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Dec 31, 2013

Photobombed

I didn't know what a photobomb was until this morning... click here and check out the animal photobombs below the story.

I got photobombed a few days ago at the Buddhist temple on (literally) Hoan Kiem Lake:




LOL


Note: I added to a couple previous posts and there will be a couple posts showing up out of sequence. Therefore, I suggest submitting your email address in the box toward the upper right of the page so you are notified of any new posts. I do not have access to the list of subscribers, nor does anyone else outside of Google (and, of course, the NSA and the security apparatchiks).




U.S. Citizen denied access to a U.S. Embassy

This afternoon, after I picked up my visa for Lao, I decided to visit the American embassy. After visiting many countries on five continents, I've never even seen a U.S. Embassy. Since I had no pressing engagements, I took a cab from the Lao (their name for their country) embassy.

To apply for a Lao visa, I walked past an iron gate and directly into the visa office of the embassy. There was an additional US$5 fee for same-day instead of three-day service, which I gladly paid. I then returned mid-afternoon, walked past the police "guard" and through the iron gate a second time. No one ever challenged me or tried to stop me and I did not expect them to.

Immediately upon arrival at the U.S. Embassy on Lang Ha Street, I was approached by one of the three Vietnamese security guards I could see. He asked what I wanted, so I showed him my passport and said that I would like to enter my embassy. When he asked if I had an appointment, I told him I did not. He then brusquely informed me that I had to leave. I countered with the "my taxes helped build and sustain this embassy and as an American citizen I have a right to enter 'my' embassy. I don't want a tour, I want to look in the lobby."

As I was talking, part of my brain was saying, "you ain't gettin' within 20 feet of that door!" and it was right.

The guard told me to stay where I was and then walked to the door. I could not see the door, but could tell it opened as he approached (those inside were watching and probably listening, though I didn't see any security cameras or NSA satellites). A Vietnamese national in a suit came out and told me that without a specific purpose for being there, I must leave. I got about four words into the "US Taxpayer" approach and was shut down. At that point, my missing common sense made a brief appearance, so I thanked him and left. So did my common sense.

I pulled out my camera, turned an snapped a quick photo.

The head security guard (they are always the ones in the white shirt) just about crapped his pants as he screamed and waved his arms. Sorry, Charlie, I already got my shot. 



Note: Here you can see the security guard I spoke to waving at me to stop. The other one went off right after this. I stopped when the told me to stop. No one ever said don't publish...

As I hot-footed it across the very busy street, he stopped screaming. Of course, John being John, I took a couple more photos from across the street and from the cab.




Bottom line, American citizens bearing a U.S. passport may neither enter nor photograph an American embassy. Wow! 

Some reading this may say that, especially after Bengazi, we have to be very cautious. Okay, I accept that. BUT... I'm a fucking citizen who pays too much in tax because over 70% of the corporations pay none. My government uses a LOT of that tax money to bomb the shit out of any oil-producing nation who looks cross-eyed at us unless they have nukes or (e.g. Saudi Arabia) are in bed with the Bush Crime Family.

What if we built schools, hospitals, and infrastructure instead? Then the royal we could actually feel free. Nawwwwww... the politicians' corporate masters would never allow it. Too little profit.

As a consequence, you NEVER see an American flag patch on a backpack or sleeve anymore overseas and most savvy travelers who are U.S. citizens keep their passport in a wallet or pouch so it can not easily be identified. I even hold it with the front cover hidden as I'm waiting at immigration everywhere.

It's very sad...

Though now, if I suddenly disappear into Guantanimo or another black hole, you'll know why... 

Well, one of the reasons ;-)


Dec 29, 2013

Dong Ha to Ky Anh to Thanh Hôa

Tuesday, December 24th and Day 16; 288 km
Part 1 http://goo.gl/maps/M7eQI

Note: Google maps won't let me show route through National Park, but it's there!

Part 2 http://goo.gl/maps/Ro4Of

Part 3 http://goo.gl/maps/cuobL

Thanh Hôa: Trương Thó hotel massage; ask for Yêń

Hoi An to Đà Nẵng... a whopping 68 km!

