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IndoChina Adventure 2008 - Week 02 Chapter : 01 Oct ~ 07 Oct


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I just can’t believe that another week has gone by, and that we only have days left here in Vietnam.   Every day has been filled with new and at times very exciting experiences. We have lucked out on the rain, since the only day it really came pouring down we had a layover in Hoi An.


Since we arrived in Hanoi the group is now complete with Marlene and Karen joining us.   With only 9 people it feels like I am traveling with my extended family, all good people.   Enough said by me, enjoy the stories and pictures from this past week.


Helge Pedersen, Founder



Rolling Back to Day 04 - Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam - Mike Mathews

Vietnam….My First Visit


It was a long journey traveling from Greenville, South Carolina, but the frequent-flyer business class ticket made it a very pleasant trip: several movies, plenty of time to sleep in a chair that would almost lay flat, and more food than you can eat in 28 hours. The arrival in Ho Chi Minh City at 10:30 in the evening didn’t stop the unique experience of my first time in a city with 3 million small motorbikes and scooters.


Located only 12 degrees above the equator, the climate is very warm and humid, even at night. It was an amazing taxi ride for the 30 minutes to the hotel, watching all the different vehicles and trying to understand the traffic patterns.


There was a little confusion about our arrival date as the hotel was expecting us a day earlier, but after a few minutes of discussion we were given a room for a much needed sleep. The Rex Hotel, a 5-star hotel, is located in the center of the city within walking distance to many sites, including the downtown market where you can find anything you might want to purchase.


Breakfast at the buffet in the morning was another reminder that we are in a foreign land once again. Lots of items on the buffet that I cannot truly describe or even know what they are, but I did find the cook, for eggs the way you want them, along with bacon and baked beans. Lots of fruit is available, yes more interesting items than I have ever seen before, some with little taste and others with texture unknown to my mouth. It is all an experience for the good.


The next adventure was found in the streets attempting to cross the sea of motorbikes. Imagine yourself swimming in a large school of fish and they are slowly swimming in all directions around you: this is the only way I can think to describe all the motorbikes. They travel at a speed not much more than 25mph in the city, carrying anything you can imagine, including a refrigerator on one!


When there is a red light, they all group up at the front of the line, taking any space available (including the sidewalk if possible). When the light turns green, the wave of motorbikes begin to move. They will slowly move around you as you walk across the street. If there is not red light, you just start walking across the street, not changing your walking speed so the motorbikes can determine how to miss you as they pass.


It is not unusual to see one determined biker going the wrong way into the mass, or even a person pushing a street cart just slowly working across the mass of traffic. It is a little scary for the first-timer, but once you get the feel of it, it becomes quite a unique experience, but not for the faint of heart. It is best not to try this technique with buses and cars: they are much bigger and sometimes not as polite.


My next observation as an electrical engineer was overhead: the electrical wiring in the city. I am told frequent blackouts occur with sparks flashing in the wiring, especially during the rainy season. I did see, on one occasion, an electrical service truck with the pole climber trying to troubleshoot a problem. I think the photo will explain his dilemma.



Ho Chi Minh City is a very clean city. The people are kind, courteous, and shy, but very friendly after a few moments, showing a big smile. The people of Vietnam have moved to the top of the list as the kindest people I have met.


A day trip close to the border of Cambodia was to experience the underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the war. It is a moving experience to see what the jungle was like for both of the armies, along with the many different traps set for the soldiers. Several of us experienced what it was like to move underground through the tunnels; the tunnels we traveled in were enlarged for the tourists.   It was hot, humid, and the clay soil was damp all the time. It is easy to see how difficult it was to find the tunnels as the entrances were easily hidden with jungle debris.


Leaving Ho Chi Minh City for a couple of days we traveled by bus to the Mekong Delta to stay at a Farm Stay with a local Vietnamese family. Along the way we experienced the wonder of all the school children getting out of school riding their bikes home for a 2-hour lunch break. All are in uniforms depending on the age of the children and the school region. Reaching the Delta, we traveled by boat through the Delta in both the large river and the many tributaries and channels. We rode in the small two-man boats powered by one local oars person…mostly women; visited a local school and also the all important market where fresh food is had each day.


All has been a unique experience meeting again so many friendly people and learning more about the culture. Rice is the mainstay of the Delta with rice being the number one export of the country and coffee being a close second.



