Go Back   ADVrider > Riding > Epic Ride Reports
User Name
Register Inmates Photos Site Rules Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read

Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Old 12-07-2013, 06:41 PM   #1
SoloSurfer OP
SoloSurfer's Avatar
Joined: Oct 2010
Location: Rossland BC, Canada
Oddometer: 129
Vietnam - Top to Bottom (a motorcycle adventure through Vietnam)

Hey ADVers!

(I accidentally deleted my original intro of this RR trying to make my pictures bigger).

Quick intro: This is my second RR of all time, but I felt obliged to get something down here on ADV. I just got back with my better half from a little scoot through Vietnam. We took the month of Nov this year to explore the north and work our way to the south - hence 'top to bottom'. It was incredible. The riding was amazing as were the vistas, views, food, people,... the list goes on. I highly recommend a moto-trip through Vietnam.

I have been inspired by so many of you here on ADV with your amazing RRs. Taking the time to make a motorcycle trip happen and then documenting it with words, photos and videos,... thank-you very much, my hat is off to you all who put in the time and effort. I feel it is my duty to take the torch again and to put something down here.

If you can get through the first bit of bull manure below, you might enjoy this RR.

Cheers, and thanks for following,

BA from BC

I love to travel. I've been lucky enough, and have worked hard enough (to give myself some credit) to have traveled quite extensively over the past 23 years. It all started when I was 17 yrs old. I took off on one of these Rotary Exchange Programs and I ended up going to Finland of all places. It was an amazing year, full of learning, experiencing a different culture, being away from my family for the first time, meeting new people, and most importantly, learning about myself and all things in between.

This year long journey to Finland literally changed my life forever. It sparked my desire for travel. I used to keep a running tally of countries I have traveled to since this youth exchange program but I have no idea where it ended up. The formal tally of countries is within me, those experiences all locked away for me to remember and enjoy.

This desire for travel all started before the internet age. I was a kid from British Columbia in the early 90s writing letters home for correspondence and organizing phone calls with my parents once a month. I was always excited on 'phone-call' day to chat with my parents in detail on what I had been up to, it was hard to pack it all in to a 30 minute call (we tried to keep it that tight as overseas phone calls were quite spendy at the time). As the years ticked on, when on my travels, I was able to email home to friends and family which was a much more efficient way of keeping in contact. I have a memory of being in Ecuador back in the day, 'chatting' to my parents online thinking that was so great to be able to have a 'live-chat' all the way home. I noticed a headset on the computer and remembered my parents had a microphone and speakers at home, so I decided to try a voice chat over the messaging. There I was, talking with my parents through the computer all the way from Ecuador with some obvious delays. I was thrilled.

A few years ago, I loaded up my dual sport motorcycle, strapped my surfboard to the side, and headed on an adventure of a lifetime. I rode solo from British Columbia south to the Panama Canal and then turned around and headed back home. A zippy 20,054 km sojourn which I completed in 90 days. My Sister was always wanting me to blog my adventures. She knew that I kept extensive journals of my travels and adventures, but I never shared those experiences aside from telling them the odd story here and there via email or through a slide show upon returned home. She ended up twisting my arm enough and I decided I would blog my moto-surf-adventure for friends and family. This also turned into a Ride Report on a global motorcycle trip forum called ADV Rider. It was a great way of documenting my trip and sharing my experiences. I still wrote a trip journal and I would share this as often as I could, which ended up being about once a week, and I posted tons of pictures for friends and family on my blog and I then 'cut-copy-pasted' it right into ADV Rider. (ADVers, see my RR 'A motorcycle-surf journey through Baja, Mexico and Central America below:)

My Central America moto-mission was a soul searching trip of sorts. It was something that I needed to accomplish on my own and I succeeded, I got home in one piece with some stories to tell. I'm not too sure what I was looking for on that trip, but after about 8 months upon returning home, I'm more than certain I found it. My life has been better each and every day that I get to spend with her. I feel like the luckiest guy on the planet and at the same time, I know with life's hurtles, I truly deserve this one. So, my next motorcycle trip was bound to include Amanda.

