5 Things I Learned Running in Southeast Asia

5 Things I Learned Running in Southeast Asia

Over the past 10 weeks in Southeast Asia I’ve run over 500km across 5 countries (Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia). I couldn’t even begin to count the number of kids that have said hello and given me high fives, the villages I’ve passed through, the number of sunrises I’ve watched, or how many dogs have chased after me.  I usually ran first thing in the morning, and how different a place can be at sun up; locals are heading into work, monks are walking the streets, food stalls are prepping breakfast (aka turning a live chicken into the meat skewer you’ll be buying when you stumble out of bed).  Most of my runs we’re really hot, and I didn’t always want to lace up my shoes, but there isn’t a run I wish I didn’t do.

Running in Chiang Mai

Running in Chiang Mai

1. Beware of dogs

The dogs you come across in SE Asia aren’t like the cute little house pets you come across back home.  Most dogs are either wild or they’re guard dogs; either way you need to be careful.  A wild dog is essentially a wild animal.  Sure it may look similar to your neighbours pup, but it isn’t.  A wild dog is very territorial, as well as a scavenger.  A guard dog is slightly more domesticated than a wild dog, but don’t expect him to sit and roll over on command.  A guard dog is there to protect property.  There was rarely a run in Asia where a dog didn’t bark at me.  I’d say at least a third of my runs I had a dog chase me, but there were only a couple times where I really felt threatened.  In those instances I put trust in my legs and took off, the dog always gave up inside 100m.  In talking to a couple other runners over here some run with a rock in their hand and if a dog chases them they stop, hold the rock up ready to throw and make a loud grunting sound.  They claim this would always stop a dog in its tracks.  I never gave this a try, I have more confidence in my legs than my arm, and besides, it’s basically just an unplanned interval!

This guy was friendly, I don't actually have any photos of the aggressive ones because I was too busy running away

This guy was friendly, I don’t actually have any photos of the aggressive dogs because I was too busy running away

2. Cash and ID

When I run I always carry cash and my ID (drivers license).  Cash is king, and with a couple of bucks in my pocket I could run knowing I’d be fine in most-any situation.  I only ever had to use the money if I got thirsty and needed to stop for water, but I also had it incase I got lost and needed to get a tuk tuk, or if something happened and I needed to be bandaged up.  The ID was incase something more catastrophic happened, I’m not at home and barely anyone knows me or would know how to find out who I am, so an ID would be useful in that scenario.

You're not back home, always carry cash and an ID just in case

You’re not back home, always carry cash and an ID just in case

3. Out and back

Almost all of my runs were an out and back.  If I wanted a 10k run I ran 5k along a road, turned around, and then ran 5k back.  It helped prevent me from getting lost.  If I was somewhere that had easily identifiable landmarks (the moat in Chiang Mai, or the statues in Phnom Penh) I might run a loop, but otherwise it was my foolproof way to not get lost.  I tried running with my phone to follow a route a couple times but I found I spent more time looking at my phone to ensure I was on track than I did taking in the run.

Keep the run routes simple

Keep the run routes simple

4. Explore

In most places the areas tourists keep to are remarkably small.  Sure people my take a tuk tuk or bike to a place of interest, but they don’t wander more than 500m from the main street where they’re staying.  On a run you quickly run outside this area, and life can look very different.  English quickly disappears, and reality of local living is quickly apparent.  Restaurants with wifi are quickly replaced by humble huts with a cook fire or hot plate.  I’m sure the economic impact of the tourist centres skew local life from what it would traditionally be, but getting outside of the main street bubble lets you see what life (and their struggles) are really like in the areas you visit.

An abandoned rail station I found on a run in Kampot

An abandoned rail station I found on a run in Kampot

5. Smile

In SE Asia there aren’t many people that run.  For most locals it’s just not a productive use of their time.  This means that when they see someone run (especially a white guy) a lot of people look and point.  There are also kids that will run alongside you.  Don’t forget to smile and enjoy all of this.  Many of the kids will wave and say hello, and a hello in return can put a big smile on their face.  Take it all in, some things are just more important than hitting paces on your intervals halfway around the world.

Exploring Pai

What’s not to love when the place you run looks like this?   (Pai, Thailand)

 

 

 

Chiang Mai Half Marathon Race Report

Chiang Mai Half Marathon Race Report

After making my Asian debut at the Thailand International Half Marathon in Bangkok last Sunday I made my white shorts debut at the Chiang Mai Half Marathon this Sunday (Dec 21).  My race was alright, not quite as quick as I hoped, but another useful run to have under my belt as I prepare to head back home and get into serious training.

