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Top Gear Adventure 2- Vietnam Boogaloo!

a travel blog by Mike_Veine

This blog will chronicle the further travels of a Yank abroad while I purchase a small motorcycle and travel Vietnam and SE Asia. There may be challenges involved and definitely ADVENTURE!
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Day 4 in Ho Chi Minh City and trip begins tomorrow!

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Greetings Top Gear Fans! It is time for me to start my homage to Top Gear's Viet Nam Adventure.

I am on Day 4 of my visit in Ho Chi Minh City and I have had a wonderful
time here so far. I like my little guesthouse where I have a huge double room for about $17 a night (expensive here) and the people who run it and their relatives have been very helpful.

The first couple of days I walked all over District 1 where I'm staying. It is like a big downtown area and the backpacker hotels are all pretty much near me with the skyscrapers about 2 kilometers away and all of the fancy hotels there. I visited a Palace and several museums including the War Rememberance Museum which was very affecting. I also went to the Ho Chi Minh Museum where they were preparing for a special anniversary on June 6th and I was interviewed by Viet Nam State Television. I never saw it on TV so not sure how that came out....

Day three I test rode motorbikes owned by backpackers who rode them from Hanoi. I tested a Suzuki GN125 and a Chinese Honda copy called the Win which comes in a 100cc or 110 cc flavor. The Suzuki is a bigger bike and good for someone my size. It also has more power and pickup for passing and hauling. The downside of this one was that it was beat. Turn lights broken and not working, electric start not working, speedometer not working and would not go into neutral! Plus it just looked bad and poorly maintained. The owner was a nice enough Aussie bloke, but he did nothing to improve the bike. Just rode the hell out of it! The answer when you point out problems like this is either- no one uses that, or, there all broken over here (speedometers), or, they can fix that cheap! (if that's the case,why didn't you fix it?). I liked the size of the bike and the seating, but that was it and the guy wanted $450 for it although I could have bought it for 400 or maybe even 350.

I thanked the Aussie and passed on the bike and waited for my next bike to turn up, the Win.

The Win over here is easily the most common motorcycle of the clutch/non scooter variety. To be noticed on one of these it would have to be on fire at a gas station! So perfect for basic transportation with a broad support network of parts and mechanics. Suzuki would probably be much harder to get parts for even if it was a much better engine than the Chinese Honda copy.

The Win I tested was a 100 cc variety and the seat was coming off on one side! Typically the speedo was busted (no on uses it!) and lights were broken and the engine did not seem really as strong as it should be even at a lower horsepower rating. It was really filthy too.

I am test riding on the road I will take out of town so I can familiarize myself with the area and so I can run each bike at highway speed and check the performance. I let the owner drive me out a bit and then switch off and drive myself back into town. It's fun mixing with the traffic, but you have to always stay alert. They have set aside a seperated area on the right side for motorbikes to keep them from mixing with cars close to the city on the major highways, but outside of town you need to be ready to yield to cars and buses. Not too much different from the road train situation on the Cairns to Darwin Bike ride. They honk (alot) to let you know! That is another important part on the bike- the horn!

The Win I tested was in such bad shape that I had the guy drop me off down the street from my guesthouse and walked, but it was good experience for me for checking out the bike I had my eye on- A very clean Win 100 for sale by the guesthouse across the streets owners. My guesthouse owner, a girl named 'Bic', told them I was looking for a bike and they showed it to me, but it was getting late in the day and rush hour traffic was starting which I wanted to avoid and i was raining so I asked if I could test it first thing the next day. "No problem " was the response so as soon as I was done with breakfast I walked over and got th keys and a borrowed helmet and off I went. What do you know? The speedometer worked! and so did the lights. and turn signals (though the left rear needs some duct tape lol). The engine seemed strong as well- good sound and pickup. These bikes are pretty light so unfortunately you have to deal with a lot of vibration, but this bike smoothed out a bit on the open road. I drove it around 15 minutes in town and out on the highway for 20 minutes and I was sold.

I bought it for 6,090,000 Dong which is about $290. The owner had a nice helmet for me with a clear face shield that fit like a glove for only 70,000 D ( about $6) and she had me follow her 4 blocks to a man that put a larger luggage rack for my big duffle bag for $5. Back at the guest house they arranged tie down straps and got me gas all for under 100,000 D. Later the woman brought me back 20,000 D because her husband told her she had charged me too much for the petrol! I loved that!!

After cooling off I walked to an area that had book shops and bought a nicely bound road atlas very much like the one my buddy Carl uses in Australia with cross referenced map locations on each page and extremely detailed road info. Of course, it is in a foriegn language, but that should spur me to learn a little more and will help when I question locals.

Tonight is devoted to packing and studying the maps for an early departure tomorrow! Wish me luck, Gear Heads! Some pics will be posted for your pleasure soon! Cheers!!!!

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on June 7, 2013 from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Top Gear Adventure 2- Vietnam Boogaloo!
tagged TopGear2, HoChiMihnCity and WinMotorbike

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On Thee Road- Days 1 and 2

Da Lat, Vietnam

Hello, Gear Heads!

Well, the adventure has truly begun as I pulled out of Ho Chi Minh City at 9 AM yesterday. My Guesthouse hostess 'Bic' gave me big hug goodbye and her mother helped me tighten the load down with my new bungies. Bic tod me to call her if I had any trouble and little did I know how soon that would be! I am heading to the town of Da Lat situated about 350 kilometers North and a little East from HCMC. This will be a two day trip to the destination.

