Bob 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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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...