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IndoChina Expedition 2007 Live!Journal Chapters Menu

Week One Chapter - 03 ~ 09 Sep 2007 - Vietnam

Starting Location for This Week: Seattle, Washington, USA (North American Continent
Ending Location for This Week: Saigon, Vietnam (Asian Continent)
Planned Mileage for this Week: 100 miles (160 kilometers)

Welcome to Week One of The IndoChina Expedition

Thanks for tuning in to this week's journal from the road. As you see in the above picture taken at my office in Seattle, chaos before leaving is just part of the process heading in to a 70-day journey. So far, all I know that was left behind was my cat, Spyder. He is home with my wife Karen and his feline brother Beemer.

Sterling and I flew on the same plane to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam, while Chris Poland followed on a later flight. It was a long flight and quite a shock to walk out the door of the International Terminal. The heat and humidity, compared to the weather we had left behind us in Seattle, felt like a wall. Then there were another wall, a wall of people lined-up to greet family and friends. In among all the people, there were a sign waving with our names on it, and all of a sudden, I felt like we had come to a place of friends after all. Never have I seen so many people lined-up to great arrivers, and as our partner in Vietnam, Phan Than, told us, it is a custom for Vietnamese families to go to the airport to meet friends and family as they arrive back home.

On our way to town there was another wall greeting us - a wall of small scooters that were lined-up at the other side of the traffic light! As the light turned green, the wall of bikes became a river of constantly flowing small colorful bikes, winding in and out of traffic. At first, quite intimidating for a future rider on a big foreign bike. But as we got used to this constant flow of 2, 3 and 4-wheeled vehicles, we have concluded that traffic is not as crazy as a first impression had indicated.

I have been working on this journey for more than 2 years now, so the feeling of being just miles away from where our bikes are being kept "hostage" by Vietnamese Customs is starting to take its toll. Broken promises after broken promises are now starting to sound like a broken record, and we are getting behind schedule.

I have not lost faith yet, and still believe that this will all work out, and soon we will be on our way north to ride through IndoChina. Importing foreign registered bikes to Vietnam for tourist purposes is something that has not yet been accepted until now in this country. Our partner has been hard at work to change this, and as I type these words, he is desperately working to get the bikes out of Customs. There have been meetings at all levels of government to have this tour materialise, even meetings at the President's office have been needed to get the right permits. But I will not bore you all with the political implications such a undertaking as this expedition involve.

In this small report from the road, we are happy to share with you some images from our visit here in the city of Ho Chi Minh City or "Saigon" as the locals like to call their city <g>, all 10 million of them. We also had a chance to escape the bustling streets of Vietnam's largest city to enjoy the equally bustling activities of the Mekong Delta.

Enjoy the pictures and soon enough we will be plotting our route with our Touratech Transponder as we Ride north in Vietnam.


Helge Pedersen

Hello There -

My oh my, well we have finally got our bikes through customs and have had 2 days riding now. I arrived last Friday night into Saigon. It was an 18 hour flight from Seattle to Hong Kong and then on to Saigon. We toured Saigon on Saturday, visiting the War Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Post Office and then we went to a water puppet show that evening.

On Sunday we took the van to the Mekong Delta. We had quite a tour of the area and stayed overnight at a Farm Stay on an island in the Mekong. The next morning we took a boat to a floating market and returned to Saigon in the afternoon. Our bikes still had not been released from customs.

On Wednesday at 5pm after spending all day at the customs warehouse we rode our bikes out of the city. We rode until about 10pm. It felt so good to get some miles under our belts.

Tonight we are staying in Buon Ma Thuot city. It is up in the mountains and is a coffee growing area. We had a fantastic ride today, beautiful sealed rode with not much traffic and great scenery. I will have to sign off now as I'm sending this while standing at the main desk in the hotel - the only internet they have but it's free. And it has just started pouring rain, we had a nice hot dry day of riding though.

Ciao for Now,

Chris Poland

Welcome to Saigon -

In the west, we tend to think about one subject in particular when the country of Vietnam is mentioned; the war. For most Americans, the Vietnam War (over here they call it the American War, of course) represents the only significant event this small country has ever experienced. To the Vietnamese, it’s a past that they seem ready to move beyond. In fact, the conflict with America is only the latest tragedy in their long history of being controlled and colonized.

The biggest surprise has been the demeanor of the people. They seem to move through their daily lives with a spirit of great comfort and ease. A spirit of happiness pervades our interactions with the Vietnamese people. The happiness is infectious. It's something we need to remember as we deal with the bureaucracy of getting our motorcycles released from customs.

And why shouldn’t they be happy? Theirs is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. From what little I can tell about the country so far, there seems to be eagerness in moving forward – a reaching to the future. It’s not an all-out rush like in China, where the development seems almost obsessive and beyond control, like a beast that has been unleashed and is devouring the country. Here in Vietnam, the move towards the future seems to be moving at a more fluid and smooth pace, like the scooters that dominate the streets of Saigon.

Scooters might not rule the streets of Saigon, but they certainly outnumber anything else that moves on wheels. Everyone seems to have one, young and old alike. About 8 million people live in Saigon and there are almost 3 million scooters on the city streets. It’s a real sight to behold, and something that makes my two-wheeled heart race with joy. For all of its apparent chaos, the traffic flows quite smoothly and a sense of smoothness lies just beneath the apparent madness. I guess when you have this many people doing the same thing, everyone just knows how to behave properly.

Sterling Noren

Another Day in Saigon -

We started filming the Indochina Expedition back in Seattle, before we left the country. By the time we flew to Saigon we had already documented the preparation of the motorcycles for the journey ahead, and the shipping of the bikes. We conducted interviews with each other, and talked about our hopes and fears for the adventure ahead.

In the midst of our arrival and waiting to get the bikes out of customs, we had an opportunity to explore Saigon, and have a peek at its charms. Unlike our other GlobeRiders programs, we’re taking a different approach here, where Chris and Helge are much more active in front of the camera and interacting with the local population. It seems to be working quite well so far, and they are showing increasing confidence in front of the lens. Helge started out by going up to complete strangers in a market and asking them questions about what they were eating or buying. And he did a good job too. One afternoon, we went to the Chinese Market and got lost inside its massive internal labyrinth of passageways filled with colorful and exotic products, foods, spices, clothing and just about anything one could hope to find. Chris did a fine job in front of the camera teaching us how to eat like a local at one of the vendor’s food booths. Back on the streets outside, Helge gave me a running commentary about the various comings and goings of the over-burdened vehicles on the road.

We were planning to get the bikes out of customs before we left for the Mekong Delta but that didn’t happen. So we closed out our first “episode” in Saigon, getting ready to go to the Delta.

Sterling Noren