Traffic was moderate on the streets around the Backpacker area so it was easy going. My habit is to find someone who is driving well and follow what they do- which has been working very well so far. Onto the highway and th divided motorbike are and out into a much more industrial area on the other side of the river. After an hour on the I hit an area where the car and truck traffic was completely stalled across all the lanes and motor bikes were forced into a construction area where we slowly made our way towards a narrow break in a chain link fence with only enough room for 1 1/2 bikes so naturally they were trying to cram two in! When my turn came I had to downshift all the way into 1st gear to negotiate the tight and rough terrain. As soon as I exited I upshifted and the bike went into neutral. Keep in mind that I had been trying to find Neutral unsuccessfully for and then it found me!

Back down to 1st and try to go up to 2nd and still in neutral. I rode over to an onramp area where there was some space kept trying, but no go. The bike hd broken in ONE HOUR! I looked around for a mechanic and as luck would have it there was a HONDA sign beside a stall across the onramp from me. I rode the bike in 1st gear over through traffic and honking horns (did I say they like their horns?) to the shop and hit the language barrier. I quickly got my problem across, but had trouble with some of the things he was telling me so phone call to Bic to the rescue! Bic talked to him and then he handed th phone to me. Bic told me that it would take one whole day and cost 1,200,000 VND, about $56 US. She offered to bring me back to the guesthoue, but I did not want to put her out and told her I would find something nearby. I ended up just hanging out at the shop in some chairs for customers and decided to get an ice tea from the tea stand beside me. I asked th mechanic if he wanted one (did I mention it is very hot here?) and he nodded 'yes'. I gave it to him and settled down to study the traffic for anything that could help keep me alive and after about fifteen minutes the mechanic came over and told me the bike would be ready in two hours! I like to think my small gesture of kindness was reiprocated and indeed, by noon the bike was ready to go!

Back on it- I find it is hard to ride for much over an hour and a half at a time because of the hard seat, the vibration on most of the rough roads and the simple stress of the constant focus you need to watch for all the traffic variables. At any one time you're tracking known threats (Buses and Trucks and cars, bad road surface), possible threats (other bikes, pedestrians and tractors, construction equipment and workers) and stuff that comes from nowhere (like water buffalos and small dogs). Also it is dusty so it is great to take a 20 minute break or so with a cool drink. You get your road focus back and you can check the map and GPS to be sure you're headed the right way.

After a couple more hours I made a turn off of Highway 1 onto a two lane rod and finally broke into the countryside- it is very green with hills, neatly cultivted fields, and trees planted in long rows (possibly rubber trees, don't know yet). It was so great to be out of the city!!!! And the traffic was lighter for a while and I got to enjoy the fun of riding for the first time. You get the smells and sights like I did on the bicycle ride in Australia even if you miss some of the sounds because of the engine noise. Fun, fun...then through another area with market stalls, people, buses and cars and back comes the stress.

I hadn't eaten since a light breakfast and it as 4pm, so I stopped at a Pho sho and had the delicious Vietnamese soup! It has a beef or chicken base and tofu and a meat and very good rice noodles. With the soup you also get assorted greens like basil, or leafs of cabbage along with hot peppers you can add to the soup. There is also sweet sauce and plum sauce (I think). You eat it with chopsticks and a spoon. Very refreshing and tasty, especially the fresh greens.

After dinner I deicided I wanted to end the day soon- I have a rule that I will not drive after dark so I started looking for a guesthouse. I asked the woman wh made the soup and she just pointed down the road and so down he road I went. After a bit I saw a sign with the english word 'HOTEL' and pulled in to find two very aggresive and yappy little dogs- the burgler alarms, no doubt, and the owner, a middle aged woman. I smiled and asked for a room and she seemed confused so I got my language book out and we figured it out. I paid her and started to unload the bike. The room had no A/C and very little in the way of running water and it was not very clean. I wouldn't use the sheets or pillows that night! Sleep came hard even though I went to bed early, but finally out. I had been heading to Da Lat in the mountains 350 kilometers from HCMC and I had made it a little less thn 1/2 way...Day 2 I will make it.

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on June 9, 2013 from Da Lat, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Top Gear Adventure 2- Vietnam Boogaloo!
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Day 2

Da Lat, Vietnam

Day 2 brought rain into the riding equation. It really isn't too bad a rain, fairly light and warm, in fact it takes the heat off of the day quite a bit. I was awake at 6 and on the road by 7:30 wearing my bike rain pants and a raincoat. It was surprisingly comfortable!

The little bike stated right up and I got the headlight on with no hassles- great when things work! No time like the present so off on the road again...
The naigation today would be much easier because most of the trip was on one road- Hwy 20. Hwy 20 passes through a couple of medium size and one large town before reaching Da Lat and I had 190 Kilometers of it to cover.

I continued my practice of following sane drivers when I could and I felt much more comfortable and even more vigilant than yesterday. Experience is the best teacher and I expect to improve each day. After riding for about 45 minutes I decided to stop for coffee and gas at a very neat and tidy gas station/restaurant with several grinning kids playing with a couple of dogs. Somehow I ended up ordering coffee and a pot of tea, which was fine- you just can't get enough fluids here! A full tank of gas cost me 130,000 VND which may be a little steep, but it was a nice station with good gas and locals were using it. Back to the road! Construction is going on constantly all around but at a low level- 3 guys working on a house or one backhoe on a road project. No mass, 100 man project like you see in the States and Austrlia. Almost looks improvised although I am sure there is patronage and central control in the mix. I haven't seen many military or police around so the impact of the government is hidden from me in that sense.

