A Ride on the Tiger's Back: VIETNAM 2012

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by Comrade Art, Apr 4, 2012.

  1. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    Introduction:

    I was teething and in diapers when the Vietnam War was raging but I grew up with the images of Vietnam: footage of falling bombs, wounded GI’s on stretchers, burning monks and screaming children fleeing across highways. As a teenager in the 1980’s, I watched Hollywood action movies such as the Missing in Action and Rambo sagas which created this bizarre image in my mind that the Vietnamese were extremely evil and still torturing POWs.

    Fast forward to 2012: married, 3 year old daughter, mortgage and settled down. Over the last few months there have been several threads on Advrider pertaining to Vietnam that captivated me. My co-worker, Mike, was born in America from a Chinese father and Vietnamese mother. We both enjoy motorcycle riding and started talking about Vietnam. Mike hasn’t visited Vietnam since he was a kid and within a few days we came up with a plan: ride motorcycles from Hanoi to Saigon in 7 days on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

    For Mike, the trip would allow him to visit his aging grandparents and extended family in Saigon. For me, the trip would allow me to meet the people of this once tortured land and see the changes that have taken place since the war.
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  2. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    After an extremely long flight from Seattle we arrived in Hanoi. It was close to midnight by the time we picked up our bags and hired a cab. The ride from the airport to our hotel seemed to take forever. We found a hotel on-line prior to our departure but the driver couldn’t find it so we settled for the La Belle Vie Hotel in the Ba Dinh District. We splurged and paid $60 dollars per night. The room was clean, very nice hotel staff and the Western/Vietnamese buffet breakfast was excellent.

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  3. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    After breakfast we walked to Cuong’s Motorbike Adventure which was a few blocks away in the Hoan Kiem District. On the way there we saw how life is carried out on the streets.

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    Stopped by Hoan Kiem Lake-the epicentre of old Hanoi

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    Mike enjoying the view
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  4. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    Around Hoan Kiem Lake

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    After walking around the park we made it to Cuong’s place to pay for our motorcycle rentals (I’ll get into details a little later). Cuong was leading a group of riders through North Vietnam but his staff was very friendly and helpful. Mike and I wanted to see some sights around Hanoi and one of Cuong’s workers offered to take us around the city. The only drawback was that we had to go 3 up on a small Honda scooter. Vietnamese traffic is insane; nobody stops at stop lights and it’s like dodgeball on a scooter.

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    The first place we visited was Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum Complex-a traffic free area of parks, monuments, memorials and pagodas.

    Contrary to his desire for a simple cremation, the mausoleum was constructed from materials gathered from all over Vietnam. Inside the building is a glass sarcophagus that holds the frail, pale body of Ho Chi Minh.


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    The One Pillar Pagoda was built by the Emperor Ly Thai Tong in 1049. The French destroyed the original before leaving Hanoi in 1954; the structure was rebuilt by the new government.

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    Behind Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum is a stilt house where Ho lived on and off from 1958 to 1969.

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    Ho Chi Minh's office

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    Presidential Palace-a restored colonial building constructed in 1906 as the Palace of the Governor General of Indochina. It is now used for official receptions and isn't open to the public.

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  5. pirate63

    pirate63 SUPA 10 PILOT

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    Bring it on,love reports from Nam
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  6. Jigo

    Jigo Westbound

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    Great! I'll follow along with your adventure. Thanks for sharing.
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  7. Ridesolo

    Ridesolo cereal lurker

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    Keep going, Love to read the rest of the story. :deal
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  8. Pantah

    Pantah Red Sox Nation

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    I'm interested if you can actually ride the Yellow Brick Road south of the old DMZ. Most recent trips take RT 9 west from Quang Tri to the Laos border and then turn south on what they called the HCM. Half way down the Ashau Valley they seem to turn east to the coast along what was Rt 547 to Hue. Then they ride south again along Rt 1 to Saigon.

    I am very interest in your route and look forward to the next few days travel. The Yellow Brick Road I knew turned into Laos at the south end of the Ashau. The main route actually ran in Laos just east of the Ashau. :scratch
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  9. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    After visiting the Presidential Palace we headed to the Temple of Literature. Founded in 1070, the temple is dedicated to Confucius and honors Vietnam's finest scholars and men of literary accomplishment. Vietnam's firs university was established here in 1076.
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    In 1484 Emperor Le Thanh Tong ordered that stelae be erected to record the names, places of birth and achievements of exceptional scholars. These are some of the stelae remaining.
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    Our next stop was Hoa Lo prison. Hoa Lo (meaning "oven") was constructed by the French in 1896. The prison was used by the French to detain and torture political prisoners. After the French were defeated in 1954 it was used to incarcerate a new set of Vietnamese criminals: counter revolutionaries opposed to the Communist Party.

    During the Vietnam War, imperialist 'bandits' were detained: downed American pilots. The American aircrews housed there had nicknamed the prison the "Hanoi Hilton". The most famous POW in the Hanoi Hilton was navy lieutenant commander John McCain, whose A-4 Skyhawk was shot down October 26, 1967. McCain ejected from the aircraft, breaking both arms and a leg in the wind shear and bailed out into West Lake at the northern end of the city. The Vietnamese maintain that American prisoners were treated well but memoirs of POWs speak of torture, medical neglect and being fed dog meat-hair and all.

