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Old 05-19-2013, 01:18 PM   #61
stanegoli OP
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Day 27

We continued on south from Tan Phu on Hwy 20. The first 70 kms were not too bad other than the busses trying their utmost to kill us. We were forced on to the dirt shoulder at least three times by busses and cars coming toward us overtaking in our lane. Finally we reached Hwy 1A and turned west toward HCM CIty. The riding actually got easier as now the paved right hand lane was "Motorcycle Only", but the going was slower as there is a lower speed limit in that lane. We passed quite a few speed traps but our luck held out, until finally it didn't! As we approached a trap manned by about seven or eight policemen two of them entered our lane and signaled for us to pull over, and then escorted us to a designated spot. Before we dismounted I noticed the most senior looking officer observe us being escorted in - he jumped out of the vehicle he had been sitting in, came over toward us and indicated to the officers who had pulled us over to leave this to him. On the palm of his hand he wrote "40 kph" and then an arrow pointing to "60 kph". He then pointed at the "60 kph" and at us, and we got the message - we had been doing 60 in a 40 zone. Nobody spoke any English, and we just nodded our heads apologetically and made it very clear we would not do this again. He then indicated we were to go. Quite a relief as I had heard quite a few stories about Western motorcyclists being forced to pay fairly large, but sometimes small, cash payments to cops to secure release. Then again I also heard quite a few stories of Westerners being given a free pass while locals were getting ticketed - as just happened to us.

We soon became emeshed in the suburban sprawl of Ho Chi Minh City. It was a Saturday, and also approaching the biggest public holiday in Vietnam, and there were tens of thousands of motorcycles on the roads - most of them so it seemed in our lane. The traffic was absolutely frenetic. It was very difficult for Zach and I to stay together with so much going on around us. It was a sweltering hot day and eventually we stopped at an intersection where a few food stalls were located roadside. We found a baguette but nothing else to eat. There was a stall selling beer. I declined to buy any, not really wanting to drink alcohol while riding in these conditions but soon the owner and his pals started palling up with us and giving us free beers. Heck, I didn't want to abuse such kind hospitality so we downed a couple with them. Nice and friendly people and no one spoke a world of English. We showed them on a map where we had traveled, up to the far north and all the way down now to HCM City. They seemed very impressed!

RIght after that I lost Zach in the crowd of motorcycles. After a while I stopped and waited roadside for him. I had on my riding gear and was absolutely sweltering in the heat. After a ten minute wait I hit the road again, and about 25 kms further on again pulled over to wait for him, but he was a no-show. We had been expecting this really heavy traffic to had made a back-up plan to meet at a town en route if we got separated so I rode on to the town, about another 30 kms. I stopped at the entrance to the city which had a large concrete arch across the road and checked my text messages - Zach had messaged me, he was OK (of course I was worried his chain had broken again) and about 20 minutes behind me. I told him to look out for the arch and waited. A half hour later he goes zipping by, not seeing me. What followed was twenty minutes of confusion as we tried to find one another, which eventually we did.

We were now in the Mekong Delta, crossing waterways frequently some very large and some very small. Our destination was the town of Mo Cay which after quite a lot of confusion we located. The Delta area is absolutely flat, not a rise in site. We had some hilarious moments after finally locating the only hotel in town. It apparently was far more of a "massage" operation than a hotel. The manager asked us how many hours we wanted the room for, and had a really hard time understanding that we actually wanted to stay overnight. Seems most people just rent the room for a few hours of romping.

Once again we were in a town that sees few Westerners and we attracted stares and attentions wherever we went. First we took a ride along one of the arms of the Delta. Sights such as this were common, lots of river commerce and houses on the waters edge:



Our bikes were filthy, we had only washed them once before, so we decided to have them cleaned. We were to return the bikes in a few days and did not want to have any issues reclaiming my passport which the rental company was holding as security. So we found one of the ubiquitous Rua Xe's (bike washes) - there are tens of thousands of them all over Vietnam - and had our bikes cleaned very nicely by a husband and wife team for 20 Dong (less than $1) per bike:



This is the son of the couple that cleaned our bikes, and the kid's grandfather:



That evening we walked the main road of the town, attracting stares wherever we went. We found some decent street food, had a few beers and called it a night.

