Motorbiking Vietnam: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City Journal

Motorbiking Vietnam: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City Journal

On November 4 I bought a motorbike in Hanoi.  The following day I began a trip with a few other travellers I met that would take me from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south.  Each day at the end of the ride I wrote a short journal for the day.  This is a compilation of all the journals.  This isn’t a summary of the trip on the whole, just how I felt at the end of each days ride with some pictures.

My steed for the trip

My steed for the trip, matte black on black.  If Bruce Wayne had a motorbike in Vietnam this would be it

Day 1: Hanoi to Mai Chau

Day 1 of riding is complete. Leaving Hanoi was a nightmare. We had to park our bikes a 10 minute walk away from our hostel, and couldn’t get them out until 6:00am. We got to the garage just after 6:00am, got our bikes and headed back to the hostel to strap our bags on. We intended to leave right away, but decided to eat breakfast before we left. By the time we got going traffic had really picked up. Getting out of Hanoi was a nightmare. There are almost no rules and motorbikes everywhere. On top of that we needed to find fuel ASAP because we were all low. It was a stressful first hour of our trip but we did find a gas station and made our way out of Hanoi. 

Packed up and ready to set off

Packed up and ready to set off

Mai Chau was our target destination. We weren’t completely sure how far it was away, somewhere between 60 and 160km. The drive became really scenic and we moved into a mountainous region. Much better drive than Hanoi.
Overlooking Maui Cao

Overlooking Mai Chau

About an hour away from our destination Storey ran out of gas. Fortunately there was a gas station close by. No other mechanical issues to report.
We made it through day 1 with no injuries, just lots of sore rear ends. Nor did we have any run ins with police, my bribe money ($6USD) is still securely in my pocket.  I did learn that cows are an effective method of slowing traffic. They seem about the only thing some of the trucks and busses slow down for. We came across a number of them grazing by the side of the road or taking a nap. Tomorrow our ride will take us down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, we’re looking to get to at least Dong Hieu, which is 160km away.
Day 2: Mai Chau to Yen Cat

Day 2 is in the books. It was an up and down day. At breakfast the weather was threatening a little drizzle. I decided I’d start out wearing a hoodie because I got cool at speed yesterday and today was cooler.

We got out sometime after 8:30 and it was dry at that point. About 10k into the ride we were faced with taking the 15a or c. The c twists up and down through the national park. The a is an easier ride going around it. We thought we were on the A but it turns out we took the C. Early on we rode through a construction site where the road was replaced by mud. The road continued up from there, and the hairpin turns began snaking their way through the hills. About 90mins in the rain began. It wasn’t a downpour, but enough to make us wet. We realized we were on the wrong road about this point but decided not to turn around, we’d just continue to push forward. When we finally made it down the other side we were all dirty, wet and hungry.  There were some great views on our route, but it did add some riding time to our day.

On the way up the mountain, before the rain

On the way up the mountain, before the rain

Stopping for a break when the rain finally stopped

Stopping for a break when the rain finally stopped

We had a nice lunch in a small town; beef, rice, greens and some kind of broth.  Not long after continuing lunch we got separated into 2 groups. James and Storey hadn’t been far behind but then they disappeared. Paul thought they may have gotten gas, but when we circled back to check they weren’t there. We waited about 40 minutes for them before deciding to push on. They were together and we weren’t sure they were behind us. We had about an hours drive to Yen Cat, our destination for the night, and about 2.5 hours of sun. We were able to get moving at a good clip but before long the rain came down hard. There was nowhere for us to stop so we pushed on. The rain let up after a few minutes, but before long it returned, and stayed with us all the way to Yen Cat. It was a wet ride but we made it.

Our first priority when we arrived was to get somewhere for the night, so we could then sort out where James and Storey were. A quick loop of the town and we found a hotel/guesthouse place. We dropped our stuff off and sent them a message. They don’t have working cell phones so they’d need to be somewhere with wifi to get it. We were then leaving for food when we saw them driving into town. As it turned out James had an electrical issue that he had to get fixed. End of the day it’s great we’re all in one place and able to get at it again tomorrow.

James repairs was our first breakdown on the road. Paul had some repairs done at the guesthouse last night but it didn’t stop us on the road. We learned we need a protocol in place to deal with the group splitting up. We weren’t sure what to do when we were 4, and should have that sorted. Today was a wet ride but my poncho as well as the rain cover for my bag did a good job at keeping myself and my stuff dry.
Tomorrow we set off for Vinh. It’s about 165k, according to Google maps. Shouldn’t be a hard trip, it would be good to get in there early to have a mechanic change the oil and give the bike a once over.
And so ends day 2.
Day 3: Yen Cat to Vinh

Day 3 was a good one. We left Yen Cat just after 8am with our sights set on Vinh. Vinh is a bigger city and we were looking forward to some new food after a disappointing couple of meals last night and this morning. The weather looking threatening when we left but it turned out to be a beautiful day. The roads were great and it was easy riding. We stopped about every hour to regroup and let the bikes cool. For most of the day the 3 waves stuck together and the 3 wins were up ahead. I strapped my bag on sideways to allow myself more freedom I move around on the seat and it worked out great. Along the way we stopped in a couple of place for pictures, there was some really great scenery.

