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IndoChina Adventure 2008 - Week 01 Chapter : 24 Sep ~ 30 Sep


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Welcome to this first week of our new tour in IndoChina. Sorry you could not join us, but I am happy that you are checking out our Live!Journal of this tour. As I write this I am sitting at a bar in Pleiku, Vietnam. We have several days of riding behind us since we started out in Saigon. But all of that you can read about in the following installments. Thanks to Mike Paull for manning the home desk and posting all of our pictures and stories as we ride along.


Enjoy the Ride and feel free to give us any feedback as we continue this adventure through Southeast Asia.



Until next week,


Helge Pedersen, Founder




Day 00 - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - Helge Pedersen


I came three days early to Ho Chi Minh City or as they say here, Saigon. From our rather frustrating experience with customs last year when we did the scouting trip, I thought it wise to be prepared for the battle with the red tape people at customs.


The flight had been long, but to my surprise I slept most of the way. Three bottles of wine (yes, it was the small airplane sized ones) - I was out for a long time. My traveling mate Joe Hutt remarked as we rapidly were processed through Immigration and Customs how easy, friendly and well, easy everything had been.


Even as we entered the gauntlet with greeting family members and friends, there was a smiley face holding a poster with our names on it. It sure was nice to be greeted by Miss Hang. She gave us the latest updates on the state of Saigon and did all she could to satisfy our curiosity.


Probably the most remarkable change from a year ago was that motorcyclists we saw had a helmet on their head. One year ago this was not the case, but then a new helmet law changed all that. Can you imagine the business opportunity this has created? I do not have the exact number, and I do not know if anyone knows how many motorcycles there are buzzing around Saigon, but it is several hundred thousand if not more than a million.


Thanks to our excellent host and partner in Vietnam, Mr. Than could inform me that all of the bikes had already passed customs inspections. He had been working the ranks for the few last weeks and, it's a miracle that I can kick back and be a “normal” tourist until the rest of the group arrives.



Life is Good or as we said on the scouting trip, LG+.


Helge P.




Day 01 - Ho Chi Minh, City, Vietnam - Linda Sikorowski


Ho Chi Minh City Gives “Mass Transit” a Whole New Meaning!



If you found yourself in the center of Ho Chi Minh City with your eyes closed, you’d think you were in New York City 10 years ago due to the constant honking of horns.   When you opened your eyes, you would know immediately that you were in a different world. Taxis replaced by motorbikes. In this city of over 10 million people, almost half of them own a motorbike (nothing over 175 cc is allowed).  By the way, there’s exactly 4,356,829 motorcycles (I counted them).


Motorbikes are everywhere, coming at you in all directions, on the sidewalks or road shoulders, generally at low speeds (but not always).   The first thing you need to learn to survive in this city is how to cross the street.   Pedestrians may rule in California, but not here.   There aren’t many stoplights, stop signs or painted lines to define lanes; in fact, there are no lanes.   It doesn’t take you long to figure out that the few pedestrian crossings you see are just a cruel trick on unsuspecting tourists.


The motorbikes are loaded with everything and anything you could think of - live geese, produce, refrigerators, etc.   The people driving and riding them are equally entertaining to see – Joe counted 6 on one bike, babies squeezed between 2 riders, and well-dressed women in high heels.   And 99% of the people are wearing helmets (the kind that cover half the head); the remaining 1% are generally older women wearing the traditional hat (non la), kids under 5, and rebels who want to go to jail.   Because of a recent law and the way their government enforces laws, one day people weren’t wearing helmets, and the next day they were all wearing them.  At approximately $15/helmet, someone (i.e., the government) made a lot of money.   Ho Chi Minh City is truly a Sea of Helmets on the South China Sea.


Add to this, a zillion bicyclists, and the crazy bus, truck, taxi, and car drivers, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a way to start a fantastic GlobeRiders trip. The traffic congestion and confusion really got our 6 motorcycle riders pumped up!


But don’t let the traffic discourage you from visiting.   Ho Chi Minh City is very beautiful with much to see and do.   Its people are gracious, friendly and helpful hosts to all foreigners…so come visit and see (and hear) for yourself.







