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February 2014 Club News

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North Vietnam Ride

Story by Bob, pics by Garry and Bob

Ha Long
          Bay, VietnamBob Boyes came up with the idea of this ride after reading about a Perth-based Charity organisation called Platypus which helps to educate children in remote areas of Northern Vietnam. It was a 12 day ride costing $1800, of which $500 went to the charity. This included accommodation, meals, motorbike, back-up vehicle with mechanic and tour guide.

There were nine of us riding, Chris and I, Garry and Raelene, Wes and Barbara, Bob Boyes (all Club members) as well as Jude from Perth and Bob Greer, founder of the charity.

Our lead rider and guide was Cooney and back-up guy - Gnoc, great people. Chris and I and Raelene and Garry arrived early to have a look around Hanoi and to take an overnight cruise on a junk in Ha Long Bay which was great.

Hanoi is a large, busy city, the centre full of shops, cafes and restaurants etc. We found the Vietnamese to be friendly and we werenít hassled at all. The rest of the crew arrived during the week.

The day before we left on the ride we were taken to an area where we could choose our bike and take it for a short spin around a carpark. They comprised of Honda 230cc, similar to CBF 250cc in Oz, Honda 200cc, with a small fairing and a bit more modern looking. A couple of new Suzukiís and an off-road Honda.

Most of the bikes had a knobbly styled tyres or block tread (which should have given us a clue as to what some of the roads would be like). Any bike imported into Vietnam over 250cc is hit by a 175% tax, so thereís not too many around, although we did see a Gold Wing and a couple of Harleys.

The following day we were on our way. To ease our way into Hanoi traffic we were taken on a bus to the outskirts of the city where the bikes had been transported by truck - very thoughtful. And I must say the two Vietnamese tour operators were fantastic, whatever they could do for you, they did.

It wasnít long before we were getting covered in
          mud.
We then headed north through relatively flat agricultural country, although by the end of the day the roads were very windy. The ride was to take us off the beaten track - and we were there already. Lunch was in a small cafe where the food was cooked on an open fire. This was to be the pattern for lunch for the rest of the trip.

Riding on the first day I broke a throttle cable, and was stuck by the side of the road for a while. People living close to where the bike was parked invited me in for tea while I was waiting for Gnoc to come back with a new cable. This was a good example of the friendliness and hospitality which we were to encounter for the next 12 days.

The meal that night in a very austere communist-looking hotel was interesting. There were various stoves on the table in front of us and a broth brewing on them. You then cooked the raw fish, meat and noodles etc yourself in the broth. Now Iím not known as an adventurous eater and donít like noodles - so it wasnít really my cup of tea, I bought some Kit-Kats from the supermarket next door to fill up on. But the others thought it was very tasty and enjoyed the food, certainly a new experience.

Maybe I needed more Hanoi or Tiger Beer. Speaking of which we were paying 50c for half a litre of those beers in Hanoi, a bit more expensive in the country where it hit a dollar!

Garry riding back from Ho Chi Minh cave at sunset.
The following day we were into the hills, spectacular scenery, the roads pretty good, although sometimes pretty bumpy. Our Vietnamese guys were determined to keep us off main roads which was exactly what we wanted. On the way Garry had a puncture, which Gnoc fixed.

This brought us to a large town called Cao Bang in far North East Vietnam. We all managed the traffic well, with no-one taking the wrong turning.

We had enough time that afternoon to take a 60km ride to a place called Pac Bo. This was the best road of the trip, smooth and just one sweeping bend after another with spectacular scenery. Pac Bo is on the Chinese border and was where Ho Chi Minh lived in a cave while he planned his revolution against the French. Nearby is a memorial to Ho Chi Minh which we visited. Interesting place before high-tailing it back to the hotel along the same road, but with the sun setting.

Next day we were riding along spectacular mountainous roads on our way to Meo Vac, in the central north of the country.

