Sunday, February 23, 2014

Vietnam Part 1. Hanoi to Da Nang

11 important things to know about Vietnam and Riding.
1. You don't matter. It is not your lane. No one cares about you.
2. The horn is not supposed to make you mad. It is just letting you know a person is close to you.
3. Those 2 scooters with the family and the other with chickens who just crashed into each other? They aren't mad. The cops won't be called. No money or information will be exchanged. Things just happen.
4. You will crash.
5. You will get forced off the road by a bus, truck, car, tuk tuk, or other motorbikes.
6. A sign with Xe May = moto mechanic. A sign with Pho = soup/food. Cafe = Coffee.. not cafe. Usually no food sold there.
7. Ho Chi Minh Trail is infinitely better then Highway 1 on the coast.
8. You might die.
9. Buy your bike from another foreigner or prepare to get ripped off.
10. It only takes about $140 for a full rebuild of a Honda 110 motor. So don't worry if the bike you are on is questionable. It has blown up before. And it will blow up again. You just have to find the shop that has the good machine tools. (They are in every village.)
11. You will say Fuck more times then you ever have in your life. WTF, Are you F##king kidding me?, Really.. that's what you are F##king doing?!?!, Ohhh f##k... this is it.. I'm dead.

January 3 through 5. Bike shopping in Hanoi.
2 days and 5 flights from Kona Hawaii it took me to get to Hanoi.
I had to cool down some in Japan during my 6 hour layover.

I got into Hanoi late on the 3rd and by the time I had a taxi to a hotel, it was past midnight. I was supposed to meet my friend Travis on the 3rd but his flight from Minneapolis was canceled due to weather. So he would be flying in the next day.
The morning of the 4th I went to a place that sold motorbikes. They had posted a few times on craigslist. From the look of it, they had Honda Win, Minsk and other scooters so I could have my pick. When I got there, they had a couple decent bikes that they wanted way to much money for. They had a copy of a Honda win 110 that ran decent but it would need a little work. The carb had probably never been cleaned in years. I gave them $300 for it and rode back to my hotel. From the time I left the shop till the time I got to the hotel, the bike was running more and more like shit. I decided to pull the carb and clean it. The carb was filthy but I suspected that was not the only problem so I pulled the cover for the air box. About 5 pounds of mouse nest fell out and no air filter. The bike had been sitting so long that mice had eaten the foam filter and built a nest. I took a picture and sent it to the guy at the shop. He said to come back the next day to exchange. I had planned to pick Travis up at the airport but now I didn't have a bike. I also had no way to get a hold of him because the Hanoi airport has no wifi at 11:00 at night. He had my VN phone number.. but his phone was not unlocked from Verizon so he couldn't even call it. Of course he is a smart kid so he got in a taxi and went to the center of the city and found a hotel. His hotel happened to be 3 blocks from where I was staying so it was easy to meet up.
We rode the shitty scooter 2 up back to the shop to get my money back. The guy who sold it to me wasn't there and the people around said he wouldn't be back today. After 3 hours of sitting around, multiple phone calls and threatening to kill his business on the internet and in magazines, they bought the bike back for 5,000,000 dong. Which is $240. I am whitey. I am the sucker. Lesson learned. From now on, we only buy bikes from expats or other tourists. With the 5M dong in my pocket we take a taxi right to a hostel where a couple is selling 2 scooters. A copy of a Honda Wave 110 and a Yamaha Nouvo 125. We get both of them and a full face helmet for 11M dong or just under $500. The Wave is a semi automatic 4 speed scooter with the gas tank under the seat. The speedo doesn't work and it has 13,000 km on the clock. Blinkers, horn and e-start work but the headlight doesn't all the time. The Nouvo is a full auto and runs decent. All electronics work except the speedo. Clock has 54,000 km. We can't even begin to guess just how many kms are on these bikes. At a shop, we change the oil in both bikes - $9. My wave gets new chain and sprocket- $12. the Nouvo gets new front brake pads - $5. That evening we mount my GPS to the handlebars and my headlight seems to be working. I wire the GPS power to the headlight power and we get ready to leave early the next day. While we were walking to get food, a guy say "Hey, I know you". I ask him "From where?"..
"From Bukhara"
"oh yeah, you are the Spaniard who peddled across Turkmenistan on a 5 day transit visa... " I remember this guy because he was crazy. In Bukhara, he was just resting at the hostel I was staying at. I asked him how long will he stay and his reply "1 day for every day I had to peddle in Turkmenistan. I need to recover". He had done over 500 km in 5 days in the desert. When he got to the boarder, they told him it was the wrong crossing so he had to peddle another 50 km that evening in order to get out before the visa expired. Back in Hanoi, we tried to make plans to meet up again that evening for a beer. I would definitely buy this guy a beer to hear his story. Not to mention there was a place next to our hotel that had beers for 4,000 dong. (21,000 dong = 1$) Way cheaper then water. Unfortunately he didn't come to our hotel like he said he would. Maybe I'll run into him in another country.

