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Platypus Mountain Run – North Vietnam 2015

By Mark McCarthy (member & rider)

The Platypus mountain run for 2015 was completed between November 22nd and December 5th 2015. This was a superb ride through North Vietnam’s high country. This year we had 11 male riders, 2 female pillions a lead guide rider and a support crew. It turned out to be one of the best rides ever and all riders shared a very special experience that very few people would ever get the opportunity to experience in a lifetime.

The start line just outside Hanoi where we started our adventure. Koony our lead guide standing at the back above the riders.

Start line

With about 2000 kilometers in front of us everyone were eager to going. Mother Nature provided a large array of weather conditions from the get go. As the first days riding opened up it was clear why this ride was going to be special. The scenery from day 1 was spectacular as we approached the mountain foothills.

The group stayed at a variety of hotel accommodation and home stay accommodation along the route. The home stays were my personal favorite because the group all slept together (not in the same bed) and ate together and really got to know each other. There was always plenty to discuss after each day’s riding, plenty of great food and local rice wine to sample.

Highlights of the ride are too many to mention but some of the memorable locations for me were Sapa, Ha Giang ,Meo Vac, Ba Be National Park, Halong City.  Relaxing after a day’s riding and sharing experiences and a drink with the other riders was a pleasure we shared daily.

rest break

Happy riders enjoying a road side break.

first group shot

This years riders and pillions from the Left (rear), Mark, (me) Velko, Brendon, Bob, Peter, Neil, (Front) Teresa, Julie, Warren, Ron,  Frank and his two sons, Terry and Steve.

The ride yielded many surprises along the way. One special moment was after stopping roadside to wait for one of the riders, the group was asked to join a wedding celebration adjacent to where we stopped. The groom and his male wedding party were celebrating and getting ready to be joined by his bride that afternoon. They were extremely hospitable and friendly. They fed us and we toasted the good health and future of the groom many times. (Just sipping the rice wine as we still had half a day’s riding ahead). The riders all chipped in 100,000 dong and we gave the groom a wedding gift of 1,000,000 dong and once again toasted to his and his new wife to be’s future. Good fun was had by all and we had the quintessential wedding photo group shot.

wedding-shot

Group shot with the riders and the wedding party. This would only happen in Vietnam. The local people are so friendly.

No one could every say this ride is boring, there is a surprise around every corner. The road conditions range from nice bitumen to every surface known to man including, dirt, clay, rock, rubble, roads under construction, blue metal and dusty tracks, and that’s all in one day!

On a daily basis you will share the road with locals riding step through motorbikes with up to 3 pigs onboard, dodge chickens, dogs, water buffalo, horses, trucks, cats and of course the odd pothole.

They say a picture speaks a thousand words so please enjoy the following few thousand words;

mark bunny ears

waterfall

jurrasic

image

riders2

barrons

school shot

mountain fog

mountain pass

karaoke bar

water buf

ron

finish line

End game was Halong City where our riders spent a relaxing overnight stay on a classic Halong Junk Boat on Halong Bay. The Motorbikes were put on a truck and sent back to Hanoi with Ngoc our support crew.

Here’s some actual footage from a GoPro mounted on my bike.  This is 2000k in 4 and a half minutes so turn up the sound and enjoy the ride.

The ride this year raised much needed funds to support the Platypus scholarship program. 40 children will be educated next school year because of the kindness and generosity of the 2015 riders. A huge thank you to you all.

 

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Platypus Mountain Run – North Vietnam 2014

Our second fundraising motorcycle ride around North Vietnam ended in Hanoi on 3 December. Most of our riders were members of the Bunbury Indian Harley Davidson Club who spent 12 days clocking up 2000 km of exhilarating riding. From Hanoi we travelled south-west to Dien Bien Phu before hugging the China border northwards through mountain territory – Sapa, Ha Giang and Meo Vac before returning to Hanoi via Ba Be Lake.

bunbury-lads

The Lads from the Bunbury Indian Harley Davidson Club of Western Australia.

We dropped in on a school near Yen Bai where Platypus supports a number of students and everyone found the visit a touching experience – the financial offerings from our supporters are well spent on a good cause.

The weather gods smiled on us, scenery was spectacular and we spent a fair bit of time on roads less travelled. That ensured time spent on every road surface imaginable with the exception of ice and snow although sometimes we wondered about that; as invariably happens in the mountains we came across landslides, roads under repair and roads in need of repair but these conditions were factored into the schedule and at no stage was anyone pushed into hurrying: average speed was around 45km/hr. There is far too much to be seen and enjoyed to be rushed.

