Augie and his Papa head to Vietnam.
  • Day0

    Augie Gets an Idea

    September 24, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    Several weeks ago Augie asked me if I wanted to join him for a portion of his 'gap year' of travel. "You want to meet me in Saigon and ride motorbikes up to Hanoi?" It took me about a millisecond to decide that I probably shouldn't pass this one up. Having been married for almost 30 years, and not wanting to repeat the same mistake made by Pop some 50 years earlier, I knew that I'd need to consult my spouse first. "You can't pass this one up," was Nancy's response. By the time I got back to Augie he'd already found my round trip ticket for $477 and found a reputable place to rent our motorbikes.

    So in two weeks we're off on a new adventure. So far Augie has made all of the arrangements. We're planning to stay in Saigon (yes, that's what most people still call it) to acclimate, visit a friend from his days at Hampshire College, and collect our motorbikes. The plan is to spend three weeks riding 'Uncle Ho's Road' up to Ha Long Bay. We'll then spend a couple of nights sailing on a junk and kayaking around the islands. The last day I'll fly back to Saigon and Augie will continue on into Laos.

    Should be fun. Will definitely be an adventure.

    Here are some links to a few of the sites he's used for trip planning thus far:

    http://vietnamcoracle.com/ho-chi-minh-road-the-best-bits/

    https://www.tigitmotorbikes.com/

    https://youtu.be/rLUp_wkkTYM

    http://halongphoenixcruiser.com/

    In the meantime we were able to get up to Bolinas to visit Sophie and Jacob in their new digs. They're settled in nicely in one of the most idyllic places on the planet with free housing and money thrown in. Sophie's already seen Francis Mcdormand walking around the Commonweal conference grounds where they work. Here's a link to the place and you can see some photos below: https://www.commonweal.org/program/nat/
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  • Day0

    All Packed Up

    October 7, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    Lots of hellos and goodbyes this week. Made it back to Quaker Men's Coffee, the Redwood Community, and Friend's Meeting. We also had some pleasant dinners with good friends. It has been nice being back.

    Augie and I got out paddling with friends Greg and Alexander. We headed out searching for Parasitic Jaegers and chanced into a pair of Humpback whales. I keep forgetting how much life there is out in the Monterey Bay.

    Spent a couple of days catching up with the yard work. Five hours using a Shop Vac to clean the copious dates from the gravel. One of those things one cannot possibly have imagined growing up in the Midwest. We've also set up a trellis for some new bougainvillea plants.

    Augie has been busy setting things up for Saigon and studying for the GRE. We now have an Airbnb with a nice balcony street view and parking for our bikes. $25 per night.
    https://abnb.me/X9Ayp6PpPQ
    We'll spend the first three nights there before beginning our ride north.
    Funny, the last time we were on motorcycles together was in Sri Lanka with Sophie and Nancy. We'll be missing them on this adventure. Here's a link to remember that epic trip!
    https://hansandnancy.wordpress.com/2017/01/07/ride-report-colombo-to-kandy/

    Yesterday I surprised Nancy with a Nespresso machine. It is just like the machines we used in Amsterdam and Ghent the past couple of summers. We've been together pretty much every day for the past two years of traveling. I figure about 770 out of 780 days. It will seem strange to be on the road without her. We've grown dependent on one another as we've been traveling. I'm sure she's feeling a bit off being left behind too. Good thing I'll be traveling with Augie and at least she'll have really good coffee!

    Flights leave Wednesday out of SFO. Next note will be from Ho Chi Minh City!

    Tạm biệt
    Hans
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  • Day2

    27 hours later...

    October 11, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    A little bleary, worse for wear and tear we arrive in Ho Chi Minh City.

    Nancy drove us to SFO for our flights to Saigon. Augie and I had different itineraries as he'd made his reservation in mid-summer and he'd found mine just a matter of days ago. So. We texted one another from layovers in different Chinese airports as we made our way to the other side of the world. As usual the Priority Pass lounges were the best! Augie was even able to shower. The food in Beijing's lounge was special. (I promise to not take too many food photos) Beijing also had a replica hutong neighborhood right in the center of the main terminal. I guess they're feeling nostalgic now that they've pretty much razed them to build high rises. See photo...

    As I taxied along the runway on arrival in Ho Chi Minh City I was feeling a bit sick to my stomach. The images and footage of the last days before the fall of Saigon with people clamoring to get aboard the last flights out were running in my head. We ought to have played those tapes for the Iraqis and Afghans before they signed up to help us out. I was also thinking a lot about Dad and his brother and their trip here in '69 to treat civilians. Not to mention cousins Doug and Dennis and their considerable deployments here. Mind blowing that this is now half a century ago.

    Anyway, I arrived at our hotel at around 2am and Augie followed at 3:30. The view from the window leaves little doubt that we're in Southeast Asia. The Starbucks in the lobby was a nice touch this morning. Things have changed.