All the crap the came out of the airbox of the "honda" win. 

Getting oil changed and some new parts.

Jan 6. Hanoi to Tong Dau. 131 km
We set the alarm for before sunset. We knew we had to get on the road and get some kms on. Travis had a flight out of Ho Chi Minh City on the evening of the 15th. Over 2000 km away... On scooters of questionable quality... In an unknown land... And it was the first time Travis had seen traffic like this. I was somewhat used to the traffic on a big bike. But there is nothing I have done in my life to prepare me for Vietnam traffic. The best thing you can do is go the wrong way on the freeway on a scooter and try to live. That will prepare you mentally for traveling in VN.
In VN, especially in the North, People burn everything. Leaves, brush, old crops, trash.. everything. It is like you are riding next to a forest fire the whole way. Many times the visibly was only a few km. This is sad because some of the views were so amazing but you could only see a short way. Someone should teach the people in the north how to compost. With how wet it is, they would have dirt in a few months. Soon we were leaving the city behind and we were getting into the mountains. The nouvo that Travis was riding stop charging even though it had a new(ish) battery. The connection to the Reg/rec had corroded wires that were broken so I fixed those. Still not charging. The next town was 20 km up the road and we guessed there would be a scooter shop there. Xe May is what you look for on the sign when looking for a scooter repair shop. I made some jumper cables out of spare wire I had and permanently connected them to my battery. We jumped his bike and got down the road to the next town. I would leave these cables connected until Ho Chi Minh just in case we needed to jump his or my bike. We got to the town which was "T" intersection where 2 roads meet. The Nouvo died when he put on the blinker so I found us a "Hotel". We were in a bamboo/wood loft thing above a bar. It was $5 for both of us with a shared bathroom. We could have showered but we didn't realize there was a shower until the morning. We tore into his bike and ran into a snag trying to remove the fly wheel to get at the stator. So we brought the bike to a shop. The guy tried many different things. New reg/rec, new wires, checked the stator.. and replaced the battery. The combination of everything fixed the problem and that bike was still running/charging great when we sold it in Saigon later. Travis said the Nouvo had a "high speed wobble". High speed = anything above 40km/h. We lifted the front end and tried to turn the wheel. The brake was not releasing.

A few screen shots from the GoPro. 

Proof of good drivers.

Jan 7. Tong Dau to Quỳnh Phương. 258 km
We brought the nouvo back to the shop to get the mechanic to fix the brake. The night before I had beat on the pin for an hour trying many different things. A 3/4 in drive socket, a bolt and a washer would have pulled the pin right out. The mechanic went to work beating on the caliper the same way we did the night before. I tried to show him how to do it. After a smashed finger, some bloody knuckles and frustration you could taste in the air.. he was willing to try my idea. 2 minutes later the pin pulled out with just by turning a nut with a wrench. Amazing. The shop was also a restaurant so we had breakfast and coffee there. He charged us 50,000 dong to fix the front brake and soon we were on the road. Now the Nouvo was faster and it could almost keep up with the Wave on the hills without the front brake clamping the whole time. We took some amazing twisty back roads through some mountain villages. We made decent time and soon joined the Ho Chi Mihn trail. We knew we wanted to get to Da Nang in the next few days to see a girl I had met in Japan so we worked our way to the coast. This was a big mistake. The coast road is crazy and you should avoid it will all cost if you value your life.