Lake view

Lake view

We ran 150-200cc machines, ideal for the riding conditions, and they were ruthlessly serviced daily by the indefatigable Ngoc who, as always, ensured that each day saw good bikes hitting the road.
Special mention must again be made of the quality service provided by Koony and Ngoc of Asian Lotus Travel, with whom we rode in 2013 also. They are dedicated to putting on a great experience: accommodation was of a high standard, food was excellent and commentary was always informed. They act also as sort of Earth Mothers, mother hens and really good mates.

 

ngoc-and-co

Koony and Ngoc – Fantastic support crew

 

We will ride with them in late 2015 and again in April 2016 when we have a Vietnam/Laos/Vietnam trip. They do 4WD adventure trips and all manner of other things and we cannot recommend them too highly – call them if you want responsibly managed adventure fun.

From a Platypus viewpoint, and a personal one, I found it a great pleasure riding with the group. There was heaps of humour, generosity of spirit and wallet and a terrific bonding with both the country and the people we came across and I was proud to introduce everyone to what has become in some ways my second country.
Thanks for coming, and I expect to see some of you again: same country, different places, maybe an add-on country or two, probably different time. Ride safe, bring joy – Bob Greer.

Please enjoy the pictorial below;

Mountain-clouds

Mountain clouds on route

ravine

Mountain pass ravine

rest stop

A typical rest stop location

bamboo-bridge

Bamboo bridge crossing

Police check

A local police check of the motorbikes gets the all clear.

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Deidre’s Gift – The Sequel

Under the tab Deidre’s Gift elsewhere on this website is the story of a $50 gift that gave a family a fresh financial start after what was to them a major setback.  In September 2013 we presented them with a pair of suckling piglets and continued on our way.  We at Platypus wondered how things might turn out, so in September 2014 I visited the family once more. It was chaotic!
Blessing and Blossom each produced 4 piglets, courtesy of a visit by some handsome boar from the district we presume. Tragically, Blessing took ill at some stage and departed for that great pigs trough in the sky, but Blossom is the most generous of souls and took over responsibilities from her sister and the result is plain to see.

2014 pigs

A Blossoming pig sty and a great result for one family.

It is a casual and stress-free porcine family. Blessing is not big on discipline, but she is long on love. Her Hmong family is considering retaining a young sow or even 2 to maintain breeding numbers, but that is a major decision – the Hmong are gifted in these matters and accommodation has to be up to scratch, so a building program might have to be undertaken.

We probably will not visit the family again (we have started a small micro-banking project further up the road that is mentioned in our project update, and that will keep us busy) but they are well on the road to recovery. Our local partner, the Women’s Union, will keep us informed of their progress and welfare but this is one happy story.
This is all due to a lady in Clarkson who had a lazy $50! to donate.  Actually, I don’t think it was really all that spare but I doubt Deidre ever had better value for her dollar.

Message to Deidre:  The picture tells the story. Bravo Deidre!

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Platypus Mountain Run – North Vietnam 2013

Our inaugural fundraising ride around North Vietnam ended in Hanoi on 18 December. 8 riders from the Albany region of Western Australia (“The Albanians”) spent 12 days clocking up 2000km from Hanoi to the northern tip of the country before completing a sort of western quarter circle of the magnificent mountain areas along the China border.

The Albanians, members of the Albany Vintage & Classic Motorcycle Club, included Bob (Walrus) Rees and spouse Chris, Garry and Raelene Blake and Rob Boyes, with Bremer Bay couple Wes and Barb Thomas and itinerant retired academic Jude Gliddon making up the group. Platypus member Bob Greer joined in as this was our shakedown run. It certainly shook, and it rocked, and it was plain glorious.

The-Walrus

The Walrus – a chilling sight!

The weather gods were a little perverse, providing 7 consecutive rainy days during the driest month of the year, causing a few changes to our itinerary and introducing a few extra challenges. It was wildly unseasonal weather – pure and simple. The roads were for the main part excellent, with about 5 days spent climbing or descending in switchback style. Our Vietnam partners took us down some side roads to add excitement to a pretty interesting route, and the odd stretch of mud kept everyone on their toes.

 Roads are invariably under construction somewhere in Vietnam and that made for the odd interesting detour and introduced us to delights we would otherwise have missed. The beauty of travelling in Vietnam, especially off the beaten track, is that no matter what sights you might miss due to weather conditions there is no shortage of substitutes.

