wound around and got us back to our final destination. A far longer route but we had no option. Off we went and rode a brilliant 70 km stretch through some really beautiful countryside. Vibrant greens, hills, karst, it was really great. Finally we reached the main paved road and turned north. We rode really fast along this stretch and finally reached our destination, the town of Ha Giang, at about 5:00pm.

When we started our trip in Hanoi Zach had said to me that our trip only qualified as an adventure once we encountered and overcame obstacles and difficulties. That night I told him quite firmly that our trip now qualified as an adventure. It had been a really tough day. We had faced some real danger but had dealt with it and come out OK. We had now experienced two really tough days in a row - this is what I had expected when mapping out the northern portion of the trip.

Total distance for the day 200 kms (120 miles)
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Old 05-07-2013, 07:34 AM   #17
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Day Seven

Today was a highly anticipated day: we were aiming to get to the far north of the country about which I had heard so much.

The first hour was an easy ride to the town of Tam Son. Pretty scenery as we started to climb high into the highlands of the north. Stopped in Tam Son for a cup of coffee (which I was now beginning to learn is one of the best kept secrets of Vietnam - absolutely fantastic coffee) after which we continued climbing gaining more and more elevation into the mountain area. The scenery started to enter the "amazing" category as we strained our necks left and ride trying to take it all in. There were huge mountains all around us. Unfortunately it was a little hazy and far from perfect for photo ops. Road conditions remained good, the usual fare in the north of fairly decent pavement with frequent broken up areas of gravel and stone where the road had fallen apart. We started seeing occasional areas, every once in a while, where the landscape was heavily populated with sharply pointed, rich black rocks. We then headed to the northernmost point in Vietnam, the hamlet of Lang Cu, tucked right up against the border with China. There we came upon the National Flagpole, basically a tall, tube shaped concrete structure (the flagpole) atop which was flying a huge Vietnamese flag. There were quite a few Vietnamese tourists there, this place apparently being high on the Vietnamese bucket list.
Riding though the town of Yen Minh we saw a man burning some object on the side of the road. We stopped to take a look and found him preparing dinner, roast dog:



It may be common to eat dog in Vietnam but that was pretty gross.
As we reached the outskirts of town, with Zach about ten yards ahead of me, suddenly a water buffalo came bounding out between two buildings and headed directly into the road toward Zach. A collision looked inevitable, I was sure Zach was about to be buffaloed, but he took evasive action and somehow escaped as I did likewise to avoid colliding with him. Very narrow escape!

As we road on through Van Dong the scenery became absolutely awesome. Incredible high peaks, one after the other, with rounded tops, much like huge oversize buttes.



The road from Van Dong on to Tam Son was easily the most incredibly scenic road I have ever ridden. Riding alongside a cliff with the mountains towering above us and way, far below in the valley a beautiful ribbon of green-blue river.





Amazingly the very steep hillsides were cultivated in many areas, with a few workers perched on the sides of the hills at impossible angles working the "fields".



This lady came wandering up the road and was quite happy to smile for the camera:



Eventually we came out on a high plain to our destination, the town of Meo Vac, situated in a beautiful location surrounded by the high, rounded mountains. It's almost a little strange as even situated among all this beauty the town seems a little desolate. There were many Black Hmoung in the town with very friendly kids. As always we drew stares as we walked the town streets with no other Westerners in sight.

It had been an amazing day, all I had expected - and more - from my trip planning. The roads we had ridden and the scenery we were exposed to left an indelible impression.

Total distance for the day - 210 km (130 miles)
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Old 05-07-2013, 08:01 AM   #18
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Great trip, I can't wait to read more. I am Vietnamese, growing up in southern california, I have never experienced the country like you guys are experiencing.
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Old 05-07-2013, 08:47 AM   #19
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Cảm ơn bạn rất nhiều

Fantastic! Loving the trip and look forward to the rest. Perfect timing as my gal and I are planning to scoot through 'Nam this November.

Keep it coming and thanks for the effort. Loving the pictures too.