It's time to jump in the not-so-way-back machine and get caught up...

Saturday morning (the 21st and Day 13) I headed to Đà Nẵng to meet Thu, an on-line friend who'd offered to show me her city.

As I sadly departed Hoi An, and for no apparent reason, the Garmin GPS that had helped me navigate so well (relatively well) suddenly displayed the white screen of death. I pulled over and did some quick troubleshooting of the factory-sealed unit and determined that if I removed the $100 SE Asia maps SD card that had seen a total of 7 days' use, the unit turned on just fine. Great! If a GPS with maps of North America were of any fucking use in Việt Nam, I was all set.

Fortunately, the next couple days would be relatively simple re navigation and I had time to come up with a Plan B.

Finding the friend's recommended hotel in Đà Nẵng (Cộng Đoàn Thanh Binh Hotel) was relatively easy, so I arrived with a minimum of emotional trauma ;-)

Click here for a link to the day's route.

My friend Thu (pron. 'Su') and I met for lunch (Bà Thôi, 96-98 Lê Dinh Duơng was good) and a bit of market wandering. I like having fresh fruit in the room, so I picked up the usual: little bananas, nectarines, an a couple apples (not Washington State apples, unfortunately). We also window-shopped dozens and dozens of windowless stalls.

I ended up staying a day to see a bit more. I also bought one of my very few non-memory souvenirs:


Black Vietnamese sandals made from used truck tires. The maker (artisan) had to search a while to find a size 48, and then charged me a very reasonable US$5 for the pair. At our first attempt, another vendor asked $10, and Thu walked me right out and into the next stall... who was quite grateful for the sale.

Since I'd seen the Marbel Mountains

and a couple pretty cool bridges the previous afternoon on the way into town, we spent a good part of the day wandering... which I've come to enjoy, greatly; soaking up the feel and the sights, sounds, and smells (!) of a place.

Tomorrow, the Hai Van Pass (see previous post about "Top Gear") and Hué.


Dec 27, 2013

Welcome to Hà Nôi!

Since I'm a bit behind on my posts, I thought I'd jump ahead for a bit to tell everyone that I made it to Hà Nôi just a bit ago in the early afternoon, 27 December, Day 19.

The last two days' ride from Ky Anh was the most boring of the trip so far... nothing but highway. It reminded me of I-5 from Olympia to Portland only grey, industrial, and flat. The only difference was playing ga (chicken) with the tour buses and tractor-trailers. That kept the adrenaline level up and me AWAKE.

The first thing I did when I got here was ask directions to the hotel. He gave me the wrong directions, so I got lost. I stopped at a café, had a cup of trá (tea), and checked my iPhone for directions. As soon as I sat down, a woman approached me and, with gestures, asked to clean/shine my dirty, smelly boots. A few minutes later she handed them back to me looking like the just popped out of the box! Except that out of the box they didn't sport new woven insoles. My motorcycle boots are now BETTER than new for only US$5... 

Welcome to Hà Nôi!

Back to lost... although the maps app said it knew where I was, it had no flippin' idea other than it was pretty sure I was in Hanoi. Don't trust the iPhone maps app in Việt Nam! At least Google maps tells you up-front that it's clueless. I consequently got lost a couple more times before asking for directions again. 

I even ran into three young guys from Oregon whom I'd met at Flamingo Travel in HCMC and who started and finished the trip a few days before I did! They were nice enough to give me one of their maps, but the one-way streets threw me and I got close, but no ceegar. I finally asked a woman who was nice enough to actually lead me to the Queen Hotel on her moped :-)

Today's trip map, minus the getting lost bits, is here.

The bike is parked and unloaded; I'm somewhat settled in my room; and I'm going to go wander a bit. Don't worry, I'm taking the hotel business card with the address so I can cab it back.

Thank you for your support, comments, and advice so far. 

Stay tuned... the adventure is far from over... or complete.

Love,

John

Dec 26, 2013

A Magical Day

"Magical" is the only way to describe day 18.