Day 03 - Hi Chi Minh City, Vietnam - Linda Sikorowski


If You Love to Cook and/or Eat Asian Cuisine, Then You’ll Love Vietnam



Before I left, a girlfriend suggested that I keep a food diary. Now that I’ve been here a few days, I can see that would be impossible. I don’t have enough time to taste, let alone figure out, all these new and different (i.e., strange) foods and drink. I’ve got the Vietnamese coffee down (black coffee with condensed milk), pho (soup), com (rice), mi (noodles), and don’t forget the ubiquitous spring rolls. And thanks to the French connection, there’s always good bread and pastries.


Most villagers shop daily at their local market and eat things that are freshly caught or harvested that morning. We’ve been to a few local markets – the ducks are getting weighed, the variety of seafood is amazing, and the produce is very colorful and attractively displayed just like at your grocery store, only a whole lot fresher. You can actually taste the fruit.


For us, we start the day with the hotel’s buffet breakfast. Lunch is usually at a roadside restaurant or stand where they have hammocks available for an afternoon siesta. For dinner, we go out together for a delicious dinner at a restaurant selected by our guide. Along with the typical meats (chicken, beef, pork), one restaurant offered eel, rabbit, forest frog, venison, wild porcupine, goat, bamboo rat, mouse deer and let’s not forget snake. They also had “ecological pork”, which I assume means free ranging pigs.


Our guide, Than, helps translate the menus. Once the food is served, the 3 most common questions asked of Than are: ". . . is there any meat in this (from the 2 vegetarians), what is it that we’re eating, and how do we eat it?"




Bon Appetit,






Day 03 - Mekong Delta, Vietnam - Linda Sikorowski


Entering the Mekong Delta is Like Going Back in Time



After a few days of honkin’ Ho Chi Minh City, and before heading north to Hanoi, the group retreated south to a quieter, more peaceful place. We went for an overnight stay in a remote village on an island in the Mekong Delta. It was an amazing side trip.


The delta is aptly described in the Lonely Planet guidebook as Vietnam’s rice basket, “a watery landscape of green fields and sleepy villages, crisscrossed by the chocolaty brown canals and rivulets fed by the mighty Mekong River.” The Mekong River starts in Tibet and meets the sea in southernmost Vietnam. “This delta-plain is lush with rice paddies and fish farms. Its inhabitants – stereotyped as an extremely friendly and easy-going lot – have long toiled on the life-sustaining river, with their labours marked by the same cycles governing the waterways.”


We traveled by van, motorized passenger boat, and stand-up rowboats to get there. Our island’s population was 50,000, but it’d be hard to do a census because residents are scattered throughout small villages, the jungle, and living on houseboats.


On the way to the island we viewed the bustling river market in progress. Every morning, wholesalers on large boats come in from outlying areas and each one specializes in one or more types of fruit or vegetable. That afternoon we settled into our homestay, strolled around the village, and relaxed in hammocks (Helge broke his!). We also experienced our first good downpour.


After spending the evening with “Grey Goose”, we woke up to roosters, walked around the early morning local market (if you get there after 7 a.m. you’ve missed it), and visited with 1st to 5th graders before school started. Our local guide, Dam, then took us to a bonsai garden, a brick making company, and a workshop where locals make coconut candy, popped rice, and rice paper.


If you get to Ho Chi Minh City, it’s definitely worth a trip down to the Mekong Delta. It’s a very unique and interesting ecosystem. And the residents are indeed “extremely friendly and an easy-going lot.”







Day 05 - Dalat, Vietnam - Vincent Cummings


OK, so far so good - my baggage (apparently lost in Hong Kong due to a typhoon) finally made it, just in time to pick-up the bikes from the container at the Port. Getting the bikes out of customs was a breeze, zero paper work, no delays; just opened the container, unloaded the bikes, and rode right out of the yard without so much as a question for anyone.


I sure it had a lot to do with our local guide, who I think was employing the old “Miami Hand Shake”. What also was interesting about picking up the bikes at the port was how we were allowed to just walk into the container terminal without any security clearance or safety restrictions. You had to keep your head up and be aware, as there were trucks and cranes moving containers all around us as we walked to our container and drove the bikes out. Back home there is no way anyone would be allowed inside a container terminal without extensive security clearance well in advance.