We just got home a few days ago from a month long motorcycle trip to Vietnam. We were in contact with family at home almost daily through social media, FaceTime, and iCloud photos uploaded daily (and efficiently). Times have definitely changed when it comes to communicating while on the road. As my sister mentioned to me the other day, it was the first adventure that she was fully able to be apart of because of these daily updates. She really enjoyed following along as did other family members and friends. Some think that constantly being wired on a trip can detract from the actual experience while being there. I would agree with this if you were online 24-7, but on this trip my better-half and I were online just enough to touch base, load some photos, have a quick chat and then turn off the devices and enjoy one another, our experience, and everything Vietnam had to offer.

This blog will now cover our 'Vietnam - Top to Bottom' Moto Adventure through photos, stories, maps, and some videos (granted I can post them). For all of you over on ADV Rider, I also plan to 'cut-copy-paste' these blog entries onto a RR (ride report) for you to also enjoy - remember this is coming from my blog, so hopefully the format will work out and the rest.

Hope you all enjoy.

'I got a map, my passport, and I grabbed my Dong,... we are all set to go!'

Day 0 - (Travel Day) - Flights from Spokane, WA > Seattle, WA > Seoul, Korea > Hanoi, Vietnam (November 3 - 4th).

Day 1 - Hanoi, Vietnam - Tuesday November 5th

Views from our hotel in Hanoi (Hanoi Symphony Hotel)

We had quite the long haul to get to Hanoi, but upon arrival, we both agreed that all flights went well. We flew from Spokane to Seattle on Alaskan Airlines and then with Korean Airlines to Seoul and onto Hanoi. Korean Airlines were great. We were stuck in the back of the economy section with loads of room and reasonable food. Our flight from Seattle to Seoul actually felt like a quick 10 hours which surprised us both.

I had arranged our stay at the Hanoi Symphony Hotel before jetting over and they suggested we arrange our hotel shuttle through them as well. After extensive research online, I had also read that hotel shuttles were sometimes cheaper than a regular taxi from the Hanoi airport. For us it was a no-brainer having the peace of mind knowing that we weren't going to get ripped off or brought to another hotel with the same name (common scam in Hanoi, but easily avoided), it was well worth the $18 and 50 min ride.

We arrived to Hanoi on November 3 in the evening. After our 50 min airport shuttle, we hunkered down into our $25/night hotel room and called it a night. We were bagged from travel and wanted to get our game faces on for the following day in Hanoi. We knew that Hanoi was hectic, but I don't think either of us were fully prepared. It was absolutely nuts.

Apparently there are about 80 million people in Vietnam. I have read that at least 1/4 of the population rides motorcycles - 20 million motorcycles! There is no doubt about it, that Vietnam is a country of motorbikes and a country to travel via motorbike. Motorbikes are the most efficient mode of transportation in this country, they are easy to acquire, cheap to fuel and easy to get fixed.

In North America we would call these bikes 'motorscooters' as they are generally 125cc or under. It is tough to own a bike over 125cc as you have to pay greater taxes and tariffs on those bikes in Vietnam. Another reason, is that the average speed that one travels is about 5 - 30 kph in and around cities, and roughly 30 - 60 kph on main roads and highways. There really aren't too many big bikes in this country as the amount of traffic and the average speeds really limits how fast you can actual go... or would WANT to go, it addition to the taxes and fees you have to pay to own and operate a big bike. 125cc works just well and fine in this country, and if you pin'it, these little bikes can rip just fine.

Our first experience crossing a busy street in Hanoi was terrifying. We were told that you had to start by slowly crossing and to keep crossing, without hesitation or stopping, otherwise you would get hit. This was tough. Our guts were telling us to stop as we had zippy scoots coming at us in each and every direction. I think at one point, I did hesitate and almost stop and this in turn almost caused a local to fall off his bike. After a few street crossings, we almost had it mastered. Keep your slow pace, keep walking, and don't stop. It works. It is surprising that in the midst of this chaos, it all seems to work. People get to where they want to go, bikes zip by going where they are going and everything flows. One thing we noticed, is when you put a car or bus in the mix, things go slightly array. These 'massive' forms of transport seem to disrupt the whole system as they are almost 'too big' for the process to work and have louder horns to create more disruption. Surprising again, even the big buses and cars get to where they need to be, although it takes them a great deal longer to sneak around.

