Vietnam, part 3

Finally I got this one done! Writing with one hand is slooow 🙂

18.– 24.02.2013

Monday:
Vietnam border – Vinh (Vietnam):

From Laos border I had to ride few kilometers to see first glimpse of Vietnam flag and border buildings. I felt really excited because I did not know what was waiting for me at the border.
I parked my bike in front of the waiting trucks and walked inside the immigration building.

Immigration took only few seconds and now I had Vietnam entry stamp in my passport! Now started the most exciting part of the border process, would I be allowed to take my bike to Vietnam…?

I walked to the other booth, handed over bike papers, Carnet and my passport. Guy was looking at all these papers and seemed like he was not sure what to do. At this point I started to worry a bit, because officer did not speak any English… I already saw me riding back to Laos…
Officer called someone and a young woman arrived to check the papers.
With good English she apologized how sorry they are because this process takes such a long time. She told me that I am the first one with western motorcycle that they are clearing through the customs… :)!!!.

Paperwork took around 20 minutes and after this I had temporary import document on my hand!
So, it seemed that I was allowed to enter Vietnam with my own bike!!! This is not normal, so I felt extremely good at this point :).
I had to pay 20000 Dong customs fee ($1) and then I was allowed to move my bike to the customs area.

Same woman asked what I had in my panniers. I told her what was in (did not even need to open my panniers) and this was ok for them!
After this really easy customs declaration we took a lot of photos with different people posing next to me and my bike. After this photo session I was allowed to ride to Vietnam!!! AMAZING, truly amazing!

Few kilometers from the border I had to stop due to an accident between truck and scooter. Scooter was under the truck, luckily I did not see the rider…

Road was in good condition, scenery was beautiful, hilly, green and the road was swerving between rice fields.
In small villages people kept on looking at me and my bike. I guess it is not so normal in this part of the world to see a tourist with a big bike cruising through the small dusty villages.

Once I reached the road #1, traffic got much heavier. My only target for the rest of the day was to survive the traffic and find a town with ATM and hotel.
In Vinh, I was able to find both of these. Hotel was ok, even the first room door did not want to open at all, so they gave me another room :).
Feelings after the first day in Vietnam with own bike were really positive, people were friendly and the border crossing was amazingly easy.

Tuesday:
Vinh – Halong Bay:

After a Vietnamese breakfast (luckily I got eggs prepared the way I wanted) I started packing my bike under numerous watchful eyes :).
Around nine, I waved my hand for farewell and started riding towards Halong Bay.

Even the temperature was 26C, air felt quite cold, I guess high humidity was reason for this.

I was really surprised for the fact that how bad shape the main road #1 between south and north was. Trucks had made really deep grooves to the road and potholes made riding even more challenging.

Traffic was bad, really bad. Well, not as bad as in India, but close.
Worst part was that it was impossible to estimate what a bicycle/scooter/car/bus/truck/mule-cart in front of me was going to do and this made the whole riding really tiring.
Heavy pollution from the traffic did not make my life any easier either.
I was also surprised about the way how people were using their horns over here, almost the same as in India…

My overall thought was that if Vietnam would have more people, then traffic would be the same as in India…

Around half-way of the day it started to rain. At this point my already slow speed got even slower, because road looked and felt really slippery.

Traffic was really heavy all the way and several times I cursed my decision to ride via road #1, but at this point all I could do was to suck it in and keep ongoing.

Due to heavy traffic and burning trashes, air was really thick. My nose was hurting and throat was aching even I was wearing a mask (hood in front of my face).


Police situation in north was the same as in south. Every 10km there was new police trap. I was really surprised because I was not stopped, not even once and I have to say that my big GS with all the luggage looked a bit bigger than scooters :D.

Day was really long, but finally (before darkness) I arrived to Halong Bay! Wohoo!!!


Just before arriving at Halong Bay I rode to the tip of one island to see how these strangely formed limestone islands look like from the distance.
Unfortunately weather was still a bit rainy, so I could not see the formations so clearly.

After this I started searching hotel. At first I stopped at Novotel, but the price was too expensive (on the positive side they had a safe parking garage). After this I stopped in several hotels, but they were either full or they did not have garage for the bike.
Outcome was that just before sunset I returned to Novotel and booked a room.

Room was really nice and the best part was that I had a safe parking for my bike.

Wednesday:
Halong Bay:

I woke up before six in the morning because I wanted to see the sunrise over the bay. Unfortunately sky was still fully covered with clouds and light drizzle kept coming down.

Breakfast was excellent! I spent one hour in the restaurant enjoying all sorts of foods over there (well, I was paying a lot, so I thought I could also eat a lot :D).

I spent half of the day writing Vietnam story and updating wordpress. I also used few hours for going through all the photos of the floating market area in southern Vietnam (I was shocked how many photos I had taken over there).

Around 3pm I walked to the quiet downtown to search a place to buy boat tickets to the bay area.
I have seen a lot of photos and videos from the bay area, so naturally I wanted to see it with my own eyes.
I stopped by at the town´s tourist information center and learned that they actually sell cruises over there.
I booked a trip for one night, price was expensive, $150, but it included several meals, kayak trip, taxi to the harbor etc.



