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Merry Christmas

Monday, December 29th, 2008

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It was a dark and rainy night. And then it was a rainy morning followed by a rainy afternoon and then it kept raining and its still raining. That was Christmas in Hoi An followed by Da Nang, and now in Hue. Rain made Christmas kind of poopy.

Christmas wasn’t a huge event, a few of the retail stores and tourist places started to put up some Christmas decorations about two weeks before the actual day versus I guess Halloween in the US. The city put up a few streets worth of lights and Heineken sponsored all these cool two story high Christmas trees made up of lit up beer bottles. Some kids went the extra mile and donned Santa suits which looked pretty cute as they were transported around on mopeds. Beyond that a pretty low holiday season.

Hoi An was a bit of R&R as it is probably one of the more tourist heavy locations in Vietnam. Usually what that means is you have very western facilities and a good range of cheap good accommodations. Riding in on the Minsk is pretty high profile as they are noisy and generate a nice trail of smoke. Anything with a suspension is out of the ordinary and when the moto taxi guys see it they all come over to check it out. After talking to a few and them getting the idea that I wasn’t looking for any hotel with a star attached to it they sent me down one of the off streets where I booked into a nice small guest house/hotel. A nice clean room, hot shower, only a couple of English channels (bummer) and free wifi all for $8US. As soon as I got settled I scouted around and found my three places to eat where I would continually go to throughout my visit. Heading down to the docks you really get the sense of how touristy the place is. Hoi An on its own was a very important shipping port and culture thrived here. The buildings are of still classic style and with the money from tourism, it is probably the most maintained. It is basically a glam heritage site full of cafes, shops, and restaurants. The waterfront is really very beautiful and relaxing as the canals are all done up for strolling. Other than that, it was really quiet as tourism must have dropped like a stone after the economic downturn. I would guess that they have had to have lost more than 50% as it is extremely quiet and this is supposed to be the high season. Not good for the locals, but I imagine it is now good for anyone.
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I was originally going to spend just a few days but the day after X-mas, the rain was still coming down strong and even though it was only 35 kms to Danang, I just hate riding in the rain. It was three days later when I just sucked it up and rode off in the pouring rain.
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Danang is not a tourist town but is Vietnams fourth largest city and the Centrals economic powerhouse. I was just going to spend a night or two there as it was known as the Saigon of the North during its day and a popular American R&R place during the war. To get to Danang I took the beach access road along the South China Sea and drove along China Beach. China Beach was the location that the tv show “China Beach” with Dana Delaney was filmed. Nothing to extraordinary as the same style beach runs the whole north to south of Vietnam. I liked that tv show so it made a check off. The other notable stop was the Marble mountains which were a couple of all marble uprisings along the coastline. Not really too much of interest to me and absolutely no appeal during the rain so it was just a quick drive by. Danang turned out to be a nice place as the hotel I stayed was right on the river with a pleasant boardwalk. Again, the rain ruined all that so it was just a place to drop the bags. I did have a really strong cup of coffee while lounging the rain away. Talk about strong. I am off of caffeine again and man that cup made my eyeballs dance.
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The Christmas light shot at the top was the last for my trusty camera as the soaking of the rain that night just killed it (again). This time I am not going to bother trying to get it fixed as I have been thinking that a smaller pocket camera might be better as at the moment I am not taking any pictures because I am packing the camera into my small pack and unlike my other ride I have to bungee strap this one to the top of my other pack and it is just a hassle getting it out when I am on the road. In Hue I will see if I can pick up a new camera and I have a feeling the blog will pick up again as I will have more to show and have to write less.
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From Danang it was six hours of rain surfing to Hue where I was going to drop anchor for possibly the New Years as I had to work on getting a visa extension and would also mark my re-entry back into the highlands as I try to avoid the NH1 for the rest of the ride to the north. There isn’t much resorty places in the hills, so I was going to soak up as much relax time as possible before going for a long and I am assuming a wet ride. And that gets me up to date. The rain is a big downer and it doesn’t look like its going to stop so just going to have to suck it up as I only have thirty days to get up to the north, do a circuit, and get to Laos.

