Friday, June 10, 2011

Chopper chicks in Zombietown


Spent one final glorious day in Hanoi, touring the sights with Lilly.  We shared our hopes, dreams and áspirations.  Felt a real meeting of minds.  But sadly it wasn't to be.  The cultural divide was just too big.  I said tomato and she said ca chua (I said potato and she said ..) .  Thêre was also the small matter of a húsband and three children.

So my Vietnamese journey has ended - I'm off to the airport in a couple of hours.  Hope you have ẹnoyed the blog.   My apologies to everyone who feels they need apologizing to.

And finally, with tongue completely out of cheek, I want to say I had a fantastic time and I'd recommend thís place to everyone looking for some adventure.  L

The last 24 hours exploring Hanoi has been most relaxing.  The water puppets were easily as good as  claimed with the small orchestra being as worth listening to as the puppets were clever.  The tour of the ethnic museum and parts of Ho Chi Minhs park were also well worth the effort.
We had some of the usual fun with taxis, a meter running at 10 times the official rate (we laughed at the drivers protestations - offered him the equivalent of $6 and walked away - with him quietly happy with the arrangement as well), then a metered ride with the right rate, but a very circuitous route.   The rides were remarkable examples of bullying with the taxis just shoving their nose into streams of motorcyclists, forcing everyone else to take evasive action.  Aside from this and the general risks as a pedestrian on these crazy roads, the city feels extremely safe.  A great place to just wander around.

Our guide also provided us with considerable insight into what semi rural life in Hanoi is like (she lives on a small farm out of the city).

On this our last morning we again wandered down the street looking for a street/garage seller of Pho (noodle soup).  While breakfast is free at the hotel, the street Pho at $1.60 is much tastier than a bland continental breakfast.

I have been reminded that I have not confessed to a small cycling incident that in the interests of reducing worry at home was not mentioned earlier.  There has been much rivalry over who is the safest/best rider.  Len is clearly out of this as while Mark and I felt he was by far the most competent, his fall after touching the front brakes in a corner eliminates him.  I also managed to lay my bike on the ground at a busy intersection after touching the front brakes.  However I claim extenuating circumstances, there were bikes coming towards me on the wrong side of the road, loose fine gravel over the tarmac and my back brake was not working.  Unlike Len, I was uninjured, and had the decency to brake the footrest right outside a bike repair shop (where it was quickly welded back on by a guy who didn't wear any eye protection while arc welding).  This should leave Mark the clear winner, but he twice dropped his bike while stopped to take photos, the first time landing under it and gaining a good set of bruises.   So I claim the award for lowest accident effort - although this is hotly disputed.

Lastly - many thanks to OffroadVietnam - it has been a great trip.


Having just been handed the key board and reading the 'minor incidient' report above one should put this in some perspective - we have had eight days of motorbikes riding towards us on the wrong side of the road, on roads all covered in gravel - so really there was no excuse. The crash did however provide a great delay of amusement to groups of locals standing on the side of the road - who wondered how one could fall of a bike on a straight road when carrying no load of pigs, cows, family or other items of trade.

So you can understand a little more of the above, I decided I should take a proactive approach to safety and thus undertook a couple of planned bike drops so in the event of having a spill which travelling I would land in the correct position. The other two not being as safety aware failed to recognise this.

Our last day together was spent looking at some of the historical items around Hanoi guided by Lilly. Most interesting to visit the home and office of Uncle Ho, to see the simple way in which he lived and worked, and then to walk past the huge building built in his memory. Even the current generation of Vietnamese have a sense of his power and influence, not as strong as previous generations but still significant.

The museum for the various ethnic groups proved to be just as interesting particularly given we had meet some of these people and traveled through areas where they lived. It was good to see that many of the unique cultural items are still evident, the way woman dress and house design being two we noticed. I wonder how long they will be able to retain there existing life style and balance this with the advance of development.

Yesterday took it's toll on us all the temperature in the high 30 with high humidity left us at times completely without energy. We have on the road all welcomed getting on the bikes just to cool down, each morning it was the same put on yesterdays clothes which may have had a rinse or not, get the safety gear on and go to the bikes feeling reasonably okay. The time we had tied the bags to the bike sweat was dripping off us and all our clothes were soaked.

