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

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

Okanagan adventurer takes two wheels through Vietnam, China

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

Vernon’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: 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

 

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

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

(Photo contributed)

(Photo contributed)

(Photo contributed)

(Photo contributed)

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

Leigh photographed Bang Gioc Falls in Northern Vietnam. (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)

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)

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)

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)

Just Posted

Friends Fraser O'Brien, Chris and Ben Reinhardt and Youngbin Kim enjoy a game of hockey on Okanagan Lake off Kin Beach Friday afternoon. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Synthetic ice an option for proposed outdoor rink in Vernon

Council to consider 3 options identified by staff regarding a new rink

Al Kowalko shows off the province's first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Okanagan schools shifting gears to electric buses

Vernon, Central Okanagan, Rocky Mountain and Okanagan-Skaha on board

Flooding around the entrance of Mission Creek into Okanagan Lake has been a reflection of the impact of climate change on the spring snowmelt across the Okanagan Valley watershed. (File photo)
B.C. water sustainability plan pitched to Okanagan stakeholders

Seeking resolution to water and land-use conflicts

Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to a car fire on Anderson Way Friday, May 7, 2021. (Caitlin Clow - Morning Star)
Car fire snuffed in Vernon parking lot

The vehicle was fully engulfed upon crews’ arrival, according to Anderson Way Home Depot staff

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
Vernon Mounties respond to 287 mental health calls in 5 months

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being during national week

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland third behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News file)
People aged 30+ in Summerland, Rutland offered vaccine amid high transmission risk

Interior Health offers residents of Rutland and Summerland aged 30 and up chance at vaccine

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The postponement of the event was put in place to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Alex Hegedus (left) with his wife and two young children. (Contributed/Kelowna RCMP)
Family offers reward for information about Peachland man’s suspicious 2018 death

Alex Hegedus died under suspicious circumstances in March 2018

Revelstoke’s Mayor Gary Sulz getting his COVID-19 vaccination on April 5. (Jocelyn Doll - Revelstoke Review)
Revelstoke is leading B.C.’s interior on vaccinations: Interior Health

Approximately 70% of the community has first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

Most Read