Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

April 2013


TravelMonday, April 22nd, 2013, (11:36 pm)

I love the moment that I start the bike in the morning and pull out onto the road, diving into the traffic and the day ahead. It always feels good to get back on the road knowing that the only thing I really know is that I don’t know what’s ahead.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

The clouds of yesterday were still loitering like bored teenagers, moody and aloof they hung around the foothills as if planning their next move. I watched them as I rode north, and hoped they might disperse and find somewhere else to wreak their mischief.

It wasn’t long before a small road that wound its way up a hill beckoned to me. Initially, I rode past it, deciding that it was too soon to make a detour, but I changed my mind and turned the bike around to go back to the narrow climbing road.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

I’m glad I did. As slowly climbed the hill listening to a fitting soundtrack on my iPod I was surrounded by hundreds of butterflies. Getting off my motorbike to stand among them I felt like a child as I stood there watching these delicate colorful creatures swirl around my head as if they were as curious about me as I was about them. It was an awesome moment and I actually laughed out loud with delight.

A the top of the hill was a small Buddhist temple. I walked around it and resisted the urge to strike the massive bell that sounded awesome when I gave it a gentle knock with my hand. One of these days I just might strike one of these giant bells or gongs. They’re Buddhists, so it’s not like they would kill me for doing so, right?

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

With the clouds gone and the open road ahead of me I slowly continued north. I would stop here and there to snap a picture or take a few gulps from my drink. I watched stonemasons carving various Gods with Jesus standing just a few steps away from Buddha. Then there was a carpenters shop where craftsmen were making ornate caskets for the people who would have already met whatever God they believed in.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

I didn’t speed along in a hurry to get anywhere. I just sat on the bike and let the road ahead come to me. I’d take a detour here and there, but mostly I just rode the bike as if I were a passenger, watching the world pass me by.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

Toward the end of the day, I decided to take a detour that I thought would take me along a coast road. I must have zigged when I should have zagged because it wasn’t long until I was lost. Eventually, I came to a dead-end, a small harbor where the fishermen looked at me like the stranger I clearly was.

Being lost didn’t rattle me though. A local told me “If you get lost, don’t worry. All roads lead to Hanoi.” All roads apart from this dead-end perhaps? Either way, I wasn’t concerned. Instead, I stopped from some Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) then just got back on the bike and followed the road back to the highway and eventually a hotel for the night.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

I appreciate that for you the reader, there aren’t any really great stories coming from this trip of mine. It’s a road-going north through a landscape that doesn’t really change that much. The story is the road, and I’m not really sure how to make that sound as interesting as it is. Maybe you just have to be on the bike with me so that you to could tap me on the shoulder, point at some back-road and say, “What’s down that road?”

Slow Road to Hanoi – Day 5
Read my tips about touring Vietnam on a motorbike

TravelSunday, April 21st, 2013, (11:29 pm)

They can’t all be sunny days. That’s what I tell myself when the weather is less than perfect. For my third day on this slow ride to Hanoi, I was dodging rain clouds as well as trucks.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

I exhausted! I got up at 6am this morning after using super-human powers to overcome the urge to hit the snooze button on my oh-so-annoying alarm. I wanted to do some decent distance today and so the only way to enjoy the back-roads, as well as covering a respectable amount of kilometers, was to get up at the crack of dawn.

As it happens, dawn must indeed be on crack because by 6am the world outside my hotel window was already in full swing. Chinese tourists from my hotel were walking across the road to the beach as if it might attempt an escape if they didn’t get over there at first light.

Breakfast was included in the price of my hotel room, but I don’t want to eat Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) for breakfast. I’m an omelet kind of guy, that or cereals. Better yet, bring me a ‘full English!’ Alas though, this was a very Asian breakfast and my request for an omelet was just met bewildered expressions on the faces of the non-English speaking hotel staff. In the end, fried eggs is what I got, but that was fuel enough for the long morning ahead.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

I could see from the cloud that the early morning sun would soon be pulling a blanket of clouds over itself. Frankly, I don’t blame him for that, if I had to get up this early every day I think I’d make up an excuse now and then and spend a day under the blankets too.

