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IndoChina Adventure 2014

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Dispatch 01 from David Marsing

Week 1


We had a great tour of the Mekong Delta area though few of us were ready for the head and humidity overnight at our farm stay.  Best part of this was seeing first-hand how traffic moves in the Saigon area.  My best description of this is “swarm theory” traffic, particularly motorbikes, moves like a school of fish or swarms of bees.    You have to try very hard to not over react to the very close proximity of other bikes, cars and people in the roadway.   


A great example of this is how a very elderly woman crosses a street with full flowing traffic and not looking at what is coming her way.  Just a calm steady consistent stride focusing on the other side of the street and the “seas” part for her and just flow around her.

Our third day from Nhatrang to Pleiku was supposed to be only 30km of “construction” on the route.   Actually it turned out to be about a 100 miles and the worst rain storms I have ever been in on a bike.  As we were up on a ridge following the torn up highway we experienced 4 massive monsoon down pours 3 of which were blinding.  


We must have driven through about 5-6 inches of rainfall and crossed many flash flood run off rivers trying to get to Pleiku before dark.    The lead 3 riders managed to not get any rain until they were parked at the hotel.   The rest of us had an experience of a life time.  I have a lot of new best friends along that highway who happen to have or were sharing covered sanctuary from the rain at various buildings in strategic high ground locations.

Hoi An was great and we enjoyed the hotel on the water.   Our trip from Hue to Vinh was one of the best roads I have ever ridden on.   Breath taking scenery, virtually no traffic and just cruising the Ho Chi Minh highway just north of the old DMZ.   We stopped at an excellent boutique hotel and restaurant owned by an Australian.   The trip into Vinh was a bit long at 274 miles.   Not too bad if you’re doing 60-70 mph but long at 40-45 mph.

We pushed up Hwy 1 to Hanoi only stopping for coffee and a snack trying to beat the Friday commuter rush in the city.  Wow, back into the swarm again!  Now we’re here for a 3 day stay with a quick trip to Ha Long bay though it was interrupted by threats of a Typhoon so we aborted our overnight plans on the boat and took up residence in a local hotel.   Ha Long is beautiful but very popular and many tourist boats.


David Marsing


Pictures from Chris Poland




Dispatch 01 from Dan Marks


First post


Though the history of Ho Chi Minh City (named that only within a day after the Americans departed Saigon in 1975) is interesting and the way people live and work on the Upper Mekong River and its multitudinous canals (every family has a least one river boat) are very interesting, to me, the most extraordinary, most fantastical impression of Vietnam is the traffic in HCMC.   It's not the four or more wheeled vehicles, but the thousands of motor scooters and small motorcycles flowing in unending, delirious, inter-twining streams through the streets and sidewalks.  (Pan Than, our guide, says that the population of HCMC is about 10 million and there are about 5 million registered scooters and an unknown number of unregistered ones.)


These two wheelers with riders of both sexes, all sizes, all ages and carrying one, two or sometimes more passengers and an amazing array of cargo (lumber, window frames, flower arrangements twice as tall and wide as the scooter, many bags of produce) crowd every available space on a street.  And when moving they're like a school of dissimilar fish flowing with, against and across the current of other schools of fish and around any obstacle such as a parked or suddenly stopped vehicle or a crossing van or pedestrian.  Yes, people on foot cross through the river even when traffic is moving, waiting for a space of one or two scooters, moving slowly and in a straight line while the traffic flows around them and perhaps an uninvited Seattleite walks with them, slightly behind and downstream.


We/I were apprehensive about riding in this maelstrom even though assured by GlobeRiders who had been there before that we'd catch on very quickly.  And we did - it all seemed to come naturally - pay attention and go with the flow.


It's hard to describe all this in words and I've yet to get a good picture (see attached), but I'm hoping to find some time and a good, shady vantage point to watch for an hour and take some videos when we're in Hanoi.