We will be riding on our motorcycles soon…,


Mike Mathews




Day 08 - Pleiku, Vietnam - Joe Hutt


Here are some images leaving Saigon and traveling through the Central Highlands.


This trip turns out to be a huge surprise for me. The riding is a revelation in motorcycle travel and the people are extremely friendly. We've stopped at a number of places on the road and had an easy time at the roadside stands and in the cities.


The group is great, good riders and people, and the guide on the trip is great. We're in Hanoi at this time and my wife, Marlene, and Helge's wife Karen, have joined the group, so as Helge says, "LG++" ("Life is Good").







Day 08 - Hoi An, Vietnam - David Ow


Hello Family & Friends


I twisted my throttle, accelerating to avoid hitting the mother. She quickened her pace and tried to get across the road. Whack! - impact, and one dead hen and 4 orphaned chicks. Just one of the many hazards in Vietnam.


Cattle, Water Buffalo, goats, geese, pigs and dogs all roam free along the roads. I am never sure if one of them will decide to move into my path.

The most dangerous and deadly hazards are the trucks, buses and cars. The drivers are aggressive and dangerous. They will pass at any time even on blind curves. I have to be constantly alert and have had to move to the very edge of the asphalt and even onto the dirt shoulder.


Maybe they are not used to a large motorcycle coming at them at an unpredictable speed. The maximum speed for a motorcycle here is only 60 kph (36 mph) with engine size of 175 cc's.


My BMW needs to go faster or it will overheat - one excuse.


Another, I was just trying to stay up with Helge.


Having the BEST of times.



Motorcycling On,





Day 09 - Hoi An, Vietnam - Linda Sikorowski

The First Four Days of Riding



On 9/28, we left bustling Ho Chi Minh City and headed north for four straight days of driving in more rural areas. We traveled up to Dalat (mountain resort), down to Nhatrang (beach town), back up to Pleiku (mountain resort), then back down to Hoi An (beach town). In the mountainous areas of the Central Highlands, we loved the winding roads, cooler temperatures, evergreen forests, and waterfalls. Honeymooners visit Dalat (City of Eternal Spring) and locals like the area to escape from the heat. They also escape for holiday to the white sandy beaches on the Central Coast.


For me, the mountain scenery was quite unexpected and very beautiful. There’s hiking available off the beaten track and in Vietnam’s 30-plus national parks. With the help of non-government organizations, the government is trying to expand park boundaries, as well as educate and employ people living in or near the parks to help preserve wildlife and their habitat.


As we pass through rice fields and coffee, tea and pepper plantations, we learn that Vietnam is the world’s largest black and white pepper exporter and the second-largest coffee exporter. Vietnam is also the first or second largest exporter of rice, 70% of the rice comes from the fertile Mekong Delta, and there are nearly ten different varieties of rice.


We travel through many small villages along the way. We see school children in uniforms either motorbiking, bicycling, or walking. When they see us, heads turn, they start waving excitedly, yell “Hello”, and many of them give the peace sign. Our group has experienced these reactions before on other GlobeRiders trips, but all of us agree that there seems to be more excitement, waves and smiles because locals know so much about motorbikes. Even very young children, the elderly, and the poorer hill tribe people greet us openly and with many smiles.


Our guide, Than, speaks great English, so with his help we can talk with locals. Our first driver’s name was Dung – it’s pronounced “yume,” see why it’s helpful to have a translator along? I’m impressed with some of our city guides who speak very good English, have the knack for picking up on American humor, and have a better vocabulary than me, like “alluvial” (I have a hard enough time pronouncing it right). But there are enough English-speaking young and educated people here, that with the right amount of charades, sign language, pointing, smiles and patience, it’s fairly easy to travel where we’ve been.


Bye for now, I must visit the “Happy House” (it means toilet or restroom – who would have guessed).







Day 10 - Hue, Vietnam- Mike Mathews

Driving a Large Motorcycle in Vietnam



My license is official and I have all the necessary paperwork from the President of Vietnam to identify myself to the police as having permission to ride an illegal motorcycle in Vietnam. What a great place to ride, passing all other vehicles with ease, either on the left or the right - whichever path is clear, dodging all the traffic, including animals and those going the wrong way on your side of the road, riding on the shoulder of the road as passing buses force you and others off the road, and waving to all the school children who yell with excitement when they see the huge motorcycles.