    This afternoon we're off to get a couple of sim cards before checking into the Airbnb.
    Tomorrow we pick up the motorbikes.
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  • Day5

    Ho Chi Minh City

    October 14, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ 🌧 29 °C

    Augie and I checked into the Airbnb and chilled for most of the weekend. We hit a few tourist spots and took a few walks around the busy city. One tourist destination allows one to go down into the caves that the Viet Cong used to undermine American efforts. My brother Will shared that when we bombed near the caves they would backfill the craters to get rid of the dirt dug from the tunnels. Vietnam has been a Socialist country since the end of-what they refer to as-the American War. It is sort of hard to tell this is a communist country as there seems to be more unfettered free marketeering going on than back in the States. Everyone has businesses and side businesses. The country has followed China's model of late.

    These days 8.5 million people live in Saigon. Like Amsterdam, they each own at least one two wheeled vehicle. The difference here is that they are scooters rather than bicycles. Scooters are ubiquitous. They have their own lanes and go by their own rules. Riders are frequently up on the sidewalks to gain the advantage of being at the head of the pack at a traffic light. At an intersection scooters take their left turns from the far right lane; cutting in front of the line of cars, trucks, and busses to get where they need to be. Crossing the street as a pedestrian is an act of faith. Somehow a person steps into swirling traffic and manages to make it to the other side. It all just sort of works. Pretty wild.

    Here is a video of the maelstrom that we took from the second floor of a burger joint.
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/tpsycCt3N7iLkBN48
    Here's a sped up version:
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/NGasUFTu3kMe6tPq7

    We hit quite a few restaurants and cafés during our stay. The coffee culture is amazing. Cappuccinos everywhere. Vietnam became a major producer back in the late 80s. That's part of what led to a worldwide coffee glut that undermined the Central American economies in the 90s. Farmers were left with little choice than to pack it up and head to the States for work. Did you all know that one of the biggest 'build that wall' proponents, Representative Devin Nunes, employs mostly undocumented workers in his family's dairy businesses? Go figure. We even visited a couple of brewpubs. East Meets West had pretty good food and an excellent Belgian blond ale. We noted that the same meal and brew would have been three times the price in San Francisco or Amsterdam.

    Augie was able to connect with his friend Minh from his college days. Minh now works in an architecture firm in the city. They went out for a traditional noodle soup. Minh's family also owns and runs a stall at the central Ben Thanh market.

    Saturday we visited the motorbike rental agency to set up our rides for the next month. They are semiautomatic Hondas with racks to carry our gear. When we arrived they brought down two brand new bikes. We pick them up first thing Monday morning. Don't think they'll look this nice at the end of our 1200 mile tour...
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  • Day6

    Riding out of Ho Chi Minh to Cat Tien

    October 15, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    We picked up our bikes and rode 200km to Cat Tien today. Getting out of Ho Chi Minh City was uneventful. Our experience riding in Sri Lanka two years ago really stood us in good stead. (otherwise we might have been a little freaked out) Several miles down the road we came to a river ferry crossing. Augie had done his research and we each had the correct fare tucked away. This kept us from holding up the boarding line too much.

    The first 100km was relatively urban. Just as in Sri Lanka the roads are lined with houses and businesses most of the way. We stopped for coffee about half way to our destination. The Café owner recommended a place for banh mi sandwiches. By the time we got to the place it was closed. Bummer. We rode on with empty stomachs. The second hundred kilometers the roadside transitioned to rubber plantations anf rice paddies. Much more pleasant. The last 20 we rode some nice curvy stretches up toward the mountains.

    At Cat Tien we pulled into our inn, the Spirit Garden Guesthouse. https://goo.gl/maps/WTC2PtgsDhG2
    The owner met us with a cold orange juice and led us to our riverside bungalow. It's a little buggy, but really serene. Plus at $13 a night, who's complaining? At dinner we met Nick, a Brit who has been leading motorcycle tours here for the past few years. He gave us some awesome tips in routes and accommodations as we head north.

    Over the next few days we'll try to set up Augie's Gopro to get some riding footage.
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  • Day11

    Long Slog and a Day Off in Kon Tum

    October 20, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ☁️ 28 °C

    Augie had warned me about this section of the trip. It involved a really long, highly trafficked, relatively geographically boring 220 km slog from Buon Ma Thout to Kon Tum. We started the day in a relatively modern 15 story hotel in Buon Ma Thuot. Augie took the following time lapse from our window.
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/YZMRmdDLyyNcAgpF8
    I took this one with a little more traffic noise.
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/rMMfQp5gKMiH1vCw6

    Along the way we stopped for coffee and a call home. Sophie patched us in with Nancy on WhatsApp, so for a little while we were all on the same page. BTW, we are pretty much able to communicate and take calls on WhatsApp all over the country. So if you want to check in in person, give us a call. Just make sure to double check the time difference first!

    Kon Tum was a bit more interesting. We stayed in a hotel that served as a hospitality training site for young people from the area's indigenous villages. All good in concept, but the parent organization and managers are French. I'm not sure if I've ever been in a restaurant, hotel, or shop run by the French that could be described as warm and hospitable. Sort of an oxymoron, unless one counts the wonderfully welcoming French who originate in Algeria, then all bets are off. Augie felt that everything was actually pretty well run and that I am being harsh and chauvinistic toward the Gauls. I have to agree that the young people in the program were trying their best and largely succeeding.