On the road to Vinh

On the road to Vinh

I did have a bit of a close call today. About 20 minutes into the ride there was a slow moving truck in front of me way on the left side of the lane. I waited behind him for a minute or so and then decided to pass on the right (since he was way on the left).  Just as I passed him he began to make a right turn. Neither of us was moving very quickly and I was able to swerve to miss him. It was a valuable lesson to never pass on the right.
After we got to Vinh we all got our oil changed. We have some long riding days ahead, tomorrow to Phong Nha, and then a couple days after to Hue. We want the bikes to be in top condition for the journey.
First oil change

First oil change

The weather makes such an impact on our mood, being exposed to the elements. A big part of why today’s ride was such a good one was great weather. The forecasts here are terribly unreliable. Almost everyday it says it’s going to rain, but often none materializes. We just have to take it one day at a time and roll with the weather we’re given.
Taking a break on the road

It was a much better drive than yesterday

Day 4: Vinh to Phong Nha

Day 4 had it all, the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, breakdowns, a happy dance, and more.

The day didn’t start off well. In the morning I noticed I had a flat and had to take it to the mechanic to get fixed before we headed out. I found somewhere open at 7:15am and through a mix of hand signals and Google translate I was able to get my tube changed. I chatted to one of the mechanics, sort of, through Google translate while the work was being done. It was all good and jovial until he made a comment about Americans and the war. Google translate doesn’t translate profanity well, so I don’t know exactly what he was saying, but at that point I knew it was time to go. I met the group and we headed out.
A flat tire isn't the start to the day I was hoping for

A flat tire isn’t the start to the day I was hoping for

Our plan was to make the approximately 220k trek to Phong Nha. It would be our longest day yet, and the weather sucked. It was cool and raining, and none of us had proper rain or cold gear (and I discovered I lost my hoodie somewhere, so I didn’t have that). We first needed to get out of Vinh and headed to our destination. It was easier said than done. Google Maps took us on a complicated route that went on little paths through rice fields, along the side of a railroad bridge, and through back alleys. You can only imaging the road conditons, and let me remind you it was raining! In our first 90mins I think we only covered about 20k. We weren’t in good spirits and considered turning around and taking the train but we decided to press on. As it approached noon spirits were really low. We were soaked, cold, hungry, and still had so far to go. We stopped into a place for lunch and it was a game changer. One of the ladies inside spoke decent English, and we were able to order what we wanted. I was so cold I wanted nothing more than hot soup so I got Pho. Lunch lifted all our spirits and we were ready to tackle the approximately 145k of our journey. We took off around 1:00PM with the goal of beating dark to Phang Nha.
It was cold, wet and gloomy

It was cold, wet and gloomy

About 30minutes after lunch Beegan’s bike broke down. Something with his fuel line. Paul and Danny stayed to help him, while James, Storey and I soldiered on (we were moving at a slower pace and needed to go to have a chance of making it).
Beegans bike at the side of the road

Beegans bike at the side of the road

We weren’t sure if we’d see them again today. After that we got into a great rhythm knocking out chunks of kilometers. We were moving at a decent pace and would just stop every 45min or so for 5mins to let the bikes rest. We moved through some beautiful areas, but I was more focused on our destination. We got into mountains as we made our way into the national park, and the roads were a little more slippery and we had to be really careful. All the trucks and busses were really nice, giving us lots of space (unlike some stories you hear) and we were able to make our way through. Our closest call was with a cow. There was a cow tied up at one side of the road, and it had walked into the middle of the road. James passed the cow on the left, when he did that the cow moved and suddenly his slack leash was taut in front of Storey and I. We both managed to lock up our brakes before we got to the rope, my bike fish tailed, but we worked our way around the cow.
Cows on the road

Cows on the road

One of the best feelings was when we stopped around 3:45. My phone had reception again and we figured out we were only 20k out. We had thought we were further, it was such a good feeling. On top of that the rain finally stopped. We did a little happy dance.
It was a wet one

It was a wet one

We felt so good that about 10minutes up the road we saw some beautiful mountains and stopped for a picture. Just as we did that we saw the other 3 guys catching up in the distance. We really didn’t think we were seeing them tonight, it was a great feeling.
The Waves

The Waves

We made our way into Phong Nha, but the drama didn’t stop there. The hostel was all booked, so 5 of us headed to a well known farmstay, while 1 stayed behind in a guesthouse. Just as we were getting to the farmstay Storey ran out of gas. The sun was going down so I went ahead with James to try to find it and then I ran out of gas. It gets dark quick and I was in the middle of nowhere with no fuel. Danny and James were able to find someone selling bottles of fuel and got Storey and I running again, but it was too dark to find the farmstay. We decided to drive the 10k back to where we were to find a guesthouse too (in the dark).
It was a very long day, and one that I won’t forget anytime soon. I’m so glad we made it to Phong Nha and looking forward to a rest day tomorrow!
Day 5: Phong Nha to Dong Hoi

Day 5 was an easy day on the bike. After breakfast we got some small issues with the bikes sorted. My rear light wasn’t working and needed to be rewired. This cost me 30,000 to get fixed ($1.60).

