Thursday, February 27, 2014

Vietnam Part 2

Jan 10. Da Nang to Đông Thượng. 174 km
We Left Da Nang after a nice large complimentary breakfast. I always tend to eat to much when there is a decent breakfast buffet. Especially when it is a western style and there is bacon. My bike has had been getting increasingly louder since I ceased it twice a few days earlier. But The battery we put in my scooter a few days earlier was finally drained so I got another one at a shop. $12 for a sealed motorcycle battery that I would end up running the rest of the way. We had to get away from the coast quickly. Get out of the heavy traffic. Once we got back on the Ho Chi Minh Highway there was way less traffic and some great mountain roads. Just shy of 175 km on the day it was early afternoon and we were climbing a 7 km mountain pass. Almost at the top my bike gets loud and grinds to a halt. This time it won't start again. This time its done. It had done about 600 km since the first time it ceased but this time it had heated to much. We tried to tow it with Travis's bike but it wasn't happening. We went for about 20 yards when we started to smell his belt burning. Not worth killing both bikes. Travis went the top and I started pushing. I had pushed about a half km when a local lady and guy pulled up on a small truck. They were carrying large foam coolers filled with seafood packed on ice. Not much ice so the juice was leaking everywhere and it smelled great. They stacked their coolers and made room for my bike. I climbed in the cab and we started to drive. I am lucky they picked me up because the next 20 km were up and down. Even though we were nearly at the top of the big pass, there was 5 or 6 more I would have had to push. They dropped me off at a mechanic shop they said was good. He said it would take him 4 hours to completely rebuild the motor. They tore into it. When we are watching them, they are going very fast and just throwing parts in a pile. From my own experience, when I take apart a motor, I have to set everything out on cardboard with drawings and labels. I kept thinking how are they going to be able to put this back together again. After a few hours we decided to get a hotel. When we got back he was honing my cylinder for the new piston. Then he pressed and balanced the crank with the new rod and bearings. Then I see him working on a lathe and I figure out he put new clutch shoes on the auto clutch. They are over sized so you turn them down to the inner diameter of the clutch housing. Then it was time to start drinking beer. We offered him a few beers while he was working then when he stopped he invited us into his "house" for more. His house was 1 room in the back of his garage. This is where his wife, child and him lived. We proceeded to drink beer and bbq fish until 11 at night. That was when the 14 year old kid had my bike back together. Grand total 3 million dong or about $140. It was an experience.

Spraying water on an overheating bus.

My new clutch shoes getting machined to fit correctly in the clutch housing.

Farm tools made by the blacksmith next door

Jan 11. Đông Thượng to Ea Drang. 298 km
We went back to the shop to have him tighten up a few things that were forgotten the night before. The bike ran great now. Lots of compression and the clutch was finally not slipping when it was cold. On the way out of town there is a guy stopped on a scooter on the right side of the road so I move over to the left side of the lane to go around him. With out looking or signaling he turns left right in front of me. I go into a slide trying to avoid him. I lay the scooter so far down on the left side that it was a tripod between the tires and the left side peg. If I'm going to lay her down, I'd rather low side her then another high side. As I went past the guy my rear tire hit his foot which was fully protected by a flipflop. When I came to a stop the bike hand done 180 degree spin but I had saved it. I'm not sure how. I walked back to the guy to see if he was ok. He was rubbing his foot, but there was no damage. I bit my tongue and got back on the bike. I wanted to yell at him to turn his head or use his blinker. It was a newish scooter so the blinkers probably worked. Looking back on it, he was probably thinking it was my fault for not honking when I was coming up behind him. We stayed the night at a decent hotel. We walked around and found some food carts. Vietnam has some really great sandwiches. First they make some really good rolls that are basically French bread, they add some BBQ pork, sausage stuff, some other types of meat product, some sauces, some mayonnaise, some salad, some cucumbers and maybe some carrots. 2 of them will fill you up. 1 is a nice breakfast. Its usually 15 or 20k dong for one sandwich.. Less then 1$. We went into a place that looked like a bar or a club to try to get a beer. But it was a coffee shop and there were quite a few people in it at 10:00 PM. We didn't understand it, but they didn't have any beer.

