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Old 11-07-2013, 09:37 AM   #1
Angus1 OP
Joined: Mar 2013
Location: Norfolk, UK
Oddometer: 33
An Idiot Abroad Vietnam and Cambodia

It's taken me a while to get round to writing this, and there aren't nearly as many photo's as there should be, but given all the idea's I got from reading other ride reports on this site, here's my attempt.

I posted nearly a year ago now on here, asking if it was a completely idiotic idea for an 18 year old to attempt to ride from Hanoi to Phnom Penh this summer, alone, having done no riding other than the few hours you need to get a CBT in the UK. The answer was mostly, yes. After receiving similar answers from friends and family, I went ahead and booked the flights.
Planning was largely non existent, bought a backpack and a few dry bags, wrote down the names of a few places I wanted to visit, and that was about it. Landed in Hanoi at midnight on the 6th of July, got massively overpriced taxi to the Hanoi backpackers hostel, and went to sleep. The next couple of days were spent doing what most western teenagers in this part of the world seem to do, drinking and discovering Hanoi's clubbing scene, which with the 12pm curfew technically in place, is all a bit sketchy. After a few days of that, a couple of British guys in my dorm asked if I wanted to buy a bike, had a look, not that I had any idea what to look for. After a brief, terrifying, and somewhat tipsy test ride through the manic Hanoi traffic, I bought it, on the assurance that the non functioning started button could be remedied by charging the battery at any mechanic the next morning. The next afternoon, very hungover, I discovered this was easier said than done, although I'm sure it would have been possible, and resigned myself to using the kick starter for the next 6 weeks. The bike was a beaten up Thai built copy of a Honda Win 110cc. It really was crap.

I didn't buy a map in advance, having read somewhere I could get one easily in Hanoi. Again, easier said than done, I ended up with some crappy 'Vietnam Tourist Map', which was pretty much useless other than telling you the highway number. The only way I found anywhere was the tombstones on the side of the road, with the next town written on them, and even more helpfully, the highway number written on the side. Once I realised this, I finally had some idea where I was.

A few days later, I headed out of Hanoi aiming for highway 32 to Sapa, in the far north of Vietnam. This was a dismal failure and I ended up back in Hanoi (still no idea how that happened). The next day I tried again in earnest, and got even more lost, not entirely sure where I spent the night, but I think it was Viet Tri. Or Pho Tuc. Or somewhere else entirely, no one spoke english, and everyone pointed to a different city on the map. There's no photo's from the next few days, so I'll fast forward a bit. To sum up, I fell off repeatedly, QL2 was full of roadworks dust and lorries, the street food caught up with me, and I was throughly miserable.

5 days later, having met no one that spoke english since hanoi, not eaten in 3 days, and wondering why I'd ever thought this trip a good idea, I somehow ended up on the road to Lao Cai. Crossing the border from Ha Giang was a relief, the roads went from this:

To this:

All be it with some rather large drops from the side of the road:


Vietnam and Cambodia 2013

Angus1 screwed with this post 11-15-2013 at 05:05 PM
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Old 11-07-2013, 11:42 AM   #2
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Way to be brave and bold! Sounds like a true adventure to me.

You lived to tell the tale and expanded your world view exponentially. Congrats!
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Old 11-07-2013, 01:03 PM   #3
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Brave indeed. All credit to you mate.
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Old 11-07-2013, 07:01 PM   #4
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And then..................
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Old 11-07-2013, 07:24 PM   #5
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Ballsy move.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Ferris Bueller
Baja 2012, my first moto tour
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Old 11-08-2013, 10:45 AM   #6
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Location: Norfolk, UK
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Perhaps more stupid than brave, didn't really know what I was letting myself in for.

From Lao Cai onwards, I started to enjoy things a lot more, I'd begun to figure out how to ride, and fell off far less regularly on unpaved bits. The road from Lao Cai to Sapa was by far the best I've seen, highway 4D. I attempted to film it with a cheap compact I had with me mounted to the handlebars, but the video came out corrupted. No photo's, but it would be worth going to Sapa just for that road. The whole area around Sapa had stunning scenery:

After a few day's in Sapa I headed back for Hanoi, hoping to make the trip in 1 day, strait down highway 32. After oversleeping I set off at midday, in light drizzle to try and find the start of the next stretch of QL4D. By sheer luck I found it fairly quickly and headed up into a cloud. Being in a shirt and jeans, with the altitude and being soaked through, I was actually cold for the first time since landing. The pass gets to about 2000m I think, Sapa its self being at about 1000m. Not sure if it was due to the altitude, or the wetness, but the engine wasn't liking something, kept misfiring and was, remarkably given it's limited horses to start with, even more down on power. Viability was also way down, and some road workers had helpfully left random piles of sand blocking one lane, so every so often a lorry would come barreling out of the cloud on my side of the road.

