Friday, December 30, 2011

Honda Semi-Automatics

All modern motorbikes are measured by 2 progenitors: the Honda Cub and the Piaggio Vespa.  Both of these deserve their own posts but briefly touch on the Cub below, and the Vespa in a "Vintage" post later.
First off, Honda is the undisputed king of motorbikes here. Ever since Honda offered the cub here, they've owned the market.  And with good reason: the cub was awesome -- you still see them here -- mostly old, busted up, but still kickin' delivery bikes.  Alas, a few of the old ones are still looking good and they all have many thousands of kilometers left on them.  They're very small, though, and quirky.

The next generation of these bikes was the Dream, but the current version -- the Wave -- dominates the landscape here.  It's what the Xe Om's ride, which should tell you about their durability.  I owned one for awhile and loved it. I gave it to my father-in-law and got a SYM Excel (more about that later).  The Cub, Chaly, Custom CL, Dream, and Wave are semi-automatics, meaning that you shift gears with your foot, but you don't need to pull a clutch in when you do so, like with regular motorcycles.

Honda Semi-Automatics (AKA "Underbones")

50cc Little Cub.  Cute!

Honda Chaly -- All these are 50cc.  Very popular with the older ladies.

Honda CL 50 Custom -- often bored out to100cc here.

Honda Cub, Chaly, and CL Custom:
Displacement: 50, 70, 90, and 100 CCs
Price: $200-800.  CL Customs can run up to $1500.

98 Honda Dream.  Honda still makes these, btw.

Honda Dream, Dream 2, and Super Dream:
Displacement: 100 and 110 CCs
Price $200-700

2006 Honda 110 Wave

Honda Wave
Displacement: 100, 110
$200 - 800

2010 Honda Future
Honda Future
Displacement: 125 cc
Price: $700 to 1500

Does it look like a Wave?  Yep. Though Honda Futures can be either carbureted or fuel injected.  They're slightly bigger than a Wave but a Wave 110 with a 20cc bore kit does the same thing for all intents and purposes I can think of.

Next up: Yamaha Semi-Automatics

Motorbikes in Vietnam home

SYM Semi-Automatics

SYM Semi-Automatics

Everybody knows about Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki.  SYM, though, started in Taipei in 1954, is steadily growing its signature on the international radar and is producing some really  cool bikes.  The really cool ones are NOT the semi-automatics, btw. They basically clone other bikes, but are pretty good quality.  These are not Chinese crap bikes.  SYM is actually slightly less popular than Yamaha here.  That puts it number 3 in perhaps the biggest motorbike market on Earth.  I have yet to see an expat riding a SYM semi-automatic (though their automatics are really popular here).  But here they are, fyi:

SYM Angel

It's a Wave copy.  Not a bad one, either.  They're almost as good and cheaper out of the gate:  A new one costs about $600.  You can pick up an old beater for $100 and change and be confident that there are about a billion Chinese after-market parts here to keep it afloat.

SYM Magic

SYM also makes a decent Honda Dream clone called a SANDA.  For the picture, imagine a Honda Dream and put SYM on it where it says Honda. 

And that does it for semi-automatics in Vietnam, folks.  This underbone style is very popular here.  The design is dependable, requires little maintenance, and lends itself to a slew of aftermarket mods.  The fastest bikes per cc here are some of the tricked-out semi's:

Pee Your Pants Fun!  Dragster Honda Wave by KTL Technic, HCMC

If you're tired of switching gears or just want something easy, or just want to go pure luxury, it's time to check out the automatics.

If you really love bigger bikes or just love the nostalgia of pulling that clutch, check out full manuals and other cool bikes in subsequent posts at Motorbikes in Vietnam home.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kawasaki Semi-Automatics

As for Kawasaki Semi-Automatics, there is only one worth mentioning -- in fact, it's the only bike Kawasaki markets here -- and I don't think you'll be riding one of these light, tiny, zippy things.

A tricked-out Kawasaki Max
That is the Kawasaki Max. New, these 120s cost $600 and quickly depreciate to about $250.  Even a tricked out one like in the image above will cost only a few hundred dollars.   They are quick little suckers, though, because they're so light.  Street racers like these and, with a few upgrades can make these things do wheelies.  These are small cheapo bikes for small people.

Next up: SYM Semi-automatics

Back to Motorbikes in Vietnam home

Suzuki Semi-Automatics

Suzuki Semi-Automatics.

I don't think you'll get one of these, so I won't say much.

Suzuki has marketed a few sputtering, 2-stroke semi-automatics here.  They're sputtery 2-strokes, which means that they sputter, emit smoke, and have a lot of ZING!

For some reason, they're also really expensive.