My lower back, literally a huge pain since day two, actually felt better at the end of the day than at the beginning. No massage after day 17, it was the first thing I did after showering off the road grime in my room. Today's US$10 massage included a sauna and a scrubbing. I could get used to these "Vietmanese girlfriend showers". Today's masseuse also got a 50% tip because she did not offer sex. The more I ponder this "feature", the more I think that many of the US$8-15 massages are simply loss-leaders to attract customers for their real moneymaker. Your thoughts?

Overall, the road quality was better than any other day since the very beginning of the journey, so I was able to make relatively good progressonly 189 km because I enjoyed two relatively long breaks.
Only one wrong road today and even it was interesting. I after 1 km of pavement, I rode 2km on increasingly more rutted and more narrow roads. When I ended up on a dike between two rice paddies, I decided that it was not a good shortcut and turned around. The locals looks of, "What the hell is this guy doing here?" always turn to, "Yup, the gringo was lost" on the ride back past them. Between the helmet and the non-scooter, I'm pegged for a foreigner as soon as they see me. I think the riding gear just confirms it; in 18 days, I've seen one other rider with an armored jackettopped with a US$30 helmet... Did I quote Mike W earlier on cheap helmets?

I realized a number of things about the competition for blacktop between the whales (semi tractor trailers and huge intercity buses), the tuna (cars and small trucks), and the baitfish (motorcycles and scooters).
   1) Although it looks like the whales are trying to beach the baitfish, they are relatively considerate and, if the baitfish are paying attention, there's almost always an escape route. When there isn't, you'd better have torque or brakes and a backbone of titanium.
   2) The far right side of the road is often the best surface, so it's possible to pass whales and tuna on the right... just be sure there's no whale coming toward you who might force them to squeeze you out as they get out of the way.
   3) Have a change of underwear handy.
   4) If an on-coming creature flashes its lights, it's telling you that it is NOT changing course. So you'd better.
   5) Wear armored clothing and gloves. Gravel and stone chips hurt a LOT less and the jacket's back armor pocket is also a great place to stash your money belt (shhhhh, don't tell anyone until I get home)
   6) A full face helmet is worth everything you paid for it. You should see all the nicks and marks on mine (and even a star) from all the rocks and whatever else hit it in 18 days... every one a potential head scar. The full-face shield also keeps out the dirt and dust. Gonna need a new shield when I get home, though unless I retire the whole helmet.  This shield has so many blemishes that it's starting to cloud my vision. Or maybe I just need to start wearing my glasses.

At each of my two respites I had a good interaction with the locals, with the second especially noteworthy.

The first was an 11a.m. stop for sustenance. The food was better than average and, as I was gearing up to depart, the owner asked me to join him at his table for a cup of tea. As I approached his table, I noticed a very long, free-standing pipe made of bamboo 
with a dragon's head at the bottom
As I admired it, the owner's son insisted on demonstrating

I'm pretty sure it's only used for tobacco ;-)

The second encounter occurred when I stopped at another Yamaha dealer to buy two new foot pegs. Although I had just replaced them, the right one was missing. As one of the mechanics took off on his scooter to get them, the women of the dealership engaged me in conversation. It was an interesting chat and I correctly guessed that they get very few foreigners stopping in for any reason. Part of that, I'm sure, is the country's apparent 10,000 to 1 ratio of Honda to every other brand. I arrived thinking I'd be back on the road in 10-15 minutes. Ninety (90) minutes later, I asked my new friends for a photo:

The last 40 km I was 'in the zone', felt like I finally had the rhythm of the road, and only wish I'd charged the GoPro battery last night so I could have a video of it. The close encounters with whales, tuna, other baitfish and starfish (bicycles and pedestrians) are now accepted as one of the daily costs of the ticket. The adrenaline rush is still there, and I'm now enjoying it; even when the fins on a whale with a closing speed of 120+ kph miss me by inches!

Ut oh! John has a new source of his favorite recreational drug! :-D

And he promises to be closer to caught-up before leaving on the 1st for his 2-day Ha Long Bay cruise... or maybe by his three-day, overnight-sleeper-train-each-way trip to Sapa that leaves on the 4th...

