Thursday, 4 April 2013

From South to North Vietnam 2010

In December 2009, we entered Saigon from Bavet-Moc Bai border just to see if it's feasible. We only spent 1 night in Saigon. This time around, we were determined to ride from South to North of Vietnam. Planning started as early as July. With all the itineries and documentations prepared 1 month before depature, we left Singapore on midnight 9th Dec 2010. Cruising through Malaysian North South Highway and reached Hatyai railway station by 10am. Purchased tickets for passengers as well as cargo for bikes for 6pm schedule to Bangkok.

Arrived at Hua Lamphong by 1330pm and headed straight for Aranyapratet border where we arrived at 1800hours. Battambang was our rest stop, checked in Asia hotel for USD$6. Next day was one whole sunlight riding time to Vietnam border of Moc Bai. Along the way stopped by Phnom Penh for quick lunch and was at Bavet before nightfall.

Cleared Vetnamese customs early morning and was greeted by almost 20 bikers from local ACEMotoSaigon club. They escorted us into Saigon with ease amidst the chaos of Saigon traffic. The 22 days of adventure begins.

I still think these are useful

Various currencies



The 3 rides ...

The humble sending off .. Thanks Jason, Zack and Rizqin

Hit by heavy rain on the way to Gurun, arrived Bukit Kayu Hitam by 0815hours. Purchased Thai insurance at RM30 for 1 month and finally arrived Hatyai Train station at 1000hours. Got the 2nd class sleeper as all the 1st class was fully occupied at 845baht for upper deck and 950baht for lower deck. Bike cargo costs 1740baht.

While waiting, time for some foot reflexology.

Train was delayed for some 3 hours and we finally arrived Hua Lamphong at 1330hours local time.

No time to shop.

One hour later, we made a slow cruise out of Bangkok. That's the Victory monument.

Arrived Aranyapratet - Poipet border before they closes. Passport stamped, vehicles declaration and got some Riels at the money changer, we're headed to Battambang of Cambodia, some 116km away from Poipet. Riding at night in Cambodia was very blinding. In fact it was. The Cambodians drive with their high beams on all the time.

Checked in Asia Hotel for USD$6 triple sharing. Battambang is quiet with a few eateries and massage shops operating night time.

Day 3 Battambang - Bavet

Day 3 was an early morning for 467km ride across Cambodia to Bavet which shares the boundaries with Vietnam.

Not after 2 punctured tires.

A hungry man is an angry man. Was lucky not to crash the bike after it fishtailed when the tire burst. Help came 15 minutes later as the pump was with the front bike.

Love gazing at school childrens on bikes.

Quick lunch in Phnom Penh. Was here exactly a year ago. Now the place has gone through extensive touch ups. Guess they must be doing very well.

This girl wanted some crackers and was persistent about it.

Boy, she was happy when got it.

In order, to get to Bavet we need to board a barge.

The packed barge.

Arrived Bavet at 1830hours and checked in Thai An guest house for USD12 triple sharing. Bavet is filled with casinos catered for Vietnamese gamblers. They prefer to deal in USD and Vietnam dong rather than their own Riels.

Day 4 Bavet - Saigon

It was one of the highlights of the trip. Left early morning at 0700hours for some 2km to the border. Clearing Cambodian customs was a breeze this time.

Goodbye Cambodia

Moc Bai border of Vietnam

Met up with our Southern guide, Tuan for clearance of documentations.

This time round, we brought plastic covers for our Vietnamese license plate.

Bike inspection.

And was overwhelmed to see almost 20 bikers from Vietnamese local motorcycle club, ACE MotoSaigon waiting to escort us into Saigon.

Welcome party

With this kind of traffic, no wonder the escorts are mandatory for foreign vehicles.

And they brought us to some kopi sessions.

And a good Pho for lunch.

Then off to a local mechanic to patch those holes.

The Vietnamese have good taste for classic bikes.

Then we were escorted to our hotel.

With safe parking.

Afternoon in Saigon was checking out Ben Thanh market. Abundance of colours.

Apai got his boots fixed while the lady was pissed she wasn't attended to.

At night, we were invited to a H.O.G Saigon 2nd anniversary party at Hard Rock Cafe.

3 men and a lady. Had a good time there with good music and crazy Vietnamese partying. A charity auction also went on for a Harley which was finally bidded for USD$55,500, way above the original price of USD$45,000. The rest went to the victims of the flood in Central Vietnam. Good heart they have.

This lady is the Hard Rock Cafe Saigon Ambassador. Guess what, she's a Singaporean.

Got this as a souvenir.

Day 5 Saigon - Nha Trang

Left for 455km trip to Nha Trang early morning. This time 3 local bikes escorted us to our destination. A goldwing and 2 RTs.

This chap was the winning bidder for the auction at Hard Rock Cafe the night earlier. He rides his Wing like a motorcross race. Really awesome skills.

We stopped by Phan Thiet area for lunch and some desert. A real desert.

In Mui Ne, Phan Thiet.

You can do some sand surfing for a mere USD$1.

Then came the adventure riders from Thailand.

They immediately plunged in.

More Sand Dunnes


Sg and Vn RTs.

