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Short rides in Vietnam

Discussion in 'Asia' started by OccRider, Nov 4, 2008.

  1. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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    Here are some long winded ramblings from only two days of riding in Vietnam. I was in Vietnam from 21-Sep-08 through 3-Oct-08, half the time for a business trip and half the time for vacation. I had originally planned to do a three to four day motorcycle loop trip in the northwest near Sapa. Due to the typhoons in the area and other reasons I opted for a more flexible trip and decided to just wing which days I actually road while in different areas. With the occasional rain I only did a one day bike trip in the Sapa area and one day driving around Hanoi.

    First, let me say, Go! Now! Don't wait! It's relatively cheap and easy to get there. It's easy and cheap to travel there. The people are super nice, and the mountains around Sapa are spectacular.

    This is what you can expect to see in the valley near Sapa.
    #1
  2. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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    Another picture below Sapa
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  3. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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    If it seems like I’m focusing on functional details it’s because from conversations I’ve already had it seems like that’s what many people want and need to convince themselves to go on trips to countries like Vietnam. It’s only intended to show you how easy it is to travel in Vietnam.

    Before I get too many comments on cost, I’ll make some comments. You can pay upwards of $100 a day for a motorcycle tour or you can rent one yourself for next to nothing. For me it’s all about how much time I have for a trip; less time usually means I’m willing to spend more money. Being that I only had 7 days I was willing to spend more money.

    One suggestion I have for people who want to go exploring on their own would be to hire a guide here and there to take you off the main roads and onto the trails. We were on paths that changed from a mud path two feet wide into an almost road and then back down to a narrow path again and then jumped back onto pavement. I would probably never have gone down the original path because it initially looked like it was a trail into someone’s house, but ended up being a very cool hour long off-road ride. (Nor would I have crossed the suspension bridge with missing boards and rusty nails sticking up out of the boards.)

    In Sapa I arranged a motorbike tour through my hotel (Mountain View Hotel). They call them motorbikes but I call them scooters. Perfectly adequate 125cc scooters with 26” wheels. Two of us and a guide all on our own scooters for $30 each.

    We went over Tram Tom pass from Sapa towards Lai Chau. We didn't make it all the way to the town of Lai Chau because we opted to spend more of our time off the paved roads and on smaller dirt roads/trails once we got over the pass. We left at 8:30am and returned pretty close to 4:00pm (about 180km on less than a tank of gas).

    The Sapa side of the road was under heavy construction and it had been raining quite a bit the week before but it had been dry for two days.
    #3
  4. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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    More construction heading up to the pass from Sapa.
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  5. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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  6. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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  7. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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    The 125cc scooter had adequate power and suspension for the road conditions. The top speed of the day was around 50km per hour. The low speed has to do with the design of the road and flowing with the rest of the drivers on the road. No one ever mentioned any need for a motorcycle driver’s license. You only had to demonstrate the ability to ride the scooter competently, otherwise they would have wanted you to ride on the back of a scooter with a guide. As far as skill level, if it's raining or the roads are muddy you should be pretty competent because the dirt roads in the area are quite often very slippery clay and some roads include lots of water crossings, usually paved at that point, usually less than 12 inches deep and about 10 feet across depending on the level or recent rain. These muddy conditions are when a Minsk or Honda 250 with better tires might come in handy; but the local people navigate these conditions on scooters overloaded hundreds of pounds of provisions every day and don’t seem to have a problem; nor did we. I only saw a few Minks and millions of scooters. If I go back I’d like to do a longer trip to the north and east of Sapa and would probably go for a Honda 250, which seem as plentiful as the Minsk, in better condition and seem to have just as many shops that can repair them.

    Helmets? Ya right. Vietnam now has a helmet law but most of the helmets are little more than glorified hats. Although, I have to admit, in the heat and humidity of Hanoi it was nice to have some air flow.

    The language barrier can seem pretty severe but it ends up being pretty easy to communicate with people; hiring a tour guide and using all that kind of help you can is very good advice; especially if you have limited time to stumble through things. It’s pretty much the first time I’ve used that kind of luxury on a trip outside the U.S. and I was hesitant at first, but gradually realized how helpful it ended up being. The occasional guide probably won’t add a big percentage of cost to your trip. The tourist industry in Vietnam is very well developed and for a good reason, a guide can take you places you wouldn’t normally be able to go. That said, one of the reasons I didn’t go on the 4 day loop tour was that I didn’t want to be locked into a specific itinerary; luckily too, because it would have rained three out of the four days I had planned.
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  8. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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    Another shot on the other side of the pass.
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  9. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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    Bikes near water fall on the way up the pass.
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  10. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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  11. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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    Village in valley.
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  12. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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    Very common hand gas pump. Our motorbikes didn't quite have the power indicated by the bike on the pump. I only saw one sport bike the entire time I was in Vietnam.
    #12
  13. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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    There are a lot of suspension bridges like this on the smaller trails, some more stable than others. Some missing more boards than others. It's recommended one bike cross at a time.
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  14. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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    In Hanoi I did another full day scooter tour. I arranged this through Voyage Vietnam, probably a bit pricey for a day trip but they were really easy to work with and helped explain a lot of stuff to help me get my tourist bearings when I first got to Hanoi. As for details they did ask me to fill out a disclaimer form with my passport number and insurance company, but didn’t seem too concerned with the insurance company information. I think there are people who do longer trips who purchase some type of additional insurance specific to the countries they are traveling in. I thought originally I’d ride a Minsk but in the Hanoi traffic it’s much easier to navigate with the scooters; you truly won’t understand until you get there and get into traffic.

    We went to the northeast of Hanoi (to the ceramic craft village) and then cut straight through the center of Hanoi to the southwest of Hanoi (to the silk village). Don't get too excited about the term village, they are really just a cluster of buildings that seem very much part of Hanoi. The really cool part of the day was being part of the arterial flow of the Hanoi streets and figuring out that it's a lot easier to participate than it looks when you first arrive and are a pedestrian watching traffic at a six way intersection with one light.

    Another tip, buy a Viettel SIM card for your cell phone, and make sure you have your cell company unlock your phone for that country before you leave the U.S. Viettel seems to have the best coverage; that said after first trying Vinaphone. It’s something like US$7.00 for a sim with a bunch of credit on it.
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  15. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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  16. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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    There are better YouTube videos of the crazy traffic in Hanoi, but here's a long one I took.

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

    If you've heard, Hanoi and northern Vietnam have recently received some torrential rains. Do some research and most of the street scenes you see in the video and then the picture above of the scooters on the sidewalk are now under three feet of water. There are some really amazing pictures at:
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20081104/wl_asia_afp/vietnamweatherfloods
    click on the picture to see more pictures of the flooding

    in Hanoi.
    #16
  17. OccRider

    OccRider Adventurer

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    One more thing, check out a book called "Bikes of Burden". Some great pictures of people in Vietnam hauling huge loads on their scooters. I saw many comparable loads but it's near impossible to capture the environment.
    #17
  18. larryboy

    larryboy Stable genius.

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    Cool stuff!! Thanks for a peak inside Vietnam.:thumb :thumb

    :beer
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  19. easyridervn

    easyridervn n00b

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    Lots of fun riding in Northwest Viet Nam !

    [​IMG]
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  20. easyridervn

    easyridervn n00b

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    [​IMG]
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