Vietnam: The Long Unknown – What’s in the Bag(s)?

So what the heck does one take with them for a month long motorbike trip through Vietnam? This post could partially help with the answer…

Vietnam trip bags

I’m not good with packing. I tend to cram in completely unnecessary things and forget the essentials. Somehow vital items get carefully wrapped and packed away in a choreography of rolling and folding, yet my phone charger and toothbrush sit idly by the side. With this in mind I took it upon myself to pack the rucksack today, with the hope I’d learn from past mistakes and know exactly what I was and was not taking with me. Yes, the flight is 3 weeks away, but I like to plan early!

Firstly, initially I was only taking the rucksack. The decision to take a smaller bag became necessary as the helmet I had already bought for the trip was coming on as hand luggage, and not going in the hold of an aircraft where it’d get bashed and smashed to smithereens. There are some forums out there that suggested I wear the helmet as I board the plane, although in this day and age I doubt that’d go down well with… well, anyone. So a second bag was decided upon, which would allow me to carry daily things on the trip too, like food and water, or easy-access items such as my Canon camera. Obviously whilst riding I’ll be wearing the helmet, and when we’ve stopped the helmet will be carried with us or stowed in a hotel room.

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So what’s in the bag(s)?

Small bag:

Open face helmet, goggles (came with the helmet!), iPad, Canon 550D, 11-16mm Tokina lens, 18-135 Canon lens, 50mm Canon lens, 8mm fish-eye lens, 3x 16GB SD cards, 2x Canon batteries, GoPro Hero3, GoPro cable, 8x GoPro mounts, GoPro links, GoPro waterproof case, GoPro helmet extension arm, iPhone cable, headphones. Oh, and 8x screws… I’ll explain later!

Big bag:

Waterproof jacket and trousers, spare jeans, tennis shoes, 2x pairs of shorts, 4x socks and pants, 4x t-shirts, 1x casual shirt, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter (yes, really!), quadcopter controller, 2x Phantom batteries, Phantom charger, towel, anti-malaria tablets, bug spray, H4N Zoom microphone, pocket radio, 3.5mm audio cables.

What does all this cover?

The clothing options cover me for the travelling to and from Vietnam, riding a motorbike in both wet and dry conditions, and extras if we try the nightlife. The Canon 550D and lenses covers me for both photography and any video documenting. The GoPro and all the accessories cover the video aspect of us (“Clarence” and I) on the bikes. The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter is, quite simply, a radical piece of kit to shoot video from the air and provide awesome shots of us on the bikes. Totally unnecessary and overboard, but wicked nonetheless.

What’s with the microphone and cables?

Well, we’re not making a piece-to-camera documentary of our travels. However, I do have somewhat of an idea in mind for a video. Of course I’ll want to share a kick-ass video with you when this trip is all over. So the mic will record wild-track (essentially a few minutes of ambient sound of a particular area for the edit process), as well as recorded sound of the bikes, etc. I also have an idea to start and end the video as if a radio is being tuned in, so the pocket radio and cables will allow me to scroll through several frequencies and capture real-life radio in Vietnam and use that sample for the video. The items are small enough to be inconsequential to the weight of the rucksack anyway.

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Security is another thing that I’ve been concerned with. Clearly neither “Clarence” or I want to be kidnapped, robbed or to ride off a cliff and never be found. With me being a geek, I’ve set up some measures to help us along the way.

Firstly, both bags have a bluetooth tracking device installed. There’s also one on my keys, and I’ll likely stick one on the bike (for a giggle). These TrackR StickR devices communicate with an App on my iPhone, and keep regular track of where the items are. If any go missing, I can use the App to see their last known locations, and hone in on them. The devices also communicate two-way, so by pressing a button on the bluetooth device (which is no bigger than a pound coin) the iPhone rings. Or I can press a button on the App, and the TrackR rings. Fingers crossed these items work as they should and nothing goes missing.

One major benefit to the TrackR App is that if I do lose an item, and someone else is running the App, and they are in close proximity to a missing device, their App (without pairing) will update the last known location on my map. So something hundreds of miles away could still be found, thanks to another TrackR user and their “Crowd GPS” function.

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Secondly, I’ve installed an app on my iPhone called FollowMee. This App runs in the background and updates my location to a server online. If there’s no internet connection is records the GPS data anyway and uploads it whenever it gets the chance. It’s also clever in that it doesn’t run the battery flat with unnecessary uploads as it only updates if the location has changed, and by the specified update times I choose (anything from every minute to every 12 hours).

The benefit of this App is that our friends and family can keep track of our location by checking out my blog, where an embedded Live Map will track us in realtime. They don’t need to download some “Friends” app, nor do I have to give them any log-in details or get them to register on a special website. It’s hassle-free with a link I can email them which takes me to a secure and private map, or I can choose to embed the map anywhere I like (in this case, my travel blog!).

The App can also show where we’ve been, by keeping the last 24hrs worth of GPS logging data visible on the map. If we go missing, at least you’ll know roughly where we went missing! There’s no subscription fee for this service, just the £1.89 price of the App. There is also a free version, but that doesn’t keep the 7-day history.