Now the terrain was changing and I made my way up a steeper winding road with some great views that I had to mostly ignore while I watched the buses and cars come at me on my side of the road when they passed slower vehicles. But it was pretty and cooler and the rain had stopped.

There are old red and white painted stone signs with the distance to the next major town and I finally saw Da Lat 88 K on one. There in a couple of hours and after a lunch of more Pho I passed through another large town, Di Linh, where I saw the first obvious backpackers on motorbikes. They had big packs with raincovers on the back and were riding Minsks, a Russian two-stroke bike that Richard Hammond rode in Top Gear's VN Adventure.They were riding a little more aggressively through town then I was comfortable with so I never caught up to see where they were from, but they are the first I've encountered.

Mostly, the motorbike traffic is slow and local and they keep to the right. The speed limit in town is 40 k and outside 60 or whatever. I ride in 3rd gear in town and outside of town if the traffic is heavy. The engine brakes the bike pretty quickly to help in tricky situations. Outside of town in the open areas I can get a little Top Gear action in 4th and let the bike unwind. I keep to between 50-60 when everything is PERFECT only or I ride at a lttle over 40 so 200 kilometers takes awhile. And I am climbing to 5,000 feet which makes me shift to 3rd so the little bike can carry me and the gear up the steep sections.

On one stop I had a very pleasant visit with a family while I drank a coke. Grandad and two grandaughters wanted to chat and play respectively. Grandad took my language book and we used it to practice his English and my Vietnamese- a fair trade. One of the GD's was only three and cute as could be and she sa next to me and poked me every once in awhile and I would poke at her back and we would laugh and laugh. I gave her a guitar pic and the whole family ha fun pretending we were Rock Stars! A bellyfull of laughs from that one!!! You make a small investment of yourself and you get a huge return of joy and connection- awesome.

I was well and truly in the mountains now and the sun came out revealing the green all around me. Even though the trees are different it reminds me of home and Melbourne with the green hills. Beautiful.

I finally came to the main road into Da Lat- only about 25 k to go. The road divided into a Tollway for cars only and a narrow, old road for motorbikes and anyone too cheap to pay the toll (which is ALL the buses, taxis and some cars!). But the big vehicle are on their best behavior for once and drive sanely. I guess they figure the hassle of an accident here would delay them more than sharing the road!

Coming into Da Lat there are very stately old archetecture hotels with pefect lls and gates and all about are manicured lawns and flowers. Flags are clean and everything looks very tidy. I hit a traffic circle and randomly picked "Left" and slowly picked my way down the street looking for the lower rent district. I saw a sign pointing down a much smaller street and turned in to find a brand new hotel called the 'Hotel Kim'. The owner, named 'Mai' was very proud to show me around the rooms and made sure I had good wifi access (so I can report to you all) and the room was clean with A/C, HOTWATER and a western style toliet WITH toilet paper! JACKPOT!!!!We negoiated a price and helped me arrange a Guide to take me to a mountain to climb tomorrow. The Guide, Mr. Chen, says it is a 3 hour trip up and back a well defined trail so I will get a Vietnamese summit in! More Motorbike adventures in 3 days when I head for Nha Trang on the coast- about 130 K. Til then, My friends and family!

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on June 9, 2013 from Da Lat, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Top Gear Adventure 2- Vietnam Boogaloo!
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Da Lat Day 3- Mountain Challenge and Sightseeing

Da Lat, Vietnam

Hi Family and Friends! No driving for the next two days but adventure just the same! Today I have a guide taking me to Lang Biang, a pair of mountains about 40 K north of Da Lat. They are famous in history as representing a Romeo and Juliet story where two kids from different tribes fell in love and married which was forbiden. They hid out on the mountain until the girl, Lang, became ill and the husband, Biang, had to go the the village for help where they kille him and the wife died of her illness. The headman of the villages was griefstricken by this and so the tribes gathered and agreed to intertribal marriage so it would never happen again. Legend has it that the spirits of the starcrossed lovers live on in their respective mountains.

Most tourists take jeeps that are for hire at the entrance to the park. The jeeps take them to the top of Lang, over 1,900 meters high. Today I was going to the top of Biang which is 2,160 meters and a trail hike. My guide knew of a connecting trail I could take so I would not have to walk on the road for 2 k and he showed me on a large map approximately where it was. He wa staying behind since he is a touris guide and not a climbing guide. So off I went. After about 20 minutes walking up the road I saw a small trail to my right that made its way down on a slight descent to cross a meadow area. Then it was into a steady climb with some switchbacks and sometimed petered out which left me scoutin and guessing at the route, but I had a compass and knew the direction to go. I actually started hearing birdsong here for the first time in the country and it was very green, but hot and muggy. Clouds and the shade on the trail helped and after an hour I came to the road again and beside it was a kiosk and another trail which was the true trailhead on the climb.
The young man at the trailhead was tribal Han and he said the mountains were his peoples and they were conserving them and the entrance fees went to that purpose. Very cool! I paid and thanked him and started off- wide trail with some very slippery clay which caused me to slip on my ass once. The trail soon changed to a much narrower and wetter area and started descending. I hate losing elevation on a climb! After 1/2 hour it began to climb again. Much of my hiking was in pine forest- did not know that would be the case. All of the needles on the ground and the smells reminded me of home; but when the trail got wetter the pines disappeared and jungle plants and vines and some kind of hardwoods prevailed. After an hour of climbing with some views to my right I hit a signpost that said the summit was 650 meters ahead and the trail changed to a very steep embanked staircase.
The heat and elevation were taking a toll on me by this time so it was slow going up the stairs with rests and drinks frequent! Finally I made it to the open summit after 3 hours total from the bottom. It was beautiful with views all around and blue skies. Butterflies of several types were cavorting all over the summit- Amazing! Took a long sit and several drinks and pictures and time to head down!