Even if I'd have left at dawn, I doubt I'd have made it to Hanoi in one day. Also had my first of many flat tires. Spent the night in Nghia Lo watching the Arsnal vs Vietnam game with the hotel security. 8-1 from memory. QL32 wasn't a great road, passed through some good scenery, but the road was potholes where it was tarmacked, and mostly just mud with a light covering of small boulders. This surface seemed to suit the manic bus drivers, but I wasn't too keen on it. Left at midday again for the second leg to Hanoi, arrived just as it was getting dark then spent 2 hours riding around in circles trying to find the hostel.

A few days later I headed out to Ha Long bay. Took several attempts to find the start of QL18 from AH1, as the western and eastern sections of the road are a few miles apart. Arrived in Ha Long city haven passed the ques of cars and buses stuck in the road works by riding on the unpaved under construction lane. Got there as it got dark, and discovered my headlight had gone.

The bikes electrics were in general, useless, no electric start, the headlight was temperamental at best and the horn only worked at high revs, if at all. The horn was the biggest issue, resorted to yelling at people instead in the city traffic.


Vietnam and Cambodia 2013

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Old 11-08-2013, 12:48 PM   #7
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Good on you! Better to take these types of risks when you're young and less afraid. As you get older and wiser you tend to be more cautious, and might not do something so bold. Well done!

Vietnam is a place I'd like to visit and travel through. May not ever get a chance. You did the right thing by throwing caution to the wind and going for it..
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Old 11-08-2013, 01:27 PM   #8
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If you survive, it is going to be a story for the ages!

Rode 1467 Kilometers from DaNang back to Ho Chi Minh City this past spring. Doing it again in Spring 2014.

Beautiful country, beautiful people, good food.

Good luck!
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Old 11-10-2013, 10:18 PM   #9
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Enjoying your pics. Looking forward to the rest of your story
Vietnam Adventure Oregon BDR Arizona BDR
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Old 11-12-2013, 03:52 PM   #10
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Yep I do agree, nice trip, I'm sure you made the good decision

can't wait for the next !!
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Old 11-13-2013, 06:31 AM   #11
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The bike was a beaten up Thai built copy of a Honda Win 110cc. It really was crap.
Good job Angus, the rest of us are remembering what it was like at 18.
'05 450 EXC
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Old 11-13-2013, 10:20 AM   #12
Joined: Jun 2013
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In! This is a trip I'd love to take, so I'll be living vicariously through you till then. Way to take the plunge!
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Old 11-15-2013, 04:44 PM   #13
Angus1 OP
Joined: Mar 2013
Location: Norfolk, UK
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After a couple of days I headed back to Hanoi, having failed to find a boat to take me around the bay, I don't know where the boats doing the tourist type trips leave from, but apparently not Ha Long city. Once I got back to Hanoi I was there from the 23rd to the 30th, only a week apparently, I was expecting it to be longer when I looked back at my diary. The day after returning from Ha Long, whilst fairly drunk wandering from bar to bar (a common occurrence as the police sweep through the city enforcing the midnight curfew) I was hit by a taxi, luckily only with the wing mirror. Still, being tipsy I on my head and knocked myself out for a few seconds I'm told. Came round with a very sore wrist next to a smashed wing mirror with no idea what had happened. Some very helpful German medical students explained the situation, took me to the next bar, put some cold beers on my wrist and gave me some of the laughing gas thats sold by a bloke out of a bag quite openly in all touristy bars in Hanoi. This took the edge off things, and soon I recovered enough to drink the beers. Still not sure exactly what happened to my wrist, but it's still painful on occasion if I try to pick anything up at a funny angle. At the time it made my hand completely useless, couldn't even hold a cigarette, so I was stuck in Hanoi for a while longer.

I'll skip forward after that long and image free chunk of text to the next bit involving the bike. When I left Hanoi, I had 4 days on my visa, so had no time to ride down to even the most northernly border crossing. So my bike was loaded onto the train, to Hue. Quite a painless procedure, simply buy your ticket as normal in the station, then turn right as you leave the stations main doors towards the cargo section. At the far left (as you're facing the building now) is the 'arrivals' office, where cargo thats just arrived in Hanoi is stored, slightly to the right of this, towards the main station entrance is the outgoing cargo office, I wandered in, waved my ticket around and said motorbike (Xe May, although I'm sure I pronounced that completely wrong) a lot. Eventually someone that spoke English was fetched and and I was given some forms to fill out (you will need your passport to do this, I had to go back to my hostel to retrieve it from reception) and charged a couple of hundred thousand dong. Some men with jerry cans then attacked my fuel tank with hoses, starting a siphon with their mouths, spitting out the petrol that went in and emptying the rest into the cans. They seemed very competitive between themselves, a French couple that were also shipping their bike filmed the process, I didn't have a camera on me unfortunately.

