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Offline MrBig

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Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die >> PART 8
« on: April 22, 2013, 03:49:32 pm »


This will be less of a ride report and more some random ramblings about Vietnam and our experiences in riding from south to north (2-up) on a 125cc Suzuki over 3 weeks in March 2013. If you ever thought of doing these writings perhaps this could in some way help you to figure out the why’s and how’s.

Why did we choose Vietnam? Pure chance really – just a place we haven’t been to and considering that our dates were fixed we looked around South East Asia for suitable weather during March. After discovering Emirates added a direct flight to Saigon mid 2012 our minds were pretty much made up. March is spring time in Vietnam and although it’s always warm in the South there’s less chance of rain and the North holds cooler weather. We had no desire to ride day in and day out in monsoon like torrential downpours and figured this time of the year would give us the best possible chance to do it. A very nice resource for weather conditions and trip planning is available on the weather guide page of Selective Asia

In November 2012 our research started and the decision to do it independently by bike wasn’t a clear choice from the start.
Once you browse the mountain of info on the web and read others opinions on forums such as Thorntree and TripAdvisor you will notice there are mixed opinions on the idea of biking Vietnam.
Many will tell you about their amazing experience and will be encouraging - but even more will tell you their horror stories...
Huge language barriers; insane traffic; zero road rules; no respect or tolerance for bikes on the highways; no legal way of driving on a tourist visa; horrible accidents with poor medical care; hugely corrupt police and traffic officials. The list goes on.
However, whether you choose to bike there or not should depend on what you want from the experience as a whole and you should approach it well informed and not only be comfortable with you ability to handle a motorcycle under difficult circumstances but understand (and make peace with it) that there are and will be risks. Yes, in all likelihood you will be riding there “illegally” and the implication of this should be understood. Make sure you have adequate medical cover for international travel as well as good liability insurance to boot if worse comes to worse.  

Nevertheless - we pegged some destinations and compared travel options.
Biking vs public transport (trains, busses) vs Flying to select destinations. All of which are feasible.
What swayed us in the end was that N[]va lives in Ho Chi Minh City and he offered assistance with the bike issue.
Having a friend there made all the difference as we knew we could pretty much arrive and find everything ready considering our limited time-frame of three-and-a-half weeks.
Besides, biking sounded like a lot more fun and interesting way of seeing the country.  :biggrin:

The only remaining question was whether to buy a bike or rent one. One way rentals are possible with a few motorcycle touring agencies but those offering rentals rarely have bikes suitable for 2-up.
Depending on what bike you rent and for how long the cost could be anything from $20-35 per day. There is thus a point where it starts making sense to consider buying a bike. For a solo rider the Honda Win (Chinese) is perfectly suited and good samples can be found for under $300. They are cheap to run and very cheap to fix with parts available everywhere. Virtually all the foreign riders we encountered (not many btw) was riding a Win.

Being held liable for damage to a rental bike also didn’t exactly appeal to me so we decided to take the plunge and buy something. Buying a motorcycle in Vietnam is pretty straightforward and the custom is not to transfer ownership but merely to pass on the original registration papers to the next owner.
This proves ownership satisfactory to all including the police.

Our biggest challenge was finding a suitable bike at a reasonable price. From the info I could gather on various forums and blogs the best way to go would be to buy a bike form a fellow traveler in HCMC.
Plenty of 2nd hand options are available - something like a Suzuki GS 125 seemed to be well suited to carry a pillion.
Craigslist Vietnam is a pretty popular source for travellers and after keeping an eye on it for a couple of weeks spotted a winner. http://vietnam.craigslist.org/mcy/
(If you’re looking also keep an eye on http://www.travelswop.com/ for some options.)

N[]va made contact and the very next day I was the semi-proud owner of a Suzuki GN125!


Now planning could start in earnest.

We sent passports off to the Vietnamese Embassy in Pretoria for Visa applications. http://www.vietnam.co.za/
They confirmed that Saffers do not require proof of accommodation and all that's needed is a filled in application form, confirmed flight bookings and some colour ID photos.
The Visa fee is dependent on duration and number of entries. 1 Month Single Entry was R800 – a bit of a rip-off but that’s after all the Vietnamese way =)

The itinerary took shape and we managed to squeeze in a few days so total length of the road trip will be 23 full days (plus arrival and departure days  either side)
Realistically it left  us with around 20 days to make it from Saigon to Hanoi.