As I look back at the journey it has been an incredible experience and one which I would recommend to others who are not nervous about driving and wanted to experience something of the Vietnamese culture and landscape. I could not have had better travelling companions whose were always positive, interested and keen to explore and discover more of this country and people. In the discussions had over the time we have solved many of New Zealand's economic problems and all that remains to be done is for Len to implement these over the next few months. Ross is planning his next trip here and I believe has sorted a return ticket already.

Thanks for listening and I hope you have managed to gain some sense of our experience and the life in Vietnam.  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Good Morning Vietnam

Back in Hanoi at the end of 8 great days.  The picture postcard scenery, tasty food, hospitable people and exciting riding are things we will never forget.
Some of the fun has certainly come from the challenges.  There is a saying that in Thailand they drive on the left, In Laos on the right and in Vietnam on either side of the road.  There is a law that says they drive on the right, but it's perfectly acceptable to drive short distances on the left, especially if the traffic is busy and it's hard to get across the road.  Officially there are no rules at intersections.  No stop signs, no right or left hand rules - just everyone has to take care to avoid an accident.  It works better than it sounds, but it takes some getting used to and this afternoons drive into the centre of Hanoi in the heat of the afternoon left us sweating from more than the 36 odd degree air temperature and blazing sun.
I don't think the lack of intersection rules is the main reason that Vietnam has the second most dangerous roads in the world.  The roads are shared for so many different purposes.  Scooters ridden at sorts of speeds are the most common traffic, but there are buffalo carts, tractor pulled carts, farm trucks, all sizes of road trucks and  a few cars and 4wds to boot.  Buffalo and cows are driven along roads, or graze from them and there are always people walking or standing on the road.  They may be carrying baskets balanced on a pole, pushing a bike, minding cattle, drying crops on the road or just walking many kms to or from the market.
The roads themselves are often in a poor state.  Poorly built then used by trucks much to heavy for their design specification (let alone construction quality) the centre of the lane often squeezes up into ridges of broken tarmac and rocks big enough to snag the footpegs of motorbikes.
To this mix must be added the drivers. The vast majority drive slowly and carefully, mindful that on their scooter they are carrying the whole family, or that hanging off the sides of the scooter are their market goods (be it dogs, pigs, rice, fertiliser, flowers) that make the load wider than a small car.  However there are more reckless drivers and a lot of drunk drivers.  We would often stop in road houses for lunch or afternoon refreshments to see tables of people downing beers with rice whisky chasers, their scooters parked outside.

I'd like to finish my record of the motorcycle part of the trip with a toast to my companions of the last few days.  They are scholars and gentlemen both.  To give one small example, operating our joint finances over the last eight days there have naturally been times when we've individually ended up with short or long positions relative to the trip kitty.  We have also discussed Vietnam's desire to become a hard currency.  Given that currency's name these conversations could easily have generated any number of juvenile and tasteless puns.  But my friends, even at the end of the day when tired and emotional, have consistently maintained the highest standards of discourse.  

And who do we bump into after an hour back in Hanoi?  There is my Lilly on the street.  Be still my beating heart!.  I am shocked and a little unsure of my ground but my companions quickly intercede on my behalf and arrange for us to spend the day together on Friday.  Recognising the proprieties that need to be observed they have also generously offered to chaperon. What excellent friends!


Whee back in Hanoi - have managed to travel over 1000 km on the some of the worlds most dangerous roads and have not fallen off while moving. The journey has been one which has challenged our physical abilities, our senses and our stomach, and has left us all with a positive view of Vietnam and the people. In the country people were always keen to say hello, often the only english they had, and at times as I mentioned previously to offer us some rice wine.

In riding through the country my approach has been to assume that around the next corner there was going to be the unexpected - a hole in the road, a buffalo, motor bike or anything think else that we might not yet thought of. We generally rode in a line following Chung, one had to be careful when following Ross as he seemed to have a natural attraction to the local animals, who all seemed to decide to move out into the road
to be nearer to him which meant some level of evasive action when following behind.

The motor bike(scooters) are the main form of travel here and the incredible things we have seen been moved on them, and generally at high speed. Yesterday in Lang Song while preparing to head home the Bubblegum sales lady was parked next to us with a huge storage compartment on the back, then she came out and loaded several more boxes on top and away she went.

