Improvising the Philippines

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Prillok, Feb 3, 2016.

  1. Prillok

    Prillok Wannabe adventurer

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    Hi ADV, my sister Andrea and I are going to be doing some riding in the Philippines. Since we are just regular backpackers that recently discovered our love for riding we haven't really prepared anything and are making things up as we go. It's worked so far :)

    After some adventures in Vietnam (read all about it over here) we departed to Manila. Coming here was a bit of a culture shock. It is much more developed/westernized than previous countries. I joked that we've traveled halfway to the US by coming here. This turned out to be true in so many ways.

    Our plan is to go north on Luzon, the biggest island and ride around in the mountains in the Cordillera region. Rough sketch is to go up along the west coast, round the north tip and then down through the mountains. After this I've heard the road through Palawan is nice but we'll see.

    (If you have a very aggressive ad blocker it might block my pictures)
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    Manila is a big city with proper skyscrapers.
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    We did a lot of shopping here, there are many gigantic malls with stuff we haven't been able to find in a long time. There is something odd with the amount of staff per shopper though...
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    We took the bus around Manila. It is not a place I'd recommend driving, the traffic jams go on for many kilometers and last long into the night. At least on a bus you can read a book instead of wearing out your clutch. The people that handle money around here have this amazing technique for handling bills and giving out change but I guess it requires a video to show how fast it is.
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    Food around here is very close to US standard with lots of fast food.
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    I think it's the "#WeDeserveThis" that gets me.

    We stayed with a couchsurfer in Manila. He invited us to his friends wedding. After 4 months in sandals and shorts dressing up in formal attire was very strange. Amazingly his old suit fit me.
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    Weddings here are very american style.

    Anyway we've made it to a the city of Angeles where the rental place we found online was located, we're going to go check the bikes out soon and hopefully set of tomorrow. I'm excited about getting to drive a bike again :)

    In the meantime we checked in at Helicopter place, run by the German gentleman Mr Helicopter. The breakfast here came with the first proper bread we've had in over four months. Amazing.
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    This area seems to be a hotspot for Germans, all the guests here at Helicopter are German, there are restaraunts nearby specializing in German food. Odd. I would have expected more Americans considering the nearby Clark airbase.

    Bonus picture: this greeted us at the Manila airport :)
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    #1
  2. Prillok

    Prillok Wannabe adventurer

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    Well nice bike was pretty friendly but busy. It's in a rather shady part of Angeles though. "Girls Girls Girls" signs are everywhere and when I asked a hotel how much a room was they replied "for two or three hours?" No thanks. There are quite a lot of 40-50 year old (usually fat) men with young Filipinos by their side. Bleh.

    They had two Honda XR200 but when we tested one of them was no good. Luckily a customer had just returned a third so we got that one instead. Much better.

    In general their fancier bikes seem to be in very good condition. Their scooters and XR200 are well used but also well maintained so should be good (XR200 is 600p or $12.5 a day).

    Their helmets on the other hand are total crap. We wen't and bought new ones in a nearby mall for 1300p ($27) each.

    I cannot describe how good it feels to be on a proper bike again after riding around on a shitty Honda Win. EVERYTHING is better. I'm never driving anything with drum brakes on the front wheel again.

    Ready to leave Helicopter place. Mr Helicopter was extremely helpful throughout our stay. Most recommended.
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    The road today would take us from Angeles to Baguio where inmate Rgon lives. Shouldn't be to hard I thought, 170km with these bikes on nice roads? No problem.
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    If only I knew. The road was very hectic. It was like driving through a very busy suburb to Angeles for 140km. This was about as good as it got.
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    But most of it looked like this. Or worse.
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    Mountains taunted us to the west but we were going north. Finally after 130km mountains appeared in front of us!
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    Finally!
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    Here it got extremely steep and very curvy (picture doesn't do it justice) Trucks were struggling to get up even in first gear and a big jam had formed.
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    No more pictures of this but it went on like this for a long time but I was to busy passing all the cars on the inside to stop and take pictures. ^^

    Very good practice for Andrea, you had to rev the engine and meet with the clutch to get up since it was so steep and we were going too slow at times.

