Vietnam - Top to Bottom (a motorcycle adventure through Vietnam)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by SoloSurfer, Dec 7, 2013.

  1. SoloSurfer

    SoloSurfer iheartwrrs

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2010
    Oddometer:
    132
    Location:
    Rossland BC, Canada
    Hey ADVers!

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

    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. :D

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

    Cheers, and thanks for following, :freaky

    BA from BC


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    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:)




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    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.





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    </td></tr> <tr><td class="tr-caption" style="text-align: center;">'I got a map, my passport, and I grabbed my Dong,... we are all set to go!'


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

    Day 1 - Hanoi, Vietnam - Tuesday November 5th




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    </td></tr> <tr><td class="tr-caption" style="text-align: center;">Views from our hotel in Hanoi (Hanoi Symphony Hotel)



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    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.





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    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.





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    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.





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    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.




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    </td></tr> <tr><td class="tr-caption" style="text-align: center;">Amanda in front of the Flamingo Travel office - Hanoi



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    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.




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    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.






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    </td></tr> <tr><td class="tr-caption" style="text-align: center;">Looked cool - didn't buy this one.
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    </td></tr> <tr><td class="tr-caption" style="text-align: center;">Hello Kitty helmet - complete with gap-in-the-back for pony tail




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    </td></tr> <tr><td class="tr-caption" style="text-align: center;">Mmmmmm, street meat - looks like chicken!





    </td></tr> </tbody></table>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.


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    </td></tr> <tr><td class="tr-caption" style="text-align: center;">Passed this Vespa dealership when on the search for our helmets




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    </td></tr> <tr><td class="tr-caption" style="text-align: center;">'Yo quiero Taco Bell!' - Well little buddy, you have a long way to go.





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    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.


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    </td></tr> <tr><td class="tr-caption" style="text-align: center;">Monument near Hoan Kiem Lake - in Hanoi's Old Quarter


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


    Stay tuned.
















    #1
  2. stanegoli

    stanegoli Seeker

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2005
    Oddometer:
    236
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Ah, BA this brings back memories!!

    Looking forward to more

    Stan
    #2
  3. Watercat

    Watercat . . . gravity sucks

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,745
    Location:
    Beervanastan, Duwamps Pacific NorWet
    :nod

    Bring it ! ! !

    :lurk
    #3
  4. mudmojo

    mudmojo Adventurer

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2012
    Oddometer:
    30
    Location:
    Toronto
    More!! More!! :freaky
    #4
  5. Ianuk

    Ianuk Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2011
    Oddometer:
    100
    Location:
    Norwich. Norfolk. UK
    I'm in, on my list of to do's :lurk
    #5
  6. PDX Alamo

    PDX Alamo Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 18, 2012
    Oddometer:
    589
    Location:
    Portland, OR
    Thinking maybe February for me, pave the way my man
    #6
  7. SoloSurfer

    SoloSurfer iheartwrrs

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2010
    Oddometer:
    132
    Location:
    Rossland BC, Canada
    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... :evil

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbmbMSrsZVQ

    I'm sure I'll survive. Day 2,3,4 photos are being uploaded now :sick
    #7
  8. SoloSurfer

    SoloSurfer iheartwrrs

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2010
    Oddometer:
    132
    Location:
    Rossland BC, Canada

    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.



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    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).




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    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.



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



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



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





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    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.



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    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.





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    Surprise Cave

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    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.





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    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. ​




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    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.





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





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    Some squid fishing after dinner.



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



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    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:


    http://galaxypremiumcruises.com/



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    At the base of Maze Cave - Halong Bay.



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    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.




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    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.



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



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    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.





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





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    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!



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    Amanda pointing out the exact same boat we were on.



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    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.





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    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


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    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.





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    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.