Moderate speed is the key to avoiding accidents, although when we find a stretch of highway that is void of so many obstacles we tend to turn the throttle a little more. So far my max traveling speed has been only about 60 miles per hour, which exceeds the limit by more than 20 miles per hour.


We pass many police with cars and trucks pulled to the side of the road. We wave and continue as the police look in awe; we are a different mode of transportation due to our size. We don’t have to pay any tolls on the roads and pass easily to the right at all the toll booths with the operators waving and cheering us through. It is normal to stay on the right side of the road where most of the smaller motorbikes ride on the shoulder, but really the whole road is ours to use whenever possible.


It takes a lot of concentration to ride in all the traffic and you must always expect the unexpected. I was traveling in the left portion of my lane, looking for a gas station on the right side of the road. A large truck was approaching me in his lane and all of a sudden, I saw coming right at me a motorbike with two passengers heading straight for me. The motorbike was trying to pass the truck and go between me and the truck! I quickly jerked the handlebar to the right and just missed a head-on collision. My left handlebar hit something with a jolt. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the driver of the motorbike struggling to maintain control, but finally he managed.


If he had crashed I am sure the large truck he was trying to pass would have run over him and the passenger. Helge, riding behind me, saw the mirror of the motorbike fly into the air. This was the impact I had felt. It was a close call, but reminds you of the focus that needs to be constant when traveling in all the traffic. A slight leaning to the left of the head of a motorbike driver means I want to turn left. There are some that hold out their left hand but this is not the rule of the road. Vietnam motorbikes seldom use blinkers, but I have seen a few.


When we do stop for fuel, the eyes of the station attendant get very large when I put in almost 21 liters of gasoline in the Tiger which cost almost 300,000 dong, about $22 (about the same at home). The local motorbikes don’t hold anymore than 3 to 4 liters. Vince has the largest fuel tank which will hold more than 44 liters; at more than 500,000 dong it makes the biggest impression to the locals with a smile and a laugh. The fuel is 92 octane, measured by what standard I do not know, but runs well in our high performance machines.


We usually stop for a lunch at a local shop: just look for Pho (soup), Com (rice) or Mi (noodles) on the signs and you can’t go wrong. If Than, our guide, catches up with us in the chase vehicle before we have ordered, he helps us with understanding the available menu, if not, just head to the kitchen and look what is in the pot and point! The food is delicious even though I have never been a connoisseur of Asian food. The nighttime meals are just as good. I picked up the menu from our dinner the other night. Here were all our courses for one evening:


  • Vegetable Soup
  • Grilled Venison in Banana Leaves
  • Deep-Fried Shrimps in Young Rice
  • Chicken Curry and Bread
  • Hot Pot Dalat Style
  • Vegetables and Noodles
  • Cooked Fish with Steam Rice and Fish Sauce
  • Bananas Foster with Ice Cream


The road conditions are generally good but construction in some areas continues to improve transportation efforts in the country. As with any GlobeRiders trip, washing of the bike is necessary for the Tiger which gets a lot of attention from the locals.


The roadsides are sometimes covered with drying rice, corn or straw from the harvest in the fields. In one area, both sides of the roads had so much foodstuff there was hardly an area for road traffic to go without traveling through the drying goods. It is all part of the adventure of traveling by motorcycle in Vietnam.



Mike Mathews




Day 13 - Halong Bay, Vietnam - David Ow

Hi Family & Friends,



Vince and I were kayaking along on Halong Bay among thousands of islands as daylight disappeared, and we had not yet found our ship!

We had paddled between islands and into a tunnel of another. It was filled with bats and we hoped we would not get hit with their droppings. The tunnel opened into a beautiful crater with 100-foot high walls. The tunnel was the only way in and out.


Luckily, in darkness and after many anxious moments, Vincent spotted our ship among the thirty others. On board we enjoyed a gourmet meal of crab, prawns, fish and calamari. What a wonderful day-and-a-half cruising on one of the world's Ten Natural Wonders. On to Sapa.



