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Old 05-12-2013, 10:04 AM   #46
yotatoy
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Awesome ride report and great pictures, I love the scenery. I pray that one day when my boys are old enough that we can do trips like this. But, will be a few years down the road (currently 5yrs, 2yrs, and -3 days or less).

Keep it coming!

And whats your 2 next ride plan? Seems yall should make it a yearly event now... or more.


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Old 05-12-2013, 11:58 AM   #47
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Originally Posted by yotatoy View Post
Awesome ride report and great pictures, I love the scenery. I pray that one day when my boys are old enough that we can do trips like this. But, will be a few years down the road (currently 5yrs, 2yrs, and -3 days or less).

Keep it coming!

And whats your 2 next ride plan? Seems yall should make it a yearly event now... or more.


Cheers
Thanks yotatoy.
Yes it would be nice to do another ride with Zach, especially if my other son, now 22, can join us. Too soon after Vietnam to make plans though. Still in recovery mode from that one!

I really got a kick out of Zach telling me, during our ride, that he would like to make it a family tradition and do a similar ride someday with his son (if he has one of course)
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Old 05-12-2013, 01:04 PM   #48
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Sounds like Zach had a great idea. When I was a kid my gramps and all his brothers (I think he was the youngest of 8 if I remember correctly) took all their kids/grandkids to a small hunting camp they bought together in Western PA mountains, we would meet up there and ride motorcyles, hike, swim, enjoy nature and good home cookin food etc. All with close to 50-60 people stuffed in a small cabin and tents. I must say this "family tradition" is my fondest memories of my childhood. I hope to be able to instill good traditions like this in my kids.

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Old 05-13-2013, 12:50 PM   #49
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Day 19

Our hotel was just off the main road through Hue. I took a walk at 7:30am and as I got to the main road it was eerie - total silence, not a bike or vehicle to be seen. I peered up and down the road and saw some activity further down, it looked like a bunch of cop cars or similar. People were gathered on the side of the road peering up and down, but nobody on the road. Suddenly sirens started blaring and something was moving toward us down the road. Suddenly a hot rod appeared, and immediately behind that two rows of large capacity motorcycles riding in tandem. First time I had seen big bikes, or at least larger than our 250's, since arriving in Vietnam. My attention was riveted. I thought it must be the President visiting or some big shot. Then came multiple cop cars with sirens blaring. Then the reason for the ruckus came into sight, a bicycle racing just starting out, the peloton bunched as they raced through town. Just like the Tour de France on TV. Peloton was followed by media motorcycles and the team vehicles. Stay tuned for more on this bike race.....

When I returned to the hotel, about 30 yards away, Zach was still in the room. I asked him if he had heard the ruckus, all the sirens, and he looked at me with a blank stare Oh well.

After the long ride yesterday we had decided not to follow our original route plan inland and then head back to the coast to our destination, Hoi An, but just to take the shorter route down the coast. So we hit Hwy 1 headed south. It was an easy ride, not too hectic. After a while we came upon a bunch of roadsigns but they were all in Vietnamese so we could not understand them. But I figured no problem, just stay on Hwy 1 and we will get there. About 50 yards further on there was some kind of structure that looked like a toll gate, but different. To this point we had just gone through the bike lanes at toll gates so figured we would do the same. Just then an official in uniform and carrying the ubiquitous night stick came running out of a booth and signaled for us to pull over. Zach and I had already had a few instances of cops trying to pull us over and our tactic on each occasion had been to avoid eye contact and accelerate away without looking back. This had worked well until now, so we did the same. Just gassed it and zoomed up the road. A couple of hundred yards further we were approaching what looked like a tunnel entrance when three cops came running into the road and signaled for us to pull over, vigorously waving their night sticks. Oh shit, I thought. Should not have run from the last guy, now we are in big doo-doo. To my great relief the nearest officer, using sign language, indicated that we had entered a road on which no motorcycles were allowed. He pointed to a road that led off where the first cop had tried to stop us. We sheepishly apologized, thanked him, acted stupid (not too difficult) and did a prompt U turn. We were both concerned the first cop would stop us on our way back, but he did not bother. We got on to the correct route, and thank goodness for that. We were now on the road leading up to the Van Dong Pass, a scenic route along the coast we were looking forward to. The other road, prohibited to motorcycles, had been a bypass. Even better, because of the bypass there was almost no vehicle traffic on the pass, we almost had it to ourselves. The view of the coast from up on the pass was excellent:



After about half an hour on the Pass we descended into Da Nang. Traffic became quite thick and eventually we pulled over to figure out how to get out of town on the correct route. As we pulled over I spied a Yamaha dealership so pulled over right there. There were a bunch of customers sitting around on the sidewalk outside and employees from the dealership. They were all totally intrigued by us and our bikes. They were very generous with their water, much appreciated in the really hot conditions, and helped us figure out our exit route. As we left Da Nang on the coast road we a great looking stretch of beach.

Forty minutes later we arrived in Hoi An, found our hotel which seemed to be in a great location, had a very welcome shower, and then walked around a town we would come to enjoy.

Total distance for the day - 130 kms (80 miles)
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Old 05-13-2013, 01:19 PM   #50
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Day 20

No riding today, we spent the entire day in Hoi An. The town is well known for its tailors - one can get tailor made clothing here at great prices. Zach and I both took advantage of this - the previous afternoon I had been fitted for a jacket and two shirts, Zach was getting a couple of suits and some shirts. We had to go back multiple times today for further fittings, with the assurance all would be ready by evening.

I woke up at 5:30 am and decided to go walk around the river area (our hotel backed up to the river) and get some early morning photos. I was quite unprepared for what I saw this early: there were hundreds of Vietnamese hard at work all over the sidewalk and the street, preparing for the day. The large market is nearby but these people were everywhere preparing foods, plastic bags full of some kind of soup or beverage of some sort, and lots of fishing boats bringing in their catch to the market. It was strange, none of this is seen during the day. It's like there is a parallel universe, the early morning one at which only a couple of Westerners are to be seen, and the rest of the day with lots of tourists about and none of the people on the sidewalks. This was the scene:



By 7:30 all these people are packed up and gone, leaving no trace.

Boats bringing their catch to market:



River commerce:



We really liked Hoi An. Even though there are a lot of tourists it is a very nice town. It was our best opportunity on the trip to buy gifts for family and friends so I spent a lot more time shopping than I ever would back home. I even resorted to taking photos with my iPhone of things I thought my wife might like, and then sending her the photos for approval!

Here are two scenes of the market, each one facing in the opposite direction:





By now the clothing I had brought along on the trip was really ratty so I treated myself to a few thin cotton t shirts, perfect for the weather, at $3.00 apiece. I discovered that Zach has become real good at bargaining!

We had a lovely day, wondering around town, exploring, and going back for periodic fittings at the tailor. At dinner that night we met a really nice Australian family eating next to us. Turned out to be big bikers back in Sydney: Peter, the father, has a few large bikes and a dirt bike, both his sons, about 10 and 12, have dirt bikes, and his wife likes to ride pillion. We were telling them about our journey when Peter suddenly stopped us and asked if we had been riding south on Hwy 1 yesterday. Yes we said. He then described our riding jackets. He told us he had seen us hammering down the road, one of us overtaking a van to the left while the other overtook the same van on the right side (a common strategy.......) and he had said to his wife "Look at those lucky buggers having so much fun on their bikes, wish I had mine here"! We met lots of Australians on our trip. Vietnam is really close for them, and so cheap, especially compared with back home. Lovely people, all that we met. Really enjoyed Peter and his cool family.

We picked up our tailored clothing that evening (lovely stuff). The bikes sat idle all day, nice break for us.

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Old 05-13-2013, 02:22 PM   #51
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Thoroughly enjoying this report as my wife is there on vacation. Actually she has been in Hoi An for the past 2 nights - yes another Aussie tourist. I sent her a link to this post before she left for Vietnam last week actually.
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Old 05-13-2013, 04:19 PM   #52
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Day 21

Today we were headed back inland to once again ride the HCM Trail.

