Motorbiking Vietnam : Day 23

Start of trip || < ||

For details of the places I visited in Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, with GPS Coordinates, see my book Vietnam Caves.

For details on motorbiking in Vietnam and Cambodia, from buying and selling a motorbike, to border crossing, see my book Motorbiking Cambodia & Vietnam.


The room i got is very nice, and reluctantly i crawl out of bed. I head downstairs early, and order breakfast, then head to my bike, or not! I get a faint heart attack as I stare at an empty space where my bike was the evening before. NOOOO!, my precious. I look around, and my heart rate returns to almost normal. Across the the road, behind a tuk tuk, is my motorbike. It seems someone decided my motorbike was in the way, and moved it, even though i was told to park my motorbike in the spot it was. I try to start her, and nothing. I keep going and about 2 minutes later, she starts to put put to life. I keep the engine speed up for about 5 minutes, until she can idle on her own.

Happy that she starts and is warmed up, i go and have breakfast. Van after van comes and picks up tourists, but every time as i jump up, i am told no, it is not my van. I ponder if i should not maybe go to the bus station and find my bus there, but a small voice tells me no stay. Eventually, 20 minutes late, a van arrives and it is mine. The driver looks at me as i walk to my bike and he is like, No no no, and wave his arms. The guest house owner comes out, and ask what is the trouble. The guy shoots off a string of words to her, and then she turns and says that he says i cannot put my motorbike in his van. I am like, Duh dude, i will ride behind you. The owner translates, and suddenly this guy is as happy as a pig in Palestine.

I follow the guy, and he zig zags through traffic, while now and again slamming on the brakes to stop at guest houses and hotels to pick up people.

Eventually we stop at a travel agency, and i discover it is the head office for the bus company. I go to the bus, and tell them my bike needs to go on the bus. The guy loading the bus looks at me, then at the bike, then asks how much did you pay? I answer that i still have to pay, and was told $6? He is no way,bike cannot go on bus, no space. I go $12? He is like, okay, got space, mmm. So i pay my fee for the bike, then help him get it in the bottom of the bus. I also find out that the bus does not go to the bus station, so good thing I did not go there to meet the bus.

All nicely tugged in

As my ticket has no seat number (not that it means anything), I just sit in the first seat i find. The conductor comes over, asks my ticket, looks over the piece of paper, shakes his head, then tell me no, i must move one seat back. I move, while wondering how he worked out where i must sit. Then other people get on the bus, and they basically just sit here they want, mmm.

The bus is in excellent condition, the air-conditioner does not work, the roof exit hatches are broken and have gaps in while being held fast with ropes, and the seats are mostly shot.

Adjusting the air-vents to where you want them.

Emergency escape hatch, or what is left of it, held fast by ropes that keep snapping and needs to be retied.

The good thing about having open escape vents, is that we get fresh air, mixed with Cambodian dust. As a large part of the road is dirt road, the whole bus and all of us inside look like we did a few laps around a dirt track with go-carts. The bus is so full of dust, while a dust cloud looms in front of the bus from trucks and other buses that you barely can see the road, yet we are speeding along as if it is a racetrack. (Actually the road between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is a racetrack). My lungs gets squashed against my stomach as we hit pot hole after pot hole. I pull out my phone, and yes, we are doing 80km/h on a dirt road with almost no visibility.


I had too much water to drink, and with all this bouncing up and down, my eyes start to water as i desperately need a restroom. I briefly consider going up to the driver and asking him to stop for a minute, but dismiss the idea immediately. I would almost certainly be killed by being flung around as the bus flies into the air each time it goes over humps or through pot holes. I also do not want to disturb the driver, as he is concentrating hard on driving, while juggling two cell phone calls at once.

Soon we stop for rest, and a much needed release of pressure of my bladder. I rush with tears in my eyes (from the dust i promise, not being glad of having feet on firm ground), to the toilet. Hmm, well, it is better than a tree I guess.


I wonder if someone is taking a picture of me while i have my hands full.

Soon we are back on the dusty, sweaty bus. All goes good for about 30 minutes, then a banshee starts screaming in the back. When we stopped, i did note that the driver and conductor had to pour buckets of water into the leaking radiator, so i wonder if the engine is not overheating.

A few minutes later, the bus comes to a grinding halt. The conductor jumps out, hammers under the bus against something with a pipe, then 5 minutes later informs the driver we can go. We studder forward, and make it maybe 500m when we grind to a ever screeching halt. The driver keeps revving the engine, but about four banshees have joined the first one, then Thor releases lighting and thunder in the back, and Odin finish things off with a loud bang, then silence.