    #8
  9. PDX Alamo

    PDX Alamo Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 18, 2012
    Oddometer:
    589
    Location:
    Portland, OR
    Well that settles it, galaxy it us in March. What a great help , thanks for taking the time to put this out there.
    #9
  10. TonyBKK

    TonyBKK Secret Soi Rider

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2009
    Oddometer:
    845
    Location:
    The Big Mango, Bangkok, Thailand
    Good stuff, and you're not even on the bikes yet! Keep it coming!! :ricky
    #10
  11. stan.riner

    stan.riner Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2010
    Oddometer:
    149
    Location:
    Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam
    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.
    #11
  12. SoloSurfer

    SoloSurfer iheartwrrs

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2010
    Oddometer:
    132
    Location:
    Rossland BC, Canada

    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.



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    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.



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    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.



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    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.



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    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.



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    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.



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    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.





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    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.



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



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    All smiles.



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    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.



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    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.



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    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.



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


    And notice Amanda following the 'S's':


    She is smiling.


    She is having sFun.

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    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.



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    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.



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    #12
  13. The Nailer

    The Nailer Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2011
    Oddometer:
    16
    Location:
    Bendigo Vic Australia
    Looking forward to the rest of the trip!
    #13
  14. _cy_

    _cy_ Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2011
    Oddometer:
    6,505
    Location:
    Tulsa, Oklahoma
    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
    #14
  15. AntiHero

    AntiHero Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2012
    Oddometer:
    1,467
    Location:
    Above ground
    I'm in. Keep it coming.
    #15
  16. gavo

    gavo Slacker

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2010
    Oddometer:
    2,212
    Location:
    Gympie QLD
    I can remember when you first started asking questions before you moved there, sounds like you're enjoying it.:D
    #16
  17. SoloSurfer

    SoloSurfer iheartwrrs

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2010
    Oddometer:
    132
    Location:
    Rossland BC, Canada


    Day 6 - Sunday, November 10
    Distance - 152kms ~ 7hrs (Cho Ra - Bao Lac)
    Route - Cho Ra east on Hwy #279, north on Hwy #212 to Tinh Tuc, then north on #34 to Bao Lac.
    Hotel - Song Gan Hotel - Bao Lac (200,000d = ~$10)
    Weather - Mixed bag. Mostly mixed sun and cloud in the morning and then a bit of spitter-spatter rain in the pm



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    As it was our second day on the bikes, we woke up with a tad more excitement and a little less trepidation. I think we were both still a little bit antsy and anxious getting on the bikes, but getting started for the day in a chill village, with little traffic was a lot less intimidating than the previous day in Hanoi.


    As Cho Ra wasn't much of a centre with few places to eat, we decided the night before that we would eat out of our 'snack-bag' for breakfast. We sat on the front steps of our Cho Ra Hotel and had a quick bite before hitting the roads.



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    We travelled east along Hwy 279 for roughly ~20kms before reaching the smaller 'secondary' road north - Hwy 212. In my map book and on my GPS, hwy 212 looked like a smaller road, but it headed directly north in the direction we were wanting to go.



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    Posing with our trusty Hondas :clap


    The vistas along the roads were incredible, the mountains continued to slowly grow larger and the valleys were chocked full of rice paddies and the rest. We were in awe with almost every corner we would go around. Our senses were being bombarded by sights, smells and sounds (one of the hardest thing to put into words).



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    **( I apologize in advance for some blurry images, but I figure I'll include them anyway. I'm no pro photographer and a lot of these were shot with my right hand on the throttle, bumping down the road, pointing my iPhone, snapping a pic and hoping for the best - all part of the adventure.)**


    This was the start of our secondary road north - Hwy 212.


    Hwy 212 was interesting. It was mixed gravel and pavement, with mammoth potholes and all, literally a combo of everything. The route was absolutely beautiful, I would highly recommend this road. We zig-zagged up and down, back and forth, in and out of valleys, and all at a snails pace. At times, I would look down at a road far below us figuring we were going a different direction and sure enough, that is the road we would eventually end up on. This kept happening throughout this route. We covered very little distance after leaving Cho Ra as this zigzagging was time consuming, but it was a perfect second day on the road. So much to see and to take in.