Spent the night in Thanh Hôa and am now helping the evening's massage girl with long-distance English lessons via text.

Dec 25, 2013

Hoi An Layover

It's now Wednesday evening, the 18th. After a very solid 10 days on the road, it's time to kick back for a couple/few days. Hoi An seems like a good place to do that, so I put down some shallow roots...

The Cúa Đại Hotel (544 Duông Cúa Đại) was another tripadvisor.com suggestion. I got the to drop the room rate 10% to US$40 per night with the American/Vietnamese breakfast. This hotel room would be at least $125 in the States, and it's amazing how my perceptions of what I'm willing to pay for a room or a meal here have changed. It's like the road speeds… when I'm sailing along at 50 or 60 kph (30-36 mph), it feels like I'm really flying along! That's probably because of the road conditions, speed of other traffic, and the fact that on a level stretch after time to build up speed, my bike maxes out at about 72 kph (44mph) and I'm passing EVERYBODY!

Oh yeah, Hoi An...

The first thing I did after parking the bike was give my laundry to the front desk. At VND20,000 per kilo, I'll pay less than $.50 a pound. For that money, there's little to no chance I'm getting my hands wet :-)

A quick doffing of the riding gear and a change to sandals, and I'm off to explore... and hopefully find a shop to make warm gloves and a jacket liner.

At least 10 shops said no when I asked if they could make gloves. Then I ran across a woman with a very small shop who said she had an idea and would I please wait? Of course! She left her shop unattended, hopped on her bicycle, and rode off... after she held my hand against hers--hers were about half of my hands' size :-)

She returned shortly with what may have been the only fleece-lined gloves in Hoi An! I gladly paid her asking price of VND160,000 (how much is that in $US?) after an OJ-worthy dramatization of trying them on. I got them on, though if they shrink 1mm, they will have to be cut off.

I also tried to find some kind of kidney belt back brace, without success. Add that to the list of must-have on a trip like this--even if your back never hurt before.

The masseuses (three different in three evenings) were adequate, though the last one was the best. Her name is Bé and you can find her at the Hoa Cỏ Spa, 324 Nguyễn Duy Hiệu, Hoi An. She came highly recommended by the warm couple at the tour agency/motorcycle rental shop next to the hotel. A place worth checking into if you want to rent a motorbike in or take a tour from Hoi An.

Tom (how he says his name, though surely not how it's spelled) speaks excellent English. If you ask there I'm sure they will make the same recommendation. Bé's spa is a block or so from the hotel, and she even picked me up and dropped me off on her moped!

These were the highlights of my Hoi An experience... I mostly just wandered through the streets. Here are a few photos I took while there:
Street vendors
Bicycle Flower Vendor
Food Vendors and Theater
Tourist Boats

Motorcycle Water Crossing

Banana pancake (with a sliced banana inside!)


Banana Pancake Entrepreneur 

Night Street Scene

Lantern Shops

The Thu Bồn River


Dec 23, 2013

Day 10 — Khâm Duc to Hoi An

It didn't. The gear, that is, that is, didn't dry out. I was able to wring a bit more moisture out of the gloves, though, before stowing them and donning my second pair. It's time to do laundry, anyway, and that will be one of my first orders of business in Hoi An.

Since out until after I got there last night, I got my first look at Khâm Duc on my way out of town. It is a very small town, about equal to two or three U.S. city blocks. Climbing the hill immediately north of town a piglet ran in front of my bike and I again thought that one of the differences between city like country life in Viêt Nam is that in the country a pig or piglet is more likely to run across the street in front of you than a dog.

It was, after yesterday's rain and almost 300 km, a relatively easy day's ride... I stopped a few time to take in the sights

and just took my time... while waiting for my body heat to warm up my damp/wet gear and dry it out a bit. I even took the trouble to compose the above shot with the bike facing southbound (I'm headed north). The next shot is just a random snap of the countryside... Definitely NOT Olympia ;-)

A fully-loaded truck wallowing down from a pass...
An example of the use of aluminum in structural design. They are hand-molded to the proper size and rigidity...
An actual highway marker--you can't miss this one!

