A short introduction
We – that’s Caroline and I – just spent four months riding a questionable motorcycle though a chunk of South East Asia. We bought the “Xinha” in Laos, spent one month riding it from north to south, then crossed over into central Vietnam and spent three months riding it south, then back to central again, then north, finally selling it in Hanoi. We managed to squeeze most of our gear into my bag, and Caroline wore that while I drove.
Along the way we made friends with many mechanics.
A note on the title
Ten thousand is such a nice, round number, isn’t it? Well, here’s the thing: if you add up all the distances on the map (see below), then the total is 7,307 kilometres – a number that, while still large, doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
The map does not include all the drives within cities and small excursions out to nearby attractions. The odometer (characteristically) did not work, and so we will never know exactly how far we traveled. And although those extra drives and detours probably don’t add to the 2,693 kilometres that are needed to make the title of this post factual, I simply don’t care. And neither should you. I’m leaving it up there.
Yes, herself. Before I wrote that, I turned to Caroline and asked, “Is Xinha a male or a female?” and she replied, “Female,” without hesitation. Xinha was probably a 100 cc bike, and struggled in first gear to drag us up steep hills. We made sure to regularly torture her with river crossings, sandy gravel, dust, and violent braking. To restore balance, we would reward her with oil and washes. Ever ungrateful, the first time she was washed she allowed water inside her petrol cap and ruined all the gas.
The Xinha range of motorcycles doesn’t appear to exist in any meaningful way. It’s not on Wikipedia’s list of known motorcycle manufacturers or any other motorbike website that I can find. There are a couple of forums where people refer to one they bought as a “Honda Xinha” or an “Indonesian Honda Win copy”, but neither of these descriptions, according to people we spoke to, are accurate. The fact is the Xinha is a Chinese knockoff through and through. It’s based on a Honda Win and was likely vomited from a factory that produces several other dubious brands. “Transmission” was one we saw. Another was “Thailand”. They’re like shitty Pokemon. The good thing is that all of them use the same parts that fit a Honda, and so mechanics can fix them easily.
The list of issues we faced along the way were many. The largest thing that broke was the front of the engine. Other than replacing that (for $30), we replaced:
– The battery (there wasn’t one)
– The electric starter
– The seat cover (the new cover was simply stretched over the holes – they weren’t filled in)
– The front mudguard (after the original one snapped on a bumpy road)
– Many, many inside bits that I don’t know the names of.
And then there were the failures:
– We tried to get the indicators working, but were told that they were ‘decorative’.
– We asked someone to install the controls for the horn, lights, and indicators, but after he installed them he didn’t attach the wires to anything. When questioned about this, he put his palms together and made the ‘sleeping’ gesture.
– The front light only went bright when the engine was revved high, so night driving was loud and terrifying.
– We bought side mirrors which worked well until one fell off.
And forget about the speedo, rev counter, and any indication lights – none of that was plugged into anything. The only way to know the bike was in neutral was to see if it rolled forward. Getting to neutral was its own special kind of technique.
There are plenty of ‘backpacker bike’ dealers in Hanoi, and so we drove Xinha to one of these to see what they’d offer us. Sadly, because the bike didn’t have any ownership papers, the dealer could only buy it for parts. He offered us $60 (we bought it for $250).
We decided to try and sell it on Vietnam Craigslist and put an ad up. Nobody answered. We made a sign for the bike. Nobody answered. The following morning we walked out into the rain and discovered that water had been pouring onto the petrol cap all night and had soaked in. The bike died after about 5 minutes and we were at a loss. We didn’t want to fix it, but our options were either that or dump it in an alley somewhere. As I pushed the bike around in the pouring rain, the idea of dumping it seemed more and more tempting.
Suddenly a man decided that he was going to help us (for a price) whether we liked it or not. Caroline got on the back of his bike and I sat on our dead one. He then held out his foot and pushed on my exhaust pipe to move me forwards. He pushed me in this fashion all the way to a Honda shop and the mechanics there fixed the bike for free. One of them kept gesturing at the ignition and saying something complicated-sounding in Vietnamese. We just kept nodding and thanking them, and then left.
We then drove to another dealer. I turned the key to stop the bike and the engine kept running. Apparently that’s what the mechanic had been trying to tell us: that the key no longer turned the bike off. Still, we managed to sell Xinha to this new (very reluctant) dealer for $50 for parts. And for something that should have been a big, emotional deal, the transaction was very unceremonious.
And here it is: the route for our entire trip. It’s pretty mega. You can scroll in and click around, and all those little egg icons lead to a blog post I wrote in that particular area.