Posts Tagged ‘roadtrip’

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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the end

I get up in the morning and decide to do the big drive all the way back to Vancouver.  Stopping first in Eugene, Oregon.  I really don’t expect this to turn out to be one of the most stressful days of my life.

Driving into town, it seems a nice quiet place, lots of people chilling on a nice sunny Sunday afternoon.  I drive around looking for somewhere to park and grab a bit of brekkie.  I turn down a one way by mistake, realising I’m driving into oncoming traffic I go to pull over, but no.  The car is fucked…….

Getting out and pushing it to the kerb I’m a bit freaked out – What am I gonna Do?????  I ask people on the street, nobody wants to help me.  Eventually I get into a supermarket and a guy there helps me to push the car into their car park, but really this could have been the most unhelpful town on the planet – nobody cared.

Without a phone I have to run around the town looking for free Wi-Fi to find the number of a roadside assistance company.  I find one, offering to possibly fix my car – or at least tell me its gone.  I call and the guy says he’ll be there in 20 minutes.  Cool.

He arrives, looks all understanding and says

– Lets get it on the back of the truck, I’m thinking cool, we’ll go to his garage or something.  Once its up he turns to me and says

– Where d’you want me to take it. I reply – how the hell should I know!!!!!!  I’ve never been here in my life.  Cant you take a look at it.

– I don’t know anything about cars, I just tow them he says.

Great. So we spend the next 45 minutes driving around Eugene looking for a garage that’s open on a Sunday.  Obviously nothing is and this guy’s suggestion is

– Why not just leave it in a car park. Great, I’m thinking.  And say why didn’t I just leave it in the supermarket car park – Yeh, you should have done that, totally, would have been the best idea, he says.

Once again I’m completely dumbfounded by this guy’s complete idiocy.  How stupid can he be.  But I end up paying him $90 to dump it in the greyhound car park. Apparently in the US this isn’t such a problem – In the UK they’d hunt you down and make you responsible, I later find out in Vancouver that nobody there cares about the car either – Its a massive piece of metal surely somebody has to be responsible for it!!

I get out, grab as much stuff from the car as I can, losing a ton of camping equipment, not forgetting my tub of home made kimchee, kept on ice the whole time, and head into the Greyhound station.  Only thing is its closed.  Great.  This means a massive walk to the train station where there are no trains, but a bus.

This get’s me to Portland, where I snag the last ticket on the train to Seattle.  Luckily the train has Wi-Fi and I book myself onto the last bus to Vancouver.  Only thing is I also look up the train status and find that its gonna be late. I grab a conductor and ask

-Is this train gonna be late? –  yes, he says – is it always late? – pretty much he says!!!

Once again, great, great, great.

Pulling into Seattle I’ve got 8 minutes to get to the greyhound station for my bus at 2200.  I grab a cab and tell the driver, an Ethiopian guy my story.  He literally puts the foot down and we drive like loonies through Seattle, getting there in four minutes.  I give him a tip and thanks – really, he’s been the only person nice to me all day.

Running into the station at 2157, I ask the people in the queue if the bus is here – no, great!! This time no sarcasm.  I queue up for a ticket behind two black chicks talking to the guy behind the counter and wait.  Time rolls by, they’re not buying anything just talking – c’mon, c’mon, I’m thinking, hurry.  They finish, and the guy pulls out a board that says – GONE FOR LUNCH, BACK IN 30 MIN.  Nooooooooo.  Another Greyhound employee is there I ask can you just give me the ticket.  Thing is this guy is like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman

– On his lunch, cant work, cant work on his lunch, cant work, he keeps on saying.  Greeeeaaaaaattttt, just great. Eventually he tells me the bus wont be here for ages. I calm down a bit.  Someone will be here to help me.  The bus turns up at 2216.  I get in the queue hoping the bus drivers gonna help.

– You cant get on the bus without a ticket, he says.  – But I cant get a ticket because the guy wont give me it, I reply.  He calls rain man over – on his lunch, cant work, cant work on his lunch break, is all he’s got to say.

Next thing you know the ticket guy turns up on his way to the staff lounge and the bus driver asks him to do it for me.  His answer

– I’m on my lunch break, I don’t work on my lunch break.  We he obviously has the Rainman well trained – actually,the Rainman is still saying this same thing the whole time.

I beg, I plead  –  I’m begging you man, please help me out.  My car blew up, the train was late.  – I don’t know why your begging, I aint doing it.  I DONT work on my lunch break.  I’m pulling my hair out now.  Is this for real?  Really, can people be such assholes?  Why?  What reason?  Why treat your fellow man like a complete piece of shit?  They leave me, well Rainman doesn’t, he follows me repeating his lines.  In a fit of anger I turn round and say – fuck off, you fucking retard.  I feel bad, because he obviously is a retard.

