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    Review    

BBC Top Gear Vietnam Special - Season 12 Episode 8

 

          

 

 

 

The journey began at the heart of Saigon where the three presenters were each given shoeboxes full of 15 million Vietnamese dong to buy vehicles. At first ecstatic about the seemingly vast amount of money they were given by the producers this time, they soon realised that it was not enough to buy a car (James May discovered that a standard Fiat 500 cost VND560 million or GB£22,000 / US$31,700, their 15 million only equalled GB£600 / US$1,000). As a last resort, all three, much to Clarkson's dismay, decided to buy motorbikes. Hammond bought a Russian-built 125cc two-stroke Minsk, May a 50cc four-stroke Honda Cub and Clarkson, who claimed to have never ridden before and knew little about motorbikes, purchased a green Piaggio Vespa.[2] (Clarkson had in fact been filmed riding a moped in Vietnam for an episode of Jeremy Clarkson's Motorworld, 1995.)[4] Their route first took them to the mountain town of Ðà Lat where they spent the night drinking Vietnamese beer (Bia Saigon Export), eating local cuisine made from snake meat and taking shots of vodka mixed with the snake's blood and bile.

The next morning, Hammond was shown his flattened motorcycle helmet, which had been crushed by May and Clarkson as a result of the previous evening's libations and replaced with a new pink one. Shortly after, they set off for their next stop, the city of Nha Trang. Along the way, the trio encountered freezing torrential rain and other calamities, with May running out of fuel and Hammond's clutch cable snapping.

Constant breakdowns caused a problem for the two-stroke pair of machines and, due to Hammond's clutch cable and an earlier breakdown of Clarkson's Vespa, the producers were prompted to stop footing the bill for their mounting repairs and punish the presenters instead by making them complete the voyage in a vehicle they all despised, should they break down (a function served by the Volkswagen Beetle in the Botswana Special in season 10). The vehicle was a Honda Chaly (powered by a Cub engine) that had been modified to look like an American chopper bike, painted and flanked in a Stars and Stripes livery (similar to the bike seen in the film Easy Rider) and fitted with an iPod audio system continuously playing Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA". The presenters contended that riding the bike would be inappropriate because memories of the Vietnam War were still ripe among the local populace.

In Nha Trang, Clarkson unveiled a scale model of a Spanish galleon: a present to Hammond in an effort to make his co-presenter's journey as unpleasant and cumbersome as his own. They resumed the road trip by taking a day-and-a-half passing through Tuy Hòa, Qui Nhon, Quang Ngãi, Tam Ka and Ðà Nang to stop for an overnight stay in Hoi An (described by Clarkson as "Vietnam's Savile Row"). During this stay they purchased bespoke new clothes, relaxed on the beach and enjoyed a short break from their various problems. In the morning, they continued their journey to Hue through the Hai Vân Mountain Pass, which Clarkson praised as "...a deserted ribbon of perfection one of the best coast roads in the world". Beforehand, Hammond and Clarkson stopped at a marble sculptor to procure May's gift: a small, but heavy, statue of a ballet dancer.

Mid-way through the pass, Hammond and May exacted their revenge by unveiling to Clarkson his souvenir: a bulky painting. In Hue, Clarkson and May spent the evening vandalising Hammond's Minsk by spray-painting it bright pink as he repaired his model ship, which had already suffered heavy abuse, in the hotel's business centre. The next day, they entered North Vietnam through Ðông Hà after spending the morning completing the challenge of securing licences, destroying May's gift, and briefly visiting the bullet-torn Citadel of Hue (one of the major casualties during the conflict). However, around lunch it was decided that the team needed to "cheat" after Clarkson calculated that they would not be able to make it to their final destination in the allotted time.

So by nightfall, the trio boarded an overnight train to Ha Long, a 13-hour journey, bypassing Vinh, Thanh Hóa and Nam Ðinh all together. To kill time in the train each presenter tried to "fix" the damage accumulated by the other's gift. Hammond, with his fine arts background, tried to refurbish Clarkson's, which had been ripped by the Vespa's spare wheel; Clarkson in turn tried to superglue May's sculpture back together while May transformed the galleon into a Chinese junk. The team arrived two days early but, as it turned out, they had boarded the wrong train and had disembarked in Hanoi (Hà Noi), 79.49 mi (127.93 km) to the west of their intended destination.

Yet again they made a final push to Ha Long, getting confused and lost along the way. The Minsk broke down again and the boat's prow snapped when the bike fell over as Hammond tried to mend his vehicle. Clarkson, meanwhile, rode on, proclaiming, "I am now boldly going where no American has been before," before falling over and scraping his right arm and elbow against the road. He finally concluded of two-wheel motoring, "I've always said to my children that if they buy a bike I will burn it and if they replace it with another one I shall burn that too. Now, however, if they buy a bike I will completely understand and then I'll burn it." By dusk, however, they had covered the distance and entered the city, only to discover that their ordeal wasn't over and that they had yet another challenge: to navigate the maze of 1,969 limestone islets in Ha Long Bay and get to Ba Hàng Bar, located in a cove somewhere in the waters.

After converting their bikes to be seaworthy, they crossed the bay. May capsized early, having to be pulled back to shore to repair. Hammond and Clarkson, meanwhile, got lost and found themselves stuck at the mouth of a cave. Eventually, Clarkson reached the Bar first, Hammond second (after his steering had failed), and May joined them by swimming from where his "bike-ski" had disintegrated and capsized for the second time.

Both Jeremy's Vespa and the Stars and Stripes Honda Chaly are on display at Saigon Scooter Centre

Additional Links :

Jeremy Clarkson Looks Awkward on a Vespa - http://www.autoevolution.com/news/jeremy-clarkson-looks-awkward-on-a-vespa-1500.html
Mopeds in Vietnam - Jeremy Clarkson's Motorworld 10/1/1995 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaP353v8JWY

Top Gear to shift down a gear - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1102498/Top-Gear-shift-gear-Clarkson-hit-credit-crunch.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
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