Saigon to Hanoi, Vietnam 2015

Happyland Revisited

Wherein

Jessica, Nick and Terry

Invade Vietnam

or

The Ride Goes On Forever

My daughter and son-in-law (Jessica and Nick) have been living in Chengdu China for almost two years as this is written. For the last couple of months they have been running Redbeard Burgers (http://www.redbeardburgers.com/) a rather unusual burger joint. Consider, if you are in China and want to open an unusual eating place, Chinese food is not going to be the item.

Lunar New Year is a big deal in parts of SE Asia. In some of the countries they pretty much shut things down for two weeks while everyone goes home for the celebrations. So Jessica and Nick reasoned that as long as business was probably not going to be very good, and their employees were not going to be there, it would be a good time for a well earned vacation.

With vacation in mind Jessica inquired if I was interested in a motorcycle ride somewhere. The answer to that was, as always, yes. After much discussion about where we could ride without getting kidnapped and/or shot we decided the answer was, of all places, Vietnam. It seems that Vietnam has come to the conclusion that as tourists spend money when they visit that tourism should be encouraged. Surprisingly, the more I thought about that, the more interesting it became. I first visited Vietnam in 1967-68 as part of my all expense paid tour courtesy of President LBJ. I got to see quite a bit of the country and even then saw it was a very beautiful and interesting place. So, after much looking around I found we could rent bikes (http://flamingotravel.com.vn/rentals) in Ho Chi Minh City (herein after called Saigon) and ride them to Hanoi, in Vietnamese Ha Noi. Working over the internet was not all that large a problem and in fairly short order, three bikes were rented and all we had to do was get there and pick them up.

So it happened that I found myself landing in the same airport I had flown out of two weeks short of 47 years prior. As least this time I was not getting shot at. After a short cab ride I checked into the Sheraton and tried to get a little sleep. Vietnam is mostly on the same schedule as China, pretty much shutting down the country for Lunar New Years (TET).  Due to flight schedules, Jessica and Nick would not be arriving until 2 AM the next morning. This meant that I had to get to the bike rental shop, sign the final forms and get the bikes bikes back to the hotel as they were shutting down at noon. If my plane had been late we would have to have enjoyed a two week walking tour of Saigon. I took a cab to the shop without a problem although observing the traffic was an eye opener. The rental was a bit hectic as the shop's credit card reader wasn't working and I had to get 21 million (yes, million) dong out of several ATMs, all of which had different limits as to what you could withdraw at one time. However, with the help of a British (?) ex-pat we got it done and then myself and two of the shop people rode the bikes, 250cc Hondas, back to the Sheraton.

As a interesting side note, at no time in the rental did anyone ask if we could ride a motorcycle, have a drivers license, insurance, or anything else, just pay the man and then ride off. Also, I had to leave my passport as security. That I did not like, but it worked out OK. I got a couple of colored copies of the visa and ID part and the hotels throughout the ride were good with that. According to what I could find out online it is not legal for anyone to operate a vehicle in Vietnam without a Vietnamese drivers license, which as a foreigner we could not get. I ask the rental agency about that and they just said it was not a problem and if stopped by a cop just play ignorant. It turned out we had no problem, but be advised.

With our transportation arranged I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Saigon seeing what I could see. Needless to say, it was quite a bit different than the last time I was there. Of course, the last time I was there I was driving a tank and didn't have to worry about traffic. Speaking of traffic, it is something see. It was mainly 125cc scooter of all types, quite a few cars and trucksSaigon Streets fixed up for TET and tons of bicycles, with few it seemed, paying attention to any traffic law I recognized. Thankfully the traffic did not move all that quickly.

Jessica and Nick's flight arrived on schedule and they arrived at the hotel around 2:00 AM. They checking in and we chatted for a bit then settled in for what was left of the night. We got together in the morning and discussed things. They had to solve some Chinese visa problems and could do it in either Hanoi or Saigon. In a rare correct decision we decided to solve the visa problem first and then get on with the ride. After the fairly normal amount of problems with the Chinese Embassy the visa problems were taken care of. Of course there was a fee required, but interestingly the Chinese Embassy required the fee be paid in US dollars, and in new dollars at that. Go figure.