When the bus driver returns, I plead more.  He wont look at me.  He slams the bus door in my face.  The bus leaves at 2226.

Now I need to find a hotel.  I end up at the YHA American hotel.  A shithole.  And I’m offered a dorm for $50 or a single for $80.  I take the single, with shared bath.  I get to my room.  Its dirty.  Cant one thing go right.  They wont believe me when I tell them, and certainly wont apologize.  When they give me a new key, they want the old one back, but my stuff is in there.  This causes an argument.  Eventually I get into a room.

I go out and get drunk, two crack heads try to accost me, I tell them if they come anywhere near me I’ll fucking kill them.  They retreat.  Seattle really isn’t the nicest place in the world.

I have to get up at 5am to get the train to Vancouver – no more buses please. I can only describe this train as the slowest I’ve ever been on, but it gets me there.  And I’m so glad I’m back in Vancouver.  Its raining hard, and even that makes me feel at home.

Its over.  Thank god.

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4 the road

1 lariatGetting in a car and driving through a chunk of American nothing has always had some huge appeal to me.  I loved American road movies like ‘Convoy’, ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Vanishing point’ – I especially loved the comedy ones like ‘planes, trains and automobiles’ and the ‘Cannonball Run’ – but maybe the biggest influence was Jack Kerouac’s book – On the road.  The book that made me hit the road in the first place.

0 nothingSo with a little bit of courage and a lot of naive romanticism I hit the road heading south from Vancouver to the American border.  My route was simple – First drive through Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah to the gambling and entertainment paradise of Las Vegas, Nevada – Then return back through California to Oregon and Washington.  I’d brought camping equipment, cowboy boots, and a tub of Kimchee given to me by a Korean friend.  The only map I had was an A4 size one that came free with the Lonely Planet which didn’t exactly provide the level of detail needed – In fact I spent quite a bit of time driving while trying to read the inside maps of that massive edition – though I never got lost once.

2 petrolAnyway, driving through northern Washington past Seattle it wasn’t long before the green northwest gave way to an endless landscape of dry grass and rocks.  My first stop was the town of Yakima, home to much of Washington’s wine trade and apparently the Palm springs of the state.  Here I fill up on a massive, tasty pulled pork sandwich at the Lariat before heading on and climbing up onto the central plateau of the rocky mountain states.  I made pretty good time, stopping in Dunkee – where a plump gas station attendant, wearing a t-shirt that says ‘freedom Isn’t free’ fills my car while telling that his cousin speaks seven languages.  I eat again outside Boise, Idaho.  Filling up on a huge club sandwich.

nowhereJust before Utah 1372km in, as the sun is setting, I stop in ‘the middle of nowhere’ to get gas – the attractions here are two alpacas, and being the only fuel in miles.  At this point I’m ready to sleep and decide to stop in the first town over the state line.  The road around here is just one straight line to nothing.  At one point my car begins to shudder and shake. What’s going on?  I realise I’m sitting at 185kmph – I haven’t turned for 45 minutes.  I slow down pretty quickly.

3 alpacaAfter 1559km and 16 hour driving, I stop at some town 160km from Salt Lake City.  A couple of beers in the bar across the street – only 3.2% in Utah!!, and I retire to my motel – car parked outside the room, just like in the movies.

5 salt lake churchThe next day I’m glad to have made a big push the day before.  I only have a seven hour trip today, nothing!  First I stop in at Salt Lake City, visiting the religious centre for the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints.  Its a nice if pretty bland town, but definitely worth checking out if you happen to pass.  The central cathedral is pretty impressive and the people are as nice as you’d ever meet.

6 mormon kidsI roll on, hammering down the road stopping at the eagles landing service area and Beaver, Utah – birthplace of Butch Cassidy no less, just after here I break the 2000km mark and I know I’m close.  Listening to Right wing radio talk shows is great around here – they really love Obama these guys!!

6 mormonJust before I cross the border into Nevada I drop through the Virgin river gorge.  Dropping straight off the edge of mile high Utah is an experience I won’t forget.  Red sandstone walls on either side, foot heavy on the brakes as I’m going down so fast.  The bottom is the desserts of Nevada.  Its pretty flat from here on in.

As soon as you cross the border the casinos begin. Big grassed areas in the middle of arid desert – pretty surreal.  Surreal too is at the moment I’m seeing Vegas in the distance on comes the Who’s ‘Who are you?’ – CSI anybody??beast

I drive straight into my hotel, Circus Circus, and get ready to hit the strip.  What a trip 2320km, two days, five states and a shitload  of fast food…

Next part 2 – The City of Sin

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