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Old 10th February 2012, 01:45   #1
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Default A bike tour of North Vietnam !!

Vietnam – The land of rice fields and terrace farms

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p4130230_1.jpg


The land of indomitable warriors

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p4160386_1.jpg

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p4160399_1.jpg


The Minsk- A classic Soviet era bike, loved by enthusiasts despite its limitations

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010085_1.jpg


So what better way to explore Vietnam than to get on a Minsk?

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p4140297_1.jpg


This is the story of my bike journey through the north of Vietnam.

So how did I get the idea of doing something like this?


Planning the trip
It was early 2011 and a string of holidays were coming up in April. My wife Anu and I decided to use the opportunity to take a foreign vacation. South East Asia requiring comparatively less time and money was a natural choice. Anu had heard from some colleagues that Vietnam is a good place and cheaper than other countries nearby. The idea of going to a less explored destination also appealed to me.

So we started looking up information on Vietnam on the net. Was going through the pages in Lonely Planet when I cam across this line:

“Mounting a Minsk to take on the peaks of the north is one of Vietnam’s defining moments and should not be missed.”

That decided it for me. I just had to do it.

I checked out the options. Hiring a bike and heading out by yourself is possible. But language issues and lack of knowledge of the route would make things tough. So I decided to play it safe and do a guided tour. A guide will also give you insights on local culture which you would miss otherwise.

Lonely planet recommends three tour operators. Of these, Voyage Vietnam is the cheapest and is run by locals. I would any day prefer a local over a westerner to show me his country, so I chose them.

I sent a mail to them enquiring about a tour. I told them that I had a fixed window of eight days to visit Vietnam and wanted a six day tour within this period. I did not receive a reply from them at the time so thought that the trip is off. Then after 19 days I suddenly got a mail from them saying that they have organized a group tour that exactly fitted into my schedule. Lucky me!


Arrangements
Getting a visa is a very easy process. The tour operator arranged it for me. I filled up a simple form with our passport details and arrival date, and emailed it to them. They got it processed and emailed me a visa letter issued by the government. We showed the printout at the airport in Hanoi and got our visas. It is as simple as that. We paid per head 15 USD to the tour operator and 25 USD at the airport.

There were no direct flights to Vietnam. We went through Bangkok. This was the biggest item on the budget. Within Vietnam everything was reasonably priced.

We had to book a hotel in Hanoi for three nights, and a pickup/drop to the airport. Our tour operator arranged for these too. The hotel was close to the operator’s office, so everything was very convenient.

Everything during the bike ride was arranged by the operator as part of the package. The only things for which we had to pay for during the ride were drinks and shopping.



The travelogue
We did this trip in April 2011. I was not a member of TBHP then, so I am posting this now.

I am no good at photography. I just point and shoot with my automatic camera. Some parts of the trip were either not captured properly or not photographed at all. I will do my best to present whatever is available. I hope readers are able to get a flavour of the country from this travelogue.
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Old 10th February 2012, 01:56   #2
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Default re: A bike tour of North Vietnam !!

Wow, a bike trip, add to the fact that you were riding in an unknown country. Were there any glitches when riding the bike and was there a backup car?

OT: Were you inspired from Top Gear Vietnam Special?
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Old 10th February 2012, 02:24   #3
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Day 1: Mumbai-Bangkok-Hanoi

We took the flight from Mumbai to Bangkok. We had a gap of around 8 hours for the connecting flight. We had thought of doing a quick visit to Bangkok city, but were not sure of the process to be followed. Unfortunately we were guided to the wrong gate. We realized late that we had checked into the transit area from where we could not go out. A small opportunity missed.

A depiction of Samudra Manthan at Bangkok airport. Ancient Indian cultural influence was strong in South East Asia

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010009_1.jpg


The flight to Hanoi landed in the evening. We saw a few Indians on the flight. We did not see any other Indians until we returned to the airport after a week for the return journey. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any race except East Asians and Whites. No Browns or Blacks around.

The cab was there to drop us at the hotel. Checked in and called up the tour operator (both of us had taken Matrix SIM cards) to confirm our arrival. We were told to reach their office next morning.

Then we went out for a quick walk around the market. We located the tour operators office (which was closed) to save time in the morning.


A lady who was selling fruits on the street gave us the suggestion to take these photos

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After that of course, we couldn’t refuse her offer of buying a few bananas! Tourism seems to be big business in Hanoi.