Getting my bike looked at in Phong Nha

Getting my bike looked at in Phong Nha

After that Storey, James, Paul and I set off to check out Paradise Cave in Phong Nha. It was about 25k to the caves through the mountains. James and Paul both had issues with their bikes and turned back because there was a trusty mechanic in today, and we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow. Storey and I continued ahead and checked out the caves. It was a long walk to get to the caves but they were impressive.
On the way to Paradise Cave

On the way to Paradise Cave

Paradise Cave, it was massive

Paradise Cave, it was massive

We made our way back to town and found James with a fixed bike. We got some food and then the 3 of us set out for Dong Hoi. Dong Hoi is only about 35k from Phong Nha, the 3 of us decided to make the trip to knock a bit of distance off our trip to Hue tomorrow. It was a straightforward route and would have been uneventful if it wasn’t for James getting stung by some sort of big red hornet. It happened when we stopped to look at a map. It had flown inside his poncho and stung him when we stopped, and took a little chunk of his shoulder with him.
We got to Dong Hoi by 4:30. James had looked up a place for us to stay but a local rode up and had us follow him to a hostel. I didn’t have any expectations of Dong Hoi, it just meant 30k less to ride tomorrow, but it’s really nice here. It’s a small city, right on the water.
Ruins between our hostel and the water

Ruins between our hostel and the water in Dong Hoi

Tomorrow we have around 190k to Hue. We plan to leave around 8am to get in for mid afternoon. Here’s to hoping for good weather!
Day 6: Dong Hoi to Hue

Day 6 was a great day on the bike. We had about 190k to travel from Dong Hoi to Hue. Hue would be the biggest city we’ve been to since our trek began in Hanoi.

We wanted to set out by 8am, but where we were staying got breakfast out late so we didn’t set off until 8:30. As we left dark clouds overhead loomed ominously. We made it out of the city dry, and onto the 15, a road we would travel for quite some distance. The rain didn’t come until about 90 minutes into our ride. It was hard enough to make us stop and put on ponchos, but wasn’t too bad and didn’t last long. After that short wet spell it was dry for the rest of the trip.
We stopped for lunch in Quang Tri for lunch. It was over half way to Hue. It was also right before the A1 began. The A1 is a notoriously unsafe section of road that runs north to south through Vietnam. We were going to see how we felt at lunch to decide if we were going to do a stint on the A1, as opposed to taking a long way around it. At lunch we decided to go for it. Our plan was to take it for about 10k, and then get off and join a road that runs parallel with it all the way into Hue.
With some apprehension we left lunch ready to take on the A1. We all know where we planned to go and we were going to stick to the right hand shoulder at all times. Sure enough when we got on it we discovered it really wasn’t all that bad at all. Most times it was 4 lanes wide with a divider in the centre. You always needed to be aware, because when there was no divider trucks and busses would be in your lane coming at you while they were overtaking. But so long as you were smart about it it really wasn’t bad. There was only one dodgy moment. The highway was down to 2 lanes,  1 in each direction. The road was bending to the left for us. As we were riding along a bus coming towards us moved into our land to overtake. Because the road was curved the bus was pushed right to the edge to overtake. We were completely in the shoulder and the bus went by. That was our only sketchy moment. Besides that most drivers were very smart when they choose to pass. We ended up taking the A1 all the way into Hue, it was slightly more direct, and we were all comfortable riding on it.
We made great time and got into Hue around 2:00pm. We cruised along all day, it was a really good day of riding. Tomorrow is an off day before continuing onto Hoi An on Wednesday.
Day 7: Off day in Hue
Day 7 was an off day for travel. It’s our first full off day since we began. I really wanted to see some of the sights in Hue since I basically missed everything in Hanoi while I was sick. We did about 30k on the scooters, checking out the Citadale, one of the emperors tombs, and a local pagoda. It was a much needed rest day, for us and the bikes.
Taking in the Citadale on an off day

Taking in the Citadale on an off day

Made it to one of the Tombs too

Made it to one of the Tombs too

Rubbing this turtle is supposed to bring you luck

Rubbing this turtle is supposed to bring you luck

Tomorrow we head to Hoi An. It’s not a long journey, only about 100k, and includes what’s considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world, the Hai Van Pass. I’m looking forward to it.
Day 8: Hue to Hoi An (Hai Van Pass)
Day 8 was a good day on the bikes, but up and down weather wise. James, Storey and I set off around 8:30 this morning. We had about 60k to cover, and then the Hai Van Pass, and then about another 50k to our destination.
It wasn’t raining as we departed but it was threatening. About 10k up the road it began spitting very lightly, but nothing too serious. It was like that off and on all the way to the Pass.
Driving up to the pass was beautiful. There’s mountains, beaches, and the sun briefly paid us a visit so we could get some photos. As we drove the Pass the rain began to pick up and for a couple minutes it really poured. We were still able to enjoy it, but we had to keep a close eye on the road. Traffic on the Hai Van pass is light, so that wasn’t a worry.
At the start of the Hoi Van Pass

At the start of the Hai Van Pass

The sun managed to break through as we came over the top and down the other side and we were treated to some incredible views. We stopped again for some photos before our last leg of the journey through Da Nang and into Hoi An.
Coming down the other side

Coming down the other side

Da Nang was a bigger city than I expected. We drove through it and to the coast, to take the scenic route into Hoi An. Again the beaches and palm trees were beautiful, and there were massive resorts along the coast. It had a California feel.
Cruising from Da Nang to Hoi An

Cruising from Da Nang to Hoi An

We made it to our hotel in Hoi An just before it started to pour again. We’ll be here at least 2 nights before we continue on.
Day 9: Off day in Hoi An
Day 9 was a day off the bikes. We had hoped to have a day at the beach in Hoi An but between gloomy sky’s, high winds, and spots of downpour meant that wasn’t in the cards. Didn’t have any maintenance on the bikes either, so it was a light day all around.
We made it to the beach but the weather wasn't cooperating for us to enjoy it