White shorts making their debut

White shorts making their debut

Pre Race

I was better prepared leading into this race than I was for the race in Bangkok.  I arrived in Chiang Mai from Pai on Thursday and then didn’t have a lot planned for my time in Chiang Mai.  One thing I was trying to do was battle a bit of a cold I picked up in Pai.  Most of my travels have been in hot, tropical places, but Pai wasn’t like that.  It never got hot, and got really cool at night.  I think my body was a little shocked by this.  I was popping Fishermans Friends like it was my job and drinking lots of water to try to avoid, or at least delay, the cold.

The day before the race was kit pickup at the Three Kings Monument.  Where I was staying was only a couple hundred meters from the monument, which was also the start/finish.  I got to kit pickup right when it opened at 10AM.  I’m glad I did, it was very disorganized and slow.  I was 3rd in line and it took me 15 minutes to get my bib.

Long line to get your bib

Long line to get your bib

After that I just relaxed for the day.  I planned to have basically all my eating done by 6PM.  Food for the day included a couple of banana-Nutella crepes, some chicken and rice, a chicken and avocado salad, and some pesto pasta.  There was a dinner and performances that the race was putting on at the start/finish.  I wandered over there to have a look and I munched on my second crepe of the day.  I’m glad I chose not to eat at their dinner.  I didn’t see what food was being served but the line was long, and they hadn’t started serving by 6:15.  I watched a bit of the dancing on stage before heading back to my room.

Pre race pasta

Pre race pasta

I turned off all of the lights in my room around 8:00PM to try to trick my body into falling asleep early.  I think I pushed the time a little too early because at 10:30PM I was still trying to fall asleep.

Race Morning

My alarm rang at 3:10AM.  I had picked up some banana bread and a blueberry muffin for breakfast (similar to what I ate last weekend).  I ate these right away, and washed them down with a small bottle of Thai sports drink.  At about 3:40AM I headed to the start to see the marathon start at 4:00AM.  4:00AM was also the time I decided I’d stop drinking fluids before the start of my race.  I watched the marathoners go off and then headed back to my room.

Marathon pace bunnies with balloons.

Marathon pace bunnies with balloons.

I didn’t leave my room until 4:40AM.  It was a little chilly outside, and I’d been there so I knew that there was nothing I needed to do before the start except actually get there.  When I got to the start I made my way into the start corral.  Seeding wasn’t AS BAD as in Bangkok, but it still wasn’t great.  I ended up 4 rows back.  There was a couple right at the front that were still taking photos when they announced 30 seconds to the start.

The Race

Off the gun I had to side step around a couple people in front of me over the first 50m or so before the roads cleared up.  There were a couple others that took off fast; one was up the road and would continue to accelerate away from me over the entire race, the others I was able to move ahead of at my pace as we reached the first turn about 300m up the road.  I’d run the first 4k and the last 2.5k of the course in the days before the race, and from my running here in October I felt I knew the moat portion of the race relatively well.  It was a bazar feeling being in a race half way around the world and feeling like I knew a chunk of the coarse better than I’d known the majority of the courses I’ve run back home.  About 2k into the race I was passed by another runner moving much quicker than I was.  Given my current fitness I knew I couldn’t hold his pace, and I let him run by.  He was in a bright yellow shirt so I was able to see him as he ran into the distance.  When I took a glance back I couldn’t see anyone (partly because it was so dark).  This is about the way it stayed throughout the race.  Besides the turnaround at the 13k point where you can see other runners on the way back, I didn’t see any other racers.  I did have someone who was banditing the race run next to me from about 8k to near the finish.  My head still wasn’t really in the race so we chatted a bit.  Maybe I would have gotten into the zone if I would have kept to myself, but chatting did help pass the km’s.

Marathon/half route

Marathon/half route

Besides the opening km and the closing km, all my splits were over 4:00/km (my slowest was 4:16).  There were a couple aid stations with water spread out around the course, I didn’t take any sort of gel or calories during the run.  There were also some distance markers around the course, but they seemed inconsistent in their spacing, and I’d heard that this race is historically long.  Around 17-18k I wasn’t feeling great; my legs were heavy and my stomach was hurting, but I did my best to keep my foot turnover high.  When I ran past the hospital I knew I had 2.5km to go (from my run a couple days earlier), despite the fact my watch already read 19.2km.  At this point the sun was coming up and I trying to enjoy the moment and what I was doing (this was going to be one of my last days in Asia), as opposed to thinking about the discomfort.  I made my way inside the moat and my banditing running partner pulled off while I gave it all I had left to get to the finish line.  I crossed in 1:28:35, good enough for 1st in my AG and 3rd overall.

Post Race

After the race a 1 lanyard was hung around my neck.  I later learned it was to identify AG winners for awards.  Also, a bottle of water and a McDonalds burger was pushed into my hands.  The post race food here was not on the same level as Bangkok, but it did the trick.  My hotel was just a minute from the finish so I went back to take a shower and change before returning for the awards and continue to watch the finishers come in.  The half marathon when off an hour after the full, so we were the first finishers in.