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Don't fall in here. 
Jan 12. Ea Drang to Gia Nghĩa. 205 km
We went back to the same sandwich place from the night before. They were just as good the next day. As the day went on we were getting out of the mountains and more into farm land. Still hilly but way more dry then it was in the jungle. In one town we should have taken a left but we went straight. Soon there was no traffic. This is good. I think. Soon after there was no more tarmac. It got rocky and dusty. This was a road that only locals used. I was looking at the GPS and just when we were getting close to another major road there was a police checkpoint. They stopped us and said we had to go on another smaller road. This one was even worse than the unpaved road. It was probably 40 year old tarmac that was only about 1/2 there. So we took about a 2 hour detour on shitty roads but we made it back to the Ho Chi Minh Highway. Once we got back on the Ho Chi Minh Highway, it was 1/2 shit tarmac and 1/2 construction. I looked back and I noticed Travis wasn't behind me so I pulled off to wait. I figured he got caught behind some machinery. When he pulled up he was very dirty and shaking his head. What happened? "Two little girls on a scooter came out of nowhere at the bottom of that hill. I was riding in a pack of about 6 scooters and they crossed right into all of us. I was braking with the rear and not stopping. When I pulled the front brake it washed out and I went down hard, I was 15 or 20 feet from the bike when I stood up"
We stayed the night is a decent sized town and made plans to get to Saigon in the morning. This town actually had a good street market to eat at across the street from the Hotel. We had some wrap things that were great. You start rice paper like you would with a spring roll and put a potato/veggie pancake in it, then add bbq pork from a skewer, then add some salad. You roll it up, stuff your face and repeat. You sit in "kid chairs" at a very small table. My knees don't fit under table. It is much better then most restaurants though. It is about 1/2 the price and usually better food. Plus, all the kids running around want to try to practice their English with you. Which normally consists of "hello" and "what is your name".


Jan 13. Gia Nghĩa to Ho Chi Minh City. 225 km
The road into Ho Chi Mih City was just shit. Even worse then the day before and the closer we got, the more traffic there was. My bike was starting to vibrate horrible at speeds. On my scoot the foot pegs mount to the bottom off the motor and I could feel the motor moving in the frame. We pulled off so I could tighten the motor mount bolts. The top one had broken off just behind the nut. It was probably over tightened at some point. The bottom bolt had started to loosen up also. So we rode to the next mechanic and they replaced the bolt and made them tight. The vibration that had been getting worse for the past few days was gone. Saigon is a crazy place. They say there are 9 million people and 7 million scooters. I don't doubt this figure at all. By now we were used to the chaos but the traffic here was measurably worse than in Hanoi. I had a hostel in mind in the "backpackers area" so we headed there. We had to cross the street through traffic to get to the hostel and we pulled up in front of a hotel. The hotel said $18 dollar for both of you. I looked at Travis and he looked at me with the same "Yeah. Lets park these piles of crap" look on his face. After 2000 km in 8 days, we had finally made it to Siagon. We walked around that area and found such wonderful things as 50 cent beers, free pool tables and free fooseball. Although the foosball table really sucked. The legs were wobbly like a new born deer and the deck was uneven. But it had potential. I told them if they fix the legs, we will come back the next day to play some more.

We made it!
Jan 14 to 20 Ho Chi Minh City.
Travis had a flight on the 15 which gave us a few days to try to sell his bike. We posted it on Craigslist for $200. We figured someone would take it. We were wrong. Not even a call, email or anything. So we went to a shop that advertised "we buy and sell used motorbikes and scooters". We told the guy we wanted $150 for it but would take $100. He rode it and agreed it was mechanically sound but he didn't want it because it was ugly. Just then a kid from Scandinavia walked up and asked us if we were selling the bike. $100 into Travis's pocket and both parties are happy. Travis had the right idea about buying a scooter in VN. "I figured the 250 was a sunk cost anyway. So whatever I get back at the end of the trip is a bonus". The guy at my hotel wanted to buy my fake Honda for $100. I told him it has to be at least $130 because that is the price of a plane ticket to Phnom Penh. In the week I stayed there, He would never budge higher then $100 even though I kept telling him I would be riding it to Cambodia then. I would rather do that anyway.

Travis had a flight on the 15th at 11:00 at night so we had the day to kill. We walked to the Vietnam War Remnants Museum. We knew it was going to be interesting but we were not prepared for how heavy it was. We tried to remember that museum was paid for by the Vietnam Government who was the "enemy". Some things were obviously slanted but the pictures and some figures are what stuck in my mind. "By the end of the war, 7 million tons of bombs had been dropped on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia - more than twice the amount of bombs dropped on Europe and Asia in World War II." The part that resonated the most was the use of Agent Orange. The pictures of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation birth defects. A couple times when we were traveling through VN we saw people that were different. One lady in particular in a store was only about 3 feet tall with very visible deformations in her arms, legs and face. Travis and I later discussed a hand full of people that we saw that we thought had defects from it. Was what we saw dirrectly related to Agent Orange? Maybe. Maybe not. But they seemed to be matching the symptoms. I hope some day my kids can ride through Affganistan and Iraq the way we have in VN. To meet people and experiance the culture. For so many people VN is still the "enimy". These people need to travel in Vietnam. They will not think the same way.

