Hai Phong Rest Day

Today was a spare day, to determine ferry options to Cat Ba and explore, but I got a dose of “doozy guts” and homesickness. Buying breakfast from the supermarket across the road was about treating myself to a little “home” to top up my heart but, when I could find Aussie milk but no western-style breakfast cereal, my spirits sank like I’d dropped my iPhone and broken it. (Which I did the other day, still works, though, just shattered glass, no biggy, it’ll get me home.) I settled for a choc weeton style of biscuit instead.
A walk around the markets near the river was the cure for the blues, and straight up there was proof that the Vietnamese love their pets as much as we do, a com meo, or cat shop and veterinary clinic.
Another pick-me-up was a big bowl of pho and a mug of bia hoi, the proper stuff this time, not just a stubbie of Bia Ha Noi.
And the generosity of a military officer allowing me a little “fantasia”. There’d be no lactic acid in the legs on this monster. A big, 2 cyclinder boxer engine, probably an old BMW but no badging.
Continuing our walk about town, we discovered that even railways lines are streets. People live, work and get about on the rail reserve.
From here I made my way back to the hotel and nursed my upset stomach. A short explore of the ferry facilities made us decide to store the bikes and some gear at the hotel, then walk and boat to the resort with minimal gear.

Riding Day 2 – Hai Phong

After a breakfast of eggs in bread rolls (I had a tomato in mine as well), made from our buyings at the market the night before, we checked out of the Chi Linh Hotel and set off. We decided last night to leave the QL 18 in hope of finding a better riding road and set off on the QL37. While the scenery did improve markedly, the traffic didn’t. The noise begins to wear you down after a while.
Paul stopped to buy coffee beans and I kept plugging on across the Kinh Thay River, past paddy fields and duck ponds. This is the Vietnam we’d been hoping to find.
On the other hand, the thing many westerners find confronting, thit cho (dog stew) and meo (cat), is also prevalent in the countryside. We should be more forgiving of this if we are to continue to eat lamb or suckling pig, I feel, or shut up and go vegetarian. Animals are food or they’re not, you shouldn’t really complain about some being eaten if you’re going to eat others.
Of course, the traffic made its continued presence felt. In particular, after catching me up from buying coffee, Paul asked if I’d seen the pool of blood on the road. Thankfully I hadn’t, as there were skid marks leading up to it. Sobering.

Still, the countryside is beautiful. Between roadside temples and paddy field graveyards, some painted more brightly than the buildings in the towns, there is an obvious whimsicality and practicality to the local sense of worship.
Lunch was a banquet of many dishes. Steamed pork (I think), greens, potatoes, rice, egg (boiled, crumbed and fried, I think) and chicken. Paul added prawns and some sort of grub which I wasn’t keen to try but he said it tasted like beans. We followed this with another vietnamese drip coffee, a little way down the road.
Then the road became a freeway, the QL5 to Hai Phong. Along the northern side to our left, almost entirely urbanised. Along the right it’s rural. Along the highway itself, 100db of diesel engines, honking and motorcycles. No way around it, over it or under it, just head down and through it. The reward at the end, a cold beer in Hai Phong.
Another hotel as a base camp, the Bao Anh, and a night time exploration of Hai Phong finished the day. The meal was expensive and unremarkable, we were seen coming as tourists but I insisted we stay because I needed to sit and eat. The freeway took it out of me a little and walking around for another hour, looking for pho, was not my body’s idea of eating well.
Compared to Hanoi, Hai Phong is prosperous to western standards. Lit up for Tet celebrations, the city centre was alive and bustling. There are more cars than motos here and the traffic is a little less inclined to honk and more inclined to drive straight at you. The people areas happy, helpful and friendly as Hanoi and the northern countryside, but they’re also more apparently affluent. I can’t help feeling this is where the Vietnamese will begin to homogenise into another clone of the USA. It makes me a little sad.













