Saigon Motorbike Loops Cat Tien

Tigit Jon, Tigit Link and Tigit Quoc head out with Renzo from the Extra mile and John from Uber.

A lads weekend out to find some mud after heavy storms throughout Vietnam.
The girlfriends and wives tried to stop us, but a storm means mud, and mud means fun.

For Link, Quoc and Renzo this was the first real offroad experience – it is not a common or known experience for most locals.

A quote from Tigit Tuyen, “I don’t understand why you foreigners come here and enjoy our crap muddy roads. As a child these ruined my school clothes and we were to poor to fix them. Now you come here and play on them?”

Link and Quoc embrace the experience and this was the first taster to demonstrate what the Honda XR is built for. Tigit Tuyen getting angry and saying “poor bike, it is not happy” whilst watching these videos.

On the contrary, this is exactly what these motorbikes are designed for, the opportunity to let loose and escape the compounds of the road. The Honda XR wants to be let loose on dirt. It eats up challenges and revs with joy with every swimming pool sized puddle it thunders through.

The day started with new roads, unknown to all, and courtesy of the exploration from Nation 7 tours. It was a great beginning to the day as we winded up the side of a mountain on a fairly leisurely mud track.
The drive was not without incident with both Quoc and Renzo coming down as we progressed up the side of a hill.

This is just the beginning I thought to myself and I am not sure this crew is going to make it through the challenges ahead.

Cat Tien National park is a mess of floods and clay roads. Despite being flat, the driving is incredibly difficult and there is little to no grip on the clay. It may as well be ice, the clay sticks to the wheels and all traction is lost.

We headed for the North of Cat Tien where there is a secret entrance to the park, allowing for a driver to go from the very top to the bottom. Along the way Links Go Pro fell off the bike in the road. A decision was made to drive back a maximum of 5 minutes to find it, if nothing could be achieved within 5 minutes then the item is considered lost.
I remember a time driving in HCM at 11pm at night. The strap on my helmet snapped and it flew off my head. In the corner of my eye I saw someone jump the mid barrier of the road heading towards the location my helmet came flying off. By the time I had grinded to a stop and achieved a U-Turn, the unknown runner had picked up the helmet and disappeared into the small alleys. It took no more than 30 seconds from the time it came off my head to vanishing into someones hands.

Hope to find the Go-Pro were not high and I had already accepted the reality of the lost Go-Pro. BUT, within  3 minutes there it was, sitting smack in the middle of the road untouched.
We picked it up, laughed at what must be a copy cat go pro sticker that had failed us. It is a major problem determining Chinese copies from real products in every walk of life in Vietnam. A very real issue that can only be understood when living here.

When reaching the entrance of Cat Tien I drove in with confidence and purpose. I had forgotten to warn the crew that this area was potentially off limits. Ignorance is bliss, I had a feeling on previous journeys it was a no-go area… but if you don’t research into things then you don’t know. Just drive and worry about the rules later…

Unfortunately Quoc read the signs in Vietnamese and he decided to obey and stop. The guard quickly slammed the gate which left myself and Renzo in the park and the rest of the crew outside of the park. Attempts were made to pay coffee money, but our efforts failed and we had no choice but to turn around and exit the park.
The guard had an Iphone…….. coffee money wasn’t needed. He probably had more money than we did, I wonder where these guys get it from!

We winded our way back around 1 hour to find a different ferry crossing to an area of Cat Tien that is still open to motorbikes. Although disappointed to not be hitting the mud tracks of Cat Tien, the alternative route is a beautiful road that meanders through local houses and plantations. It remains to be one of my favourite casual slips of road in the country. For a fully guided tour it is probably better than the insides of the park, but this trip was all about finding mud!

After lunch within Cat Tien we finally hit the section that Tarrin had signed with skulls on googlemaps. Marked with warnings of severe floods. We ignored the locals who attempted to warn us to turn back.

The road quickly became a river and we battled hard to get through the first set of obstacles. It was at this point I began to think it would be wise to turn back. From previous journeys I have known drivers to get stuck on this 20km road for 5+ hours and we were already behind schedule.
This group are all hard adventure seekers though, and they were not prepared to bail out, despite early warnings that our progress was not sufficient to cross this road before dark. We checked after every challenge to see how far that blue dot had edged along on googlemaps. The movement was not enough and we knew it… but a Vietnamese man came walking by and Renzo and Link had a chat, the conclusion was that the road would improve after this set of obstacles. So onwards we went!