The scenery was magnificent, but we will bring forward future rides by a fortnight to reduce the likelihood of inclement weather. We will also reverse the itinerary so that riders will be well clear of Hanoi and in mountain territory and clear roads by the end of day 1. That gives time for a gentler acclimatisation to local weather, road and riding conditions.

 We rode 150-200cc machines that stood up well to the conditions. They were ideal for the conditions and we will stay with that size. Bigger bikes will be wasted as the power will never be utilised on short straights followed by hairpin bends, and the odd detour through dirt and mud would pose a problem for some bigger stuff. The Albanians and our local partners helped determine this policy.

Swiss-mountain

Swiss mountain passes – North Vietnam-style – one of many towards Meo Vac

Accommodation was good and the food was adjudged excellent throughout the trip. The Walrus is normally a steak and chips sort of man, apparently, but by the end of the trip no plate of noodles, rice or any other local dish was safe from him. At day’s end the cold weather saw everyone enjoying a shot or two of the local corn wine up in the mountains, or rice wine at lower altitude. A rest day in Sapa, the highest point in the country, provided a welcome opportunity to dry out our gear and do a little shopping.

 Our tour people were marvellous – Koony and Ngoc of Asian Lotus Travel deserve a special mention. The bikes were serviced and checked every night. Brake and clutch cables were replaced, chains washed and greased, punctures fixed in 7 mins or 1 hour if the wheel had to be removed. In between they were like mother hens, entertainers and really good mates. The Walrus and wife Chriss have ridden in several countries on the sub-continent and Europe and have never experienced this level of service. It says much for these guys that we clocked up a combined total 20,000 km in tough conditions with 2 hours lost through breakdown due to a snapped chain that no degree of servicing could have prevented.

Food quality was checked thoroughly, toilet facilities checked in advance and everyone was assured at all times of the best possible service. Hot tea or coffee appeared miraculously at every stop. We look forward to working with them for years to come. They do all sorts of other stuff, such as adventure 4WD trips through the jungle, so look at their website if adventure in Vietnam beckons, but naturally we hope you will ride the mountains with us.

Wes, Koony (guide), Barb, Raelene, Jude, Chris and Garry

Wes, Koony (guide), Barb, Raelene, Jude, Chris and Garry

Catching a ferry en route to Mai Chau, Ngoc’s Macho Machine in the foreground

Catching a ferry en route to Mai Chau, Ngoc’s Macho Machine in the foreground

In amongst all the scenic splendour, the laughs and fun there were a few special moments. Rob Boyes had brought along 20 small koala toys of the spring-back sort that could be attached to a finger or pig-tail. He distributed these as we travelled along. We were resting up in a hamlet when he found 2 very young Dao whom he considered to be worthy recipients of the koalas, and the photo below tells the story.

The Boyes bears go a long way (bespectacled Rob Boyes in background, Wes to his right)

The Boyes bears go a long way (bespectacled Rob Boyes in background, Wes to his right)

Our mates at Asian Lotus collect gifts from friends during the year and hand them out whenever they are in poor regions. They did this without fanfare from the back of the support vehicle that always brought up the rear so we never saw what they were up to. I dropped back to take some photos and in racing to catch up with the group I caught Ngoc in the act. The photo below is of a youngster of perhaps 12 years whose delight was unimaginable. It seems she had never had a fluffy toy.

First fluffy toy – top marks to the Asian Lotus crew

First fluffy toy – top marks to the Asian Lotus crew

We reached Hanoi on day 12 after traversing a substantial chunk of the mountainous part of the country, a marvellously picturesque area rich in modern historical significance. Hanoi, Cao Bang, Meo Vac, Ha Giang, Sapa, Lai Chau, Mai Chau, Ninh Binh, Hanoi was roughly the route. There was time to drop in on the old capital city of Ninh Binh and explore the lake and caves on our last day out before braving outer Hanoi traffic for a fairly wild last ride.

 

Jude scampering toward Ninh Binh

Jude scampering toward Ninh Binh

Elegant Garry being outfitted by camera-shy Ngoc while Raelene averts her eyes. Barb looks on, stunned

Elegant Garry being outfitted by camera-shy Ngoc while Raelene averts her eyes. Barb looks on, stunned

Rower Anh, Koony, Raelene, Jude and Garry in the Ninh Binh caves

Rower Anh, Koony, Raelene, Jude and Garry in the Ninh Binh caves

We had passed through Platypus territory (we support 50 young students in Ha Giang Province) and had all seen enough to remind us why Platypus operates in the area. Everyone went home well content with what they had seen and done and with a much clearer understanding of a fabulous country and remarkable people.

