VIETNAM - 30 Day Honda XL 250 Father/Son Ride

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by stanegoli, May 5, 2013.

  1. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Coffin Man. Oh man you got me there - never saw that one.
    Wonder if it was full or empty? :evil

    Perhaps this could become the definite list of weird and wonderful transport sightings in Vietnam....
    #41
  2. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Day 16

    We had a lot of distance to cover today, and we were not expecting great scenery. so we planned a hard and fast ride south down the HCM Trail to our destination of Son Trach. As we were to find, things do not always go as planned.

    The scenery started out better than expected, pretty darn nice actually. Low mountain ranges, tea plantations and the general greenery you get so used to in Vietnam. Going through one town I lost Zach. As I did a u-turn to go look for him the bike died, and then would not start. I had plenty of fuel, there was no kill switch so that could not be the issue. The bike just would not start. I then remembered that about 300 yards back I had passed a Honda dealership, one of very few to be found in that area. So I pushed the bike back to the dealer, and as I neared it Zach rode up. We had miscommunicated our route. I coasted down the last 30 yards into the dealer shop, and immediately all work ceased as the shop manager and every mechanic came over to look at this bike, the likes of which they had never seen. I communicated to the manager that it would not start. He fiddled with the electrical unit attached to the kick-stand that prevents the bike from engaging a gear if the stand is down, but that was not the issue (I had made sure the stand was down when trying to start and in any event it would still start even with the stand down). He indicated to me he did not know this type of bike and was unsure what to do. He then tried the starter and lo and behold the bike started first try. I was a little embarrassed to say the least, made profuse apologies, and hopped on the bike as quickly and graciously as I could and we rode off. I will add that this stall happened again a few days later and I developed an idea of what caused it - but we will get to that later.

    We continued riding hard and as we now neared Laos, riding parallel to it and very close at times, the vegetation became very thick and verdant, basically thick impenetrable jungle. It was the first time we had seen this true jungle fauna on our trip and we were pretty amazed. My trip notes say we were stunned!

    I was out far between towns and Zach had ridden ahead to shoot some footage of the jungle on the GoPro when the back started to slide all over the road. The bike handling immediately declared "flat" to me and as I slowed to a stop and took a look indeed my rear tire was flat. I was not sure whether to continue in the same direction or turn back, unsure as to where the next town was located. Some guys riding by stopped to offer help and indicated I should continue onward, not turn back. So I rode slowly on the flat and a few kilometers later at the top of a rise I found basically a truck stop: a small restaurant and a tiny shop next to it that apparently repaired truck tires! Nothing else. The young guy who owned the shop, later turned out to be the son of the lady that owned the restaurant, took the bike over to his shop. We jacked it up on some wood blocks and pulled off the rear wheel. It soon became apparent that he had no experience with bikes but I had no option and had to work with him. His tire levers were about 5 feet long, designed to remove truck tires, so as you can imagine we had quite a time getting the tire off. Finally we did, pulled from our toolkit the tube we had replaced and repaired at BaBe Lakes and installed it. With a lot of effort we finally got the tire back on, the wheel mounted, the tire inflated, and I was all set to go. Man was I grateful! The next town was nowhere in sight and this guy had really saved me from a bad situation.
    And then........pphhhhhhhht.....with a big sigh the tire went flat again. We were not happy, it had been a heckuva job getting the wheel off, the tube replaced, and the wheel back on again with no suitable tools.
    Anyway we jacked the bike back up on the wood blocks, removed the wheel and tire, and found to our dismay that the tube had a rip about 20 inches long along its seam. It was an old tube that had basically just ripped apart when inflated. We had no more tubes and were now in a real bind. My 250 rear tire took an 18" tube and these size tubes are very hard to come by in Vietnam. The many and frequent bike mechanics have plenty of 16" and 17" tubes, the size that fit the smaller bikes, but 18" tubes are hard to come by. I thought Zach would have to ride back to the town where the Honda dealer was located, the last sizeable town we had passed, and that was about 100 kms back. A truck driver had come over to look at our goings on, and he and the shop owner indicated there was a town, off the HCM Trail on a side road, about ten minutes away. They thought we could get a tube there. So Zach rode off in the direction of the town. I expected him back within a half hour. And then I waited, and waited, in the very hot Vietnam sun. Eventually an hour had passed and no Zach. Now I was starting to get real concerned, worried that he may have had a fall. Another nerve-racking 15 minutes went by and then Zach rode up, and lo and behold he had a tube. He later told me that he took so long because he had a real hard time in the town finding a tube. He got sent from one shop to another and then another and then another with no luck. Finally when he had despaired of getting one and was about to give up and return he hit pay dirt. He did have to pay double the going rate though.
    During the long wait for Zach the helpful truck driver had taken a good look at my rear tire and pointed out that there was a very rough spot inside the tire, and matching it up with the tube we found a severely worn patch that would have resulted in a hole in the near future. So the young shop owner, together with the very capable assistance of the truck driver, fashioned a patch from another tube and, after sanding down the rough spot, adhered the patch to the inside of the tire covering the rough spot. Perhaps it was just as well I had the problem I did when I did, as things could have been a lot worse later if they had not found this problem.
    With a lot of effort we got the new tube installed, tire on, and wheel mounted. And when inflated it held! Oh joy:clap We had lost close on three hours now but at least we were ready to go.
    Now I went to pay the guy who had spent the better part of three hours working on my bike. I asked him how much. He consulted with his mother, and then indicated there was no charge for all they had done!! In disbelief I took 100 Dong ($5) out and handed it to him. He would not accept it. I absolutely insisted and eventually he accepted it but his mother pulled out her money and tried to give me 50 Dong change. I refused to accept it so she ran into the restaurant and came out with two large bottled waters and insisted I accept those, which I did. Frigging unbelievable.......here these people spend so much time helping me and then are very reluctant to accept money for their services. Very humbling experience.

