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Feb 28, 2014

Reacclimation

What a difference an ocean makes!

Today was my first ride in America since returning from Việt Nam three weeks ago, and it was great!

The KLR650, a mid-sized bike here, seemed HUGE after over two months on 100's and 125's... and with the bum knee, it was a bit hard to dismount due to my inability to twist the knee and stay on my feet.  I managed, though, and the riding was great!

My comfort level is a LOT higher now that I've more than doubled the miles/kilometers under my belt, and I definitely want to keep riding.  My dual sport phase is over, though, and I'm headed for a cruiser.  There is a motorcycle show in Lynnwood this weekend, so I will head up there and hope I can see everything and get my questions answered so it's just a matter of a test ride before signing up.

The bikes under serious consideration are:

Victory Judge
 

Victory Cross Roads Classic
 

Indian Chief Vintage
Indian® Chief® Vintage 
and Moto Guzzi California Touring












I love the retro look coupled with the newest technology... it's too bad they're all too big for Việt Nam.  I may have to move to Thailand instead, just so I can have a bigger bike <smile>.

Even though my Việt Nam bike was only 125cc, the time on it and the challenges of the road surfaces made a huge difference in my basic comfort level.  I can barely wait 'til the next non-rainy day so I can get back out there... tomorrow?

Feb 20, 2014

Ego intact (ut-oh)!

Can anyone tell me how to get the blog to record the local time when I update? It records Việt Nam time and it's still Wednesday evening here in Olympia...

Finally got a look at the MRI this morning...

As I said previously, I've thought for the past two months that a few old muscles in my back took me off the bike. Spinal damage is a lot more acceptable to my ego... 
Every medical professional to whom I've showed this winced.  My doc saw it before I did, so I missed his reaction.

My goal is still to have both the meniscus and the vertebrae repaired by the end of the month so that I can continue planning my return trip... which may or may not include a motorcycle adventure outside of daily Ho Chi Minh/Hà Nội traffic. 


Feb 18, 2014

Catching up... with MAPS!

Before I get to the maps, I want to share what happened today... I moved my KLR650 into the driveway to take a few photos to use in advertising it for sale so I can purchase a cruiser. Right now I'm leaning toward a Victory, unless I hear back from the people who made the DUU or I can find one. A couple people have recommended that I look at a Harley, but I'm definitely NOT a Harley guy.

Here in the US, the KLR is a medium-size bike. After 10 weeks on 100-125cc motorcycles and motos in Việt Nam, the 650 seems HUGE! As I write this, it's almost dark, so I'll wait 'till morning to take it out and get re-acquainted... at greater than 60 kph, no doubt.

Okay, it's map time!

The long distance motorcycle leg of my adventure ended in Hà Nôi almost seven weeks ago... and I finally sat down and put together some maps with the help of (and sometimes great frustration with) Google Maps.

Here are the daily route maps. Be sure to zoom in a bit to get a feel for all the twisting and turning the roads do, especially on days 4, 5, and 8.  It's too bad I couldn't add the topographic information, too... 

Day   1     HCMC to La Gi                      

Day   2     La Gi to Beach                       

Day   4     Beach to Đà Lạt                     
                  except go “straight” from B to C 

Day   5     Đà Lạt to Liēn Son                 

Day   6     Liēn Son to Buôn Ma Thuôt   

Day   7     Buôn Ma Thuôt to Pleiku       

Day   8     Pleiku to Khâm Duc               

Day   9     Khâm Duc to Hoi An

Day 13     Hoi An to Đà Nẵng

Day 16     Dong Ha to Kỳ Anh, Part 1 ignore directions 8-12
                  and the unnecessary Google Maps-inserted loop.

                 Google Maps also wouldn't let me plot the road
                   I took through the Ke Go Nature Reserve. 
                 See Dong Ha to Kỳ Anh, Part 2 for the day's last leg.
                 The gap between the maps is a road Google doesn't know.
Day 17     Kỳ Anh to Thanh Hôa

Day 18     Thanh Hôa to Hà Nôi

These are now also linked to on the individual days' pages.

Thanks for sticking with me this far... it's been an awesome adventure and I'm already planning the next one.

Any suggestions?


Feb 16, 2014

Medical Update

According to the MRI report, my L1 vertebrae is about 30% compressed. No wonder it hurts so damn much all the time! I think I remember the exact HOLE in the road that I hit that caused this, though there were so many, I can't be sure.

I still need to talk with the doctors before I'll know all my options. The procedure they're proposing to repair my L1 vertebrae is called kyphoplasty.

The link above takes you to a site that says,

"The doctor places a needle through the skin and into the spine bone. Real-time x-ray images are used to guide the doctor to the correct area in your lower back.