One of our missions for our first day in Hanoi was to head to Flamingo Travel - their main office is in Hanoi where I secured our motorbike rentals for our month long adventure. I shopped around online before heading to Vietnam and I went with Flamingo based on reviews I had read from previous travelers posts and also from the vibe I got through their website in addition to email correspondence with them. I am very happy with our decision, Flamingo was excellent.

Hanoi isn't the easiest city to navigate. I was lucky enough to discover an amazing resource to navigate the city: my new iPhone... who knew? Now, I'm a relatively tech savvy kind-of-guy, but what I didn't know were the capabilities of these phones in 'offline' mode. The phone was brand new, therefore in Canada, we can't pop the SIM card out until after x3 months or something. So, I switched my phone to airplane mode and made sure the cell and roaming buttons were clearly clicked off. I then turned the 'location services' button on and low-and-behold, by opening Google Maps in my hotel room (using WiFi), getting a clear location of where we were, then walking out of the hotel, the phone was still able to use WiFi locations and cell tower locations to pin point my location on the map while walking around Hanoi. It was brilliant and a lifesaver to get around. I plugged in Flamingo Travel, and found it very easily following my 'active' location all the way to the Flamingo Office.

Amanda in front of the Flamingo Travel office - Hanoi

I had planned our rough route through Vietnam before arrival to the country thanks to a few excellent ride reports on ADV Rider and route suggestions from Flamingo Travel based on the time we had. We knew that we were picking the bikes up in Hanoi in the north and then eventually dropping them in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC - formally Saigon) in the south, thus traveling 'top to bottom' or north to south. We arranged through Flamingo to put the bikes on the train back to Hanoi and we would then fly back up north.

I followed a very detailed Ride Report last year thanks to Stan and his son Zach who did a lengthy moto trip through Vietnam. I emailed him through ADV Rider and asked for some advice and suggestions. One of the things Stan mentioned was to pick up this map book once in Hanoi (see picture below). This map was invaluable. For anyone who is going to travel via the roads in Vietnam in whatever capacity,... motorcycle, car, donkey, walking, this is the map book to have: (Thanks again Stan!) I didn't even open the other two maps I had bought in Canada before leaving.

We weren't set to pick the bikes up for x4 more days as we had planned to head to Ha Long Bay first, but we were told to drop by the Flamingo Office upon arrival to get a few things sorted such as deposits on the bikes etc. We decided not to bring our bulky helmets from Canada, so once at the office, they wanted to fit us with helmets (which were included in the price of the bikes) therefore we'd be all set to go early Saturday morning - our day of departure on the motos. After seeing their selection of helmets, we decided to venture out on our own and purchase a couple of our liking that fit us well. The office staff were excellent in providing us with directions to the motorcycle shop area of Hanoi and in particular the 'helmet street'. We caught a cab there, shopped around for an hour and found our helmets of choice which was tough with the variety available. We paid $35 for both ($20/$15) and were very happy with our decisions having a good fit and more coverage than most of the others we had looked at.

Looked cool - didn't buy this one.

Hello Kitty helmet - complete with gap-in-the-back for pony tail

Mmmmmm, street meat - looks like chicken!

After dealing with our bikes, arranging details for our Saturday morning departure, and buying helmets, we were set for lunch. We stopped in at a local 'Pho' restaurant close to our hotel and had a nice, steamy bowl of 'pho ga' or rice noodle chicken soup. It was delicious.

Passed this Vespa dealership when on the search for our helmets

'Yo quiero Taco Bell!' - Well little buddy, you have a long way to go.