The driver jumps out with no worry no worry, soon fix. We wait about 3 minutes, then are told we can get off if we want. So we reluctantly find some shade under a tree next to the road.


It is a full on meeting at the bus with two then three guys having a look.



There is a local Khmer restaurant across the road, so i head over while they wrestles Thor’s hammer from him and kill the banshees with it.


All the time, the conductor is topping up the radiator.


Eventually they kill the banshees, and pull the remains out.


The interesting thing is, that they actually have a spare. Now using both Thor’s hammer and Odin’s staff, they struggle for about 12 minutes to get the new part in. Then it is get on get on the bus, late late. The bus pulls away and reaches a blistering 60km/h, while filling up with dust while we sweat as now the fan does not even work. However, no one complains as we are just to glad to be on the road.

The miles fly past in slow motion, and about 4 hours after our scheduled time, we arrive at the Siem Reap bus station. We are swarmed by tuk tuk’s that want to give us a ride into town. I decline, and a bunch of taxi drivers laught at me for declining their service, probably thinking that i have the intention of walking the 5km to town. Then it is my turn to laugh, and see the dropped jaws on the taxi drivers’s faces when we offload my motorbike. Suck it dude, eat my dust.

I breathe a sign of relieve when the motorbike actually starts, and limp home. Tomorrow, i will take her to my mechanic.

Motorbiking Vietnam : Day 22

Start of trip || < || >

For details of the places I visited in Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, with GPS Coordinates, see my book Vietnam Caves.

For details on motorbiking in Vietnam and Cambodia, from buying and selling a motorbike, to border crossing, see my book Motorbiking Cambodia & Vietnam.


I got up at 5 am to be on the road by 6. Checking outside, it is raining. So I repack my stuff to have my important stuff in my small backpack, that I will put in the luggage space under the bike’s seat. This delays me a bit, and I am out 10 min late. The traffic is already getting heavy even at just past 6 in the morning. It takes me 45 minutes just to get out of Saigon downtown with traffic quickly becoming worse.

Eventually I get to the highway, only to be stuck in a snail pace. One hour later, and about 3 km later, I eventually pass the problem that caused the miles of backed up traffic, an accident. Not one for rubbernecking, I pass by, but do notice that for some reason, a tourist van managed to lose control, burst through the protective barrier of concrete into the lane reserved only for bikes, and took out 3 bikers. How he did this on a speed limit of 60km/h, I am not sure.


Highway out of Saigon.

The road is pretty boring being mostly straight and going trough or past towns.


Road from Saigon to Phnom Penh

I stop just before the border post to get breakfast. Jup, from my favorite mobile road stops. The famous bread roll guys. I get myself two bread rolls with egg. Luckily no problems in them understanding nothing else. I eat one, and put the other one in my backpack for the road later.

Mmm Breakfast.

I had no idea, that the border I was heading to, was in fact the same one the bus used when I came into Vietnam almost a month ago. As I approach the immigration gates, the local mafia already starts to call to me. Then suddenly two guys flank me with bikes. They tell me that my bike cannot enter Cambodia (which is bull) but they can help. (For a price.). I know it is all a scam, as yes you can bring a bike in. However, due to there not being an procedure in place that you can follow, plus corruption, doing it without these guys help will see you hours at the border at times. Or at times not being able to cross. See all the immigration officers have to say, is no.

So I ask how much is this “customs tax” and I am told $30. So I agree. We are now just outside the gates. Immedtiatly one guy tells me to get on the back if his bike, while another guy takes my bike. A third asks for my passport, and yes, exactly $5. Good thing I got that $5 from Simon. As I am driven to where some official sit, my passport appears there, and they help me fill the forms in. No need to stand in line. Then I am directed to one of the cubicles that is luckily empty. A whole bus load of people are busy inside filling in forms. Since I have a multi entry visa for Cambodia, I fly through customs. Get out on the other side, and I am picked up again by the first biker guy, and driven through the gates into Cambodia. There my bike awaits me, with four dudes wanting cash.

I have only the $40 in two $20 notes denominations, and hand it over, then ask for change. You should have seen these guys faces when I asked them for change. They were shell shocked. Then they actually ask me for more money. I refuse and the guys sadly hand over my bike and keys. They must have though since I do not have the normal backpacker fall to pieces bike I would be willing to pay more, go eat dust bro. All in all, I cleared immigration on both sides, in under 5 minutes. How is that for speed.