One of the rooms upstairs was ours. It was slanted and it would shake when a truck went by. Only $5 though. 

New friends. Mechanic and cook. 

Accidents draw a crowd. 

Our only flat tire in 2000 km. 

Local hangout. 

Dead mammal. 

Jan 8. Quỳnh Phương to Bai Due Thon196 km
We had 2 days and about 600 km to get to Da Nang to see my friend. We did a few kms on the coast then headed back inland. But not before I had my first crash on the scooter. An truck in oncoming traffic put on his blinker. He saw me and all the other scooters behind me but turned in front of all of us slowly. I thought he would wait for us to go by or go fast. Instead he went into the lane then hesitated and stopped. I tried to brake to stop but I locked up the rear and went into a spectacular skid. For about 50 feet I was skidding toward the front right tire of this truck. Foot down skidding trying to keep it up. I was almost to a stop when the ass end kicked out to far and I high sided. I landed on my hands and feet then rolled to my butt after getting thrown from the bike. The truck did not stop to see if I was ok. I don't matter. We had to get off the coast road. Better to go a longer distance and not die. Plus, even though there are hills, curves and crap roads. You can actually make better time. And you have a better time because you don't have to worry about f##k-wits coming into your lane every 2 minutes. Travis and I were 1 to 1 on the crash count. He tried to pass a truck in a town the day before. The truck moved left and forced him into the gravel where a pile of dirt was waiting for him to jump. He jumped, he landed, but then he spun out in the dirt. Laughing the whole time. Unfortunately we didn't get that one on film either. Around lunch time my bike stopped charging so we decided to investigate. I replaced some wires, put a new reg/rec that I was carrying as a spare and even checked the coil. Nothing helped so we replaced the battery and kept going. Down the road I heard a bad noise and my bike came to a stop on the side of the road. Did I just blow up my stead? Travis catches up and I kick the bike. It starts and I shrug my sholders. 1 km down the road it happens again... only this time louder and more violent. I'm thinking it is the stator contacting the fly wheel because I didn't have locktite when I put it back together. For the next 15 km Travis and the Nouvo pull me to safety. We stay at a hotel for 300,000 dong. It only has rooms with 3 beds. We are working on the bike when an older Russian lady pulls up on an XR250 Baja. I hear her say "300,000 dong? This is to much money". So I tell her, you can stay in our room and we split the price between 3 people. She says "just sleeping right?". Yes. Of course just sleeping. You are old enough to be my mother. That evening we check over my bike and can't find any problems. It runs and shifts and drives but it has developed a bit of a tick. Not quite a knock.. but a nice tick. We talk to the Russian lady about traveling and she said this last summer she had been riding in Kazakh, Tajik, and Kyrg. Soon we discover she knows Sveta. She laughs at me when I told her Sveta broke my heart. We talk about bikes, travel and logistics. She has many questions.

Trying to straighten the bars after a small crash. 

Fascinated with my tools. 

Vietnam's finest electrical workers
Jan 9. Bai Due Thon to Da Nang. 428 km
We knew we had a long day. We knew my bike was on its last leg. We had developed an attitude of "eff it". If it breaks.. we will figure out what to do then. We were on the road before the sun came up and by 11:00 we had already done 200 km. As the day went on, the tick got worse. For sure I thought the bike was going to blow up. Every time we bought fuel.. I thought this is dumb to fill it up. The motor wont last through this tank. But it did. It just kept on going. We were running these bikes at 65km/h on the straight stretches.. way on the upper limit of the gearing. It was a hair below wide open for most of the day. The fastest I could ever the Wave up to was 82 km/h. The Nouvo could do 85. In the evening we were getting close to Da Nang and there is a huge tunnel. The police make us turn around. No bikes aloud in the tunnel. I am so glad we could not go through because the road we had to take instead was amazing. All the buses, trucks and cars go through the tunnel and there is a 30 km twisty road along the coast over a mountain pass to get into Da Nang. It was beautiful even with fog. We me up with my friend in the evening for food and drinks that I had met in Japan. It is always interesting to cross paths with a traveler later on down the road. Especially if they have gone places you have also. 

Billboards on the side of a mountain = great way to advertise nature.

Someone should tell them "Hey, Don't do that!"

And finally, a video.