Total distance for the day - 200 kms (125 miles)
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Old 05-19-2013, 07:09 PM   #62
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Day 28

Today would be our last full day of riding before heading back to HCM to end our journey. I had planned a route that took in lots of the Delta backroads hoping to get a real flavor of this far southern tip of the country.

The day began auspiciously. Early in the day, soon after we turned on to a minor backroad, we surprisingly came upon a really large and beautiful Buddhist temple. It was without doubt the most impressive one we had seen in our month of travels and we turned into the Temple grounds to take a look around. There were a number of monks in their orange outfits hanging around, lots of kids, and a lot of work going on in various quarters of the grounds on what looked like new buildings.

The Temple:



It glittered gold, really quite stunning. Then the monks:



And lots of kids, all of them hanging around the two of us and our bikes:



We rode on and continued seeing the Mekong Delta sights we had been hoping for: roads running beside mangrove swamps, many water crossings most of them over small tributaries, verdant green rice fields, and not much traffic at all. The roads were quite narrow with a posted speed limit of 40 kph which nobody seemed to be obeying. Suddenly we passed two cops on one of the white Honda 250cc bikes they ride (see photo from Day 24) passing us from the opposite direction. We and the bikes around us were all exceeding the speed limit. The cops did not reappear shortly so I figured they had gone on their way but a few minutes later they suddenly zipped by me and signaled for the bike in front of me to pull over. Zach was behind me and he later said it looked like they were going to pull me over but at the last moment turned their attention to the local on his bike. Quite fortunate, but this is an opportunity to bring up an interesting facet of Vietnamese life. Cops in Vietnam carry nothing more than a whistle and perhaps a nightstick. When they want to apprehend someone all they do is point at the person/vehicle, be it a car or motorcycle, with their nightstick if they have one, and at the same time blow their whistle. Immediately this happens the "victim" pulls over instantly and without any sign of resistance (except us as I mentioned earlier - we zoomed off a number of times when called upon to stop). It appeared that Vietnamese are quite cowed by authority and under no circumstances whatsoever argue with or stand up to cops. It must be part of the Communist way of life, total subservience to authority. And it's quite clear the cops (and in the north the army where cops are very few and far between and the army seems to play the role of the police) enjoy their authority and exercise it with little restraint. I saw a few unsavory instances of army guys (exercising the role of police) in Hanoi browbeating and pushing old women around. To put it bluntly they take no shit from anyone and no one seems to give them any. Except Zach and I - I take a little pride in saying that we thought "F.U" a number of times when they tried to pull us over without cause (or so we thought ) and we sped away. Question authority I say

We stopped to eat in a small town. Upon entering the open air restaurant we brought the place to a standstill. Once again we were like absolute oddities and everyone wanted to look at us. We wanted rice (by now we knew to call it "com") and meat but could not figure out from the display of different meats what each one was. The language barrier was a problem. Then a lady intervened, she was just a customer, to help us figure out what the meat was. I pointed at one meat and she responded "bow wow". Oh no!! In my sternest voice, as I waved my arm negatively across my body, I said "unequivocally no bow wow!!!". Perhaps they did not understand English but they clearly got the message - no dog meat for us. Then I pointed at the next meat and she waved her elbows up and down like a chicken and said "cluck cluck". Very good, we indicated we would have the chicken. When we were served a crowd of about ten people gathered around our table to watch us. One woman pulled up a chair inches away from me and stared me up and down in wonder as I ate. I felt like a specimen in a zoo. We ate with chopsticks, and after watching us for about 5 minutes they lost interest and wandered away. Perhaps they realized we were not that weird after all

We continued on our way enjoying the sights of the Mekong which were so different to our earlier experiences. There was a lot of river commerce, boats and barges carrying all sorts of produce and goods over the muddy waters.



In one small town following my GPS route, which had been accurate up to that point, we were directed on to a small and very narrow street, the town market with stalls all around us. This obviously was not our route. We extricated ourselves with some difficulty and then after crossing a nearby bridge found the road we needed. The GPS had it on the wrong side of the river.