We went to one of the many shops selling T-shirts and purchased a few of the touristy ones with Hanoi/Vietnam written on them. Prices seemed reasonable because things are generally cheaper there than in India. But I guess we did not bargain well and paid a rather higher than normal rate. I think this because the shop owner offered us a free bottle of packaged water after the sale was done! Due to language issues we did not initially understand why she was so insistent on handing us the water. We finally figured out that it was free, and gladly accepted. Wiser from this experience, we bargained harder during later purchases and found that prices could go down a lot.


We had dinner at a road side barbecue, which seemed to be popular with the locals

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010016_1.jpg

We saw these small plastics stools everywhere. You would expect to find furniture of this size only in a primary school. The Vietnamese are short, but they are not that short. I enquired about this during the trip. I was told that they are widely used because they are cheap.


End of Day 1


Before getting on with the trip, let me digress to discuss the cuisine.




The food in Vietnam

Throughout our stay in Hanoi, I made it a point to seek out places where the locals eat, and have the typical food served there. For me this is an important part of the experience of a new place. No Indian food or touristy places filled with Westerners for me. During the ride, the food was arranged by the guide. It was also mostly in places visited by locals, so we were able to experience authentic Vietnamese cuisine throughout the trip.

Vietnamese are hard core non vegetarians. Beef and pork seem to be the most popular types of meat. Chicken and fish are also quite common. Vegetarians and those with typical Indian tastes will not enjoy this aspect of Vietnam. I am quite adaptable in matters of food. I love non vegetarian food and am willing to eat most types of meat. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.


A display of choices available at a restaurant on the way

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010181_1.jpg


Pho (noodle soup) is a common breakfast dish

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010161_1.jpg

It usually has beef or pork in it. It is had using both chopsticks and a soup spoon.

Chopsticks are the preferred tools for eating. I already knew a bit about using chopsticks before going to Vietnam, and had done some research and practice by looking it up on the net. Vietnam was an intensive crash course in chopstick use for me, and I became quite comfortable with them. I even purchased some there for use at home. My wife would have nothing to do with them. Forks and spoons are available at all restaurants on request.


A typical lunch/dinner starts with green leafy vegetables being served along with the meats.
The Vietnamese love green leafy vegetables. They have many varieties of these which are not seen in India. These are had like salads along with the food. The meats would be boiled or fried.

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010183_1.jpg

The food is served in common dishes for all occupants of the table. Everyone gets a small bowl along with chopsticks. You take up the food from the common dish using your chopsticks and transfer it to your bowl in small quantities. Add sauces if required and eat.

The green vegetables and meat which are served are initially had by themselves as starters. Later the rice is served and you continue to have them along with the rice. The food is mostly bland but you can always spice it up with the many varieties of sauce which are kept at the table. Some of the sauces are quite hot.

Vietnam is primarily a rice growing country. Rice is a staple of their diet. And like us they mostly have plain white rice for their regular meals. Fried rice and noodles are more like snacks or things to have on a night out.

I think that their regular diet is quite healthy, because it has plenty of fresh green stuff and not much oil.

Last edited by highway_star : 10th February 2012 at 22:31.
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Old 10th February 2012, 02:36   #4
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Default re: A bike tour of North Vietnam !!

Quote:
Originally Posted by prateekm View Post
Wow, a bike trip, add to the fact that you were riding in an unknown country. Were there any glitches when riding the bike and was there a backup car?

OT: Were you inspired from Top Gear Vietnam Special?
There was no backup car. Just the two Vietnamese guides riding along with the group.

No major glitches on the trip. Just a few minor ones. Will describe these when I get there.

I have not seen any episode of Top Gear. I hardly watch TV.
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Old 10th February 2012, 05:31   #5
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Default re: A bike tour of North Vietnam !!

Excellent TL, and quiet an adventurous trip, i must say. Doing a bike trip would have made you go through almost all the remote areas of Vietnam.

Did you and your wife had separate bikes, or did she rode pillion? asking as the bike looks quiet small. Also how was the luggage ferried or did you travel with very less luggage so as it would fit on a bike?
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Old 11th February 2012, 02:41   #6
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Default re: A bike tour of North Vietnam !!

Day 2: Hanoi – Mai Chau

We got up early and walked down to the tour operator’s office. Filled up some indemnity forms and made the full payment for the trip (part payment had been made earlier by remittance to their account). They gave us saddlebags for loading our stuff. Walked back to the hotel and filled the bags with whatever we would need for the ride. The rest of our luggage was left at the hotel’s cloak room.