The local tribe (Hmong) live high in the hills and donít want to live in the villages in the lower slopes. I believe they live very primitively with many of their houses having no water or electricity. One of the main causes of death is suicide - there is a leaf in the area that if taken you die and thereís no antidote. So its not uncommon if two people have an argument, one will eat the leaf to make the other feel bad! Education is badly needed in the area.

Bob (Boyes) tea-pouring with Chris and Wes.
We stopped in a small village on the way where the French had their headquarters, the house that they commandeered is now a small museum. Apparently the French would guillotine any locals reading communist literature and then place their heads on a tree outside the house as a warning to others, apparently there were a lot of people guillotined there.

We were causing quite a stir with the local people, who didnít see many Westerners in this part of the world, especially on bikes - this was also a pattern for the rest of the trip.

We went to another memorial that day to another Vietnamese revolutionary hero, the caretaker taking pleasure in providing us with green tea - which to my mind is as tasty as noodles. But you canít be rude and not drink it can you?

I managed to pick up a 4 inch nail in my rear tyre here. We continued along windy, narrow, one lane roads, but great scenery and interesting villages. Lots of people would shout out ďHelloĒ and wave, especially the children.

The bush telegraph must have been working as sometimes the kids would be waiting for us to come along the side of the road.

It was either this day or the day before when we arrived late and it was dark. This was quite a challenge as the road was narrow, windy with deep drop-offs and the lights on the bikes werenít that good, some not working. My lens was twisted so as I had a good view of the stars. The hotel was a welcome sight.

The chef gives his verdict.
Although the egg and bread was a more welcome sight to me for breakfast instead of more noodle based stuff called Pho(foe) - which made sense to me as it was the enemy.

Today we seemed to be climbing higher looking down the valleys - stunning. We went though some very old villages and had a look at an old fort which one of the local lords had. They made use of opium and had a small army to look after the crop. Apparently the poppy was prevalent everywhere until Ho Chi Minh straightened them out.

The roads were very dusty, but at least they were dry, the valleys were very lush. Today we stopped in a place called Ha Giang in the far north. It gave us a chance to use the ATMís which had been hard to find. You need to have local Vietnamese currency in this part of the world.

The next day we left on our way to Sapa, and on the way it started to drizzle and then rain. The dusty pot-holed roads soon turned to mud, and we were getting wet! A thankful stop for a hot lunch presented another problem of getting wet gloves back on after the inner liner had pulled out - ahhhh the joys of motorcycling in the rain.

The bikes and us were covered in mud by the time we were getting closed to Sapa. Once again we had passed close to the Chinese border with only a river separating the two countries. The closer we got to Sapa another problem arrived - fog, thick pea-soup stuff where it was difficult to see anything ahead and at the same time it was getting dark.

Going into the hills and fog.
Going up the long mountain heading to Sapa all we could do was follow the line on the side of the road. And it was difficult to see the many obstacles including a truck broken down in the middle of the road and negotiating a herd of water buffalo.

The hotel was certainly a welcome sight. We had a two night stay, so it would give us an opportunity to dry our gear. The hotel had an open charcoal fire in the middle of the reception/dining room. We had a cooking demonstration there the second night.

The first night was sort of an hilarious kareoke without the machine, but plenty of alcoholic beverages. Sapa was the first, and last touristy town we visited. But clothing was very cheap - cheaper than Hanoi especially North Face gear etc. We were all picking up cheap jackets and windcheaters, as well as sneakers.

The narrow streets of Sapa.
It was a nice place though, with narrow streets, markets and plenty of hawkers who hung around like glue till you bought something. Fabulous views from the hotel, but couldnít really see anything because of the fog which was very consistent.

We headed out of Sapa in fog (again), although not as bad as before, towards the far North West of the country. Then the fog lifted and the views were incredible, back to blue sky.

But not for long before it began to rain on the narrow, mountainous road, more roadworks, more mud.
We were on a road to Dien Bien which was 40km of slimy...

Continued in Part 2 in the April Edition

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