    We then reached Baguio. This is an amazingly cool city. I'll try and get more pictures tomorrow but here is a typical city street. This street must be at least 12% steep.
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    Andrea wasn't too happy to go down it. "I don't want too..."
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    Of course after we got down I noticed I had taken a wrong turn and we had to go back up. She was not pleased.

    It started getting dark so we rushed to find inmate Rgon's house. After some searching we found it perched on a mountainside with a wonderful view. I think. It had gotten pretty dark by now but every house here has a wonderful view so I'm probably correct.

    Rgon has a lot of knowledge about these mountains and should be a mandatory stop if you are going to Cordillera. Here we are planning the route for the next few days.
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    Rgon also rents out XRs. More expensive but then they are also in a better state and come with more equipment. Our bikes got about 64000km on the odometer, his got around 10000km.

    We did take him up on his offer to stay in his beautiful house though.

    Overall it was a good first day, the last 50km up to Baguio was very scenic which was unexpected. I'm also very happy with the bikes, the general condition of the roads and despite the traffic it felt pretty safe. In Vietnam every truck is a potential death hazard. Here people drive much, much better and more considerate as well. I've seen cars and even trucks stop for pedestrians. Amazing.

    Bonus picture: "Windows is not genuine" haha shame on you Krispy Kreme :)
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    #2
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  3. WhicheverAnyWayCan

    WhicheverAnyWayCan Deaf Biker

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    nice... I've thought about renting moto in SE asia without dealing with the hassle of shipping my bike there and deal with carnet process. Looking forward to more..
    #3
  4. Prillok

    Prillok Wannabe adventurer

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    The dogs in the neighborhood were very noisy but tired from yesterdays drive we slept pretty well anyway. Earplugs help a lot, the cool climate in Baguio was also a blessing.

    Andrea went early up to try and capture the sunrise.
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    Saying goodbye to Rgon.
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    Saying goodbye to Baugio. Just one little stop to withdraw money and get breakfast.
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    That turned out to be a mistake. Whenever a local tells me there's traffic I'm simply going to set my alarm to 5:00 and get out of the city before the rush starts. Looking for an ATM that would accept our card was very frustrating with this traffic.
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    This is a jeepney, built here in the Philippines from an old jeep and metal laying around. They are everywhere and kinda charming. They also smell really bad when going uphill.
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    Finally we got out of Baguio. The road started climbing straight away.
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    This road was serious business. Not going in the valley between the mountains. Not moving along the side of a mountain. No, it was snaking close to the very top of one of the highest mountain ridges around.
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    My sister got hold of the camera here.
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    Yay! 7400ft or 2,200m. Popular sign for pictures. It was pretty cool, almost chilly at these altitudes. When you stopped you made sure you stopped in the sun, the opposite of earlier when you made sure to find some shade to stop in.
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    There was only one mountain we could see that was higher. Later on while looking at a map I realized that it must have been Mount Pulag, Luzon's highest peak at 2,922m.

    We met Carlo along the road, he was going the same way as us and offered to show us the way. He also gave me some luggage straps. People here are amazing.
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    His bike is a "Rusi", chinese he said. Seems like a pretty popular brand around here.

    He also gave us this cd. Filipinos are deeply christian. You'll see prayers painted here and there, churches dotting the landscape and pictures of Jesus adorning walls and jeepneys. Coming from Vietnam where most are atheist this was a big difference.
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    I think it's Carlo on the first row to the very left.

    After being at the highest point there was only one way, down.
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    Looking back.
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    We had planned on making it to Candon but the episode in Baguio center took way to much time and energy. Tired we stopped for the night at this nice little homestay called Marlin sam.
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    The owner invited us for dinner.
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    This was a truly great day, such an amazing road. Tomorrow we'll head on towards the coast. Looking at the maps we're going to go through a pass between the mountains first, should be fun.
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    #4
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  5. Prillok

    Prillok Wannabe adventurer

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    Usually I write these after dinner and post them straight away. I like being able to post regularly. This has been somewhat difficult in the Philippines though, after a week in this country I have yet to check in to a place with proper wifi. It's either to slow to be usable or non existent. Mobile data has also been absolutely terrible. Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam all had superior mobile data and hotel wifi. But today I just decided to upload it through my phone anyway. (2GB data only cost 299p ($6.24)).