Interesting stuff:
Discovery Channel. I am actually learning useful stuff by watching tv, who would have thought.

Google Earth. Something useful on the net not porn related. Pretty cool technology. I can see my parents house and my dads Forerunner in the drive way. There is even a photo shot taken on the street right in front of the house where I lived in Key West. Great fun as I can use it to figure out routes as I am traveling. Hell, I could have just stayed home and traveled the world just by using this site. Highly recommended. Just plug in your address and you can get a satellite photo of your house.

Chuggin down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

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It was not the right time to leave the comforts of my beach resort town, Nha Trang, but I had already gotten up late, taken a look around the sky for any sense of a cloud formation and decided that it would be much too dangerous with those almost puffy white clouds looking to sprinkle on me. Plus, waking up at ten isn’t the best starting time. So it was my third day past my leave date when I finally got the gumption to get moving. Bad choice. The whole six hours of driving in the rain I kept replaying the tv shows that I could be watching instead of taking a rolling shower. The only saving grace was that the evening prior to leaving I found the local market while searching for new and untapped food stalls. I noticed a really nice rain poncho and figured that since I was heading up to the Great White North I would eventually be running into bad weather, so I bought it. What great timing as it turned a miserable drive into a slightly less damp miserable drive.

Vietnam is a long and narrow north to south formed country. Because of the narrowness (in one part 50kms) there is only one major thoroughfare (NH1A) that extends the almost whole 1600kms. What that means is you have the majority of traffic on one road. In other words, it is one big scary drive. Trying to keep sane for 8-10 hours with huge trucks not acknowledging your existence, F1 race cars camouflaged as buses, passenger cars playing chicken, other motor bikes like swarms of bees, and freakin school kids riding their bikes four across talking about what just happened on 90210 without a care in the world as the world around them verges on total destruction. Fortunately, due to the Vietnam War, there exists sections known as the Ho Chi Minh trail that were nothing more than pathways through the jungle where North Vietnamese hand carried, pedaled, and four-wheel drived supplies south toward victory. In these areas there are parallel north to south highways that are used less extensively and therefore make very pleasant alternative routes.

My route was to traverse through the Central Highlands using the Ho Chi Minh Trail and therefore bypassing the death route. Immediately upon leaving the NH1, the whole atmosphere changes and my stress level dropped to below urination in the pants. The scenes become more ruralized with farms end to end. This region is known as a coffee belt and at this moment every available flat piece of ground is being used to dry coffee beans. It also is hilly curvy and bunches of fun.

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First stop was Buon Ma Thuot, the pretty much end of the war battle was fought here which signified victory for the VC and Northern Vietnamese. My life changing experience was the initiation of spring rolls. Next to the hotel is a row of spring roll houses. I was out looking for my usual meal of pork and rice but couldn’t find any. On the way back I figured that I would stop by the non-descript restaurant and see what they had to offer. I wasn’t sure what they served but as soon as I sat down it was quickly apparent as four young guys working there started bringing over plates of stuff. Soon, I had a tabletop full of plates stacked high with foreign substances. Fortunately for me the mamasan came over as I kind of sat there looking at the array of food laid before me without a clue of what I was supposed to do with them. She showed me that you take the half circle wax paper like rice paper, place a leaf of standard lettuce, a twig of some nasty medicine tasting leaves, slices of two types of cucumber, a slice of seedy peppers, finely sliced green onions, a piece of pork, a crispy rice paper chunk, a few pickled onions, slices of garlic, and a dollup of pepper paste. Roll the concoction and then dip it into the bean paste sauce. Pretty damn good texture and flavors. A bit complex for a newbie as the thing I rolled kept falling apart, and my rolls were more lumpish than a roll. Overall though, the stuff has to be as healthy as can be as it was mostly all straight from the ground veggies. Good stuff and all for about $1.50..