It wasn’t long until I took a back road that wound its way around the rice fields of the foothills. Yesterday I saw the crooked skyline of the mountains reaching for the clouds, but today, despite being much closer to them, they were invisible behind the heavy mist and the preview of the weather that was to come.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

I didn’t do a whole lot of stopping today. Instead, I just sat back, leaning on my luggage and enjoyed a slow winding way through the villages. I felt more like a passenger today, just enjoying the ride along the back roads that always seem to untangle their way back to the highway in the end.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

I’d tell you a tale or two if I had one to share, but really today was a quiet day just gently going north. After nine hours on the bike, I got to the town of Hà Tinh and decided to call it a day. I checked and rejected a couple of hotels that had grand entrances but pig awful rooms, then eventually found one that had flashing neon love hearts on the outside.

“How long you stay?” Snapped the charmless person at the check-in desk. “Just one person for one night, thank you,” I said. He paused and looked at the keys laid out on the counter in front of him. “All night?” He asked. Clearly, I was on the seedy side of town, but I was tired and I just want to get some food and crawl into bed.

“Yes, the whole night, all night. Thank you.”

Slow Road to Hanoi – Day 4
Read my tips about touring Vietnam on a motorbike

Show your appreciation by buying me a coffee

TravelSaturday, April 20th, 2013, (11:18 pm)

In rural Vietnam nothing happens fast, and I had embraced that concept to the full when I took to the road at almost midday today. I don’t really know where the morning went, but then again I can’t claim that I was paying much attention to the clock.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

It was another hot day and the wind felt refreshing as I picked up speed and got into the swing of my second day on the road. I had intended to really get some miles (or Kilometres as they are here) under my belt today, but after an hour or so on the highway, I was bored with the trucks and snaking asphalt, so I took a detour down a narrow side road.

You don’t have to go to far from the highway to feel like you’ve traveled back in time here. The villages are basic and homes are often set among the crops. Riding slowly through villages is a pleasure because the response from the villagers is always so warm and welcoming. They wave, say “Hello” and occasionally try to speak to you, in Vietnamese, of course.

At several points, friendly villagers would point me back in the direction of the highway, convinced that I had somehow gotten lost and needed help. I tried explaining that I was going the long way and taking a scenic route, but sign language for that just results in confusion and laughter.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

My problem today was trying to remain as covered up as possible. Yesterday’s sun gave my skin a little more glow than I had expected and I didn’t want to compound the problem by roasting in the sun even more today. The locals here often wear clothes that cover every inch of them as if they were living in the Nation of Islam!

Simon Jones on the roadAfter a while I decided to stop and have a bite to eat (bananas again!) beside a river with a distant view of mountains disappearing into the distant heat haze.

Small fishing boats gently went up and down the river, their motors rhythmically sounding with a gentle patter that would quickly fade as they passed. Not far away from me sat a man mending nets by his boat. He saw me and waved, I waved back making a connection between our seemingly different worlds.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

I had been on road for about four hours when I realized that I had probably covered less than 40 Kilometres! It was time to hit the highway again so I plugged in my iPod and took off heading north, trying to resist the urge to just open up the throttle and make up some of that lost time. The roads here are dangerous enough without speed!

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

At just after 4pm I arrived at the city of Dong Hoi. As usual, I took the more scenic road through the city which took me right by a vibrant seaside market. Colorful fishing boats swayed peacefully in the water as the fishermen ferried supplies to and from them in little fishing pods.

I stopped for a drink by the beach and had a chat with a local man. When I say we had a chat what I mean is he spoke to me in Vietnamese, and I spoke to him in English. We pointed and made gestures, understanding some of what the other was saying, but only a very small amount.