A pineapple plantation worker from whom I bought two fresh-from-the-field pineapples for US$1

One of the first things I saw as I rode into Hoi An...

I'm back to sea level...

Compared to the past 10 days, this was one of the most uneventful... though I did score a nice room at the Cúa Đai Hotel with breakfast included. I'll be here at least two nights...

Today's route map, a bit convoluted, is here.

Dec 22, 2013

Pleiku to Khâm Duc – 288 km in seven hours

On the road early Tuesday (day 9) to give myself a little more time for what I was told was a bad road to Kon Tum. As I left Pleiku, I stopped for a bit of breakfast at a roadside stand – here shown with a couple of guys who stopped to say hello and checkout my helmet. There are very few full-face helmets in Việt Nam, at least from what I've seen, and mine gets attention everywhere… I'm sure in part because of the hi-viz color.



I still don't know what was in the bread though it was sweet and the color of the green sprinkles my Mom uses to put on cupcakes. A very unappetizing green...


Maybe it's because I'm getting used to the roads, or perhaps because I stood on the pegs a good part of the way, the road was significantly better than I had envisioned.

When I saw a very large statue off to the side of the road I decided to take a short break to check it out. In addition to the statue, there are a pagoda, and a temple in which they were conducting services. The doors were open, so I listened for a while as I admired the statue and the pagoda.


Back on the road again, I was soon through Kon Tum and headed for points north. Just outside of Kon Tum, the weather changed--colder with rain. At one point I found myself thinking that although the scenery sure looks like Việt Nam, the weather sure feels like Olympia...

Now, in addition to the rough roads, I had cold, rain, and mud to deal with... and gravel, remember the gravel...

After riding a bit longer, I came upon a huge traffic backup led by two trucks. In the trucks there were men throwing out fake Vietnamese and American money. The first truck also had a man  who alternated sticking a drum and a gong. I nodded to him as it was my turn to pass and he nodded and smiled back.  It felt good... like the locals who smile, wave, and call out, "Hello!" as I walk or ride by. Maybe I don't look like a local?

By early afternoon I was both tired and hungry, so I decided it was time to stop for a hot bowl of phó. I was the only customer in the roadside restaurant, so I got to sit and watch Vietnamese soap operas with the family as we all ate.

Did I mention that it's cold and raining?

After lunch, it was a constant alternation of dirt, mud, on– and off–road riding. In my experience, it's often like that here, making the riding constantly challenging and interesting. As you know if you read the post, "The Beginning", I'm very new to motorcycles. This adventure is giving me all kinds of experiences every day.

As I neared Khâm Duc and the end of the riding day, I hit a long downhill with tight curves. At the top of the hill there was a 40 kph sign--the last such sign I will take as a mere suggestion :-)  About two curves in, the road was suddenly covered with gravel. Who the f__k thought it was a good idea to throw gravel into so many curves? There must be a very large group of people who are responsible for it because it seems that the most difficult curves are very frequently made more so with the addition of strategically placed gravel--sometimes a little and sometimes a truck load. For those who have only ever driven cars, I will tell you that gravel in a curve is NOT something you want to see you while riding a motorcycle! I suddenly went from enjoying the rhythm of the curves to "Oh shit! OH SHIT!!! Oh shit!" as the bike slid sideways toward the guardrail. I'm still unsure how I managed to keep it off the rail, but I did! WHEW!!!

Pulling into Khâm Duc non-too-soon (today's map), I saw the Phuoc Son Hotel on my right. It was well-recommended in a couple of the blogs I've read, so I checked in to an adequate room for US$10 per night… a good end to a long and challenging day... 50% farther than any previous day! I just hope my sopping wet gear can dry out overnight.