Post race

Post race

I didn’t have much in the way of thought for my race.  I enjoyed the experience, but I didn’t think I had a very good or very bad day.  I’m not fit like I was before I left, but I’m not as unfit as I was towards the end of my trip last year.  I just don’t have a ton to say about this event either way.

While waiting for the awards to start I got a massage.  Unlike races here where you lay on a bed or table, I was in a chair and the masseuse rubbed my feet and calves. Later in the day I’d spend the $7 to get a proper Thai massage from one of the countless number of places that offer them in Chiang Mai.

Post race massage

Post race massage

After the massage and awards I went back to my room and had a bit of a nostalgic moment with my running shoes.  The award was rather large, so if I wanted to fit it in my bag something needed to stay behind.  Both pairs of running shoes I had with me in Asia were no longer needed, and just as well because they were both pretty well worn out.  That meant that they would draw the short straw and stay behind.  After over 500km, 5 countries, and 2 races, their day had come.

Awards

Awards

Thailand International Half Marathon Race Report

Thailand International Half Marathon Race Report

The Thailand International Half Marathon on Dec. 14 was my debut race in Asia!  It didn’t go as well as I hoped it would, but it also didn’t go as bad as I feared it might.

 

Pre Race

Pre-race was a little different than most races I’ve done.  I flew from Phnom Penh to Bangkok around dinner time on Friday.  Bangkok traffic is ridiculous, and after almost 2 hours I had finally made it from the airport to the hostel where I was staying at about 9:30PM.

The day before the race I couldn’t pick up my race kit until 2PM so I decided to check out some of the malls in Bangkok, I recalled from last year some of them had great Christmas displays.  Long story short when I was headed back to my guesthouse I got really lost, my phone died, and I had almost no money.  Before my phone died I saw that if I continued walking on the road I was on it would lead me to the river near my guesthouse.  About an hour and a half and 7km later I was back at my hostel, a little tired and frustrated.  By this time it was almost 5PM so I needed to head out to pick up my race kit.  Figuring out how to cross the bridge was a bit of an adventure in itself, but I got across, and as I got to the ‘race expo’ all my frustration from the day disappeared and I was really excited to race.

After getting my kit I set out to find dinner and organize breakfast for the morning.  I decided to not even try to get foods that would be similar to what I’d usually eat before a race.  For dinner I had chicken and steamed rice with chilli sauce, and some chicken broth, as opposed to my usual spaghetti.  For breakfast I picked up a blueberry muffin, chocolate chip cake, banana bread, peanuts, and a bottle of sports drink, I’d decide what I would have in the morning.  It was lights out around 9:30PM because I had a 5:15AM start in the morning.

Chicken and rice for dinner

Chicken and rice for dinner

Race Morning

I was up at 3:15AM.  I immediately ate the blueberry muffin, chocolate chip mini cake, and a small bottle of sports drink.  I also began working on a bottle of water.  I laid everything out the night before so I didn’t have a lot I had to do.  I left my guesthouse around 4:15AM.  I decided I’d jog the 700m or so to the bridge as my warm-up.  My legs only felt okay, but my mind was ready to run, I was excited.

I was at the race site by 4:30AM, without a lot to do.  There were lots of people milling about or taking photos.  I made a final pit stop at the bathroom and then found a patch of grass to sit on.  The start/finish chute was decorated with flags from the different countries represented in the race, which I thought was a nice touch.

5:05AM they opened the start chute for runners to line up.  This wasn’t like other races I’ve done.  There was no seeding.  The front row of the start was filled with older Thai people.  I was 8 rows back from the front, I made sure to line up behind the Kenyans to give them a head start!  I expected to hear the Thai national anthem, but it never came.  Some sort of dignitaries spoke and then a horn sounded and we were off.

 

The Race

First 7k (29:53, 4:16/km)

It’s been a while since I’ve run 21.1k so I decided to break the race up into three 7k segments, I hoped each would take 30min or less.  Off the gun this race didn’t have the usual fast start most have.  The start/finish chute was narrow, and made narrower by both a gate 150m up the road and a car parked on the other side of the gate.  Additionally, there were a number of slower runners at the front that caused more congestion.  About 400m into the race there’s a 180* turnaround to go up an on ramp to a raised highway.  This was the only real ‘hill’ on the course.  My opening km was 4:27.  Over the next few km’s I just tried to settle into a good pace that I thought I could hold over 21k.   The race quickly thinned out and I realized just how dark it was.  Fortunately the road surface was pretty good because it was difficult to see much more than a dozen feet ahead (it was really dark until I made it to the turnaround).  At this point my head wasn’t entirely in the race.  I was running without an iPod and I found my mind wandering.  I tried to bring my head back to running tall with my feet under me.  My splits were up and down in the first 7k, from 4:05-4:27, but I tried to focus on continuing to move forward.

