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Luang Prabang, Laos – Portraits

[Link to full FB album]

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Vietnam – Ride Like Hell, a Motorcycle Journey from Saigon to Sapa

THE RIDE:

Vietnam was tough.  Not tough in an angry sort of way, but tough in a rough and tumble you’re-a-tourist-and-I’m-going-to-get-your-money sort of way.  Vietnam was tough like a beautiful exotic woman who takes your money, slaps your face, yells at you, but then takes you home to bed and fixes you an absolutely wonderful breakfast in the morning.  Difficult while absolutely stunning and dangerously alluring.  You feel alive and you’re forced to remember that life is hard and beautiful all at once.  Deep down you get the sense Vietnam is kind and wonderful, slowly she’ll let you in, but she’ll never fully open up and you’re always an outsider.  Freedom, danger, beauty – riding a motorcycle through Vietnam is the stuff travel dreams are made of and it was the single greatest travel experience of my life.

All in all, I spent a month in Vietnam and rode roughly 3,500 kilometers or 2,200 miles.  The trip transversed beautiful coastal roads, endless mountain highways, jungle, lush green valleys, rice paddys, hill tribe villages, and the street chaos of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi.  Quality of the roads ran the gamut from perfect strips of desolate highway to completely bombed out, washed out, dirt/mud/gravel paths.  Each turn brought something entirely new; an unbelievable view, waving children, water buffalo/chickens/dogs/cows/pigs, busses barreling directly at you, and a million other motorbikes.  I hit the major tourist towns in the country and I also spent days and days riding up the Ho Chi Minh highway through small villages and towns without seeing another Westerner.  I saw stunning natural beauty and met some lovely people.

The excitement came from the fact that you never knew what was going to happen.  Despite all my best-laid plans, there was no morning briefing telling you:

“OK, you’re going to ride 200km easy in the morning, which will take you five hours.  So you’ll leave at 7am and get into town at lunchtime.  After eating you’ll feel pretty good and decide to take it another 200km in the afternoon, but after your eighth hour of riding it’s going to start raining.  You’ll end up putting on your poncho and getting soaked; you’ll spend the last two hours of the ride in the downpour with low visibility and dangerously slippery roads.  You’ll finally pull into town just before dark, exhausted, and you’ll still need to find a place to stay.  Oh, and by this point your boots will be completely filled with water and your hands will be pruned and numb and your ass is going to be literally black and blue.  When you finally find a bed it’s going to be hard as a board.  But don’t worry, today isn’t the day that your bike is going to break down, that’s going to happen tomorrow.  And tomorrow you’ll have tea with your mechanic.”

Nope, there’s no one there to tell you these things, and there’s no one there for you to count on but yourself.  I did the ride alone and I had to deal with everything; the bike, the route, the heat, the rain, the mechanics, the hostels, the thieves, and the hawkers trying to sell me things I didn’t want.

Hello, where you from?  Motorbike?  Hello, motorbike!  You smoke mariwana?  Massage?  Massage, boom boom?!

Vietnam is naturally beautiful, rich in history, and is unquestionably one of the world’s great food countries.  Every day I woke up, ate pho (noodle soup) for breakfast, strapped my bags to the rack, and kick-started a ramshackle Honda Win 100cc and headed North.  Every day I rode like hell and every single day of the ride I felt alive.  It’s impossible to understate the sensation of freedom you get as you lean a motorcycle down into a sweeping corner, pushing the throttle as you whip through a mountain pass or bomb through a beautiful green field.  No schedules, no guides, no one to complain to, no one to count on but yourself.

The trip is a test of character, I truly believe it.  It was the single greatest travel experience of my life, yet I fell off my bike, the bike broke down multiple times, I got pick pocketed, I saw other people get robbed, I saw accidents, I got ripped off.  It taught me the importance of patience, resilience, and perseverance.  It taught me that I had what it takes to figure it out, to deal with it – whatever it was.  It taught me to be humble and acknowledge my limitations; to ask for directions or to find a mechanic and ask for help.  I had to deal with the fact my phone got stolen at a bar.  I had to deal with the fact I fell off the bike on the third day; I got back up, dusted myself off, calmed myself down, and I kept going.  I had to deal with the fact that riding that much is physically, mentally, and emotionally difficult.  The trip, time and again, taught me that when the road got rough (literally) and the path was uncertain, to follow my convictions and press forward.  The ride was a challenge and was enormously rewarding for me personally.  It’s a trip I’ll never forget.