Dec 21, 2013

Separation without anxiety

We left Buôn Ma Thuôt about 9 Monday morning (16 Dec) and headed for Pleiku. The original itinerary as sketched out by Cong had us landing in Kon Tum for the night. Before departure, we decided that Pleiku would probably be a better destination because that would be a pretty full day and Kon Tum would be at least an additional hour.

As had happened in every hotel so far, upon arrival we parked the bikes immediately outside and the staff brought them in just before the hotel locked up for the night. This meant that our bikes were inside under lock and key and protected every night. As I started to load my bike this morning, I realized that the spare front tire I've been carrying since HCMC was gone. I immediately went to the front desk and ask them about it. After a bit of discussion in Vietnamese, they informed me that two men had walked by, taken the tire off the back of the bike, and walked away. When I ask why no one had tried to stop them, I did not get an answer.

The manager soon showed up and offered to reimburse me for the cost of the tire. I thanked him and told him that it was at least partly my fault because I had not secured the tire sufficiently. It was nice of him to make the gesture, but the 200,000 VND (~US$10) is almost the cost of a room night and means a lot more to them than it does to me. A few minutes later, one of the Easyrider guides approached me and said that it was very nice of me to forgive the mistake – and that it meant a lot to both the hotel and the Easyriders. 

The ride to Pleiku was relatively uneventful; we pretty much just powered through the whole day, stopping for fuel, lunch, and little more.

On the outskirts of Pleiku, as we stopped so that I could check the GPS, the girls told me that they wanted to continue to Kon Tum. They made it clear that I was welcome to join them, but as we had done about 188 km so far, and still had to find the hotel we'd picked from tripadvisor.com, I was pretty well thrashed for the day. So we said our goodbyes and they promised to let me know when they got safely to Kon Tum.

Click here for today's map.

After unpacking at the hotel in Pleiku, I rode around a bit and found a place to change the oil and wash the bike. No one there spoke English, and I've all but stopped attempting to speak Vietnamese, but we figured it out :-)


While changing the oil, they checked a few other things and found that the nuts holding the rear tire on had worked themselves a bit loose, so they tightened them. Note to self: pull out the wrench every once in a while… 

As I've seen in many places in Việt Nam, there were at least as many people sitting around and observing has were doing actual work. The apparent owner, a well-dressed man in his early 50s I'd guess, did most of the work while three younger men sat and watched. I hope they were not employees. 

While he was working on my bike, the owner gestured that I should go next-door to the beauty salon and get a shave. I declined, though it was tempting. I've never had anyone else shave me, and it sounds like an interesting experience. I'm not sure why I turned it down…

After parking the bike back at the hotel, I wandered around town for a bit, picking up a number of different fruits for dinner. I just wasn't in the mood for a dinner of Vietnamese food again tonight.

After dinner, I asked at the front desk for a recommendation of a local massage place. The relatively unfriendly girl at the front desk suggested a place a few blocks away, so I walked over there. For 100,000 VND (by now, you know that is ~US$5) I got a very good massage from a quite cheerful woman. She had a constant smile and laughed a lot, seemingly enjoying her work. She did, at one point, ask if I wanted her to massage my "baby" and again I declined. She did not bring it up again, and they gave her a tip of 150% of the massage fee. I slept well that night – as I often seem to do after a good massage.

Oh, yes... I got an email that night from Annika saying that the road to Kon Tum was very bad, but they had made it safely. That was good to hear that they are okay... I made a mental note to leave earlier in the morning to allow for the bad roads.

Tomorrow: Am I in Olympia or Việt Nam?

Dec 19, 2013

From Liēn Son to Buôn Ma Thuôt

Arrived in Hoi An on Wednesday and, with the assistance of www.tripadvisor.com, found a nice hotel... the Cua Dai. For 800,000 VND (US$40), I have a nice, large room with a neighborhood view and a bit of a balcony, as well as a real tub I intend to soak in for an hour or so each day. The rate also includes a very nice American or Vietnamese breakfast sitting out by the pool. For the first time in 10 days I was able to order eggs sunny side up!

Time for a bit of catching up...