After taking care of business we took a walking tour of Saigon. From what we coDSC01164uld see Saigon is a very clean city. Lots of things to see everyone smiling and helpful. We went by the Vietnamese war museum and took a few photos. As Nick and I are fairly large guys and Nick has a vivid red beard we did get more than our share of looks but none unfriendly.

The next morning it was time to hit the road. We loaded up the bikes and made it about 1/2 block before we had a problem. Jessica's bike stopped while Nick and I rode on. In what turned out to be normal a man came over to help and it turned out to be a loose plug wire which was quickly set right. We were headed for Chu Chi and Tay Ninh City where I had spent quite a bit of time and had downloaded the directions from Google Maps. After getting back together and gassing up we very carefully rode on. We pretty much tried to stay with the traffic and took clues from those around us. If they stopped, we stopped. Red lights are just suggestions, unless there is a bus or truck coming, then for sure stop. No one pulls out in front of buses. Most of the traffic was 125cc scooters of mainly Hondas and Yamahas. Three on a scooter was common, four not uncommon and 5 not unseen. Little did we know, we hadn't seen anything yet.

DSC02570 As mentioned, traffic generally doesn't move all that fast, by US standards so we survived with nothing but a few close calls. With the help of several friendly folks we cleared Saigon and got on the right road. After a bit we stopped along the road for lunch. Like most of the places we stopped this place was right by the road, no walls, and a limited menu. The menu was limited, but we couldn't read it anyway so we just pointed and ate it. It was fresh and good so no problems there.

This is pretty much our style of dining throughout the ride. Little roadside eating places were the order of the day. Like everything, some of the food was better than others, and at many we were not sure what it was and usually could not ask. But working on the assumption that if it would not kill the locals, it would not kill us. Other than taste, we had no problems with the food. One problem we did have is that Jessica is a vegetarian and we often had problems getting that understood. However, she has traveled all of her life and long ago learned to adapt.

This is a church in Trang Bang. It is a Cao Dai Church. According to what we could gather, they pretty much believe is a little bit ofDSC02588 everything in the way or religion. Their three mains saints are Sun Yat Sen, Victor Hugo and Trang-Trinh, among many others. They also get very interesting in how they decorate both the inside and outside of the building. Inside they use lots of neon and bright paint. And the outsides are just as decorated. The Swastika, in this instance, has nothing to do with Nazis. It is a symbol that has been used by Buddhism, Jainism and many other religions for thousand of years. It seems that this type of religion is prevalent in certain parts of the country and the main Cathedral is located in Tay Ninh City.

Even though it was February it was approaching hot and we quickly learned to take advantage of the little shops along the way. Every now and then there would be a shop with a bunch of hammocks hanging in the shade. You could, and we did stop and get a bottle of water, rest in the hammock and cool off. After a bit we arrived in Tay  Ninh. Before we had left Saigon I had found the names of a couple of motels in Tay Ninh, but we didn't know where they were. We stopped at a gas station to decide what to do when a man came over to help. In what would turn out to be common, he got on his scooter and lead us over to the motel we were looking for. It was about this time that we DSC02616discovered that Nha Nghi is Vietnamese for motel, or more correctly, guest house. We had passed a bunch of them and didn't even know it. The one we landed in was nice, clean, air conditioned and was only 200,000 dong per room. That translates to about $9.50 USD. This would be a good time to mention the Asian Idea of a mattress. They are firm, to say the least, about 3 inches thick lying on top of a board, no box springs or anything similar. It takes a little getting used to.  We settled into the motel, took a little break to  cool off and then went out to find something to eat. Little places like this one were common. Most had a little hole in the wall for the cooking area with two  or three tables sitting on the sidewalk.