From there it is around 160km to Phnom Penh, so I nurse the bike, not wanting to damage the engine more than is needed. I stop only to have the second roll with eggs on, and make it to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital and largest city at around 12am. I already decided I will stay in the same guest house that I stayed in when I started the trip as they helped me with my visa.

The road is good, but yes boring, and my mind begins to wonders as i pass a line of cars. Must be the bridge i saw on the map. I must be daydreaming as i see mirages in front of me. For suddenly the road ends and it is just water. What a dream, the lady must have put some special powder in that egg roll. Crap, the road really ends. I slam on the breaks as a gate guard desperately runs out of breath after me. I am at a ferry crossing. I pull my cell phone out, and yes, the roadmap shows a bridge on the map. The guy informs me that i am in the car only lane. I go what lane, there is only a ramp with a bunch of cars waiting. O no, i have to go around a building, pay ferry fee, then wait behind gate until all the cars are on the ferry. Then they open the gate, and all the bikes are allow to get onto the ferry with the same ramp the cars used. mmm, okay.

Waiting for the gate to be opened. Cars and buses pass in front of the gate, going down to the ferry on the right. After they passed, the gate is opened and bikes can fill the spaces left on the ferry.

After the ferry, it is back on a boring road until i get to the guest house.
I check in for two days just in case Yamaha needs more time to fix the bike.

After checking in, I head over to the first Yamaha dealer on the map. They turn out to be only a sales showroom, with no mechanics. The girls at reception try to explain how to get to their second shop, but it just is not working out. So I take one of their brochures, with a map and directions to their main shop.

As luck would have it, there are roadworks and some of the roads are blocked. So, with a printed map, and a digital map on my iPad, I am proud to say that I actually managed to get lost for about 10 minutes ha ha ha. Eventually, I manage to get to the second dealer. There I ask them if they have a new carburetor for my bike, and one of the guys goes. “Yeh, around $100.” I am like, aahh, forget it. But, my bike have this tik, that has developed into a tuk tuk. 🙂 they listen to the engine, then go, “over $200”. I am like, what?, well what is wrong with it. And get the standard answer, “we have to open the engine up and look.” I am like, you want to open the engine but you do not even know what the problem is, Jup.

When you get that answer, you know they have no idea and are just going to keep replacing parts until the problem goes away or you run out of money. So I decide to just have the oil changed and then have it looked at by my mechanics in Siem Reap.

Having the oil changed at Yamaha, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Back at the guest house I decide i am not going to chance the 314 km to Siem Reap with the bike, and ask the cashier if she can arrange for a bus that can take my bike. She says she will try, and calls the bus company. The answer is yes, one company does take bikes on the bus, but they are not sure if they have space, we have to check after 5pm. Being just after 2, I decide to write a bit.

Time flies, again in slow motion. Then about 20 to 5pm, a storm comes up and it rains like mad. The wind kicks up, forcing me into a corner in the open lobby and as luck would have it, the power goes out. So now we are sitting downstairs in the reception area, waiting for the power to come back on. 5pm comes and goes, and by about 5:15 the power comes on. Immedialty I ask the reception lady to call the bus company back. No answer. We wait another 15 minutes, and get trough. Yes they have space for my bike on the bus for tomorrow. Even though I paid for two nights, I go for it. The moment I pay for my ticket, I know it is going to be an interesting ride. $6 for me on a large bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Normal prices are $8 for the low budged busses, and $14 for the VIP which is actually just a standard bus. So $6, mmmm.

I am handed a receipt, (the same the hotel uses for your food) that basically is a standard hotel receipt page, with hand written. “Paid, one seat, Phnom Penh to Siem Reap”. That is it, no tour bus company name, no official ticket, nothing, I am told that they will make up the price for the bike at the bus station, and that a van will come along tomorrow at 8am and I can follow them, or I can meet the bus at the bus station.

As the bike was giving some problems this morning starting, I fear that she may have some problems in starting tomorrow, so I decide to be down at reception ready at 7am, and get the bike going and warmed up, and possibly head to the bus station sooner as I know where it is.

With the bus ticket done, I ask the reception if I can get money back for the night that I paid and will not be staying, and they are like. “Off course, NOT!” Well, had to try. Now I can kick myself for paying for two nights in advance. Well, learn and move on. So I get dinner, then decide to hit the bed early so I can get up early.