After paying the trip I stopped by at a local market and bought some snacks and few beers for the evening.
Now it was time to get back to the hotel to check that I could leave my bike to the garage for one extra night and go through more photos.

Thursday:
Halong Bay:

Morning I spent for packing all my stuff to a pack safe (which I would not need on a cruise) and triple checked that all needed camera stuff was packed for the cruise. I had already booked hotel room for Friday-Saturday night, so now I just needed to leave all my stuff to a hotel for safekeeping.

At noon a taxi came to a hotel (as promised) and took me to the harbor. There another guy came to pick me and took me inside to the ticketing area.
This guy just asked me to sit down and wait.
20 minutes later he came back and guided me to a small boat, which then took me to a bigger boat.
This was not a big ship, I think it had enough room for roughly 20 customers.

A bit more waiting and then all 18 customers were given a welcome drink and a quick information of the boat and an agenda.

After this I noticed that engines were started and boat started moving.
Service was good because immediately we were served lunch ☺. Lunch was really tasty and I started to think that the price what I had paid was not too much, because I had a nice cabin and food seemed to be excellent.

Quickly I finished my lunch and rushed to the deck to enjoy the scenery and to take some photos. Unfortunately light drizzle made scenery to look quite grey.

My eyes were eating the scenery while we slowly passed several high-rising limestone islands with amazing formations! I think with better weather scenery would have been even more amazing.

Our first stop was to visit one big cave area. Shore of this cave-island was full of other tourists, so one hour what we had in our disposal would be really tight.
I was told that there are three caves where third would be the biggest one.
Slowly but surely I reached the opening of the cave and saw the first and smallest cave. It was nicely lit with different color lights, but was nothing special.
Next two caves were much bigger and much more interesting.
Following the queue I was able to walk through the caves in one hour.
Caves were interesting to see, but the amount of people in the cave was just too much. I think these caves are part of every cruise in the area, so you cannot miss them :).

Second stop was to visit one island (I have forgotten the name) and climb up over 400 steps. From the top of it you can get a glimpse of the surrounding islands. Scenery was nice, but once again misty weather limited the visibility.


Later in the evening we had a nice dinner at the boat. I dined together with an English couple, Russian guy (Vlad) and Croatian/Canadian- couple.

Later in the evening locals rowed their tiny boats next to ours and tried to sell everything from cigarettes to alcohol. Our boat personnel said that we should not buy anything from these guys (due to some strange reason), but I think they just wanted that we would buy stuff from their boat…

Friday:
Halong Bay:

I got up before six in the morning, hoping to see a sunrise in Halong Bay. Unfortunately sky was still totally covered by clouds, so I did not see any kind of color change over the horizon. What a major disappointment!

Around eight it was time to go and try sea-kayaks! It was still quite cool, so most of the people decided to skip kayaking.
After few minutes I was already wet and sat in a pool of seawater… Even air was quite cool, physical work and warm seawater kept me warm. Kayaking was a lot of fun, even the kayak did not always go where we pointed them (I was kayaking together with Vlad).

One hour went too fast, way too fast and we had to get back to the boat.

On our way back towards the mainland we had to prepare our own lunch. We were shown how to create springrolls :). After creating a bunch of them, we waited awhile so that chef cooked them. Taste of those springrolls was excellent.

After saying my farewells to other boat customers, I returned to the hotel, did some laundry, watched videos and packed my things for the morning.

Wrap-up of the boat cruise: 2 day cruise was really nice. I bet that the scenery is truly unspeakable if the weather is clear. There are lot of other tourists, so prepare for queuing. Highly recommend to visit Halong Bay!

Saturday:
Halong Bay – Thanh Hoa:

Got going around nine in the morning. Weather was so cold in the morning (only 19 degrees) that I had to a put on top layer on to my riding suit.
Plan for the day was to get as close as possible to Laos border by following the Ho Chi Minh Highway.

Soon I noticed that there was not so much traffic as few days earlier when I arrived to Halong Bay. This was good thing, but still I needed to put 110% focus, because now people were possibly even more crazy than before (more space for passing…).
Also this time there seemed to be more police checkpoints, but again I was able to pass them all without problems.

Air pollution was again horrible. I think it was time for locals to burn all the trash, because air was grey from the eye watering and throat tickling smoke. My throat felt like I had swallowed rough sandpaper, so I decided to stop early for the night to Thanh Hoan.

Room price was $30, expensive, but I got 10% discount :).
Hotel was really basic and rooms huge. Only bad thing was that they did not have garage, so I had to cover my bike with tarp (at this time there was lot of interested people around my bike. Always carry something what you can use to cover your bike).

For dinner I got some noodle stuff in the next door restaurant. They had all sort of snake-head soups etc in their menu, but I decided to leave those poor snakes for locals.

Sunday:
Thanh Hoa – Laos Border

Breakfast was more for a local taste, really spicy, so I decided just to chew few dry breads. My stomach does not like spicy food for breakfast :).