    SpotWalla maps link:


    Open the link below and click on the 'adjustments' window on the left side-bar, then change History to 'All' - If you zoom into this area in the north, you'll notice how windy and twisty each section of road is. Unfortunately, my GPS 'Spot' tracker didn't send some signals at times, therefore our 'trip-line' sometimes looks straight, but I'm documenting the roads we were on at all times.


    https://spotwalla.com/<wbr>tripViewer.php?id=<wbr>8376526ff3d3b0ccd





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    Local kids would hear our bikes, see our flashy colours noticing immediately that we were not locals or people they actually knew, and the would frantically start waving and saying 'Hello!', we had the warmest welcome ever from these guys.


    The muffler on my XR 150 was noisier than most of the other scoots, so I'm sure this also helped them in realizing it was something different coming down the road towards them.



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    Amanda waving at the little guy far below.



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    He came running down the road full-throttle waving at us. I think we wanted to climb the bank to say hi, but we kept slowly plugging along knocking down our kms to our next destination.



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    We would eventually end up on the road, way down below.



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    Amanda taking it all in.

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    Another road-side break. Even with the therma-rest canoe pad that I brought from home, by butt was constantly sore on the seat of the XR, so road-side breaks were always welcomed. They were an excuse to shoot more photos, enjoy more visits, spend some quality time with my beautiful riding partner off the bikes, and to have another snack.



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    Our route north eventually linked up with Hwy #34 north. It was the main route from Cao Bang to our east so the pavement got much better.


    As we continued to travel north, the mountains around us started to get higher and the vistas and views continued to be spectacular.



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    Throughout the day, we were watching the weather closely. Super storm 'Haiyan' had devastated the Philippines days before, and it was set to hit the shores of Vietnam in a day and then move inland and slowly north. Forecasters were hoping that it would settle and dissipate once it hit landfall in Vietnam, but with the strength the storm had, they were unsure of any of this.


    With the threat of the storm in the backs of our minds, we were trying to enjoy our every turn and without talking about it too much, we were both slightly concerned.



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    Stopping for a break off Hwy #34 north just south of Bao Lac.



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    A couple of happy Canadian-Kids on an incredible adventure.




    While trip planning back in Canada - we had decided to do the famous 'Northern-Loop' of Vietnam backwards. When I say 'backwards', most do this loop in a clockwise direction from Hanoi, leaving north-west and then eventually heading east and eventually back south to Hanoi. Now this would have been fine had we been going on a loop Hanoi - Hanoi.


    Our planned route was to continue south, eventually all the way to Ho Chi Minh City. I had read in other trip reports about the horrible highways skirting southern Hanoi. Doing the traditional northern loop clockwise would generally put riders on these busy highways avoiding Hanoi, and continuing south on main transport routes loaded with large trucks and much more traffic. I figured, to avoid this, we do the northern loop 'backwards' in a counter-clockwise direction and avoid this horrid mess altogether.


    With this plan, we faced one major concern:


    Once foreigners enter the Ha Giang Province in the north where Vietnam borders China, it is mandatory that travellers have a permit to allow them into this region. The popularity of this route has been increasing more and more over the years, therefore attempting the northern route clockwise allows travellers to obtain their permits at most hotels in the city of Ha Giang.


    As we had to enter the Ha Giang Province at the wrong-end, we had little to no information on where to obtain our permit. This was somewhat disconcerting as we had also read that without this permit, the police and military would seize motorbikes, impound them in Ha Giang, and then make you find your own transport there to pay huge fines and to sort the whole mess out. :deal


    We had no permit, we weren't sure where and how to get one, but we continued along our merry way hoping it would work itself out - getting closer and closer to the Ha Giang Province boundary.



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    A couple of long hits on my horn made Amanda pull over and look back. I had just passed a Pho Bo sign and I thought it was a good time for lunch. We doubled back and stopped into this family run place below.



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    After a steaming bowl of beef noodle soup and a cold Mountain Dew (crazy choices of soda pop in each of these shops), we got a picture of a bunch of the folks at lunch and then continued north.



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    At a Ho Chi Minh roadside monument.







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    It started to mist and slightly sprinkle, so we donned our rain gear and hoped it wouldn't continue.