Day 1 On The Bike

Farewell Hanoi

Farewell Hanoi

While away on time as planned, it was probably a little late by cycle touring standards. Just the same, our departure from Hanoi was exciting. Crossing the river via the bridge we traversed on Wednesday night, we quickly realised we were taking a main road, but figured we were in a big city, that would be the case for a while.
Crossing the river
Our initial plan had been to head for Mao Khe via Bac Ninh and Sao Do hoping to see a rural idyll but, after the right turn at Bac Ninh, it became quickly evident that we were in an industrial armpit. That said, the people are wonderful, in particular, the lady with the roadside tea bar at Bac Ninh who wouldn’t take payment, or the car washer on the outskirts of Hanoi who blessed me before we set off from that stop.
We plugged on through the roar and smell of diesel trucks, missing the urbanised run to Bac Ninh. There was a nice bowl of pho for me along this stretch for less than a buck in the middle of an industrial park. (Paul didn’t want to eat until later.) We also had a great coffee at another stop a little way along, just before Pha Lai, and these made the traffic “go away” for a while, but there really was little pleasure on QL18. After Pha Lai, the scenery became a little more bucolic but the roar and beep of traffic seems like an omnipresence.
We finally made Sao Do at dusk, where another bowl of exquisite and absurdly good value pho refuelled our tanks. At the town limits was a food market where we bought some food for breakfast. I think I’ve thrown Paul out of his usual stride of camping a few nights and having a nice hotel stay after saving money in a tent. A night in the Chi Linh Hotel, on a bed with a mattress so hard the floor wouldn’t have been worse, and that was that. I could have slept on a cold rock, anyway.


I arrived on a foggy Tuesday night, after a 15 hour lay-over in Singapore, and the lights of city in the bend of the river were just stunning. The friendly cabby’s English was good and his cheerful nature could teach a Melbourne cabby a thing or ten. The hostel was right in the thick of the Old Quarter and so close to some of the most amazing sights: temples, churches, monuments, lakes, hole-in-a-wall restaurants and bars. And the people, aggressively commercial, yet welcoming, warm and friendly.
Wednesday night was riding night. Learning how to negotiate the toot toot beep beep anarchy on these crazy, crazy roads was terrifying. Make no bones about it, mistakes will cost square cm of skin, break bones or even be fatal, but other road users don’t see it as a right to get through. They’ll grab an opportunity, road rules are generally nonexistent, road markings and flow conventions are just guides, but nobody wants to hit anybody. I think it’s a Buddhist thing, maybe, bad enough for karma to run over a dog, ma, let alone another human. Tee hee.
Finally hooked up with Paul, my travelling companion, too. It’s such a great feeling to fnally meet, in person, somebody you’ve called a friend for a decade. To do so in such an exotic place is a special honour and a memory I will cherish all of my days.
So Thursday has been a walking day. The Lonely Planet Guide to Vietnam has a walking tour on page 59. Paul and I walked it like a boss. It’s awesome. Do it! Finish up with lunch or dinner at Bun Bo Nan Bo. That’s an order, you must eat at Bun Bo Nan Bo. You won’t regret it. The markets are stunning! If we had markets like Hanoi’s in Australia, the supermarkets would go broke in a week!
So to tomorrow, Friday, the ride begins as we head East to the coast, Hai Phong and Cat Ba Is. The excitement is rising again, I can’t wait to start rolling!

It’s Here, I’m Alone & About To Fly

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Bicycle Day 1 – Melbourne to Hanoi vi Singapore.

QueueingForDepartureCustomsQueuing for Australian Border Protection. Done in minutes.

grogTemple of duty free Mammon.

messyMelbourneMelbourne Airport T2 G18. Oh, Mr Hart, what a mess?!

Waiting Waiting Waiting

As I write this, there’s less than 23 hours until my plane flies for Vietnam, via Singapore. If I thought the last few weeks had me hyper, I am buzzing like a power station now. One more sleep!

Lazarus Mode: How A Pub Became A Stadium

“We’re usually a lot more active on-stage…” says one of the guys from Lazarus Mode as I gush in the drunken, amazed surprise that passes for my interview technique tonight. “Good!” is my bombastic reply, “Because tonight, you were so active, guys, you turned the Elsternwick’s 3m x 3m box of a stage into a stadium! A fucking stadium.”