Some transport highlights
       - a pyramid of boxes 8 ft high
       - fish in plastic bags hanging off poles
       - building materials
       - eight pigs stacked four by four ( fully grown)
We left Lang Song all feeling that we had mastered the motorbike and roads of Vietnam until we then hit the traffic of Hanoi - traffic in all directions, buses that  zig zagged across the lanes merging traffic and now we went from a few motor bikes to hundreds.

Off to see the sights of anoi with Lilly - TBC.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sons of Anarchy


We seemed to have had great luck with the lack of rain given it is the beginning of the rainy season, yesterday after leaving the water fall we drove to our destination being chased by the storm. As we arrived at our hosts house the rain came down.We had a great night at our hosts house with as mentioned previously by Ross much table banging of empty whisky glasses, or possibly thunder and lightening of the storm - it all to seemed to get a bit confused.

Various sayings have developed over the trip and Len has mentioned a few, "I know it is your alcohol free day but" is another. The local people are keen to share and befriend us, the day before yesterday when we stopped for one of our drink breaks, these are essential as the temperature and humidity have both been high, we were sitting drinking our cold tea when a local from the next table appeared glass and bottle in hand to share with us some of his rice whiskey,  having skulled the drink we were on the bikes and away frightened that we might have had to spend the afternoon being polite.

After a slow start today due to some motorbike maintenance, we headed to our next port of call. Roads significantly better sealed and almost allowed two cars on them, generally however we only struck larger trucks labouring up the hills or broken down on the side of the road and the driver working to repair them. Lunch was at the border station to China the destination for the many trucks.

Now in the final city before we blast our way down to Hanoi in the morning - a tradition of the trip has been the coffee meeting at 6 am - but for tomorrow morning we are all allowed to relax a little and coffee will be at 7am. I think our Vietnamese guide finds it a little strange we have bought coffee from NZ to make each morning, when the beans probably came from Vietnam in the first place.

Time to retire my room partner is a sleep and gentle muttering ' Lilly Lilly' - another dream no doubt. We will bring you the climax of the journey tomorrow once we are back in Hanoi - have a few surprises for you then.
We have become a little casual about the scenery with the dramatic kast country continuing day after day.  The valleys mostly have intensively farmed flats - rice paddies with some market garden activities. Corn is grown where there is not enpugh water for rice.  The hills rise vertically - granite and limestone with patches of forest clinging to the sides.  Rice planting is late this year as the summer rains have not arrived (what we have had is brief precursor showers).  The nursery rice fields are a striking verdant green.  Farmers in coolie hats and numerous water buffalo complete the classic rural postcard.
After arriving here in Lang Son last night and washing the dust and grime off we took a short motorbike ride to the local cave.  It was also a Bhuddist shrine and a shrine to the local religion, which is a mix of Bhuddism and (I think) Taoist.  The shrines could be described as cleverly lit, or as a bit plastic tacky, depending on your mood.  Moving further into the cave there was a reflective pool and lots of bats squeaking.  At the top the stalagatites were brilliantly lit by the late afternoon sun pouring through a high portal.  We climbed up to this entrance for some great views over a river and green rice fields fringed with town buildings.
Place names can be amusing.  For quite a whilie we followed milestones towards Phuk Hoa.  The border town where we had a superb lunch is Don Dang.  

Welcome dear readers to my last blog instalment while actually in transit.

First some great Vietnamese qualities I've observed on this trip:

  • Friendly
  • Hard working (esp the women) but like to relax
  • Can do attitude
  • Like to laugh
  • Very hospitable

And a few things I wish they'd learn (how presumptuous of me):

  • how to form a queue
  • smoking causes cancer
  • how to design a bathroom. 

The ride today was mostly those long sweeping roads that allow plenty of time for reflection.
Decided that I should attend core strengthening classes.
Decided that I quite enjoy this writing lark.
As regular readers of this blog will have observed I'm not much of a travel writer but I do think it would be fun to have a go at something bigger.  Have decided on a non-fiction mystery for my first project.  Book will be about the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of my grandfather's estate.  I anticipate that writing the ending will be challenging as the mystery remains unsolved, but I note that never stopped Joe Karem or David Yallop.  Might ask Lilly to help me write it.