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    As we pulled into the town of Bao Lac it started to rain harder and luckily this large hotel was staring right over us. We walked right up to reception and immediately had a challenge communicating with the young girl running the desk. Turns out, it was the daughter of the woman who runs the hotel. She started screaming at her mother to come to the front desk to deal with us as her teenage angst was making the process quite difficult, I'm sure more for her than us.


    We were showed a room that hadn't been cleaned and it looked quite rough in our world, but we figured we didn't have much choice in this town and opted to take it. That is what you get for 200,000 dong or $10/night - a roof over your head. The woman proceed to change the sheets and give it a quick clean while we scooted our bikes up the main ramp and right into the hotel lobby for the night.







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    They had good WiFi in the hotel (as do most in Vietnam), and we opened up Google Translate to aid us in our permit dilemma. I figured they would know something about where we could obtain a permit before entering the Ha Giang province to the north - which we would be entering the following day.


    Both the mother and daughter at the hotel had no idea what we were asking for. They kept shaking their heads as they didn't know anything about a permit to the north. It then hit me, why would they know anything about this, they lived in a different province, a province where foreigners don't need permits.


    I figured with good WiFi, we could get online after dinner and dig for some more information.



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    Our parking spot for the night, in the hotel lobby. (An aside. I left my riding gloves on the speedo of my bike for the night - these were the gloves that took me from BC to Panama and back. I knew I left them there, but figured it was safe in the hotel lobby. Well, thanks to some douche, they weren't there the next morning :( Chilly hands for me for the next few days :cry )


    After hot showers at the hotel, we headed back into the showers outside to look for a restaurant for dinner. The hotel owner told us to walk to the left and there was a place to eat a few doors down. We found it, walked in, and immediately began conversing with the cook at the front. All we wanted was another bowl of hot noodle soup with beef or chicken - pho bo or pho ga (and hopefully NOT getting dog meat by accident as this is always a slight concern). As we start pointing at the glass case in the entry of the restaurant filled with mystery meat, we both point at the chicken that we clearly see sitting there in front of us. I proceed to say in my amazing Vietnamese, 'Pho ga, Pho ga'... thinking this would be easy to land ourselves a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup on a cold, rainy Vietnam night.


    One of the cooks comes over to our table once we sit down and organize our Coke and Bia Ha Noi, and he has a piece of paper that he has 200 written on. He is telling us that the meal will be 200,000d - basically $10, the same as a night in our hotel. Normally x2 bowls of soup, a couple sodas and/or beer was less than $5 total for the both of us. I'm taken aback as a savvy traveler thinking that we are getting 'gringo'ed' good, ripped off as-it-were. I look at Amanda and then back at the cook, and I tell him this is way too expensive, and then a few other things. He of course understood every word of my english, ... yeah, no. Another communication breakdown. We were hungry and tired from a long day on the road, this was the last thing we needed.


    I handed him the paper and nodded to bring us the chicken noodle soup for $10. Who cares. Lets get on with this.


    He then comes to the table a few minutes later with a large bowl of rice, a plate with the boiled chicken, and a small dish of soya sauce, ... and that was it (see picture below).


    (It wasn't until later that night and after a discussion about the meal when we figured out what had happened at dinner. I was of course feeling ripped-off and discouraged as we didn't get what we wanted. We both realized that we didn't get ripped off, well, not totally. We actually paid for the amount of chicken they served us - with a bit of 'gringo tax' on top we are sure. We both remember the cook weighing the chicken after the '200' was written on the paper. The other thing we figured out a few days later is that 'pho bo' is normally served for breakfast and lunch, not for dinner. And, there is normally very little meat in the soup. We also later learned that the price of meat is quite high in Vietnam. It was a learning experience that we made sure didn't happen again in our travels - although it was bound to...)



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    Our wonderful evening meal in Bao Lac.




    Next up - how would Superstorm Haiyan hit Vietnam? Would it affect us? And how were we going to get Ha Giang permits??











    #17
  18. 1MUDDY1

    1MUDDY1 Got a Hose?