In the (mumble mumble) years I’ve been seeing bands, playing in bands, writing music, going to pubs, writing reviews like this, I can probably list 5 local-level bands that have moved me like Lazarus Mode, and I played in 2 of those bands. This is Dave era Van Halen having a baby with Metallica and that baby grows up to sell it’s soul to rock’n’roll. This isn’t music, it’s fucking theatre and I LOVE IT!!! They weren’t even the main act.”

Lazarus Mode is, in their words, an emerging hard rock band from Australia, united by a passion for high-energy, hard ‘n’ fast, in-your-face rock and or roll. They first blasted onto the scene in early 2013 with their debut single and music video “The Way It Is”, followed by a torrent of shows blowing away audiences with their (sic) Molotov cocktail of classic and modern rock. Sure burned my house down.

Paul Zourkas, from Music Man Megastore, in Bendigo, says, “Their music is highly energetic and performed with some serious conviction. What’s even better is the appreciation that they get from the crowd. It’s always great as a venue owner to have punters raving about how good the bands are and with Lazarus Mode we have always had that kind of reception.” From what I saw tonight, they take it seriously enough to get to a venue, then have fun: with the show, the crowd, the music.

This is where so many other bands fail but where Lazarus Mode rise. Their sense of theatre, and that they’re 4 mates having fun playing it their way, means they don’t care about any rules of the genre, they just want to entertain, have fun and pretend to be rock stars. Isn’t that what Lars does? David Lee Roth admitted it, he was just a gigolo! Lazarus Mode are death. Death to the rubbish idea that musicianship is the most important thing in rock, it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, these guys know how to play.

Rock is release, fun, doing what you do your way, and nobody else’s. Most of all, it’s a bunch of mates who want to be in a band, who want to be rock stars, who want to have fun and, in doing all that, give we, the audience… The. Time. Of. Our. Fucking. Lives! Ladies and Gentlemen, that is Lazarus Mode. The band who, for one, short, fun, crazy set, turned the Elsternwick Hotel into Rod Fucking Laver Arena!

3:05pm Tuesday, 3 Feb, 2015 Singapore to Hanoi

Scheduled arrival: 5:25pm Hanoi time.

7:30pm Monday, 2 Feb, 2015 Melbourne to Singapore

Scheduled arrival: 12:20am Tuesday, 3 Feb, 2015 local time.

Dicky Bathroom Scales But Weight Should Be OK

packedSo, now the bike is packed and, even with cardboard, styro, the emergency camp, the tool bag and an empty pannier (all the stuff in with the bike is included to protect it), it comes out at 18kg, 2kg under. Cabin bag, with laptop is running 9.5kg, 500g under. I have cargo pants pockets to carry some stuff and most of any other stuff can safely go in with the bike. I’m ready! Whoot!

Just need my Gastrostop and jellybeans, really. So happy! Still stressed, but that’s to be expected. I’m going overseas for an adventure! On Monday (2 Feb) evening! For the first time in my life! After beating cancer… OK, now I’m just bragging :-)

All Packed But For The Bike

All that shite in yesterday’s post? Here it is in 2 panniers. The laptop will slot down the back of the left one, my cabin bag. The right pannier has all the tools emergency camping and the topbag. It will go in the bike bag with the bike, which gets a lube and packing on Friday or Saturday. Looking like it’s all under my 30kg limit, too.

6 Days Out & Packing Proper Begins

Monday, 2 Feb, I fly to Hanoi to meet my good friend Paul for our adventure, bicycling from Hanoi, Vietnam, to Ho Chi Minh City. I have 30kg (20kg checked and 10kg cabin) to fit my bicycle and 2 panniers of stuff. Yes folks, it’s a “credit card tour”. I’m probably more nervous about this aspect of the trip than just about anything else.

The packing list is…
Bicycle (in travel bag that rolls up with bedroll), emergency camp and cooking (bivi bag/bedroll and a wood fired camp burner, pots to be sourced in Hanoi), 2x Tioga Commuter panniers, 1 iPhone, 1 solar panel, 1 ReVolt AC/DC to USB supply, 1 USB powerpack, cables, 1 Macbook Air, 1 magsafe charger, world travel adapter kit, 1 microphone, 1 mic to iPhone cable, 1 “GoPro lookalike” camera, 1 monopod/selfy stick, 1 mini tripod (turns monopod into tripod or mic stand), 1 iPhone mount for use as camera (also mounts the monopod as a stand or a counterbalance), tools, basic spares and tube repair kit, SPD shoes, riding gloves (still debating helmet, thinking coolie hat locally instead), diabetes meds, antimalarial meds, toiletries, sunscreen 2 pair of trousers (end of day, on plane wear) undies, underknicks, running shorts, coolmax tops, light weight rain jacket and loads of ziplock dry bags. I think that’s everything… It’s all laid out ready to go. That’s the picture.

