I am the original 'Uneasy Rider' .. not especially blessed with much natural motorcycling talent, nor am I a particularly courageous motorcycle rider.
Nevertheless I went 'Right Way Round' New Zealand (at least twice) followed by a wonderful ride around Australia.

Then it was up to southeast Asia, around Indo-China, across southern Central Asia to the Middle East, Asia Minor .. and finally into Europe.

Right Way Round - all the way home .. from New Zealand to England, 2-up on a Honda Transalp.

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PROGRESS SO FAR - Distance covered across Western Europe: 6,411 km [3,984 miles] - as at Thursday, October-22nd, 2015

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

"GOOD MORNING VI-ET-NAAM!!"

Tuesday, 9th April

We left Thakhèk around mid-morning and after re-fuelling, followed by a series of failed attempts to buy a fresh can of chain lube from at least six motorcycle shops on the way out of town. Not a drop of chain oil anywhere to be found .. in a place where there's probably several hundred, if not thousands, of scooters buzzing around. Hard to believe, but true nevertheless. 

We headed off eastwards, with a drying-out drive chain along Route 12 .. and the Vietnam border firmly in our sights. It was a glorious day - not unbearably hot due to the increasing altitude, as we roared off into the hill country of the Central Highlands. If we were turned back from the border, then it would be a nice day's ride-out in any case.

We had to dodge yet another truck accident along the way. Seen far too much of this sorta stuff during our time in SE Asia. Just the day before (Mon-8th) we witnessed not one, but two very nasty scooter accidents, both involving kid-riders who couldn't have been more than 15 or 16 years old, both were knocked hard and thrown-off their rides; one by a truck, the other by a 4x4 landcruiser. Both kids were seriously injured, with broken limbs and head trauma, and both required immediate hospitalisation.

Quite frankly, the standard of motoring in much of SE Asia leaves a lot to be desired. In short, they're mostly crap at driving anything with wheels larger than a baby's pushchair. There is little or no evidence of any road sense or code of common courtesy that we take for granted in the West. They all seem to have a death wish mentality, especially when overtaking. Drivers of public transport vehicles are downright suicidal /homicidal. The words 'YOU ARESHOLE!' - or usually worse - often spring to mind when we're out on the road.

So now we know what the underside of an articulated trailer looks like!

We reached the border 2½ hours later and played it as cool as we could, without appearing too casual and nonchalant of course.

Exiting Laos was easy. We checked with the Laotion border officers and made sure that we could obtain a new 'visa on arrival' on the way back in the opposite direction in a few days' time. They confirmed there would be no problem with this.

At the Vietnamese side of no man's land, however, it was a completely different story.

"So .. you say you want to cross over the border into MY country - The Great Socialist Republic of Vietnam, eh?
We shall see. Wait over there.
And remember .. We Ask The Questions!"

Gawd .. I felt like one of those characters in the movie The Great Escape .. would I make it over ze border, or not?

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Well, after nearly two hours of negotiations - the details of which are far too lengthy to go into here ..


  .. we were eventually granted a 15-day (only) temporary import permit for the bike .. on the strict condition we return and export within that time-frame back through the same border crossing.

We were in - and without wanting to sound too melodramatic - we were into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, on a big displacement foreign-registered motorcycle, when the odds of doing so were against us.
 
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From Ellen's journal: click on this link → Kong Lor Caves & Good Morning Vietnam!

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Vietnam's climate is complex. Although the country lies entirely within the tropics, its diverse range of topography creates huge climatic variations. We didn't know quite what to expect, weather-wise, after the leaving the dry, intense heat of Laos.

Dropping down the mountain range from the border posts, excited as hell of course, the change in weather was quite dramatic.


What we experienced was an almost instant drop in temperature of around 10°C. The surrounding mountain tops were shrouded in mist, with 100% covering of thick layers of nimbo-stratus cloud threatening precipitation at any time .. but that didn't worry us one bit.

We were simply over the moon to be riding in Vietnam - something we really didn't expect to happen - and from our entry point at least, this land appeared to be a verdant tapestry of soaring mountains and half mountains, primeval forests .. inhabited by exotic fauna and unfamiliar sounding wildlife ..

.. and fertile plains the further we rode into the nation.

But my word, this contrasting climate makes for an incredibly green country indeed. All the padi fields we passed by were full to the brim with healthy growing rice. Nothing west of Vietnam in Southeast Asia (Laos, Thailand etc) at this time of year compares to Vietnam's fertility and bounty.

After riding 311 km [193 mi] without a refuelling stop - proving beyond doubt that a Transalp's full tank is good for carrying two overweight passengers, plus all their excessive luggage, along twisting roads and over contrasting terrain .. quite a long way, with some to spare!

We arrived, just as darkness was falling, in the coastal city of Đồng Hới, the City of Roses, where we quickly identified and checked into a half-decent hotel.

A new country with new beers to sample. Life can't be all bad, eh?!

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Wednesday, 10th

Breakfast time, almost right outside our hotel's entrance, overlooking the Nhật Lệ River in Dong Hoi.

Our host for the night. Class digs as usual, eh? .. costing us 350,000 Vietnam Dong (VND), about GB£11 [US$18]. That's right, over one-third of a Million VND for a basic hotel room - breakfast not included. Going to the ATM for much less than 2 Million VND is a waste of time in this country. In the morning you are a Millionnaire .. and by bedtime, you're broke again!

