Mai Chau to Ngoc Lac – Written 15/11/2010

Haha! Hanoi is now a mere memory! I should have done this weeks ago. 5 of us set off in the end, 2 Canadians (Dan and Brian), 2 Dutch guys (Laurens and Steffan), and me. We’re planning to follow the line of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which is a major road, but since the opening of Highway 1, almost completely unused, so its perfect for biking. Once we get down to Hue, what we’ll do becomes more vague, since i (and Steffan) fancy going into Laos, and Dan and Brian have to get to Saigon. For the time being though, we’re all heading the same way.

But the Ho Chi Minh Trail doesnt start till some distance south of Hanoi, so first we had to , get out of the city, and meet up with it.

Loading up the bikes. From left to right – Steffan, Laurens and Brian, who spent the whole time grinning insanely despite the time. We’d wanted to leave days before, and no-one wanted to be in Hanoi for rush hour, so we got up at 6am. Theres was still loads of pissing about, not being able to get bikes started and so on, so we didnt actually get going till 7.30, and traffic was already pretty hectic. Lawrence couldn’t get his moped started at all(it looks like it was constructed out of bits of crashed mopeds some guy had hanging around), but we were all so desperate to leave by that point we had to tell him to get it sorted and catch up. Turned out only to be spark plug and he caught up pretty rapidly.

Outside Hanoi, the first real bit of country. Dan and Brian, with Pooey looking classy in the foreground. Was only a bit of scrubland, but after the madness of the city, it felt like a breath of fresh air and we stopped to relax for 5 minutes. Think we were all just really happy to be riding bikes, and still alive…

Shot of Pooey fully loaded, just for you Win-lovers. I know you’re out there. Turns out he’s pretty vibey, burns a little oil, and has a comfortable cruising speed of about 45kph.

Once Lawrence caught up, we pretty quickly settled into a routine. Dan and Brian paired up, and me, Steffan and Laurens did the same. The two groups ride seperately, and then meet up at significant crossroads and towns and so on for food, route planning etc. Shot of Lawrence with Pooey and Steff’s bike once we hit the actual countryside, which just got better and better the further we got.

Lunch stop with Dan and Brian. We got totally screwed because we forgot to ask how much food would be before eating, and the woman running the food shop wanted more than you’d pay in Hanoi. We did find a Vietnamese guy who spoke flawless German though, so Steffan and Laurens played the role of interpreters, which i think was a total mindfuck for them, translating one second language into another. We also attempted to buy huge Vietnamese flags to put on the bikes, but the only ones we could find didn’t have poles, so after some discussion of wearing them as capes, we gave it up as a bad job.

By the end of the first day, we’d got properly off the main routes, to a village called Mai Chau. Its home to one of Vietnams many ethnic minorities, this time the White Thai people. They live in stilt houses and are really good weavers. However, one of the main things they do now is homestays, so people convert part of their house for guests. This is the view out of the front of the one we stayed in.

Laurens showing off the accomodation.

Bike parking at the homestay. Literally inside the house.

Setting off on the second day. As you can see, the weather wasnt great, so after a delay caused by everyone having to get out their wet weather gear, we set off for Ngoc Lac, and the start of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The road was shown on the map as minor roads, which in practice meant a totally variable road surface, from perfect tarmac, to potholes, gravel, and rutted mud. Our group got lucky though, as Dan and Brian took a wrong turn (very easy to do), and ended up half way up a mountain with drunken construction workers as their only guides.

Absolutely brilliant days riding though, up and down hills, crazy hairpins, dodging buses. Also have a newfound respect for water buffalo. One of them came out of a ditch yesterday and missed me by about a foot. Thought it was a one off, but today, we saw these 2 Vietnamese guys on a moped get sideswiped by one right in front of us. Literally just rammed them and the bike they were on into a hedge. I gotta tell you, when a buffalo wants to go one way, and you want to go the other, the buffalo wins. Incidentally, in a moment of ill-advised exhuberance after my own close encounter, i decided to kick a buffalo poo that was sitting on the road. I had visions of it flying off like a football, but actually it just covered me, my leg, bike, and a couple of the people behind me in cowshit…

Switching to Steffan’s photos here, as i put my camera in the drybag when it started raining. We stopped at this absolutely huge bridge to take a few pics. This Vietnamese guy came over, and following an emerging trend, was incredibly friendly, but spoke absolutely no english. We got him to take a few pics, but for some reason he insisted on ducking and dodging like a lunatic, so the finished pics were just bizarre.

Instead, Steff set the timer on the camera and took this one instead. The bikes still look pretty clean here, but they’re stinking now. I’ll have to remember to take a pic in the morning.

Anyway, we made it to Ngoc Lac, which besides being the start of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, has few things to recommend it, aside from the best Pho (beef noodle soup) i’ve had yet, just across the road from the guesthouse im sitting in now. Me, Lawrence and Steff went to find a mechanic after food. I’ve been doing my best with my admitted minor skills out on the road, but Steff needs a new fork seal, and Lawrence’s engine is leaking oil from at least 2 places. Mechanic couldnt help with anything except the 2 nuts i needed to help hold on Pooey’s vibrating bodywork. We may have to lose half a day getting this stuff sorted when we get to the next town.

We got back from that to find Dan and Brian having a drink with a few absolutely hammered locals, who demanded that we sit down, stuff our faces and drink rice wine shots. Then one of them wanted us to go back to his and sing kareoke. We considered it until we realised we were supposed to get there 4-up on this totally slaughtered guy’s bike.

So we just got a shot of Me, Steff and Laurens sitting on his bike instead, and tried to let him down gently. Wasn’t entirely successful, what with his vocabulary of 4 phrases, and was made a bit more awkward when it turned out he didnt have the cash to cover all the stuff he bought, and we had to bail him out. Since the whole town was completely closed by 8, we ended up just heading back to the guesthouse. At least i got my own bed, 2 of the guys are having to share a double…

Tomorrow, the Ho Chi Minh Highway begins in earnest!

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~ by zendog888 on 19/11/2010.

5 Responses to “Mai Chau to Ngoc Lac – Written 15/11/2010”

  1. I think Pooey may be my favourite of all your motorcycles!! x

  2. Is there an sr 125 in the first pic?, this truly is dream land

  3. I was killing gooks on Call of Duty: Black Ops last night and thought of you riding around Nam. Nice to have an update.

  4. Nah, its a Suzuki GN125. Has the magical and oft-rumoured 5th gear though, definately a bonus, Pooey has to make do with just the 4.

  5. And should be going to the DMZ, Khe Sanh, and the Vinh Moc tunnels tomorrow, so there should be a Nolanese post coming in a bit. I’m currently 5 days behind on the blog due to netbook stupidity though.

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