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.

4 Responses to “Platypus Mountain Run – North Vietnam 2013”

  1. Wes and Barb Thomas says:

    Well we totally support the comments and recommendations by the other riders.
    We didn’t know what to expect and were thoroughly satisfied, beyond all expectations.
    It is a challenge, but so worthwhile and gave us a great sense of achievement.
    Thank you Bob Greer and the team from Lotus Travel.

  2. Bob & Chris Rees says:

    Platypus, great name for a great idea.
    What a great ride Bob Greer together with Cooney and Ngoc put together travelling through Northern Vietnam on the road less traveled. The organisation on the ride was superb, obviously a lot of thought had been put into it. Bob Greer’s knowledge of this part of the world is amazing. Cooney the tour leader and lead rider was like mother hen, making sure you never lacked for anything, always checking to see if everything was OK. Ngoc, the down to earth back-up driver and mechanic was never without a smile on his face and nothing too difficult for him.
    We were impressed with Ngoc – didn’t matter where we were, how wet or dirty the bikes he was always checking them, oiling the chains, making sure there would be no problems. I’m also sure he knows most people in Northern Vietnam!!!
    We’ve ridden in many counties overseas, on our own bike or on motorcycle tours similar to this one, and we can recommend the “Platypus Mountain Run” as one of the best.

    Book it now, you won’t regret it.

  3. Robert Boyes says:

    Anyone wanting to strip back the tourist veneer and experience the reality of the beautiful and fascinating country that is Vietnam and is a competent but not necessarily expert motorcycle rider should give the Platypus rides serious consideration. The 12 days covering 2000km in the mountainous north and northwest were the most interesting and enjoyable I can recall for a very long time, made easy by superb organisation and our capable, entertaining and friendly guides Kooney and Kgoc. Highly recommended.

    I hope to get to the dinner in March if the planets align.

    Robert Boyes

  4. Garry and Raelene Blake says:

    The Platypus French War Ride was better than expectations in many ways. Cuong (Kooney) and Ngoc from Asian Lotus Travel did a fantastic job of organising everything from the bikes, accommodation, food, etc and were very flexible to our needs.

    They were able to rearrange things without any fuss when the unseasonal wet weather required us to alter our itinerary and provided excellent support with carrying the gear and sorting any issues that arose with the bikes.
    We would highly recommend any future trips proposed by Platypus and Asian Lotus Travel, having got to see some beautiful countryside on the lesser travelled roads of north Vietnam

    Kooney and Ngoc both are very down to earth and have a great sense of humour keeping us entertained with local knowledge ,history, stories, jokes and a bit of magic as well.

    Garry and Raelene Blake

    Albany WA

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