    When previewing my previous post I noticed that there were severe compression artifacts in my images, wth? Skies were jagged, trees blurry etc. Took me a while to figure out what was going on but it turns out my carrier (smart) severely compresses all images passing through it's network. I guess their network is so congested they try every trick in the book. There is another carrier (globe) but they are even worse for data but apparently better for phone calls. This means quite a lot of Filipinos lug two phones around, one for each carrier.

    Example, left is compressed and looks like crap, original on the right.
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    While I'm ranting I'm just going to complain about their cuisine as well. They do have some good food if you find a genuine little shack in the mountains they often have grilled meat which is delicious but when they try to make any foreign food they usually put way to much sugar in. Today i couldn't finish the pasta because it was just too sweet. On the other hand they have ice cream not only because of tourists but because they eat it themselves. This makes it very affordable compared to previous countries. This one was only 15p ($0.3).
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    Definitively easier, just make sure you take pictures of the scratches when you get them ;) Below is my bike when we got it.
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    Bonus picture: an average sized Filipino with my sister's backpacks.
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    She: "All clothes?"
    Andrea: "No, hiking gear, diving gear and motorbike gear."
    #5
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  6. usnbeans

    usnbeans Steve T

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    Just made the jump from Vietnam to the Philippines. I spent a weekend in Baguio around 15 years ago. It was once a large US military base and when the Americans left they basically left everything behind. All the stores were selling US Military gear from Uniforms
    to bullet proof vests !. I was working at the "port"in San Fernando for 2 weeks and the weekend in Baguio was a welcome break from the heat plus part of the military base had been turned in to a 5 star hotel. I had a 2 bedroom suite for USD 100.00 a night !
    Looking forward to following you on this adventure
    #6
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  7. twflybum

    twflybum Prodigal Biker

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    Nice write up and pictures! My wife is Filipino and we've made the trip from Manila to Bagguio by bus. I've wondered about touring around Luzon on motorbikes.. your pictures have me longing to give it a try. Will be following along.
    #7
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  8. Prillok

    Prillok Wannabe adventurer

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    Leaving Cervantes.
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    Whoever made this road was probably drunk at the time.
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    Cervantes is down there somewhere.
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    At the top of Bessang pass was this monument.
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    Green sign says:
    Bessang Pass
    Natural Monument / Landmark
    1500m above sea level​

    Text on monument:
    The Battle of Bessang Pass

    Began with the assault on the Japanese line at Bitalag... by the United States Army Forces in the Philippines, North Luzon, 8 January 1945 followed by the seizure of enemy strongholds along highway 4 and the defeat of the Japanese forces of the pass. The battle spearheaded by the 121st infantry, USAFIP, NL was conceded by American military authorities as 'one of the most terrible and incredibly difficult battle of the entire war.'

    This monument is erected in honor of the 3,400 men killed and wounded who fought gallantly for freedom and peace.​


    Did not expect a history lesson today. The area has several things to explore but we choose to continue.

    From the top of the pass you could see the road down.
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    It was an amazing ride down. Then we rounded the edge on the mountain and saw this:
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    Wow.

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    Stopped for lunch in Candon. I'm no longer surprised by the hectic traffic in even the smallest towns.
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    From here on the road was very bland. Straight, flat and with lots of traffic. We were treated to some very short glimpses of the coast though (including one beach).
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    Andrea tenses her shoulders to much when riding and needs to stretch every now and then.