 

Second 7k (28:38, 4:06/km)

The second 7k I began to get into a groove.  Almost every time I looked down at my watch I was running 4:06 pace.  It was at this point I began casting out the line and reeling in runners in front of me.  I felt like I was holding a steady effort and that pace was too quick for the runners I was passing to keep up with.  As I approached a runner or a group I’d already be looking ahead to my next target so I didn’t get complacent and sit on anyone’s hip.  If someone wanted to try to run with me I didn’t accelerate to drop them, I felt really steady, and mentally I was in a good place.  All my splits were between 4:02-4:08.

They gave us elastics at the turnaround at the far end of the course

They gave us elastics at the turnaround at the far end of the course

 

Final 6.5k {the course was short} (26:28, 4:04/km)

The final 6.5k I started to feel that familiar hurt.  I was beginning to count down km’s and think; 20mins or running, I can handle that, okay now just 16mins.  It was taking me longer to catch runners now that I had moved up through the field.  At about 18k the course turned into chaos.  The 5k had started and the bulk of the walkers were in and around the turnaround.  Some were taking photos, others sitting, some pushing strollers, and they took up almost the entire highway.  Over the next km congesting was really high and I had to weave in and out of a number of people.  By about 19k the people were spread out enough that I was able to take paths around walkers that didn’t require 90* turns.

On the way back the course crosses the Rama VIII bridge, a neat bridge that we started underneath.  I saw a runner moving well about 200m in front of me and I made it my goal to catch him in the final mile.  I turned on the jets and gave it everything I had as we made the turn at the turnaround back across the bridge and gave it everything I had left in the tank.  I managed to catch him on the off ramp from the bridge to the finish stretch.  I crossed the finish line in an unofficial time of 1:24:58 on a short course of only 20.6k, good for a 4:07 pace. (They didn’t post results and I haven’t been able to find them online, so I don’t know what my official time was)

Rama VIII turn around

Rama VIII turn around

Overall – 1:24:58 (20.6k), 4:07/km

 

Post Race

Just after the finish line my legs were a little wobbly, likely because I hadn’t run this sort of effort in about 9 weeks.  The course was short so I figured I’d be looking at about 1:27 on a proper course.  I wasn’t as fast as I hoped I would be, but I also wasn’t as slow as I worried I might be.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I would have loved to have run 4:00/km’s for 1:24:24, but I also wasn’t sure if I’d be able to manage 4:30’s for a 1:35:00.  So I felt good with my efforts.

Post race on the Rama VIII bridge

Post race on the Rama VIII bridge

The post race food was great!  There was the normal water and sports drink stands.  But that also had a tent where they were making chicken and rice, another that had rice and chicken soup, and there was some kind of soup and dumplings.   All the food was being prepared fresh in front of you.  They also had some fruit and sandwiches.  Fortunately I beat the rush so I was able to enjoy some chicken and rice with sweet chilli sauce, and then go back up for some chicken and rice soup.  I did notice when I was leaving that the lines were rather long, so maybe that’s why they don’t do this at races back home.  Either way, I loved it!

Chicken and rice after the race

Chicken and rice after the race

Up next I have the Chiang Mai Half Marathon next weekend (Dec 21).  Historically this race hasn’t been as competitive as this one, so I may be running near the front.  My plan is to tighten the screws a little further in Chiang Mai.  The 4:06’s I seemed to be running for the second half of the race will be the pace I plan to set off at.  If I feel good I’ll push a little closer to the edge than I did here in Bangkok.

Kampot Running Mini Camp

Kampot Running Mini Camp

During my 4 weeks motorbiking through Vietnam I didn’t get in a lot of quality running.  I decided that after 5 days on a beautiful beach on Koh Rong, where running was also non-existent, I would spend 5 or 6 nights in Kampot to do some serious running.  Kampot isn’t very big, and there isn’t too much to do.  This was perfect, because there would be lots of roads with light traffic to run, and during the day I could just relax without feeling like I needed to rush off to go on all sorts of different tours.  The hostel I’m staying (The Mad Monkey) at is perfect for this.  It has a pool, day beds, decent food, good wifi; all the ingredients to encourage lounging around.

My plan for running included 2 runs per day.  I’d do a quality run in the morning and an easy, optional run at sunset.  My goal was to get some quick fitness into my legs to help me through the Thailand International Half Marathon in Bangkok on Dec. 14, and the Chiang Mai Half Marathon Dec 21.  I don’t expect to come close to a PR on either course, but I figured a little running now would not only help me get through those races, but help me as I get into proper training when I get back home at Christmas.