After I reconnected with my guide, Mr. Chen, he took me to lunch where I was hoping to get some good veggies, but no such luck- not easy to find such a thing here for some reason. I settled for tuna and rice which included three very thin slices of tomato and three equally slim slices of cucumber buried under the rice as the "veggies". For some reason the restaurant made me sit in an upstairs area away from the main downstairs dining room and I could definitely feel the stares as I went up the stairs! Sometimes you feel like a cat at a dog convention here!!!! But it was a meal.

After lunch, Mr. Chen took me on a sightseeing tour I had not really asked for, but what the hey...First stop wa The Crazy House which is kind of the Vietnamese answer to The Winchester House in the US (Google it!). The house is, indeed, very unusual in that there are no straight lines and it looks more like sculpture than a living space. Winding staircases indoors and out take you to towers and lookouts and the w all around the house is topped with jagged glass. I guess it is a functioning hotel, but I never saw the guestroom area. After photos it was time to move on. Next stop- Buddhist medatation center!
The Meditation Center had beautifully manicured grounds (which is the norm around Da Lat) and flowers and bonsai. Also a temple with a nice Buddha inside and another smaller temple with a wild looking green Buddha in it. Many people were dressed up and on bus tours with the family so I felt pretty underdressed in my grubby, dirty and sweaty cl imbing clothes so I really wanted to skip the next stop on the tour. which was a waterfall. Mr Chen assured me we would "drive right up to it", so I thought, "O.K., that will be easy and quick, so why pass on a waterfall?". Off we go into a modrate- light rain/drizzle...this was only a harbinger of the storm to come!
When we arrived at the waterfall area it was like an amusement park- pay your admission and go through the gate, only when I got through- no waterfall! There was, however, the strangest amusement ride I have ever seen! It was a rollercoaster that consisted of small, two person cars that had individual brake for the riders to stop and slow it. Mr Chen said that was the way to get to the waterfall, so another 45,000 VND ticket and into the line. Being huge compared to most of the Vietnamese I received my own car and I was behind two high school age girls. The cars are on very sturdy and very well kept rails and there is really no way anything could go wong, but the girls ahead would scream and jam on their brakes everytime the thing really got going so I had to jam on my brakes as well to keep from plowing into them- like being on the motorbike all over again! At bottom there is no graceful way to exit the little cars so I kind of rolled and stumbled out. The waterfall was not very high but it as roaring and 15-20 meters across. Now it was starting to really rain though and I was beat and just wanted to go home. Looking around I saw another set of rollercars that were being towed up a cable to bring you back to the start. I smiled as I handed the attendent my ticket at the head of the line, but he expressed a view that I needed to purchase another ticket to get out. Now I am sure there is a way to walk out of there for no charge, but I had done enough climbing for one day, so I bought the ticket and got into my little car just when the skies completely opened and let a deluge, gulley washer, flash flood of a storm loose. So I sat in the open car being pulled straight into the teeth of it. By the time I got back to the top I had no dry spot left on my body and my socks and hiking boots were soaked through. I stood under a table umbrella and knew there was no sense in going on th bike no- we would drown!
The storm went on for about 45 minutes and then showed signs of let up. I found Mr Chen had kept dry in a restaurant nearby the bike's parking spot and off we went to my hotel. End of long and tiring day (and this long blog post!

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on June 11, 2013 from Da Lat, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Top Gear Adventure 2- Vietnam Boogaloo!
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Da Lat Day 4- Walking aound town and doing chores