Cheers!
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Old 05-07-2013, 10:06 AM   #20
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Saigon

I was in the Merchant Marine in the early 70's and did a few trips up the river to Saigon (Now Ho Chi Ming City). Looks like you made it there around day 27 or therabouts, so looking forward to some pics of the City if you have any. I remember Tudor Street and the old Continental Palace which was an outdoor style bar. I wonder of the NV left the place alone or not. Maybe different street names, etc..
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Old 05-07-2013, 05:57 PM   #21
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Day Eight

We were now heading south away from the high mountains of the north expecting to descend to a lower elevation.
When doing my route planning I had read that the ride from Meo Vac to our destination for the day, BaBe Lakes, consisted of great scenery so we were looking forward to more of what we had seen yesterday. But as we climbed up out of the town it became quickly apparent we might not be seeing too much as we soon hit wet and very misty conditions. The mist quickly became very thick and visibility was no more than 20 ft. We proceeded along a twisty road on a mountain pass very, very slowly. The rain was coming down lightly and together with the thick mist made for slick road conditions. My visor kept on fogging up so I kept it slightly ajar but had to constantly wipe the front of the visor with my glove to remove the outer condensation. Conditions were tough but improved considerably as we reached a lower elevation. Visibility improved, the rain and mist lifted, and soon we started to see the lovely scenery we had been anticipating. We rode along two rivers with a lot of rice paddies and small villages. It was not quite the dramatic scenery of yesterday but great nonetheless.
Then we started to ascend another mountain pass and the difficult wet and misty conditions returned. Again visibility was severely limited and we rode along slowly seeing almost no other vehicles or motorcycles on the road. Same difficulty with outer condensation on my visor. I was coming around a sharp bend exercising care when suddenly I went down, the bike crashing to the road. I landed under the bike on my right side slamming my thigh into the road. As I went down I saw a truck approaching from the opposite direction perhaps 20 feet ahead of me. As I went down it stopped. I bounced up off the road pretty quickly as the driver of the truck jumped out and yelled at me approvingly "nice fall!". Not too sure what he meant by that but I think he meant that I landed pretty well and bounced up fast. Zach was riding behind me and rounded the bend as I jumped back up. He and the truck driver helped me pick up the bike. I was pretty shaken. It had happened so suddenly (yeah I know - thats why I went down ) and I couldn't figure out why I went down. I dont think I touched the brake/s at all, and I certainly did not crank the gas, so why the bike slid under me mystified me. All I could see was that the road surface in that particular spot was different to elsewhere consisting of rocks about half the size of a fist set into the asphalt creating a cobbled surface.
The bike seemed OK except for the metal luggage rack frame which had broken at one of the weld points, and a broken mirror. We rode on to the next town and found one of the ubiquitous Xemay (bike mechanic) shops. He could not repair the frame but there was a welding shop right next door and the guy promptly welded the frame back together and charged me $1!! While we were at the mechanic shop he did some additional maintenance helping us adjust chains and the like. Of course our presence attracted a crowd - wherever we went in Vietnam our 250cc bikes were viewed as huge and people loved to come look at them, climb on them and generally make a fuss of us. When done the mechanic declined to charge for any of the work he had performed.

Xemay



One of the locals enthused at us and our bikes:



By now I was starting to feel the pain from my spill. My leg was starting to hurt pretty badly and I just wanted to reach our destination and hit recovery mode. We stopped a little further down the road at a larger Xemay and bought a replacement mirror, cost $4.

The next couple hours riding were really quite pleasant. We got wet descending from the mountains as it was still raining but things gradually improved. The scenery was lovely, there was a lot of agriculture - mainly rice paddies and some corn, water buffalo, small but pleasant villages. Road conditions were decent, again the usual fare of the north consisting of pavement broken up frequently with short dirt and rock sections.