Eventually we neared our destination of Can Tho and crossed a huge suspension bridge, by far the largest we had encountered on our journey. It spanned a very wide section of the delta and was at the very least 2 km wide, perhaps quite a bit more. Soon after the bridge we entered Can Tho and found a town a lot larger and more urbanized than we had expected. Certainly the largest by far we had seen in the Delta. It did not take us long to find a decent hotel, settle in and then walk around the town, heading of course to the market. We enjoyed really awesome fruit smoothies made from all kinds of exotic fruits, some of which we had never seen, for 75c. Plenty of beer with our dinner as we pondered the bittersweet feeling as the end of the journey nears.

Total distance for the day - 120 kms (75 miles)
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Old 05-19-2013, 07:31 PM   #63
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Thanks for taking us along for the ride.
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Old 05-20-2013, 06:35 PM   #64
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Day 29

Our plan for the day was to take tour of the delta and then ride back to HCM City, our journey's end.

Up at 5:30am we met with our guide and headed down to the river where we boarded a small boat, just Zach, me and the guide. Mo Cay is on a wide stretch of the river and we headed upstream as the sun rose to visit the floating market. As we saw all over the Delta there was a lot of river commerce, and houses built right to the waters edge:



After about one hour we reached the market. We had been expecting a market selling handmade crafts and such but instead found a fruit and vegetable market located in boats moored in the river, all the produce having been shipped down from the source. There were also many large tourist boats that seemed to be carrying groups of Chinese tourists, also a few small boats like ours with Westerners, not many. In addition to the large boats ferrying produce there were a number of small boats selling coffee, refreshments, snacks and even pho (beef noodle soup). We bought some coffee and breakfasted on pho on the river. This was a typical scene, lots of watermelons:



After about an hour we headed inland on to small tributaries to visit the mangrove swamps. The farther away from the main channel we got the narrower the tributaries and the denser the vegetation. At times there was vegetation growing in the narrow waterway and the guide just motored through it. The engine would sputter and cough as the prop hit the vegetation but then cough it out and regain full power. A few photos from there:





Four hours later we returned to Mo Cay and by 10:30am we were on our bikes headed out of town. First we crossed the huge suspension bridge that we crossed on our way into town and then hit Hwy 1A north. I had not been looking forward to this leg of the journey, both because I feared we would once again encounter the dense traffic we experienced on our way south through HCM City days before, and also because it is a very large city spread out over a huge area and I was not confident my GPS route would get us to our destination in District One. We knew how difficult it was to get directions from locals with the language barrier.

The ride went well other than a sudden thunderstorm we encountered. It looked like it would be a hard and very wet ride all the way, but we passed through the storm after ten minutes and it was clear and dry thereafter.

After passing through one town we came upon a toll gate. As we tried to take the motorcycle road to the side we were stopped by an official who explained, with hand gestures, that this was from here on a car only freeway, no motorcycles allowed. I was ready to turn back to the town to find an alternate route but Zach insisted we try a small service road that paralleled the freeway, so off we went. The riding on the service road was great, it was in good shape, free of traffic and we made great time. After about ten kms I pulled over and was telling Zach I did not think this service road would continue and we should turn around and go back. Just then a man walked out of a house nearby, one of the few in the area, and in response to our questions pointed north and said "all the way to Ho Chi Minh City". I was very encouraged and happy as a clam as this road was the best! On we rode alongside the freeway that looked like the best road we had seen in Vietnam, new and built to Western standards. About 20 kms later we suddenly found our way blocked by a road. High fences prevented us from accessing the road. We looked around and saw no way through, so turned around hoping to find a way out of the logjam. Just then a young guy riding by on a motorcycle, with girlfriend on back, noticed our predicament and motioned for us to follow him. We rode through a village on narrow concrete and dirt paths and popped out on to the road that had blocked our way. We headed off and within 10 kms my GPS gave me the great news that we had reached Hwy 1A, back on our original route

As we approached HCM City the traffic was a lot lighter than I had been expecting. It was now a weekday, not a Saturday as on our way down, and it was quite manageable. Eventually the GPS indicated our turn off toward District One and we shortly found ourselves on a really nice road that had not one but two motorcycle only lanes, one express lane divided from the other by a median. We followed this until we saw turn-off signs for District One. We took the second one, rode for about five minutes and stopped to figure out where our hotel was located. With the help of a local we realized we were about two minutes away from the hotel. Good karma!!