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The next section of the ride was on the actual HCMT although it is now a nicely tarred highway. It was more hilly windy roads with farmlands and wild lands making up the scenery. Small and medium size towns lined the way so you are rarely out of civilization. The effects of Agent Orange were still prevalent as you can see whole hill sides picked clean with only dead grass covering the scarring. In hind sight, I do understand the philosophy especially after seeing how small the tunnel openings could be. Just finding an opening where you could take a pee was difficult in the jungely areas. One impression that I did get was that it was actually similar to Nepal.

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My next stop was the small town of Kon Tum. I targeted this town as it was a relaxed little town next to a river. Locally there were a few old villages with a variety of ethnic Montagnard groups, rong houses, and other sites strewn around the hill town. I was wanting to spend a few days somewhere to get out of the hustle and bustle of the resort towns where I had been staying. I found a new guest house with really nice accommodations and spent the next couple of days riding the dirt trails around the town, searching out little food stalls, and watching the sunset along the river. A nice relaxing stopover.

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Phuoc Son was a midway point between the central highlands and back to the beach. I could have done the whole drive in a day, but I was in no rush and this last leg was right in the middle of the most picturesque parts of the route. The road took me above a few high passes that rose as high as the clouds. It was also freezing and I decided that it was not going to be a comfortable ride through North Vietnam. Once I reached Phuoc Son, I was very surprised to see Minsks all over the place. It was like being a foreigner and then finding a remote village with a bunch of relatives. No longer was I a freak riding a smoke bellowing, noisey, dirty, farm equipment, but I was now one of the boys. What I learned is that my Minsk is actually one of the new high tech sport Minsks with a special suspension and new tech motor. The local Minsk guys were checking out the ride just like the Beemer back home. It was nice to finally be around like minded persons. There were three Minsk repair shops all on the road next to my guest house. I ended up picking up some spare cables and levers. It was cool just hanging out at a café and seeing all these different Minsks running by. I liked it and it made me look forward to getting to the north where the Minsk is even more common. One cool thing I saw was that many of the guys had mud chains on their Minsks which made them look hardcore. Hopefully I get to a point where I might need those things.

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And after a quick ride back to the NHIA, I was again on the psycho roads but quickly off again as I was heading for the tourist beach town of Hoi An.

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Responses to Comments

Monday, December 15th, 2008
copy-of-100_6838.jpg 1. Snarky - Glad to hear you survived yet another scrape. Be glad you’re not in America right now, everyone acts as though the apocalypse is here. Obama is expected to be the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Ho Chi Minh (Saigon): Tourist time.

Sunday, December 14th, 2008
100_6799.JPG My target for the whole first part of this journey has been Saigon primarily to get my motorcycle fixed. It was a constant drag on the trip as I was constantly worrying ... [Continue reading this entry]

Ahhhh, crap.

Sunday, December 14th, 2008
I'm in the beach resort town of Nha Trang....eating, sleeping, watching satellite tv, surfing the web with free wifi and occasionally dragging my ass down to teh beach. It was all good for a while until I learned that ... [Continue reading this entry]

Into Thin Air: I got wrecked.

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008
100_6785.JPG Oh look at how green everything is. Wow, the Mekong Delta is pretty much rice paddies and canals. This is pretty nice with smooth roads and minimal traffic. Damn, Sasha ... [Continue reading this entry]

Gooooooood Morning Vietnaaaaaam…This time I mean it.

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008
viet-ao-dai.jpg I think I am going to patent that saying, I’m sure nobody else has. Well, after a smashing relaxing time in Cambodia, I had to get the bike worked on as it ... [Continue reading this entry]

Cambodia: A sort of quick jont but I’ll be back around.

Sunday, December 7th, 2008
100_6759.JPG It was a pretty quick couple of week run along the Cambodia coast line to Vietnam. I was pretty pressed not for time but because of the health of Sasha. Things ... [Continue reading this entry]