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Posts Tagged ‘road trip’

saigon bikesThe story begins one drunken evening in Saigon.  After meeting a couple of people having just done the road trip from Hanoi we decide to buy two motorbikes and make the journey ourselves.  The next afternoon we’re $200 lighter, but the proud owners of two Honda Win’s – Vietnam’s finest. Check out our video of the trip – The electic tigers youtube…

hogsWe test drive the bikes on a 50km drive out to the Cu Chi tunnels – where the  north Vietnamese would take shelter from the constant shelling from American artillery and then nip up in between to pop off a few GI’s or launch somecu chi rich rocket attacks.  They survived down here almost the entire war. It wasn’t until the American presence was ending that they finally destroyed the network – a kind of swansong to the whole campaign.  Some areas of land here still feel the effects agent orange and other chemical weapons used by the US military.

gunshipSo the trip went well, chaotic, but easy driving…until we try to get back to our hotel.  Its getting dark as we enter the built up area of Saigon and the streets look pretty much the same.  There are very few landmarks and nobody speaks enough English to help us find our way back to our part of the city – And a map is useless if you cant find where you are on it.  Nightmare.  It takes us hours to find it.  But many lessons are learned, and luckily we need only navigate this crazy metropolis one more time.  We’re glad to hear no other city is quite as intense.

mui neAnd leave we do, the next morning. And head for the coast and a town called  Mui Ne. Where we chill for a couple of nights and hit the beach – and check out some sand dunes. Though we have our first breakdown – my accelerator cable snaps.  Rich drags my up the hill to the town where we find a mechanic.  he can fix it.  We time him.  It takes 12 minutes,including the trip to buy a new part.  It costs $2. Awesome.

Its Here we come up with the idea – or steal it from another guy, to start a biker gang and call it the Vietnam Electric Tigers.  You can check out our facebook page click here – Vietnam Electric Tigers!.  All facebook likes would be appreciated!!!

gillan duneNext we drive up to Dalat, in the southern mountains.  The road there, well, it isn’t a road.  More a collection of bits of road mixed with dirt track and some gravel – And potholes that schools of fish could easily live in.  But we make it in one piece.  Up here the cool weather is a break from the heat down south.  The town is nice and a trip to the ‘Crazy House’ is fun.  1 electricWe also get the decals of our biker club, the electric tigers done here.

But its the road back down is the star – a newly paved piece of road, winding all the way down to Nha Trang on the coast.  Beautiful scenery of dense jungle clad peaks and views all the way out to the sea. The best road in Vietnam.

We stay in Nha Trang for nearly a week, socrazy houseaking up the sun, sea, sand – and a good bit of the local happy hours – 50c beer anybody? and then move on up the coast along the dreaded highway number 1 – or as Paul Theroux calls it in ‘ The great railway bazaar’, “The highway of no joy”.

view bikeThis road is the worst – potholes everywhere, buses, trucks, crazy minibus drivers, police trying to wave you down to extort money – we never stop for the police, in fact we don’t stop for anybody.  In fact we don’t stop until Rich’s back tire blows out on the highway.  A real scary moment, but he slows down quick and neither him nor the bike are damaged – apart from the hole on his tyre, obviously.  It takes us ages to get the bike along to a repair place, going super slow in the red hot sun.

gillan bikeWe don’t stop again till night falls and the sand and dust is turning our eyelids into sandpaper against our eyes.  We stay overnight in what is clearly a brothel – but god are we glad to get off that road.

The next day we ride into Hoi An.  We need a few repairs on the hogs and take some time to relax.  This place is a shopaholic’s dream and by far the prettiest city in Vietnam – More on this in a separate post.

lanternMoving on we travel further north over the Hoi Van pass – Named for the mists and clouds that top the peaks.  And we literally drive right up into the clouds.  The road is not used by trucks and buses, as a tunnel  has been built, so we have the road to ourselves. But getting over the other side, the geographical separation of the country between north and south we begin to notice a big change in the weather.  Here they are experiencing colder wet weather and this affects the rest of our trip.

1 hueWe get into Hue after lunch and stay for a few nights, hoping the weather will change.  A typhoon has just left the Philippines and is heading right for us.  We have to move on, but head inland for the Ho Chi Minh highway where hopefully we are shielded from the worst.  The HCM Highway is another spectacular piece of road – This time with Karst mountains running up either side of the road and thundering rivers running down the steep valleys below. saigon hammer and sickle But the weather really is unpleasant, to say the least, and we struggle with the wind and rain stinging our face.