"A balloon is placed through the needle, into the bone, and then inflated. This restores the height of the vertebrae. Cement is then injected into the space to make sure it does not collapse again."

It also promises anesthesia and predicts a seven-day recovery time. We'll see...


Feb 13, 2014

No Wonder It HURTS!!!

If you've followed my story, you know that my original plan was to ride my motorcycle from Ho Chi Minh City to Hà Nội to Sa Pa and then through Lao, Thailand, and Cambodia.

You also know that about a week into the trip I developed lower back pain that I though was muscular--even after even almost daily massages failed to put a dent in it. Since riding became significantly more painful than it was fun, I sold the bike in Hà Nội and spent most of the rest of the trip there and in Ho Chi Minh.  Somewhere along the way I also developed a sharp cutting pain in the front right of my left knee.

In the six days since I arrived back in Olympia, I've been to the orthopedist twice, the chiropractor three times, had two different sessions with the x-ray machine and two MRIs... thanks to ObamaCare, I'm able to get the care I need!

The diagnoses are a torn meniscus (knee ligament) and a compression fracture of my L1 vertebrae.The first requires surgery and the second may be "just" a shot of cement into my spine. No wonder they both hurt so damn much!

For the past two months I've been thinking that a few old muscles in my back took me off the bike. Spinal damage is a lot more acceptable to my ego...

My goal is to have both repaired by the end of the month so that I can continue planning my return trip.

And yes, I know there are still a couple holes to fill in December's accounts... I'll get right on them.


Feb 6, 2014

Headed home--From 32C to 27F

Now that I'm on the flight headed back to the US of A, there are a few odds and ends to get down before I forget them again... and again.

Most restaurants offer only either facial tissue or toilet paper for use as napkins.

The Western concepts of personal space and privacy are often, in my experience, beyond what is commonplace in Việt Nam. What we consider staring or intruding into personal space is simple curiosity. More than once, someone I barely knew felt free to pick up and sort through my personal things in a way I've not seen in the West. After extreme discomfort during the first couple such experiences, I was able to let go and accept both that I had nothing to hide (because my passport and cash were locked up) and that there was no malice on the part of the looker, just curiosity about things unfamiliar.

I've also experienced many instances of someone staring for a minute or more with no hesitation or looking away--again something I've not seen in the West. It's just the way things are done... and although it was difficult not to ask, "What are you looking at?" I managed to avoid blurting it out.

Toothpicks are on every restaurant table and both males and females use them after meals, in most cases discretely hidden behind the other hand.

If you want a good, DOT-rated motorcycle helmet for use in Việt Nam, bring it with you. 

Ditto good riding gear.

For a cross-country trip, it's going to really help to have a Garmin GPS specifically designed for motorcycles. The car models work well in dry, sunny, and dust-free weather, but as soon as you get into dust or rain, you're going to have an issue. Make sure that whatever you get has the ability to add maps via an SD or micro-SD card or you'll get to buy a new GPS for each continent or sub-continent.

You will eat more white rice in 30 days in Việt Nam that you will in a year in any Western country.

In place of a $5 to $600 GPS, unit with the SD chip for SE Asia and turn-by-turn instructions, some people buy a set of maps, and other figure they'll look at a map before they set out and that will be sufficient. We found a blue-covered book of detailed maps of Việt Nam in a Sài Gòn bookstore. 

It is called: TẶP BẨN ĐÔ, GIAO THOÒNG ĐƯỜNG BỘ VIỆT NAM

If you have neither a GPS nor a Reisse map, your next best bet is this book. I suggest paying close attention to it and checking if each road you pass might be the next one you seek.

VietnamCupid.com is a web site via which Vietnamese women and Western men can find each other on-line for friendship and companionship or dating.  If you use the site, treat the women with the same respect you would give a close friend or your sister. This includes walking beside and not in front of them, and paying for meals, drinks, and any travel you may do together. It's about ability to pay and nothing else. You have it, they don't. This respect also means only making statements and promises that you intend to honor.

If you want to buy something used, for example a used cell phone to replace the one you lost or had stolen, ask for "second hand." In my experience, the term "used" will not be readily understood.

If you want change for a big bill, ask them to "make smaller."

The Asian beers tastes like lite, lite beer. The only Asian beer I found that has ANY cojones is 333 (Ba Ba Ba), and it's still relatively weak.

A XXXL shirt bought in Việt Nam is roughly equivalent to an XL in the U.S. In most shops, you will be fortunate to find their XXL.

In Cambodia, the stated sizes are much closer to those we know in the U.S.

Forget about finding shoes > size 11 unless they're specially made.