In Hanoi, I’ll pick up a nice shirt or 2 for end of day wear and some camping pots to boil water or cook in if we find ourselves stranded at the end of any days. Cargo pants will also get some heavier small items out of luggage for weighing :-) and I’ll be wearing my Ground Effect merino jersey on the plane so that I have something warm if needed in the north.

Vietnam Is Looming, Just Let Me Ride!

This basically sums up how I’m feeling as Vietnam looms

So, It’s About To Rain… I Think

It’s 6:24 on a Sunday and it’s threatening rain. Will I ride? I should, I guess.

Exchange Your Dong

A little table to help you play with your dong

Insert Big Dong Here

travelcardI don’t want to take an Australian money card with me to Vietnam. I’d much prefer to take a preloaded travel card. Still, my bank doesn’t do one that can be loaded with Vietnamese Dong (VND), so I’d been planning to upgrade my account from fee free and use my normal card. January 1 comes along and, because of the travel card, I no longer have that option. If I take money out of my account in Dong every day, that’ll be AU$7/day and a big Dong in hand each time. Not too secure.

It seems there is ONE Australian bank which has a travel debit card which can have a big Dong in it, CommBank. The Commonwealth Bank Travel Money Card is a Mastercard preloaded debit card. If you’re a CommBank customer, you can have the card issued for no charge but each ATM withdrawal will cost you 50000 dong (approximately AU$2.85), slightly more than 1/3 of the cost to use my normal card.

Yes, this post has been an excuse to make willy jokes, but it has a serious purpose, too, money is survival in a foreign land and carrying more card and less Dong is a lot safer. Now, I’d better go get my Dong out. :-)

Addendum, seems the CommBank Mastercard may only be any good in HCMC. Visa is more widely accepted in Vietnam than Mastercard so, maybe I am better off using my card.

Cutting Cloth To Fit & Still Finding It Tight

PA-StackPA-StackOK, so I couldn’t justify the cost of the LD Dave rig. What I did was add a pair of 18″ Skytec subbies to my 15″ AVE CSA15 bins to arrive at a front of house stack like shown.

The CSA’s run at 200w RMS each and the Skytec subs are 500w each, making for a front of house total of 1800 watts. The crossover is built in to the subs and, allowing for an ideal match of workload, bottom to top, should see quite high SPL generated. I have some cables to make, and then I have to “pink” the room with my iPhone’s noise generator, while spectrum analysing the result with the iPad.

Still need some better wedges and a drum fill but the system is nearly ready to noisy up Filthy Noises @ Home.

Don’t Make Me Wear Hi-Vis Unless You’re Driving Flouro Yellow

roadcamoflageAn interesting article on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Rural pages, where a study has shown, surprise surprise, darker cars are a potential safety hazard. From the article

[There is] research by the NRMA and Monash University that has found dark cars are involved in more accidents but.. ..no one is interested in taking up the issue.

I suspect this falls squarely in the political “too-hard basket”, where politicians fear standing between a petrol addict and the shiny temple of their addiction. The full article about what I call “road camoflage” is here

I’m A Citizen of the World!

passportSo, my passport arrived. What’s the first thing to do once you have your shiny, new travel document? Book your leave? No. Sort a visa? No. BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR THE AGREED DATE AND FORCE EVERYTHING ELSE TO FIT AROUND IT, GROOVY FAR-OUTS! International travel FTW! :-)

The Less Said…

…about hypothermia (mild, ruined my randonnee, had to pull out) and diarrhoea (major, a day off work and 3 off the bike), the better. Huge bite taken out of October’s Great Cycle Challenge mileage. Keep the donations coming, though.