Rough route as follow:
HCMC to Phan Tiet (Mui Ne)
Phan Tiet to Da Lat
Da Lat to Nha Trang
Nha Trang to Tuy Hua
Tuy Hua  to Pleiku
Pleiku to Kham Duc
Kham Duc to Hoi An
Hue to Cu Nam
Cu Nam to Huong Khe
Huong Khe to Yen Cat
Yen Cat to Hanoi

So the plan was pretty much 11 days riding + 9 days for sightseeing and chilling then fly back to Saigon for a day or two



In the meantime N[]va had Jerry (the Suzuki) checked out by his mechanics over at Hien Moto  (highly recommended as far as Vietnamese workshops go!)
New oil & filters, new clutch plates & clutch cable, new cam chain and tensioner, new fork seals, new sparkplugs, new grips.
Also fitted new tyres front and back and reupholstered the seat for more comfort with the total cost of work coming just under $200


more to come...





edit - photos embedded using PhotoBucket so let me know if you can't see them


PART 2 here

PART 3 here


PART 4 here

PART 5 here

PART 6 here

PART 7 here

PART 8 here
« Last Edit: May 31, 2013, 04:26:18 pm by MrBig »
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Online ZooDog

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2013, 03:58:17 pm »
subscribed
TIA. this is africa
 

Offline Hentie @ Riders

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2013, 04:06:35 pm »
 :happy1:

Offline lonerider

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2013, 04:13:11 pm »
Been waiting! ;)

 :thumleft:
[snip]
I do not think that dying is a good idea.
Living doing something that you love is a good idea.
Living until you die is a good idea. If living happens to kill you it means you made a mistake, but we are human, and humans make mistakes, so go for it, enjoy it, live until you die, rather than not living for your whole life.
 

Offline WP

Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2013, 04:24:06 pm »
 :ricky:
 

Offline Operator

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2013, 04:26:35 pm »
« Last Edit: April 22, 2013, 04:27:24 pm by Operator »
 

Offline Karel Kat

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2013, 04:43:15 pm »
Jippie, uiteindelik!
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Offline TheAnt

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #7 on: April 22, 2013, 04:45:20 pm »
Whoooohoooo!  :ricky:

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Offline Crossed-up

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2013, 04:46:58 pm »
This will be good!  Bookmarked.
 

Offline Crop Sprang

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #9 on: April 22, 2013, 04:51:58 pm »
Fantasic
Looking forward to the memories of an amazing place !!!!!
 :ricky: :ricky: :ricky: :ricky: :ricky:
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Offline buzzlightyear

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2013, 05:06:53 pm »
 :sip:
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Offline Lem

Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2013, 05:15:34 pm »
gan dit nie mis nie
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Offline MrBig

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2013, 05:55:03 pm »
Before hitting the road  ;) a bit more on preparations

PART 2

BIKE & TOOLS
By some luck Jerry came ready fitted with some sturdy pannier racks and a very generous rear carrier rack.
I packed a basic toolkit and a handpump for emergency. N[]va had a huge bike lock ready for us and I borrowed feeler gauges and gasket maker as well.
The seating is fairly comfortable for such a small bike but understandable gets cramped after a few hours. The narrow handle bars felt strange compared to the more aggressive position I’m used to.
In retrospect I should have fitted some form of high-way pegs as well.

LUGGAGE
It was very important to keep weight down and we used a small pack on each side for most of our stuff and a 15L drybag on the rear rack for the toolkit and wet weather gear.
Total weight of luggage was around 15kg.



GEAR
Helmet laws are in place across Vietnam and enforced in the South but less so in the North. The average Vietnamese barely pay attention to what they put on their heads and mostly it’s something resembling a baseball cap.
You can buy these ‘helmets’ for around R20-30 from sidewalk vendors. Suffice to say full-face helmets are far from the norm and we turned heads wherever we went.
Before leaving I fitted Bluetooth communicators in each helmet which really worked a charm.
My recommendation is to bring all your own gear if you plan on riding there. We took our oldest full-face helmets along (with the idea to pass it on along with the bike when selling).
Waterproof boots (our only shoes apart from flip-flops so they have to be comfortable); Richa Deep Summer jackets with armour removed;  Gloves;
It wasn’t feasible to deal with riding pants due to the bulk and heat so we took some lightweight pants and had Kevlar/Cordura patches put on the lower legs/knee area.
We each had rain pants as well as a waterproof jacket to wear over gear as well as for general use if need. We got extremely lucky and never had any rain on the road and it also was never cold enough to need a jacket anyway.
The heat, in fact, can become rather exhausting especially in the South so keep that in mind when choosing appropriate gear.
Now you can always argue “do as the locals do” and ride around in sandals but do so at your own peril. The sun will burn the living daylights out of you if you have any exposed skin and I reckon some sort of abrasion protection is the minimum you should have. We saw and met quite a few tourists with bloodied hands, elbows and knees.



