Part 1: Saigon Scooter Centre – North Vietnam Ride 2019 | FEATURE
Friday the first of November sees us with a quick two-hour flight up to Hanoi – the capital. Nice and early so we can get all the scoots unloaded and over to the hotel. As per last year, we are checked in to the Thang Long Opera Hotel, which was the same hotel we finished the Hanoi ride at in 2018. Chosen because it was a great location in downtown Hoan Kiem Lake area. The group had started to arrive over the course of the past few days with the last couple of guys arriving in the next 24 hours.
For dinner, we booked into the Avalon BBQ with a great spread of traditional Vietnamese BBQ and a few beer towers. With most of the riders having just arrived and suffering jet lag it was an early finish with everybody eager to check out their scooters the following day.
Scooters and riders
Targa Twin – Pat & Linh – UK/Vietnam
Lambretta Imola Golden Special – Tino Sacchi – Italy
Lambretta Li2 TS1 – Jeff Hill – USA
Lambretta Li3 red/white – John Beveridge – Australia
Lambretta Li3 blue/white – Robert McClelland – Australia
Lambretta SX150 – Dan Rickard – USA
Vespa VBB – met green Michale Sarni – USA
Vespa VBB – Bob Person – USA
Vespa SS180 – Steve Barron – USA
Vespa PX150e – Christian Gehrke – Germany
Pats VBB – Chua SSC Mechanic – Vietnam
Helena Smits – Czech Republic
A full day today of unpacking the truck. Picking scoots up from the train station and prepping and fuelling up the fleet so we can make our escape from the craziness of Hanoi traffic in the morning. Stocking up on drinks, food, ice, fuel and oil we were ready to depart.
Some of the group take the opportunity to do some sightseeing and as usual, we had our 6.30 pre-ride meeting and goodie bags. Thanks to Tino also for bringing a bag full of t-shirts, stickers and handouts. For dinner and drinks we head for a western feast of American bbq at the Moose and Roose knowing that the majority of the next two weeks will be local Vietnamese cuisine.
Sunday 3rd – on the road – Day #1
With a short day ahead so the riders can get used to the scooters, traffic, heat and chaos. We head north from Hanoi to Viet Tri. A very hectic Hanoi exit, as expected with New York Bob having a close escape with an articulated truck. Then we make a smooth scoot north. A great day to settle into the ride, with the first puncture of the trip going to Ozzie John on the Lambretta Li3. With a lunch stop off for some traditional Vietnamese Pho we arrive in Viet Tri mid-afternoon for happy hour drinks and an early dinner. A day of good roads and surprisingly good weather, looking like we had dodged the bullet with the typhoon that hit Hanoi only a few days before.
Monday 4th – Day #2
An easy days riding planned from Viet Tri to Yen Bai, so after a late breakfast, we headed for the AH14. Great weather today again after the Hanoi downpour and a gradual climb as we head north. Blew a CDI unit on the ETS and one snapped throttle cable replaced on the Li3. Plus a close escape for Ozzie Bob with a local K9.
With a lunch break in Doan Hung, we arrived in Yen Bai mid-afternoon just in time to find yet another happy hour and some good food. Tomorrow a decent days drive into Lao Cai and Sapa.
Tuesday 5th – Day #3
A long day today by Vietnamese standards, as anybody who has driven here quickly finds out that daily distances here are demanding and slow. Destination today is the mountain town of Sapa which is just shy of 200km’s and rising to an altitude of 4920ft so an early start.
Breakfast on the road with good weather again and all the scoots running like a dream. Continual climb today on “Highway” 14 with a planned arrival in Sapa before dark. Very close call today with crazy signposting ending with us driving down the highway the wrong way (!) and having a standoff with a not amused truck at high speed – with a full highway sliding lock-up, barely missing the last couple of scoots at the back of the group.
With a couple more badly signposted junctions, we get back on track and with a quick repair to the Li2’s throttle wheel after losing its pin we arrive for a late lunch in Lao Cai, not too far from the mountain town of Sapa. With a short 40km’s to go and with the golden rule of getting to our destination before dark we just make it to The Victoria resort at sundown! An absolutely stunning drive with a very hard climb up the final stretch, with a couple of new roads under construction to juggle.
Perfect timing with arrival in time for sunset and a couple of days R&R at the Victoria Resort. What a great day of scootering!
Wednesday 6th – Day #4
A rest day to enjoy Sapa, with Chua our trusty mechanic giving the scoots a quick once over. A nice day off with a few of the guys doing the tourist trail and dinner downtown with a nice selection of local delicacies. A change in the weather and the temperature drops down to a cool 14ºC with four seasons in a day today.
Thursday 7th – Day #5
An early breakfast gets us heading east towards Hạ Giang. Weather at 15ºC this morning, freezing fog, rain and mudslides – gets us leaving Sapa with some demanding driving conditions. With a regroup in Lao Cai and a casualty with the series 2 Lambretta blowing a clutch, then we backtrack on AH14 100km’s. Lunch in Pho Rang and then a stunning drive to the Cinnamon Eco Resort to go back to nature for a night. Ended by Steve cracking open the Captain Morgan, with a late finish and a few casualties on the cards for the morning departure.
Friday 8th November – Day #6
No such thing as a short days scootering in Nam! With a later than planned departure and the blame firmly on Captain Morgan’s rum and local rice wine we headed east on AH279. A scenic ride for the first few km’s then rapidly downhill with the road under complete resurfacing. Our Italian boy racer Tino takes out the Clubman pipe and we limp into the nearest town to commandeer the local Honda shop to make some repairs. Great riding then into Viet Quang for lunch and joining Highway 2 – truck dodging with a steady climb north and a mid-afternoon arrival into Ha Giang.
Saturday 9th November – Day #7
From Ha Giang, we start the spectacular climb to the Dong Van plateau. Even though it’s only 140km’s it’s not a short day and some of the best and most demanding riding on two wheels you will find anywhere. Passing through the Xa Pai Pass and heading to the small township of Meo Vac on the Vietnam Chinese border region. Another amazing day of scootering.
Sunday 10th November – Day #8 – Dong Van to Meo Vac 70kms
Another “Wow!” day of scootering. A bit of a lie-in today and then east towards Meo Vac. Following up on a lead by a mate Trev, who had recently been up here. After missing the turn and backtracking we headed down to the Nho Que River on what was an amazing and definitely scary scootering experience. You certainly don’t want to get lost in the moment on this road or blow a clutch! What can only be described as a goat path dropping 1000m virtually straight down. After making it back up without any fatalities we take a steady drive through Ma Pi Leng’s breathtaking scenery and a stop off at the aptly named Panorama Cafe hanging off the cliff face. Into Meo Vac mid-afternoon for a late lunch and some exploring of the local area in search of cold beer and identifiable dinner options.
Coming up in part 2 next week…
The riders battle through deep mud on unmade roads during the second half of the two-week trip. We’ll also find out how you can take part in the 2020 North Vietnam Scooter Ride. Have you got what it takes?
Words and photos: Pat Joynt
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