Da Lat, Vietnam

Much shorter post for today (I promise)....I forgot to mention that yesterday my inkeeper, Miss Chi, let me know that the bike was leaking oil. I could see where it was coming from- a seam where the
oil sump meets the transmission (I think). I wanted to know how much it was losing so I resolved to wash the bike today and put a clean piece of paper under it to check the size of the leak. Before that I wanted to see the town on foot so I set off to walk around some of Da Lat. After wandering for about 40 minutes I saw a large lake probably 5 k around with a green space all around it. I strolled along enjoying the green and the views and the traffic and came to a large garden park with tour buses all over and people taking pictures of each other in front of the 20 meter tall gate. A ticket was only 20,000 VND- about 50 cents - so why not?
Inside were many interesting sights- dragon, giraffe and other animal topiaries, a covered rose garden, walkways with fountains and statues, a cactus garden and many different flower beds. Also there were men with horse carts and pony photo ops which the aduls seemed to enjoy as much as the kids. Many muligenerational families with the grandmas all dressed up and the kids in their shorts and sneakers, but all very neat and tidy. Today I had prepared by wearin my nicest dress shirt and clean slacks to explore so I wouldn't feel so out of place.
After awhile I found some small sack stalls and bought an ice cream cone and I felt very at ease and relaxed. A beautiful experience watching the families and seeing how we are all the same when it comes to sharing the joy! Cool...
Leaving the garden I continued around the lake finally coming to downtown area with highrise shops and some modern looking storefronts. I had three shopping goals today- 1) get snacks for the room, which I accomplished by buying chips at the garden's little snack area. The bags are unusual in that they are puffed up like a balloon and taut. I don't know if that is because of the manufacturing process or to show the consumer they really are sealed!
2) check on a new sim card for the phone; I had made a mistake when I got my sim card and only purchased 60 megs of data when I could have had unlimited for pennies more, really, and I wanted to dump my card and start with a new one or pay a little more an upgrade. Somehow I never found a Mobiphone place and the Vietphone people did not understand that I wanted to change plans and just kept pointing across the street or somewhere and saying "Mobiphone".
I never did find where the pointed area was. So failure!
3) Buy oil for the bike- found it and bought .8 liters, kind of expensive at 70,000 VND, but it was a posted price so I know I was paying what the locals do. Nice little family ran the shop. The had an empty birdage in front which had obviously had a bird at some point, but no bird now.
On my travels I found a restaurant that served pizza so I figured I'd go there for dinner. Found another one at the main traffic circle in town and was delighted to get a menu with pictures and prices! They had a fruit plate that looked awesome in the picture and they had glass of milk on the menu which sounded really good. Placed my order and settled in to watch the traffic circle ballet.
These guys can carry anything on motorbike! The wildest thing I saw today was a chest of drawers that was being balanced on the seat between the rider and the passenger!! Just fun to observe.
Fruit plate came and it was good but competely different from the picture. It included avocado though which was great and salty and hot spice you could dip the fruit- hot peppers so needed to go sparingly, but quite good.
After getting home, changing and cooling off I put the bike across the street and using a wash basin borrowed from the guesthouse I started washing it. I think everyone within four blocks came by to see me do this. They may even have called their relatives! I think they get used to backpackers having dirty bikes or paying someone to wash it so I was an abnormality. My Landlady had a small coniption when she came out and checke on me and saw how dirty her washbasin was getting. I had carefully explained it was for washing the Mowtow, but I felt bad anyway. She brought me a five gallon bucket and some soap powder though and asked me politely if I ould clean the buckets with the soap when I was done. No problem. Took an hour to give the bike its first wash and clean up then back into the hotel with a fresh piece of paper and a new rag fromthe landlady under it to check the leak. After 5 hours it was less than a teaspoon so I will just add oil every couple of days and keep an eye on it inbetween. When something else breaks I will see about getting it tightened up, but little bikes like this are probably going to leak now and then.
For dinner I walked back to the pizza place, but apparently they are only open for lunch! It was pouring again and I was in my full rainsuit and OR Seattle Sombrero for the trek. I saw a very fancy place and went in for a really expensive dinner intead- french cuisine- and my first glass of wine in Asia- a delicious French Cabernet Saugvinon and m Chicken in Rosemary reduction sauce with Mashed Potatos and mixed vegetables (steamed carrot, broccoli, and cauliflower) was very good- especially the rosemary sauce! Topped off with Creme Caramel and black coffee mmmmmm...but expensive- first time I ever spent a million on a meal! Still, in USD it wa only about 60 bucks for a fine french meal including a Ceasar Salad (with anchovies, Dad), so no complaints from me, plus it was the FIRST place to take my check card! Hurrah!!!
Back home stuffed and now done with my writing I will check out tomorrow and flip a coin to see what direction I go- Heads, the Beach- tails, the Hills!

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on June 11, 2013 from Da Lat, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Top Gear Adventure 2- Vietnam Boogaloo!
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Day 5 Da Lat to Nha Trang