MAPS
Some of the paper maps on sale in Vietnam is indecipherable and pretty damn useless but if you’re persistent you will find a good one.
I wasn’t prepared to risk it and especially having to navigate cities filled with alleys and one-way streets decided on taking a GPS along.
Garmap South East Asia 2012 proved to be pretty accurate and even gave turn by turn routing when necessary - I ran it off my trusty eTrex Legend mounted on the bars.



GADGETS
We met a Dutch couple with humongous backpacks at a train station where they were contemplating the main cause of their over-sized (and hefty) luggage.
She proclaimed with some shame that it was mostly due to all the “computerapparatuur”.
Never being one to shy away from the odd gadget we realised it was our curse as well.
Internet connectivity was surprisingly good and available virtually everywhere – mostly for free – so having the odd gadget makes sense if you need to stay in touch with home, backup or upload some photos or do some online booking or research.
Electricity sockets accepts both the round 2-pin plug and the US flat 2-pin plug so charging was very easy.
N[]va kindly arranged a local SIM with some airtime for us which came in very handy throughout the trip.





SAIGON
Finally the day came and we arrived in Saigon around 8pm on a sweaty Friday afternoon.
Great was my surprise when we stepped outside the airport to find N[]va standing there to welcome us.
We had our first encounter with Vietnamese taxi ranks and finally made it to the city and onto our first beer.
The heat was overwhelming and feeling the effects of the long trip I was really relieved we had decided to not hit the road the very next day but to stick around to find our bearings until Sunday.

Saigon was an assault to the senses - one of the first things you notice when arriving in Vietnam is the absolutely ridiculous number of motorcycles on the streets. Like in most Asian countries bikes here are used to transport the whole family as well as whatever else crap you need to carry.  
Saturday we got our stuff together and headed over to N[]va’s place to give Jerry a shakedown and sort our kit out.
It must have been a very long time since I’ve been on a 125 as the less than .. ummm.. explosive power of these bikes took me by surprise.
That being said it never really is necessary or safe to go very fast in Vietnam. (I will get to the overall driving experience later though).
We swung buy Hien Moto so I could meet the mechanics and also pick up a spare spark plug for the road. We took the plug out and it was clear the bike was running a bit lean so they adjusted the jetting.
That evening N[]va treated us to a proper braai on the roof of his building along with he’s missus and a friend. What a great way to start our journey!





With a lot of excitement and some trepidation we hit the sack that night........
« Last Edit: April 23, 2013, 11:32:46 am by MrBig »
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Offline weskus

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2013, 06:32:47 pm »
Looking forward to the rest..
Vorige scooters : Suzuki TS 185, Honda CD 200, Suzuki PE 250, Kawasaki Z650, Yamaha 495 IT, Kawasaki KLX 300, BMW F 650 GS Dakar, BMW F 800 GS, KDX200, KTM300, Suzuki GSXR1000, Honda CD200, tans KTM 990 Adv - toer,  KTM 300 XCW- funrides, KTM 1290 Superduke teerpad en Buff toe & Honda CX500 Custom - bar toe..
 

Offline Sir Rat

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #14 on: April 22, 2013, 06:56:33 pm »
Wow I am in on this ride. More Bigboy!!  ;D
 

Offline Would I?

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #15 on: April 22, 2013, 07:31:31 pm »
Keep it coming  :biggrin: :thumleft:
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Offline woody1

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #16 on: April 22, 2013, 07:47:12 pm »
Sub... sounds lekker...

I WOULD RATHER BE AN HONEST ASSHOLE .... THAN A FLIPPEN LIAR !   


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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #17 on: April 22, 2013, 07:48:44 pm »
Would love to see a pic of you on that 125 ;D

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #18 on: April 22, 2013, 08:51:23 pm »
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Offline Hinksding

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Re: Vietnam - how to ride 2000km and not die
« Reply #19 on: April 22, 2013, 10:12:10 pm »
 :sip:
Eet vleis! 'n 1 000 000 jakkalse kan nie verkeerd wees nie.