We made it to the beach but the weather wasn’t cooperating for us to enjoy it

Day 10: Hoi An to Quang Nhai
Day 10 saw our group split up. Though Beegan and Danny had been doing a lot of riding together, separate from us, we were all following the same route. But today those two decided to head back inland, while James, Storey, and I picked a more direct route down the coast to get to Jungle Beach (just north of Nha Trang) where we will next meet.
The three of us had 120k to Quang Ngai. It was really windy when we set off at about 9:30 this morning, but the rain was holding off. It didn’t start to rain until about 30k into our ride. From that point it poured, and then stopped for the entire ride. The route we rode today wasn’t overly picturesque. Some of the roads were in rough shape. I decided to follow Storeys line through a rough bit of road and he took us through a massive puddle!
While in Quang Ngai I want to see the Son My Memorial, it was built to remember over 500 villagers who were slaughtered during the war.
My Son Memorial

My Son Memorial

Also while we’re here we’ll look to have the oil on our bikes changed.
We’re looking at about 160k tomorrow to take us to Quy Nhon. It’s a really nice beach town so hopefully we get some sun.
P.S. After checking out the Son My Memorial we found a Honda dealership. We took our bikes in there for an oil change and the mechanics gave them the works. It was like a day in the spa for the bikes!
The Waves getting pampered at Honda

The Waves getting pampered at Honda

Day 11: Quang Ngai to Quy Nhon

Day 11 didn’t start out well for me. It was raining when we were leaving. I managed to get my bike to start but it quickly cut out. I had to take it to a mechanic, luckily there was one across the street. He either took out the spark plug, or the spark plug had come out. He cleaned both it, and it’s housing, and reinstalled it. That got me up and running again. The repairs cost me 10,000 (about $0.55).

Not the way I wanted to start my day

Not the way I wanted to start my day

Once on the road the rain did hold off for the first 30 minutes, we even got some sun. I was tempted to pull over and get out my sunglasses. But then the rain came, and it came hard. We needed to stop about an hour into the ride because the rain was coming down so hard. We took cover for about 30 minutes before we continued on. When we started again the rain had stopped, but before long it had turned into a light shower, and later it full on poured. We stopped again about an hour later. It’s not just the rain coming down, but the pools that form in the road. There’s potholes and puddles that go disguised when it rains like this that soak you and can’t be any good for the bike. Our second stop was only a short one, we decided to make a run for a town about 10k up the road and get some food, we’d wait out the rest of the rain there. We made it to the town and stopped at a little restaurant (I had rice and beef soup).
After lunch we had about 75k. It rained off and on, but never too bad. We made it to Quy Nhon, but by that time my bike had developed a bit of a rattle, and the engine sounds bogged down. I’ll be taking my bike to a shop to have it looked at.
Finally back on the coast

Finally back on the coast

Tomorrow is an easy day, about 75k to Tuy Hoa.
Day 12: Quy Nhon to Tuy Hoa

Day 12 was the kind of day I imagined every day of this trip would be like. Sunny skies, great scenery, and the sea on the left.

The morning started with me taking my bike to the shop. My bike sounded really rough, especially when city driving. The mechanic took apart part of my engine and emptied water out. The water must have got in there as we drove through pouring rain and puddles halfway to my knee. My bike sounded much better and started easier after it’s time with the mechanic.
Another trip to the mechanic

Another trip to the mechanic

We didn’t set off until the afternoon so we could enjoy the good weather and the beaches before we left. I decided I would check out Thap Bahn It. It’s a group of ancient towers built in the 10th century by the Cham people. According to Google Maps it was 20k to get there, but Google took me on a route through washed out, single track dirt roads, and through a rice field, and I still wasn’t there. A local was able to point me in the right direction once I was close. The towers were neat, but then I headed back to the hotel to pack up my bike and check out. We got some lunch (good old fish and chips, we were in a beach town) before setting off to Tuy Hoa.
An old Cham temple on top of a hill, you could see for miles all around from here

An old Cham temple on top of a hill, you could see for miles all around from here

Tuy Hoa was about 95k away. The sun was shining as we set off and our route was along the coast. It was great to be riding without a poncho on. The sea was on our left and mountains on our right. It was a relatively uneventful ride so we could take it all in and enjoy it. We made it to Tuy Hoa by about 4:00.
On the road to Tua Hoy

On the road to Tuy Hoa

Tomorrow we head to Nha Trang. It’s one if the spots in Vietnam I’ve been most looking forward to visiting. It’s a little under 130k, we’re considering getting an early start to the morning to get to Nha Trang before lunch.
Day 13: Tuy Hoa to Nha Trang

Day 13 we woke up with some of the worst conditions we’ve seen. The wind was rattling the windows and the rain was going sideways. Fortunately by the time we had the bikes ready to go the wind had slowed down and the rain had briefly stopped.