 For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed the company of The Albanians. Having usually ridden as tail-end Charlie along most of the route I learnt a lot from the experienced group. It was an absolute pleasure to watch Barb progress from a nervous negotiator in chaotic traffic to a relatively nerveless Machine Mama. BremerBay may be a bit quiet for her in future. I particularly enjoyed the reactions of locals to the sight of Western ladies of, ah, mature vintage hooning about on their motorcycles.

 To the Albanians and the others, thanks very much for coming and for being good sorts and good sports. I think you’ll prove to be a one-of-a-kind group for all the right reasons.

 We are planning Platypus Run 2014 so keep an eye on our website if this appeals to you. We will have room for 11 riders only and the word is about that it is good fun and great value.

 

Ready to go

Ready to go
Photo: Garry Blake

 

Journey’s end – and still friends!

Journey’s end – and still friends!
Photo: Garry Blake

To Koony and Ngoc, thanks for superb support and management. See you next year.

 To all the great people along the way who contributed to a marvellous experience and who will never read this, thanks for everything. To the old Dien Bien Phu veteran of Regiment 308 – it was a pleasure to meet you and we hope to see you again.

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Our First Centurions

Platypus is about helping youngsters from impoverished families in Vietnam obtain an education; we see education as a community development tool, and families in the more remote areas do not enjoy the facilities and some of the benefits of their urban cousins. There was thus a great deal of excitement about in Quang Nam Province in August 2012 when we launched our first project: 100 kids at school in 3 districts.

 Our partners in Vietnam, the Women’s Union, had selected candidates for our approval on a non-discriminatory basis, so our First Centurions are a delightfully mixed assembly of ethnic minority people: Kinh (35), Cotu (28), Kadong (19), Kor (14), Monong (2), Tay (1) and Tho (1). The numbers largely reflect the population mix in the various districts.

 Quang Nam Province adjoins Danang Province around the centre of the country. It is mountainous in parts, and this introduces infrastructure challenges: monsoon rains cause heavy run-off that floods bridges, damages roads and crops. Rockfalls and landslides sometimes add to difficulties faced by the population, a hardy, likeable people.

 Nam Giang district was the first we visited: north-west of provincial capital Tam Ky, one travels on part of the Ho Chi Ming Trail towards the border with Laos.  A scenic 2-hour drive took us to the school where 30 students, many in colourful traditional dress, awaited our arrival. Proud parents and grandparents attended the ceremony and then we had an opportunity to meet some of them.  There are future tour guides, economists, policemen and politicians among the students, but teaching, a time-honoured and honourable profession in Vietnam, was the most popular choice. Almost everyone wanted to return to the district after completing their education.

 The following morning saw us in Bac Tra My district, a couple of hours south-east of Tam Ky in lush country, where, after a moving ceremony, we were able to meet more families. A 14 year-old Kinh girl, a gifted dancer, lives with her widowed mother and walks 40 minutes to school every day. She dreams of becoming a maths teacher. Mother is a farmer.  A 10 year-old Monong girl lives with her elderly widowed mother and several siblings, loves school and hopes to teach literature. A 15 year-old Kadong lass lives with her widowed mother and siblings: her older sister attended school but had to leave. She has a burning desire to complete schooling. Platypus has 40 students in this district.

 We travelled on to Nong Son district, a couple of hours north of Tam Ky, in a valley reached via some interesting roads through a stunning mix of mountains and valleys. The town we visited was battening down the hatches in anticipation of flooding, but a lot of construction work has commenced to help deal with future monsoon rains.

Very proud Grandfather
A very proud Grandfather

 

Nong Son produced perhaps the proudest relative of all: a grandfather, thrilled that his 12 year-old grandson will complete schooling. The youngster and his 2 brothers and sister live with Grandfather because their mother has died and their father is suffering the effects of an accident. The youngster is from the Kinh minority, is a footballer and likes maths. He wants to teach.  The youngster who made the speech of thanks is a 15 year-old Kinh, youngest of 7 children living with parents in their mid-60s. She is the best student in her school, and dreams of becoming a doctor or tour guide.

 We met youngsters from families who are doing it really tough, but we never saw a trace of self-pity: education is seen as a lifeline and everyone just wants to get on with it.

 The Women’s Union put together a marvellous selection and organizational project, and given their resources and management skills we look to the future of this and other projects with great confidence.

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