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    The French guillotine
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    After 1975, the prison was used to jail Vietnamese and this continued until the early 1990's when the government realized they were wasting a prime piece of real estate on a prison that was easy to escape from. Most of the prison (I would say 2/3's) was destroyed and replaced by the modern Hanoi Towers. The remaining portion was preserved as a memorial to everything that happened.
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  10. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    Our last stop of the day was the Metropole Hotel. The old colonial hotel first opened in 1901. In colonial times the Metropole became known as the finest hotel in French Indochina, the region that includes present day Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

    During World War II, Japanese officers used the hotel as an upscale barracks. Later the government of North Vietnam took possession of the hotel after the defeat of French colonial forces in 1954.

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    The new wing behind the original building increased the total number of rooms to 244.
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    The restored Metropole remains faithful to it's original French colonial character.
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  11. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    We stayed in Phong Nha and planed to visit Khe Sanh, the Rockpile and other places off Highway 9 but it was raining hard that day so at Dong Hoi we jumped on Highway 1A and headed for dryer weather in Hue instead. I'm not sure about The Yellow Brick Road, but the former DMZ is the narrowest part of Vietnam. With a good map and local guide you should be able to find it.
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  12. SimpleSimon

    SimpleSimon Aspiring advrider

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    I must go visit Vietnam someday. Really looking forward to this report. :norton
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  13. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    After the Metropole we headed out for lunch. On the way we stumbled upon the much-photographed remains of a B-52. During the 1972 Christmas air raids, Vietnamese soldiers shot down the bomber. The plane crashed in Hun Tiep Lake, where it has remained ever since.
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    Our driver took us to a small place that was literally a ‘mom and pop’ shop. The son was stirring the broth, mom was preparing the soup bowls and dad added the final ingredients.
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    The end result was beef noodle soup. Some would say that this classic noodle soup, Pho, is Vietnam in a bowl. Made with beef (Pho Bo) or chicken (Pho Ga), it’s Vietnamese fast food, street food, working man’s food and family food. It’s an intensely satisfying meal!
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  14. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    There are several motorcycle rental/tour companies in Hanoi. We decided to use Cuong’s Motorbike Adventure because they provide one way rentals and several threads on Advrider had positive reviews. For US$ 60 fee per bike, they take care of all the details to have the bike sent back to Hanoi. Cuong’s website says, “You will meet our person in HCMC where the bike will be inspected, deposit will be returned to you.” True to his words, when we reached Saigon it took Cuong’s man 1 hour to meet us, looked over the bikes and handed me an envelope with my entire cash deposit :norton

    Cuong's website: www.cuongs-motorbike-adventure.com

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    A Minsk on display in the office

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    We arrived at Cuong's place around 8:30 AM and started packing up the bikes. Our bikes were Honda Future 125's, 4 stroke with 4 speed gearbox.

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    Leaving Hanoi
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  15. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    It took awhile to reach the outskirts of Hanoi; the traffic was flowing but my finger was constantly on the horn beeping people. We headed west to Xuan Mai and took Highway 21 South which eventually turns into Highway 15. Once outside Hanoi, the scenery becomes amazing! Lush, green rice paddies are surrounded by jagged peaks.

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  16. Jigo

    Jigo Westbound

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    Thanks for the bike rental's link. I already bookmarked it.
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  17. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    After riding for 6 hours we reached Tan Ky in the late afternoon. We paid for a room at the Dai Phu Gia Hotel. The beds were not that comfortable but we couldn't complain when we only paid $ 8 US dollars for the night.

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  18. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    Woke up early this morning, packed up the bikes and left the hotel at 6:30 AM. The sky was overcast but dry. On our way out of town we stopped by the Ho Chi Minh Trail Monument. Tan Ky is the 'official' starting point of the Ho Chi Minh Trail (HCMT).

    During the Vietnam War the HCMT wasn't one road but a network of truck routes, paths for foot and bicycle traffic and river transportation systems. The goal was getting supplies and men to South Vietnam. The HCMT headed inland along mountainous jungle paths, crossing in and out of Laos, Cambodia and eventually arrived near Saigon. With all the propaganda and confusion regarding the trail, it's hard to say how long it was in full; estimates range from over 5,500 km (said the US military) to more than 13,000 km (said the North Vietnamese).

    Traveling from the 17th Parallel (The Demilitarized Zone) to the vicinity of Saigon took about 6 months in the mid-1960's; later with a more complex network of paths, the journey took only 6 weeks but it was still tough going. According to the US National Security Agency's official history of the war, the HCMT system was "one of the greatest achievements of military engineering of the 20th century."

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  19. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    We stopped in a little town called Pho Chau and grabbed breakfast: a bowl of hot Pho.

    <a href="http://comradeart.smugmug.com/Motorcycles/Vietnam-2012/22162119_9GFpMT#!i=1780523522&k=8SzCTcK&lb=1&s=A" title=""><img src="http://comradeart.smugmug.com/Motorcycles/Vietnam-2012/i-8SzCTcK/0/M/DSC0099-M.jpg" title="" alt=""></a>


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    As we were leaving Pho Chau it started to drizzle which in a few minutes turned to rain. It rained intermittently throughout the morning but stopped once we reached Phong Nha.


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    Full service in Vietnam
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  20. TallRob

    TallRob Long timer

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    Your intro was a trip. As I grew up in the same era believing the same things thanks to Chuck Norris. The biggest cultershock for me was in college. I took an asian class on literature and most of the class were American Vietnamese. We were going to cover literature of the Vietnam war era. I thought oh crap. I am going to get a lousy grade in this class as im one of the few non-Vietnamese students....Well, what I found out and its totally understantable is that these Vietnamese American students had no idea what happened during or after the war. Their parents shielded them all things interesing.ietnam.......It was very interesing hearing Vietnamese American student never hearing about the Tet Offensive..........
    #20