So tomorrow, I am putting a bike on a bus. Gotta be fun.

Motorbiking Vietnam : Day 21

Start of trip || < || >

For details of the places I visited in Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, with GPS Coordinates, see my book Vietnam Caves.

For details on motorbiking in Vietnam and Cambodia, from buying and selling a motorbike, to border crossing, see my book Motorbiking Cambodia & Vietnam.


I get up early (7am), and head down for breakfast as it is included. Bread roll and omelette pluss bannanas. I have decided i will go to the train station at 2pm to look for my bike. While eating , I get a call. It is all in Vietnamese, so i have no idea what they are saying. I desperately ask around for someone that speaks Vietnamese, and finding someone, i just hand over the phone. Unfortunately the person on the other end ended the call already. I do not recognize the number, so now I am sitting wondering what is going on.

About 10 min later, i get a text message that i must come to the train station at 10am and call a number to get my bike. Cool. I work a bit on my book, then get a mototaxi to the train station. The text said i must bring a vietnamese speaking person with, so i ask the taxi driver to help me. I call the number, and the cell is off, typical. So I call the number the text was send from, and reach and english speaking woman. She informs me that my bike is not at the train station, as they already picked it up for me, and that her dad will come and meet me at the gate, but he speaks no english. O, so that is the service you get for using the Big Boss, cool.

Now, i have no idea who the person is who is supposed to meet me at the gate, but i recon they will come to me as i am the only white dude looking lost. As soon as i reach the gate, and middle aged vietnamese guy comes over to me, saying “bike bike”. Wow, that was fast, so i go yes yes. He shows me to follow him, then takes me across the street to a bike. I am like, dude, this is not my bike. He goes, “bike bike”. I am like, NO, this is not my bike. So i take out the shipping order that i got for my bike and gives it to him.

The man reads the paper with my bikes details on, then just blankly stares at me, then at the bike. He shakes his head no and hands me back the paper, then goes to sit down on the bike. I am like, uuuh, hello. Then another middle aged vietnamese comes up to me saying, “bike, follow”, and starts to walk down the road.

Then it dawns on me, the first dude is a mototaxi driver, and thought i wanted a bike ride to somewhere. He however have no idea where i want to go from the paper i handed him, ha ha ha. So i follow the second guy, down some narrow allies, wondering just where I am going. Good thing I left my wallet in the hotel.

And then I see her, still wrapped up.




A young guy comes up to me and asks for the papers for the bike, and for me to sign a form, then goes 30K vnd ($1.5). Ahhh, so that is the fee for picking my bike up for me at the train station. As soon as i hand over the money, my bike is cut free, then I am told that there is a house at the end of the alley, where i can get gasoline, as they drain the bike’s tank before they put it on the train.

I push my bike through the narrow alleys until i get to the last house, and immediately a woman holds up a 1L glass bottle with gasoline in. I ask how much, and she shows me an open palm and one finger. Now, in Asia, i have learned it can mean 15, 6, 60, or 150 as they see fit. So i ask 15K, and yes yes is the answer. 5L gasoline costs around 75K, so okay. She pours the gasoline in, and i hand her 15K. Now we have a problem, for she wants more money. She angrily pulls out money from her pocket and flashes it in front of me while going off with a string of Vietnamese. Wow, what happened to docile friendly. I try to get a glimpse of the money she has in her hand, and it is 150K. What? I can get about 10L for that. But there is no turning back, as the gas is in the bike. Reluctantly I hand over a 200K note. (about $9). The woman looks at the note, then turns around and walks away without a word.

I feel like running after her, but she is like 120 years old, and besides, I am sure she knows some kung fu or something, so i leave it. I try to start my bike, but the lines are dry and the bike just des not want to go. Crap, will have to push the bike to a gas station as i ain’t buying another liter of gas from the lady, who is now walking very fast over to me. She stops in front of me, then holds out some cash. O, she had to go get change, and the palm and one finger, meant 60K. Good thing i did not run after her, might have gotten my butt kicked for nothing. Lesson for the day, make sure you get the communication right between people, as small misunderstandings can leave you whipped by a 120 year old granny. (The 10K and 100K notes look so close i constantly got them confused).

I push the bike about 300 m, all uphill, and notice a gas station across the road. However, it is a main road so i pass trying to cross the road. I turn left into the road as i can later cross the road where it is not as busy. Since the road is now level, I for luck, try to start the bike. Yes!, she starts, and off i go.