    We hit it hard and arrived in Son Trach around 5:00pm and found a hotel room in about 15 minutes. A short while later the heavens opened up and there was a huge lightening and thunderstorm, the rain absolutely pouring down as it only can in tropical areas. After the storm we tried to find something to eat, but no restaurants. It had been a long and hard day, and we ended up buying dry crackers, yoghurt, a few fruit drinks and a Top Ramen-type noodle package for dinner. There was no boiling water so Zach ate dry noodles while I had crackers and yoghurt.

    Total distance for the day - 280 kms (174 miles)
    #42
  3. gavo

    gavo Slacker

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2010
    Oddometer:
    2,212
    Location:
    Gympie QLD
    #43
  4. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Day 17

    Our plan was to spend the day around Son Trach as it's near the Phong Na caves and Phong Na National Park, both of which we wanted to explore.

    First, having realized that with our late arrival yesterday we had checked into a hotel far from the town center, we relocated to a hotel in town. Then we took a walk, had some breakfast, and on the way back stopped to interact with some American War veterans who were having some kind of reunion. They were very friendly and most welcoming to Americans. Quite a few of them had lost limbs. They were happy to pose for some photos with us:

    [​IMG]

    We had been on the road for over two weeks always wearing helmets and riding gear. The weather was now hot and humid and we really wanted to enjoy the change from the cooler north. So we opted for a more relaxed riding style - no helmets and minimal clothing. Well at least I was wearing sneakers but Zach opted for thongs!

    Then we rode to the caves about 6 kms from town. Apparently, we later learned, there is another recently discovered cave formation even better than the one we visited. Nonetheless we rented a kayak and the guide that came with it, and paddled in to explore the caves. The first couple hundred yards had lighting and is the area frequented by tourists who are boated in. However with our guide we paddled through far deeper into the caves, no lighting there other than that from our headlamps. The caves were really cool. After about an hour of paddling we got out of the kayaks and scrambled over rocks further into the caves. Finally back to our kayak, and we paddled back to the starting point.

    We then rode off to explore the Phong Na National Park. This was the terrain as we neared the park:

    [​IMG]

    We rode through the park for about 10 miles, very thick jungle with occasional views of the surrounding mountains and cliffs. Then to our surprise we stumbled upon the remote western section of the HCM Trail. My Russian friend Ilya, who I met in Hanoi, had told me about this section. He said it was very remote and a "must ride" but hard to locate. On the maps it was very confusing, but here we had found it so now we could incorporate this into our route for the next day. We decided to explore and rode north on it, the next day of course we would head south. We entered an area of very thick jungle with great views of the limestone karst hills and mountains. Totally remote, not a soul to be seen.

    [​IMG]

    We explored for a few hours finding some interesting caves, rivers, and always the incredibly lush jungle. At one remote spot, nothing for miles, we were hanging out and I was really surprised to find I had 3G service on my cellphone - there was a cell tower on the hilltop near us. It was the only time I had 3G service the entire trip except in some areas of Ho Chi Minh City.

    We made our way back to town and reset our route for the following day to incorporate the remote western section of the HCM Trail as we now knew where to access it.

    Total distance for the day - 50 kms (30 miles)
    #44
  5. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Day 18

    Leaving Son Trach we headed back through Phong Na National Park, the same road we had ridden the afternoon before, until we reached the western section of the HCM Trail. We now entered the most remote section of our entire 30 day ride. We were heading south, parallel and very close to Laos. The vegetation remained the impressively thick jungle of the past few days, with high mountains off to the west (behind which lay Laos). The road was very twisty as we rode one mountain pass after another, so twisty that on our knobby tires it was just not possible to ride fast, so slow going it was. For well over an hour we did not see a single vehicle of any description. The only sign of people was one small army post, and then a bridge tender who had a small house alongside the bridge crossing a ravine. In terms of being remote this was even more impressive than anything we had encountered in the far north.