We started on our way southward. A plain area with some towns, nothing exciting. I was leading when suddenly a sportbike, perhaps 750 cc, comes screaming down passing me, and the rider makes some type of gesture to me to go fast. He didn't look like a cop (they wear light khaki outfits - see photo later) so I didn't quite know what to make of it but I did take the opportunity to ride faster. After a few kms he pulled over and we waved to one another as I passed him. I was thinking he was just some local guy impressed with our "big" bikes and inviting us to gun it. We rode on another 10 kms and then pulled into a gas station to fill up as were approaching our turn-off point to head west to the HCM Trail. As we're filling up I see the hot rod that had led out the bicycle racers in Hue speed by, followed immediately by the phalanx of motorcyclists I had seen in Hue. I yelled to Zach "Bicycle race" and we ran to the side of the road to watch the spectacle pass by, the lead group of 4 riders shortly followed by the peloton, and then all the media motorcycles and team vehicles, a total repeat of the Hue scene. Then I realized the guy on the bike who had indicated we should ride faster a little earlier was clearing the road for the cyclists.

We turned west toward the HCM Trail. The area was sparsely populated and we saw very few people or vehicles. Eventually we passed a few hydro electric projects and a large lake, and then ascended a steep mountain pass. Shortly after we crested the pass we reached the HCM Trail and stopped about 100 yards before the intersection to buy some drinks at a small store (that doubled as a bike repair shop - the lady that owned it was soon repairing flats on two bikes). As we were sitting there relaxing I suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of a high powered motor cycle zooming by on the HCM Trail, followed by another and then another and then another. "Big bikes" I said to Zach, very surprised as aside from the bicycle race shepherds we had seen no big bikes in Vietnam. I was pretty sure they were foreigners and we would run into them, and as expected about 20 kms later as we passed through a small town we saw a group of six or seven sportbikes on the side of the road with a group of guys standing outside a store dressed in riding gear. We waved and continued on our way. Five minutes later the bikes go screaming past us and pull over a few hundred yards further down. Definitely looked like they wanted to interact so we pulled over between towns to meet them. Turned out to be a bunch of young Vietnamese guys riding mostly nice Ducattis with a few Yamahas too. We learned they are the "Ducatti Club of Hanoi", although they said you don't have to ride a Ducatti to join They must be the children of very rich Vietnamese because in Vietnam there is a substantial duty (tax) paid on all bikes over 175 cc. The one guy told me the tax is 150% of the cost of the bike, and that his Ducatti (I think it was a Monster) cost $44,000. They were quite impressed with our set up and the route we described we had been riding since we started. I don't think there are too many roads aside from the HCM Trail - which is in good paved condition - where these guys can ride their sportbikes. Most of the roads in Vietnam, excluding Hwy 1 and a very few others, are not made for sport bikes, with tons of potholes and the like. It was a most interesting encounter. We all took off and about an hour later we again passed them all gathered at their turnaround spot for the ride back to Hanoi.

The scenery was pleasant if a little boring after the amazing landscapes we had witnessed the past days. We arrived at our destination, Kon Tum, at 2:15 pm and found a hotel. In the lobby was a large group of male and female army officers having a big singalong. Actually it was a lot of fun. They invited us to sit down and even tried to get us to sing but we politely declined the singing offer. Enjoyed listening to them though. Kon Tum turned out to be a fairly large town, quite nice. As always we went direct to the market and spent a couple of hours wandering about. Always the best place to meet the locals and experience the ambience of the town.

Zach told me his bike was handling strangely. He thought there was a problem up front. I took a look and could not see anything amiss. I took the bike for a short ride but it seemed OK. By this time his front tire was really worn and was cupping so I thought perhaps it was this that made the handling feel strange.....

Total distance for the day - 280 kms (174 miles)
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Old 05-14-2013, 09:43 PM   #53
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Day 22

Before I begin todays ride report I have to revisit yesterday for a moment:

When we arrived in Kon Tum I took this photograph of two guys on a cart full of hay.



And then the view from the rear, but take a look at the rice laid out on the road to their right:



This photo shows a very interesting phenomenon in Vietnam, one that you see from the far north to the tip of the south. The locals often do not have a place to lay out their crop to dry, be it rice, pepper, mushroooms or whatever. So they lay out their crop to dry on the road in front of their abode. Often it is a narrow country road and the crop takes up at least one half of the road. Sometimes, like in this photo, it is just part of the lane. But what is remarkable is that even though the crop is directly in the path of passing vehicles nobody ever seems to drive over the crop. Everybody respects the crop and will take pains to go around it (even, apparently busses, for whom the value of human life is negligible!!)

