Phil & Lanie’s Northern Exposure In Vietnam

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Seven months ago, Phil said to me he wanted to tour North Vietnam. He had toured South Vietnam four years earlier, so we got in touch with ‘JJ’, who was the tour guide last time.  She told us about “The Mystery of the North Tour” and we booked.

Seven months dragged on until finally, the day was here, and we caught the train to Sydney.  We flew out the next day on Vietnam Airlines. We arrived in Hanoi and were picked up from the airport then taken to our motel in old Hanoi.  This was my first overseas travelling experience.  The sights I saw in our 30-minute drive to the motel, were simply overwhelming.  Upon arriving at the motel and dropping off our bags, we headed off to explore the streets, at 10.00pm at night.  It is just unbelievable how many scooters there are.  The street food, shops and people on scooters everywhere – what can I say!

Night two, and we finally got to meet the rest of our group – JJ, Don, Robin, Russell, Gerard, Craig, Kerry, Stephanie, Jodie, Janelle plus Phil and myself of course.   We were all Aussies, and hailed from NSW, SA and WA.

Day three, we were picked up by the back-up van.  Our driver was called ‘Hi’.  He didn’t speak a lot of English, but by the time the girls finished with him, he was doing very well.  With luggage packed, we piled into the van.  A thirty minute drive brought us to where the ‘mighty’ Honda XR150Ls were stored.  A small briefing followed and then we were invited to choose our bikes.  Phil had to have the loudest one, as he rides a Harley.  With that, we launched into the ‘washing machine’ of traffic that is Hanoi.  The girls – Kerry, Stephanie, Jodie and Janelle were in the safety of the van.  I was the only lady rider on this trip.  With only three years riding experience behind me, I was sh*tt*#g myself!  Since becoming a rider, I have managed to do 34000kms, as Phil and I travel quite a bit on motorbikes.

Phil&Lanie Hanoi traffic

We had a lead rider, who was called ‘Ocean’ and a ‘tail-end Charlie’ who was called ‘So’.  They both spoke good English.  ‘Ocean’ and ‘So’ were also the medical team when required.  We managed to ride out of Hanoi with everyone still in one piece.  Don’t ask me how the traffic flows, but it does! – no road rules, no-one waits for a green light, cars will do a U-turn in front of you and scooters will ride up on the wrong side of the road towards you.  The traffic is mind boggling.
When Phil rode South Vietnam four years ago, most of the roads were concrete, but in North Vietnam the road surface is tar of a very high quality, but, then some roads were just dirt (great for dirt riders).  There is no straight longer than one kilometre. it is corner after corner, and, at the end of the day you were stuffed.  Some of our ‘bum stops’ were simply amazing – the scenery, the traditional dress of the women and the happy faces of the kids made it all worthwhile.  To see so many people (mostly women) in the fields was very humbling.

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Phil’s highlight was to stop at a village school and give the children pencils, sharpeners and paper.  My highlight was to stop at a village and be invited into a local house to see how the family lived.  Another highlight was the waterfall at Ban Gioc.  This waterfall divides Vietnam and China, we were only 20 metres from the Chinese border.

Our accommodation during the tour was special.  Toilets in Vietnam can be different from what we know (take toilet paper with you).  Food was good, but different.  If you are a poddy calf like me (love dairy), good luck, because there is no dairy in Vietnam.  After 10 days and 1750kms, our amazing little Hondas were handed in. The next day we drove to Halong Bay for an overnight stay on a boat.  Halong Bay is simply beautiful.

Phil and I left the next day for home, but in the morning, the remaining group (that was eight of us), decided to hire a rickshaw for an hour’s ride around Hanoi.  Phil and I were picked up at 2.00pm by a coaster bus to take us to Hanoi Airport.  Our trip was sadly over.

Those Honda XR150L motorcycles were simply amazing.  They handled the sweeping and very tight corners brilliantly. You never quite knew what was around a blind corner. You may have a truck or bus in your lane, or, even water buffalos! But, we never had any trouble having to brake suddenly. Look in the lower left of this photograph for a taste of the roads.
Phil&Lanie Twisties

On this trip, I have grown more confident in riding a bike.  If you are “thrown in at the deep end” – you can either sink or swim. I swam.

Phil and I would like to thank “Lucky Bastard Motorcycle Tours” for giving us a once in a lifetime experience.  Thank you to ‘JJ’, ‘Hi’, ‘Ocean’ and ‘So’ for looking after us.  Thank you to Craig, Kerry, Stephanie, Janelle and Jodie for being ‘party animals’.  Also, thanks to Robin for keeping everyone well hydrated with ‘happy water’ (rice wine).  Plus, Russell, Gerard and Don for being on this trip with us.

Phil&Lanie Group Photo

NB Proprietor’s Statement;
 “Lucky Bastard Motorcycle Tours” – ‘JJ’ is the manager of this new company, and, along with her ‘Aussie’ business partner, Craig, co-owns “Lucky Bastard Motorcycle Tours”.  They have a new fleet of bikes and a fresh look on touring Vietnam.

So what’s with the name?  JJ wanted a name that summarised the whole experience of riding in her homeland. Having spent nearly a decade with tourers from many different countries, it was the ‘larrikins from down under’ that struck her the most.  So what would you call someone who got to ride in such magnificent surroundings?  A ‘lucky bastard’ of course. 

Hence, the name came from a simple observation and a touch of fun. “

Having ridden it, we are lucky bastards
Lanie Stokes 66348 – Phil Maslen 37054

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