We had a little under 130k to travel to Nha Trang, where we would be spending the next 3 or 4 nights. Nha Trang is known for beaches so I was hoping for some sun and lots of relaxing, but first we needed to get there.
It started spitting early into our journey.  Light rain turned into a shower as we went through some mountains, but it tailed off when we came down the other side. Around 40k we stopped for fuel, and a quick stop turned into 45 minutes when the sky’s opened up. We waited out the rain, and got back on the road when it had stopped.  We had some serious potholes to deal with at times today. The dryer conditions (relatively) made them easier to see, but we did fly through some bad ones.
We stopped 20k outside Nha Trang for lunch. The bikes needed a rest and it was a great spot on the water.
Where we stopped for lunch

Where we stopped for lunch

When we got back on the roads the sky was finally blue and we had great weather to finish our ride.
Blue sky in Nha Trang

Blue sky in Nha Trang

In Nha Trang we met back up with Beegan and Danny. They went up through the mountains and then came back down while we went down the coast.
Tomorrow I’m planning on a little running and a day on the beach. I’m looking forward to it.
Day 14: Off Day in Nha Trang
Day 14 was the first day I’ve had completely off the bike since we’ve had them. I didn’t drive around town or take it to the mechanics. I spent the day enjoying the beach in Nha Trang, running, and getting a massage. We don’t leave Nha Trang until the day after tomorrow so I’ll get her out tomorrow to make sure she’s in tiptop shape the make the trek to Dalat.
An off day on the beach in Nha Trang (the waves don't mess around here)

An off day on the beach in Nha Trang (the waves don’t mess around here)

Day 15: Off Day in Nha Trang

Day 15 was another day off travel in Nha Trang, but today I did get on my bike. I road along the coast to take in the scenery and get some pictures for about an hour. My bike seems to rattle more than when I began the trip than as I ride it. Later today I may go to the mechanic to get that looked at. I should likely get some air put into my rear tire.

It’s a rainy day today so I’m glad we don’t have big distances to cover. Tomorrow we’re headed to Dalat for a couple nights. From there it’s Mui Ne and then our end point in Ho Chi Minh City. Barring any major problems we only have 3 travel days left.
Nha Trang

Nha Trang

Day 16: Nha Trang to Dalat

Day 16 was a tough day. We were headed to Dalat, about 145k away. It would be a harder drive because we were headed back inland, and through mountains.

We planned to head off to Dalat by 8:30 but the heavy rain had up push that back until 9:00. When we did leave we got pretty lucky with weather for the first bit. Nothing but some isolated spitting for our first 70k. We stopped to take pictures at about that point and saw some people who had been coming from Dalat that were drenched. Once we got back on the road the weather quickly got very bad. The rain was teeming down and the fog made it very difficult to see anything. As we continued upwards there was a time I couldn’t see Storey just in front of me, or James just behind. I just focused on the road. I had to ride with my visor up because it was so foggy, and the rain felt like little pellets on my face. As we were going up the temperature was also dropping. We were soaking wet, cold, and could barely see. Not an ideal combination.
A view down the mountain just before we ascended into the rain

A view down the mountain just before we ascended into the rain

Around the 95k mark we stopped for food, hot soup to try to warm up. James was telling us how bad his bike sounded. There was a mechanic across the street so he decided to take his bike over. As it turns out a piece of his chassis had rusted through and cracked, it was the piece that connected the rear wheel to the frame. The mechanic had the part to fix it, and the repair took a little over an hour.
The broken piece from James' frame

The broken piece from James’ frame

Once we were back on the road the worst weather had subsided. The rain slowed, but did keep coming down. The terrain we were covering was really nice, but it was hard to fully appreciate it because we were cold, wet and tired.
We did make it to Dalat, but the whole journey took almost 6.5 hours. We’re going to stay here tomorrow and then likely head back to the coast and Mui Ne the day after.
Day 17: Off day in Dalat

Day 17 was a non-travel day in Dalat. We spent the day on a tour that took up canyoning down some waterfalls and cliff diving. When we got back I decided I’d take my bike to the mechanic. My bike seemed to be really struggling going up and down the mountains, especially when I would first get on the throttle. Also, I’ve had an issue with my bike cutting out during city driving.

Off day Canyoning in Dalat

Off day Canyoning in Dalat

3-2-1 drop!

3-2-1 drop!

At the mechanics there were able to get the low speed idle sorted out relatively quickly. With the help of google translate I was able to get the mechanic to take my bike for a test ride. When he returned he immediately took off the chain cover and inspected the chain, and gears on either end of it. He told me both were well past the point where they should have been replaced. It cost me 260,000dong for all the work they did (about $14.50), it was my first real (relatively) costly repair. My bike is definitely better at low speeds. I didn’t take it out for much of a cruise cause it was dark and wet, but hopefully all will be well for tomorrow’s ride.
Tomorrow we’re headed back to the coast and Mui Ne, about 160k away. It’s our last planned stop before finishing our ride in Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 18: Dalat to Mui Ne

Day 18 was the best ride to date. We set off from Dalat just after 8:00am to beat the rain that was supposed to come in later on in the morning. We had about 165k ahead of us to Mui Ne, and the first part was going to be through mountains.

We haven’t had the best luck in mountain regions. It seems like the sky has opened up every time we’ve gone through them. But today was different. It was mostly downhill leaving Dalat.  Then turns weren’t too tight and traffic wasn’t too heavy, which lead to a fast, fun descent. Outside Dalat we started working our way back up. The roads began to get pretty bad; big potholes that ran right across the road and areas where the road was gone and it was just gravel littered the roadway. This slowed us down some, but with the weather we were enjoying it didn’t dampen our spirits.
When we got to the top the view was one of the most incredible I’ve ever seen. You could see for miles, and the land changed from mountainous to farmland to desert. It was really pretty.
The view