So as we left Kon Tum, being concerned about the cupping on Zach's front tire, and his uneasy feeling about the handling, we stopped to inflate the tire. About half a kilometer after doing so, as we were pulling away from the last traffic light in town, Zach's chain snapped with an awful sound of metal breaking. I was really mad at myself as we only had ourselves to blame. We knew that his chain needed constant tightening but we had neglected it for four or five days, and now we paid the price. Fortunately there was a bike mechanic directly across the road from where the chain snapped so we wheeled the bike across the road and he set to work repairing the chain using the spare links we carried in our toolkit. Its amazing how many bike mechanics there are in Vietnam, and just as well 'cause we seemed to have a rather frequent need for them He had quite a hard time getting the replacement links squared away but 45 minutes later he had it all done, and he charged us 20 Dong ($1)!

The first 50 kms of our ride were through a road constructions zone, so we spent a lot of time fighting with and avoiding trucks and busses. We got forced off the road multiple times by oncoming trucks and busses, but by this time we were hardened to this situation and took it in our stride. In fact pretty much the entire day the riding conditions were tough with broken road surfaces, obstructions and the like. The scenery was also quite drab. But after we passed through the large town of Buon Ma Thout we gained elevation into higher country and both the scenery and the road improved significantly. We were headed to the area around Lak Lake, really just a waypoint on the journey to our next significant stop the next day. Soon we came into sight of the lake and headed to the town of Lak Son on the lake. We found a hotel, checked in and after the always-welcome shower headed for the local market. We had a good time there, eating some local specialties and interacting with the locals. We went and sat outside and the heavens opened up, another one of those tropical thunderstorms we had earlier encountered where the rain comes down in buckets. We found some shelter at a small clothing store and the owner gave us some mats to sit on as we waited out the storm. There were lots of interesting things going on around us and we took lots of photos. This lady was immediately opposite our seating spot - she was making really nice turnovers with a shrimp filling. Of course we kept on running across the road to buy some.



And this schoolboy proved a wonderful photo opportunity:



Total distance for the day - 270 kms (168 miles)
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Old 05-14-2013, 09:58 PM   #54
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Howdy

Just see your RR to day. Not enough time to read all yet, but for sure I will, very soon.
Quick glance on the report, I believe you have great time here, many beautiful photos you have.
If you happen being in Hochiminh City, we may have chance to meet.
Ride safe and enjoy.
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Old 05-15-2013, 12:54 AM   #55
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A National Geographic classic Great photography and places.
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Old 05-15-2013, 11:43 PM   #56
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Day 23

Our ride today was to Dalat, a popular destination town located in the mountains in the south. We continued riding in the same pleasant scenery as yesterday, nice country with a lot of small farm agriculture. I was following my GPS, and the route was quite straightforward following a good paved country road. Suddenly, after a turn, the road started climbing a pass and narrowing more and more, with brush starting to overgrow the road, until it was barely a thin strip of pavement. It was really weird, five minutes ago we had been on a normal country road, and now it was turning into a road that looked like it had seen no traffic in months. My GPS said we were still on the correct route, so we stuck with it. After about 20 minutes of this we descended the small pass and within minutes the road was back to normal. Strange.

Soon we started climbing higher into the mountains as we approached Dalat. It was very scenic, and the southern road conditions so much better than we experienced in the north. We reached Dalat in the early afternoon, and found a nice town with a strong tourist and foreign presence. In fact it was the most Westernized town we had seen to date, with a strong French influence dating back to the French colonial era. We walked around a lot and enjoyed the ambience of the town, the market, the lake area.

I had an interesting talk with the young manager of the hotel we stayed at. His name was Dien and he was 31 years old. Very smart guy, and he spoke good English. Dien works seven days a week at the hotel. His day starts at about 6:00 or 6:30 when he prepares breakfast for the guests. It continues until around 11:00pm at night, when he makes up a bed in the lobby and sleeps there until his morning shift. His only time off is 1 1/2 hours for lunch every day. He uses this time to ride home on his Honda Wave 110cc. It takes him about 10 minutes to get to his home village and he spends the time with his family. I asked about a relationship....marriage.....he said he would like to get to the point where that is possible. Incredible how hard he works. When I commented on it he said that is how life is like for most people in Vietnam. The average wage, he told me is $120 US $ per month. It's a tough life.