A zippy, sputtery, expensive Suzuki Sport RGX
These run $1500 to $4000 with the really tricked out running at $7000 +.  Again, this is not an expat bike.  It's really fast but not a good size/bang for the buck at this price. If you want an expat bike in this price range, see other cool bikes.

That said, you can find an FX 125 here that will cost $400-600, with extra sputtering.

A 2005 Suzuki Sputter, I mean FX.
Next up: Kawasaki Semi-Automatics

Motorbikes in Vietnam home

Yamaha Semi-Automatics

Yamaha Semi-Automatics: same-same but very slightly different than a Wave.

Yamaha Sirius
If it looks like a Wave, that's because it is Yamaha's version of the Wave.  I've ridden them and can't tell a difference between the two. Before the Sirius was the Jupiter, which you can still find for 400-500.

Displacement: 110 CC
Price: $400-900

2008 Yamaha Exciter
The Yamaha Exciter
Displacement: 135cc
Cost: $1100 to $2000

These are rockets. They're built for performance and their price shows it.  For my money, I'd get a Wave 110, bore it out to 130cc (which I, in fact, did), put some other performance goodies on there and still have enough money left over for... another Wave.  That said, this bike makes a statement.  And is probably an object of desire amongst thieves, accordingly.

Next up: Suzuki Semi Automatics

Motorbikes in Vietnam home.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thu Thiem Tunnel Drive Through

Here's a video of the new Thu Thiem tunnel.  It connects District 2 (where we live) to District 1.  It cut a good 15 minutes off my commute, which is bumped up my quality of life.  It's truly well engineered (Japanese), which puts up as one of the most technologically advanced projects in the country. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

One Burger 'n Adrenaline Rush, please

My hunt for a decent hamburger in Saigon has come to an end.  Mogambo Cafe' does the real deal.  We ate a Super Mogambo Burger, with cheese and their "special sauce" today.  It's a high-quality double-decker.  Imagine a Big Mac, but actually good.  Fresh, oven-baked bread and New Zealand beef.  We split one and got a Coke, with fries, for 210,000 VN (just over $10.)  Expensive?  Yes.  Good? Absolutely.  As good as any burger I ever had.  And that says alot: I was such a burger conesiour that I simply gave up trying to eat a decent burger here.  It's something about how they grind the beef here, I think.  It's just icky to me.  But upon a buddy's recommendation, Veni, vidi, vici.
Mogambo Cafe: 50 Pasteur, District 1.

That's the burger, now for the adrenaline rush.

So, we left there and Hang says we're going to the "5d" movie now.  The nerd in me is laughing.  Ha ha, 5d.

We get there and enter the waiting room.  They give us cold bottled water and ask us to choose a "phim" and have a seat.  I choose #1 "Paradise Coaster."  First of about 20 different choices.  I watch the LCD monitor of the people now on the ride/movie.  It's one of those 3d hydraulically-controlled deals. "Ha ha, look at them hold on to hand rail.  Noobs."  I rode the looping roller coaster at Dam Sem park with hands in the air.  Yea, I'm an old pro.

Then, oh. my. god.  Insane.  I told my brain "that isn't real, this isn't real," but my brain refused.  That's all I'll say.  You'll have to do it.  The video below looks cartoonish; it is.  But your brain won't believe it once you lift off.

Actually more exhilarating than paragliding in Nha Trang, dare I say (which is really quite relaxing), the 3 to 5 minutes on this ride is enough.  Any more and they'd paramedics on stand-by.

World Rider 5D  18 Nguyen Trai st., W.3 District 5 (not District 1!).  50,000 VND

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wave 110 convert to a 130. Fast as hell.

Hey all,

My cousin (VinaSun driver by day, gearhead by night) just bored out my Wave 110 to a 130 and rebuilt my carburetor to feed it. I just blew away all the kids on the way back home. Incredible upgrade. No Chinese bull####. 3M VND puts you way ahead of the Future and deep into 125-150 (Airblade, SH) territory. Best $150 I've spent here. Take my bike out for a spin to feel this noticeably stronger power.


Friday, June 17, 2011

A couple of days in Cambodia blew my mind

We returned from Cambodia a couple of days ago and it has taken me that long to process the experience enough to present some coherent thoughts. Well, at least I hope they're coherent. I'm still making sense of it. The experience itself was dream-like.

Your humble author, 5:30 a.m., Angkor Wat, Cambodia.  Before coffee.  Not awake.

First and foremost, Cambodia is beautiful. It is a gorgeous, voluptuously verdant land. Similar to the rice-paddy and fruit-tree landscapes of Vietnam's southern Mekong area, but greener, more watery, and full of more trees. It is sparsely populated, so you see a lot more space everywhere between houses.  After living in the confines of Vietnam for awhile, just being out where I could see land horizon to horizon was rejuvenating. 