Walked back to the office with our stuff. By this time, our fellow travelers were also there. Unfortunately we never took any proper group pics throughout the trip, so you’ll not see much of them in this travelogue. There were two Englishmen, who were brothers. They were riding on one bike each. There was an Australian couple, who were riding pillion behind the two Vietnamese guides. Our main guide’s name was Tan. He was the one who managed the whole trip. The other guide did not speak English. He was there to carry one of the Australians behind him. He rode at the rear of the group to make sure no one was left behind.


A photo of me and Tan taken outside the office at the end of the ride

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p4150362_1.jpg

Tan turned out to be a wonderful guide. He was a skilful rider. He knew the countryside well. He had earlier worked as a mechanic at a bike workshop, so he was able to repair the bikes whenever they gave any trouble. He spoke English reasonably well. His behaviour was always polite and cheerful. I kept asking him lots of questions about Vietnam throughout the trip. My wife thought that I was being too troublesome, but he always answered everything patiently. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide.


The bike for the ride was the 125cc two stroke Minsk

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010085_1.jpg

This is an old Soviet designed dirt bike that was once very popular in Vietnam. It is light and rugged, easy to maintain and repair. Nowadays they are hardly seen in the cities. City dwellers mostly ride four stroke automatic scooters. However it is still used in the countryside because it is good for carrying loads on rough roads. Biking enthusiasts also love to ride it. There are even Minsk clubs in Vietnam.

The bikes that we had seemed quite old. I found it to be under powered for our needs. I would have preferred a more powerful bike for the mountain roads. Other, more powerful modern bikes were available, but they cost more. The bike had some trouble hauling us over some of the steep slopes. Otherwise it managed fine. On the positive side, it had excellent suspension and grip on the road. It handled the rough roads and slippery surfaces very well. The bikes did not have a speedometer. They couldn't go too fast. I looked it up on the net and found that the top speed is 85 km/hr.


A large bike which was available as an option for the trip (photo taken after end of ride)


A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p4160553_1.jpg


We were provided with riding gear. I had taken along my own DSG jacket, because I did not want to be uncomfortable on the ride in case their jacket did not fit. I also had my own riding gloves. I did not take the riding pants which they provided. I have never used them and thought that they might be uncomfortable. My wife refused to wear any riding gear. It was difficult enough to convince her to wear a helmet! But I put my foot down on the helmet issue so she reluctantly agreed. The other riders all wore the complete safety gear. The saddle bags were not in good shape. But it was not much of a problem.

Our route started at Hanoi, went towards the North West, touched the Chinese border at Lao Cai and returned to Hanoi via a different road.

We set off through the streets of Hanoi, our group attracting attention everywhere. In a short while we were out in the countryside.


We stopped near some fields to look at water wheels which are used for irrigation


A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010020_1.jpg

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010026_1.jpg


Our second guide

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010025_1.jpg


Towards the mountains

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010024_1.jpg


We climbed up the Thung Nhuoi pass

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010036_1.jpg

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010039_1.jpg

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010040_1.jpg


We rode down to the other side

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010048_1.jpg


We were put up for the night at a village which caters to tourists. We stayed in one of the traditional stilt houses.

Here we were joined by one more rider from England, along with his guide. They rode with us for part of the trip.

Our dormitory

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010050_1.jpg

You can see the Australian couple in the background.


We went for a quick walk to the fields before it got dark

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010051_1.jpg


This village is inhabited by the White Thai people, one of the 54 ethnic minorities of Vietnam.

At night there were performances of traditional White Thai dances in the house

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010058_1.jpg

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010061_1.jpg

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010062_1.jpg

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010064_1.jpg

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010067_1.jpg

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010070_1.jpg



Then it was time to join them!

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A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010072_1.jpg

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010074_1.jpg

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010075_1.jpg

A bike tour of North Vietnam !!-p1010076_1.jpg


End of day 2
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Old 11th February 2012, 14:04   #7
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Default Re: A bike tour of North Vietnam !!

Thread moved from the Assembly Line to the Travelogues forum. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 11th February 2012, 15:28   #8
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Default Re: A bike tour of North Vietnam !!

A very different and interesting travelogue.

Looking forward to read more.

What about diving license ? Is the Indian one valid or did you need an international one ?
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Old 11th February 2012, 20:15   #9
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Default Re: A bike tour of North Vietnam !!

This bike ride is interesting. Wonderful way to explore a new place.

I hope at the end of the TL you would be posting the total cost of this ride as well the contacts for the same.