We both really enjoyed our first day in Hanoi. It is a bright, vibrant city with loads going on. It was easy to blow and afternoon checking out the Old Quarter and sussing things out. We were very exhausted from both the jet lag and our first day of high-test-stimulus, so we grabbed a bite for dinner at Bun Bo Nam Bo (highly rated restaurant on Trip Advisor). There we had a really tasty meal, a couple of Bia Ha Noi's (local beer brewed in Hanoi) and we ended up calling it an early night.

Monument near Hoan Kiem Lake - in Hanoi's Old Quarter

Next up... 2 night, 3 day boat cruise of Ha Long Bay and then we start on the moto-scoots!

Stay tuned.

SoloSurfer screwed with this post 02-20-2014 at 07:06 PM Reason: larger pictures
SoloSurfer is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-09-2013, 04:00 PM   #2
stanegoli's Avatar
Joined: Dec 2005
Location: Portland OR
Oddometer: 236
Ah, BA this brings back memories!!

Looking forward to more

stanegoli is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-09-2013, 06:15 PM   #3
. . . gravity sucks
Watercat's Avatar
Joined: Jan 2006
Location: Beervanastan, Duwamps Pacific NorWet
Oddometer: 1,619
Originally Posted by stanegoli View Post
Ah, BA this brings back memories!!

Looking forward to more


Bring it ! ! !

Get your motor runin' . . . . . "Seek an erection for medical help lasting longer than four hours"

" . . . discovery channel has been shit for over a decade . . . this (ADVrider) is actually good." - OldAndBusted

Expect the unexpected! - Skunked & DfunkD

2006 Husky TE 610
2005 Big Strom
Watercat is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-09-2013, 06:41 PM   #4
Joined: Apr 2012
Location: Toronto
Oddometer: 26
More!! More!!
2015 KTM 690R ; 2013 WR450F
mudmojo is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-09-2013, 06:53 PM   #5
Joined: Jan 2011
Location: Norwich. Norfolk. UK
Oddometer: 91
I'm in, on my list of to do's
Alice: how long is forever?
White rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
-the Dalai Lama
Ianuk is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-09-2013, 09:24 PM   #6
PDX Alamo
Gnarly Adventurer
PDX Alamo's Avatar
Joined: May 2012
Location: Portland, OR
Oddometer: 442
in like flynn

Thinking maybe February for me, pave the way my man
PDX Alamo is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-10-2013, 11:23 AM   #7
SoloSurfer OP
SoloSurfer's Avatar
Joined: Oct 2010
Location: Rossland BC, Canada
Oddometer: 129
Man Cold

The minute we landed back in Canada, I was welcomed home by a good'ole Man Cold, which I'm barely surviving through at the moment...

I'm sure I'll survive. Day 2,3,4 photos are being uploaded now
SoloSurfer is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-10-2013, 02:02 PM   #8
SoloSurfer OP
SoloSurfer's Avatar
Joined: Oct 2010
Location: Rossland BC, Canada
Oddometer: 129
Day 2,3,4 - Halong Bay

Day 2 - Hanoi to Halong Bay - Wednesday, November 6

Before leaving Canada for our Vietnam adventure, we had decided that Halong Bay was on our bucket list of things-to-do. We had read that it is super touristy and there are a million junkboats to choose from but we decided we would take the plunge, spend a bit of extra cash and make it happen. It was fantastic. A must do. I figure, the 'touristy' places in the world are touristy for a good reason, there is normally something amazing to see and experience and therefore people go to see it. The fact that there are loads of people doing the same thing, well, who cares.

Through our Hanoi Symphony Hotel booking I was able to secure dates for a 'Galaxy Premium' 3 day, 2 night tour of the Halong Bay area. Our boat had 12 state rooms and we managed to secure one of the nicest rooms on the middle deck of the boat towards the back (Our bathroom was just above the 'G' in the picture above, and our room were the two windows to the left of that).

We were picked up from our hotel in Hanoi at 8am and we had a 4.5 hr bus ride into Halong City before taking a smaller tender to our boat. We were welcomed on the boat in typical foreigner fashion with a Vietnamese 'welcome drink' which consisted of a fresh passionfruit juice. We were then told to get settled on the boat before lunch. We were given our state rooms and had a few minutes to check out the top deck of the boat before lunch was served.