    Behind the hills is Laos:

    [​IMG]

    After well over an hour we finally started seeing signs of humanity. First a few road workers riding on their bikes, and then slowly a few small villages. It was really hot. After crossing a long bridge I was accelerating up the hill on the far side when a motorcycle suddenly appeared coming toward me in my lane. I had little room to my right but we both managed to swerve and avoid a collision. Very close call. Zach later told me the motorcyclist turned around to stare at me after we passed each other causing him to drift back into our lane and narrowly missing colliding with Zach. Later still after crossing another bridge I was accelerating up the hill on the far side when a lowered boom suddenly appeared bare yards in front of me. It all happened in a flash - I avoided being decapitated by lying flat on my gas tank and ducking under the boom. Zach was riding behind me and also did not see the boom until he saw me ducking. Another narrow escape for both of us.

    The scenery started to change as the dense undergrowth thinned. Finally we reached the town of Tanh Ky where we intended to get gas. The town was a lot smaller than I had anticipated with no gas stations, but we were able to locate a small roadside store selling water, soft drinks and basic supplies that had a 25 gallon container of gas from which we filled our tanks. We had a good time at the store interacting with the young owner and his family - his lovely wife, newborn baby, mother-in-law as well as a few locals who dropped by to ogle the Westerners who had blown into town!

    Now heading on the HCM Trail toward Khe Sanh, site of a huge American military base during the American War the going was a little faster as we were riding alongside a river and flatter land. Finally we reached Khe Sanh where we had some lunch, and then 15 kms later linked back up with the HCM Trail, heading further south. The road was now more trafficked (but really not too busy at all) and the going easier - it remained very pretty as we rode along another river for many miles. At one town we took a wrong turn and seemed to be heading back into the mountains and the dense jungle. It felt wrong, and this was confirmed by a sign indicating the Laos border was 1 km ahead. We turned around and headed back toward the missed turn 12 kms back when the sky quickly darkened. Within minutes we were riding in a fierce downpour, but the weather was so hot it was not that uncomfortable - except of course for the slick conditions made a lot worse by our knobby tires. We rode on through the downpour for about 20 minutes. I was amazed at how quickly my soaked gear dried after the downpour - within a half hour I was completely dry as if there had been no rain. The heat is quite impressive.

    Climbing a pass in one remote area we saw a Western couple sitting on a wall alongside the road, their bikes parked next to them. We had seen very few Westerners on the road our entire trip and stopped to chat with them. A nice English couple, they were riding the HCM Trail south to north heading to Hanoi. They had plenty of time and were taking it slow over many weeks. We shared some mangoes with them and watched a large snake in a pool below us hunting frogs.

    Finally we reached our left turn off the HCM Trail to take us down to the city of Hue, our destination, on Hwy 49. For the first 20 kms there were extensive roadworks causing multiple delays while we waited, with a lot of locals, for the bulldozers and excavators to do their work removing huge piles of rock and dirt. Some of the delays were at least 10 minutes with the result that we lost a lot of time making for a late arrival in Hue. I guess all the waiting got to me, because by the time we left the last construction delay - and we were still riding through a lot of dirt as the road was being rebuilt - I put the hammer down real hard. I was feeling very confident on the bike, throwing it around and just riding screaming fast. It was totally exhilarating, I had not ridden a dirt bike in that manner for years and it just felt SO good, just tons of fun :1drink I rode like this for about an hour until we reached the busy roads approaching Hue.

    We arrived in Hue during evening rush hour. It was pretty chaotic and we had no idea where to go. I asked one young guy on a motorcycle stopped alongside me at a traffic light for directions to downtown. I guess he was kind of shocked by this Westerner on a big bike alongside him because he just blew me off but he must have had second thoughts because he caught up with us a little further down the road and led us to the main road into town. After a lot of bother we finally located our hotel, really nice at $20 including breakfast.

    We took a walk to the riverfront after dinner. It was a Thursday but there were thousands of people hanging out on the waterfront, mostly teenagers. And motorcycles - never seen the likes of it. Row upon row upon row of parked bikes. Thousands. Zach and I talked about the ride and he asked me why I had been riding so hard and fast the last section. Said he had a hard time keeping up with me and he felt I was overdoing it, going too fast and taking too many risks. I had to agree with him. I'm not too sure what had gotten into me but in hindsight it was not smart. In my riding experience when your confidence gets that high and you overdo it, it's often the precursor to a fall. So we agreed to ratchet down the speed in the coming days, take more care and be a little more sensible. Thank goodness I had my son there to knock some sense into me
    :D.