After a good meal and a little walk around we settled in for a good night's sleep. We had decided to stay in Tay Ninh for the next day and to take a ride around Nui Ba Den, a mountain just to the east of the city. The first time I was in Vietnam I became quite familiar with Nui Ba Den and wanted to see what had changed. As can be expected after 47 years much had changed. It was a very interesting ride around the mountain and on the south side of we found an amusement park complete with food and souvenir shops at the bottom and a gondola ride up to a Buddhist Temple and other exhibits about halfway up the mountain. The gondola ride was interesting and we looked around at the exhibits. The temple was also a restaurant and as we were hungry we stopped by. There was no menu, you just sat down and they started serving. As it was a Buddhist Temple there was no meat, however, it was good. There also was no set price. There was just a bowl that you put money in, how much was up to you. After looking around a bit we rode the gondolaDSC02665 back down and rode back to the motel and took a little break.

We decide that we would ride over and see the big Cao Dia Cathedral however, we had one slight problem. Shortly after leaving the motel be became separated in traffic. I returned to the motel and Nick and Jessica went on to the Cathedral, which was a spectacular sight.  they looked around and then found out that Nick's bike would not start. Jessica returned to motel quite surprised that she could find it. I followed her back to the Cathedral and with only a little problem got the bike fired up. Eventually we all returned to the motel and all was well.

This was the night of the big TET celebration When we went out to dinner they were already blocking of the roads getting ready, and it was a show to see. There were all sorts of performers of different types and to top it off, a fireworks display that was without a doubt the largest we had seen. The only possible exception being an ammunition dump that blew up when I was here the first time.

Bright and early, sort of, then next morning we headed out of town. On the way out we made a stop at a shop selling phones and bought Vietnamese sim cards. Getting separated the day before could have been serious and we wanted a way to communicate, also we wanted Google Maps. Our phones were all unlocked so all we had to do was insert the sim card and we were in business. We got three chips each Water buffalos grazing on dike, near Duong Minh Chauwith 100 minutes for a very low price. Now we would talk, text and use Google Maps. We were ready to go.

We were heading for Nam Cat Tien National Park. Sad to say, we got very lost even with Google Maps. I wish I could blame Nick or Jessica, but unfortunately  I can't as I was directing the show. On the plus side it was a very nice ride over many back roads. If Nick had not discovered our error we probably would have made it to Cambodia.

This is a herd of water buffalo grazing on a dike a little east of Tay Ninh. The last time I was in this area the buffalo would charge any GI they saw or smelled. We even had one charge our tank which didn't accomplish much but it is an insight into buffalo. No problem this time as they pretty much ignored everyone and just kept on grazing.

It was a pretty warm day and due to the sun we all had on long sleeve shirts so we stopped often for breaks and water. We discovered our navigation error about the time we came to Binh Long. We stopped for a nice lunch and re-plotted our route. Eventually, and with no further drama we pulled into Phuroc Long, found a motel and walked over to a nice restaurant. As a final excitement for the day while we were eating it started raining, hard. Thankfully this restaurant had an awning so we had a nice meal. It didn't rain long so after the meal we returned to the motel and called it a day.

As a note,  all of the motels we stopped at either had us pull the bikes inside the building or had a place where they could be parked and DSC02738locked up. We had no problem losing anything off of the bike.

Now we were more familiar with how to use Google maps and we were heading for Cat Tien. We almost got there, but not quite. We heading south on a good road which turned out to be one of the more interesting of the trip. In places the road was little more than two scooter tracks and we were grateful for the long travel suspension and knobby tires on our bikes. As we went further, the road became worse. We rounded the corner of one building and we saw a lake and a muddy track leading to a ramp onto one of the more unusual ferries I have ever seen. It was at most 15' wide, 30' long and full of scooters and people. Our only choice was get on the ferry or backtrack quite a few miles, so up the ramp we went. I was the last one on and just sat on the bike for the short ride across the lake. As the last on, I was the first off and had no choice but to try and back the bike down the muddy ramp. That did not go well and as I got to the bottom of the ramp, I dropped the bike. Two men got tired of waiting for me to get our of the way so they picked up the bike and pushed to to shore. I took the opportunity to help Jessica and Nick turn there bikes around and they rode off without incident.  The bank DSC01194was quite muddy from the rains during the night and again we were thankful for the knobbies.