Eat at least one-third of your meals at the sidewalk-based restaurants... the ones that have only low tables and the short, square plastic stools. My rule is, the greater the number of locals eating there, the better the food. Sure, a few may charge you a bit higher rate than the locals' rate, but it's not much.

Pay attention and learn hello (pron "Zin chow"), thank you ("cam ún"), and basic numbers (1) Môt (2) Hai (3) Ba (4) Bwon (5) Nam and so on. 25 is pron. hai muye nam--2-10-5. My spellings are closer to how we Westerners would say the words. The spelling is NOT correct.

You don't always have to know what you're eating. If others are eating it, it won't kill you and probably won't make you sick.

If you want a Bluetooth device, take it with you. I saw none in my two months in-country.

Many hotel computers (no matter where in the world you are) have worms or viruses. At one point, I had over 1000 spiders on one of my camera's memory cards. If possible, avoid plugging memory cards or sticks into a hotel computer. If you need to transfer or backup files and can't take your own netbook or laptop, have a computer business or shop that advertises file transfer to CD do it. 

Most massage businesses are honest. Since it's impossible to know which are not, enter with a minimum of cash and valuables and keep them within sight, possibly under the massage table.

Tip every service-oriented worker at least 10-15%. You can afford it and they will be grateful.

Keep a journal or blog of your trip, even if you never share it with anyone else. Without one, you will forget forever some of the smaller things within a week or less... and if they're written down, some of them will become your best memories and stay with you forever.

Humorous t-shirts spotted:
  No Money, No Honey (on a woman)
  Sleep with me and get free breakfast (on a man)
  Marry me and fly free (on a female Flight Attendent 20+ years ago)

Stay in the small, locally-owned hotels and guest houses. They're generally clean, well-run, and full of character... and characters. The international chains are the same no matter what city/country they're in and it's easy to wake up not knowing where you are (speaking from experience here) because the furnishings all look the same.

A few of the differences I noticed between Cambodia and Việt Nam:
 1) I saw very few Cambodians smoking. When I asked about it, I was told that they used to have a LOT of smokers until about 5 years ago when the government ran a huge public education program about the dangers and diseases associated with smoking.
 2) Cambodia has significantly less trash on the streets, probably because there are a couple trash and recycles receptacles on just about every block.

Here are some more random photos you've yet to see...
When you have a big skull, it's sometimes hard to find a helmet that fits. Bring or buy one that does.

Gotta love the adaptability...

And the moment-by-moment traffic interactions... The woman at the far left is signaling their intention to move or turn right by pushing her extended right hand down. Looking over one's shoulder is NOT part of changing lanes or entering into a traffic stream.

One of the most photographed corners in the tourist-heavy area. 
The wiring is not unusual, just highly visible.

A kite boarder and a local man dragging for shellfish north of Mui Ne.

Moving hay to market

One of the many--and the dirtiest--toilets I got to use. All the little brown things are live maggots. That was an especially good day to be able to pee standing up.

When is a mushroom statute more than a mushroom statue? 

Agriculture using a mechanical pulling device with a PTO.

A more time-tested method

Purina Dog Chow in 150 meters?

Nope. It's a ramp for runaway trucks.

Getting hungry...

While I was gone to Sapa for three nights, I paid for and kept my room at the Queen Hotel in Hà Nôi. During that time, the hotel needed to move me from the fourth floor to the room immediately above. Everything was in the same place in the new room that it had been in the previous room, even down to the torn off wrist cuff from a pair of nitrile gloves that I'd forgotten to throw away before I left.

One of the local creators of "buffalo chocolate". See "Treking Around" dated Jan 07.

View from my room at the Queen Hotel. Note the varying levels and styles...


Feb 5, 2014

Hong Kong

During my two-plus days in Hong Kong, I've taken a train, hotel vans, ferries, and about a dozen taxis. There's what I'm told is a pretty good bus/streetcar public transportation system, but I have neither the time nor any interest in figuring it out. It's easier--and only US$3-8 to take a taxi everywhere except between Hong Kong and Kowloon. For that, I use the Star Ferry.

The taxis here are all old and red with a silver roof. Most are a Toyota model called Crown Comfort. I'm pretty sure they're the same taxis they had when I first visited 10 years ago... and the drivers all scoot around the city like they're in a MINI. 

Unfortunately, the taxis don't handle like one. There's a sign in the cabs that says you will be fined if you don't wear your seatbelt. Like with all that body roll I need a sign. Although I've not seen one of the taxis in an accident, I considered also wearing my Schuberth motorcycle helmet.