Vietnamese law makes the hotel owner responsible for the security of guest's motorcycles. So wherever you stay in Vietnam, no matter how big or small the town or hotel, at night they put the bike under lock and key. Very nice! In most towns they just pull the bike into the lobby at night. Some hotels have parking garages provided. But at all times your bike is safe at night. Great law

Total distance for the day, an easy 170 kms (103 miles)
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Old 05-16-2013, 07:28 PM   #57
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Day 24

We had been on the road for over three weeks and had spent no time at the ocean, so we decided to change our plans a little and head over to Nha Trang. I had directions for riding out of town but totally messed up and we spent the better part of half an hour unsuccessfully seeking the road over to the coast. Very frustrating, and eventually I paid one of the motorcycle hustlers hanging around town $5 to show us the way.

The first part of the ride was through pleasant scenery, much like the ride up to Dalat. We did pass a number of large hothouse agricultural operations, something we had not seen before on our journey. Then we started to climb a very long and beautiful mountain pass. It went on and on, and the views all around and toward the coast were wonderful. The road we were on is a new highway connecting Dalat and Nha Trang, and shortens the previous roundabout route considerably. However even though the road is only about five years old, perhaps a little more, it was already starting to break up in a lot of places. There were a few repair crews out, but not enough to keep up with the deteriorating condition of the road. I wondered about the quality of road building if it is breaking up so severely after a relatively short time. After cresting the pass we had a long and beautiful downhill section and then we hit the coastal plain. As we did so the temperature climbed dramatically. In the space of ten minutes it went from the pleasant warmth of the mountains to very hot and humid.

We reached Hwy 1, the main coastal north/south route and it was a short 15 kms to Nha Trang. As soon as we arrived in Nha Trang we headed down to the waterfront and parked the bikes while we considered the hotel options. There was a large crowd gathered a short distance away on the waterfront road so we walked over to take a look at the reason. Well, wouldn't you just guess it - based upon our experiences to date - no sooner had we reached the crowd and the road when our bicycle race went speeding by. Actually we were just yards from the finish line for the day, so there was a crazy sprint and the crowd was yelling and cheering. Zach and I just stood there in amazement - with no planning or forethought or knowledge we continually stumbled upon the bicycle race, often at critical times. It felt like we were joined at the hip to this race

We spent the afternoon at the lovely beach, catching some rays and enjoying the warm but refreshing ocean. There were a lot of Russians around, this must be a prime vacation spot for them. Some of the restaurants had menus in Vietnamese and Russian and quite a few of the hotels had Russian names. One thing we noticed, and I know I am generalizing but this is what we saw, the Russians as a group just did not look like the happiest people around. Smiling and laughing was not their bag. Looking serious and dour was. Anyway.......

The coastal region around Nha Trang reminded me of, and looked so much like, the Hawaiian Islands. Green and verdant, with hills rolling down to the ocean. It could have been Maui or Kauai. Really beautiful.

As seen on Nha Trang waterfront, these are the guys to avoid when motorcycling in Vietnam



By 5:00 pm most Westerners (and I include the Russians) had packed up and left the beach. And that is when the local action begins. Thousands upon thousands of locals show up, swim in the ocean, fly kites, play pickup games of soccer, stroll around and just have a lot of fun, especially the families. The transformation is as sudden as it is dramatic. We surmised that the principal activity when people get off work for the day is to head to the beach, which they did in droves. We enjoyed watching the locals and interacting with them. This lady set up her little operation on the beach. She is selling dried squid, you can see them hanging from the rod in front of her. She heats them momentarily on hot coals, and serves it with hot sauce. You tear into strips, dip in sauce, and eat. Basically fish jerky. Kinda nice, but I prefer the beef variety



Total distance for the day - 145 kms (91 miles)
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Old 05-16-2013, 07:52 PM   #58
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Day 25

Our plan for the day was pretty simple: beach it in the morning, head south down the coast, and then back to Dalat the same way we came yesterday.

We made the most of our beach time, swimming and catching rays. As we rode out of town at about noon I looked over at Zach's bike and noticed his chain bouncing around. We immediately stopped and adjusted it roadside. It appeared fine so we rode on but shortly had to stop again to readjust it.