We rode on a bit and decided to consult the map to see where we were. Guess what? We were not on any road known by Google Maps. But, we did draw a crowd. It seemed that the whole village stopped whatever they were doing to come see the strangers. With this and earlier travels in China Nick and I were used to being looked at, we pretty much stand out, for size if nothing else. Also, Jessica got her share of attention for riding such a large, to them bike. This guy is just one of many who wanted their photo taken. When the ice was broken, out came the cell phones and everyone got there photo taken. They were all helpful when they could be and one guy who more or less spoke something approaching English got on his scooter and lead us to the right road. We were on a very much secondary road that wound around and through a bunch of rubber trees plantations. We saw these all over the place, obviously well taken care of and I was surprised. During my first visit to Vietnam I saw rubber plantations all over. But, I figured with all of the advances in synthetics the market for raw rubber would be almost nothing. However, judging by what we saw in this area, that Dragon Dancers, Phu Myconclusion would be wrong.

We followed the road and eventually made it to a main road that was on Google Maps and got our bearings over a nice glass of iced coffee and some type of snacks. The woman running the place had a little girl about 8 or so and she was just overcome with Nick. She gave us something, no idea what, but it was good. So, rested and realigned we rode on towards Nam Cat Tien. In doing this we discovered that the Vietnamese have no problems using the same name for several things. We followed the map to Nam Cat Tien, but the one we were looking for want not there, another one was. We stopped for lunch near where we thought we should bbe and had an interesting experience. We were entertained by a troupe of Dragon Dancers. They were a bunch of guys going down the road beating a drum and at every open place they would dismount, come in and do a dance. This is part of the TET celebration and was very interesting.

After several false starts we discovered what we wanted was to get to Na Da Gui and fro there to Nam Cat Tien. We could make Ma Da Gui today, but Nam Cat Tien would have to wait for tomorrow. We found Na Da Gui and checked into a nice motel, walked down the street a bit to a market. We looked around and found a restaurant and had a nice meal of something. Later, while walking around we found a park. with three women taking photos of each other. Without asking that we knew, one grabbed Nick and the other two grabbed me and we posed for a bunch of photos without understanding a word of what they were saying. There were no men so Jessica was left out. After a long hot and interesting day we went back to the motel and had a well deserved night's rest.

The next morning we checked on the web and got directions to Nam Cat Tien. Secure with our directions we headed out. However, there was a slight problem in that the direction on the web were a bunch of crap. After several kilometers up and down the highway and more than one alleyway Nick had a really good idea. He returned to last night's motel and got actual useful directions. More than that, the owner of the motel got on his scooter and led us about 10 kilometers to the park. You cannot drive or ride into the park, never mind what the web says. We parked our bikes in a secure (we hoped) location, bought tickets and rode the ferry across the river. You can check out Cat Tien National Park at this website: http://www.namcattien.org/.

Nam Cat Tien is a lot of things, but essentially it is a rescue facility for several different types of animals. They have a facility DSC01210which is aimed at returning different types of Gibbons to the wild. There are different types of tours depending on your interests. We  elected to take a stroll in the jungle to see some trees and then do the Gibbon facility. But first we had lunch in a very good onsite restaurant. DSC01224

After a nice lunch we had some time before the start of our tour so we took a hike into the jungle. Jungles have not changed much since the first time I was in country. They are hot and sweaty with no wind, and this was in February. There is a main road running throughout but once you step off of that and walk into the jungle the marking is not so good. It is very easy to see ,in my case remember, how easy it is to get lost in a jungle. As a historical note, this area played host to some of the most fierce fighting during the 1967-69 time frame with lots of agent orange dumped on this jungle. There area areas that still have not recovered from that time frame.

