Sunday, 21 November 2010

Mui Ne to SAIGON !!

Breakfast on the beach, a fitting way to start our last day of driving. Great though it is, it still doesnt take the edge off of this being quite a sad day...

We'll miss everything about this trip, even the really rubbish stuff like cleaning the air filters in a bucket of fuel at the side of a dirt road. I cant help but think that its probably the start of many more adventures - I have more adventures planned, this time winged, they're lurking at the side lines and will no doubt make an appearance in due course..

I can't help but think that driving a fuel injected car running on perfectly clean, high quality fuel and driving on smooth tarmac roads filled with reasonably polite drivers just isnt going to cut it.... Once home, I may need to head over to Wales in a 912 every so often to give me a taste of the way it was.... :)

So, for the very last time I check the oil and re-fit the rotor arm to the distributor. We make our way out of Mui Ne and back to Highway 1. Destination Saigon.

Our guide explained previously that driving a filthy dirty car in Saigon is frowned upon, so the plan is to set aside a little time enroute to get it cleaned up. The roads are good, the rain has stopped and its getting much hotter and increasingly humid.

Its a pretty easy drive, nothing much to report. About 100km from town we pull over to get the car cleaned - The guys do a perfect job, the car is washed and leathered dry for about £2.

Into the outskirts of town and the world famous Saigon traffic is building, thousands of scooters everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Vietnam is famous for people carrying crazy things on the back of a scooter - Over the years I've seen some contenders. 7 people, two other scooters , 8 pigs. But today I spot a potential winner, an 8ft statue, you have to see the picture to believe it!

Fortunately, the trip has been one long lesson on dealing with crazy driving - Right from Calais, in one way or another, things have been changing ever so slightly towards the Asian way. Despite the "Welcome to Asia" sign on the bridge spanning the Bospherus river in Istanbul, Asia starts in some tiny sense when England ends...

Its hot in town, we're stationary in traffic for quite a while - I decide to leave the auxillary oil cooler fans on permanently. If they fail it doesnt really matter, they only need to last another 2 hours.

We're being met at the Rex Hotel in Saigon by my expat mate Tim 'beer for breakfast' Plunkett and his lovely wife Loulou. They've been working with the hotel marketing department to celebrate our arrival - Neither of us expected such a fantastic reception from the Rex hotel..

At 4pm we pull up outside the Rex - Exactly sixty days and 18,000km after leaving the UK.

Theres a small crowd outside the lobby door, surely not for us? As we learnt later, the management team have pulled out all the stops to ensure we have a reception to remember. Tim and Louise rush over to the car to greet us, we're presented with bouquets of orchids by the hotel staff - A large custom made banner welcoming us hangs over the main hotel entrance, the hotel management and press flood over for pictures. An awesome reception!

After press photos we head straight to the world famous 5th floor rooftop bar for drinks. During the Vietnam war the American Information Service made its base at the hotel, which soon became the favorite haunt of U.S. officers and the scene of daily press briefings to foreign correspondents, or “five o’clock follies”, as they were called. What better place to end our epic trip.

After a press briefing with the Saigon Times newspaper and one other, we feel its only right to take full advantage of the free bar thats been laid on for us all! Here we learn that on top of everything, the Rex management have also gifted us 4 free nights accommodation in one of their new 5-star suites. Outstanding.

The rest of the evening is spent it and around the bars of Saigon....Catching up with our old friends and sampling the very last batch of beers of the world... !

London to Saigon

Distance covered: 18,000km
Time away: 60 days
Longest drive in one day: 940km
Fuel used: 2,000 Litres (Approx)
Spare fan belts used: 0
Spare tyres used: 0 ! (I hate to think how much we were slowed down by the weight of three spare steel wheels with tyres..)
Countries visited: 17
Hospital stays: 1
Blood tests: 2
Hangovers: 22 (soon to be 23)
Oil changes: 3
Gearbox oil used: None

What went wrong with the car...