Almost Team Green 
9 million people. 7 million scooters. 
Now that we were both depressed, it was time to get some food and start drinking. We set up a taxi for 8:20 then went out. After a few good pool games we went to the bar with the fooseball table. They had set the table on 50 gallon drums. This was better but not ideal. For someone like me, I like playing the control game. Smooth passes forward and messing with the head of the opponent. Many of the VN players started to like this type of play, but still many of them just wanted to bang. They would get angry and the table would move around. This is why a foosball table should be nice an heavy. Travis went to catch his plane and I kept playing until 2 in the morning. I asked the guys if I could help them fix their table. A few of them said they would meet me at 12:00 noon the next day at the bar.

The next day I was pretty hungover but I rolled out of bed and forced myself to go out. I picked up some wire, glue and electrical tape at a shop. When I got to the bar, no one was there. I waited about 20 minutes and one of the kids showed up. He said he had to work and no one else was coming. I should come back at 4 if I wanted to fix the table. So I did that. I fixed a broken player and glued some of the warping wood back together using some of my moto straps to hold it. That night the table was better but still was lacking. I tried to explain that if they had a good table, they would get good business. These kids could actually play pretty well and they were not easy games. That is what made it fun. I asked if they could meet up the next day to get some lunch and discus fixing the table. It needed a solid base. Something that would be all to easy for a local carpenter to make. We agreed on 2:00 the next day. No one showed up. I was ready to pay a carpenter to build a base for the table and I had told them that. I don't know if they thought I was feeding them bullshit or what. But the second time I got stood up was not forgivable. A few days later I went back to play. All I said was "you f**ked up man, we could have made this table into something decent but you couldn't even meet up with me." And that was that.

Time flies when you are having fun. Or you go on a 1 week bender in Saigon. It is really really easy to get stuck there. There are many travelers and expats with many interesting stories. I met one guy named Mac who builds custom bikes from what is available in VN. Honda 250 twin flat tracker bikes, Honda 67 choppers and dirtbikes. Just about everything. The problem with his shop was he didn't actually do the bikes himself. He did not have the knowledge. He knew what he wanted so he would go to a welder to do the frame, a painter for the tins, and a mechanic to rebuild the motor. Nothing was in house. I could see his frustration when he was talking with a mechanic he had worked with on some bikes. They were arguing over an oil leak on a bike that was rebuilt. He said "I've been here for a long time but they still try to screw me over". I told him he needs to set up a good shop and bring in a mechanic, a painter, a welder he can trust. So everything can be done in house.

When you are walking down the street in an area with many tourists, ever 20 feet someone is trying to sell you something. "You want marijuana? You want cocaine? You want massage? You want scooter? You want girlfriend?". I would always laugh at them when they offered me cocaine. I'd say "Look at my beer gut. Does it look like I do cocaine?".

The sex industry in south east Asia is creepy. I can't count the number of times I see old baling fat white dudes holding hands with a cute little 20 year old. There is only one reason she is with him. I met up with a girl from VN from couch surfing. We had some food and drinks. She was more than happy to meet up to talk about her country and practice her English. Even walking with her, a girl who wasn't single, I felt wierd about it. Ever foreigner I passed I wanted to explain that she had a boyfriend and I wasn't paying her for sex. Its not just VN. It is all of SEA. Cambodia and Thailand are just as bad. I Bangkok I met up with a friend from Japan in a "strip club". This was the epitome of creepy. There was about 20 poles on stage and each one had a girl just kind of standing there. Every girl had a number on her. They weren't dancing. They were just kind of waiting. No one was smiling. You look around the room to see the same creepy old dudes trying to decide which one they want to take home. A waitress would keep coming back to us asking "which girl you want". I said none... they all look like they are 16. I need to go. I need to GTFO.

After 1 week in Saigon that is how I was feeling. I needed to leave. And soon. Then I met Ferran. He was a Spaniard who had recently bought a Honda Win for $200. When I met him he was really scared about traveling on the motorbike. He had never done it before. He didn't know what to expect. He didn't know how to fix the bike. All he knew was he had 2 weeks to make it to Hanoi. Over some beers and a few games of pool, I told him I would help him make sure the bike was up to snuff to ride up to Hanoi.

The win was in decent shape but the clutch was not working properly. It would not disengage or engage fully. You could almost ride it like an automatic, it had an audible tick in the valve train and the steering head bearings were loose. Ferran and I rode to Mac's place so I could work on his moto. After a few hours we fixed the clutch with a new cable ($5), adjusted the exhaust tappet, and tightened the steering head bearing some. The exhaust tappet was so loose I could move the rocker arm and make the same tapping sound. The gap was probably .5 mm. The steering head bearing was loose enough to the point where holding the front brake hard would make the stem clunk forward in the bearings. After fixing this, Farran was a little more at ease but still worried. I told him "I have a crazy idea. Why don't I ride north with you for a day or 2 to Da Lak. I need to get out of this city, and you need a little more confidence about the bike. Plus, I want to see Da Lak and the coast down to the delta.

Dude who wanted to buy my scooter.

Ferran and his win "Charlie".
That night he stayed in the bed that Travis had left empty

Vietnam Video Part 2. 


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