The view

Right after we passed the peak the temperature climbed 7 or 8*C. The sun was out and it was getting hot. Coming down the other see we had the same rough roads to deal with. We took our time and enjoyed it. There was scarcely another car or bike on the road so we could maneuver around most of the worst bits.
When we got onto flat land on the other side we noticed a really dark cloud following up. We didn’t stop for lunch and decided to push through to try to beat the rain. I’ve never been to the desert before, so it was really awesome getting to drive through one. The green of the mountains and farmlands turned into red sand. The wind picked up too. We were starting to bake in the sun, but I’d take that over rain any day. I loved riding through the sand dunes.
Eventually we made it to the coast, which we would follow all the way to Mui Ne. We had the coast on our left and red dunes on the right. It was incredible.
Red sand stretching into the sea

Red sand stretching into the sea

Today was my favourite day on the bike yet, and we only have 1 travel day remaining. The weather, the scenery, and just the vibe was all really great. Unfortunately Danny and  Beegan didn’t have as much luck. Each of them had their chain come off. Also, Beegan blew his rear tire, lost control of his bike, and went down. Luckily he wasn’t hurt and just had some scratches down his side to show for it.
Tomorrow is a day to relax in Mui Ne before we make the final trek into Ho Chi Minh City on Monday.
Day 19: Off day in Mui Ne

Day 19 was a day off day from travel. I did make the 10k trip to the red sand dunes to check them out. The road was smooth and you could see the sea on the right almost the whole way. My bike seems to work great, besides a squeaky rear brake.

My camera makes the red sand look beige

My camera makes the red sand look beige

We had great weather here all day. I managed to fit in some lounging on the beach, and tried my hand at wind surfing (I won’t be quitting my day job).
My kite surfing instructor and I

My kite surfing instructor and I

Tomorrow is our last travel day. It’s about 220k to Ho Chi Minh City. I won’t be in a rush to sell my bike right when I arrive, I’ll want to do a day trip to the tunnels used in the war, but it is something I’ll need to start thinking about.
Day 20: Mui Ne to Ho Chi Minh City

Day 20 the bikes and weather put up a final stand to break our spirits.

The day started off well. Blue sky and coast was the start of our day. Once we hit the A1 things weren’t so rosy. It seemed more congested that in days past and the drivers were far more aggressive. The sun was beating down on us as we drove, but given the weather we have had I really didn’t mind.
We stopped for lunch with about 45k to go. We hoped to have just over an hour left after lunch. We were wrong. The route Google was going to have us take didn’t allow motorbikes. This meant we had to find a new route that would end up adding 15k to our journey. As we began making our way along the new route my bike started to sputter. I’d be driving along and then the revs would suddenly drop. I had some concern about this but figured we were so close to the hostel, inside 40k, that I’d be able to make it. I kept going along until I decelerated to go around a toll station and the bike cut out. Fortunately my bike quit right in front of a mechanic. The first thing he did was check the oil. Oil was low so he topped it up. I got back on the bike hoping this was the only problem. I started the bike but it quickly died. He took another look at it and began testing the electrical. He ended up taking off the transmission cover and determining that it was an electrical coil inside there that was a problem. 40 minutes and $9 later I was back on the road.
One last breakdown with 30k to go

One last breakdown with 30k to go

By this time clouds had moved in. The rain started slowly but kept building. By the time we were inside the city with less than 5k to go it began to pour. We were forced off the road with less than 2k to go. There were lots of turns to navigate and with the rain it was impossible to navigate on the bike with my phone.  Once the rain stopped we go back on the road and finished the trip.
The end is near, Ho Chi Minh is just up the road (and so is the rain!)

The end is near, Ho Chi Minh is just up the road (and so is the rain!)

The drivers around Ho Chi Minh City are mental. Drivers pull ahead on reds and cause ridiculous grid lock. Others will not look and pull out across the street. It was a really frustrating drive. But we made it and the ride is done. The only thing left to do is sell the bikes!

Hanoi, Vietnam

Mai Chau, Vietnam

Yen Cat, Vietnam

Vinh, Vietnam

Phong Nha, Vietnam

Dong Hoi, Vietnam

Hue, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

Quang Ngai, Vietnam

Quy Nhon, Vietnam

Tuy Hoa, Vietnam

Nha Trang, Vietnam

Da Lat, Vietnam

Mui Ne, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Luang Prabang: Beautiful waterfalls

Luang Prabang: Beautiful waterfalls

Last year I only made it to Vientiane, and Vang Vieng in Laos.  I heard from loads of other travellers how great Luang Prabang was, I just didn’t have time.  So I was keen to spend some time there on this trip, both to see the waterfalls, and because I had read there was some good running.

Cycling through Luang Prabang

Cycling through Luang Prabang

Waterfalls

Most people go to Luang Prabang to see the Kuang Si Falls.  They’re about an hour away by tuk tuk.  A group of us from the hostel set out together to check them out.  Prior to heading out we’d been told to make sure we trekked all the way to the top first, and not stop in any of the pools otherwise we would likely not make it to the top.

When we arrived we were charged 20,000kip admission (the standard price for a lot of things in LP).  We began to walk to the falls and came across a bear sanctuary.  They were small black bears, I’m not sure what the purpose was of having them there, but we did stop briefly for pictures before continuing on.

Past the bears we got into the real good stuff.  We could hear running water and before long the lower falls came into view.  They were beautiful, but we decided not to stop, we would work our way up to the top and then enjoy them as we came down.

Getting to the top of the last waterfall was a trek.  It was a mix of slippery stairs, steep dirt inclines, and some hard work.  But we made it all the way up.  The view was nice, but not incredible from the top.  Nobody dared get too close to the edge, and the thick green foliage made it difficult to see out into the distance.  Nevertheless I’m glad we did make it up there.