I started day´s ride towards Ho Chi Minh Highway and Laos border around eight in the morning.

Few kilometers later I saw a clean looking gas-station, so I decided to stop there and fill the tank. While guy was filling the tank and tens of interested eyes were looking this process I was calculating how much Vietnam money I had left.
I realized that I would not have enough for full tank and asked guy to stop filling. He stopped in the last possible second, because price of the fuel was exactly the sum what I had Vietnam money left! Tank was almost full and I knew that I would make it to Laos without further filling.

Few minutes later I passed a truck and a passenger car. When I got back to my own lane, I noticed police check point less than 100m ahead! I was sure that I would be stopped now, but for some strange reason they were more interested of the truck! What a lucky day! I was reminding myself to take it slowly, no need to get stopped now…

HoChiMinh-Highway was in excellent condition, curvy road, only few cars on the road, clean air and nice green and hilly surroundings. Now riding felt nice again!
I kept my speed around 90-100km/h and the scenery changed with a nice pace.

At one point I passed a western looking guy with a bicycle. I stopped a bit further ahead and waited this guy to reach me.
He was riding around SE Asia and praised the hospitality of Vietnamese people. He said that he had been invited several times to spend a night in local homes and every time locals had spend a lot of time at police station to get approval from the officials to host a foreigner!

At one point a police check-point had a barrier blocking the road, but as soon as I got closer, this barrier was removed and I was waved to continue. Again I was able to avoid police check point! Believe me, my bike does not look and sound like a local scooter 🙂

I needed to leave Vietnam through the same border crossing what I used to enter Vietnam.

At the border I stopped my bike quite close to the offices, picked all the paperwork and walked in.
While I was waiting my turn, I noticed that several custom officers were waiting their turn to sit on top of my bike. I did not want to go and yell them, because it could have possibly make my life more difficult at the border.

It is amazing how these people lack of respect and judgement, or maybe it is just a overwhelming interest of something.
They do not seem to think that fully loaded high, big bike could be heavy and that their short legs might now be able to keep bike upwards.
Also, no-one will not ask permission to sit on top of the bike (one more reason why you should cover your bike).
Luckily bike did not fell over, only rolled backwards and then 3 guys were pushing it back where it was originally… Like I would not notice…

Immigration was fast again, Carnet caused some questions and I had to visit few different counters before I was asked to ride my bike to the customs. At the customs area officer took me back in and told to the guy to stamp temporary import permit (guy who I showed it first).
After this I returned back to the customs and a guy over there put a second stamp to the temporary import permit.
I asked them to stamp also my carnet and after showing previous stamps, he stamped it and put his initials there.

Now I was ready to head back to Laos.

Good bye Vietnam, thanks for having me. It would have been nice to ride close to Chinese border, but the weather was just too bad!

5 thoughts on “Vietnam, part 3

  1. sorry for beeing short in time –
    cheapest way should be via consolidated airfreigt organized by a freight forwarding company instead of paying the 20 KG free bagage exceeding KG based on your own ticket.
    Volume ratio is tricky – pay attention it is 1:6 – but i guess bike parts are on the heavy weight side – not on volume ratio
    cheerio joachim

      • Hi Marco,
        guess you stay a Munich area and you will leave Germany through this gateway also?
        In Frankfurt / Kelsterbach are lots of “Luftfracht Speditionen” who ship/export all kind of goods via airfreight. In the early 80ies i used to work for such companies. The price difference are huge!

        I will do my very best when i do know from what German Airport you will leave.

        Maybe this conversation could be made via email instead of this guestbook.
        cheerio Joachim

  2. Hey Marco,

    1st of all i hope your recovery and physiotherapy was succsesful!? Are you still in Germany?

    Wow! Amazing part of your trip – nice pics as always.

    After some bad luck with all that uniformed bandits its so nice to reed you passed all police checkpoints.

    I skipped Halong Bay on my trip ’cause i enjoyed a 4 week trip sailing the year before in Thailands Andaman Sea with all the limestone rocks – i did’t want to get annoyed in high season due to so many tourists/boats.

    You missed the best part in Northern Vietnam IMO. My 1.200 km trip from Hanoi to the north east (Cao Bang, BaBe Lake, Ha Giang, Bac Quang ……) along the Chinese Border back to Hanoi was amazing. But you did the right decision – in February it is too cold and rainy in this part of Vietnam.

    Good luck – take care
    cheerio
    Joachim

    • Hi Joachim,

      Yes, I am still in Germany. Will fly back on 8th of August, so around 2 weeks to go.
      Physiotherapy is still ongoing and on Wednesday I will visit hospital again to get new xrays taken from my wrist.

      I really want to visit northern Vietnam, because I have heard only really positive things about this place. Unfortunately my timing was not perfect weather vice.

      Halong Bay is really touristic and if you have seen similar limestone islands, then it is nothing special.

      Still waiting few more parts to arrive and then I can start planning how I can get all the parts to the airplane 😀

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