 After wandering around in the jungle for a bit it was time to return to the office for the boat ride over to the Gibbon facility. We were one of two groups going over. One was a Vietnamese family and they had a Vietnamese speaker. We had an English volunteer assigned to us so that worked out well. It seems that Gibbons in the wild are very much an endangered species do to lots of the usual reasons, habitat loss etc. There is also a problem with people keeping them as pets. What this place does is collect what Gibbons they can and try to return them to the wild. Our instructor let us on a short very informative tour and we to to see the facility. Returning the Gibbons to the wild is a long and frequently unsuccessful process. as captives the gibbons never learn the skills necessary to survive in the wild. At the site, as they progress, the Gibbons are kept in larger and larger cages until they can be turned loose. We saw one of the successes swinging through the trees and it was impressive.

Eventually it was time to leave and we took the boat across the river and found the bikes as we had left them. Then it was back down the road to Ma Da Gui and points ahead. After Ma Da Gui it became a very nice ride. The road started climbing and winding around the mountains. We were heading up into what is called the Central Highlands. This was our first really pretty ride. The previous days had been very interesting but it was mostly flat straight roads. Not so now, the road went up down and around. VDOT (Vietnamese Department of Transportation) moved as little rock and soil as they could get by with. It made for a very nice motorcycle road but the little 125s had problems with the hills. Our 250s just required a downshift or two and up we went. This is also where we ran into our first experiences with the large intercity buses and heavy trucks. The buses were the worst and from the way they drive one would guess that they are on very tight schedules. Even the Vietnamese don't pull out in front of any of those. I would not want to ride inside one of those buses withoutDSC02824 some type of calming chemical. It got worse as the sun went down. Our bikes were essentially dirt bikes with lights and not good lights at that. Road marking were pretty much nonexistent as were any form of lighting plus the buses pack enough lighting to melt cactus at 50 meters and dimming their lights was not one of their options. Not a good situation. After a summit discussion we decided on going on a bit and as we pulled into Li Dinh we were all relieved to find a nice motel right beside a equally nice restaurant. We we were in the highlands the evening was cool, the meal good and we didn't even need the air conditioner that night.

This is an early morning view from the roof of the motel. As I mentioned, we were in the Central Highlands, the evenings were cool with lots of moisture in the air and this causes fogs and lots of it. However, we were not riding in it so we just enjoyed the view. By the time we got ready to hit the road it had burned off and all was good.

Shortly after leaving Li Dinh our rout split and we headed SE. By now we had worked out that when we came to an intersection we stopped Roadside monument at start of great bike road, near Chua Giac Nguyenand checked Google Maps. It was continually amazing how accurate it was. Anyway, we found the right roads and after a bit we started down the east side of the highlands. This shrine was at the apex of the first curve that was the beginning of about a 20 kilometer downhill run with lots of 15 mph curves and here I was on a set of knobbies. Bummer: by the time we got to the bottom we were in a totally different climate, sort of like Southern California in the summer, hot but not too humid. You Tail of the Dragon fans go to Google Maps and blow up the part around Deo Ngoan Muc. It beats just about anything I have seen in the US, Canada and Mexico.

We had a very interesting but hot ride across some very Southern California looking landscape. We decided to call it a day in Nha Trang Nha Trang Beach, nice and cleanand treat ourselves to a little time on the beach. We checked into a nice motel right across the road from the beach and all took the opportunity to jump into the ocean. As this photo shows, it was indeed a very nice beach. The South China Sea is warm and the beach was clean and it was most refreshing. If you are into surfing, you are probably not going to be very impressed with the South China Sea, but it is very relaxing.

From what we saw, Nha Trang is a very nice clean city. There are high rise hotels and apartment building all up and down the beach. If you did not know you were in Vietnam it would look just like a beach resort anywhere, complete with palm trees and everything else including the traffic. And I have to say that who or whatever is in charge of keeping the beach and the water clean Nha Trang Bayis doing a good job and considering the number of people who were there that is surprising and very welcome.