The Star Ferry is the best US$0.37 you can spend just about anywhere. For your HK$2.80, you get to queue behind a gate, join the just-short-of-mad rush down the ramp and across the gangplank, find a seat on one of the reversible benches, and enjoy the ride across Victoria Harbor. It's a memorable experience.

My stop in Hong Kong is virtually free. It's Cathay Pacific's hub, where I change planes, and on the frequent flyer miles free ticket I am allowed one stopover at no charge. The room at the very nice Marriott Courtyard Hong Kong (on-par with a "full" Marriott or Renaissance hotel in the U.S.) is free with Marriott Reward points. I am only paying for food, transportation, and purchases. 

Purchases. 

The reason I stop here is that just before my first visit, an acquaintance told me about the tailor he uses: House Tailor. At the time it had never occurred to me to have my clothes custom-tailored... and I thought, why not? Now owners Johnny and Stanley take such great care of me that I'm spoiled.

For less than the cost of an off-the-rack Nieman Marcus suit, I get a custom suit of 220-thread count Italian wool that fits better than any pre-made suit ever could and has many additional features. Since I have six suits made on previous visits and hardly have the need to wear them anymore, I bought only shirts and dress slacks this time. Four of the shirts are the first 'casual' shirts I've ordered and will be made to match two of my favorite shirts that I'm leaving with them to copy. Most times, I take everything with me, but this time the Chinese New Year (CNY) holiday has them a bit backed up so they're shipping it all to my house.

If you go to Hong Kong, stop in to see them at the top of the lobby escalator in the Regal Kowloon Hotel, 71 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Kowloon. Say hello for me.

My original planet for this trip included a visit to Macau. That changed when I read in the paper that over 540,000 mainland Chinese and 140,000+ others are celebrating CNY there and decided it would be a bit too crowded to fully enjoy. Next time...

I therefore spent a good part of my second and final full day here wandering the streets and riding "the world's longest pedestrian escalator". It runs from the uphill side of the Central Market (which was still closed for CNY) to mid-mountain. 

It's fairly steep in places and most sections are a flat belt like those found in the A Terminal at SeaTac and other airports, though the steepest sections are staired.


Hollywood Road, a famed street of antique shops, is in-between the two large contiguous sections of the escalator. I walked it end-to-end and was unimpressed... most likely because most shops were still shuttered for the CNY holiday, though I'm sure in-part because Chinese antiques aren't top of my list and I don't really know enough about them to fully appreciate them.

Failing to find anything of interest on Hollywood, I wandered into the alleys and side streets. Down Ladder Street to Tung Street, I found a number of interesting small shops and street vendors, as well as fresh meat, seafood, and vegetable vendors


(Behind the hand is a fish that flopped just as I clicked the shutter)


There were also some amazing trees that have attached themselves to walls on Shing Wong and other streets.



The last photo is a tree on Wing Lee Street, a "street" that vehicles cannot access. It was billed in one of the travel guides as a great place to see pre-1910 architecture, but I didn't see any interesting architecture of any era. Both sides had only boring apartment buildings like the ones seen above--quite a disappointment after spending 30 minutes searching for it. If you still want to see Wing Lee Street, look for the blue railing off Ladder Street between Bridges and Caine Streets. Or go up the steps from the corner of Shing Wong and Bridges Streets and you'll see the sign on your right. 


Just to the right off one flight of mthe escalator was a "Members Only" place called The Phoenix. What caught my eye was the chalkboard outside that gave its "Opening Hours"

They're open until they're closed... okay <smile>

While looking for a lunch spot I came upon a few places with literally dozens of locals queuing up for a table



I skipped the places with the deep fried baby pigeon entree 

and found a non-crowed place with a surprisingly good buffet: Indian Village, 33 Peel Street. The owner is very friendly and they had a number of vegetarian selections.

During the day I took a few other interesting photos, presented here randomly
Cigarettes in the Dog Latrine... fitting 'cause smokers smell worse than...



Note the ultra-skinny bus in the intersection

From 50 feet away, this sign hanging high over the street reads:
"NAKED WAITRESSES FLIRT WITH YOU"

They were closed, so I went to the tattoo parlor instead.



Feb 4, 2014

The DUU

Riding the moto through HCMC on my last night in Việt Nam, we were passed by two very cool, beautiful, and fast motorcycles of a design I'd never seen. They sounded and looked GREAT and had a huge rear tire.

We spent about five minutes bobbing and weaving through traffic to catch up long enough for Bảo to take a couple photos that allowed me to identify them... they are the DUU by CR&S, Italy:
The little patch of black to the right of the seat ^ is the passenger seat...
Look at that rear tire!!!

If anyone knows of one for sale, please contact me.

I want one!!!