Its now the last night of the trip which leaves me a bit reflective.  Its been a wonderful time but I'm also ready to get back to Hanoi.  Will I see Lilly again?  And if so how will I be received?  All will be revealed soon!

Wild Hogs

Another good day in the saddle. Although the saddle wasn't always kind to it's contact point.
We started from Bao Lac on Highway 3 and our first significant spell of two lane sealed highway in good order with lots of long sweeping curves. So easy until the centre line eventually disappeared, the while big trucks carrying full size containers didn't. We eventually came across one completely blocking the road and at a very awkward angle. After a verge crawl around the side we cam across a limping lass picking up her scooter. Long truck skid marks told more of the story. A gathering crowd and mounting traffic queues meant we rode on.

We turned of the highway at the small town of Quang Uyen and continued on incredibly rough roads to the border, our passage being periodically delayed by 24 wheelers loaded with export goods and grinding at a walking pace through the giant potholes. Just before the border we stopped at the local caves – which were world class limestone. Large cathedral spaces and smaller passages, giant wedding cake structures and a huge variety of stalactites and mites. Part way through the cave a group of school children caught us up and asked for mementos of NZ. We gave them some $1 and $2 coins and they became our close friends. Their teacher was an immaculately dressed young woman in a white blouse and high heels, which must have been a real challenge on the uneven cave floor. We felt really scruffy in our dust covered riding gear, so were astounded when they got back to the car park and all climbed onto motor scooters (3 to a bike).

From the cave it was 3 kms to the border and the biggest waterfalls in Vietnam. Well worth the considerable effort to visit and I'm hopeful that the photos of the falls across the paddy fields and from the bamboo raft will illustrate just how good. A swim under the falls by Len and I kept the locals amused and lowered our temperature considerably as it was probably about 36 degrees..

A 75km ride back to the guest house completed the day. This started on wonderful, sealed winding roads through paddy fields set amongst limestone towers. After riding through a tunnel cave things started to degenerate as we got back onto border trucking routes through the steep hills. The gathering storm sucked up the light, making it hard to see the potholes and even approaching bikes. We have learnt to ride big holes in the road without much flinching but the thought of riding greasy roads in near dark was not appealing, so it was with some relief we arrived back in town at 5:40 – long before normal dark, but in deep gloom. As we rode into the homestay the heavens opened.

Dinner was superb – spring roles, tofu balls, beetel leaf wraps, bean sprout beef and other dishes. Our host produced a bottle of rice whiskey which was drunk in numerous shot toasts – complete with slamming glass down. It's surprising I can continue with this blog.

I had wanted to talk about the many interesting things we see on the road – but it will need to wait – an interesting debate is running on NZ ecconomic policy – although it may be slightly fueled with Chivas Regal (we felt we needed to add a New Zealand flavour by proposing shot toasts with whisky and calls of “Kia Kaha”).


Thanks to the roads impacting the computer it was difficult to do a blog for yesterday, so we left this to Ross and went to bed, but we are now managing on a quarter screen. As Ross commented, yesterday was a focus on riding and staying on the bikes on roads which were extreme – I do not think back home anyone would consider them roads. Based on years of experience Ross commented that in riding one should not focus on the immediate potholes in front but have a broad view of what is ahead. Having tried to follow this I have decided that a focus on the immediate is important to minimise impact on ones body.

I have come to dislike the local buses if you ever come to Vietnam avoid the local buses in the North, this will dramatically increase your chances of a long life. The buses go up and down the hills at full throttle. In a small village we stopped for drinks and outside the drinks stop a local bus was being cleaned – hosed out on the inside. Commenting on this the response was that this was probably required to get rid of the vomit from the inside of the bus.

As Ross has commented today a great trip to see the magniciant caves – hopefully our photos will work and you will be able to get some feel for what we saw. The same applies to the water fall where Ross and Len decided to go for a swim – again hopefully the photos will work.

One of the impressions of Vietnam is the positive nature of the people and no matter how remote the village you will still find power and a good infrastructure. Power and Broadband everywhere – it seems that a centrally controlled government can achieve more than some other forms of government.