Nha Trang, Vietnam

Hello All! Welcome to another day of traveling by a small motorbike in Vietnam. On today's route we will go from the mountains of Da Lat over a pass and then have a long, winding descent to a valley then to ocean. Heading ENE today.
After paying the inkeeper, Miss Chi, I took the bike out and checked the oil- I have a leak of about a teaspoon every 12 hours. It was on the bottom of the stick which is ok, but add terrritory. Last night I cut up a water bottle to make a funnel so I could neatly and easily oil up and today it worked like a charm as I added about .2 liters. Checked it again (yes I am on level ground with the bike level) and vowed to recheck after about 40 minutes on the road. I waved Goodbye to Miss Chi and hit the starter button- nothing happened. I figured the battery was probably dead from something I had left on so I kickstarted the bike. After remembering to turn the key on I kickstarted again and it immeadiately fired up and so did the wiring under the speedometer!!!
The wires were shorting out with smoke and the nasty smell of tortured insulation. I turned the key off and the smoke stopped. Inspectin the damage I could see where a black tapped wrapped bundle was the culprit. Miss Chi brought me a coffee cn of tools and I used some scissors to cut away the melted tap, Bare copper in some places and two wires with open ends, not attached to anything were discovered within.
Using my head I took a screw driver to the battery cover and removed the Positive terminal cable so I wouldn't shock myself, then I removed all of the tape and isolated the 5 wires inside. I bought electrical tape from Miss Chi and carefully wrapped each wire until there was no exposed cable and then wrapped a loose bundle to secure it.
Putting the battery cover back on I busted off part of the brittle plastic on the bottom of the securing bolt hole so I will need a washer down the road to make sure it stays secure.
Ok- good to go. Fired up the bike- of course I now have no horn. lights,turn signals, or electrical start, but who needs that stuff. I will get it fixed in Nha Trang. Off down the road to the gas station and then out of town and running into the usual road construction at the edge of a city. Just taking it slowly, and after about 40 minutes I pulled over and rechecked the oil- all good. Neat, small family houses were around and look much like Australian bush blocks, very self sufficent with tin roofs and simple, sturdy consruction of wood. The sun was out now, but there were dark clouds on the horizon- I have decided to ride in my rain pants all the time when I am on the road to keep my pants clean as well as dry, so I just had to pull on my jacket. As I climbed a winding mountain road I was downshifting all the way down to 2nd at times to cruise up the steep sections and then a light rain started followed by a downpour. I saw a sign for a village in 7 K and decided to get out of the rain there. What I found was barely a wide spot in the road with a small house and a covered front porch that held a small store and a table with four low plastic chairs and a teapot and cups. A youngish woman smiled at me and and I asked for "please a cup of coffee" apparently well enough for her to understand. One of the very cool, but strange things here is that when you order coffee they also pour you a cup of tea! It is very good green tea usually (I understand the best comes from the north) and I sipped my tea and dried off watching the dark skies dump. Very relaxing. So far today has been a good ride with my comfort level increasing all the time, but no drop in caution or awareness. There s no much traffic other than me headed in my direction so way fewer buses and trucks, which makes the riding fun.
While I was drinking tea I could hear and see the owners inside the house entertaining friends with their kids. One boy, about 4, poked his head out for a long look at me and when I smiled at him he turned and ran back to Mom. An older woman with a beautiful lined face and extremely relaxed composure sat with me. She was probably Grandma to the little boy and was dressed in a typical style of matching silk pants and top. She poured herelf a cup of tea and we sat in a peaceful ssilence and looked at the rain, which was stopping. When she finished her cupa she turned it upside down and set it on the tea tray. I decided it was time to get going and finished my tea and also turned my cup over onto the tray and I was rewarded with a smile and a nod. Wonderful communication!
Back on the bike I soon hit the top of the pass and after a short time the road opened up into an incredible vista of green pointy mountains wih cascades pouring off from hundreds of meters above me and turning into wa pterfalls. And deep below me was a valley that looked like it could have been "The Lost World" so riotously lush I could belive dinosaurs would thrive there!
The road turned into long sections of gentle descending curves and long straights which let me safely open the bike up and really get a cruising experience- so fun, worth the small troubles right there. I got to the valley floor too soon, but the rain had started again and it was ahalf hour to the next village where I stopped for lunch. At a table in front of the covered porch of one section were 6 teenage boys joking with the owners teenage daughter. The daughter saw me and as is typical, seated me 20 meters away in a different covered area where I was by myself. One of the boys must have teased the girl because they all started laughing and one boy was pointing at another as if to say, "he said it, not me". The teenage girl made a face back that only a teenage girl can make to express her displeasure and the boys just laughed harder. I ordered Pho soup, my go to meal, and a coke and while I waited a small, black bitch, maybe a terrier mix, who had just whelped came over and lay beside me. Kids and the dog! When I washed up before lunch I could see a couple of houses out back that were made out of cunningly interlaced thin slats of wood maybe 6 inches across woven like a basket. Never seen that before, it looked good!
Soup came and it was packed with noodles and some reddish mystery meat and a very good, rich broth. It is esy to enjoy soup on a rainy day when you're drenched so it was just right.
After lunch I had another 50k to my destination and it poured buckets the entire way. The road was very good, but I kept the speed down anyway and I had studied the route into town carefully at lunch so the only surprise was flooding as I got into the city. I was part of a line of cars, bike and buses making our way through water that hit the top of my footpeg and a little more at times. I was worried about stalling , but used the experience to practice the low speed handling skills you need in these cities. Still, it felt more like being in a motorboat than a bike sometimes with the wakes of the other riders washing over my feet. Boots and socks officially full of water!
I haad no idea of a place to stay so I rode the main highway in until I thought I was close to the beach and turnded down a side road looking for a guesthouse. I saw a nice high rise with lots of marble and a covered underground parking and went inside to check availability and as embarrased because of the water streaming off of me onto their nice marble floors- someone was going to need a mop! Three women of assorted ages greeted me at the desk. We quickly figured out this place was over my budget- they wanted 400,000 VND a night and didn't want to negotiate and I was back in the rain. I hah trouble getting the bike into Neutral when I had stopped and found it difficult to divide my attention from the road hazards while looking for hotels at the roadside so I decided to push the bike instead of riding it. The sight of a oriegner pushing a Honda Win must be typical in this popular beach town because other than a few honks, no one really paid anymore attention to me than usual. 15 minutes later I came to the the Hotel Ankhang and got a very nice 250,000 a night single with a very comfortable bed and A/C, cable TV, and western style toliet. Luxury!!!
Good WiFi as well. The owner made me a map to show me where the mechanic she recommended was and I turned in early beat to the bones. Tomorow is another day!

