My images of Vietnam had been largely formed by historical events as provided by news media. I did do some internet investigating to familiarize myself with general tourist information regarding the most often visited attractions. I was, however, unsure as to how I would be received as a citizen of the US given our involvement in previous Vietnamese affairs. It wasn't until I heard about an unofficial HOG chapter that I decided it would be a good visit and immediately made plans to go after contacting the group via some email correspondence. As with my usual experience of Asian Harley groups, I was immediately accepted as a fellow rider and greeted with the best of hospitality. Possibly my past trips to Asia and photojournalist work preceded me and greased the wheels. Whatever the reason, they had a record turnout to welcome and assist me in gathering as much material as I needed for an informative article.
I say unofficial HOG chapter because to be official the group needs to have a local Harley dealership to be associated with, which they don't. This doesn't dampen their spirit or their allegiance to the marquee or enthusiasm for riding. Momma H-D hasn't arrived yet because it has only been since 2007 that big engine motorcycles have been allowed in the country; previously 250cc motorcycles being the upper limit. With this in mind, it was quite surprising for me to see more than 30 bikes show up for the usual Saturday gathering and most were newer '08-and-later bikes. Amongst the bikes were a 1200 Sportster, a V-rod, a Dyna, a Rocker, and a Buell, and a bunch of Electra Glides, the newest being a '10 CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide. This particular bike cost about $100,000 USD in Vietnam as the import duty alone is 175 percent (about $61,000 tax on a $35,000 MSRP) for "luxury" motorcycles, plus registration, shipping, and miscellaneous charges. So the next time you go to your local dealer and look at the price tags think about those guys overseas, they have to really want one bad to suck up a premium that heavy.
The group had recently moved their meeting place to a location that happened to be conveniently close to my hotel. Saigon is a fairly well spread out city and it can take some time with massive traffic delays to get from one area to another, so this was indeed helpful for me. They gather every Saturday about midday for a light lunch and refreshments. Along with congestive (as in heart failure) traffic, there is also a premium for parking and this new location had sufficient parking for the space we Harley riders come to expect but they do not have in Saigon. Their are about 10 million people in Saigon and about half of them have a motorbike which means that there are 5 million motorbikes in the city, and it looks more like 5 billion when you are out and about as they are everywhere riding in any direction even on sidewalks and parked everywhere.