Now on our way north,








I know it could be worse, much so, but it's bad enough.  For now, I'm in a smallish, funky hospital in Hoi An, Vietnam healing from surgery to pin together my badly broken left tibia (large, lower leg bone) and stabilize my slightly cracked fibula (ankle bone).  In the meantime, my fellow riders are off to continue our, now their tour of Indochina.


Our first 3 days of riding (200, 90, 230 miles) were on mostly terrible roads, most of which were on badly- or un-graded gravel and dirt and mud and even when on pavement they were full of obstacles - pot holes, one small town after another with chaotic pedestrian, dog and livestock traffic not to mention the fierce truck and bus drivers who think nothing of passing in the blind, blasting their horns and pushing two-wheelers off the road.  It was fun for the first couple of hours, figuring out how to ride and survive, but eventually became rather tedious.  For one thing, you always had to pay close attention to the road and upcoming events, so had little time for watching the passing parade.  But, we all survived and, I thought, got rather good at traveling in this milieu.


Day 4, Pleiku in the hills to Hoi An on the beach (220 miles) was different.  The roads were mostly very good and fun and wound through beautiful scenery in coolish (by comparison) weather.  There was only an occasional construction zone and after our first three days experience, none seemed very daunting.  But, in one case, after about 100 miles, I took what looked like a smoother route through a construction zone on red-dirt/mud vs. miserably bumpy gravel - bad choice as the tread on my non-off-road tires filled with compressed mud and within about 50 yards on a slick, muddy surface I dropped (euphemism for lost control and crashed) the bike in what I suppose was a dramatic fall.  It happened so quickly I'm not sure how I did it, but the bike was on its left side facing backwards, I was on my right side on the ground and evidently my left foot went with the bike twisting and breaking the lower leg and ankle - rats, indeed!


Three Vietnamese riders who witnessed this immediately came to my aid - lifted my bike up, pointed it in the right direction on the side of the road, and helped me to stand up and lean against the bike (I was unable to put any weight on what I hoped was just a sprained left ankle).

Two other GlobeRiders came by to help, but I told them to go on, since I knew that the van with local guide Than and his assistant/driver Su as well as GlobeRider guide Chris Poland were following behind us.  They easily found me, loaded me into the van.  Than put on my riding gear to ride the bike to our destination in Hoi An and Su drove me to the hospital there.


Besides the physical pain I experienced after the adrenalin wore off and before having access to Tom's medicine cabinet and Chris's pharmaceutical advice, and then at the hospital during the evening, night, morning and afternoon with their not-too-effective pain medicines, the mental anguish was as bad or worse and is ongoing.  There I was in the van watching my bike swooshing through the beautiful hill country on great roads but without me on it.  And now my bike and I are trying to get back to Seattle while my fellow riders and good friends continue this great adventure.


I wish them well, as they have me, and look forward to riding with them again.  Those in the attached picture are, left to right, Don, Tom, Mike, David, Chris, soon to be gimpy, and Su.





Dispatch 01 from Deeann Glamser


I flew into Hanoi Tuesday to rest and explore before Don and rest of group arrive Friday.  Hope to see some of them ride up, looking American super-sized in the wide river of honking scooters flowing endlessly past the hotel.  Wonder how it'll compare to Saigon traffic.


I am fairly bold crossing streets, once I accepted that pedestrians are moving targets.  Scooter Rule 1: there are no rules. Rule 2: there are no lanes. Rule 3: watch out for the one driver who is texting!  Have only seen 1 or 2 talking on phones -- perhaps because they ride so close together.


At rush hour yesterday, drivers started detouring down the sidewalk.  Not much room to get out of way because of the long row of scooters parked on sidewalk. But somehow, it all works.






As I was enjoying the shade on a park bench by Hoan Kiem Lake, two students asked if they could sit and talk to try their English. From school sports to Lady Gaga to how VM women keep skin pale. I told them that a group of women nearby were doing dance exercise to "sexy lady."  Much laughter.








Tom Petrillo's Photo Gallery

Don Smith's Photo Gallery




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