1x Parking light bulb
1x Headlight switch burnt out
Distributor points closed up several times
Thats it. Seriously!

Well thats about it from me - Please keep an eye on Classic & Sportscar magazine for a future article on our exploits.

I've enjoyed tapping out this blurb, if you've enjoyed it and you're yet to donate some of that hard earned cash to MAG, please do so. Please! Its a great cause. Thanks :)

Max & Becky

PS - If anyone wants to reach us, my email is:

Friday, 19 November 2010

Nha Trang to Mui Ne

Wow, it' still raining! Its a late start today, we're all a little shot from the long drive the day before.

Its just 220km down to our next stop, the town of Mui Ne a small beachside resort North of Saigon. The relatively short distance of 22okm takes us around 6 hours of driving, some of the highway has been damaged by the recent flooding - The ever present trucks, coaches and scooters also slow progress significantly. But....its an interesting drive and the scenary is good.

We stop for lunch at a small beach side restaurant, as we do, the rain stops and the sun makes its first appearance in days! I take this opportunity to carry out the last....yes the very last maintenance job on the car. The air filters are filthy dirty from the thick red dust in Quang Tri province, so I quickly swap them over for a set I had pre-cleaned back in Laos. Can we really be coming to the end of our trip...?!

We arrive in Mui Ne just as the sun is setting, its an awesome place, I cant believe this is my first visit. Haivenu have booked us into a great beachfront resort "Seahorse Resort" we'll definitely be returning!

Nha Trang

Good news, the roads have cleared so we can continue onwards to Nha Trang. Its a long way and the roads are bad, we're braced for a 12 hour drive South. It rains heavily for the whole way, theres a huge storm system sat right across Central Vietnam, most of the Southern section of the country is seeing rain.

The drive is interesting, lots of great scenary and even more loony drivers. The key to driving in Vietnam is use of the horn, you toot people to say "I'm here and I'm about to do something". Before you overtake, you toot.
If a cow, kid or chicken looks like its about to step into the road, you toot. In fact you toot for almost everything. The system seems to work pretty well, but the net result is that the roads are constantly noisy with the sound of horns....

Jerry performs perfectly and we arrive in Nha Trang for about 10pm. Knackered, we have an early evening in a great little hotel. Neither of us can believe that we're almost at the end of our epic journey! :(


The water kept on rising overnight, some of the streets in Hoi An are now flooded. Word is that some of our route is now submerged, we need to wait a day for the road to re-appear. Check out this picture of the hotel bar...

We're not so keen to stay another night in touristy Hoi An, besides, the hotel appears to be slowly sinking... So we head North back to the bright lights of Danang city. Enroute we stop for a breakfast climb of Marble Mountain, a series of five large hills used by local people as a source of marble for sculpture.
At Danang we head to the military museum for a quick look around. The musuem itself is closed, but the staff let us wander through the rows of tanks and aircraft that are dotted in the grounds. Interesting stuff.

The evening is spent back at the Blackjack tables in a new resort by the beach, I cant believe we're still winning! Hopefully the road will have cleared tomorrow so we can continue South to Nha Trang.

Hue to Hoi An

Our guide warned us yesterday that if the rain continued, we could end up getting stuck in Hue for a few days. Luckily it backed off a little overnight so we were able to continue on our planned route to Hoi An, a small fishing village just South of Danang.

We just about make it out of Hue, the first three exit roads leading out of town are flooded but we make it out on the 4th attempt.

Our route takes us South to the infamous "Hai Van" pass, a steep winding road which crosses the tall hills North of Danang. Its a stunning but dangerous drive, even more so when you're being shot at as you ascend it, fortunately 45 years on we aren't. At the summit 1960's U.S military bunkers still line each side of the road. A 1950's era French bunker stands derelict just behind them. Its a history lesson in less than 100ft of tarmac.

