A number of unusual events happened as we left Cambodia. The border crossing took longer than any other, and the kickstarter arm went through the sole of my boot. At sundown it began to rain, more so as we got closer to the capital, and when passing a badly lit roadwork area in the suburbs the growing wind caught a large wooden plate and slammed it into the bike. No injuries. However, these hostile hours could somewhat be explained: The cow-crashers David and Erika were in Bangkok to recover… Hey, wait a minute! Why go west to Bangkok if you wanna go to east to Vietnam?
Going the wrong way?
The Turkish girl flew home for her final exam, and with my once-again aloneness the skies clustered with brownish clouds. Thunder announced that the monsoon season was just around the corner, if not already there. A few brief but fierce rainstorms drowned the Bangkok sewage tunnels thus the rats escaped to the streets where three million cars belong. It is remarkable how large a rat can be when flattened. Like a hairy Grandiosa Pizza. Corpses were scattered in the drying streets, with small fur balls caught in the turbulence behind passing vehicles. My idea at first was to go to Malaysia. But something told me to take a time-out. To make a better plan. Review my ride, my bike, which is never-complaining but battered by three owners. I made a sketch – the road to purpose-bike perfection: Balto, but with a few more features. As the locals say: Same same, but different. Vietnam seemed like a good place to think about the details.
Bangkok rain. When I bought an umbrella it stopped.
So why going west to get east? Well, for starters Bangkok is the hubbub of SE-Asia and where you by flashing a handful of cash can get a visa and a ticket to whatever country in the region within 24 hours. Secondly, temporary import of motorcycles with more than 175cc is forbidden in Vietnam. Balto is simply too big for Charlie.
So how can you have a blast on your own motorcycle in Vietnam?
Answer: Buy a Vietnamese motorcycle.
And the short flight to Hanoi was great, with an above-the-clouds perspective so breathtaking that even the most arrogant of the meteorologists at Vervarslinga would get a hard-on.
Hmm, let's see if we find a motorcycle in this alley
We met at dawn in the Old Quarter, Mr. X and I. On offer was a heap of gaskets, rubber and metal parts which once upon a time were assembled in Russia in such order that the unit could be defined as a motorcycle. A Vietnamese license plate and some spare parts were included. Money changed hands. Mr. X said it was 1700km to Saigon, and he wished me good luck. Ah – I thought - just like a drive from Tromso to Oslo. But it was not quite like that.
Say hello to Laika. She doesn’t look like much, but at least she got me out of town
The Minsks have many fans. It’s difficult to understand why. Then again, it isn’t always smart looks and great performance that counts. Oh hell, who am I kidding? Smart looks and great performance is everything. Hanoi to Saigon on Italian machinery - THAT would be something. Did I mention that Balto was made in Italy? Hmm, not quite in the Ducati league but… Anyway, I was stuck with something assembled from the crash site of Sputnik 2, and I questioned if it would get me out of the capital Annoy. But the Minsk’s lack of flamboyance and refinement proved to be the least to worry about.
Tam Coc caves: Bring pepper spray against the rowing souvenir pushers
Easter vacation had just begun and the traffic was bloody awful. Though knowing that the Vietnamese do not celebrate Easter made me realise that the traffic is bloody awful all the time. The drivers love to bully, and - Easter or not - if you’re yellow or chicken you’ll be a looser. The menace is the many scooters and the constant cross traffic they represent. It took some time to figure out how to deal with them. The key is to aim straight at the crossing vehicle, and by the time you get there it has moved further to the side and the path is clear (hopefully). It all happens very fast, and you better get used to this bold system as hesitation confuses the others and they might wobble into you or someone else.
Hoi An and the only street I came across that was closed for traffic
“Hey Mister, where are you from?” Locals were notorious businessmen. There was no such thing as a reasonable first bid, and if they got their will I’d pay 40.000 Dong per banana, and 85.000 for two (special offer for you my friend). I met Tony, a member of the Easy Riders, a group of motorcycle guides operating from Dalat. He was returning from a tour up north, and since we both were heading the same way we drove side by side for a day. His front fender fell off shortly before his horn did. Then the Korean shopper barfed fuel and Tony had to weld the tank. Finally he tried to charge me for “guiding”. My reply was that I had guided him, so he should pay me. Then we had a dispute about who guided who. I never saw Tony again.
Tony was a nice chap though
Tony’s more stylish bike fell apart. At the same time the Minsk didn’t. The two-stroke engine rattled like a thousand empty food cans thrown into a trash container. It didn’t get better, but it didn’t get worse either. The bike just kept on doing what it did, day after day. After 1100km I cleaned the spark plug. That’s all, and the Minsk didn’t ask for more. On Easter Day we passed a giant shipyard, drove through the village of workers behind, to the other side of the small and lush peninsula. The asphalt turned to gravel, and the gravel turned to sand. And it was there - on Jungle Beach - that I decided to slip into something more comfortable.
The end of Asia coast to coast, from the Bosporus Strait to the Pacific Ocean. Yep, it was Speedo time, and the swim was bloody fantastic
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