In an earlier post, I mentioned that G was very impressed by the girls, especially because he has friends back in Toronto who have been talking about making this trip for a long time and are no closer than they were years ago. Annika shared G's post on Facebook with me:

                        Annika          Philine
Sunday morning as I got ready to load the bike, the girls told me that we (they) had been invited by one of Easyriders guides join him and his client in seeing some of the local sites and visiting a local M'mong village. They had accepted, and wanted me to go along--if I wanted to. I asked for some time to think about it, and breakfast a bit later told him that I would join the group. As everyone took off, I couldn't find my keys (duh!). I told them to go ahead, thinking it was a straight shot and that I could catch up. 

You'd think that by now I'd learn... 

By the time I took the wrong road way too far, and realized that I was on the wrong road, they had stopped to wait for me and sent Philine back to find me. Since I found them first, apparently rode right past Philine, and held the group doing us a favor up about 20 minutes, possibly longer. Very frustrating for them, I'm sure. Very embarrassing, and frustrating for me. I do not like people having to wait on me.

The village belongs to the M'mong people (not to be confused with the H'mong, who are American allies in the American War and – according to what I've read – are still persecuted but human Vietnamese government for it) where the guide gave us a brief Vietnamese history lesson and explanation of the many peoples of Việt Nam. We then were invited to enter one of the homes. The ladder in the foreground is brought up at night and when the family is not home, to keep animals out.

In a second home, we were greeted by the family of four: father, mother, and two young girls. Theirs is a matriarchal society, and as girls are born, rooms are added to their houses, so the longer the house, the more female children they have.

We spent some time learning about the family, and then it was time to get back on the road. Next stop, waterfalls...

I opted out of the waterfalls, because I was sore and wanted to get to Buôn Ma Thuôt. Having neglected to ask where the Easyriders stay in BMT, I got on tripadvisor.com and started looking at the various hotel offerings in town. In the review of the Eden Garden Hotel, I read that this is where they stay so I headed there. The girls and all showed up a few hours later.

The previous day the guide had noticed that my rear tire was a bit low, so using my compressor (with which everyone was quite impressed) I pumped it back up to 50 psi. Upon my arrival in BMT, I noticed it was again a touch low, so I headed across the street to a repair shop where they found both the tire and the tube or intact and that the valve had a very slow leak. They repaired it for US$1.50.
 
Since my lower back was again bothering me, I arranged with the front desk for an in-house massage at their Spa for half the price of the tire repair. After 20 minutes in the steamroom the "masseuse" came in, led me out, took off my shorts, and put me in a tub where she proceeded to give me what G has described as a Vietnamese bath. While I stood with my hands raised, she soaked me down completely before rinsing and drying me off.
 
As instructed, I got up on the massage table on my stomach. I thought I made it very clear to the front desk that I wanted a deep tissue massage, but after less than five minutes of light to medium "massaging", she told me to turn over. She then reached under the towel and grabbed me, asking, "You want?" and making a move with her head toward what she had in her hand. "500,000 VND (~US$25)."  Although I am a relatively healthy, definitely straight male, I declined. She's then proceeded to continue the "massage", though I could tell that's not what she thought I was there for. Less than 40 minutes after stepping into the steam room, I was back in my hotel room. Alone.
 
I returned to the front desk and again attempted to make it clear that I was looking for a "real" massage. They apologized profusely, and offered to have a masseuse come to my room. I agreed. Hahn showed up about ten minutes later. She was very professional, and an excellent masseuse and I gave her a big tip! I wish I could bring her on the road with me because with one of her massages every evening I would have no more back issues. If you are ever at the Eden Garden Hotel, ask for a massage with Hahn… You'll be glad you did!

 

Dec 18, 2013

By request

A friend asked me to post a photo of the bike… So here are two…


The circular thing on the back of the box is a spare tire. It was stolen off my bike in front of the hotel in Buôn Ma Thuôt while the staff watched and did nothing. I know this because one of them told me that two men walked by, pulled the tire off the bike, and kept walking.

Damn!

Dec 17, 2013

Carving a mountain into a road with hammers and chisels

I'm a bit behind in my blogging, so will start using days of the week for those of you reading new posts as they go up...

