The Vietnam Grand Prix

It has been over a month since my last post. The last place I left off was Hanoi in Vietnam. I am no longer there, and I am no longer in Vietnam, I am in Cambodia. I am on a bus now while I write this headed to Battambang province from Phenom Penh in Cambodia.

Bertha #2

After the hitchhiking adventure from Luang Prabang to Hanoi, I bought a motorbike, the classic Honda Win 110cc manual motorbike, a relic from the past, that is hard to find nowadays but easy to find Chinese and Vietnamese copy’s. It is hard to call this a motorbike, it is more of a piece of shit on two wheels that is a hell of a lot of fun to drive. After a day or two of searching local motorbike shops, and looking at ads, I found the perfect bike. $200 later, I had the keys and the ownership card, to Bertha #2, the bike that would carry me and my bag the 1600 miles from northern Vietnam to southern Vietnam, then into Cambodia.

The route I took

The start of “The Vietnam Grand Prix” commenced on the morning of December 27, leaving from Hanoi heading southeast to a small island off the coast of Vietnam. After a chaotic attempt to get out of the main city of Hanoi, 90 miles of unknown highways, and the last ferry of the day, I had finally made it to the first stop in the long road south, Cat Ba island. 5 days of exploring the archipelago of Cat Ba, getting my bearings riding Bertha #2, exploring the abandoned housing project, eating delicious kebab Banh Mis, and celebrating New Years at Woodstock, the hippie commune in the jungle, I was off to the next stop in the journey, Ninh Binh province.

Cat Ba, Sunrise
Abandoned housing project
New Year’s Eve

I was just outside of Ninh Binh for a total of 5 days working on a permaculture farm, living off the land, and harvesting bamboo on a hillside, to construct a tea hut for the garden. I learned a lot about sustainability and how we consume so much, and most of it is wasted, and that we should be more conscious about what we consume in our daily lives.

Ninh Binh Province

From Ninh Binh and the permaculture farm “Dream Up”, I continued south to make it towards Dong Hoi, but fell short in making it there in one day, and had to pull off the side of the road, and pitch my tent for the night. It was raining and I was all alone in the middle of Ke Go National Park. I woke up early the next morning right as the sun was rising over the smoke towers, billowing out smoke from the factories that lined the national park, an interesting contrast, and made my way to Dong Hoi.

My camp
The factories in the morning

At this point in the trip I had clocked around 400 miles, or 644 km. The bike was holding up alright, and I was too, luckily. The difference in traveling by bike is that you have a whole new perspective on the landscape and the feel of the country, if I saw something interesting I was able to pull of the road and stop and observe, while on a bus you are asleep or not paying attention to everything you are passing through, missing a lot of experiences to be had, and a lot of Pho soup places, with some of the best soup in the world. With the bike I was able to stop in local mechanic shops, where no english was spoken and signal to have my chain lubed, or to have my oil changed. I was able to pull off in local villages and eat lunch and be warmly welcomed to sit and enjoy life with local people that do not see tourists often.

Empty Beach

Bertha #2 and I kept chugging on, down the dusty and dangerous Highway 1, till we reached Dong Hoi, a sleepy beach town, that is off the beaten tourist track. Here I was able to swim in the South China Sea and feel the energy of the waves that I so dearly missed. That night, me and the 3 other people staying at the hostel, all traveling by motorbike, played pool with some local guys until the sun rose.

Dong Hoi

In the morning I left for the city of Hué, where I would reunite with my hitchhiking buddy, Martin. We went to the huge 5 story shopping center, that had a proper movie theater, and tried to enjoy a shitty movie that I fell asleep halfway through, but it was only $2 so it wasn’t a loss. We had heard about an abandoned water park that was just outside of the city, so we hopped on my motorbike and explored. We heard from someone that until recently there were crocodiles that lived in the lazy river, and in the swimming pools, but they are sadly no longer there. The park had an eerie vibe to it, and it didn’t help that it was sunset and we still had to hike through the forest to get to my bike. Then we got lost, not fun, but we made it back.

The dragon in the middle of the lake
Lost in the forest
At the abandoned water park

After a good time exploring Hue, Martin and I parted ways and he headed to Japan, and I continued my journey south, passing through Da Nang, and stopping in Hoi An. There I stayed at “River Park Homestay”, a nice place along the river, away from the crowds of tourists in the main city center.

My son temple

The first time I truly felt like I was pushing the limits of my bike and myself was the 250 mile trip from Hoi An to Pleiku. It took an entire day of driving through the section of the Ho Chi Minh trail, that was used by the Northern Vietnamese, to transport supplies south, during the Vietnam war. The section I drove is a winding mountain road that during the war, weaved into Laos and Cambodia and that the US found out about the northern Vietcong moving supplies and soldiers along this section and bombed the hell out of it. An amazing stretch of road that I will never forget. I limped into Plieku, a city next to the Cambodian border, badly needing an oil change, and a good night’s rest. This was my final destination of the 1300 mile journey from north Vietnam to south, it took me 28 days, a few oil changes, a couple of nuts tightened, a lot of petrol, blood sweat and tears, but I made it, I fucking made it.

Ho Chi Minh trail
Flipped over truck on the mountain pass
Looking at Cambodia from Vietnam, sunset

After Vietnam I took the bike into Cambodia where I would meet my dad for 2 weeks, where we explored everything Cambodia has to offer. I will make another post for this, so look forward to that, or not. 

This trip has taught me a lot about myself and life, and I am ready to dive in and explore everything these beautiful countries have to offer.

Till next post, Cheers!

2 thoughts on “The Vietnam Grand Prix

  1. Clayton, all your blogs have grabbed my interest, but this is the best one yet! My God you are fearless!!
    It is so much fun to follow your adventures. Thank you for sharing them!

    Liked by 1 person

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