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

One of Chilliwack’s oldest clubs, Toastmasters, hosts an open public speaking event this month

An open house will take place on Oct. 24 at the Mt. Cheam Lions Club Hall at 7:15 p.m.

VIDEO: This is what buying legal pot in B.C. looks like

Take a look inside B.C.’s first and only legal pot shop located in Kamloops

Canada Post supports popular literacy program in Agassiz, Seabird Island

Community foundation awards grant to Story time in the Park

10 things still illegal in the new age of recreational cannabis

Pot is legal – but there are still a lot of rules, and breaking some could leave you in jail

Agassiz, Harrison thank fire crews for battling Mt. Hicks wildfire

Dinner for crews hosted by Agassiz Seniors Community Friday night

Mellow opening to B.C.’s only legal pot shop

About five people lined up early for the opening of the BC Cannabis Store in Kamloops.

Black market will thrive until small pot growers and sellers included: advocates

Advocates say the black market will continue to thrive until small retail shops and craft growers are included in the regime.

Goodbye cable, hello Netflix: 1/3 of Canadians cut the cord

Just under half of households no longer have a landline phone

‘Some baloney’ in assertion Canada’s pension fund has highest ethical standards

The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of “no baloney” to “full of baloney”.

In Mexico Beach after Hurricane Michael, some coming home find no home

State emergency management officials said some 124,500 customers across the Panhandle were still without power Wednesday morning and 1,157 remained in shelters.

Man linked to Saudi prince at consulate when writer vanished

Saudi Arabia, which initially called the allegations “baseless,” has not responded to repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press over recent days.

5 to start your day

Cannabis is legalized across B.C., silly election signs pop up in Langley and more

Manhunt in Crimea for possible accomplice in school attack

An 18-year-old student, who later killed himself, was initially believed to be the only one involved

Police hand out a few hefty fines for allegedly violating Cannabis Act

Police in Canada posted a photo of a $215 ticket given to someone who allegedly had a baggy of marijuana in their car

Most Read