Checked in Nha Trang Beach Hotel and dinner at one of the rider's restaurant

The Harley on the forefront is apparently used for riding around the town, and he also owns a BMW X5, also used for city driving.

Day 6 Nha Trang - Hoi An

Had early breakfast and left Nha Trang for Hoi An. No escort this time, and we were on our own. Travelling on National Highway No. 1, the road was busy with many bus drivers as road bullies. Still, the view along the great Vietnam ocean ride was scenic with jagged peaks and lots of oases of greens where they grow rice. While the wifey was busy snapping away, I had to be careful not to be pushed off by those road gangsters who have no regards whatsoever with other road users.

Arrived Green Field hotel, Hoi An after 520km later.

Day 7 was sightseeing in Hoi An.

Visited My Son ruins, the holy land of Cham Kingdom which was partly destroyed during the war.

Cultural dance

Nothing like Angkor Wat because the Americans dropped their shells here. But the remaining structure was unique. A lot of restoration work going on supported by UNESCO.

Then, stopped by a local house who makes paper rice.

Click this bar to view the full image.

Hoi An town has plenty of Chinese touches on their buildings and structures.

Day 8 Hoi An - Hue, 130km

This was one of the most gruelling ride we had. We reached Hue 7 hours later just to clear the 130km stretch. Weather was unkind and it restricted us to many phototaking opportunities. It was supposed to be another highlight passing through Hai Van Mountain Pass. Strong crosswinds from Danang all the way to the summit. I remember the bike tilting to the side while riding and at some point, it felt like a giant hand picking up my bike and shifting it half a meter away. Dropped the bike on the way up to the summit, lost footing, then came the wind and down it went. When we picked up the bike, we had to lean on the bike to prevent it from dropping.

Stopped by Danang, where it rained heavily and the crosswinds was one of the worst i've ever experienced.

Took a shelter on top of this Hai Van Pass due to weather conditions worsened. Stayed for 2 hours under the mini typhoon according to the locals before we braved ourselves down, freezed with numbness on the fingers. I couldn't even unzip my pants to relief myself. Could not feel a thing.

Soaked those hands under hot water for a good 30 minutes once we checked into the hotel.

The heavy rain and cold wind prevented us from venturing far for food. The next door Kentucky Fried Chicken was a wise choice.

Day 9 Hue - Thanh Hoa, 600km

The longest distance travelled in Vietnam. The weather was just about right for riding. Cooling in fact. But not too cold to bring in the thermals. Will be crossing the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where it separates the North and South. The tarmac was much better than previous days. But the road bullies was ever present. I remember the Vietnamese bikers told us they once beat up a lorry driver for persistent obstruction during overtaking. I am no Vietnam warrior.

Some nice spots along the way.


The multiple layer of mountains were simply breathtaking. A better camera would do some justice.

The hotel in Samson, Thanh Hoa. It's the low season. They only switched on the lights for those rooms with occupants. That tiny light was where our room was. The town population is only 300. We were the only foreigners around. Dinner was just fried fish and cabbage. And the cold has start to seep in.

Fresh brew Vietnam coffee.

Day 10 Thanh Hoa - Halong, 262km

The morning was greeted by spectacular sunrise. But we couldn't wait to leave the haunted looking hotel. We set off early for Halong city where we intended to catch the last boat to halong bay at 1400hours. Noticed the rear tire was losing pressure but couldn't find any culprits. Rode on and was very obvious the tire pressure was not right. Frequent checks didn't lead to anything.

The tires are losing some air.

The baguette is crunchy when hot.

Entering Halong town

Setting off to Halong Bay on our private boat. Costs USD$65 each with sea food lunch and entrance to two caves. Total time spent was 3 hours.

Halong Bay, being one of nature's wonders of the world is swarmed with many tourists, thus being an expensive place. Quite a turn off but those limestones are magic.

Day 11 Halong - Yen Bai, 250km

We decided to put on our thermals from here on. From Halong, we rode to Bac Ninh to meet our Northern guide. He will then take us for our homestay in Yen Bai with one of the minority ethnic. Warm up the bike to see the floor full of fluid. Discovered that the front left fork seal was broken. Decided to continue.

Our Northern guide. He's got quite a bit of character.

The bulls get bigger and more grouchy.

Day 12 Yen Bai - Sapa, 280km

Leaving the home stay, we took some of the best twisties in Vietnam to the top of the mountain of Sapa. Weather was unforgiving but the interesting life of the tribe along the hills was an eye opener.

The 3rd one one my rear tire. This was spotted by one of the son from the host. The tire went completely flat and initially I was contemplating to tow the bike to Hanoi instead. Got it fixed and continued with the ride. I was glad I didn't miss Sapa.

The road to Sapa

Road block. Fallen tree.

China border.

Arriving Sapa

Personal parking.

Day 13 Sapa - Hanoi, 370km

Finally, heading back South for the capital city of Hanoi. The Fazer was having coolant leakage problem and we couln't find any suitable bike shop to rectify this. We decided to constantly top up until we reach Hanoi.