Eventually we reached BaBe which was quite a bit larger than I had been expecting. The last 15 km before we reached the town were really quite special, the vegetation had become a lot thicker, the road was good and we zipped along. We rode through town and then on another 15 km until we reached the BaBe National Park. The park service runs a hotel, more like a lodge, near the entrance and we checked into a room. My leg was hurting like heck and a hot shower revealed severe bruising along my thigh. It was already purple. There were a couple of restaurants nearby and we found ourselves a decent dinner.
Zach told me that back when I fell he came around the bend behind me and when he saw me lying in the road under the bike with a truck stopped right in front of me he thought the worst had happened, that I had been hit by the truck. He said he was pretty shaken up. Maybe so, but by the time we reached BaBe that son of mine was not showing me much sympathy

Total distance for the day 220 kms (137 miles)
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Old 05-07-2013, 07:53 PM   #22
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Day Nine

The plan today was for down time, explore BaBe lake, no riding. The timing of this was REAL good as after my spill yesterday I was hurting pretty bad, the bruise was growing to the point where it pretty much wrapped around my entire upper leg, and I needed some down time.

We rode off to the lake but as we arrived Zach commented that his brakes were barely working, and then looking at the rear tire I noticed it was almost flat. So we rode back toward town and a few miles outside the park in a small village came upon one of the many Xemays (bike mechanics). He pulled off the rear wheel and in checking the tube we found a leak. I told the mechanic to replace the tube with one out of our took kit, and to repair the puncture and put the repaired tube back into the took kit as backup for later. We then took a look at the brakes and found that the rear pads were completely worn, nothing there, metal on metal. Thinking that back in Hanoi the guy from whom we rented the bikes, Phung, had provided spare brake pads, we dug into the tool kit. Yes we found brake pads but they were front pads and did not fit the rear. Although there are many, many millions of bikes in Vietnam and parts are readily available the XL 250's we were riding are pretty much unknown and parts for them are not available. The mechanic pulled off his shelf every size brake pad he had searching for a pair that fit, but no luck. Keep in mind he spoke no English and we spoke no Vietnamese so communication was a challenge. I was starting to become really concerned as riding with no brakes was not an option. He then took a pair of pads from his supply that were larger than the ones required, he eyeballed them against worn pads and commenced grinding them down to match the old pads using a circular grinder. It took him about ten minutes and in this manner he fashioned a pair of pads that fit just fine. We were really impressed with the ability of this guy running a tiny shop in a small hamlet to improvise and solve the problem, no big fuss! I cant remember exactly what he charged us but it was certainly no more than $4 or $5 for the parts and labor

We rode back to the lake and took a 2 hour boat tour of the lake and some islands. Beautiful area.



We spent the rest of the day taking it easy. We'd had some real hard days behind us and the down time was greatly appreciated. I must mention here the beds found in most Vietnamese hotels, especially in the small towns. The mattresses are, well they are not really mattresses. They are hard boards, much like sleeping on a sheet of plywood. It hadn't been too bad up to this point dealing with the rock hard beds but now I had a new issue: my right side was really sore from the spill the day before and I just could not lie on that side, it hurt like crazy. So for about the next ten days I had to sleep on my left side at all times

That night we ate at a restaurant across the road from the hotel. It was out of season and we were the only diners in this huge room. But they cooked us up a really nice meal and the waitress and chef were super friendly, showering us with handfuls of candy after dinner. We arranged with them to provide us breakfast the following morning.

Total distance for the day - 10 kms
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Old 05-07-2013, 08:25 PM   #23
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Day 10

From our location at BaBe Lakes due north of Hanoi our route today took us eastward to the town of Lang Son near the Chinese border. Lang Son itself was not a destination, just a way point on the way to our next stop.

We had constant mist and light rain the first half of the day. It was nothing like the poor visibility we had experienced a few days earlier as we headed south from Meo Vac though, and the road conditions were good. We found that the further south we got the better the roads.

The area was a verdant green. Lots of agriculture, the usual rice paddies and corn. The entire area was replete with the rounded limestone karst hills that are the signal feature of north and central Vietnam. Small villages dotted the road, and we were riding alongside rivers for large parts of the journey. It was hour after hour of pleasing scenery. As we passed through one small village, within a 200 yard stretch, it seemed to me like a microcosm of rural village life: there was a lady chopping wood, here was a man tending his chickens, over there was a kid leading some water buffalo, over here was a lady carrying a load on her back, over there was a man tending his rice paddy, here was a man leading a pig. It just struck me how much was going on in such a small area.