After a nice refreshing swim, good meal, and a good night's sleep the next morning we rode on heading for Phong Nha-Ke Bang Cave. For the next day or so we would be hugging the coast with little choice as Vietnam gets rather narrow in this area. As we rounded Nha Trang Bay we noticed that the fishing fleet was in. This photo was shot from a restaurant pull out and even though it is a pretty good photo it does not do the site justice. If other sites were not calling I could have spent a couple of days just sitting there taking in the view.

As we went further north the temperature was quite a bit less. Also the roads were much improved with bypasses around the towns so we made some pretty good mileage. It was about this time that Jessica and Nick discovered that the seats on these bikes were not all that great. I remembered a story I had read about a guy traveling around the world on a similar bike with a similar problem. He solved the problem by getting a board about as wide as his butt and laid it across the seat. We decided to give it a shot. We pulled into a new gas station and there were a couple of boards left over from the construction. We ask, and they said we could have them. We used a foot to break them to length. Nick and Jessica tried them and pronounced them "good" and used them for the rest of the trip. For me, I just stuck with the seat: it was not that big a deal to me. We stopped for the night in Tam Quan, had a nice meal, took a little walk around town and called it good.

The next day we made it as far as Hai Lang which is just a little south of Quang Tri. We had some good roads and made a bunch of miles, not miles as in the US on my Gold Wing, but a bunch for Vietnam on a 250. We rode through Da Nang which has to be one of the cleanest cities I have ever seen Great bike road north of Da Nangand it has a fantastic beach. We rode into town and quickly got ourselves lost. While we were discussing the problem a well dressed man on a scooter stopped and ask if he could help. He went several miles out of his way to lead us to the road we wanted and see us on our way. I am of the opinion that Da Nang would be a great place for a return visit.

A little north of Da Nang they had installed a toll road through the mountains and motorcycles and scooter were not allowed. Interestingly there was a shed where you could load your bike or scooter on a trailer and get through the toll road that way.

Fortunately the old road still existed and we elected to take it and it turned out to be one of the better motorcycle roads we were on. The views of Da Nang bay and the surrounding area were something else. As a plus, most of the heavy traffic was on the toll road. This photo is where DSC02873we stopped for the view and the nice lady served us a refreshing iced coffee. One interesting thing happened on the bypass. A small truck load of hogs passed us while we were stopped. A little later we passed them. One of the hogs had gotten out of the truck. how we had no idea, but they were calmly herding it down the highway.

The further north we went the better the roads became. To get to Phong Nha-Ke Bang Caves we would be leaving the coast and moving inland. According to Google Maps we would hooking up with the Ho Chi Minh Highway and it would take us to and through the cave area and eventually hook us back up with the AHI, the main north south highway. And that is pretty much what it did.

It was a pretty new good concrete highway and did not carry a lot of traffic so we made good time. The ride and the scenery was fantastic. The cave area is billed as one of the oldest examples of Karst Topography in the world as as far as I know, it is. What you see in the photo is the sign and the road leading back to the cave. Those hills are the remains of a thick layer of limestone that has been eroded over millions of years.

Entrance to Phong Nha-Ke Bang CaveAs we pulled into town we were hungry and saw the sign for the Son Tinh Restaurant and could not pass it by. The food was very good and it was a lot of fun. There were a group of folks there having some sort of party and they had been drinking hard for sometime before we got there. They were very friendly and free with their beer, which for some reason they were drinking warm. Why I don't know unless they had already drank all of the cold ones. I know the French had a lot of influence in Vietnam, but I didn't think the British did.

The cave and surrounding area are a UNESCO World Heritage site (http://www.phongnhakebang.vn/en) and is for sure worth the trouble getting there.

Entrance to the cave area is by boat only and that is closely controlled. There are several tour packages of various lengths and prices. Thankfully the descriptions of the various tours are posted in several languages so you know what you are going for. We elected for the boat ride to and through the cave, paid up and were assigned a boat.

The boats will hold up to 14 people but like at Cat Tien we had the boat all to ourselves. The ride up the river was very interesting and the scenery beautiful. Along the way we saw people pulling some sort of grass from the bottom of the river. As there is plenty of grass along the river we doubted it was to feed the animals.