The view from the top

The view from the top

Getting down from the top was far more difficult then getting up.  Most of us weren’t in proper shoes and the ground was very slick and very steep.  It was a long way down and seemed to take us forever.

When we did make it down to the bottom of the first falls, and the first pool, we were rewarded with a gorgeous pool all to ourselves.  Usually it is very busy, but we just happened to arrive at the perfect time, and got to swim around for half an hour before anyone else joined us.

The pool at the first falls

The pool at the first falls

Another shot

Another shot

From there we went down to the two lower pools, enjoying the relief of the cold water from the blazing hot sun.  The Kuang Si Falls really are incredible!

Sitting in the pool

Me and my great tan lines!

It's a beautiful place

It’s a beautiful place

Not a bad place to spend the day

Not a bad place to spend the day

Sunset

Phu Si Hill in the centre of town is a really popular spot to watch the sunset.  It’s about 355 stairs that carve back and forth across the hill.

The climb is worth it, once you make it to the top you get a panoramic view of Luang Prabang, and a great vantage point to watch the sunset.

The view from Phu Si Hill at sunset

The view from Phu Si Hill at sunset

The area at the top is small and crowded, there were likely 100 people up there all jostling for position to take the perfect picture, but it’s worth it.  (It’s 20,000kip to be allowed to the top)

A view from the top

A view from the top

What everybody's here for

What everybody’s here for

Temples

Luang Prabang had a number of temples.  This trip I’ve made visiting EVERY temple less of a priority and just see what I see.  The most interesting thing I saw at a temple was at Wat Prah Buddhabat.  If you look inside a small cave it looks like there’s a large footprint.  They claim it’s Buddha’s footprint.

Buddha's footprint

Buddha’s footprint

Buddha statues

Buddha statues

Luang Prabang loosely translates to 'the land of many steps'.  They don't make the temples easy to get to.

Luang Prabang loosely translates to ‘the land of many steps’. They don’t make the temples easy to get to.

Royal Palace

The old Royal Palace has been turned into a museum.  It’s set up as though royals still lived there, and you can walk through and check it out.  It’s not on the level of a European palace, but nice none-the-less.  There were vast rooms with little in them, lots of wicker chairs (I assume to let the heat out), and grand furniture.  It was a good way to spend an hour or so and get some culture.  (They didn’t allow photos inside, so I’ve got none)

Monks

The procession of monks is a popular sight for tourists in Luang Prabang.  Every morning a procession of monks makes their way through the streets, collecting donations and offering blessings.  It happens very early, around sun rise.  During two of my runs I was up early enough to see it (because I was running I didn’t get any photos).  I don’t know a lot about the tradition of this.  The monks appeared to be lined up oldest to youngest.  I’m glad I got to see it.

Bowling

Luang Prabang (and I think all of Laos) has an 11:30PM curfew.  This means anyone looking for some nightlife needs to get this fill by 11:30PM.  Thankfully for those night-owls Luang Prabang has a late night bowling alley.  The way the night usually works out is people go to a bar called Utopia for about 9:30PM, stick around there until 11:30, and then have one of the many waiting tuk tuk drivers take you to the bowling alley.  That is what we did.  The bowling alley is a considerable way out of town and not walkable.  I don’t remember how much a tuk-tuk was, but it wasn’t much.  When you arrive you see it really is just a standard 10-pin bowling alley.  They were playing loud music, and serve liquor, but besides that it’s a bowling alley.  I thought it may be neon, or glow in the dark, but it looks like somewhere a family might go.  It cost 10,000 or 20,000kip per person, per game (about $1.25 or $2.50), I don’t remember, and you just wear whatever shoes you have on.  It was good fun, but not something I need to do every night.

Bowling fancy with the leg kick

Bowling fancy with the leg kick

When I bowl I tend to leave a number of the pins untouched

When I bowl I tend to leave a number of the pins untouched

Running

Luang Prabang is a great spot for running, so long as you get out early in the morning (it can be really hot during the day).  The day I arrived in Luang Prabang I did a simple out and back.  All of my runs after that were a loop, a little over 5k, that followed the river most of the way.  I ran at least 1 loop every morning, and I got in 2 long runs, each of 4 loops.  James, a friend I met from the UK, joined me for a lap two mornings.  Besides getting in some longer runs I was also able to do some short intervals.  I was really happy with how my legs felt and how I was running.

HERE is a link to one of my Garmin files.

My loop route in Luang prabang

My loop route in Luang prabang

Food

From my trip to Laos last year I knew I didn’t love a lot of traditional Lao food.  There was nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t have very strong flavours (Laap is a minced pork and mint salad).  But there is a strong French influence, and you get a lot of baguettes and sandwiches.

Sandwiches

I had a lot of sandwiches in Luang Prabang.  They must grow avocados locally because all the sandwich stalls offer them.  The sandwich stalls are pretty much all in one area, near the night market, in a line.  They all offer the same menu.  Chicken and avocado was my go to.  One night I did venture to try a sandwich from a stall on a side street where a number of locals eat.  It was tasty, but I don’t really know what was on it.  (I did fall ill the day after it though, so maybe it wasn’t my best decision)

Chicken and avocado sandwich

Chicken and avocado sandwich

All the sandwiches stalls have an identical look and menu

All the sandwiches stalls have an identical look and menu

Crepes

One of the sandwich stalls made crepes as well.  Banana/nutella/condensed milk was a favourite of mine.  I did also have a couple of savoury chicken/avocado ones, it was a nice change from eating so much bread when I would get a sandwich.