Looking back at Vietnam's highest bridge just out of Halong City.

Looking at the edge of Halong City, the limestone karsts are visible immediately even before leaving the main harbour.

Another junk boat loaded with tourists and heading to the main areas of Halong Bay

Our trusty captain. He was steering with his feet, but when I asked him if I could take a photo, he didn't want me to capture his normal navigating position and switched to his hands - I was going for the picture with the feet.

Right after our amazing first lunch on the boat, we were off on a smaller boat to tour Surprise Cave. Our group consisted of 22 folks from around the globe, from Canada to France, Singapore to Germany, it was a great mix of both young and old.

Surprise Cave

It is difficult to show the vast size and scope of this cave system through pictures. Some of the caverns were massive and the loop through this particular cave system was fine tuned for tour groups to enter and exit with time for our tour guides to explain different aspects of the cave system. It was well set up for hordes of tourists with boardwalks to follow, stairs to enter and exit and loads of garbage cans to aid in keeping it tidy.

Our Galaxy Cruise tour-guide named Tan Nguyen - a vibrant and young Vietnamese man who had a great sense of humour and was excellent with everyone. It was a pleasure to have him tour us around for 3 days.

At the end of the cave tour, we were shipped off for some evening relaxing on a beautiful beach right at sunset. Our guide Tan suggested that we could hike up a rough path to the 'top' of the island to get some photos of the area. We headed up the first set of stairs you could see which was the access for the trail to the top, the views were amazing.

We headed back to the beach for a sunset beer and then it was back to the boat for a huge dinner.

Some squid fishing after dinner.

This woman was selling anything and everything from her little boat. She would paddle around and hound all of the tourists on the junks to buy stuff from her. (She had her daughter wrapped up sleeping behind her in this photo). She would pass up a net, you would put your money in the net, and then she would pass up you your item of choice. There were many women selling the same things out of the same boats. All of our food was included in the price of the boat tour, but not any of our drinks. The boats wanted you to buy drinks 'on the boat', but these local sellers were 'stirring the pot' by selling alcohol, beers and everything else at a reduced rate than you could find on the boat. At times, the tour guides and ship hands were telling these women to take off. Everyone tries to make a buck off the tourists.

Day 3 - Halong Bay - Thursday, November 7

Another Galaxy Premium docked beside our boat. I think they had a couple of these sized junks in their fleet.

When you choose to take a Halong Bay tour you are faced with the decision of taking a 1 night, 2 day cruise or a 2 night, 3 day cruise. I would say most people who we chatted with were on a 1 night, 2 day. We both found that having that extra day proved to be perfect for what we were looking for. The second day was much more relaxed, we got on another boat in the morning and had a much smaller tour group. We first headed to another cave with very few tourists - The Maze Cave. I think this is the benefit of taking that extra night and extra day, you are able to experience a part of Halong Bay that fewer venture off to. We really enjoyed the mix of people we met in addition to the activities we experienced on that second day (I definitely recommend the 2 night, 3 day cruise if you have the time).

Check out Galaxy Cruise:

At the base of Maze Cave - Halong Bay.

Amanda was excited to see the sun come out, we were lucky to have an incredible day. Thinking back, this was only a few days before the superstorm typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines and then traveled onto Vietnam, we were very lucky to experience Halong Bay with this great weather.

After Maze Cave on our second day, we ventured off to another set of islands where we had the opportunity to kayak around and spend some time on our beach of choice within this area.

In the afternoon of the second day, we cruised past this floating fishing village and then onto a Pearl Farm tour.

Halong Bay - Pearl Farm - This was a cultured pearl farm where the pearls were essentially created by man. Natural pearls are formed by nature or basically by chance, and the chance of a pearl forming in a mollusk or mussel is very rare... therefore most pearls are cultured. In this case, man made pearls are formed by inserting a graft into a mollusk and then a pearl sac forms and an actual pearl has a good chance to form in this controlled environment. They then cultivate, clean them up and sell them. It was an interesting tour.