I go to Simon to help me with my bike, as I want to replace the vacuum hoses on the bike, in the hope that it will fix the power loss problem. Simon is overworked with many bikes, so I go around the corner to another bike shop.

As in typical Asian mechanic fashion, the mechanic wants to replace everything on the bike, being not sure what is wrong with the bike after I told him it sometimes has power and sometimes not. I assure him not to worry, and just replace the vacuum pipes and fuel lines I point out. I again ask where the fuel filter on the bike is, as I cannot see it openly. The guy tells me it has no fuel filter, which I know Yamaha will not do. It is just hidden somewhere behind a panel or inside the tank maybe, I decide. It is hot, and his wife brings a big jug of tea for him as he works on the bike.

Tea time


Replacing hoses.

As the guy replaces the hoses, I ask him how much a new carburetor is. He says 1million. Mmm, just around US$43. So I decide to replace it as I want to keep the bike. His dad goes off to find a carburettor and he continues to work on the bike. Soon two backpackers comes along wanting to sell bikes. The guy spins them all kinds of stories about their bikes, and wants to give them only $50 for bikes worth around $200 to $250. I call the one guy to the side, and inform him that Saigon minks is just around the corner and if they cannot help, the guys should rather just put a for sale sign up on the bikes and sell it to another backpacker.

They take my advice and leave. This infuriates the mechanic, and I am suddenly informed that the carburetor is now costing 2 million. I refuse to accept. The mechanic informs me that his dad has already bought the carburetor and I must pay up. I refuse saying that he quoted 1 million and if he wants to pay more, that is his problem. So the mechanic packs up and leave the shop, with my bike half in pieces. His wife is still there, but ignores me and acts like she does not understand when I ask her where her son has gone. Since he cut the fuel lines when he took it off, and his dad took the vacuum lines with as samples, I am stuck.

I sit in the street and work on my book, for 3 hours until the guy finally comes back. He then starts working on another bike outside. While I was waiting, his dad had retuned with new vacuum and fuel lines, but is also working on another bike. I go over and ask the guy what about my bike, but he ignores me. Now it is interesting to note, that the dad, tried to start the bike he is working on, but it failed to start. So he just climbed on his bike, was gone for a while, then came back with a new carburetor. Put it on, and at the same time a new spark plug and plug wire, and the bike started. Yes, and then he tuned the new carburetor. No, lets open the carb and see whats wrong, no, just replace it.

At this point, local police come around and give them warnings and letters for working on the street. So I decide I am going to use a tactic I rarely use. I have a badge in my wallet that looks like a police badge, but is not. When I am in an area I think is not that save or when I think people want to rip me off, I flip the wallet open just briefly enough for people to see the badge, while I say nothing. They draw their own conclusions. So I ask for a soda from the shop next to the bike shop, flip open my wallet, let the mechanic see the badge, then ask him how long till my bike is fixed. Then I turn to the police officers and greet the local police, without letting them see the fake badge as I cover it with my hand. Having my back now to the mechanic he thinks I am showing the police my badge. The cops being polite to tourists in Vietnam, greet me back, then move on.

I get my soda from the shop next door, and when I turn around, both father and son are working on my bike. 10 minutes later, it is assembled with new vacuum and fuel lines, for half price. As I pay, the guy goes. “You you police.” I just give him a NCIS Gibbs stare, then get on my bike and drive off.

Unfortunately replacing the vacuum lines does not fix the power problem, that I suspect is in the carburetor, but it does make the bike start easily now. However, I have noticed a ticking sound like a lose valve rocker coming from the bike for some time, and it worries me a bit. However, having no one to really fix it now, that I trust, I decide to try and get across the border the tomorrow. I will use a border post only 80 km from Saigon, with a total distance of about 230 km to Hanoi from Saigon. Hopefully I will be able to get the bike fixed in Cambodia at a Yamaha dealer there.

I decide to try and change as much Vietnamese money I can to dollar, but only manage to find one shop open that have some money. They can give me two $20 notes. I take it then go over to Simon from Saigon minks. As he is leaving Vietnam soon, he does not want to part with his US money, so I try and break the $20 notes into smaller money. He does not have enough, but do have a $5 note. I eventually twist his arm to sell the $5 note to me. I had no idea how important that note would later become. Now armed with two $20 and a $5 note, I go back to my hotel to pack.