We had made good time so we settled into the hotel and spent the remainder of the day checking out the city. There are so many motorcycles it is hard to describe - I read while there that there are 5.5 million registered motorcycles in HCM City alone (and then there are the unregistered bikes). It was the most modern and Western city we had encountered on our journey. Typical traffic scene:



Total distance for the day - 180 kms (112 miles)


Day 30

We went to the local agent representing the bike rental company in Hanoi which was located quite close to our hotel. I retrieved my passport (phew ), Zach got his backpack that had accompanied him on his 8 month journey before meeting me in Hanoi (the bike rental company had shipped it down for us) and we took a few photos before riding with the agent to the railroad station to drop off the bikes for transport back to Hanoi.

Zach's front tire had worn down almost totally smooth:



After dropping off the bikes - father and son:



It had been an amazing journey
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Old 05-20-2013, 08:06 PM   #65
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Wow...thanks for sharing!

I was in Saigon for Tet and now think Vietnam is awesome! Good to see you had a positive experience too.
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Old 05-20-2013, 09:55 PM   #66
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I shared your RR with my 21 yr old son who traveled to Vietnam a couple of years ago while taking a year off between high school and college. It's all we can talk about - so want to make it happen someday - hopefully in the not too distant furture. Thanks for sharing it and inspiring us.
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Old 05-21-2013, 04:36 AM   #67
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Very unique....

Thanks for taking the time to write such a unique RR. It's the kind that's going to take me back here over and over so that I can learn my history lessons. Very interesting and educational for sure!

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Old 05-21-2013, 09:38 PM   #68
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Great RR, thanks for sharing! Great job on the pics, too.
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Old 05-22-2013, 10:57 AM   #69
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Thumb Vietnam ride report

This ride report is awesome. Great to see the people and culture were fully embraced by you guys riding. You should definitely consider doing an off road ride in cambodia as the people there are equally as enthral led at meeting westerners. And experiencing any country's culture and people by dirt bike routes definitely gets you on to the less travelled paths.

Great stuff, thanks for sharing, I am sure it will inspire other riders to get out there and get some saddle time in!

Keep it dirty side down now!
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Old 05-22-2013, 01:23 PM   #70
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mot hai ba YO!!

Great read and pics, thanks for sharing.
I spent a year in Nha Trang in 2008 brings back good memorys
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Old 05-23-2013, 12:26 PM   #71
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Excellent RR!

Thanks so much for the report, what a pleasure to read. Great inspiration for our scoot-trip to Vietnam this fall

A couple of quick questions when you have the chance:

1. What maps did you end up using for this trip?
2. GPS - any chance you can upload your tracks? What mapset was loaded on your GPS?
3. You mentioned texting with Zach at one point when being separated. SIM cards in your phones from the US or did you pick up disposable phones there?
4. Any other ideas/advice/recommendations you can pass along would be great.

Thanks again.

Cheers!

BA from BC

(Feel free to PM me with info if you don't want to post it here - no rush, whenever you have a spare minute.)
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Old 05-24-2013, 07:52 AM   #72
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[QUOTE=SoloSurfer;21476342]Thanks so much for the report, what a pleasure to read. Great inspiration for our scoot-trip to Vietnam this fall

A couple of quick questions when you have the chance:

1. What maps did you end up using for this trip?
2. GPS - any chance you can upload your tracks? What mapset was loaded on your GPS?
3. You mentioned texting with Zach at one point when being separated. SIM cards in your phones from the US or did you pick up disposable phones there?
4. Any other ideas/advice/recommendations you can pass along would be great.

SS I'll PM you with answers to your questions as there is quite a lot of info with which to respond. If anyone else is contemplating a trip to Vietnam and has questions please feel free to post them here or PM me.
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Old 05-24-2013, 08:57 AM   #73
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Hi

Nice report and good memories for me.

I went there in January, but stayed in north.

What did you prefer, north or south ??

Eric
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Old 05-24-2013, 10:25 AM   #74
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ERIC DN View Post
Hi

Nice report and good memories for me.

I went there in January, but stayed in north.

What did you prefer, north or south ??

Eric
No question about it Eric - the north is WAY better. There is some fun to be had in the south, and the area around Ninh Binh and 150 miles to the west of Ninh Binh is amazing, but the north is where we found the real adventure
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Old 05-24-2013, 10:55 AM   #75
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epic adventure!.... and that pic of you two at the end is something to be treasured....
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