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on June 12, 2013 from Nha Trang, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Top Gear Adventure 2- Vietnam Boogaloo!
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Day 6 Nha Trang & Day 7 to Song Cao

Hoi An, Vietnam

TGC Day 6 & 7
Day 6 Nha Tranh
Up early found coffee and bread by hotel
Walked around neighborhood & farmers market.
Went to Honda. Dealer, would not work on bike. Drove around looking for mechanics.
Asked some men at a garage, one led me on his bike to a shop. Met Mr T, owner & chatted. Biked fixed in 1 hour. New ignition installed. Put washer on battery cover! Cost 7 bucks.
Rode around town and by beach just to get feel. Back to hotel and walk to beach. Many Russians here on package tours?
Hot, walked with feet in surf down to end of the beach about 3 k.
Late lunch are a very nice place which would not have been out of place in Maui. Green curry veg. And rice, French fries. Fruit and ice cream dessert.
Back to hotel late afternoon stayed in.
Tried to watch replay of Canadian Grande Prix but electrical storm knocked out power for the whole race.

Day 7 Nha Tranh to Song Cao
Tried to get an early start but out at 9.
Found route out of town to Hwy 1. Today about mileage . Riding conditions vary so always on my toes. Two stops, one for coke and one for lunch. Tried to eat a lot because missing dinners. By about 3:30 I had covered 186 k and I was tired. I found Hotel Laura in Song Cao fishing village. So beautiful. Room overlooked the bay and could watch all the little boats and the families go to beach for evening swim. Love it here but back on the road North early tomorrow.

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on June 15, 2013 from Hoi An, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Top Gear Adventure 2- Vietnam Boogaloo!
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Day 8- Song Cao to Hoi An

Hoi An, Vietnam

Quick notes day 8
You might ask "What do you see along the road?" There are bicycles and motorbikes beside rice fields, people harvesting and planting, practicing aquaculture - harvesting clams, crabs, even lobsters.
Water buffulo of all sizes grazing by roadside or herded along the road helping out with the weed control Many women in the fields wearing lightweight two piece matching garb some plain and roughspun some with patterns or the basic black, kids & dogs playing together. People sitting having coffee in thatched patios,green hills, small fishing boats and canoes, smells of garlic sauteed, fishy sea odors, such beauty.

2 hours out of Song Cao it started raining so time for a coffee break. The coffee is served with a metal drip container over a drinking glass that has swee milk at the bottom. You also get a bowl of ice and a cup of tea. While the coffee drips (it take a couple of minutes) I drink the tea and empty the glass, then I carefully over the dripper over the tea cup so I can stir and drink my coffee and get the rest that drips more slowly into he empty cup to transfer when it is finally done. Add ice to the coffee glass after stirring the sweet milk and coffee mixture and you have basic Vietnamese coffee.
For lunch I bought a banana leaf wrapped something of deliciousness from a gas station I filled up at. I have seen these square banana leaf packages thayt people would buy at the open market so I figured it had something good to eat in it and man does it ever! I was only about 20 cents and th size of a hamburger or about 1/2 of a King Burrito for my Portland friends, and is made up of seasoned rice cloely compacted around what looked like spiced, cooked egg and a sweet and tasty piece of pork. Definitely their version of a burrito and very filling, oould not have eaten two! Great eats for really cheap.

Today was the longest riding day I will do over 360 k. I rode a two hour session, then a three hour session and then another 3 hours or a little more. I kept going when I saw I was only 60 k from Hoi An of Top Gear Vietnam Adventure fame. Rode the extra hour it was rough. Passed the off ramp 2x it looked like a goat path! and unmarked. Then wandered around on the bike looking for the Hoi An Beach Resort that the Top Gear guys stayed at for 45 min. Finally gave up.Found a hotel and soaked in tub. Saddlesore :(.
Tomorrow: Exploring the Old City of Hoi An

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on June 15, 2013 from Hoi An, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Top Gear Adventure 2- Vietnam Boogaloo!
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Days 9 & 10 Exploring Hoi An & Hoi An to Hue

Hue, Vietnam

Day 9
Today I checked out a hotel bike which I rode around Hoi An to the Old City. So many dress and tailor shops one after other, this town is famous for its cheap tailored clothing. I easily found the old city which is a 15th century trading port that has been missed by time and looks very much like it would have looked 500 years ago. The buildings now house restaurants and tourist shops instead of the warehouses and whorehouses that are common to all ports. The old city was divided by the water with the Japanese on one side across a bridge called reasonably enough, the Japanese bridge. The bridge is ornate with gilded dragons and other decorations.
There are some very good places to eat here so I had lunch in sections at three different restaurants. I had roast duck at one of them on one side of the water than rode the bike over the Japanese bridge to a place famous for its fish cooked in banana leaves which was very good and then went to another place for a dish called The White Rose which Hoi An is famous for inventing. The White Rose is a shrimp dumpling made with translucent rice,dough that is crumpled like a rose. The locals called it 'wrose' and it was the French who called it white rose. Delicious. For drinks I had local beer and finished with coffee.