River crossing after river crossing with nothing but mud and obstacles.
The teamwork was incredible, and spirits stayed high as we pushed eachother through the mud.

After the two hour mark the crew began to get tired, the progress remained slow, the mans theory about the road improving where turning out to be nothing but naive optimism. He was probably laughing from his house at sending a bunch of struggling drivers down an impossible road.
We once again were faced with a serious decision. Turn back or continue ahead.
I knew this road wasn’t getting any easier. On a previous trip I had to push my parents through it when the conditions were significantly better than on this occasion.

The lads were improving with every minute and learning to deal with the ice of clay driving… but the going was incredibly tough. Quocs shoes had fallen off and the boy was now in nothing but socks.

Renzo decided he knew best and after admiring the map he announced a decision for the group. The decision was that we would continue forwards. I kept my mouth shut, didn’t really care if this mess continued into darkness providing I wasn’t the one making the definitive decision. Let Renzo make the call and take the blame for when people run out of energy and get angry.

Water began to run short. I had bought some water earlier knowing what was to come, but no one took the advice seriously. So I had to put my water on the open market and it began to get rationed.
I have been in this situation before in Cambodia in far more serious circumstances. Stuck in the middle of a forest fire with my wife Tuyen on a famously impossible road called route 66 in Cambodia. Completely unprepared and dam right stupid as we embarked on the  journey with no supplies.

A few years before the Cambodia trip I made a similar mistake in the mountains of Dalat. Getting stuck with some friends between two rivers that flooded. We ended up begging the locals to stay in one of their mud huts for the night. On that journey we didn’t make it and the rain never stopped. Come the morning we were bailed out by local loggers for a small fortune. Brave men that carried our motorbikes in neck high rivers. I wish it was on camera, but that journey had gone beyond the casual amusement of pulling out cameras..
I never learn…. but a lack of preparation is what makes adventure battles that will never be forgotten.

Our crews driving had improved at a remarkable rate and they started to eat up the obstacles and we quickly began to pickup the pace. The crew is skillful and experienced on land, but this ice style clay driving is something on a completely different level. The average driver would fall into a crumbling mess and lay down with exhaustion.
There were screams of help from the shoeless Quoc “I am just a boy, I want to go home”, and John claiming his insurance may be able to get a helicopter to the rescue.

The speed at which we were managing to cover ground gave us the confidence to keep going. It was still very slow, but it was becoming apparent that we would make it out before dark. There was not much more that Cat Tien could do to stop us.

Unfortunately we all ran out of battery on our recording devises, but the true spirit of a group of guys being pushed to their limits shined through towards the end.
One final river crossing which is caught on a different video. However this time the stream was a full blown river and we had to carry the motorbikes over it.

“Jon you really are crazy” was mentioned a few times as the Tigit XR fleet was smashed through situations that these guys hadn’t witnessed before. I take pride in seeing the performance of a Tigit motorbike. Confidence and arrogance at our maintenance and reliability.
I wouldn’t do a trip like this on someone elses rental, the motorbike wouldn’t survive.

The situation reminds me of my first experiences in Africa where I was placed on a game reserve in Lusaka. I had never seen what a car could do up until that journey. Skillful and practised drivers going through rivers on the elephant charge. Throwing money at custom vehicles to show who could tackle the remote terrain. What can be achieved with some skillful driving is incredible, as the lesser drivers sink to the bottom of rivers and the good drivers just glide across as if it was a highway. There is a huge amount of skill and beauty to off road driving.

After the mud clears there is one final rickety bridge before the road opens up into an amazing open road. This road is empty and wide to the point that the Honda XR can be pushed to its fullest speeds. Clearing all the clay from the tires and brakes. As the sun sets, this is the perfect way to exit the flooded Cat Tien National Park.

This trip demonstrates what can be done in a weekend. A team building exercise and challenging adventure that will never be forgotten. Only a few hours from Ho Chi Minh.

The  tour can be booked with Tarrin from Nation 7. I will gladly take friends through Cat Tien, but I am not stupid enough to try and take strangers through it. That takes real skill and preperation and Tarrin is the only man for the job. If you want an adventure. Book up now… That is providing you don’t mind getting stuck in a forest for the night!