The ride from the container terminal back to the hotel was exciting. First, it marked the beginning of our long-awaited IndoChina tour, and second, riding with 4 million scooters (or motorbikes as the locals call them) was an adventure in itself! It may not have been an off-road ride, but it had thousands of obstacles that required your undivided attention and riding skills. Words can’t describe what it is like to ride in traffic like this. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so to save myself some writing, check out the photos below.


We are now a week into this trip and all I can say is those who signed-up and bailed out are missing an incredible tour. That said, this group of riders is very special; we have all ridden together in the past on other GlobeRiders adventure tours, and have a lot of adventure riding experience, so we know what and how to handle the bikes and the various situations that arise.


That experience is paying off in many ways, one being the understanding and risk management of riding in a place like this, where the rules of the road are so different from North America. For example, we know that if there is a blind corner, that sooner or later there will be a vehicle over the center, be it a car, bus, or truck, coming at you head-on in your lane. It’s not a matter of what might be ,and you might want to think about it - but you better count on it happening and stay tight, right, and be ready to go off the road if required.


This might seem like a serious concern, and well it is, but once you know it and you know how to handle it you’re fine and it’s a part of what makes the adventure. Experience also pays off in how to deal with the police when stopped at road checks, how to drive when coming into a small town, how to approach and respect the locals, and remembering that whether you want it or not you are an ambassador for your country.


What makes this trip great? Well it’s a lot of things. It’s Helge. It’s this special group. It’s the sights, sounds, and smells. But most of all it’s the people of Vietnam.


Got to sign off now and to get ready to ride, clutch out at 07:30 hours for another day of creating some great memories.







Day 05 - Dalat, Vietnam - Linda Sikorowski


The Adventure Begins. . . .



If you’ve ever considered taking a GlobeRiders trip….what are you waiting for???? I’m a passenger, literally along for the ride. You can find me on the back of Mike’s motorcycle and I’m on as long as the roads allow. I was fortunate enough to go with Mike last year on the Silk Road Adventure and managed to stay on the back for the entire 8,000 miles (except for two small sections of road). I don’t know how to drive a motorcycle and I don’t talk motorcycle-eeze, but the Silk Road Adventure was an awesome trip and this one’s already starting off great.


All seven of us arrived safe and sound in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s a good feeling. What tops that feeling is going to the pier and loading dock, opening up the container that shipped your motorcycle around the world, and seeing it in there safe and sound. To these riders, and those who have been there…that’s priceless! (You can either ride your motorcycle to the starting point of the trip or ship it via container on a boat. If you do the latter, the bikes leave Seattle many weeks before you do).


So, now the bikes are out and ready to go. But we still have to go through more paperwork, inspections, and delays getting out of the dock area. What? No paperwork, no inspections, no delays? Could this be real? Yes, we drove right from the container out the gate without stopping!


That was, no doubt, due to the upfront “behind-the-scenes” negotiation by our local guide. This year, we give thanks to Phan Than from Vyta Tours. Fortunately for us, he’s along for the entire trip. He makes all the hotel arrangements, secures the motorcycles at night, takes us to interesting local restaurants, arranges all the city tours on our layover days, answers a lot of questions from us about the people and places we visit, helps us cross borders smoothly, tries to keep us out of harms way, and makes talking to locals possible (he’s an excellent translator). Every group also has a “chase vehicle” (for passengers and emergencies), and the first week our driver is Dung - a very helpful, patient and competent driver.


Our group is fabulous. There’s 5 of us from last year’s Silk Road trip (Jack, Vince, Helge, Mike and me), and Joe and David have taken previous trips with GlobeRiders. We’re a “special” group because we’re on the inaugural run (Helge does a pre-run, then offers the trip to qualified people), we’ve all been on a GlobeRiders trip before, and we’re the smallest group Helge’s led. We also have the unique distinction of being the first and only group ever permitted to bring in and Ride our own bikes in Vietnam.


And then there’s our modest leader, Helge Pedersen. He’s widely respected in the motorcycle adventure world (I’m not sure why<g>), eats the fish that nobody else likes, and is sometimes difficult to understand due to his Norwegian accent, but in spite of all that we still like him. (That’s Helge’s humor, too). Seriously, I’ve seen him herd cats, smile and make conversation with locals (and police) as if he knows them, troubleshoot and usually fix a motorcycle problem, and more. He’s an exceptional leader - he leads by example.







Helge Pedersen Images from the IndoChina Adventure 2008 - Vietnam




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