They also have the ability to store 45 days or 90 days worth of location data, although you’d need to pay for this separately (a very reasonable $5 and $10 per YEAR respectively).

The App works on iOS, Android, Windows phones, Blackberry and the Amazon Kindle Fire.

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Of course all of this security depends on having an internet connection. I’ve spoken with my phone provider and they’ve unlocked my phone so it can be used anywhere in the world, and on any network. This means when I get to Vietnam I can switch out my UK SIM card with a pre-paid Vietnamese SIM card, pre-loaded with data and calls. I’m reliably informed there will be full coverage along the way, even if it drops to 2G/EDGE. It should be enough to keep us connected to the internet, and our locations known.

As a back-up, I’ve also installed an App called myTracks, which can either record your GPS location 24/7 or be set to short-record anything from 1min-24hrs. The App can then export/email the data and be used to trace a route at a later date. Both Apps will run for the duration of the trip. This App doesn’t upload our location, but stores the data locally.

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Now, back to this helicopter… I appreciate that not everybody thinks of taking a remote control helicopter with them on holiday, but the opportunity to get amazing tracking and aerial shots is too good to miss. Yes, my friends and I have joked that I could start a war, should anyone decide that my drone is some sort of threat and it a) gets blown out of the sky, or b) it gets blown out of the sky and I get arrested. Either way, it’s packed.

So what’s with the 8x screws? Well, the only way I could fit the DJI Phantom into my rucksack was to remove the lower landing legs. All the cables stayed intact, but with the screws removed it means the legs can be folded over and out of the way. Otherwise the biggest and bulkiest thing in the rucksack is the quadcopter!

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Vietnam: The Long Unknown – Yin Yang

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Ten things likely to happen whilst travelling without a plan in Vietnam:

  • Drive on the worst roads imaginable
  • Get hurt
  • Lose something
  • Get completely lost
  • Get drenched
  • Get angry beyond belief
  • Fear for my life
  • Throw up
  • Use the phrases “this is f**king sh*t” and “who’s f**king idea was this?”
  • Want to go home

Ten more things likely to happen whilst travelling without a plan in Vietnam:

  • Smile so much my face hurts
  • See something mind blowing
  • Have an epiphany
  • Laugh till I cry
  • Shoot FAR too much video
  • Eat and drink things I never thought I would
  • Have a conversation with someone who has no idea what I’m saying
  • Laugh with someone I’ve never met
  • Get completely lost
  • Not want to go home

Vietnam: The Long Unknown – Vaccinations

Exactly what should you be vaccinated against before travelling to Vietnam? This blog post is for you!

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When I watch Comic Relief they say that anti-malaria tablets are as little as a pound each. So where are these tablets?!

When I’d described the Vietnam trip to others, many people commented on getting vaccinations. So last week I called the GP, who told me I should book in to see a nurse. Today was that day. And that meant needles.

I wandered down to the Surgery just down the road, having forgotten where it actually was. I ended up on Google Maps to track the place down (not such a good sign, is it!?). I was early, yet the appointment was late. Al the while I sat overhearing a teenage girl give her opinion to her mother on why children shouldn’t have a dummy unless they’re sleeping. A conversation blatantly directed at another lady who’s 5 year old was chatting away with a dummy in her mouth. A few minutes later and I was sat with the nurse. In Room 237, of all places. (A reference to that room in The Shining).

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The lovely girl chatted away, asking questions about the holiday. I’m not sure if she really was interested, or just trying to ease my mind, having seen my eyes almost pop out of my head as she placed two giant needles in front of her. She continued to chat away, and casually slipped a question into the conversation; “Can you take medication in tablet form?”. Well, yes I can. More questions followed, mainly about the weather outside (“Is it still raining?”). We chatted away a bit longer whilst she tapped away on her computer, mumbling “Vietnam… Vietnam… Hmm…”. That didn’t fill me with confidence. Upon eventually finding the answers she asked “which arm do you write with?”. I answered, and then she giggled, going on to explain that I was getting an injection in each arm anyway so she didn’t really need to know. Yea, thanks for reminding me about those two needles, both of which I’d been staring at since she pulled them out of the fridge, like a cat studying a laser dot.

After sticking me with aforementioned needles, she suggested that the third vaccine could be given as a capsules, rather than jabbing me again. This seemed fair.  And wise, considering I hadn’t eaten anything at all today and was feeling slightly sick enough. I agreed, knowing full well the other option would be Needle 3, followed by vomit and possible black-out.

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So now I’m fully vaccinated against Typhoid fever, Hepatitis A, Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio.

What it doesn’t cover me against is stupidity, bribery and a sense of direction. These things I’ll have to deal with myself.

I was also recommended to get a hold of anti-malaria tablets. Although the nurse at the surgery could supply them, the NHS purchase them from a specialist company and as such I’d be charged a fortune for them. The nurse recommended I buy them from any pharmacist other than the NHS, as they’d likely be cheaper.

And she wasn’t wrong.