We stay overnight in Phuong Na farm stay.  A great place with great people.  Sadly we cant visit the famous caves as the entrance is flooded and the next day we head on for Vinh.

By this time a second tropical storm has hit and its no longer wet,  its a swimming pool just being out of cover.  We leave the HCMH and drive towards Highway 1.  At this point the road turns to the worst I’ve ever seen.1 phong na  Potholes going on for 100m and no way to know how deep, no proper road surface to speak of – and the rain still battering down on us.  We hit highway number 1 again coming into Vinh. Its unreal.  How could it possibly get worse?  Although the road is better water coming at us from every angle – Trucks, buses, cars, all passing us, covering us in water, and the clouds so dark we can hardly see with our sunglasses on – our only protection against the lashing rain in our eyes .  Freezing cold we head into the train station – And finally give in.

We cant go on anymore so we put the bikes on the train for the last couple of hundred km’s and get into Hanoi early the next morning.  And its over, and were glad.

An experience.  And An achievement.  but not to be repeated in the near future….but hey, never say never.

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lv 0 trump

lv 1 circusSo Las Vegas it is.  Like some sort of weird oasis it appears out in the desert from far away drawing you to it.  Gold high rise hotels, neon and the promise of good times.  I choose my hotel, Circus Circus, for two reasons – One because its cheap, and the other because of its connection to Hunter s. Thompson – The guy who brought us ‘Fear and loathing in Las Vegas, one of my all time favourite books (and movies, Johnny Depp is awesome as the Doctor, though Circus Circus wouldn’t let them film inside)

lv 2 encoreThis hotel is huge, and so much going on in every corner – gambling, drinking, eating, circus stuff, games, all sorts – though this is nothing to the casinos further down the strip!!  Hunter S. Thompson had this to say about it –

“The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis has won the war. This is the Sixth Reich”. – Though it’s really wholesome family fun these days.

Anyway,eventually I negotiate my way through the chaos to the outside world and the Las Vegas strip.I walk down the top of the strip dominated by the golden Wynn and Encore hotels, stopping to eat beef head tacos at the amazingly named ‘Tacos El Gordo’, before making it to the centre of the strip.  Here I check out the amazing Venetian hotel – with its replica canals and fresco ceilings.  The sheer extravagance of the place just blows me away.  Feeling out of place I find some cheap bars to hang out in.  In fact cheap isn’t the word.  I’m paying as little as $1 a beer in some places – and for $2 you get a hot dog as well.

8 venetian 2But this place isn’t cheap, the money just seems to drain from your pockets – a couple of dollars for the machines turns into 10, and with poker machines at every bar stool its hard not to resist.  They really know how to squeeze every last cent from you.

lv 3 ceasersI’m happy when I meet a guy called TJ from Chicago and have a couple of drinks.  He’s travelling to Los Angeles to make it as a writer – Oh yes, straight out of a movie. We drink, meeting all sots of crazy characters and end up in downtown Las Vegas, where the beer is even cheaper and the bars more dingy.  At one place we eat a prawn cocktail for $2 – bit of a weird thing to be drinking at 2am in Vegas, but hey, stranger things have happened. After this we crash – heading back to Circus Circus for some sleep.

lv 5 revoThe next day i wake up glad i didn’t get food poisoning from the prawn cocktail and head to the pool for a swim before getting out into the mid day sun to check out some more hotels.  I pass through treasure island with its tropical getaway vibe and xxxx with its endless Beatles advertising, then on to Caesar’s Palace – this place is enormous, with huge Greco-roman statues and endless shopping and restaurants.  Across the road is the Bellagio and Paris, both well thought out, beautiful hotels.  The replica Eiffel tower is so impressive.

lv 4 parisBy this time I’m all hotel’d out.  i find a local microbrew place that sell great new york style pizza and load up.  After this its a case of drinking my way back down to my hotel via any cheap dive bar I can find.  I get back to the hotel and crash out straight away.

The next morning I contemplate staying, but decide not to and hit the road north again through Nevada and into the Eastern Sierra Nevada

Next part 3 – Up the back and over the top

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