Saturday morning, after our usual breakfast of phổ and a mini-loaf of the wonderful, light bread that is surely a legacy of the French occupation long-suffered by our hosts' ancestors, we headed southwest from Đà Lạt to pick up the shortest route north.

Speaking of legacies, I'm still trying to figure out what legacy the Americans left after our approximately 20-year intercession here. I've narrowed it down to the destruction of forests and ecological devastation of Agent Orange; Eurasian children (also, no doubt, from the French and others, so no); or the oh-so-endearing terms g__k and z___head that should be thought of as most of us now think of the n-word. Did I leave anything out?

Our morning goal was to stop a "Crazy House" on the way out of town and then head for one of the many waterfalls shown on my map.
    (Photo by Annika--I didn't hike down)

Apparently the people we asked how to get to Crazy House have the same definition for "easy-to-find" that many companies use for "intuitive"... It's easy once you know it. We asked, "Crazy House?" and kept hearing, "it's that way" or "it's just down the road" accompanied by a pointing of the hand. We never found it and since the girls were very excited about waterfalls, I gave up and we left Đà Lạt. The description I heard of "Crazy House" is Gaudi-meets-Sesame-Street, rather than supply a hyperlink, I will let you DuckDuckGo it. As a HUGE fan of Gaudi, I'm afraid that if I look it up I will be very disappointed I didn't search a bit harder.

Almost as soon as we left town, we hit major road construction. As in mud, not pavement or even gravel, along with weaving and dodging to avoid earth movers and construction vehicles in addition to the normal trucks, buses, vans, and cars. It was significantly more challenging than what we have come to accept as "normal" Việt Nam traffic where increasing size increases both power and right-of-way. I hardly flinch now when a truck or bus barrels down on me from the opposite direction only to shift a little at the last moment. The most exciting so far was when a truck cut in front of me to avoid hitting another truck head on, and missed clipping my helmet by about 6 inches... and I just jigged and kept on riding. Three weeks ago, had that happened at home, I would've pulled over to the side of the road until I stopped shaking.

New the end of the construction, there were a couple dozen workers literally breaking granite boulders using only hammers and chisels. We pulled over to take a short break, and Philine took this photo:
   
At one point, the square headed woman (a.k.a. my Garmin nav unit) took us down a narrowing two-lane road. After less than a 100 meters, we pulled over to check them out because the road was only 1 to 1-1/2 lanes wide due to vegetation creep. 


The larger view on the GPS showed that this was indeed a shortcut so we went ahead. It wasn't. We dead-ended at a small encampment at the edge of the lake that had covered the road. We turned around and headed back to the main road, following the road itself instead of listening to the square-headed woman. For now.

Here's a photo of the lake as we crossed, taken from a bridge just a kilometer or two from where we'd attempted the shortcut. I'm pretty sure you can see where we dead-ended just a few minutes agoit's the small open spot on the edge of the lake just above the penultimate structure on the right of the frame.Those are floating homes, not flooded ones.

As we rode on, we encountered a few of the Easyriders of Việt Nam; easily identifiable via their vests, bike markings, and the fact that they have a farang riding behind a native. Easyriders takes tourists on motorcycle tours, either on the back of a bike with a guide, or with a guide riding ahead and leading the way. After waving hello a few times, we stopped and talked to them during one of their rest breaks. When we said that we were going to Buôn Ma Thuôt, one of the guides suggested that we stop at Lak Lake (
Liēn Son) with them, instead of going all the way to BMT. He even suggested a hotel, so we agreed to meet them there.

After another long day's ride (click here for the map), my back is killing me, and there's no massage in this town. It's funny how people react when I told them I want a real massage not a boom-boom massage. Yes, that's one of the versions I've been told about :-) The hotel manager in Đà Lạt apparently did not believe me. She said that the only massage she could find for me would be an overnighter. I passed, even though I really needed the massage… on my lower back.

Off to bed... 

Spoiler alert... Tomorrow we get to Buôn Ma Thuôt.