However, as beautiful as it was, I could never for a second get the gruesomeness of war and the hopelessness of brutality out of my mind.

While surveying the watery green countryside, my mind kept interjecting thoughts about all the bombs dropped on this country (more than the US dropped in all of World War 2).  The country is sparsely populated for a couple of reasons, one being it got blown to hell.   While looking out the bus window (and I strongly encourage people to take the bus for the views [no trains carry passengers now]) I couldn't help but imagine this luscious landscape being destroyed so completely, so technically, so impersonally.   This juxtaposition of beauty and destruction colored my entire (though brief) trip.  I really just wanted to see the countryside and visit the temples, then go back home.

Ta Phrom near Angkor Wat.  Roots eating ancient stone.

But something compelled me to want to probe even further, into the brutality and hopelessness that accompanied all that destruction.

After seeing the temples and ruins, we decided to spend some time in Phnom Penh both to see the city and also to visit the Killing Fields, just about 15 kilometers outside the city. And this brings me to the second reason the country is so sparsely populated -- why you can see big yards, open fields, and lone houses: so many, millions, of people were just... slaughtered.  The movie does a good job of depicting what went down, but "it" remains so far removed still.  Seeing the toothless, bashed skulls, the clothes; walking around and realizing you have to be careful not to step on bones still protruding from the ground; listening to children playing and laughing, within earshot; seeing a family tend to some fish traps quite possibly just beside a mass grave; hearing the exotic birds singing amidst the solemn quiet of it all -- I don't know the word for the feeling. 

Hang felt sickened by it; I was just deep in thought, in feeling, my senses open, my heart and mind befuddled by it all: so beautiful, so poignant, this place where being and nothingness manifested for a time.  It was just a few years ago, really.

Bones one the foot trail though Choeung Ek, the Killing Fields

Time, though, bends like toffee in Cambodia.  Everywhere you look, history looks back at you, not as something "historical" might, like that "in some year, so and so did such and such", but instead, it looks back at you with eyes, with cut limbs, with the interrupted lines of an incomplete carving that some artisan long ago abandoned before he could finish it. 

Yes, that is the word.  Interrupted.  The place feels interrupted.  Broken, discontinuance.  That is how the place is and that is how I felt.  It's not a bad feeling; it just is what it is.  It's like looking at broken mirror, each of the shards of which reflect something different.  One shard, something beautiful, another, something unfathomably brutal.  Sometimes, both of these in the same reflection.

Looking down a hallways, Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
 All in all, it was a short but profound trip.  I echo here Lonely Planet's entreaty to stay longer than a couple of days.  It's worth it and lord knows that the people could use the dollars and positive press.  This post is probably my darkest -- after all, Cambodia is what "the heart of darkness" was all about in Apocalypse Now -- but I want to reiterate something: from little I saw, I'd put Cambodia is one of the prettiest places I've seen.  Of course, looking at it all from trails, bus windows, and Tuk-tuks (moto remorks) isn't the same as getting out in it: it looks like some pretty difficult country.  But then again, that difficulty is what makes adventures.

A cow-driven pottery seller in Phom Penh, nearly the same from since a long time ago

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Crime, Violence, Peace, and Safety in Vietnam

Some people are understandably concerned about crime and violence here. A recent article, Expats clamor over crime, describes some of the responses by expats on the heals of a US State Department (the Consulate here) warning.

I was wondering why I just didn't share the same intensity and perceptions about Vietnam as some others do. See Reason # 8 Vietnam beats Mexico -- Safety Though just chance has something to do with it (wrong place, wrong time), perception and experience play a part, too. For example, I almost got my wallet lifted in Quy Nhon, but I noticed the guy behind me, stalking me, and turned around and faced him. I told his punk a$$ to move along. Crisis avoided because I was just normally aware. That said, more than once people here have noticed that my wallet was exposed (pretty much hanging out of my pocket) and told me about it.

But back to my point. Here is the 2011 edition of the Global Peace Index, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace. (pdf)

Vietnam is at 30, while the US is at 82. Those from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the UK are going to probably think of Vietnam as relatively more crime-ridden than I do. I can understand why.

In sum: yes, there's crime and violence, but it's better than what I've experienced in general in the US. To my South African compadres: enjoy some good, relatively safe, times here. I sure am. And those who have spent time in some of the lower-ranked countries on this list will most likely find their stay here a pretty good one in terms of relative safety.

Of course, this doesn't speak to traffic! In the final analysis, watch yourself just as you should anywhere, make friends, and get a good helmet.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

My Song Saigon Alive

A little jazzy song I made on about living in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City.  Whatever.  It's all good :-)

Edit: And here is the fast version. I was a bit proud of myself for belting this all out in one shot. I now have a lot of respect for cats like Bus Driver who can spit faster than this all night. Whew!