Keep it going.
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Old 12th February 2012, 03:27   #10
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Note from Mod : Please use the EDIT or MULTI-QUOTE buttons instead of typing one post after another!

Quote:
Originally Posted by mayankjha1806 View Post
Excellent TL, and quiet an adventurous trip, i must say. Doing a bike trip would have made you go through almost all the remote areas of Vietnam.

Did you and your wife had separate bikes, or did she rode pillion? asking as the bike looks quiet small. Also how was the luggage ferried or did you travel with very less luggage so as it would fit on a bike?
Yes we went through some remote areas which normal tourists don't see. I wonder how many Indians have ever been to some of these places.

My wife rode pillion behind me. She doesn't know how to ride a bike.

We carried the luggage on saddlebags. There was no external support on the trip, just bikers. Storage space in the saddlebags was limited, so we packed light. My wife carried her handbag throughout. We also had a backpack for my wife to carry. I was dumb enough to load it too much, and she started feeling fatigue within a few hours. One of the Englishmen who was riding solo graciously offered to carry the backpack on his bike, since there was space on the rear seat. So we tied it to his bike's seat every morning and took it out in the evening. We were lucky that we had this option else we would have had to abandon some stuff on the way.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mayankjha1806 View Post
Excellent TL, and quiet an adventurous trip, i must say. Doing a bike trip would have made you go through almost all the remote areas of Vietnam.

Did you and your wife had separate bikes, or did she rode pillion? asking as the bike looks quiet small. Also how was the luggage ferried or did you travel with very less luggage so as it would fit on a bike?
Yes we went through some remote areas which normal tourists don't see. I wonder how many Indians have ever been to some of these places.

My wife rode pillion behind me. She doesn't know how to ride a bike.

We carried the luggage on saddlebags. There was no external support on the trip, just bikers. Storage space in the saddlebags was limited, so we packed light. My wife carried her handbag throughout. We also had a backpack for my wife to carry. I was dumb enough to load it too much, and she started feeling fatigue within a few hours. One of the Englishmen who was riding solo graciously offered to carry the backpack on his bike, since there was space on the rear seat. So we tied it to his bike's seat every morning and took it out in the evening. We were lucky that we had this option else we would have had to abandon some stuff on the way.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mitrajdeep View Post

What about diving license ? Is the Indian one valid or did you need an international one ?
I had my Indian license with me. Not sure about the rules. Nobody asked for a license there.

Quote:
Originally Posted by amitwlele View Post

I hope at the end of the TL you would be posting the total cost of this ride as well the contacts for the same.
Yes I will post these. I will try to compile all the costs which I can recall.

If you want to contact them look up the website of Voyage Vietnam:

Motorcycle (Motorbike) & Offroad adventure Tours update in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia & China

Last edited by GTO : 18th February 2012 at 14:19. Reason: Please use the EDIT or MULTI-QUOTE buttons instead of typing one post after another!
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Old 12th February 2012, 11:09   #11
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Default Re: A bike tour of North Vietnam !!

Highway star,

Very refreshing indeed!!!

Looking forward to remaining part of adventure. Keep it coming. Your TL along with the one by Ramky - Vambodia - should form the base for any one exploring the region.
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Old 12th February 2012, 11:21   #12
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Default Re: A bike tour of North Vietnam !!

Lovely TL @highway_star. Can't wait for the rest of it.

A small request - if not a problem, can you share the rough costs for the different aspects of the trip - flights, hotel bookings, bike rentals and so on? Helps a lot other guys to get an estimate on the costs involved for such a trip.

Btw rating 5 stars. The flow is extremely nice and pleasing.
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Old 12th February 2012, 12:03   #13
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Default Re: A bike tour of North Vietnam !!

Highway_star,

You brought back a lot of nostalgia.

Since you mention North and Muang people (white Thai as you mention them), I guess you may have passed through the Cuc Phuong National park areas - did you ? If so I am looking forward to seeing some of the current photos of that area

Look forward to the rest of your posts particularly the pictures

Best Regards & Drive/Ride Safe

Ram
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Old 12th February 2012, 16:54   #14
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Default Re: A bike tour of North Vietnam !!

highway_star - wonderful travelogue! That is quite an interesting option you took to exploring an unknown country. Kudos to you and your wife. Looking forward to the rest of the Tlog and for the cost and other details.
Rated 5*.
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Old 12th February 2012, 18:46   #15
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Default Re: A bike tour of North Vietnam !!

One of the unique travelogue on tbhp. Awesome Looking forward for cost details and more on the journey.
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