Any way to sum up 'Arses are sore but spirits are positive'

Also just a short note from me to add to yesterday's commentary on riding styles. Ross and Mark had a different description of my riding. 'Rides it like its hired and someone else is paying for the petrol.' Humphf! Chung's comment was 'its usually the most competent rider who falls'. A much more perceptive comment I thought – and from a trained professional. However my 'friends' proceeded to burst my bubble by pointing out the ambiguity in Chung's comment. Bubble burst again.
Finally, have decided that T-shirt lady is an inadequate name for one I hold in such fond regard. Until I find out her real name I've decided I'll call her Lilly.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The worlds fastest Indian

Day 5 - and a real focus on the biking.
Writing this has some challenges as the netbook screen got broken - not totally surprising given the state of the roads.  So I have a small area of the screen that works and have to find inventive ways to start applications. Having created the blog I've had to transfer it to the hotel computer - and work with a machine that seems to have come off the arc.  Sorry no pictures yet - can't think how i will use Picassa in quarter of a screen.  Ross
Subtitle: Pride cometh before a fall
Started the ride with some lovely long sweeping bends.  I was feeling very relaxed and got into trying a few different riding styles for size.  Peter Fonda Easy rider style is laid back, low revs, imagine no helmet, drop handle bars, born to be wild playing in the background.  Next its cafe racer style, head down, feet back harder on the gears and into the corners.  John Wayne, straight back comes next, you get the idea.  Was feeling pretty pleased with my riding at the rest stop.  Starting out again only a couple of minutes on the bike and I go round an easy corner at modest speed.  Next thing I know my front wheel is scrubbing out, gravity is doing its thing .  Have a brief moment to contemplate whether I can blame anyone or anything else for my predicament and realise I can't as I kiss the pavement.   Botheration!  Worst hurt was my pride, next my pants, then a few bony places.  At this point I was grateful for the knee and elbow pads that the touring company made us wear. 
While entirely my fault I do blame Ross for the damage to my pants.  Being more 'fashion forward' than me Ross had taken to wearing his knee pads under his trousers.   While making  a fashion statement this also helped reduce the laughter from the Vietmanese kids we passed (geriatric skateboarder?)  anyway I had foolishly copied Ross's fashion lead today despite knowing that the pants were at risk.  Lead astray again!   
Actually - wearing pants over knee pads keeps them in place and reduces injury.  Pants cheap- knees expensive.
The scenery today was probably impressive and had we been travelling through here having not been in the mountains we would have been stopping every 5 minutes for photos.  Instead we had a day where the riding took precedence.  Len's momentary lapse of reason aside, we had a wonderful time riding the curves, keeping the revs up and slowly improving. It's so like ski-ing, but with more serious consequences for mistakes.  After lunch we had 30kms of road works.  Not just gravel sections but long spells of barely formed roads, big rocks and a spell of waiting while blast fall was cleared.  No red lights or stop/go signs, although there was the odd 5km speed limit notice where bridges were missing.  The bikes coped incredibly well although the computer was clearly tested.  
This morning in Bao Lac the town was crowded with market activity and I doubt we could have got through the crowds on the main street on our bikes.  New houses were being constructed, with simple petrol winches, hauling buckets of concrete 4 floors up.  On the road a team of 6 fed the mixer, filled the bucket and operated the winch.  Some wore hard hats, but not those working on bucket filling.
Breakfast was Pho (noodle soup) from a small shop off the market.  With afters of honeycomb and papaya. A great start to the day.   On the way out of town we had a 20 minute delay in a crowd (not a queue, more like a scrum) waiting for petrol.  Entertainment was provided by the police harassing a pillion passenger for riding without her helmet done up.  Given that less that half the riders wear helmets it was clearly a "meet quota" or revenue exercise.   With our tanks filled Chung departed with a sudden alacrity, very keen that we didn't provide easy revenue for some imagined infringement.
We are staying in an upmarket hotel in Cao Bang.  This is a major city, but foreigners are still a rarity.  Our guide, Chung is the only other English speaker we have met.  It creates a few interesting challenges - esp when we left Chung behind to explore town on our own - no map, no guide, no clues at all really.  
Dinner in the old quarter was another gastronomic delight.  Very light on the fish sauce, some chilli.but some other subtle spices that need more research.  
It's now 10:30pm - late for us.  Len and Mark are probably already sleeping as I battle with this old computer.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Blazing Saddles