Fact: Almost all the currency in Vietnam is made-up of notes. Vietnam Dong notes start at 500VND [1½ pence] and the biggest note is 500,000VND [£15.50]; all of them have Hồ Chí Minh's face printed on them.

We headed down the coast along National Highway 1A (NH 1A) for 178 km [110 mi] to the city of Hué, right through the heart of the DMZ (The Demilitarized Zone), which was the battleground demarcation strip of land that separated North from South Vietnamese territory during the Vietnam War.

NH 1A has to be one of the most suicidal roads in Southeast Asia. Death Wish overtaking is standard practise, especially by bus drivers who clearly want to stick to their schedules.

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Thursday, 11th and Friday 12th 

In and around Hué

The ancient city of Hué (pronounced 'whey'), situated on the banks of the Perfume River, used to be the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen Dynasty - that is, from the beginning of the 19th Century up until 1945. For this reason it is widely regarded as the cultural and spiritual heart of the country.

As we only had a limited amount of days available during this unexpected excursion into Vietnam, we thought this would be the best place to spend most of our time.

More by luck than judgement we stayed in a perfect hotel for a biker, with safe off-road parking right in the heart of the city. Fabulous service is provided by the manager and staff at The Ideal Hotel. Ideal by name .. and in every sense of the word.

Sightseeing cyclo style.

The view from my perspective as we toured some of the sights at a very sedate pace.

Local life around the side streets.

Hue's weather is infamously bad so we found out: the Truong Son Mountains just to the south seem to bottle up all the moisture, so it's usually misty, drizzly or outright rainy. It was here that we experienced our first rainfall for more than six weeks.

Ah yes, the allure of the war museum - I just couldn't help myself. You see, I grew up - as a child and teenager .. to young adulthood - with news of the Vietnam War, the horror, constantly in the background, right throughout my salad days.

Abandoned US military hardware. Tanks and artillery everywhere.

A Bell UH-1 Iroquois, the "Huey" as it became affectionately known.

A Huey in Hué .. so to speak.


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Of course there are two sides to every war. Here you see it through the eyes of the victor. A huge bias towards the heroic North Vietnamese Army, of course. 



Interestingly the South Vietnamese Army are referred to throughout the museum as "The Puppet Army"

Identity papers of American personnel. I couldn't help but wonder how the US Government and the individuals concerned (or their families) would love to have these documents returned.

And this was what it was all about - Victory for the North in 1975 when North Vietnamese forces captured Saigon; afterwards renamed Hồ Chí Minh City. 'Uncle Ho' greets a representative from the South. And the cost of reunification?

Casualties:

1. Estimated overall at 5,773,190
2. Estimated dead 2,122,244
3. Americans killed 58,169

352 Billion (US) Dollars spent on the war.

America and its allies learnt nothing from all this of course. Look today at Iraq and Afghanistan. I rest my case.

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On Friday (12th) we took a dragon boat ride to the Tombs of the Emperors, which are located along the Perfume River south of the city.

It was festival time in Hué at the time. Ellen I never did get to the bottom of what the celebrations were all about. Our cruise boat pulled-in along the northern bank of the Perfume River en route to the Tombs. We jumped out and walked alongside the moored flotilla listening to the cacophony of sounds all around. I was drawn to one particular catamaran-type vessel where the emanating music was especially loud. We were beckoned inside by one of the musicians. Watch the video below to see what was going on ..




Next stop the Thien Mu Pagoda. Followed by three visits to Royal Tombs, namely:
  • Minh Mang Tomb
  • Tu Duc Tomb
  • Khai Dinh Tomb


People also came to pray with the caretaker monks

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Our lunch spread-out on the inside deck of the dragon boat. Struggling to sit cross-legged on a hard wooden deck AND eat rice with chopsticks at the same time. A fork'n spoon was not an option on offer by the way!

Okay, so here are the guardian statues at the Tomb of Khai Dinh ..

 .. BUT here's the 'real deal' - with quite a smile - who was kind enough to pose for a photo. Dentistry is obviously not too widely practiced in Vietnam, eh?!

All 'tombed out' by mid-afternoon with all the excessive opulence, I turned my camera to other things ..

.. like the beautiful water lillies around the various temple grounds





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Saturday, 13th

9:15am - and it's time to leave Hué and make our way back to the border; this time avoiding the NH 1A as far as possible, prefering instead to ride the much quieter and scenic Hồ Chí Minh Highway.

Back through the lush padi fields and up into the mountains.

4:00pm at the border. Meet Vietnam's newest biker!

After clearing Vietnamese immigration and customs .. re-entering Laos, which required brand new visas at a cost of US$70 [US$35 each], by 6:00pm we made the decision to ride on through in order to get back to our hotel in Thakhèk on the east bank of the Mekong.

Covering 490 km [305 mi] - the last three hours of which were in total darkness - by 9:15pm we pulled into the hotel car park. What a day?! - easily the longest ride of the trip so far.

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With just over a week to go, I must soon find somewhere to store the bike before returning home to Cornwall .. my word, how the time has flown these past 6½ weeks. One more blog posting left to create.

I wonder what wonderful sights remain .. just around the next corner - and over the horizon?

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