motorbikes / Vietnam

Lock, Stock and Two Rusting Motorcycles

We’ve just concluded a week hanging out and exploring the caves in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, home to the world’s largest cave, Sơn Đoòng.  Though we were sadly unable to see it, we did manage to spend some time in the nearby Tu Lan cave system as well as Hang En, third largest in the world and gateway to Sơn Đoòng.  It’s been an amazing week, and I can’t wait to share the story soon.

In the meantime, I’ll share another story: the tale of Beetlejuice and Thunderbird One, our motorcycles (mine and his, respectively).

Ever since the day we bought them in Saigon, they have been nothing but trouble.  But, what can one expect for $280?  H.J. insists it is the best bike he has ever owned … hmmm.

Though I’ve been tracking our troubles as they happen, we have yet to tally up the total damage.  Since we’ve gotten a few questions on this subject, we put together a “repair report” summarizing all the work we’ve put into them thus far.

First up, Beetlejuice:

  • 11.30.2013 | An Binh, Vietnam: broken headlight ($0.47)
  • 12.11.2013 | Phú Quốc, Vietnam: ignition replaced ($7.14)
  • 12.14.2013 | Châu Đốc, Vietnam: luggage rack re-welded ($0.95)
  • 12.18.2013 | Vũng Tàu, Vietnam: snapped throttle cable ($7.14)
  • 12.19.2013 | Mũi Né, Vietnam: rear shock replacement ($16.66)
  • 12.25.2013 | Đà Lạt, Vietnam: chain tightened, hole in the exhaust pipe, general tune-up ($4.00)
  • 01.01.2013 | Pleiku, Vietnam: broken front fender ($7.62)
  • 01.03.2013 | Kon Tum, Vietnam: flat tire ($2.86)
  • 01.06.2013 | Hội An, Vietnam: chain tightened, general tune-up, oil change ($5.95)
  • 01.11.2013 | Huế, Vietnam: foot peg pads and front brake pads replaced ($4.76)
  • 01.13.2013 | Huế, Vietnam: spark plug replaced ($0.95)
  • 01.16.2013 | Phong Nha, Vietnam: chains tightened, again ($1.42)

Total Beetlejuice damage?  $58.50.  Not to be outdone, Thunderbird One had some tricks up his sleeve as well:

  • 11.30.2013 | An Binh, Vietnam: broken headlight ($0.47)
  • 12.19.2013 | Mũi Né, Vietnam: ignition replaced ($3.81)
  • 12.25.2013 | Đà Lạt, Vietnam: chain tightened, general tune-up ($4.00)
  • 01.06.2013 | Hội An, Vietnam: oil change, chain tightened, general tune-up ($5.95)
  • 01.06.2013 | Hội An, Vietnam, take 2: hole in gas tank repaired ($3.80)
  • 01.08.2013 | Hội An, Vietnam, take 3: luggage rack re-welded ($5.71)
  • 01.13.2013 | A Lưới, Vietnam: electrical problems ($0.95)
  • 01.13.2013 | A Lưới, Vietnam, take 2: more electrical problems, kickstarter replaced ($7.14)
  • 01.14.2013 | Phong Nha, Vietnam: chains tightened, again ($0.48)
  • 01.16.2013 | Phong Nha, Vietnam: rack made and welded to bike to hold gas canisters ($7.13)

Total Thunderbird One damage?  $32.31 and gaining quickly on Beetlejuice.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I finished this piece several days ago, intending to publish yesterday after a long day of riding.  However, yesterday's developments compel me to provide a breaking update.]

About an hour into our ride yesterday, Beetlejuice ran out of oil.  We headed back the way we came, with H’s clutch giving out about 10 minutes later.  So, add to the tally:

  • Beetlejuice | 01.21.2013 | Phong Nha, Vietnam: oil change, spark plug replaced, general tune-up, lights fixed  ($16.60)
  • Thunderbird One | 01.21.2013 | Phong Nha, Vietnam: clutch replaced ($28.46)
  • Thunderbird One | 01.21.2013 | Phong Nha, Vietnam: oil change, front forks reset, wheel bearing replaced, spark plug and wires replaced,  electrical system fixed, general tune-up  ($28.46)

Thunderbird One pulls ahead, and by a huge margin: $89.23 to Beetlejuice’s $75.10.

We still have one more month on our visa, and we plan to extend when we are in Hanoi.  Here’s hoping the pretty penny we paid for this tune-up in Phong Nha keeps them running while we’re exploring the very remote north.  Otherwise, it may be the auction block for these two…

Peace, love, and happiness,

Courtney

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11 thoughts on “Lock, Stock and Two Rusting Motorcycles

    • We head into Laos, probably with our same bikes, though we have very mixed information as to whether it’s possible to cross with our bikes. We first heard it’s not possible for foreigners, only to meet someone who has done it. We’ve heard some border crossings are ok, while others not. We’ve heard it depends on the kind of bike you have (nicer bike=less likely to cross and more likely to be charged a hefty “fee” to do so). Who knows – it’s entirely subjective and is often based on the mood of the guy at the gate.

      After, we’ll take them into Cambodia and sell them there before heading to Thailand. We want to ride in Thailand, but since their road systems are much more modern, the speeds are significantly faster. Riding our Wins there would be like riding a Vespa on I95. NO THANK YOU! Plus, it’s apparently really difficult for foreigners to bring bikes into Thailand, and we have yet to hear otherwise.

      Post-Thailand, we have a general list of countries to visit but no solid plans yet.

      • Hey!
        I’d communicated briefly on Reddit about possibly meeting in Laos (I’m currently in Thailand).
        In regards to getting into Thailand with a bike, I flew mine into Bangkok, and didn’t have any issues clearing custom at the airport….just a bit of paperwork.
        I also asked them about riding back in (as I plan to also come back to Thailand, from Cambodia, in about 6 weeks) and they said it shouldn’t be a problem to cross the border

      • Hey there! We’d love to meet up if it works out for a beer and/or a ride, though I must warn you that our bikes would have a hard time keeping up with yours. :)

        Thanks for the info on Thailand – we will probably be a few weeks behind you getting into the country, so we’ll be watching your experience closely. Our added complication is that we don’t technically “own” our bikes. We paid for them and we have the title/registration, but the paperwork is not in our name. That presents some issues here – not sure if it matters for Thailand, but seems like it could be problematic.

  1. That’d be great if it worked to meet up…I’ll keep an eye on where you’re at and see if it looks like we’re close at any point.
    And if I arrive back into Thailand before you’d be trying, I’ll let you know how it goes…when I arrived in Bangkok via air, the customs agent glanced at my title and registration for all of about a quarter of a second, so who knows how they are at the border. But then again, it could very easily vary from person to person and bike to bike

    • Hey there – so glad we joined up with you on our Hang En trek. Finishing that post right now.

      This NYT mention will surely change Phong Nha, and I think sadly for the worse, as development tends to go here in Vietnam. Also, weird that they mention Tu Lan (which is cave system, not just one cave like they indicate) and don’t give any mention to Hang En right next door to Son Doong.

      Anyway, hope you guys had a good trip back and are surviving arctic NJ. Hopefully our paths will cross again in future travels!

  2. this entire bike saga is really quite funny, but I’m also sorry you have had such a tough time! I’d love to see some pics of the actual repairs

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