Ride a motorcycle through Vietnam and all that matters is you and the hard sun, which keeps pace of the days that you’re alive and you’re never getting back.

[Link to the FB photo album]

THE ROUTE:

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Vung Tau
Mui Ne
Dalat
Nha Trang
Buon Ma Thuot
Kon Tum
Hoi An
Hue
Phong Nha
Yen Cat
Mai Chau
Son La
Dien Bien Phu
Muong Lay
Sapa
Hanoi

THE BIKE:

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Honda Win 100cc mini-chopper

Nickname: Black Betty

Kick start only, electric start non-functional

Speedometer, odometer both non-functional

Fuel gauge, non-existent

Bought for $300 from a Dutch backpacker sold for $225 to an American backpacker

After purchase replaced: both tires, chain, brake shoes, battery, spark plug, oil

Maintenance along the way: oil changes (4x), replaced brake wire, fixed oil leak (2x), had rear wheel straightened, replaced spark plug (1x), replaced broken pedal shifter, chain tightened (2x), flat tire (1x), had luggage rack welded into frame

Total cost of maintenance: $100 to $125

Cambodia Smiles

If you have two weeks of PTO (personal time off) at work this year and you yearn for that all encompassing, exotic destination, then go straight to the HR lady/man/website and put in for vacation to Cambodia.  Don’t wait.  Go to Cambodia and be greeted with an enthusiastic “hello!” from its friendly people.

Cambodia has it all.  

[full album link here]

Nightlife, bustle, vice in Phnom Penh.  

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Sobering recent history of Khmer Rouge with the Killing Fields and the Tuol Seng Genocide Museum.

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Rich ancient history and beauty of Angkor Wat.

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Sublime Bayon.

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Night market shopping and cajoling with other travelers after dark in Siem Reap.

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Unspoiled, under developed, hippyish and oh so perfect Otres Beach

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Island hopping without all the tourist fuss of Thailand.

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Bucolic countryside around Battambang.

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The French colonial architectural legacy throughout.

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And maybe the nicest thing about Cambodia is its smile.  Its many, many smiles.

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I loved my time in Cambodia.  What a gem.  Been there, done that, got the tank top.

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Otres Beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

My bungalow is called Mushroom Point

It’s on a soft red dirt road across from Otres Beach

Paul, who checked me in wore yellow Angry Birds pajamas

I could stay a while

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Month One highlights, lowlights, & the days between

Highlights:

  • Myanmar (Burma)
    – Everything about the trip far exceeded expectations. The people, the golden pagodas, a discordant roar of change. A country’s newly found freedom of speech and expression. High hopes for the future and signs of the ancient past everywhere.
  • Pai, Thailand
    – Meeting a small group of Americans, Brits, and Germans in Chiang Mai and making an unplanned motorcycle voyage up into the mountains. The Darling View hostel was fantastic.

Pai

  • FINALLY getting Filipino dual citizenship and the passport that goes with it
  • First visit to Bambike HQ in Tarlac

Bambuilders

  • Songkran in Bangkok
  • Buddhism

Monks in Mandalay

Lowlights:

  • Anything in Celsius with a 3- or 4- handle
    It was so hot in Bagan it made my skeleton ache
  • Digestive issues (more specifically, projectile vomit in a non-western outhouse) brought on by “fresh” shrimp, which turned out to be “live” shrimp and didn’t sit well in Chiang Mai

'Fresh' shrimp

  • Pink eye
  • The ‘grey’ market money changers in Myanmar
    – At some point they’ll just have to start accepting $USD that has even a slight crease in it
  • Poverty beside the palaces in Mandalay
Some of the the good and bad between:
  • The number of Western travelers in Thailand (-)
    • Most of their tattoos
    • Overhearing in the pool in Pai about the girl who just got the “C*NT” tattoo on her abdomen covered up with a lotus
    • Overhearing on the way back into the hostel in Bangkok: “Did you catch the Muay Thai fight?” “It was sick”
  • 7 Eleven (+/-)
  • Discovering Bangkok to be cleaner and have much more civilized traffic than Manila (+/-)
  • Having to leave your passport in order to rent a motorcycle in Thailand (-)
  • Daily brownouts in Myanmar (-)
  • Tech that is changing travel: Kindle, iPhone, Google Maps, Hostelworld.com (++)
  • Taking out time for blogging (+/–)
  • Being offered the ‘happy ending’ (-300 baht)
  • Gotye, Somebody That I Used To Know (+/-)
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Hemmingway (++)
After all the good and the not as good, still feeling like pure gold. Up next, a few days in Phnom Penh followed by a week at a beach bungalow in Sihanoukville to explore Cambodia’s southern coast. Working furiously to get my photos from Burma up onto Facebook soon.