 We are woken for an early start with a loud speaker playing patriotic music and making public announcements. Following this as we try to doze as the noise of pigs in distress gradually starts to build up. It appears that our hotel rooms are located just above the pig selling area of the local market. Pigs arrive in bags on poles and some dragged along on a piece of string - welcome to the day.
After the now traditional morning coffee it is down to the market to evaluate the various items on display and see what useful things we might get to bring back to NZ.  A new breakfast today rice dumpling with egg and pork, with a chive soup for dipping this in. This is had sitting on the 'traditional' Vietnamese plastic stool - very similar to a pre-school size.
Then it is a 20 km ride back into the mountains to the Black Flag Staff - this is the furthermost point north in Vietnam and from here you are on the China - Vietnam border. This is apparently a very popular place for the Vietnamese to come and visit.
We then head to our next stopping point Bao Lac City - driving through some absolutely incredible landscapes. Having described the previous day as fantastic and one before as awesome I am not sure what the next level is. The rocky nature of the country had some of the rock type appearance as central Otago but here the scale was significantly  more dramatic and intense, as you rode through some of the passes the landscape just hit you.
As we drive up and down these incredible hills at any time you can come across hill people walking along the road side, sometimes with huge loads of items on their backs. The distance that they must travel would often be considerable coming down to the town for market and returning back following this.

Some common phrases of geriatric bikers:

  • Has anyone seen my reading glasses?
  • @#$%! that was close!
  • What was the name of that last town again? again?
  • Anyone feel like a beer?
  • A pit stop soon would be good
  • I'm having a bit of trouble getting my leg over
  • What is that smell?
  • 1 down 4 up, 1 down 4 up
  • No, you can't put that in the blog.
Comment of the day:
  • I didn't realise that it was possible to snore and burp at the same time until I shared a room with you

Interesting discussions so far:

  • The price of milk
  • The impact of corn on the development of society
  • MYOB vs Xero
  • Raising children and the nature-nurture debate
  • Selling state assets
  • Mother of the bride dresses (this has been solved and all will be revealed)
  • Motorcycles of our youth

With Mark having described the day and Len having done the philosophising it falls to me to add something erudite.  But after a long day getting very saddle sore and a couple of beers - it's  not going to happen.  The title of this blog is not so much about the burning saddles as the heat associated with parts in contact with it.

My bike has been running poorly for the last couple of days and Chuong replaced the coil today.  It has made a great difference to both the bike and my riding.  There are spells where the mountain roads flow and the line on every corner is perfect and safe.  Then there are times when it doesn't.  Much of this is just relaxing, looking ahead,  looking wide and not braking in the corners.  The relaxing bit gets upset quite easily: a downpour, steep drop offs or just lack of zen.
Lunch was rather strange.  We tend to eat in small local places - usually there are no big international places anyway, but we are trying to eat a completely local diet.  Today Chuong had chosen a place that looked like a normal lunch stop.  As usual the bathroom was out the back and I wandered off to wash the road dust and sweat off.  It was a bit surprising to go past several bedrooms on the way, but many families combine business and home, so I thought no more about it.   The proprietor's daughters were watching television at the back of the restaurant - and were dressed in a style that was more Hanoi brief than local Hmong modest, but no different from bored teenagers everywhere.
Back at the table, Choung explains that the proprietor has 7 or 8 girls working at the restaurant for the tourist trade (Lunch with benefits). I am about to say there seem far too many waitresses doing bugger all when he provides a much more explicit explanation.   Lunch is fairly subdued after that - although the fish was very good.  I don't think Chuong will be choosing the same style of restaurant for the rest of the trip.
Continuing on the same theme:  There is a variety of ground plant (I think it's related to acacia) who's leaves close up instantly when touched.  Chuong explains that it is virgin grass - shy when touched.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Day 3 - Easy Riders