    We expected Vigan to be a small city but it turns out it's something of a tourist place thanks to it's old town and beautiful churches.
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    Bonus picture: My authentic Levis™ jeans are confused but I'm pretty sure they aren't made in USA.
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    Vietnam? Thailand? Who knows but they cost 320,000 Vietnamese dong ($14).
    #8
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  9. PDX Alamo

    PDX Alamo Been here awhile

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    Looks like a cool trip, might have to revisit on a bike now :-)
    #9
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  10. B10Dave

    B10Dave Long timer

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    Again great pictures Prillok. Thanks for taking us along on your adventure. Ride safe and far. Both of you...Dave
    #10
  11. Prillok

    Prillok Wannabe adventurer

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    We woke up in Vigan to another great day. We were at something of a crossroad. Original plan was to continue heading north on the coast road, but after driving on that road yesterday and being very unimpressed we started thinking about plan B. We had originally asked Rgon about this route as a way to make a shorter loop but now it was looking interesting because it would allow us to skip about two and a half days riding on the coastal road (I really should stop calling it a coastal road, most of it is not close to the ocean) and instead give us one or two more days of mountain riding.
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    We decided to go with plan B, I feel a bit disappointed that we won't go around the north shore but frankly I think we'll have more fun this way.

    First we had to backtrack a little.
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    As soon as we left the main road the road got less hectic and more interesting.
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    Cruising through Bangue. People here are pretty lazy, preferring the taxi trike even for short distances.
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    We had originally planned for tomorrow to be an off day and spend it on the beach. We need some rest. But with the new plan we decided to just break really early today and take the long mountain road tomorrow.
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    Abrassi hotel, first place with proper wifi! Feels good having a break here, it's a nice and quiet on out here and we even have AC.

    Tomorrow should be interesting. So far Rgon's advice has been solid except the roads have been in a better condition than he let on. We asked for some light offroading but so far everythings been paved or concrete. It's my sisters first time on a dirtbike and I'm a bit rusty so something easy should be good and the coming road was one he described only as "okayish" so maybe we'll have some challenge. Looking east I see a huge rain cloud so it might even get wet and muddy, we'll see.

    Bonus picture: Taken yesterday, Februari 3rd. I know you like Santa but it's time to let go.
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    There were another 6(!) big Santas on the other side.
    #11
  12. Chat Lunatique

    Chat Lunatique aka El Gato Loco

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    Really enjoying your RRs. I'm curious how you load up your machine. Any chance you could post a photo of the bikes fully loaded up so we can see your method? I never saw that pack on the bike in Vietnam either. Are you wearing it while you ride? Maybe Andrea could shoot you mounted up if you wear the pack? I'm just gearing up to leave on a multi year trip starting in India and really like to check out loaded pics to help pre plan my trip. Dank Je!
    #12
  13. FlDog

    FlDog Been here awhile

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    Thanks for sharing. Very envious of you both!
    #13
  14. kiw432

    kiw432 n00b

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    Looks awesome, the mountains look just like the ones we have in Taiwan. last time I was in Angeles a few years ago I didn't enjoy it. I expected a few places with forigners and girls ect. But not nearly as many as there was. Apart from that the philippines is a very enjoyable place.
    This trip has definitely got me thinking of some ideas for a trip with my father.
    #14
  15. Prillok

    Prillok Wannabe adventurer

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    Ah maybe I should have clarified, we decided to leave unnecessary stuff with the rental place. This is my sister fully packed from a previous post.
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    She packs a lot cleaner than me for some reason. I blame the fact that I have to lug my laptop around. Her backpack came with that yellow rain cover so she just moved it to the smaller backpack. I didn't buy a rain cover before leaving so I'm improvising with plastic bags. You want to wear as little as possible on your back to avoid feeling tired in your shoulders.
    #15
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  16. WhicheverAnyWayCan

    WhicheverAnyWayCan Deaf Biker

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    In your whole trip, was it hot and humid? Or did it get a bit cooler when you climb the mountain?
    #16
  17. Prillok

    Prillok Wannabe adventurer

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    After the most awesome breakfast ever at Abrassi we set off. The owner had warned us that the road was rough and that we shouldn't stop if someone waved to us because they might be rebels or bandits. Wut? She also said it would take 6 hours to cross the mountain. Sounds like adventure.
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    It's 105 miles (169km) to Tabuk, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's cloudy... and we're wearing sunglasses.
    -Hit it.

