We are ready for a decent ride now. Having done a small ride in Sapa on a Honda 110 we are ready for a big bike now. Ready to prove that I can ride in the sheer craziness that is traffic in Hanoi. Home to six million bikes/scooters. Ready to ride south from Hanoi to Cuc Phoung National Park. A round trip of about 300kms. Our touring bike, a Yamaha YBR125 is waiting for us at Flamingo Travel in Hanoi. Yep we have an extra 15cc to propel 2 big westerners along now. The power of this machine will be awesome compared to the Honda 110. Flamingo specialise in guided bike tours, bike hire and any other travel arrangements you can think of in Vietnam or neighbouring countries.
We wish to see the National Park with it's Primate Rescue Centre and trek to see the 1000 year old tree.
We have also booked a guide to ride with us for the two day trip. He can get us out of the madness that is the road system in Hanoi. Plus he has been to Cuc Phoung before so knows the way. The GPS on my phone can not pick up any satellites. So we need the guide badly. Don't want to spend five years trying to leave the city.
Mr Pink, as he is known in English, has been a bike guide for 7 years now with Flamingo. He is a very good rider as I was to find out. Riding with him I felt as if we had been riding mates for years. His English was very good. Great sense of humour and a great knowledge of his country.
After doing the paperwork, swallowing very hard as I sign that if I write off the bike off I will pay $3000 USD we set off to the garage with all the bikes. There awaiting us is our mighty stead. I was going to rent a 250 Minsk. An evil Russian made 2 stroke as I found out in Sapa when I tried to ride one there before taking the Honda. They are smelly and gutless wonders. Yet you see a few buzzing around Vietnam with happy owners. I want something that will not breakdown every few kilometres.
Mr Pink has selected an old XR250.
He was going to take a Minsk but decided against as his leg would get covered in 2 stroke oil he said. As our bike is so small we strap our pack onto the XR and head out for the first time in the maelstrom that is the traffic in Vietnam. You don't worry about what is behind you. Just watch 45 degrees either side of you and ahead. Keep hitting the horn when you get close to another vehicle. And close you will get. Some much so that you had better be used to lane splitting traffic in your own country as this will help you handle the traffic in Hanoi. Horn blowing is a language on it's own. It tells others that you are behind the. You are close to them. Get a move on. I want that space on the road and many other things I have not yet translated.
First stop is for fuel for both bikes. The trip agreement with Flamingo is that I pay for the hire of our bike, fuel for both bikes, all accommodation and food for both Jan and I and for Mr Pink.
Back into the never ending stream of bikes as we make our way south and out of this huge city. My thumb is sore from pressing the horn button so much.
In Vietnam the scooter/bike is the carry all vehicle. From the full family, to your pigs or chickens, to things you need to sell our buy.
After all the fog and rain we have had it is good to see the sun again. We motor out of Hanoi and head for the Ho Chi Minh Trail (road). Wow we will be using the road used during the American War to transport men and supplies south as the North Vietnamese pushed the Americans back to what was then Saigon. In Vietnam what we know as the Vietnam War is called the American War.
We are using one of the main highways to head south to start with. The road is very narrow. I am learning to hug the very right side of the road as the on coming trucks, buses and cars overtake each other. Biggest vehicle of the road has right of way. No matter what direction it comes from. On a bike you get out of the way quick smart or you will be goo between the tyre treads. We see so many near misses. Yet no one gives each other the bird. There is no road rage. Respect how the roads work here and you will survive and have a great ride.
Lunch time is fast approaching. My tummy is making those feed me now feelings. Not long after this we have pulled over into a road side cafe. This is no MacDonlads as we are so used to in the west. This is a country side road cafe. You sit on the floor here. In one room Government officials are having a business lunch. Lots of food and lots of happy juice is flowing. Ok so business lunches are the same world over.
Mr Pink orders for us. Fried chicken. I would say freshly killed out the back. Sticky rice. Some green plant roots and garlic. Chilli with oil and salt. Then some meat. Before we left Australia Jan had looked up the word for dog in Vietnamese. We don't eat pets. The cafes in the area all had signs up advertising Pho (rice noddles which are so yummy) and the word for dog. I was too busy watching the road and the traffic to see these. Our cafe had this sign too. A bowl of meat is served up to us. I ask what is this and hear the word “Pork”. I am not really a Pork eater. Buy hey I am in their country and I don't want to be rude. So I tuck in with my chop sticks. Jan heard “Like Pork”.
So it looks like I may have eaten dog. I can never tell our dogs this here at home. They will never talk to me again. Jan did not tell me what she heard till that night when we talked about the lunch. You can imagine how I felt. I did keep my dinner down somehow.
Lunch over and its is time to get off the main road an onto Uncle Ho's road.
By now both our bums have no feeling in them. The seat on the 125 is so narrow its like riding a plank made out of concrete. Jan is suffering more than me. The bike is so small that she is right up against me. The road is now dirt. Many potholes. The bikes suspension is original and not made to take people our size. Every bump is pile driving the bike up into Jan's spin. I go slower. 40 km/h and still we are suffering. Mr Pink on the XR is way ahead. His long travel suspension is soaking up the bumps and he stands up for most of them. I so want my BMW with it's Comfort seat.
