We get our KTM dirt bikes in Saigon from the same company that supplied the Minsk, Piaggio Vespa and Honda Cub to Jeremy Clarckson in the Top Gear Vietnam special in 2008. The description on the Internet was "Brand New" KTM bikes, but our first trip already ended after 50 km with technical problems. Fortunately we find a wooden hut that serves as a workshop. The chief mechanic crawls out of his hammock and take care of the KTM. An hour later, the diagnosis is: engine misfire, worn brake pads, broken throttle cable, not working speedometer and a worn clutch. He makes the KTM drivable, so we can drive back to the KTM shop in Saigon. A day later we get another "Brand New" KTM, with only a broken speedometer. Our tour now really can begin.
We are surprised about the huge numbers of scooters in the city (more than 3 million) and the complete lack of traffic regulations. The golden two rules here are: “Go with the flow” and off course “use your horn” to get attention. Scooters are easily manned by 4 or 5 (!) persons and 20 bags of cement on a scooter is also no problem. We don’t see severe accidents in the city, simply because it is to busy. Every day you see a few small accidents, but mostly it stays with some small damage and some unfriendly looks. Nevertheless, we doubt whether the people with missing limbs are mostly victims of war, or perhaps victims of traffic......
In Saigon, since the unification with North Vietnam called Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), we visit the Reunification Palace. Today this building serves as a museum where everything about the Vietnam War can be found. Until the end of the war the building served as a presidential palace, from which many battles are coordinated. We visit the huge bunker under the building and the evacuation helicopter-platform on the roof. Of course we also make a picture of the North Vietnamese tank that drove through the fence on April 30 1975, and officially ended the war.
Just outside Saigon we visit the tunnel complex of Cu Chi, where we get an impression of the situation below ground during the Vietnam War. No less than 300 km of underground tunnels, booby traps, water locks (against gas attacks) and complete underground halls, give us regularly goose bumps. Only with heavy B-52 carpet bombing some tunnels finally could be destroyed. The highlight is undoubtedly the 100 meter crawling in a dark small tunnel. If you are not claustrophobic, you will be at the end of the tunnel. Never been so happy to see daylight again! Back to our bikes we see a number of Vietnamese people surprised looking at our clutch. Most scooters drivers here use there left hand only fore breaking and a clutch to switch gears is clearly not known to everyone.
The traffic outside Saigon gets more dangerous with crazy trucks and buses who really do not give a sh.. about two-wheelers. We are on our way to Dong Xoai, where we will stay our first night outside the big city. Soon we notice that no one speaks or understands English. It will be communication with hands and feet! We find a nice little hotel with fully tiled rooms for only 8€ and visiting the local fresh market. Here it is normal to ride with the scooter on the market and select live meat, chicken or fish. If desired the animal is slaughtered and cleaned in direct sunlight, making it a stinking mess with flying feathers, fish-scales and blood all over. When we leave our hotel in the evening for diner, the city seems to have been deserted. Fortunately someone from the hotel takes a scooter and is leading us the way. Ten minutes later we are sitting outside, along a busy highway, with some noodle soup. The real surprise however is when we return to our hotel. The hotel appears to have a huge karaoke bar and the tiled rooms appear to be perfectly sound cabinets. Until 3:00 in the night we are listening to unrecognizable Chinese and Vietnamese songs.
At 5:00 we are woken up with the Vietnamese national anthem, playing loud from the speakers on the street. We try to get back into sleep, but finally we give up and open the window at 6:00. Some people are doing slow Tai Chi exercises in front of the hotel. That of course is how a bright new day should start! Our trip to Gia Nghia is not really shocking, but the next day the trip to Da Lat is one of the best! We cross the Ta Dung National Park and drive along beautiful dirt roads through the jungle. Occasionally we pass a deserted village with wooden huts, but most of the time we only see sand, jungle and mountains. This road clearly never have seen a car and soon we get the feeling that this is how the "Ho Chi Minh trail" must have looked in the years 60 and 70. At a small river we see a hut with chairs, where we drink a delicious hot Coke and enjoy this wonderful adventure. We continue through the mountains of Lam Vien driving to the tourist city Da Lat. Because of the steep hills we continuously are shifting gear and enjoying every minute. Once arrived in Da Lat we find a good hotel and enjoy a delicious western pizza.