The river flows through the cave and as the photo shows, the boats went into the cave. They used gasoline engines to get to the cave, but inside the cave they used oars. Caves have always been of interest to me and I have been in a lot of them. This is the first one I have ever ridden a boat into. I can't say this one is the best I have seen, but it certainly is far up on DSC01273the list. There are all of the normal stalactites, mites, columns, flowstones and all of the usual cave formations.  The lighting is good so yo can see the formations and take photos.

We rode the boat in about a kilometer at which point the cave was so low you couldn't go any further. We started back and after a bit they pulled the boat up and we got off to walk back to the entrance. When you come out of the cave there are the usual tourist shops, snack shops and other things for you to spent your money on. We looked around a bit and then found our boat and headed back down the river. It was a pleasant ride in a very scenic area. Back at the landing, it was pure tourist, t-shirts, hats, belts, you name it and it was there. We settled for a cool drink and then we headed north o one of the more interesting segments of our trip.

First off, the road and scenery were something else. It was remote with not a lot of people or traffic. Throughout our trip, even on some of the very remote dirt tracks there had been plenty of gas stations. Now, there were none. As we rode through several small villages we saw no stations. We knew that we could go 100 kilometers on a tank but as the mileage got up in the 140s we were getting a little concerned. It turned out well as right at the 150 mark we came to an intersection and there was a station. With the gas problem solved we rode on with the road and scenery still fantastic. However, it was getting late and there were no towns or motels in sight. Thankfully the traffic was slight with none of the large buses. It was full dark when I saw the Nha Nghi sign right beside a restaurant and we pulled in. They had rooms and the restaurant was good as usual so we settled in.

DSC01301The next day we pretty much made mileage as we were heading for Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island. It was overcast most of the day with drizzle from time to time. In the south it was bordering on hot most of the time, not so in the north. In the south, during the day women, especially younger women, seldom went out without most of their skin, including face, covered. Not so the further north we went. By now we were pretty much immune to being surprised by what we saw being carried or hauled by scooter. On more than one occasion we saw a full grown cow in a two wheeled trailer being pulled by a scooter. As the day progressed it never did actually rain but it was misting and the riding jackets felt good. We ended the day in Nam Dinh, a fair sized town, with a nice motel and meal.

The next day was not the best of riding weather. it drizzled most of the time and at times rained although not heavily. This is not the most fun on knobbies but we rode on carefully. This photo is from a fairly large Buddhist Shrine we came across. As you can see, it is quite elaborate. When we pulled in a couple of guys waved us into a parking area. We parked and I started to pay, a common thing, and they said no and added that they would watch the bikes. We looked the place over, it was very interesting and when we came out the bikes were all safe and sound. One of the guys who was watching the bikes waited until we came out and then through a leg over my bike to try it on for size. For him it would have been a stretch. They were also impressed that Jessica was riding such a large bike. After a general looking over we all posed for the normal photos and then we rode on towards Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island. For once the turn off was well marked and with only a little hassle we got to the ferry for Cat Ba Island. By this time it was misting more heavily and the fog wasDSC01314 moving in. The ride to the island was something. The hills sticking out of the ocean are essentially the same formation that formed Phong Nha-Ke Bang cave except these are mostly under water.

The ferry ride to Cat Ba Island was about one hour and view like this were common. By the time we got to the island the mist and rain had slacked off and the fog had lifted somewhat. We landed on one side of the island and our target was on the other, an 18 kilometer ride through some very interesting country.

By now a couple of things were obvious. One, it was very much off season for tourists and two, the government was pushing hard for this to become a prime tourist area. A lot of construction had began, some was finished but there was still a lot to do.

We pulled into Ben Tau Cat Ba and were trying to decide where to stay, there were motels all over. While we were talking a woman came over to ask if we were looking for a motel. It seems her mother had a motel and she would happily lead us to it. It sounded like a deal so we followed her and her little daughter to Mom's motel and it turned out to be one of the nicer one we stayed. We unloaded and walked down to the harbor to look around, have a meal, a drink, and get a general view of the place, all of which we accomplished. It is a pleasant place and at sometime in the future would be worth another visit and a  longer look around.