    Total distance for the day - 410 kms (255 miles)....a long distance on a 250cc dirt bike!
    #45
  6. yotatoy

    yotatoy Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2012
    Oddometer:
    137
    Location:
    Kodiak, AK
    Awesome ride report and great pictures, I love the scenery. I pray that one day when my boys are old enough that we can do trips like this. But, will be a few years down the road (currently 5yrs, 2yrs, and -3 days or less).

    Keep it coming!

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


    Cheers :beer
    #46
  7. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Thanks yotatoy.
    Yes it would be nice to do another ride with Zach, especially if my other son, now 22, can join us. Too soon after Vietnam to make plans though. Still in recovery mode from that one!

    I really got a kick out of Zach telling me, during our ride, that he would like to make it a family tradition and do a similar ride someday with his son (if he has one of course):thumbup
    #47
  8. yotatoy

    yotatoy Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2012
    Oddometer:
    137
    Location:
    Kodiak, AK
    Sounds like Zach had a great idea. When I was a kid my gramps and all his brothers (I think he was the youngest of 8 if I remember correctly) took all their kids/grandkids to a small hunting camp they bought together in Western PA mountains, we would meet up there and ride motorcyles, hike, swim, enjoy nature and good home cookin food etc. All with close to 50-60 people stuffed in a small cabin and tents. I must say this "family tradition" is my fondest memories of my childhood. I hope to be able to instill good traditions like this in my kids.

    Cheers :beer
    #48
  9. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Day 19

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

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

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

    [​IMG]

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

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

    Total distance for the day - 130 kms (80 miles)
    #49
  10. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Day 20

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

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

    [​IMG]

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

    Boats bringing their catch to market:

    [​IMG]

    River commerce:

    [​IMG]

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

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

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

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

    We had a lovely day, wondering around town, exploring, and going back for periodic fittings at the tailor. At dinner that night we met a really nice Australian family eating next to us. Turned out to be big bikers back in Sydney: Peter, the father, has a few large bikes and a dirt bike, both his sons, about 10 and 12, have dirt bikes, and his wife likes to ride pillion. We were telling them about our journey when Peter suddenly stopped us and asked if we had been riding south on Hwy 1 yesterday. Yes we said. He then described our riding jackets. He told us he had seen us hammering down the road, one of us overtaking a van to the left while the other overtook the same van on the right side (a common strategy.......) and he had said to his wife "Look at those lucky buggers having so much fun on their bikes, wish I had mine here"!:lol3 We met lots of Australians on our trip. Vietnam is really close for them, and so cheap, especially compared with back home. Lovely people, all that we met. Really enjoyed Peter and his cool family.

    We picked up our tailored clothing that evening (lovely stuff). The bikes sat idle all day, nice break for us.
    #50
  11. Tar snakes

    Tar snakes Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2007
    Oddometer:
    177
    Location:
    Down Under
    Thoroughly enjoying this report as my wife is there on vacation. Actually she has been in Hoi An for the past 2 nights - yes another Aussie tourist. I sent her a link to this post before she left for Vietnam last week actually.
    #51
  12. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Day 21

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

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

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

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

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

    Total distance for the day - 280 kms (174 miles)
    #52
  13. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Day 22

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

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

    [​IMG]

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

    [​IMG]

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

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

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

    [​IMG]

    And this schoolboy proved a wonderful photo opportunity:

    [​IMG]

    Total distance for the day - 270 kms (168 miles)
    #53
  14. VietHorse

    VietHorse Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1,811
    Location:
    Recalculating... recalculating.... HCMC-Vietnam :)
    Just see your RR to day. Not enough time to read all yet, but for sure I will, very soon.
    Quick glance on the report, I believe you have great time here, many beautiful photos you have.
    If you happen being in Hochiminh City, we may have chance to meet. :freaky
    Ride safe and enjoy.
    __________________

    Subscibed.
    #54
  15. Clansters

    Clansters Tour Aegea

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    209
    Location:
    Izmir/TURKEY
    A National Geographic classic :clap Great photography and places.
    #55
  16. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Day 23

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

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

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

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

    Total distance for the day, an easy 170 kms (103 miles)
    #56
  17. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Day 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [​IMG]

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

    [​IMG]

    Total distance for the day - 145 kms (91 miles)
    #57
  18. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Day 25

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

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

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

    [​IMG]

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

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

    Total distance for the day - 180 kms (112 miles)
    #58
  19. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Day 26


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

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

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

    [​IMG]

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

    [​IMG]

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

    Total distance for the day - 210 kms (130 miles)
    #59
  20. WECSOG

    WECSOG Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Mar 30, 2013
    Oddometer:
    525
    Location:
    Just past the pavement's end in North Alabama
    Great RR! It almost sounds like the rings weren't fully seated on your bike. Maybe they just did a top-end job before you got it.
    #60