Words & Images: Dan Rickard
This year’s SSC ride was a 15-day adventure through Vietnam’s mountainous region along the northern border of Vietnam near China and Laos. This is an all vintage scooter tour and the scoots were working hard on this one! Heading west from Hanoi toward the Laos border and then working our way up and around the China border we conquered winding roads through the mountains, valleys carved with rice terraces, and jungled limestone cliffs that made for some of the best riding Vietnam has to offer. Although road conditions are always an obstacle, we had no problem off-roading albeit a few flat tires, snapped cables, a few clutch problems and one broken exhaust along the way, making this year’s ride was one for the books!
Day 1 and 2 were easy rides from Hanoi to Viet Tri and day 2 Viet Tri to Yen Bai for everyone to get familiar riding with a group that was comprised of riders from across four continents. After one scary moment making a wrong turn and entering the main highway heading over a bridge leaving Hanoi, we made it to our destinations with beers and whiskey at the roof top bars.
Day 3 had us riding just shy of 200km’s while starting our climb up the winding mountain roads to Sapa. Once out of the cities you never know what the road conditions are going to be due to maintenance and the highways have multiple names/numbers depending what map/app you use. Taking 8 hours and arriving just before dark at the Victoria Resort we grabbed some beers and food.
Day 4 was a well-earned day off. Most of us ventured down to Cat Cat Village at the bottom of Muong Hoa Valley checking out the local lifestyle and waterfalls along the way.
Days 5 was 120km’s from Sapa to Bao Yen that made for a white-knuckle ride in the fog and rain down the winding muddy roads while playing “Frogger” by dodging vehicles coming up the mountain. Vehicles pass whenever they like and blind turns are no exception. After re-grouping at the bottom, the rain had stopped, and it was a leisurely ride the rest of the way along a river which lead us to our first homestay of the trip called the Cinnamon Eco Lodge. Surrounded by cinnamon trees out in the rural area of Bao Yen this was a great place to relax. Without much to do the drinking started early and went on well into the night. Everyone was a little slow the next day thanks to the pitcher of rice wine that appeared out of nowhere!
Day 6 ride was off to a late start thanks to the rum, whiskey, and rice wine. At least the sun was out, and it was a 120km’s scenic ride through the countryside. That was until we came across a major resurfacing project with 4” pieces of crushed rock for road! Some of us rode through while the smarter ones pushed their scooters. One cracked exhaust and a flat tire later we were on the way to Ha Giang.
Day 7 we climbed Xa Pai Pass which is one of the more popular areas for riders around the world. Another great and challenging ride on a road barely wide enough to be called a 2-lane highway, the tour buses, 2-wheel riders, and construction vehicles had us doing some creative lane splitting. Even with all the traffic our chase vehicle was never far behind! Once over the top it was twisty ride down to the town of Dong Van.
Day 8 was a short 40km ride to Meo Vac with a side quest to ride down to Nho Que River on one of the most winding roads I’ve ever been on. The road was a 5-foot-wide cut in the side of a mountain with a grade hitting 20% in some areas. If you rode down, it was the same route back! This section was completely voluntary due to the steep conditions with 200+ feet drops straight down and no railing. After our detour we were back on the highway with a stop at the Panorama Café overlooking the Nho Que River on our way to Meo Vac.
Day 9 was another 200km long ride to Cao Bang that had us doing a little back tracking along the way because the only bridge crossing the river was for scooters only. Turning into a solid 8-hour ride we had no time to spare today. Another great ride through the mountains and valleys alongside a river we pulled into Cao Bang right at sunset. We’re all looking forward to having the next two days off from riding.
Day 10 and 11 we spent wondering around Cao Bang doing the touristy stuff and taking a Sprinter van out to Ban Gioc Waterfalls along the Vietnam/China border. We couldn’t enter China on land, but we did take a boat ride across to see the waterfalls. With a stop off to see the Nguom Ngao / Tiger Cave on the way back to Cao Bang.
Day 12 we were off for a 120km ride to Be Be Lakes that suddenly turned into 150 km ride for most after making a left turn towards Bak Kan! It was quite an experience just riding alone through the jungle with the roads to myself. After meeting up with everyone 30km later we made our way to our next Homestay and another free day to follow.
Day 13 we loaded up the coolers with beers for a 4-hour boat tour around the lake and up the mouth of a river to the Puong Cave dodging bat guano and crossing a makeshift bamboo bridge floating on the river held together with telephone wire.
Day 14 was our last day doing 150km ride through the jungle and we set off agreeing to meet at the entrance. Well most of us rode about 5km to the main entrance of the lake and not the main entrance to the Homestay. After meeting back at the Homestay and with the recommendation of the locals suggesting we take the new road to Thai Nguyen because it’ll save us 20km of riding, we set off. Everything was great for about 20Km till we caught up with the construction on the new road and things went from bad to worse quickly. The rain started coming just enough to create a muddy layer across the road and after another 20km there was just muddy ruts. After contemplating turning around and heading back the support vehicle pulled up, so we decided to push on even though we’re 2-hours behind schedule. Even as we were floorboard deep in mud everyone was enjoying themselves knowing we’ll have one hell of a story to tell when were done! We arrived late afternoon and beer never tasted so good!
Day 15 short ride back to Hanoi and 90-degree temps with 100% humidity! After a quick stop at KFC we dropped the scooters off at the train station and grabbed a ride back to the motel. Tonight, the ride concluded with an award presentation dinner at the Moose and Roo for BBQ, Burgers, and Beers!
The Awards: Best Hangover - Christian Gehrke
Best Crash - Jeff Hill
Biggest Drinker - Bob Person
Most Time’s Lost - Dan Rickard
Most Punctures – Robert McClelland
Most Adventurous Eater - Bob Person
Furthest Travelled - Michael Sarni
Best Dressed - Tino Sacchi
A big thanks to Pat for hosting a once in a lifetime trip and especially to Linh, your hard work was greatly appreciated! We’d all be lost without you!
About Saigon Scooter Centre Tours - After taking 5+ years off doing his yearly Vietnam scooter rides Pat Joynt started back up in 2018 with a 2-week ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. The success of that ride along with the interest from around the world lead to Pat to organize another in 2019. After returning from this year’s ride demand has grown even more. For 2020 two rides are in the works, option #1 is the Mekong Delta Tour April 4th – 18th and option #2 Is Hanoi to Hoi An October 10th – 24th. Join the Saigon Scooter Centre – Tours FB page for up to date info. Groups are limited to 12 experience riders only. Words/Photos - Dan Rickard
This year’s group of riders from Australia, Italy, New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, UK, and Vietnam.