The captain's helper, and a good one at that.

At the end of our second day, we had a chance to head back to the same beach we were at the night before. Instead, we opted to stay on the top deck of the boat, enjoy a Bia Ha Noi and relax before dinner. Cheers!

Amanda pointing out the exact same boat we were on.

The Galaxy Premium was a really great boat. We were noticing all different types of junks throughout the 3 days in Halong Bay and they varied in size and condition. The Galaxy Premium was on the smaller size of the overnighters.

All of our meals were excellent and the displays were very well done. For both lunch and dinner, they would serve us course after course after course, always too much food. Here our tomato swan was guarding our fried squid.

Day 4 - Halong Bay to Hanoi - Friday, November 8

Our last day on the boat consisted of another kayak tour of a local floating fishing village and then a tour of Bai Tu Long Bay on the way back to Halong City. We were also offered to partake in a cooking class on the boat just before lunch. We learned how to make the traditional Vietnamese spring roll which we also enjoyed for lunch.

Filling up the boat with diesel before the next group arrives.

After disembarking our boat on the 3rd day just after lunch, we got on a bus back to Hanoi, another 4.5hrs. We were dropped at our hotel just in time for another great dinner at Bun Bo Nam Bo which we enjoyed so much on our first night there, we figured, why not go back for more?!

We were both nervous going to bed as the next day was the start of our actual motorbike adventure, each riding a moto for the first time in Vietnam, and having to exit the chaos of Hanoi and head north... all part of the adventure.

SoloSurfer is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-10-2013, 08:54 PM   #9
PDX Alamo
Gnarly Adventurer
PDX Alamo's Avatar
Joined: May 2012
Location: Portland, OR
Oddometer: 442
Wicked Awesome

Well that settles it, galaxy it us in March. What a great help , thanks for taking the time to put this out there.
PDX Alamo is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-10-2013, 11:42 PM   #10
Secret Soi Rider
TonyBKK's Avatar
Joined: Aug 2009
Location: The Big Mango, Bangkok, Thailand
Oddometer: 845
Good stuff, and you're not even on the bikes yet! Keep it coming!!
Live To Ride, Ride To Live!
2010 KLX Bill Blue 351
2005 Suzuki GSX-R 1000 K6
2011 Kawasaki VERSYS!
2005 BMW K1200LT
TonyBKK is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-11-2013, 04:16 AM   #11
Gnarly Adventurer
Joined: Aug 2010
Location: Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam
Oddometer: 145
My wife and I have lived here for 6 months. We love it here and can't wait to make the trip as soon as time permits . One or the other of us rides her ttr 250 every day (my xr 250 is broken) She teaches at a local high and middle school so she's very emursed in the Vietnamese culture.
stan.riner is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-12-2013, 01:02 PM   #12
SoloSurfer OP
SoloSurfer's Avatar
Joined: Oct 2010
Location: Rossland BC, Canada
Oddometer: 129
First day on the bikes - North from Hanoi

Day 5 - Saturday, November 9
Distance - 217km ~ 8hrs (Hanoi - Cho Ra)
Route - North on Hwy #3 to Thai Nguyen to Bac Kan (#3), to Phu Thong (#3), onto Hwy #279 to Cho Ra
Hotel - Thuy Dung Guest House
Weather - Warm and sunny with good temperatures - some minor wind

We were both quite anxious waking up this morning as we knew what we had ahead of us. After getting back from a nice and relaxed tourist cruise of Halong Bay, we knew our 'real' Vietnam adventure was about to begin, on motorbikes. It was the start of navigating on our own, planning on our own, finding places to eat and to stay, and to top all of this off, we had to navigate Vietnam's crazy roads and traffic,... all on our own.