The pharmacist in the local storeo told me I needed to take one anti-malaria tablet per day, and that I’d need to start taking them 3 days before I go, and also to continue to take them for a further 7 days after the trip. This meant I needed a total of 39 anti-malaria tablets. She informed me a branded tablet would cost £2.69 per tablet. This brought the total to £104.91.

Now I’m sure when I watch Comic Relief they say that anti-malaria tablets are as little as a pound each. So where are these tablets?! The pharmacist noted my tone, and suggested a non-branded version is also available for £1.29 each. This brought the total to £50.31.

Now that’s better. Why on earth would I want to pay almost twice the price for the same thing? It’s unlikely the tiny brand logo engraved on said tablet is going to be groundbreaking stuff. Unless there’s a whole world out there I didn’t know about…

Vietnam: The Long Unknown

This blog post describes a future trip and the reasons for it, delving into the thought processes of what might be required to travel 1600 miles from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh.

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I spend a lot of my time doing things for other people. I do it naturally without thinking, and it’s always been just the way I am. If someone needs a hand with something or I can be of assistance in any way, I’ll “down tools” and help. Simple things like swapping shifts to ease someone else’s troubles, picking up and dropping things off because someone isn’t in a position to hire a van or has no licence to drive themselves, or storing someone’s belongings long-term up the attic whilst they work abroad. If someone needs a lift to work, has some shopping they need collected, something dropped off at the post office or their kids collected from school, I’m the one to do it. Not to mention the three years I spent as a Special Constable Police Officer in London, giving my time every weekend and other spare hour to volunteer and help the city and its inhabitants. God knows how many hours of my time that was, and the countless human interactions I must have encountered and helped along the way. But these are all easy things to do at little or no cost to me. And whilst these examples are in no way any burden or problematic in any way, it was highlighted to me that I don’t necessarily look after myself in the same way that I might look after other people. And that’s a fair point. So when a discussion at work arose regarding a long, and rather daunting, off-the-beaten-track “holiday” to Vietnam, it seemed like it could be the ideal trip for me to take the time away and hit the “reset” button, and do something I wouldn’t normally do. And do it for myself. It’d be nice to be out in the wilderness, away from society and technology, and take a closer look at life elsewhere. An eye opener. Perhaps a slap in the face. We’re all of limited time on this earth and I’d hate to have missed the opportunity to take on such a task. Especially given my nature with not doing things for myself! So with my limited spontaneity (I don’t like unpredictability), I agreed with my friend, Clarence (not his real name!), to join the trip. There’s a high percentage of people who’ve suggested they’re quite jealous of the prospect ahead for Clarence and I, though I realise there’s also a handful (my family!) who’d rather I wasn’t risking myself in such a way. Hopefully all ideas of fear and dread will fade as time goes on, though I understand the situation and their thoughts completely.

Long story short, the journey involves myself and a friend flying to Hanoi in northern Vietnam, buying motorbikes and travelling southwards towards Ho Chi Minh over a period of 28 days.

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Easy, right? The distance would vary, depending on the routes we decide to take (and how lost we might get), but could be anything from 1200 to 1600 miles. We’ve worked out worst-case scenarios including delayed flights, how long it might take us to find second-hand bikes, weather conditions (it’d be at the end of monsoon season), accidents, getting lost, etc. With contingencies considered, we decided upon a target of roughly 60 miles per day. Given the length of time we’ve given ourselves, we could easily complete the journey in 25 days. With bikes that will likely only be able to do 30-40mph, we’d only need to travel two hours per day to achieve this. Depending on where we end up, and the weather conditions, we may end up riding longer than required just to get to a hotel or hostel (or beach). This gives us extra time at the beginning of the trip to find the bikes, and time at the end to get to Ho Chi Minh the day before our flights home. 28 days seems perfectly achievable. Today we sat down to work out a rough plan. One thing we’ve both agreed on is not to have a fixed itinerary. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve both researched other bloggers and travellers, reading reviews of similar trips, gathering do’s and don’ts, tidbits and gems. All of them seem to suggest taking it easy, and taking each day as it comes. Don’t plan anything. For us this is perfectly do-able, though we have factored in a visit to a friend along the way. This pit stop works in our favour as they live in Da Nang, which sits roughly half way down the coast. This basically means we should be half way through our journey by the time we reach Da Nang. With a few other key places along the way, we’ve more than enough days to take time, stop, and just look around. One thing we discussed was shooting travel documentaries for websites, in order to give future travellers an insight into what they might experience on such a journey. With this in mind, we’ve also agreed on taking camera equipment split between us so we can capture both photographs and video of the journey. As it stands, a lot of this trip is completely unknown. There’s probably dozens upon dozens of worthy sights I’ve seen online. Clarence has too. But the best plan, if you can call it that, seems to be just to get there and see what happens.

28 days in Vietnam with nothing but the unknown ahead. Getting to the start seems like the easy bit. What happens next is completely out of our hands. And that’s something I’ve fallen in love with.

Have I mentioned I’ve never ridden a motorbike?