I collected the bike at 2pm the next day from the cargo office at the station in Hue, having been charged 50000 dong for the service of the removing the wooden box it was in. It then refused completely to start, after more fuel was put in it. After quite some kicking and pushing both me and the moto taxi guys gave up and one of them pushed me, with one leg braced against my bike, whilst riding his, to a mechanic. Eventually the problem was found to be the high voltage coil, which was replaced, the bike then fired up just fine. Or as fine as it ever did anyway. My moto taxi friend who had pushed me then charged me half a million dong for the repair, as the mechanics spoke no english I couldn't confirm this. $25 for Vietnam is extortionate, but it was my own fault for not asking in advance so I went with it, the taxi guy then pocketed this and gave the mechanics 70000... He followed me back the main road, and then demanded another 200000 for his time. At this point I'd had enough so having a more powerful bike (all 110cc of it) I proceeded to bugger off through the cyclo's and ox carts back to my hostel.

Hue's Citadel:

I then had to leave the country in the few days left on my visa, so after a morning spent looking at the citadel above, I headed towards Hoi An. Between Hue and Da Nang is the Hai Van pass. Whilst I thought highway 4D was a better road, surface and corners wise, the views here were amazing.

Da Nang was a nightmare to navigate through, I arrived in Hoi An about an hour after dark, still with no headlight. Most of the accomidation seemed quite pricey, eventually I found a tiny hostel and got a room with air con for $8. The room was literally a bed, 3 walls, and a bit of ridgid plastic with a door in it for the 4th wall. The floor and bed were almost exactly the same size, and the window looked out into a loft.

I decided to try and make it from Hoi An to Kon Tum in the centeral highlands in 1 day. This was a terrible idea. The electrics broke again as I left Hoi An in the rain, and by the time I'd found a mechanic and got it sorted it was 4pm. Darkness fell as I left highway 1 at Quang Ngai, moving onto highway 24B. I'm sure in day light, highway 24 would be a great mountain road, but when I was just trying to make it to the border as fast as possible, the hairpins in the dark were a nightmare. I fell off having ridden into one of the craters the water buffalo make, took a decent sized chunck out of my shin, and ended up covered in petrol, blood and buffalo excrement. The vietnamese guys ridding past the other way 3 up on a scooter found this (understandably with hindsight) hillariouse, but offered no help extracting my bike from the hole, and rapidly left. On the plus side the water good into the wireing somewhere and fixed my headlight. On the downside the crash meant the headlight pointed skywards. At least people would see me coming.

Carrying on at this point was stupid, but carry on I did. I don't consider myself someone that's readily freaked out, but being exhausted, alone in the mist/clouds with only the occasional hill tribe hut, and the associated creepy figurines by the side of the road started to get to me. As did the 'danger, unexploded ordinance' sings on the trees, and the rain, by this point my poncho was so ripped it wasn't doing much good. I stopped whenever I saw a light to try and find somewhere to sleep for a few hours, even wandered into some barracks, but despite the door being open, and the lights on, no one came after a few minutes of yelling inside, so I carried on. At about 3am I found what was signed as a city, found a guest house, woke everyone up and got a bed. This was the strangest city I'd ever been in, just a barracks, police station, communist party headquarters and a few decrepit looking buildings. Tiny potholed road going in, tiny potholed road going out, huge 4 lane communist style boulevards in the city its self.

The bike:

Vietnam and Cambodia 2013

Angus1 screwed with this post 11-16-2013 at 11:19 PM
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Old 11-15-2013, 05:10 PM   #14
Angus1 OP
Joined: Mar 2013
Location: Norfolk, UK
Oddometer: 33
Originally Posted by Comrade Art View Post
Enjoying your pics. Looking forward to the rest of your story
Cheers, I think I read through your ride report whilst planning the trip!

Originally Posted by Okie Preacher View Post
If you survive, it is going to be a story for the ages!

Rode 1467 Kilometers from DaNang back to Ho Chi Minh City this past spring. Doing it again in Spring 2014.

Beautiful country, beautiful people, good food.

Good luck!
I'd agree with you there, and wish I was going back. I'd say head up north if you get a chance, the roads are largely abysmal, but the scenery is amazing.

Vietnam and Cambodia 2013
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Old 11-27-2013, 01:29 AM   #15
Joined: Jul 2013
Location: Portlaoise, Ireland
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Looks Unreal, Im from Ireland and a friend and I are doing it this July/August. We are both 21 so would be pretty similar to yourself I'd say, limited riding experience etc. Keep the report going.
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