Both of us had our gear mostly packed up the night before so we had our hotel breakfast, checked-out of the hotel and paid our final bill. I was surprised that we didn't pay the hotel a penny or give a credit card deposit via email for reservations before arrival, and we also didn't pay them a penny upon arrival. We stayed at the hotel for x2 nights, arranged an airport shuttle through them and didn't pay a thing. Our Galaxy Premium Cruise was booked through the hotel, and then we went on the cruise for 3 days, and again, we still didn't pay them a thing.

We got our final bill this morning while checking out and then paid the whole lot. The manager of the hotel wanted to assure us that they strive on good service and if we deemed the service not adequate, then maybe our bill would be adjusted - with both his hotel and the cruise of Halong Bay. We were really impressed. We paid up on Visa (which, in most places they will charge an additional 3-5%) and caught a taxi to Flamingo Travel where we rented our bikes.

It was arranged that we would meet at the main Flamingo Travel Office on our morning of departure on the motorbikes, and they would take us to their garage. Once at Flamingo, we got our bags from the back of the taxi, threw our new helmets on, both hopped on different bikes as passengers and were whisked away to their garage. I was on the back of the new 2013 Honda XR 150 that I had arranged before our trip. I was happy to be a passenger for the quick trip to the Flamingo garage, even at 8am, the traffic in Hanoi was hectic.

Once at the garage, I got to work. I wanted to mount my GPS cradle on the handlebar of my bike for navigation. As mentioned, before leaving on our trip, I spent a great deal of time going over other ride reports of travellers who had spent time navigating Vietnam by motorbikes. Some had GPS units and maps, some just relied on maps. I figured for us, the more navigating power we had in our arsenal the better. Though a rider in Vietnam named 'VietHorse' who I found on ADV Rider - the motorcycle forum I frequent at home, I was able to find some great options for GPS map sets of Vietnam. Before leaving on the trip, I chose one, loaded it onto my computer and then onto a Garmin handheld GPS and hoped for the best.

The first 2 maps above (on the left), I had ordered from a local bookstore here in BC. The map book to the right was recommended by Stan who had done a trip through Vietnam with his son last year. This Vietnam map book on the right had very detailed route information of the entire country and was a great resource.

Amanda is fairly new to motorbikes. I took her out a handful of times last summer on my classic '78 CB 400 for riding practice and she was starting to get the hang of it just before the fall. At this time, we were both busy, it got cold in BC and the riding practice stopped. I had looked through the variety of bikes that were available for rental in Vietnam, and it was decided that the best bike for her would be a semi-automatic 2010 Honda Future X 125cc. It was set up almost identical to a bike back home, minus the clutch. It had a 4 speed gearbox, front brake on the right lever and rear brake on the right pedal, gears on the left foot levers, again, the only thing missing was the clutch. It also had handy reminder lights on the dash indicating what gear the bike is in. I paid a bit more and rented a more dual sport oriented bike and was lucky to be offered a new 2013 Honda XR 150 with only 1300km on the odometer.

The guys at the Flamingo Garage walked us through both bikes. They gave us spare tubes for both bikes (as my tire sizes were more unique to Vietnam, this would be more crucial for my bike), they gave us a tool kit for the bikes with basic tools and a chain oiler for my XR (seen in the green bag on the right of my bike), and they also gave us a prepaid Nokia cell phone for emergency. They had their numbers programmed into the cell phone and mentioned that we can call any of the numbers provided at any time for anything. It was nice to pack this cell phone for peace of mind.

Before our Halong Bay adventure and while at the Flamingo Office, I told them of our concern leaving Hanoi, the first time on the bikes, the first time riding in the traffic and the rest. They were aware of our planned route and they suggested we get a 'guide' to get us out of the city. Obviously, they are a rental company who deals with folks like us on a daily basis. Most of their business comes from actual guided tours, but in the odd case like us, some venture out on their own. The guy to the right above was our guide for the first 10km out of Hanoi and he was excellent. He rode super slow, took us for our first fill up (the bikes were empty when we got them) and got us well on our way ~10 km north of town. He didn't speak a lick of english, but it didn't matter. Once at the rough 10 km mark north of the city, I looked at my GPS and knew that we just had to keep on the same road for most of the day. He pointed north, I pointed north, we both nodded, I tipped him a few bucks extra, we highfived, and we parted ways.