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2012
    Oddometer:
    18
    Location:
    Georgia, USA
    Next please
    #18
  19. jwwr

    jwwr n00b

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2013
    Oddometer:
    9
    Great report! Really enjoying it.
    #19
  20. SoloSurfer

    SoloSurfer iheartwrrs

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2010
    Oddometer:
    132
    Location:
    Rossland BC, Canada


    Day 7 - Monday, November 11
    Distance - 78kms ~ 3.5hrs (Bao Lac - Meo Vac)
    Route - Bao Lac west on Hwy #34 and then north on Hwy 4C to Meo Vac.
    Hotel - Hoa Cuong Hotel - Meo Vac (400,000d = ~$20)
    Weather - Another mixed bag. Mostly overcast and cloud with wet roads in the morning from rain the night before.

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    We both slept surprisingly well at our $10 palace in Bao Lac. Unfortunately our nerves were jittery and heightened with a few issues looming over us:


    Firstly, we were quite concerned about the Superstorm Haiyan. We had read online that it was set to hit Vietnam landfall today. As well, we noticed that the storm direction had changed and was purportedly heading further north than anticipated, heading in our direction towards China. We were really hoping it would dissipate when hitting landfall and then drop down to a mellower storm status.


    Secondly, we knew that we would have to 'enter' the Ha Giang Province without a permit, then hopefully figure out our permit issue in the town of Meo Vac, our next destination. We would be well into the Ha Giang Province without permit, but this was our only option as we couldn't obtain our permit in Bao Lac or anywhere else in that area.


    When waking up in Bao Lac, it was raining steady. The weather was horrible and we were expecting it to get worse. We had a 'family-meeting', discussed options and decided together that we were safe, not in our hotel of choice, but it was a roof over our heads and our best option was to hunker down and hold tight. If the rain was that heavy first thing in the morning, and with the looming storm coming further north, it might get worse, not the safe conditions we would want to ride in. We opted to go back to bed for a couple of hours and then re-evaluate later.



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    At about 10am, I headed out of our dungeon and checked the weather again. I couldn't believe it, the skies were clearing up. The clouds were rising, the rain had stopped and I was even seeing a hint of blue in the sky. I hustled back to the room and gave Amanda the good news. We packed up efficiently and got on the road north.


    We were both still nervous about the storm and the permits, but we plugged north on some spectacular roads and at each turn the views were becoming more and more breathtaking.



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    An ADV salute to the douche-bag who stole my riding gloves the night before :fyyff

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    The constant rain the night before and that morning had made for wet, slick conditions on the roads. We took it easy and eventually pulled over for a road side break once things started drying out.

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    Mystery snacks! My favourite. :clap

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    Mystery balls in my mouth (yeah - forget I even said that). :lol3



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    Our short day of riding (~78kms) turned out to be utterly kick-ass, especially after the way it started. The roads dried up and the twists and turns were endless.


    Highway #34 west of Bao Lac was a good road with great scenery, but once we turned north onto Highway 4C and on to Meo Vac, both the roads and scenery became more and more unbelievable. We started to take some panoramic photos and these don't come close to doing this area justice.



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    At this point we were well into the Ha Giang Province. I was trying to be as positive and optimistic as possible that we could get our permits at an office somewhere in Meo Vac upon arrival (and not get pulled over by military police en route). As we had a much shorter riding day, I figured we'd get the whole thing sorted when we pulled into Meo Vac earlier that afternoon.

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    As we were hunkering down due to the weather early that morning, we spent some of the time looking further online into the Ha Giang permit coming in from the east. Again, information was limited and instead, Amanda and I found some forums that were horrible to read. The writing wasn't about the permits, but about the state of the roads in the north amongst other things. Neither of us are naive, but when you read into negative information online, especially when you can't find much information about an area, it is tough not to take it as the valid truth. We had read this one thread where a guy was stating how bad the roads were in northern Vietnam the further you headed north. He claimed the traffic was so bad with the large trucks and narrow roads that there wasn't a place for motos. It was also stated that all larger vehicles would try to 'run-you-off-the-road' and he even saw a few deaths roadside with larger trucks hitting motorcycles. When you read things like this online, it is difficult to take them with a grain of salt and not to worry.