We stopped at one tiny village for coffee and this brought the usual response of a crowd of locals coming in to the store to look at us and our bikes outside.

As we neared Lang Son we rode through and had a great view of a beautiful mountain range. The mountains were not on the scale of the grandeur of the mountains in the far north, they were smaller but they, together with the ever-present karst formations, made for a lovely scene.

We found a decent hotel in Lang Son, this was the view from our room level:



Over dinner that night Zach commented to me that as we rode through one small village today he had seen many rural village sights in one short distance and it struck him how much was going on in just that one small area. This brought such a smile to my face as he was talking about the exact same location where I had experienced the same aha moment. We had independently marveled at the very same thing. Nice moment

Total distance for the day - 250 kms (155 miles)
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Old 05-07-2013, 08:45 PM   #24
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great stuff.
asia rules.


.. more please.
yea , and where is that hot scooter guide ?
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Old 05-07-2013, 09:11 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by swamp View Post
great stuff.
asia rules.


.. more please.
yea , and where is that hot scooter guide ?
Yea everybody keeps asking for pictures of the scooter hottie. I hate to admit this but I was so busy falling over myself looking at her I completely forgot I had a camera! Seriously she had on this tight blue leather jacket, looked like an asian motorcycle model from the Ducatti calendar. She was waaay too cool. I keep wondering where the German guy found her......at the local motorcycle tour guide operation.....
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Old 05-07-2013, 09:31 PM   #26
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Simply amazing, what great pictures, keep it coming.
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Old 05-07-2013, 09:32 PM   #27
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Subscribed. We're going to Vietnam on Thursday (arriving Friday night) for one week to check it out before we take a 3-4 year job assignment.
We're flying into Hanoi, staying for the weekend, then headed to Haiphong, Cam Pha, and Van Don area.

We hope to live in Van Don when we move there this summer. We're really looking forward to exploring on bikes. My wife and I both ride and she's a really good dirt and street rider. I hope to be able to get a dual sport 250 like you were able to rent.

Thanks for posting your ride.
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Old 05-07-2013, 10:01 PM   #28
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Subscribed. We're going to Vietnam on Thursday (arriving Friday night) for one week to check it out before we take a 3-4 year job assignment.
We're flying into Hanoi, staying for the weekend, then headed to Haiphong, Cam Pha, and Van Don area.

We hope to live in Van Don when we move there this summer. We're really looking forward to exploring on bikes. My wife and I both ride and she's a really good dirt and street rider. I hope to be able to get a dual sport 250 like you were able to rent.

Thanks for posting your ride.
PM me if you want any info. I'd be more than glad to help. And no need to go to Cam Pha unless you have to. But Van Dong - oh yes!,
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Old 05-08-2013, 01:14 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by stanegoli View Post
PM me if you want any info. I'd be more than glad to help. And no need to go to Cam Pha unless you have to. But Van Dong - oh yes!,
It's actually "Van Don" which is East of Cam Pha right on the coast. Are you talking about "Van Dong", which is South West of Ha Noi?
The plant my company is building is just North of Cam Pha. Looking at your route map, it looks like you went right through there on Day 10.
I'd be interested in your GPS tracks if you have any.
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Old 05-08-2013, 01:48 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by stan.riner View Post
It's actually "Van Don" which is East of Cam Pha right on the coast. Are you talking about "Van Dong", which is South West of Ha Noi?
The plant my company is building is just North of Cam Pha. Looking at your route map, it looks like you went right through there on Day 10.
I'd be interested in your GPS tracks if you have any.
Yes that is the industrial area I was less than complimentary about in my report on passing through that area. We just passed through so I am no position to make a definitive statement on what it would be like to live there. I'm sure you will learn a lot more on your exploratory trip. What I can state with some certainty though is that if you do go live there you will spend most of your free time far north of Hanoi, and also to the west of Hanoi. Both very cool areas.
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