What a day riding the narrow mountain roads, like a 150km long series of Takaka hills.  Our bikes and ourselves were well tested - and both were showing their age.  The 160cc bikes are possibly 15 years old and after climbing steeply for 700m at a time we noticed they were struggling to keep up with our requests.  Our biking reflexes are still being rediscovered and in the constant gear changing, braking, accelerating and hunting for the right line the odd missed gear and poor line were inevitable.  The right line was a particular challenging on the 3.5m sealed strip of road.  The insides of most hairpins and many moderate corners were deeply potholed and with no spare power picking a line that would be safe from overloaded trucks and speeding buses was sometimes challenging.  When the roads opened up to sweeping open sections it was even greater fun.
The riding by itself would have been a great day, but the scenery and people made it even more remarkable for this is spectacular kast country with vertical limestone formations, big mountains and other strange geological formations.  As we entered the hills the people changed, with most of the villages being ethnic minorities, many still wearing traditional clothing.   The kids all wave and Vietnamese tourists take pictures of the strange foreign tourists.  Morning tea was from the Hmong market - a variety of deep fried pastries.
Dinner is ready - plenty more for the others to add after dinner.

Bike and rider are operating like...  Well, actually only the bike is well oiled.  Get's its chain done every morning.  Rider is over-enthusiastic and clumsy.  Bike is strong, responsive and forgiving.
May open duty free Chivas Regal this evening.  Best chance of me getting well-oiled I suspect.
Have been called over-enthusiastic and clumsy before but having a mental block about when.
Discussion on merits of naming our bikes after significant others.  Married men instantly reject.  Poor taste, worst idea ever.
Wonder if T-shirt lady is strong, responsive and forgiving.  Wonder what T-shirt lady would look like well-oiled, but quickly dismiss thought as bunking with Mark tonight.
As Ross, said trip today was oarsome.
Everything felt so much better after a good night's sleep.  Head touched pillow at 8:00 pm.  Asleep at 8:01.  Woke at 4:00 and spent some time thinking of family before it got light.  Was reminded of my grandfather who, following grandmother's death, found a young Chinese-Malay companion.  Lilly became a valued family member.   Her work ethic was particularly admired.  In fact, my mother frequently referred to Lilly as a gold-digger, which I took to be a reference to the very hard working Chinese miners who arrived in NZ during the gold rush.  Sadly Lilly had to depart for family reasons shortly after Grandfather became incontinent.  Great pity.
Discover I am best speller in group.
Really had fun today.  Winding roads, superb scenery.  Mossies coming out now so must wind up.
Disclaimer: Any resemblance between this blog and actual persons living or deceased is unintended and completely coincidental.
Additional disclaimer for my mother:  don't worry, no one believes anything they read on the Internet.

As usual I am allocated the last spot, I think this is due to be being the worst speller and hardly able to string sentences together after a day on the bike and two beers.
I do however think the other two have under stated the day the scenery and the over all impact on all the senses of the day. From high towering hills surrounding us in all directions to the amazing colourful clothing worn by the local people to the mindless speed the local buses coming down or going up the roads.
The ride is like continuously going up and down the Takaka hill (but several times higher) on roads that the average NZ dairy farmer would be looking to spend money on improving, which are probably a third narrower than the Takaka road. Into this throw the buses above, large trucks and numerous motorcycles.
The motorcycle loads range in shape and size, it is not unusual to see mum , dad and several children all on the small scooter going up and down the hills. (Frances - I think a car is probably not needed). One of the loads that stuck in my mind was the scooter dragging behind it a number of huge bamboo logs.
Another impression is one comes down from the mountains into the little villages, the first thing you notice is the road suddenly widens out to well sealed 15 -20 m wide stretch with no traffic on it. For me the second thing is some of the smells as you pass through, today we certainly did a spice village the sudden impact as we pass through hits you like a wave. Others included the wonderful smell of french bread and another which was absolutely fantastic but I could not work it out.

We are here for the biking, Len had a perfect day today no nears misses or any other issues to report. Ross is learning ballet on one corner this morning he went through several complicated leg and feet displays before deciding that doing this on a bike was probably the the best thing. I had a little lie down while taking a photo when the bike and I decide we really did need a rest - I blame this on Ross who distracted me while taking a photo.

PS high light for dinner tonight was a spicy (flavour not hot) fish pieces our amazing guide Chung explained it is a fish with a snake head.