Already in 1890 the first resort was built in Da Lat, where the climate is always cool because of the mountain climate. We visit the famous Datanla water-fall and admire the impressive nature. We also are impressed about the mess that locals leave behind. After a small picnic there is a battlefield of empty cans and bags, and without hesitation trash is dumped into the waterfall: Shame on them! When we visit the nearby Buddhist "Thien Vien Truc Lam" temple, we notice that everything is perfectly clean: Respect for those people! This temple, no less than 24 hectares, is inhabited by 50 male and 50 female monks and is the largest Zen meditation center of Vietnam. Less Zen are we in the evening when the hotel receptionist claims that the road we planned for tomorrow, does not exist..... I did noticed that the roadmaps did not had a line, but on Google satellite images we did see a small road. Tomorrow we will know……. The next day we drive the first hours one of the most beautiful roads I have ever seen. Brand new asphalt continuously sliding between the mountains and through the jungle. This must be heaven! However around noon, we see the first scooters in rain coats while it is 35 degrees Celsius. Moments later the rain coats appear to be used against dust. The asphalt is gone and the last 50 kilometer it is only a long brown dirt road. Dusty but with a satisfied feeling we arrive in Nha Trang, one of the many touristy coastal areas of Vietnam. After a nice shower we visit the Long Song Pagoda. This pagoda with the largest sitting Buddha in Vietnam, also shows a memorial place for 12 Buddhists who have burned themselves alive in a protest. A man who gives us an unsolicited tour, pulls without hesitation a flower from a grave and gives it to us. Still surprised about this action, he gives us a couple of half burnt incense sticks and then asked 10 euro for his volunteer tour. Welcome to the touristy Vietnam! We thank him kindly, but prefer to put our money in the official donation box at the entrance. From Nha Trang we continue to Phan Rang, where we admire the ChamTowers, since 1999 part of the UNESCO world heritage. These Hindu temples from the 13th century are the best preserved ChamTowers in Vietnam and are still used during the Kate festival in October. Our engines seem to be less well preserved and are clearly affected by the dust from the past few days. Probably clogged air filters, because when we do not use the throttle, the engine stops. With some extra use of the throttle we arrive in Phan Rang and find a discarded dirty hotel.Because cockroaches crawling everywhere, we are showering with our socks on and continue our journey with the first sunlight in the morning. Around noon we arrive in Phan Thiet, the most famous beach city in Vietnam. We find a paradise resort in MuiNe, just outside of Phan Thiet, and are enjoying some wonderful days of sun, sea and beach. After our beach paradise we drive to Vung Tau, for a boat ride with a quick hydrofoil over the SaigonRiver. Only 80 minutes and direct in to the busy heart of downtown Saigon. It looked perfect on the Internet, but after some inquiries it seems that the boat takes only pedestrians. After a good night sleep we decide to drive into Saigon. The first part we must use the idiotic "Highway One". The traffic situations on this highway are really hard to describe.Trucks and buses are passing each other in 3 lines, while oncoming traffic from the other site is forced to drive beside the road: Madness! We luckily find a road where only motorcycles can pass, so the last hours we drive in convoy along with thousands of scooters on a partially paved dirt road. After crossing the SaigonRiver, a bike ferry takes us back to our starting point. A unforgettable journey through Vietnam is ended.
In tourist areas, the majority speaks and understand English. Outside those areas the majority does not!
Do not expect a Thai smile. People are friendly but also indifferent, making contact is difficult.
In the tourist areas are plenty of restaurants, outside those areas there is little choice. Prices range between $2 and $20 per person.
It is very crowdie and chaotic, but if you go with the flow, it will be okay. Watch extra out for the trucks and buses.Motorbike:
Especially if you go inland a dirt bike is the best. In the cities a scooter is the best. Gasoline is available everywhere and cost about $1 p.ltr
Hotels are easy to fine, but certainly in Saigon they are often full. So it is better to book your hotel in Saigon in advance.
Prices range between $10 and $150 per room.
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