These two guys were always there to greet me at 6AM, tails wagging

These two guys were always there to greet me at 6AM, tails wagging

 

Day 1 (Dec 3)

Today I arrived in Kampot from Sihanoukville.

AM Run: 8k easy in Sihanoukville.  I didn’t really have a run planned for the morning because I wasn’t in Kampot yet.  But when I woke up I decided I wanted to see a bit of Snooky and I’d give a short run a go.  My legs felt lousy to begin with, but they improved over the first couple of km’s.  (My Garmin file doesn’t seem to have uploaded)

PM Run: 5k easy in Kampot.  My plan was just to get a feel for running in Kampot.  Running in SE Asia there are things you have to consider that aren’t really a worry back home.  One of those things is road conditions.  Some roads are really just muddy stretches.  Also, aggressive dogs are something you need to aware of, and finding routes where there aren’t too many of them.  It can also be tricky to know what is a dirt road, and what is someone’s property and part of their farm.  I began running south from the  Mad Monkey (my hostel) and my plan was to run parallel to the river.  The road quickly turned to clay and then really sloppy mud.  I turned around and ran towards town.  I ended up running to the old bridge before turning back.  The sun sets over the river and the sky was all sorts of shades of orange and red, which made for a picturesque run.  HERE is my run file.

Other activities: Didn’t do much else in Kampot, most of the day was spent waiting for the bus and taking the 2 hour journey to get here.  I did have a really good BBQ chicken salad from a place called Rusty Keyhole in town.  I will definitely go back there.

The sun was setting during my evening run

The sun was setting during my evening run

 

Day 2 (Dec 4)

Today the work began, but I also hit a bit of a road block.

AM Run: My run was 12k with 5x1k pickups.  I did a 2k warmup and then alternated hard and easy km’s.  All of my hard km’s were sub4:00, not great by my pre SE Asia form, but I was happy I could still at least accomplish that.  I did briefly get chased by 1 dog during part of an easy km  but a local in the street promptly stopped the dog in its tracks.  I began my run at about 6:30AM.  I’m going to plan to start my other morning runs at 6:00AM.  It gets hot really fast as the sun rises (sun rise is about 6:00AM), I want to run in the light so if I start a little earlier it wont be quite as hot.  I was really happy to get my first tough run in the books.  HERE is my Garmin file.

PM Run: I planned on an easy 5-6k but I was exhausted after my activities today, so I gave it as pass.

Other activities: Danny was with me, he’s leaving tomorrow, so we rented motorbikes and headed for the Bokor National Park.  There’s a hill station, old church, temple, and incredible views from the top of the mountain.  We ended up riding around the park for about 5 hours.  As we were riding around I noticed km markers on the ground at the top of the mountain, and saw a touraround marker.  There must be a race in the park.  I didn’t realize how tired I was until we made it back to town and had lunch.  I was thinking about heading to the Temple in a Cave, which was only about 15k away because we had the bikes for the day, but I was way too tired.  Lunch was the BBQ chicken salad (again) and some chicken fajitas.

Bokor National Park

Bokor National Park

They claim there are still some tigers in the park

They claim there are still some tigers in the park

That was the good, there was also some bad.  It was raining really hard in the evening.  I was reading in the lobby of the hostel waiting for a break in the rain so I could run into town to get a big bottle of water (can’t drink the tap water) and a small snack to have something in my stomach before I ran.  Just before 10PM the rain broke so I hopped on the scooter I still had from earlier today to make the 1k trek to town.  I got to town, got what I needed to and headed back.  There’s no street lights where I need to make the turn to the street my hostel is on, just my scooter light.  I slowed right down so I could watch for it, just as it was coming up my front wheel got caught in a crack and I went down.  I was barely moving so the spill wouldn’t have been a problem if it was on pavement, but I fell on gravel.  I ended up scraping my left knee, left elbow, both hands, and some other really minor spots all over.  I didn’t hit my head, and notice was seriously hurt.  It was really dark so I couldn’t really see the condition of anything so I pickup up my bike and travelled the remaining 200m to the hostel.  Once inside I immediately hoped in the shower to rinse everything off.  I then used the first aid kit at the hostel to clean everything up best as I could.  I decided to be safe rather than sorry so I went to a local clinic.  They cleaned up my scrapes properly and bandaged up my knee and elbow.  I felt like an idiot for what happened, but realized it also could have been much worse.  I’m not sure how this will effect my running.

The 'operating room' where they cleaned me up

The ‘operating room’ where they cleaned me up

 

Day 3 (Dec 5)

Day 3 became an easy day after last nights accident.

AM Run: I chose to skip a run this morning just incase something flares up overnight.

