23 April, 2008

.. don't care and don't give a damn - next stop is Vietnam (with apologies to Country Joe)

Well folks, I do apologise for not keeping you all updated, but life has been fairly chaotic over the last week. I arrived without incident in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) on the 17th. I've struggled to buy a bike here but eventually had to give up as it is not standard practice for foreigners to want to purchase bikes and it just all became too hard.I did end up renting a bike - a newish Honda 110cc stepthru (remember the old Honda Cub folks, well it's been updated for the 21st century and now has disk brakes, electric starter and gear indicator lights, otherwise it's basically a postie bike). I rode out to the beach at Vung Tau (125km or 3 hours riding each way) and ended up totally sun and wind burnt.

Now, take your OH&S hats off before reading further folks because I'm going to upset some of you at least. I rode as the locals do - shorts, teeshirt and pudding basin helmet - it is far too hot and humid to dress any other way. Even with only a teeshirt it is soaked in sweat in under 2 minutes once you leave the hotel airconditioning. In town trafic speeds never get over 30kph and on the highway I think I momentarily reached a heady 60kph.

You have probably heard about traffic in Ho Chi Minh city - it is truly the worst in the world but just works because everyone is always looking out for the next person.

The rules are pretty simple - NEVER stop for a red light, and don't think that just because vehicles are coming from the opposite direction you can't turn across in front of them! Keep on pushing your way through no matter what. Don't worry if you are riding on the wrong side of the road - that is standard.

For every road there are 6 streams of traffic - on the immediate right, bikes come towards you, next lane to the left bikes go away from you, next lane to the left cars go away from you, next lane to the left cars come towards you, next lane to the left bikes come towards you, next lane to the left bikes go away from you. However, I think I'm oversimplifying things because it is far more chaotic than that.

Ok, what are the 3 scariest things to do in your life?

.....Number 3 - try crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh City - pretty scary!.

.....Number 2 - ride a bike in Ho Chi Minh City (even try riding whilst holding a GPS in your left hand to guide you (BTW the GPS doesn't have street maps from Vietnam but before you start riding you mark the position of your hotel and then just turn the GPS on to show a dot and whether you are riding roughly in the right direction)) - even scarier!.

.....Number 1 - take a ride as a pillion on a bike in Ho Chi Minh City - the scariest of all!

.... and then wait for it to start raining - here's a shot of the latest in motorcycle wet weather gear -Vietnamese style.

I also had the opportunity to visit the cu-chi tunnels (where the Viet cong lived and launched attacks on US troops,, and Saigon, from) and almost got stuck in the tunnel - that's me at left trying to hide from a bunch of American tourists :-) (N.B. I was originally planning on entitling this Post "travelling with Charlie" but thought a few of our international readers may take it the wrong way. :-) Although it's obvious that my derriere is much larger than the average vietcong, the tourguide said that even most Vietnamese nowadays are too big to go in the narrowest tunnels so I responded that it is a sad indictment of communism that the vietnamese are now getting fat, affluent and lazy just like westerners! :-)

I checkedout a few places to stay down in Vung tau, which is a beach resort. I think the name of this hotel was consistent with my first thoughts after being told the exorbitant roomrate.

I am now in Hanoi. I took a sleeper bus (it has lay down beds) for 2 days (48 hours straight) to travel the 1,900kms to Hanoi. It stopped every 6 hours for food breaks otherwise you are onboard the whole time. I am now planning to take another bus to cross the border to Nanning in China and get back on two wheels again by buying a local bike as soon as possible.

Till then enjoy the photos, and keep tuned in.


17 April, 2008

I'm outta here!

Well, the day has finally arrived. I'm leaving in a couple of minutes for Melbourne airport for my connecting flight from Sydney to Ho Chi Minh City.

The last few days have been the usual whirlwind of completing last minute arrangements, remembering all the things you forgot, then promptly forgetting them again, and general disorganised chaos.

I had a final sendoff last Saturday night from the family so the following are a few pictures from that night.

Myself, Natalia and Kimie

Natalia, myself, Rokshana and Julien

All of us including mam and dad.

Many thanks to my loving wife Kimie, children Julien and Natalia and parents. I will miss you all but look forward to regaling you with tales of my adventures on my return.

08 April, 2008

What's a Burgie and why are you riding it through the vast wastelands of Siberia?

Right, well as we all know, the star attraction of this blog is the Burgie itself and it's time I told you all about it.