    The indigenous tribes in the central highlands were introduced to Catholicism by the French. Church buildings dot the landscape. The villages also sided with US forces during the war, which didn't turn out so well for them after hostilities ended. Every once in awhile there are demonstrations with demands for more control of area resources that are dealt with pretty severely by the government. The government believes that US and European entities are fomenting this unrest. Because of this it is not recommended for foreigners to visit remote Villages without a guide and a permit.

    In Kon Tum we were able to get the oil changed in our bikes, which took 10 minutes and cost a whopping $5. We also visited the architectural award winning Indochine Café. The use of bamboo as a natural building material was impressive. Here's an article about the place that brother Will forwarded to me: https://www.archdaily.com/392710/kontum-indochine-cafe-vo-trong-nghia-architects

    Tomorrow we're off toward the coast through the mountains. Should be a lovely ride...
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  • Day11

    Kon Tum to Kham Duc to Hoi An

    October 20, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ☁️ 24 °C

    We spent a couple of days riding from the mountains to the sea. It was nice to get back on the bikes again. Beautiful, smooth roads through mist shrouded mountains and really green terraced valleys.

    We bumped into a couple of Bay Area guys riding bicycles north to south.

    Our overnight in Kham Duc was a pleasant taste of Vietnamese small town life. Not many tourists around. Place had been a major base for Special Forces during the war. Good to see it had returned to normal. The food was definitely 'farm to table'.
    Video: https://photos.app.goo.gl/VYHLg5wSNRSQzAsUA

    We took a side road into Hoi An through the Binh Dinh valley that varied from barely single track four lane highway. Again, a major place of battle during the war, actually in wars for a few millennia. Battles against the Chinese and battles between various Vietnamese dynasties. This area has again returned to normal with the exception of a lot of bomb craters and stone memorials scattered through the fields.

    A little side road took us over a suspension bridge.
    Video: https://photos.app.goo.gl/ZXw3x6KmP1jAFJqR8
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  • Day13

    Hoi An

    October 22, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ 🌙 27 °C

    Hoi An.

    We've taken another day off from riding to rest and go into tourist mode. Hoi An is quite a destination. It is built on a delta with rivers and canals wending their way around and through the town. It's an old city with lots of old buildings and new trendy establishments for eating, drinking, and shopping. Throw in the beach (which we didn't get to) plus a ton of European tourists and it really is the whole tourist package.

    We checked into a four star place overlooking a verdant stretch of river called Riverside Villa Oasis. The staff has been super friendly. Plus the place cost $20 a night. Go figure.

    Hoi An is also one of the centers for Vietnam's clothing industry, so there are tailor shops everywhere. I was thinking that with a wedding to attend in Mumbai on the New Year, Augie and I should take the opportunity to up our game with some bespoke threads. So we did...

    For lunch and dinner we took a Grab (Uber in Asia) to old town to track down another place made famous by the late Anthony Bourdain. This one's called Phuong Ban Mi and it was busy and delicious. Here's a link to the back of the kitchen: https://photos.app.goo.gl/wBcG1JNfNF4yjfDx7

    At night the place lights up with quaint old paper lanterns reflecting off the water. Tonight was the Full Moon Festival which is extra special. Our friend Mary Howe is going to love this place...

    Tomorrow we're off on another ride up the coast to the ancient capital of Hue. Supposed to be magnificent.
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  • Day14

    Oh My God! What a Ride!

    October 23, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    Yesterday we rode from Hoi An, through Da Nang, over the Hai Van Pass, through the City of Tombs, and into Hue, the Imperial City. What a ride.

    Da Nang is a hugh city with a beautiful beachfront. Third largest city in Vietnam after Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Getting through it was a chore. Once through it the main road A1 splits. One section enters a long tunnel through the mountain. Most of the trucks and cars take that route. The other, older route climbs up and over the mountain in a series of breathtaking switchbacks. The Hai Van Pass. Here's a link to a short video of our experience: https://photos.app.goo.gl/47nufLKydgxqqyM16

    The shot with Augie in his buff is taken where the guys in Top Gear stopped to take in the magnificence. Top Gear was a car show hosted by three British guys. In one episode they were sent to Vietnam to buy vehicles to travel the country. https://youtu.be/tMnPtQc2pok. The joke was that were only given enough Vietnamese dong (7,000,000) to buy used motorbikes. The main hack, Jeremy Clarkson, hated motorcycles. The Hai Van Pass is where he learned to love them. Enough said.

    After the Pass we split off the main road and headed up a sand spit running some 50 miles. The whole area is completely covered in tombs. Everyone in Vietnam seems to aspire to being interred in this place. Mile after mile. It is a bit creepy. The route is also a favorite of some of the bicycle tours that run in the area. We must have passed 100 cyclists in one 10 mile stretch. Good thing it wasn't too busy. One group of young travelers decided it would be a good idea to take some photos in the middle of a bridge.

    In the afternoon we arrived in Hue. Augie worked on his grad school applications and I took a nap. Not bad...
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