PM Run: Easy 8k.  It was a great run.  I left the hostel running a little angry, I was upset with myself that I let yesterdays accident happen.  But before long I settled into a comfortable pace and my legs felt good.  I ran to an old train station.  Its abandoned now.  There use to be an old train parked there, but it must have been removed because I didn’t see it.  HERE is my Garmin file.

Old train station

Old train station

Other Activities: I didn’t stray too far away today.  I decided to wander around Kampot.  I got a late breakfast at the Rusty Keyhole.  They’re known for BBQ ribs, not really breakfast, but I decided to give them a go.  They were really good, I don’t eat ribs too often so it was a nice treat.  After that I walked around to see a few of the monuments (they seem to have them at the centre of all the roundabouts), and the prison.  After my run I went back to the clinic to get my bandages changed (their recommendation yesterday).  From there I stopped by a popular dessert place, Kampot Pie and Ice Cream, as a treat for being a good boy at the doctors.

Not quite local food but definitely tasty

Not quite local food but definitely tasty

 

Day 4 (Dec 6)

Day 4 was a really good run day.

AM Run: 8x800m.  I woke up today feeling tired.  I was up at 6:00AM to be running before it got too hot.  I felt okay during my 2k warmup, but after my first 800m  interval my legs felt dead.  At that point I decided my rests would be 500m walking to get lots of recovery, and I questioned how many repeats I would do (4 seemed like a good number).  After my 3rd interval I decided 6 would be my target number.  When I finished 5 I decided I’d just push through and finish the whole workout.  I’m really glad I did.  My times weren’t great, 2:53-3:00, but I survived it.  HERE is my Garmin file.

PM Run: Easy 5k.  My legs felt surprisingly good.  I didn’t push the pace at all, but I wasn’t dragging my legs around like I’d felt on other workouts.  HERE is the file for the run.

Not such a bad place to be running

Not such a bad place to be running

Other Activities: Today I took a bus to Kep.  It’s primarily a fishing village about 25k from here.  Most people take motorbikes, but after my little incident I decided the bus was for me.  The bus dropped me off at Kep Beach.  I first walked west along the water to see the White Lady Statue and the Big Crab.  The Big Crab is a huge crab statue in the water welcoming visitors to Kep.  From there I walked to the Crab and Seafood Market.  It was about 2k, and my legs weren’t loving me for not taking a tuk tuk in the heat.  At the market there’s all sorts of restaurants, but the main attraction is all the live seafood.  The pier is full of ladies offering to sell crab, shrimp, squid, and other fish.  I wanted some crab.  One of the ladies pulled in a crab trap that was in the water.  I got a half kilo, 4 crabs, which worked out to $2.  From there you take you live crabs to another group of ladies who cook them for you ($0.50 for their services).  I ended up with 4 steaming hot, fresh crabs in a bag.  I walked to the end of the dock to eat them, but I wasn’t totally sure how to go about doing that.  The crabs were small enough that with a little work the shell could be cracked with my hands.  It was really tasty.  I had my fill after 3 crabs and gave my last to some kids playing in the water.  It was a nice day trip and got me back to Kampot in time to relax before my evening run.

The giant crab in Kep

The giant crab in Kep

 

Day 5 (Dec 7)

Day 5 was another good run (and food) day.

AM Run:  I tightened the screws over 7k.  My plan for the run was to run at 4:30, 4:25, 4:20, 4:15, 4:10, 4:05, 4:00 (actually my original plan was to run 3k at 4:20, 3k at 4:10, and 3k at 4:00, but I decided I wasn’t fit enough for that).  I managed to beat all of those paces with km’s of 4:22, 4:16, 4:18, 4:14, 4:07, 4:03, 3:56.  Despite making the workout easier I was still really happy to get through it.  I felt like I was running strong in the middle km’s.  HERE is the file for the run.

PM Run: Easy 5.7k.  Weird number to run, but brings me to 69k over 5 days.  It’s a silly thing, but I’d rather be at 69k than 68.3k.  The run was alright, ran easy and tried to keep my legs loose.  It was a little hot when I went out but I managed.  HERE is the Garmin file.

Another sunset

Another sunset

Other Activities: I took a cooking class at Khmer Root Cafe.  I went there Thursday night and really enjoyed the Massaman Red Curry, so I went back to learn how it’s made.  I took some notes, so I’m hoping I can replicate it when I get home.  I also went back to the Khmer Root Cafe for dinner to try the Yellow Curry, a traditional Cambodian dish.  It was good, but the Massaman is much better.

Learning to make Massaman Curry (no high tech kitchen tools required)

Learning to make Massaman Curry (no high tech kitchen tools required)

 

Day 6 (Dec 8)

I forgot just how congested Phnom Penh is.