The Burgie is quite a different bike to my usual crop of large capacity sports-touring bikes, and is a midrange 2 cylinder maxi-scooter tourer. It features an electronic Constant Velocity Transmision (CVT) , with manual electronic gear selection over ride - the first of its kind on any bike. The amazing thing is that for such a heavy bike (240kg unloaded) with massive slipstreaming and wind protection it offers a great combination of speed (180kmh+) and economy (23km per litre on the open road or 65mpg). Most of all though, it is incredibly comfortable and versatile - quicker than many sports bikes around the twisties when the roads get interesting.

Here's a shot of the Burgie taken 4-5 months back at the start of summer - no it's not a preview of Siberia in mid winter, instead it was taken at the top of Mt Hotham in the Victorian Alpine region.

I'm not anticipating too many days as wet and cold as this one was, but in order to stay dry I've bought myself a set of fishing waders - guaranteed waterproof. :)

For those of you reading this who are unfamiliar with bikes, staying dry is the biggest bugbear. Although clothing manufacturers advertise their gear as waterproof, it never stays that way after hours in the saddle at 100kmh.

As well as the waders I also have a rubberised sailing jacket, 5 pairs of gloves and rubber kitchen gloves to use as waterproof liners. The Burgie has tremendous weather protection by comparison with most bikes, and together with all my riding gear, it will hopefully help me avoid the curse of riders everywhere - the dreaded wet bottom disease!

A bit of history......

Well, it's not hard to see that I've left out a bit of history in getting this far, so I'm going to use this opportunity to fill in some of the gaps.
Firstly, a few pics of the Burgie itself getting prepped and ready for crating (excuse the messy garage!). Here's a ful frontal of the Burgie in complete touring regalia, all kitted out with air horns, GPS, extended windscreen and Givi topbox. Apart from these modifications, and a thorough mechanical lookover, the bike is pretty much an off the shelf 5 year old Suzuki 650cc maxi.

Here's another from the back, and one of the Burgie sitting up in its crate with the seat, windscreen and top box removed so that I can work out how best to fit it all in. You can see how much my dear wife Kimie is looking forward to reclaiming a bit of garage space now that the bike and crate have moved on.

Unfortunately, due to the very strict regulations imposed by the Chinese government (which requires all foreigners to have a military escort at a cost of $500 per day whilst using their own vehicle in China) the first stretch of the journey, from the South to North of China and into Mongolia - around 8,000 km on back roads - has to be done on a local Chinese bike as the Chinese government rules for temporarily importing a bike are far too stringent and expensive. I'm intending to purchse a used bike in Nanning then either sell it or give it away when I'm ready to leave China for Korea.

07 April, 2008

The Burgie is on its way!

Well the journey has begun for the Burgman. Today Loyd and I used a Heath-Robinson mix of hydraulic jacks and axle stands to lift the crate Burgie the necessary 75cm to get it in the back of the rented truck. At one point we felt we'd lost it (topple off the jacks) but no, only a temporay setback.

The 10 point route to happiness is now:

1. Ship Burgie to Busan (Korea).

2. Fly to Vietnam, rent bike to ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi.

3. Take bus across border from Vietnam to China and buy a small offroader (probably a QingQi - Suzuki TW200 clone) - ride North through China and into Mongolia.

4. Ride back into China & down to Shanghai. Sell bike & take ferry to Korea, collect Burgie in Busan, ride up to Sokcho & take car ferry to Russia (Vladivostok).

5. Ride West from Valdivostok through Siberia to Kazakhstan.

6. Ride South into Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekhistan

7. Ride West and back into Russia.

8. Ride North to Moscow / St Petersburg and then up into Finland.

9. Ride South through Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia to my final destination - Italy.

10. Ride South along the coast in Italy to Palermo, Sicily where I will ship the Burgie back to Melbourne.

Edit after end of journey: The above is the actual route I travelled

Preparation, nervous excitement and planning.

The big day cometh forth - the 15th of April is what I have planned but will it really happen?

Still awaiting the elusive Russian visa, bike crated and ready to take to the shipper (how will Loyd and I get that 250kg crate into the truck?, .... have to book the plane ticket to Vietnam but can't do that till I know when I'll have a visa, still have to get travel insurance, final vaccinations and fit everything into my pack.

So how is it looking so far? well here's the Burgie in all its swaddling , all we need is for the lid to shut and it will be transported in its coffin-like cocoon to Busan, where I hope to make its acquaintance again in mid May.