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    The mountains here have three different zones depending on altitude. The lower parts are hot and humid with tropical plants like palms. Climb a bit and you get to this part (my favorite) which is cool, humid and leaf trees and pine, feels like home and smells amazing. The top zone is dry and has mostly small pines.
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    Sometimes when I'm out riding I think of our uncle who passed away in a motorbike accident not four months ago. He was an avid rider and I'm sure he would have loved to drive here. You will be missed Torbjörn :(:
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    The road was not in a good shape, these were everywhere.
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    Road work.
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    I had so much fun on these bumpy roads my backpack shook loose and hit the ground. Hope my laptop made it.
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    My waterbottle didn't make it, a truck ran over it.
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    Truck in question.
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    Volvo!
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    My sister fell of her bike here but before I could get there this road engineer showed up and helped her up.
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    Road disappearing up into the clouds.
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    Stopping for a refill, gas here is colored red. In Vietnam it was sometimes green, looked even weirder, like refilling with mountain dew.
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    The locals were impressed a girl could drive such a big bike.
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    As we entered the clouds it got damp and then started raining. I put the camera away, it really doesn't like moist. We had some extremely muddy roads here which was fun until my sister fell over again and got very muddy. No injuries though.
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    Eventually it cleared and I could get the camera back out.
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    Jeepneys around here are 4x4 with raised suspension. They are also severely overloaded. No exceptions.
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    Here I got really scared we were lost. The gps on my phone placed us far of our road but I couldn't see how we could have gotten off the main road. We asked for Tabuk in this village and people just told us to go on. Guess we weren't lost after all!
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    We were running out of day light though, so we stepped up the pace to get to Tabuk before night fell.

    Made it!
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    This road was amazing and great practice for both me and my sister. There were some very long stretches that were completely deserted and only the occasional road worker could be seen. Everyone we did meet were friendly and smiled and waved. We had a close call on gasoline but we got lucky and found a little store that had gas. It took almost 8 hours to drive the 169km and I was really tired when we got to Tabuk. Andrea had to work much harder and I'm impressed she kept her spirits high the entire way.

    I'm also falling in love with this little Honda, 200cc is plenty for these roads and it's light and nimble. Perfect.

    As I'm writing this I'm struggling to keep my eyes open, there is some terrible karaoke from the neighbors but I'm going to sleep like a baby.

    There is road construction along large parts of the road, give them a couple of years and this might be one of the best roads in the world even for road bikes. I like it just as it is though.
    #17
  18. Prillok

    Prillok Wannabe adventurer

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    Even being near the mountains seem to help a bit, Abrassi was at 71m and was pleasant. Today we quickly climbed up above 300m and stayed above 700m most of the day. The highest peak was more than 1700m. It never got cold or unpleasant. This is dry/cool season and very good for riding though the rice terrasses can be a bit brown and the river rafting is probably not as good. At the highest point in the entire trip (2200m) it got a bit chilly but we had sun and light winds so it was no issue. Overall the temperature was pretty close to perfect. Humidity can vary wildly between valleys though. Keep in mind that you can get showers even in dry season and I can imagine it would have been very cold up there if we had been wet.

    *Altitudes calculated with this, not sure how accurate it is.
    #18
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  19. noxerox

    noxerox n00b

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    You should have rented a Citroën 2CV. Easy to repair. Basically a hammer and som steel wire will do. You can sleep in it and bring more of your gear. And above all - it´s a fantastic car.
    Google 2CV adventures and you´ll find amazing stories. You shouldn´t crasch with it though. You´ll end up with the engine in your lap. Not nice.
    /D
    #19
  20. Prillok

    Prillok Wannabe adventurer

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    It would not have made it Abra-Tabuk.

    Anyway these Hondas seem pretty reliable as well. Mine is running fine but Andrea's got some problem with cold starts and at these altitudes it's really struggling to start without choke and can't hold idle.
    #20