We were on our own. It was exhilarating. Within the first 10 km, we were both figuring out our bikes, how they handled, how they braked and just how to ride them.

We stopped about 60 - 80 km north of Hanoi for our first proper break at a road side restaurant. The woman who owned the place didn't speak any english, so we pointed at our drinks of choice in the fridge and she sat down with us at the table.

The bikes looking all shiny and clean on their first few kms.

All smiles.

Lunch just south of the town of Bac Kan. A tasty stirred fired noodle with chicken and veggies, excellent with fresh lime and the MSG loaded chile sauce Chin-Su.

I tried to shoot a few photos and videos the first day with my Canon camera (above), most images were blurred so I resorted to my new iPhone for the rest of the trip, it took way better photos and videos and was easier to only use the one device. The Canon stayed in my bag the rest of the trip. As the iPhone was new-to-me, I was very impressed with the photo and video quality.

Amanda happy with her new steed.

While on our Halong Bay cruise and during one of our relaxing Bia Hoi moments in the lounge chairs on the top deck, we discussed safety and our expectations while traveling through Vietnam by motorbike. We both wanted to come home in one piece and had read some horrible things about travellers getting into accidents while on bikes in Vietnam.

We came up with an 'On-the-Road' mantra of sorts that we called the 'S's' - something for us to think about on a daily basis while on the bikes (I have no idea why we called it a 'mantra' as it was never sung or chanted, but thats what we called it):

The S's

1. Safety - (most important of the S's - and as Amanda always says: 'Safety doesn't take a holiday!')
2. Security - (both OUR security and the bikes security - without both of these, the trip can't happen)
3. Speed - (smell the roses,... or the hibiscus flowers, we aren't in a rush, lets take our time and 'reel it in' if we start going to zippy-doo-daa)
4. Sensibility - (always be sensible and aware)
5. Support - (each other - we are a Team!)
6. sFun - (silent 's' - why moto-scoot 'Nam if it isn't FUN! or sFun!)
7. Smile - (with the locals with each other and for the camera - this is easy)

Our final leg of the day took us off the main route north #3 and northwest along Hwy 258 which was an extremely fun, twisty 50 km which led us directly into the town of Cho Ra, our destination for our first evening on the road.

Safe and sound. First day complete. We made it!

And notice Amanda following the 'S's':

She is smiling.

She is having sFun.

We found a hotel in Cho Ra recommended in the Lonely Planet called the Thuy Dung Guest House. It was actually the only hotel we saw in the small village of Cho Ra therefore it was fairly easy to find.

Cho Ra is on the edge of BaBe Lakes National Park - a place frequented by tourists. Our intentions were to spend a day and see the lakes, but instead, we decided to push further north therefore we didn't end up seeing any of BaBe.

Traditional Pho Bo or beef noodle soup. An excellent hot meal in one of Cho Ra's more upscale eateries. They didn't have the merlot we were looking for so we opted for a beer and Coke, it was excellent.

SoloSurfer is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-12-2013, 07:15 PM   #13
The Nailer
The Nailer's Avatar
Joined: Feb 2011
Location: Bendigo Vic Australia
Oddometer: 16
Looking forward to the rest of the trip!
The Nailer is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-12-2013, 07:22 PM   #14
Beastly Adventurer
Joined: Sep 2011
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Oddometer: 6,434
thanks for sharing .. there's not many RR from the orient ...
did a trip to central China a few years back but never made it to Vietnam
_cy_ is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 12-14-2013, 07:50 PM   #15
Beastly Adventurer
Joined: Jul 2012
Location: Above ground
Oddometer: 1,379
I'm in. Keep it coming.
Social Media, Ride Report and other Links:
Behind the Scenes Info: The AntiHero Newsletter
AntiHero is offline   Reply With Quote


Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On

Forum Jump

Times are GMT -7.   It's 08:04 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.5
Copyright ©2000 - 2015, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Copyright ADVrider 2011-2015