The scenery is breath taking. This in a small way helps to distract from the pain we are in. The road is taking us up through the hills. The poor 125 is down to 1st gear as I rev the guts out of it coaxing it like a sick horse to get us up the hills. Also the terrain is getting very lush. We are close to Cuc Phoung.
It is hot. We are tired. We arrive at the Primate Rescue Centre. What we are about to see and learn makes us forget the pain of the tiny seat we have sat on for 160kms. Monkeys from around Vietnam are sent here for healing and rehabilitation back into the wild. They are held in cages at first to observe their health. Then moved to a very large jungle area surrounded by electrical fence. Once they prove they can survive in this contained jungle they are released into the National Park. We heard those that live in the park itself calling to each other from our bungalow. A sound we will never forget as 2 monkeys call to each other through the vast expanse of jungle.
It is quite amusing to see monkeys with German names like Fritz in the Rescue Centre. Then again there are German volunteers working there. So they get a say in the names of the new borns.
Even though they might be in cages it is very encouraging to know that soon they will be released back into the wild in a protected National Park. The monkeys I mean not the Germans.
Our accommodation for the night is 17 kms into the park. We ride a very narrow damp concrete road through the jungle. Butterflies leap into the air as the XR drives through them ahead of us.
We are given a small 2 bed bungalow for the night. Each bed has it's own mozzie net. Our bungalow comes with red bellied squirrels who like to stomp around all night long above our heads in the ceiling and roof.
Jan and I take a short walk along one of the concreted jungle paths for some first hand in your face jungle experience.
This is nothing compared to what awaits the next day. On this walk we too cause bunches of butterflies to take flight as we walk through them. Never seen so many of these delicate winged creatures before. Also seen on the ground is one huge whopper of a moth. Would hate to have that hit at night when riding.
After good dinner we walk back to our room and find the field near by has 1000s of blinking lights flying around. They are fire flies. Little beetles whose tail blinks on and off. What a great way to end the night.
Morning and not far from our room we find more evidence that things can grow big in this jungle. Are we to be part of some weird growth experiment too?
We have requested to visit the 1000 year old tree. So a 5km walk through the jungle is ahead of us. A good breakfast of scrambled eggs and hot bread is downed before we set of on our trek. I love the scrambled eggs and hot bread we ate in Vietnam. Both so fresh and yummy.
Little did we know that this walk would have us climbing many steps. Trudging along mud paths. Climbing even more steps. And more steps. My legs turning to jelly. Shaking as I tried to walk down the other side of the hills we climbed.
It was all worth it though. To be in the presence of something this old and still living was awe inspiring. I feel that this tree is the guardian of this park. Having seen many generations of monkeys come and go. Lived through the wars that have raged in this country. If only it could talk.
This ancient giant is protected from the wood choppers chainsaw thankfully. Shame people have to carve their names into it.
When we get back to our bungalow we mount up and ride back to Hanoi. My legs are killing me. At least I can rest them sitting on the bike. Oh yeah, our butts will again be cradled by the seat of concrete. We are almost begging to go back via a shorter and smoother road route. Mr Pink takes us along Highway 1. Thank you Mr Pink.
Click for Video. We ride out of the national park.
We stop for lunch at another road side cafe. I am not having anything but chicken this time. We get chopped up fried chicken. Again they are freshly killed out the back. We also are served a liver, cabbage and flower soup. I try this with some boiled rice. The flower is crunchy. Not my favourite dish of the trip so far but way better than “like pork”.
Highway 1 is smoother that's for sure. Our butts still ache. This is the least of our worries as many buses and trucks force us into the gutter as they overtake each other.
Click for Video. How to overtake a lumbering truck in Vietnam 2 up on a 125.
School is out and we face yet another challenge when riding a small bike in Vietnam. Teenagers on push bikes. At least 3kms of them. We are forced at times inot the oncomming lane to get around them all. They wave when they see us westerners on a bike on their roads. In fact lots of people waved to us when they saw we are not Vietnamese.
Hanoi is looming up in the distance. Its haze and smog reaching out to greet us hot and dirty travellers. Soon we will be immersed back into the never ending sound of the horn and millions of scooters fighting cars and buses for a place on the road.
Click for Video. Coming into the outskirts of Hanoi.
Mr Pink it was a true honor to ride with you and have us as your guide. Anyone that wants to do a bike tour in Vietnam please go see Flamingo Travel. We highly recommend them. Ask for Mr Pink as your guide. You will have a great ride with him.
Please don't think I am complaining about this ride. I loved every minute of it. My long held dream is ever so real now. I now know I can ride anywhere in the world. I have become like my hero's who I have idolised for 30 years. Roll on the next overseas holiday. We want to ride even further. This time though on a bigger bike with our Airhawk blow up seat cushions cuddling our butts.