Crepe and a shake for lunch

Crepe and a shake for lunch

Night Market

Every night one of the main streets shuts down for a night market.  Down one of the alleys there’s all sorts of vendors offering vegetarian buffets.  It cost 15,000kip (about $2) and you were allowed to fill your bowl to the brim once.  There was noodles, rice, spring rolls, some vegetables, and tofu.  It was all in different sauces.  I would get my moneys worth packing my bowl.  Once you’ve filled your bowl they’ll heat it up for you.  I always left very full (mostly off starch).  If you wanted meat there was a number of BBQs along the alley where you could be chicken, pork, beef, fish, etc.

The selection at one of the vegetarian buffets

The selection at one of the vegetarian buffets

The buffet alleys are a popular spot

The buffet alleys are a popular spot

Shakes

The unofficial food of SE Asia, shakes!  I usually have some sort of banana shake.  In Luang Prabang the shake stands also had yogurt and Oreos, so I would always get banana/yogurt/oreo.  It was basically a milkshake, and always thoroughly enjoyed.

The unofficial food of travellers in SE Asia

The unofficial food of travellers in SE Asia

From Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang

From Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang

While I was in Chiang Rai I was able to sort out my route to Luang Prabang.  There are all sorts of companies that offer packages that include pickup from Chiang Rai, bus to Huay Xai, Laos, and then take a two day slow boat to Luang Prabang.  I’ve heard the slow boat can be very scenic, but I wasn’t much interested in 2 days on a boat.  Instead my plan was to take a local bus to somewhere near the Thai/Laos border, walk across the border, and then take an overnight bus from the other side.  The overnight bus was scheduled to leave at 6:00PM, and should arrive in Luang Prabang around 6:00-7:00AM.

I departed my hostel just after 8:00AM with plans of getting some food and then catching the 9:00AM bus.  But at as I was walking through the bus station I saw an 8:30AM bus.  I had snacks in my bag so I decided to take this one.

It was a local bus, and I was the only foreigner on it.  Space was tight, there wasn’t enough leg room to sit properly, so I had to sit with my legs to the side.  Fortunately there weren’t too many passengers so I didn’t have anyone next to me.

They drive with the door open

They drive with the door open

The bus dropped me off at the side of the road outside of Chiang Kong, Thailand.  There was a tuk tuk driver waiting to bring me to the border.

The view from the tuk tuk

The view from the tuk tuk

Nobody else was around when I arrived so I had my pick of Visa and Immigration agents.  It didn’t take long and in no time I had exited Thailand.  From there it’s a quick shuttle across the bridge to enter into Laos.  Again, there was almost nobody else there and I was officially in Laos.

I made my way to the bus station to book a ticket for the overnight bus.  The bus station wasn’t far from the border and before noon I had my bus ticket in hand. I was hungry so I had a tuk tuk driver take me to the morning market.  It was a happening place, but there wasn’t much in the way of prepared food, so I walked towards the main street to find some food.  I killed the early part of the afternoon at a couple of cafe’s with wifi and eventually made my way to the bus for around 5:30PM.

The main street running parallel to the Mekong

The main street running parallel to the Mekong

The bus was supposed to leave at 6:00PM, and at that time the bus was only about 1/3 full.  I was looking forward to a bus journey where I could stretch out.  I wasn’t so lucky, we didn’t leave until almost 7:00PM, and in that time shuttle buses coming from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai had filled just about every spot on the bus. Just before we finally departed I took a gravol, I wanted the drowsy effects and had heard the ride was full of twists and turns.

My view inside the bus

My view inside the bus

Surprisingly I was able to dose off now and again over the first part of the journey.  The ride was just as advertised, very twisty, and the ride was cramped.  I must admit that for the really bad part of the trip I was mostly asleep.  I like to join in the complaining about it, but really I didn’t feel most of the negative effects.  That part of the journey I’ve pieced together from others on the bus.  Some time around 1AM our bus go stuck in the mud.  The driver tried to work his way out but we were in it deep. (I can say that I did know we were stuck in the mud.  I woke up and the bus wasn’t moving.  I assumed it was a bathroom stop so I got off the bus to pee.  When I stepped out of the bus I was in mud.  I assumed we just pulled off into a field, and went back to my seat and fell back to sleep).  The driver eventually had to put chains in the wheels.  This took about an hour, and then another hour to get them off on the other side after we made it through the mud.  For those who couldn’t sleep it made a long bus journey even longer.

 

Things were relatively uneventful after the mud until around 6:00AM when the sun rose.  This is when I woke up for good.  It was nice to see the scenery, but it was not so nice to see the route the driver was taking us on.  We were screaming around corners, pushing smaller oncoming vehicles to the shoulder as we swung wide.  To add insult to injury the road wasn’t exactly in tip-top condition.  The driver was nice enough to use the horn quite liberally as he approached blind corners to warn on-comers of the looming threat.  We raced through small villages, and up and down mountains.  I can only imagine this is how the driver drove the whole time, fortunately we just couldn’t see the threat at night.

Deep gashes seemed to be a signature of the road on this journey

Deep gashes seemed to be a signature of the road on this journey

Lots of road under repair too

Lots of road under repair too

There was some very pretty scenery along the way

There was some very pretty scenery along the way

We did make it to Luang Prabang, and in one piece, just after 9:00AM.  This was 2-3 hours behind schedule, and without much quality sleep.  My plan was to find a hostel and crash for the day.