Motorcycling On,






Day 14 - Hanoi, Vietnam - Linda Sikorowski


From Hoi An to Hanoi


Name two cities using the same letters of the (Roman) alphabet, but where the letters are arranged differently and the cities are pronounced differently? That’s one for William Short, the puzzle guy from the New York Times. The answer is: Hoi An and Hanoi.


We stayed two nights in Hoi An (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). It’s more touristy, but for good reasons - beaches, great food, a charming downtown, and interesting architecture (influences from Vietnam, China, Japan, and Europe). And I almost forgot - shopping!


“Colorful” is the word for Vietnamese handicrafts – in fabrics, flowers, silk clothing, silk shoes, umbrellas, silk lanterns, lacquer art, mother-of-pearl inlay, ceramics, marble statues, on and on. Vincent and Mike contributed to Hoi An’s best trades – tailor-made clothing made within hours (there are more than 200 tailor shops in town). Vincent got a silk suit and shirt, Mike a few T-shirts – it’s “fitting” for those that know them.


Outside of Hoi An are the Marble Mountains, consisting of five marble outcrops that were once islands – named for Fire, Earth, Water, Wood, and Iron. We began our Introduction to Buddhism class here and entered caves that sheltered Buddhist shrines and statues.


Onward to Hue and another UNESCO World Heritage Site: the decaying tombs of thirteen emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty and the crumbling Citadel (imperial city). Hue was the emperors’ city from 1802 to 1945. As a tribute to the revered emperors, we were treated to a royal dinner. Mike and I were crowned king and queen, the others became our mandarins (advisors), and while servants fanned us, musicians played on traditional musical instruments. As expected, when guys have to put on costumes (especially these guys) there were a few inappropriate jokes, but fun was the Royal Order of the evening.


By far, the best thing for me in Hue was our hotel, “Pilgrimage Village.” GlobeRiders does their best to balance riding everyday, stopping to see sights and do fun activities along the way. They also arrange for the hotels every night to ensure the motorcycles are secure and we have quality accommodations (the motorcycles come first, of course). While 5-star hotels may sound extravagant on an “adventure” tour, for me personally, they’re heaven. It’s easy to experience sensory overload each day, so a resort such as “Pilgrimage Village” helps rejuvenate one’s batteries. The picture says it all. My friends, life is rough on the road.


One uninspiring night in Vinh (there has to be one) and now we’re in Hanoi. We’ve met up with Marlene (Joe’s wife) and Karen (Helge’s wife) who will travel with us to Thailand. I’m really looking forward to getting to know them as we continue this incredible journey.



Until next time,


Tiger Lily




Day 14 - Hanoi, Vietnam - Karen Ofthus

Marlene and I arrived in Hanoi a few days ago, joining the GlobeRiders group, only to discover that this city is insane.


Utterly insane.


It’s eight million inhabitants are lovely, hard-working and friendly people. They smile a lot and are quite helpful. The insane part only hits you when you go outside. Nearly all eight million of them sit astride tiny motorcycles - Vespas, Hondas, and other bitty bikes, and wiz around like a swarm of angry bees. There are entire families sitting on one bike: Mom and Dad with two toddlers and a sleeping infant. They also carry baskets and cages stuffed full of chickens, pigs and rabbits. Piled high are rugs, fruit, bottled water, clothing, and every other consumer good you can imagine.


There are no Rules of the Road. They drive wherever there is a smidgen of space, even if it’s on a sidewalk. They drive against traffic, like salmon going up a thundering stream. Crossing the street is both a trust in faith and an art form. It goes like this: you’re walking along and some shiny bauble across the street catches your eye. You step off the curb and trust and pray that you will not be smashed flat as you brave the 20 feet to the other side. But step off the curb you do, looking left and right as if it makes a difference, then just walk right in front of the swarm of bees. Do not stop. Keep a steady pace and your eye on the bauble (this is where the trust comes in). They will not hit you (or so you hope). Keep going. Like magic, the swarm just parts around you as if you were Moses, parting the Red Sea. The bees whiz by, within millimeters front and back of you.


If you wanted, you could high-five everyone as they passed, but I haven’t done this yet.


This is reserved for the more advanced.


Yesterday I graduated from crossing simple side streets, to crossing a huge intersection…in the dark! Thousands of headlights, twinkling like the Milky Way, bear down on me as I stepped off the curb. Walking steady. I kept going. Praying, praying, praying… It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But since I’m writing to you now, you already know that I survived and made it back to our lovely hotel, shiny bauble in hand.