The road back down was super due to the absence of rain. It was fun seeing the FZ1 gliding through the curves and inviting corners. The super highway into Hanoi was crowded but the traffic not as bad as Saigon. Checked in and headed for a restaurant recommended by HRC Saigon ambassador.

 Day 14 Hanoi

Got the Fazer to check into a mechanic to rectify the leak problem. Visited Dong Xuan market for some bargains. Got some Vietnamese coffee and North Face jacket there. Afternoon was spent walking around the old French quarters.

The owner of this is a brother of one of the ACE MotoSaigon members. He showed up early at the hotel to bring the Fazer to the mechanic shop.

Fabrication of gasket plus flushing the coolant system and fresh top only costs him USD$5. And he gets to hop on this too.

Then a walk to Dong Xuan market.

The bike was begging for a body scrub. USD$1.50 per bike. Where to find.

I find Hanoi is interesting by night. The people there love to dress up, maybe because it's the cold season and you'll find roadsides strewn with people with all walks of life just hanging out. The massage in Hanoi was worth every dollar spent. Next stop, Vinh.

Day 15 Hanoi - Vinh, 300km.

Wife left to catch the morning flight to Singapore carrying with her half the luggage i brought from home. This is the longest time she has left the kids behind for so long. But we have made substantial arrangements to ensure they are constantly occupied.

The day's ride was to head south for town of Vinh. This time we ventured into Ho Chin Minh highway which offers far better riding conditions. This time there was almost non bus drivers, less cars, less road users. The tarmac was in good condition. This road also connects from South to North and my judgement will be that it will take lesser time from Saigon to Hanoi if you use this path. The view was no less spectacular either. Later part of the ride, the guide decided to venture through minor village road for shorter distance. And we were glad he did. We were exposed to daily normal routine of the Vietnamese villagers. Stopped by a place for a drink and was greeted with pleasant hospitality from them.

Leaving Hanoi

Last night in Vietnam

Day 16 Vinh - Vientianne, 467km

Woke up early knowing that any hold ups at the border will drag until dusk. How right we were. The border of Cau Treo, Vietnam - Nam Phao, Laos is situated on top of a mountain with some nice twisties to it. The road to Pak Kading from Laos boundaries was really breathtaking. But with 150km to Vietianne, the dusk settled and I really hated riding at night.

Morning in Vinh

Hit and Run incident.

Aren't they cute.

It's really worth admiring.

Cau Treo border, covered in clouds.

So long Vietnam.

Nam Phao boundary post.

We spent 2 hours here because the staff has gone for lunch. And we arrived at 1130hours. What luck.

Laos, in my opinion has got one of the most spectacular landscape in South East Asia. Very impressive.

Accident between a Thai trailer and a Laos SUV. 1 hour hold up. We knew reaching Vientianne before dark is impossible.

The tarmac in Laos is certainly much better than Vietnam.

As expected, arrived Vientianne at night.

Dinner by the Mekong

Broken fork seal. Can't wait to get to Bangkok to fix it.

Day 18 Vientianne - Bangkok, 640km

Agenda was to get to Bangkok and get my fork seal replaced. Was realistic that we couldn't get to Bangkok before they closes. Even if we do, they won't be able to get it done immediately and the next day being Sunday, I knew i have to spend more days in Bangkok.

Time for some luxury. Checked in Asia Hotel. The next few days in Bangkok were spent doing some shopping, good food and good massage. Got the bike into Barcelona Motors to get the fork seal done. But not in time to catch the train to Hatyai. So left me all alone for another night in Bangkok.

All tickets are fully booked. Want 3 black market tickets?? Look for Phoe. Not the same price tho.

After sending them off to train station, back to Barcelona Motors to pick up the bike.

Probably the next one.

That's mine. No hiccups. Train left as per schedule.

Day 22 Hatyai - Singapore

Arrived in Hatyai with heavy rain. Contemplated whether to stay a night in Hatyai. Dragged myself out and made my way to the border. All the way raining up till Dengkil Highway.

And was screaming with joy when I finally arrived here.

Resigzed ImageClick this bar to view the full image.

A total of 6900km of riding from Singapore to Hanoi and back. Plus another 1890km spend on board of train.

3 riders and my wife as my pillion. She joined me in HCM and flew back from Hanoi.

Routes taken

Bangkok- Battambang
Saigon-Nha Trang
Nha Trang-Hoi An
Hoi An - Hue
Hue-Thanh Hoa
Thanh Hoa-Halong
Halong-Yen Bai
Yen Bai-Sapa

The Southern guide only brings us from Saigon to Nha Trang. From there, we were on our own for 5 days until the Northern guide catched up with us in Yen Bai. No escort vehicles, just the guide on the back of our bikes. Riding in big cities of Saigon and Hanoi, you'll face with volume problems but riding on their National Highway, you risked being pushed out of the road by big bullies. Some minor problems like broken fork seal, coolant problem, cosmetic damages, hit and run in Vinh, haunted looking accomodation in Thanh Hoa, raging bulls and parking problem in Halong.

But with sweet memories, being able to witness the daily life of normal Vietnamese, their cultures, awesome sceneries, good Pho, children smiling and making many friends, the trip will be one difficult to forget.