AM Run: 12k run w/ 10×1:00 pickups.  Today was an easier ‘hard’ run.  The last two mornings I’ve had tough runs that I really had to work for, so I decided today I’d still get in some quality but make the run a little easier.  My run was about 12.5k, and my legs felt good.  My pickups were in the neighbourhood of 3:4X pace, and I was under 5:00 when I was just cruising along.  This is a lot better than the 5:XX cruising pace I’ve had some of the other days.  I was happy with the run.  HERE is the Garmin file.

PM Run: Easy 5.5k.  From my one night in Phnom Penh on the way to Koh Rong I had forgotten how bad traffic can be.  Luckily there are two parks just over a km from here.  I ran to the parks, did a lap and a bit of each, and ran back.  I stopped to take a couple pictures along the way, I ended up running by all sorts of monuments.  Legs were a little tight at the start, likely from sitting on the bus for a good chunk of the day, but they loosened up as I went.

Other Activities: Okay so my mini camp was supposed to be in Kampot, but I decided to head to Phnom Penh today.  I enjoyed Kampot; nice place, good people, good food, dogs aren’t too much of a problem, but I had done all there is to do there.  Phnom Penh is a bigger city and there are a few different things I’m looking to do there.  So instead of just sitting around in Kampot for the day I hopped on a bus to PP.  I’ll do the final day of my run mini camp here in Phnom Penh tomorrow, and will likely continue running every day while in Phnom Penh, just not the quality and doubles.

As for what I did today I had a very interested conversation with a local tuk tuk driver that really made me think.  There’s too much to get into the details here, but maybe it’ll get it’s own post.

My run took me around the Independence Monument

My run took me around the Independence Monument

There were lots of statues in the park where I was running

There were lots of statues in the park where I was running

 

Day 7 (Dec 9)

The gas tank is on empty.

AM Run: 13k easy run.  My plan for today was to do a 2-3k warmp followed by a 20min 5k.  Very early on I realized that wasn’t happening.  It was a struggle to run low 5:00 km’s, my legs had no pop but were full of fatigue.  It was just after 6:00AM, and I was up and outside, so I figured I might as well keep running and see a bit of the city.  It crossed my mind to try to do some pickups, but my legs really were tired and I didn’t want to risk injury. I ended up running by the Independence Monument, the Royal Palace, along the water, by a driving range, and a small amusement park.  I kept looking for landmarks in the distance and running to them, it helped the time pass.  My 5:11 average pace is far from impressive, but I did like getting a few more km’s into my legs.  HERE is my Garmin file.

PM Run: No run.  I’ve thrashed my legs over the last couple days, so this afternoon I’ll let them rest.

Other Activities:   Today I visited the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.  Between 1975 and 1979 the Khmer Rouge slaughtered approximately 25% of the Cambodian population, primarily business people, doctors, lawyers, and other people of affluent stature.  The Killing Fields were essentially mass graves, and Tuol Sleng was a prison.  This isn’t the appropriate forum to go into detail, but suffice to say they’re sobering places.  If you don’t know about the Cambodian Genocide it’s worth learning about.

 

Week in Review

Total km: 100.61km

Total Runs: 11

My 1 week mini camp is over.  I managed to run just over 100k (100k became a goal mid week).  Overall I’m happy with how it went.  I ended up missing one quality run, a sub20:00 5k I planned on doing the final day, because I had nothing left in my legs.  I also missed a quality run my third morning but I had planned on an easy run one morning so I just rearranged my schedule.  I’ve begun to adjust to getting up earlier; both the Bangkok and Chiang Mai Halfs start at 5:00AM.  For my morning runs I’ve needed to get up with the sun to try to avoid the heat, so I’ve been running around 6AM.  I did 11 total runs, out of a possible 14, a number I’m content with.  I’m very thankful that my little motorbike accident wasn’t more serious, all my wounds are healing well as I write this.  I plan to continue to do short runs daily (thought I might take tomorrow off) for the rest of the week.  I’m looking forward to see what kind of an effort I have in my legs on Sunday morning in Bangkok.  I know I wont be PB’ing, but it will be a useful measuring stick to gauge where my fitness currently is vs. where it was before I left.

Motorbiking Vietnam: Thoughts on the Trip

Motorbiking Vietnam: Thoughts on the Trip

My daily journals didn’t really sum up my experience on the bike riding through Vietnam. In the moment it’s a lot easier to write and elaborate on the bad experiences than the good. Having finished the ride these are my thoughts on the whole. 