We're up in the clouds up here, quite dramatic weather. Two bus loads of tourists arrive, and ask the now extremely familiar question...."Have you guys really driven here all the way from the U.K?" Yep, apparantly so.

Its down the other side of the pass, through Danang, past China Beach and into Hoi An. This place used to be great, on my first visit in 1998 it really was quite a special spot - A very quiet, peaceful place. An ancient fishing port giving a glimpse of times gone by.

Unfortunately progress, as they say, is always a crude intrusion. And no more so than here. The number of tourists visiting has increased so dramatically over the last ten years, that they've had to relocate the original village inhabitants to a new purpose built town outside of town.... Bus loads of tourists cram the tiny streets, its lost its charm.
We check into our hotel, an awesome riverside bungalow with steps straight down to the river bank. However, the river has long since burst its banks, our steps now lead down to a garden flooded with murky brown river water. And its still raining.....
Later that night, 7 steps become 6 then 5, at 3am its 2 steps....
Its not venice, its...flooded!

Hue, Vietnam

Its been raining hard, and I mean HARD ever since we arrived in Vietnam. A quick peak out of the hotel window shows that Hue is starting to flood and quickly - The Perfume River is swollen and appears to be close to bursting its banks.

We're due to head over to some natural hot springs on the outskirts of town today, we try to drive over but the access road is flooded. A sign of things to come...

The rest of the day is spent exploring Hue in the rain, at least its still pretty warm. The evening is spent playing Blackjack at a smart new hotel in town, incredibly we walk away with a decent profit and they even plied us with free beers for the privelege. Result!

Into Vietnam...

We never quite made it to Savannahket, it was getting late so we chose to stay at a small guesthouse just at the junction of Route 9E - The road leading East to the Vietnam border.

Its a long but easy drive to the Vietnamese border, we arrive at the town of Xepon just after lunch. This town is historically significant, it saw quite a lot of fighting towards the end of the Vietnam war when U.S and ARVN forces invaded Laos as part of operation "Dewey Canyon II" . I've been meaning to spend a little time here to visit the numerous sights, but we're in a rush so it'll have to wait until next time..

The sun has vanished and its starting to rain - As expected, the exit process from Laos is a piece of cake. The customs guys have no idea how to formally stamp my Carnet de Passage document, to show that the car had been properly exported. So.....they just stamp every page....Something for me to try and unwind back in the UK. Paul at the RAC, if you're reading this I did try and show them what to do, honest!
At the Vietnamese border post we're met by our guide Phuoc - He takes care of all the entry formalities, in less than an hour we're enroute through the old DMZ to the city of Hue.
Similar to China, driving your own car in Vietnam takes a lot of planning - Our tour company "Haivenu" begun the painstaking process of obtaining all the relevant permissions several months ago. The number of Western registered vehicles drives into Vietnam each year probably stands at about 5, you really have to want to do it. Once granted entry, you must follow a lead vehicle and cannot deviate from your nominated route.

Our route takes us past the former U.S Lang Vei special forces camp and onwards to the site of the old Khe Sanh U.S Marine Corps base. A historic site situated on high ground along route 9. For any readers that arent familiar with this place, if you're interested in military history its worth reading up on:

This is probably the 5th time that I've been to this place - It always has a sad feel to it, but seemingly especially so in the prevailing low cloud and rain, weather which plagued the place when it was active. Neither of us can believe that we've actually driven here from London, crazy!

The rain has turned from drizzle to heavy downpours. We take a look around the base museum. Its deserted all but two U.S veterans who are busy recalling the time they spent based on the surrounding hills during the war, very interesting.
Back in the car and onwards to Hue, probably our favourite place in Vietnam for so many reasons. Its a night drive but Jerry is up to the challenge and is coping well with the latest onslaught of loony drivers..

We arrive in Hue for the early evening and head straight to the best curry house in Vietnam..."Omars" near to the Imperial Hotel, a fine curry and the coldest Huda beer in town!