James Leigh drove a Royal Enfield 500 classic motorcycle up the eastern coast of Vietnam and into China. (Photo contributed)

B.C. adventurer takes two wheels through Vietnam, China

B.C.’s James Leigh spent six weeks travelling on some of the most dangerous roads in the world.

Vernon, B.C.’s James Leigh is no stranger to danger.

Leading a successful career as a U.S. security consultant, he was part of the U.S. Justice Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service unit who executed a successful undercover operation in China. He’s also worked in several war zones including Afghanistan, partook in a house-to-house clearing in Bagdad, jumped from a plane in Kuwait but missed his landing zone and was stranded alone in the desert for two days. Oh, and he was also sent to Mount Everest four times looking for North Korean Scud missiles being shipped over the Himalayas. If that weren’t enough, he was even imprisoned in North Korea last year.

But last month, Leigh took on a new challenge — another dangerous task. He decided to drive through Vietnam and China on a motorcycle.

Anyone who has been to either country and has witnessed how traffic operates in that part of the world would likely think Leigh has a death wish. He may not disagree.

“I’m not really scared of death,” said Leigh in response. “To me, it was an adventure but it was no different than some of the places in the middle east or Nepal. But, Saigon was probably one of the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

Related: Local confined in North Korea

Related: Newsmakers of the year

Leigh said he bought a Royal Enfield 500 classic motorcycle on impulse. He explained that though this wasn’t the first time he had purchased a bike when visiting a new place, this time was different.

Seeking a new thrill, he strapped on a replica Second World War flying helmet and vintage goggles and decided to start by driving around Ho Chi Minh City — the city formerly known as Saigon. After a few hours of city driving — in one of the world’s most dangerous traffic streams — Leigh decided to try his luck on the highway.

He began making his way two hours east to the beach of Vung Tau. He described the danger involved in such a journey — especially when you don’t know the roads — like a high-stakes video game.

“I realized really quickly that trucks and buses don’t care. When they want to pass, they pass and anything coming up gets out of the way — cars, scooters — you get out of the way regardless of if there’s potholes or dogs or cows or anything on the size of the road, you get out of the way,” he said.

Forced to use his emergency brake several times, he eventually arrived on the beach. Locals and tourists were amazed by his bravery and asked him where he was headed next.

“When I got to [the beach], everyone was just amazed and that sort of got my ego going,” Leigh chuckled. “I saw it as a challenge and I figured, if I survived that trip, I could ride to Da Nang.”

Da Nang is about halfway up the eastern coast of Vietnam, a longer trip, but Leigh said he was determined. Each time he stopped, locals welcomed him with open arms, asking where he was off to next. Though he had booked six weeks in the country, he had no plan. Rather, he took each day as it came.

“People kept telling me I couldn’t do this or that or that it’s impossible’,” he recalled.

He said that this is what kept him motivated to keep riding. Challenging himself every step of the way, he eventually made his way from the southern part of Vietnam all the way up the eastern side of the country and eventually into China.

“I got used to the ‘video game’ as I call it,” Leigh said. “It’s kind of like a game of Pac-Man where things are falling and you have to get out of the way — especially when you’re alone on a motorcycle and you don’t know what’s coming around the corner.”

Though he said the fun was in challenging himself, it was the people he met along the way made the trip worth it.

“There’s a magic about people. It’s a funny thing but I can sit in a room with people without tossing a word and have them all laughing. Sometimes, we couldn’t say anything to each other but I was continually adopted along the way,” he said, smiling. “That was the good part about it — the really nice people in the country who had absolutely nothing but if you wanted something, it was yours. They were really welcoming. Even the people who experienced the brutality of the war were still super nice people.”

Leigh spent six weeks travelling through Vietnam and China and, somewhat miraculously, lived to tell the tale. With a house in Da Nang where he left the bike, he plans to return at the end of August to spend eight more weeks travelling through to Tibet and southern China. He said he can’t wait to play his “video game” again soon.

Related: Deer blamed for North Okanagan motorcycle crash

Related: One dead, one injured in motorcycle accident southwest of Nakusp

To report a typo, email:
newstips@vernonmorningstar.com
.



Follow me on Twitter @BrieChar
Email me brieanna.charlebois@vernonmorningstar.com
Like us on

 

(Photo contributed)

(Photo contributed)

Starting in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, he continued challenging himself to survive longer, most dangerous trips. (Photo contributed)

Starting in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, he continued challenging himself to survive longer, most dangerous trips. (Photo contributed)

Leigh photographed Bang Gioc Falls in Northern Vietnam. (Photo contributed)

Leigh photographed Bang Gioc Falls in Northern Vietnam. (Photo contributed)

Leigh drove the whole trip while sporting a replica Second World War flying helmet and vintage goggles. (Photo contributed)

Leigh drove the whole trip while sporting a replica Second World War flying helmet and vintage goggles. (Photo contributed)

This snake was one of the meals that locals prepared for him along the way. (Photo contributed)

This snake was one of the meals that locals prepared for him along the way. (Photo contributed)

Just Posted

RCMP hope to trace final days of Chilliwack woman

The body of Laura Clark was found in the Fraser River July 25

B.C. declares state of emergency as wildfires rage

More than 3,300 firefighters are battling more than 500 fires

Highway 7 down to one-lane alternating as crews fight Mt. Hicks wildfire

150-hectare blaze prompted closure of a provincial park

Flight Fest to take off in Chilliwack once again

After a year-long break, Flight Fest is returning to the Chilliwack airport

Semi in ditch on Highway 1 in Abbotsford

Westbound traffic backed up Wednesday morning

Average Canadian family spends 43% of income on taxes: study

Fraser Institute’s consumer report shows taxes accounting for larger chunk of income each year

‘Can’t erase history’ by tearing down statues, Minister says

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna spoke on the contentious removal of John A. Macdonald

Canadian soccer captain Christine Sinclair continues to lead fight against MS

Burgers to Beat MS has raised more than $11 million since its inception in 2009

Fraser Valley Bandits announce season ticket prices

Basketball team set to tip-off in summer of 2019

Man seriously injured in Lower Mainland home explosion

Police are trying to figure out what led to a homemade explosive detonating in a Coquitlam home

VIDEO: Post-surgery monologue comedy gold

If you’ve ever had surgery with anaesthetic you know the coming out of it process can be a treat.

Ledcor readies to lift sunken tug from mouth of B.C.’s Fraser River

George H. Ledcor, a barge-hauling tug operated by the Ledcor Group, went down Monday night

LETTERS: Doctors speak out on surgical wait times for B.C. patients

‘Governments know they will lose private clinic lawsuit’

Police issue warning that 19-year-old poses ‘significant’ risk to the public

Varinderpal ‘VP’ Gill of Abbotsford involved in Lower Mainland gang conflict, police say

Most Read