Vietnam on a motorbike by Simon Jones

In the end, I elected to stay overnight in Dong Hoi. I wanted to continue but from what I could make out on Google maps the road beyond here appears to be very rural and there simply wasn’t enough daylight left for me to feel confident about finding a hotel along the way.

The early stop meant I could head into the city and get a haircut. I found a suitable place and asked the hairdresser if she could cut my hair. Her answer was very long but I assumed she meant yes, so I sat down.

I then asked her to cut my hair short which seemed to confuse her, so with the help of Google Translate I asked again and this time she understood. She was clearly thrilled by the translation app and insisted on having a conversation with me. It started off the usual way. “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” But then became a little more in-depth.

Unfortunately, Google wasn’t up to the challenge of an in-depth conversation with a hairdresser, and the translations I was getting from here were as confusing as they were hilarious. Eventually, we stopped confusing one another with technology and she got down to the business of cutting my hair, which she thankfully was far better without the involvement of Google.

Google confusion

So my plan for tomorrow is to get up early and hit the road while it’s still relatively cool outside. That’s my plan at least, we’ll see what actually happens when my alarm goes off at 6am!

Slow Road to Hanoi – Day 3
Read my tips about touring Vietnam on a motorbike

Show your appreciation by buying me a coffee

TravelFriday, April 19th, 2013, (11:02 pm)

I’m not famous for making early starts and the first day of my big ride was not going to herald any change to that. I’m in no rush to get to Hay Long Bay so I went out for breakfast then hit the road leading Hue just before midday. I forgot to look at the weather forecast, didn’t have a map, and wasn’t really sure how to get to the highway, but I had a full tank of gas and the sun was shining and as far as I was concerned that was a great start.

Simon Jones and his Vietnam Motorbike

The motorbike felt a lot different with my 20Kg bag on the back and my backpack between my knees. It didn’t feel like a cheap motorbike anymore, but had, in my imagination at least, transformed into an adventurers motorbike.

As I got on it I felt like Charley Boorman or Ewen McGregor from the TV series ‘Long Way Round.’ Of course, they went around the world on expensive BMW motorbikes, and I’m just going up to Hay Long Bay then Hanoi, but nevertheless, it felt good to get on the road.

I don’t really know how long it will take to get to Hay Long Bay, then Hanoi, but I’m in no rush. I have the luxury of time to turn off the main highway AH1 and explore some of this beautiful country less explored back roads that twist and turn their way around a landscape that feel far from familiar to me.

Beautiful Vietnam

Vietnam by Motorbike

It’s very rare to find anyone who speaks English here so I use the Google Translate app to help me when needed, though in fairness sign language is easy and often a lot more fun than fiddling around with a digital device.

Once out on the open road, I was soon into my stride. I wasn’t exactly eating up the kilometers as I sauntered along doing a steady 40Kph, but it seemed like the right speed. The traffic here is often hectic, but it’s rarely fast. My plan is to make frequent stops and take as many back roads as I can (without a map!).

Vietnam war memorials

Fish drying by the roadside in Vietnam

My first back road took me off the highway and along a beach road and through a few small fishing villages. Along the sides of the roads, small fish were drying in the sun which covered the villages in a pungent odor that I suppose the locals are well used to.

The beaches were free of tourists and everyone who saw me (and there weren’t many people) seemed shocked to see some random white guy. The near-deserted beaches were only inhabited by the occasional fishing boat, offloading their catch to waiting traders who loaded baskets full of fish onto their motorbikes by the shore.

Another deserted Vietnam beach

I could have spent more time there, but at the speed, I was going I realized that I would run out of daylight before I could make it to a hotel so I had to carry on. It was at that point when I realised that there seemed to be a serious lack of road signs. I had a vague idea of where I was, but I wasn’t entirely sure.