We headed south out of Nha Trang on the new coastal road, very good condition, which hugs the coast. Awesome views and not much traffic. After about 20 kms we reached Cam Ranh Bay, site of a major US Air Force base during the American War. We cut back inland, rejoined Hwy 1 and were soon headed back toward the long and high mountain pass that would take us to Dalat. Soon after we started our ascent the heavens opened up. It rained hard and continued to do so for the the next hour. Passing through a village, the roads all wet, a chicken attempting to cross the road decided to act undecided. She juked back and forth, and there was no way I was going to touch my brakes in those conditions, so I hit the chicken with a loud whump. I never looked back, but I figure the owner unexpectedly dined on recently deceased chicken that night

It continued to rain until we were well over the pass and only eased up as we neared Dalat. We stopped once the rain let up at this spot:



We were back in Dalat in good time, a town we by now felt we knew quite well. Dien, our nice hotel manager of a few days ago, had kept a room for us and we were soon warming up with a nice hot shower.

It had been a quick and fun run to the beach, well worth it considering the awesome mountain pass and how beautiful it is around Nha Trang.

Total distance for the day - 180 kms (112 miles)
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Old 05-18-2013, 07:10 PM   #59
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Day 26


For the past two weeks our bikes had been performing progressively worse. With each passing day performance was declining. The past two days crossing over the long and high mountain pass to and from the coast had been really bad. We were constantly needing to downshift to get power - it literally felt like the bikes were gasping for air. I had been trying to figure out what was wrong with them - we had over time grown quite accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of each bike. Mine needed to be nursed when started in the morning, revved for quite a while until it was warm before it would idle. It also had burned through a lot of oil the first two weeks although that now inexplicably had improved. Zachs bike started great, but the chain needed constant maintenance. But the loss of power had vexed me. Then I suddenly realized: the bikes felt like they were gasping for air because that's exactly what was happening - the air filters were probably clogged, especially considering the dusty conditions we had ridden at times in the north. So on our way out of Dalat we stopped off at one of the many Xemay (bike mechanics) to be found, whipped off the air filters and found that indeed they were very dirty and dusty. We used the mechanics compressor to air clean them and then took off. Lo and behold performance immediately improved dramatically, almost as good as when we first got the bikes. Too bad I had not though of that earlier on our journey. It was not brought up as a maintenance item when we took delivery of the bikes, and it had been years since I had ridden dirt bikes so I had forgotten the need to constantly clean the air filter.

We had a pleasant and easy ride down from Dalat for the first 30 kms, good pavement and little traffic. Then we reached the Hwy 20, a main arterial in the region. It was very busy, and once again we were fighting busses and trucks. On one close encounter a car overtaking toward me was fully in my lane, forced me on to the dirt shoulder, and I reckon my handlebar and his mirror passed with four inches. The scenery improved very nicely around Bao Loc, hilly and verdant green. We stopped at a roadside store and enjoyed some cold iced teas and mangoes we had been carrying in our pockets. There was a lot of agriculture in the area. The ride stayed fairly pleasant until we reached our destination Tan Phu. We found a decent hotel and took off for a walk of the town, and of course the market. Once again we felt like Westerners had not set foot in this town in ages - the locals were quite intrigued with us.

This lady was selling peanuts and a few other items we could not identify. The peanuts are - very surprising - boiled. The first time we ate them we thought they were just lousy peanuts, then later we realized they intentionally boiled them. Actually they are pretty good!



Also near the market was this general store. My impression was they stocked everything, you just had to find it:



Our goal was to circumvent Ho Chi Minh City the next day and ride down south to the Mekong Delta. I was not looking forward to the ride as I knew it would be hectic as we neared HCM City and rode the so-called ring road around it, Hwy 1A. On the map it looks like a ring road but I had been told the city spread very far from it's core and the congestion and traffic anywhere within 50 kms of the City would be bad. Oh well, we had to do it.

Total distance for the day - 210 kms (130 miles)

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Old 05-18-2013, 10:27 PM   #60
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Great RR! It almost sounds like the rings weren't fully seated on your bike. Maybe they just did a top-end job before you got it.
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