Hanoi retiree burns rubber across two continents

By Phan Duong   February 16, 2020 | 06:10 pm PT
Hanoi retiree burns rubber across two continents
Tran Le Hung during his trip to Georgia. Photo courtesy of Tran Le Hung.
Tran Le Hung traveled 45,000 km by motorbike across 39 countries in Asia and Europe to quench wanderlust.

The retired mechanical engineer, 66, decided to do the trip after being inspired by Tran Dang Dang Khoa, a young man who traveled across 23 countries in just 150 days by motorbike.

Hung bought a large new motorbike and made alterations to it to fit him.

From the winter of 2018 to summer 2019 he practiced riding the 200 kg motorbike on various terrains and learned map reading skills and about the religion and politics of the countries he planned to visit.

Hung, who stands 52 kg and 1.6 m, says: "In cold weather, when it was below 10 degrees Celsius, I swam in the Red River. I played football and practiced martial arts and others to improve my fitness."

On July 2, 2019, he began his trip. Some friends accompanied him part of the way, with one of them acting as the guide.

The trip started eventfully: he had his first accident on the very first day after he crossed into Laos.

"On a bumpy road, I carelessly made a wide turn and could not control the vehicle. In trying to avoid falling into a cliff, I hit a milestone. I fell off the bike. [But] the fall alerted me to be more careful."

Normally he would travel around 400 km in a day. But there were days when time was of importance -- in meeting a visa deadline, for instance -- and he had to do 1,000 km in a sandstorm in Xinjiang, China, when the temperature was above 40 degrees Celsius.

Hung faces an accident when visiting Tosor Pass, Kyrgyzstan, during winter season. Photo courtesy of Tran Le Hung.

Hung after an accident at Tosor Pass in Kyrgyzstan in winter. Photo courtesy of Tran Le Hung.

"But that was still not as bad as the days I had to do more than 600 km in minus 16 degrees weather. I was shivering despite wearing 10 layers of clothes. I had to stop every 30 km and stand next to the exhaust pipe to warm myself."

He went through Tosor Pass, 4,000 m above sea level, in Kyrgyzstan in central Asia where one side was high mountain and the other side was a steep ravine. "The slopes going up and down felt like an endless piece of music. Conquering this mountain is the desire of many travelers, but I could not since the weather was too harsh and I had to stop."

Even when sitting in a tent he put up on the roadside there and wearing all the clothes his teeth chattered. Cold, hungry and breathless, he told himself nevertheless, "Spending the night here is a good experience."

After spending a night on the mountain, he had to call for vehicles to come and pick him up.

"Hung did not complain when he got lost on the road or could not find a proper place to eat and sleep. He even took care of us and encouraged us," the tour guide says.

His motorbike repair skills helped the group greatly at various places, even startled some foreign mechanics.

That there were accidents along the way is evident from the broken mirror, the long scratches on the motorbike and a dent in the tank.

"A fall on a highway in Kazakhstan caused the mirror to break and fly dozen of meters," Hung recalls.

"Feathers from my ripped jacket flew like snow."

Hung repairs his motorbike during his trip in....Photo courtesy of Tran Le Hung.

Hung repairs his motorbike during his trip in Mestia, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Tran Le Hung.

But the 45,000 km journey gave him priceless experience.

Hung says the most romantic route was a Silk Road section passing through Kyrgyzstan. Though the roads were dangerous, the landscape was rugged and beautiful with immense mountains, cattle grazing on their slopes and nomadic people living a peaceful life.

Visiting Georgia, where he studied from 1973 to 1976, brought back many good memories.

"I parked in front of the school I attended, took off my jacket, ran to the grass and lay down. Then I went into the forest, hugged the old strawberry trees that I once picked from and thought to myself 'There is nothing in the world that can compare to this happiness'."

His eyes water as old memories flash in his head.

After leaving Georgia, Hung traveled through Europe before heading back to Russia, China and other countries and returning to Vietnam.

On the evening of December 19, 2019, he returned home to Hanoi after a 45,000 km journey.

Hung entered the house, approached his T-bone SS50 model, also known as the Honda 67 in Vietnam, and said: "I'm home. Your disciple (the new motorbike) has fulfilled his duty."

The motorbike he bought for the trip is now covered in mud and battered.

Hung brought back a few snails and a pine cone he picked up from the old tree in his old school in Georgia.

He has put these precious souvenirs in a glass case so that he can see them whenever he wishes.

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