I’m very glad I did it. I heard about riding a bike across Vietnam when I was travelling last year and I knew it was something I wanted to do. There were ups and down to the trip, but there would have been regret if I didn’t do it. Looking back on the trip there are a ton a great memories that I expect will be some of the longest lasting from this trip.
IMG_3154
I got very lucky to find an awesome group to do it with. James, Beegan and Storey were on the same bus as me to Luang Prabang. We ended up sharing a tuk tuk to the hostel where we all happened to be staying. Danny ended up in the same room as them, and we were all thinking about motorbiking through Vietnam. I wouldn’t have done the trip on my own, so I got lucky to find them.
IMG_2905
Off the beaten track can be overrated. Motorbiking through Vietnam you’re forced to stay in some places that very few foreigners will ever visit. This can be a great way to see authentic culture, but isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Our second night we stopped in Yen Cat after a long day of wet/cold riding. We were met with a lot of hostility and cold stares. Sure, we were in their village and couldn’t speak the language, but it was a struggle to even find somewhere willing to serve us food.
Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 3.47.37 PM
Bikes aren’t nearly as comfortable as I imagined. I spend quite a lot of time in a bike saddle, so I figured sitting on a motorbike seat would be no problem. I was wrong. It’s fine for an hour or two, but after that they can be extremely uncomfortable.
A good poncho is essential equipment. My bike came with a quality, full body poncho. It got a lot of use because we were forced to ride through some really heavy rain. I couldn’t imagine doing it without one.
IMG_2895
The A1 isn’t nearly as bad as some people claim. A lot of people told us to avoid the A1 at all costs; ‘it’s full of crazy bus and truck drivers that will run you down if you’re in their way.’  Coming into Hue we were forced on to the A1 because of our route. We stopped for lunch just before this stretch to discuss how we were going to tackle the 10k A1 stretch in front of us. Once we got on the road it was nothing like we expected. Sure, there’s buses and truck, which you have to be aware of, but there’s also a motorbike lane on the side of the road. Certain sections even have barriers separating north and south bound so you don’t have cars on your side of the road to overtake. So long as you keep your wits about you I don’t think the A1 is any less safe than any of the other roads.
It’s not worth it paying a premium to buy a bike from a shop. We decided to but bikes from Hanoi Motorbikes. It was recommended by our hostel. We liked the idea of buying bikes from a shop where they spoke English and elected to buy from a shop as opposed to another traveller because we figured they would have checked over the bikes (none of us really knew anything about bikes or what we were looking for). The customer service at Hanoi Motorbikes was horrible. It took us an entire day to buy bikes from them because they would drag their feet with everything. One of the western sales people was more interested in talking about himself than selling us bikes, and then when we were ready to pay he decided he’d rather go for lunch. We put a lot of trust in them regarding the quality of the bikes. My rear brake felt squishy when I tested it. They promised they had installed new rear brakes and that they would be good. 100k into the trip the rear brakes began to squeak because they needed to be changed. Even worse, James was having problems with a rattling. He took his bike into a shop and discovered a section of his frame that the rear wheel had been mounted to had rusted completely through and was cracked. James is extremely lucky that his rear wheel didn’t break off when he was riding. From the rust it’s clear this wasn’t a new problem for the bike, it’s something that was preexisting. The fact they would sell a bike in that condition would make me never buy a bike from them again.
If I was to do it again I’d buy a bike from a traveller. It’s much cheaper to do this than buy from a shop. With the money I saved I’d take it to a mechanic and have new brakes installed and have the entire bike looked over. A mechanic and replacement parts aren’t expensive, and this way you know everything is in good working condition, as opposed to trusting the shop selling you the bike.
When it was raining and cold I just had to remind myself what it was I was doing. There were times I was wet and miserable on the trip. All I wanted to do was pull over and get on a warm, dry bus. But then I’d just remind myself how lucky I was to be able to ride a motorbike across Vietnam and soak it all in, and my mood would perk up.
IMG_3250
You’ll see things on other motorbikes that you’ve never seen before. 4 people on 1 small motorbike? Sure. Dozens of ducks hanging from your bike? Why not. A 90lb woman balancing a bike with what looks to be 400lb of cargo? What’s wrong with that. Motorbikes are used as family vans, ATVs, and flat beds over here, and some of the things you’ll see will never cease to amaze you.
(I wish I had a photograph for this but I was always driving when a motorbike with something strapped to it that shouldn’t be strapped to it went by)
Driving in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is insane. Intersections are a free-for-all.  Vehicles from every direction will pull into the intersection with no regard for right of way or traffic signals.  This causes major gridlock and a lot of honking, and makes intersections a dangerous place to be.  There are some people on moto’s that will fly by you on congested streets, often driving on the wrong side of the road.  It’s like playing a video game, except you only have 1 life.  There really wasn’t anything about driving in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh that I enjoyed.
IMG_2802
Like I said at the start, I’m really glad I did it.  There were a few things that in the moment really sucked, but that was all part of the experience.  As I get older I think it’s an experience I’ll only appreciate more.
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