Day 14 - Hanoi, Vietnam - Linda Sikorowski

Special Report: Obesity in Vietnam



Obesity in Vietnam?


There isn’t any!


Why not? I’m not exactly sure, but perhaps it’s because the food is fresh and there aren’t many fast-food restaurants. Maybe it’s because they walk everywhere - long distances to and from school, work and the market.


Perhaps it’s because the Vietnamese people work incredibly hard. We observe a tremendous amount of manual labor. We’ve seen first-hand how they harvest rice, extract rubber from rubber trees, carve marble statues, embroider for tailors, and make bricks. Many of these workers are making $100/month or less.

Yes, their lack of fat may also be due to poverty and the fact that a family is working very hard just to ensure they have water, shelter and food. They certainly have their hardships, but at least they’re not arguing over who has the remote.


I’m not making fun, it’s just that traveling helps me put things in perspective and increases my appreciation for the abundance of everything we have in the United States. When I walk into a supercenter or mall after returning from these kinds of trips, I find myself incredulous and amazed at what we think we need.


But the main reason the Vietnamese people are so lean is because they bicycle everywhere. I think they’re born and die on a bicycle. Young people, elderly people, 2 people (sometimes 3), the young driving the elderly, the elderly driving the young, and kids who are too small to even peddle their big bike. When riding side-by-side, sometimes they hold onto each other’s bikes or each other, sometimes they are holding onto a motorbike.


When there’s a passenger, they can be in the front, the back, holding an umbrella, sitting side saddle, or helping the driver by peddling together. Bicyclists can be found anywhere – in congestion, on rural roads going uphill, and hauling heavy loads. By far the prettiest site is seeing high-school girls with long black ponytails dressed in stunning white silk fabrics riding side-by-side to school (I’m also amazed how they do this on dirty, muddy roads).


People are also exercising on the streets early in the morning...doing group aerobics on a street corner, playing badminton, or walking. At hotels, they give tourists very helpful reminders to watch your weight...they have bathroom scales in each room.


Well, they didn’t trick me – I haven’t gotten on one yet.







Day 14 - Hanoi, Vietnam - Karen Ofthus

The quiet of Halong Bay, just to the north, sits in stark contrast to the frantic life in Hanoi. Calm, peaceful, tranquil, we boarded our junk at the dock and headed out for an overnight in heaven. We dined on crab, shrimp, lobster and other delicious food as the boat motored toward our mooring site, set in a peaceful bay near the “Amazing Cave”.


A short hike on one of the thousands of islands that dot the region, took us into a huge limestone cavern that looked like the perfect spot for a community of Neanderthals to call home. Stalactites and stalagmites clung to the ceiling and spilled onto the floor. A bat or two flew around. We sang…or I should say, I sang, in open spaces with perfect acoustics. It was hot and sticky and wonderful, thus our afternoon kayak trip was well received.

Helge and I and our GlobeRider companions boarded our bright blue plastic kayaks and slipped across tranquil waters, dodging junks and tiny basket boats carrying pretty ladies selling snacks and whatnot. We paddled and sang and encouraged an Australian gal to jump off the side of her junk, 20 feet into the warm water.


We deftly scooped up sand along a rock wall, using my paddle like a spoon. My geologist friend, Kathy, will appreciate the treasure to add to her collection. We floated into a cave, it’s ceiling squeaking with hundreds of swallows nesting in the crevices.


Returning to the boat at sunset, Helge and I remarked about how lucky we were to have opportunities to enjoy the world like this. Granted, it comes first with a lot of hard work, which is why we are that much more grateful when we have the chance to travel to such beautiful places. The rest of our little journey was punctuated with more delicious Vietnamese food, lounge chairs and a touch of Gray Goose Vodka… the end to a perfect weekend.


Back in the vibrancy of Hanoi, we prepare this morning for a day on the town, seeing the sights and historical places of this ancient city. There will be a bit of walking for sure, but not to worry. We’re starting to get good at crossing the street. The swarm WILL pass around us, of that I’m now confident.


Perhaps today is the day I should try that high-five?







Helge Pedersen Images from the IndoChina Adventure 2008 - Vietnam




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