The next morning we were to catch the ferry out and make it to Hanoi. That was the plan but, on DSC03034an island with two roads, we took the wrong one, which did lead us to a ferry, just not the one we wanted. On this ferry we would have to island hop a couple of times and would wind up riding through Hai Phong. Hai Phong is a very crowded industrial city and we really didn't want to ride through that. So we backtracked and got to the right place only to be told we had missed the early ferry and there wouldn't be another one until 4:00, never mind the sign saying there would be a 1:00 ferry. A couple of locals were trying to work a deal to get the bikes on some sort of boat for around a million dong. We were considering it until we found there was no way to load the bikes safely. We were convinced there would be a 1:00 ferry so we rode to town and had lunch then rode back to the ferry terminal to find out that for sure there was no 1:00 ferry. With that discovery, other than wait for the 4:00 ferry the only thing to do was call Flamingo and tell them we would be there tomorrow. The locals still wanted to load the bikes on some sort of boat but it wasn't sounding any better so we again passed on that, made the call to Flamingo and settled down to wait. Eventually the 4:00 ferry came and we loaded up and off we went. The weather was somewhat better than when we came over and the views were even more spectacular.

By the time we docked it was after 5:00 and dusk was approaching. We made a few miles and eventually called it quits, found a motel and a place to eat. After a good night's  sleep we packed the bikes for the last time and rode off into a heavy mist with a strong north wind. The mist became a rain and we paused to get into the rain gear. It never did rain really hard and eventually we got ahead of the front and it was just overcast. We had checked on Google Maps and the bike shop  in Hanoi appeared to be easy to find as did our route to it. Except for the last mile or so it turned out to be so. The road we were on dumped us on one side of a very busy elevated 4 lane road with no visible way across. However, we are nothing if not resourceful. We made our way down several very narrow alleyways and possibly through someone's living room, eventually crossed the road and were within striking distance. The bikes had decals with Flamingo's name and address on it. A couple of times we pulled over and pointed to the address and we got closer and eventually found the shop.

While I was wrapping up the details of the bike rental Nick strolled around and found us a nice motel at a decent price. In Hanoi a decent price is considerably more that in the countryside. We dropped our gear in the motel and quickly found a nice restaurant and had a nice meal of something. The bike shop is in what they call old Town Hanoi which was good as that is the part we wanted to see. We  spent the rest of the day strolling around just looking. We concluded that the main business here was selling things to tourists like us.

We did the whole tourist thing and had a nice time. Eventually we had our last meal in Vietnam, returned to the motel and got ready to leave. The airport is 28 kilometers outside of town and our motel folks said we needed to leave at 4:00 and they would have a cab waiting. At 4:00 the cab was waiting and we made it to the airport with no problem. Interestingly, once inside the airport all prices were in US dollars. We only had dong and the folks took the dong but didn't look happy about it.

To shorten things up, we all made our flights. I flew forever and got back home before I left or something like that.

This was truly a great ride. Considering what we were doing and that Nick was a little shy on experience it was more than a minor miracle things turned out as well as they did. We got lost a few time, never seriously but other than minor sunburn had no problems. We each dropped our bikes but broke nothing more than a brake lever. We dealt with the roads and traffic and kept on going looking for the next adventure. I could not wish for better riding companions. Both Nick and Jessica are pretty much up for about anything reasonable, or close. They were willing and able to adapt to whatever we had to deal with. Back roads and questionable lodging were not a problem. That road that led to the ferry was even fun. We had no intestinal problems and considering what and where we ate that is a miracle in itself.  As with every endeavor there were both high and low points. But, to quote Willie Nelson, “Remember the good times, they are smaller in number and easier to recall: Don’t spend too much time on the bad times their staggering number will be heavy as lead on your mind”. Nick and Jessica, thanks for the memories.

 The Ride Goes On Forever