Eventually I figured out that there are small stone signs by the sides of the roads that tell you where you are, and where you’re going. Even though the road I was on didn’t appear to be on Google maps, it did appear to be heading back to the highway.

Pig on a motorbike

Sunset in Vietnam

Surrounding me were peaceful rice fields and small farms. I passed a herd of cattle being walked along the road by two young boys who waved and shouted “Hello!” I stopped and watched the sunset over a river as women sat around mending nets and chatting together, and as I set off once more, the roads around me were turning red under the evening sky. I wasn’t lost, but if I was, this wouldn’t have been a bad place to be lost.

Sunset road in Vietnam

And so at the end of day one, after just 123 Kilometers (76 miles) I found myself in the rather nondescript highway town of Ho Xa. It had just gotten dark as I arrived in the town and so I stopped at the first hotel I found. Of course, the staff didn’t speak English and so there followed a rather comical routine of asking for a room. It was basic and decorated with furniture that looked like it was rejected from the 1970s, but it did at least have a hot shower and a fan, all I needed, and not bad for less than £5 ($7).

Tomorrow I will try to do a few more miles, but I guess I’m just going to follow the road and see what happens.

Slow Road to Hanoi – Day 2
Read my tips about touring Vietnam on a motorbike

Show your appreciation by buying me a coffee

TravelThursday, April 18th, 2013, (11:23 pm)

I’m in the central Vietnamese city of Hue and today I bought a moped for £100 ($151) which I will endeavor to ride all the way to Ha Long Bay in the far north of the country. It’s a road trip of some 1000 Kilometres along some of the craziest roads in the entire world. If nothing else, the next few days will be interesting, but what I’m hoping for is that this will be a road trip to remember for all the right reasons.

My 2004 Yamaha Nouvo

Last year, I steered various rented mopeds and motorbikes around the streets and dirt tracks of various Asian countries. Along the way I got the idea that it might be fun to embark on a little two-wheeled adventure at some point.

The trek from Hue to Hay Long Bay in Vietnam wasn’t really what I had in mind, I was thinking of a road trip that was far more ambitious. However, I’ve come to Vietnam and taken a bus from the Mekong Delta to Saigon, a train from Saigon to Hue, so it seems only fitting that in this country of motorbikes I should finish my journey north on two wheels.

Simon Jones on the roadI set myself the challenge of finding a bike for just 3.2 million Vietnamese Dong, which is £100 ($151). With the help of a local friend here in Hue I managed to find a suitable bike and haggle the dealer down to my £100 budget. I could have spent more, but half the challenge was to see if I could get to Hay Long Bay on a £100 motorbike!

In fact, while I am no expert, the motorbike seems pretty decent. It’s a 2004 110cc fully automatic Yamaha Nouvo. It has just over fifty thousand kilometres on the clock (31 thousand miles) and has been well looked after if the dealer is to be believed (but really, who believes a dealer?).

So tomorrow, with practically no planning, and no decent map, I’m going to head out onto the road and ride north. That might sound crazy and even a little foolish, and I dare say it is, but this is hardly the first time I’ve done something like this.

A big part of the challenge will be carrying my luggage, which is always a tiresome chore even when I am dragging it around in more conventional places. I’ve bought a giant plastic bag to put it in, and some flexible ropes to tie it to the bike. However, if the worst comes to the worst, I can actually wear it as a backpack.

The forecast for the coming days looks fairly good. There will be rain which I won’t enjoy, but I will try to not ride in the rain, and I also do not plan riding at night.

Just married in Hue

I have no idea how long this will take, but I’m going to attempt to blog the journey, so stay tuned. You can also follow me on twitter, and a map too.

Vietnam is a beautiful country. It’s roads are shockingly hectic, but the landscape is often times simply majestic. I’m hoping the weather will be good to me in the coming days, but either way I have a feeling this is going to be yet another road trip to remember.

Hue sunset

Slow Road to Hanoi – Day 1
Read my tips about touring Vietnam on a motorbike

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