Sule Pagoda, Yangon

Hot out of the gates

Been having a great time so far. Was in the Philippines with my family then went to Bangkok for Songkran and now (after a 13 hr train ride) up north in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

While I’ve been taking lots of photos I’ve been slacking on my blogging. It’s been a month since my last post and I hardly wrote anything about my memorable cross country road trip with Dad.

I hope to get the Philippines shots up on FB soon and will try to get some good thoughts up on the blog. The pics from the road trip are already up on FB, so check out the album of you haven’t already.

Still getting used to the hostel / backpacker scene. It’s a far cry from my old business trips to the New York Palace. Here the bathroom is your shower and it’s also BYOTP. Been paying the extra hundred Baht for air con.

Writing now from the very chill common area at Deejai Backpackers. Lots of Chang beer tank tops and Aussie accents. More americans here than i anticipated, and its kind of nice hearing the familiar accents – until you listen too much to what they’re actually saying.

The Thai people are really friendly and the country is easier for travelers.

My one day in Bangkok coincided with the last day of Songkran, Thai New Years and the biggest water gun fight I’ve ever seen. Pics can’t do it justice as I kept everything in a plastic zip lock to keep everything from getting soaked. From what I can tell in the little time I spent there, Manila is as crazy if not moreso than Bangkok, which was clean and with somewhat more orderly traffic.

Chiang Mai is a lower key and more easily navigable place than Bangkok. Still lots to explore.

Off to motorbike around town.

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Speed Enforced by Aircraft

My dad flew in to San Francisco from the east coast on Saturday. From the airport we went straight to the Tadich Grill, the self proclaimed oldest restaurant in the city, but more importantly a place where we could lunch on dungeness crab cocktail and grilled petrale sole.

We won’t be getting much seafood on our cross country road trip so we decided to fill up.

Yesterday we made the trip from SF through Bakersfield and LA to the desert oasis of Palm Springs.

What we thought was going to be a Holiday Inn turned out to be the newly converted and infinitely more swanky Saguaro.

This cross country road trip is a first for both of us.

From now on, speed enforced by aircraft

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Cruising Hwy 1

There’s nothing quite like cruising south down Highway 1 in California on a motorcycle. In fact, I’ve never done anything quite like it- cause up until now motorcycling was just one of those things that existed out there in the realm of things that people did but that I was barely conscious of.

Well things change and on Monday I took a BMW 650 from San Francisco > Pescadero > Santa Cruz > Big Basin Redwoods State Park > Alice’s in Woodside > Half Moon Bay > and back.

It was one of the greatest rides I’ve been on anytime, anywhere – and it was right in my back yard.

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Newwww camera!

Been spending the first few weeks of freedom doing all the important stuff – researching visa apps, getting reacquainted with the Marina lunch options, brushing up on my motorcycle skills, and buying things I’ll need for the trip.

Fairly high up on the shopping list was a new camera rig.  I’ve largely gotten by with Blackberry and iPhone built-in cameras over the past few years, but heading out on a worldwide vagabond tour, it’s time for an upgrade.  So with a new Nikon body and lens fresh out of the box, I went for a hike in Marin on my first photo expedition of the year.

A great photographer friend of mine, and world traveler in her own right, recommended I learn how to use Adobe Lightroom to edit photos.  So my digital editing skills are going to be kind of learn as you go.

 

view down from over Rodeo Beach

 

hiking back down to Rodeo Beach

 

first photo expedition of the year

 

 

 

 

 

End of an Era

My last day at work was a memorable one.  In the morning the fog hung over the Bay just right and the view was special.  I’m going to miss seeing this while checking emails, sipping coffee every day.

Last day, looking at the Bay

My analysts surprised me in the morning with a nice bottle of champagne, which really meant a lot.  Thanks again Simon, Diane, and Eric!

Classy send off from my analysts

And the highlight of the day was a company-wide send-off lunch.  Here’s me with Fred, our Founder and Chairman, and Jon our CEO.  They really made it happen for me, and for that I’ll always be grateful.  They were great bosses.

Ironwood send-off

It’s bittersweet to leave a great company with wonderful people.  And it feels good to part on good terms.  But now it’s time to start focusing on my trip.  Adventure is a worthy pastime.