After the I just spent the day riding the bike and relaxing, going along rice paddies and the water and down narrow streets where the locals live just cruising. Easy day. Tomorrow I head to Hue the old Imperial City 156 k away up the coast. A good distance for a days ride. In bed early for an early start in the morning.
Day 10
Up at 6:30 to be out and on the bike by 8. Studied Google Maps for the best way out of town. When I finish riding today I will have covered over 1,000 k on the bike and have 700 k more to Hanoi. I added oil and decided to get an oil change in Hue.
It was a clear and hot day but cool when moving on the road. The bike has some rattles that seem new so need to check that out. Riding is getting easier as I gain experience and I feel much safer, but still very wary and watching everything. I gor lost once and took a 40 k detour- good thing for Google Maps! After a couple of hours I came to a section that led to a tunnel and they would not let me ride the bike through. A man nicely turned me around and I was at a loss what to do next. I saw a covered area with motorbikes parked around a central trench with flatbed trucks and realized it was a land ferry! You buy a ticket for you and your bike and a bus takes you through the tunnel while the bike rides the flatbed.
The tunnel was very long, took us about 15 -20 minutes to get through it and then we drove to an offload area with a sign that said 'Hue 63 K'. After carefully repacking the bike I set off following the signs until I rejoined Hwy 1. Hue is another big city and a tourist city. I found a beautiful 4 star hotel with a 4th floor infinity pool for $30 a night including breakfast buffet which seemed like a good deal. After having a swim and cleaning up I took the bike to a Honda place to get an oil change and see if they could check the oil leak. It was a busy sales and service garage that they hotel had recommended. Mechanics all in spotless uniforms. They sneered at my bike! " no parts " they said. They made me pay in advance for the oil change, first time that has appened and I left it to pick up tomorrow. Back to hotel for a couple of drinks and dinner in the 12th floor lounge and then reading and relaxing in the room. Tomorrow I will tour the Citidal that contains the Vietnamese Forbidden City! V

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on June 18, 2013 from Hue, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Top Gear Adventure 2- Vietnam Boogaloo!
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Day 11 Exploring Hue and getting Repairs

Hue, Vietnam

A Day 11 Exploring Hue
I had my best nights sleep on the best mattress I've seen in Vietnam- most are rock hard! My included breakfast was a buffet and had many interesting Chinese foods as well as Western style foods and juice and coffee so I figured I would chow down now and have a light lunch.
After breakfast and cleaning up I decided to pick the bike up from the Honda Dealer, work before play after all...when I got there the bike was on the sidewalk out front and the right side battery cover was gone! The people there said it wasn't on when they got it but I'm sure it was and we went round and round for a bit. Another man about my age pulled up on his motorbike and he spoke English better and helped plead my case and translate and when it was clear Honda was not going to give an inch, he told me he could take me to a mechanic who would have the part for under 5 bucks. His name is Mr. Tigh and he was a guide. I hired him on the spot to help me get the bike sorted and to show me around Hue and the tourist sights.
I followed him on my bike to an area over the Perfume river where there were parts stores and mechanics and the first two places couldn't help me, but the third one was an expert on my type of bike. He had the part and test rode and inspected the bike and recommended some parts replacement and quoted me a price including labor to fix the oil leak and do the repairs which seemed very fair. I left him the bike and Mr. Tigh and I toured.
First we went to a Buddihist monastery with a 300 year old Pagoda then to an Emperors tomb complex. Everything is made of stone and wood with tile floors and roofs. There is a manmade lake the Emperor designed as well as temples and tombs for wives and consorts so very much a family affair.
Next we went to the Hue Ancient Coloseum, 300-400 years old it is a 30 foot high walled circle about 300 feet across with seating on top of the walls. There are two gates to enter, but I couldn't get in as it is blocked off as a archeological research site. My guide says the Emperor staged animal fights here including declawed.tigers fighting elephants. You can easily imagine the royalty in their colorful silks and their attendants on these ancient walls cheering the fighters on and the roars and bellows of the animals fighting for their lives.
One more stop down very narrow roads and alleys at a battlefield where American GI`s fought off attacking VC during the Tet Offensive in 1968. You can still see bullet holes in some places. It is on a beautiful hill covered with young pine trees and a view of a bend in the Perfume River. The Perfume runs thru Hue and was named by the French during their colonial era for the lovely scent of the flowers, herbs and trees that grow along it. Very cool.
After this it was time for a light lunch. I asked Mr. Tigh to take me somewhere he liked and we drove about 25 minutes to a neighborhood outdoor cafe where you sat under shade trees with the river close below you. Not fancy. We had Bun Bo which is noodle soup with a light chicken broth and some pork chop in it. No way to get vegetables around here. We also had two beers each of the local brew called 'hadu' and made from the water of the Perfume River. Their beer here is pretty hoppy and refreshing. We had a relaxing lunch and spoke of family. He has two sons, 25 and 30 and the eldest is a master wood carver like Mr Tigh's Father was.
Nice to chat about.
After finishing lunch we set out for me to do some shopping and then to The Citidel which was the official home for all of the Vietnamese Emperors and included their version of the Forbidden City, like China's, the personal residence area for the Emperor and family. Unfortunately much of it was destroyed during the war so most everything is restorations which made me really glad I went to the other sites which were all original. Without Mr Tigh I would've missed them.
After an hour or so wandering the many acres of the Citadel I met up with Mr Tigh to go see if the bike was done. It was and Mr Thien showed me the parts he replaced:
Internal oil seal that was leaking oil into the piston
Rear brake pad
Rear bearing
Rear Sprocket and new chain
New left rear turn signal
Cost me 700,000 VND, under 40 bucks. He gave me his card to call if I needed more help or for referrals and it was a pleasure to do business with a pro. Back to the hotel and thanked and settled up with Mr Tigh and back to my room to clean up for cocktails and dinner at the rooftop bar- retired life is really tough!!!!
Tomorrow I am riding 176 k to Doan Hoi on the beach. See you then, Gearheads.

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on June 19, 2013 from Hue, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Top Gear Adventure 2- Vietnam Boogaloo!
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