    (Another ADV salute - refer to my original salute - to this Negative-Nancy and his claims about the roads and traffic in Northern Vietnam). One word: ridiculous.


    Both of us experienced the exact opposite the day reading these claims about these 'horrible' roads in northern Vietnam. As it was only our 3rd day riding in Vietnam we were as careful as ever, we tried to continue with this each and every day. We saw very little traffic, moved right over for any larger vehicles, waved, smiled, and we both had an incredible day.



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    Another pose with my trusty Honda XR 150. I enjoyed riding this little scoot, it was good times all around (aside from the butt wrenching saddle).

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    Pulling into our destination for the day - Meo Vac.

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    Amanda giving the thumbs up rolling down the twisty mountain into the town of Meo Vac.

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    The recent edition of the Lonely Planet recommended the Hoa Cuong Hotel situated in the middle of town. We passed a couple other hotels that looked decent as we pulled into Meo Vac, but we figured we'd have a look at the one recommended in the guide book. It turned out to be 10 times nicer than our accommodation the previous night in Bao Lac. It was $20/night, new, shiny, clean, lovely and had crystal clear flat screens with both CNN and BBC for up to date news on super storm Haiyan - perfect! (Turns out the storm fizzled as it hit Vietnam and mellowed as it worked its way north - we were lucky).

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    The obvious first question at the front desk of the hotel was asking where in town we could obtain our Ha Giang permits?? The woman running the hotel pulled out a big book from under the counter and said that she could produce our permits for us right then and there. She asked for our passports and she said she would add another $10 to our hotel bill for the permit.


    I agreed and our permit-crisis was over, easier than ever, the permit was now in hand.



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    After unpacking the bikes and dropping gear in our room, we parked the bikes out back in the hotel's secure parking area and then took a stroll around town.

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    Ho Chi Minh monument similar to the bronzed statue a day prior.

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    Looking over at the Hoa Cuong Hotel (larger building two to the right of the bright blue building above)



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    Meo Vac central Market

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    Both Amanda and I were quite hungry and with almost choreographed timing, we were waved over to this road-side stall outside the main market. We sat down and had no idea what we were about to eat. The young man in the white and the woman doing the cooking kept serving us delectable delights that she was preparing. The food was super tasty and the entertainment of watching the slow-paced Meo Vac 'life-go-by' was an added bonus.



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    Kids learn how to ride the scoots in Vietnam at a very early age whether they like it or not.



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    The first thing on our plate was a spring roll stuffed with greens, spices and beans with a sweet and salty dish of pickled veggies to the left. We were also served a hot chile dipping sauce for the spring rolls. They were delicious.

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    Locals would pull up on their bikes, order a few items and be on their way. This woman's stall was popular and busy, a perfect place for us to watch life go by.

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    Vietnamese made - Detech 'Espero' bikes. That logo looks familiar, doesn't it??

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    http://www.detech.com.vn/en/productions-services/detech-motor


    I originally thought they were a Chinese made bike when I took the pictures.






    I still question what might have happened had we been pulled over by military or police before entering Meo Vac, before we had our Ha Giang permit. I already had this statement loaded onto Google Translate that morning, 'Our permits WERE in MeoVac' as though we had them pre-planned or something, just to be safe - who knows if that would have helped?? I honestly don't think Police frequent those roads much and in the entire month of seeing them, they seem to avoid all eye contact with foreigners as you ride past. Even the Lonely Planet guide book states that you cannot do the northern loop backwards because of this problem. Why would they offer permits in Meo Vac if travellers didn't ride the roads in the opposite direction?? It is evident that more and more travellers are doing the northern loop backwards and this now seems AOK, from our experience anyway. We didn't see any police or military whatsoever. We were fine. I'm sure the next group of travellers will be fine, and hopefully the next, who knows. All part of the adventure. It no longer seems much of a risk to do the loop backwards, and all in all, it was an easy process to obtain the permit in Meo Vac, right at the Hoa Cuong Hotel front desk... done and done.




    Next instalment - hard to believe, but the scenery gets even better. And Dong Van - northern most town in Vietnam (very few kms from the border of China).















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