What is it Like to Motorbike Vietnam
Contemplating the idea of jumping on two wheels to explore Vietnam? Or looking for your next adventure? Exploring Vietnam by bike is an amazing opportunity to go off the beaten track and see a side to the country away from the tourists hotspots. Read an experience of travelling around Vietnam by motorbike by our featured writer R.S. Reynolds...
Deciding to Visit Vietnam
The first time I set down in Vietnam, a country not part of the developed world per se, I was faced with the obvious question: “Should I have come?” To be honest, I found the immediate answer to be problematic, especially in light of the money I had plunked down for the flight and hotels. Two years removed from my experience, I would offer this advice for those who are thinking about venturing out of their travel comfort zone for the first time: Assess your entire experience, not just the good or the bad, but the whole experience. Chances are, negative experiences will transform into proud travel moments, and positive ones will become legendary.
Arrival & Culture Shock
Vietnam is undeniably a country whose recent history is nothing short of catastrophic. My first days spent in Ho Chi Minh City in the midst of the hot season in early April were an assault on the senses. A seemingly infinite number of scooters, motorcycles, rickshaws, and every kind of transport trucks moved and flowed in what could only be described in paradoxical terms: organised chaos. Ben Thanh market was right outside my hotel where, from the moment I walked in to the moment I walked out, I was inundated by every vendor vying for my attention and business.
My last day in the city was spent walking up and down the halls of the Vietnam War Remnants Museum where I was exposed to pictures, propaganda, and machinery from what the Vietnamese refer to as “The American War.” It was hot, unsettling, and I found myself asking the question, “Should I have come?”
The following day, I hopped on a plane for Central Vietnam and landed in the city of Da Nang. A quick twenty-minute shared cab ride with a couple from Colorado and I arrived at my destination, the UNESCO World Heritage City of Hoi An. I stepped into my hotel room and peered out the window along the adjacent street and saw the red lantern lined boulevard and whole roasted pig at the restaurant twenty feet from where I was standing. I immediately answered the question I had asked myself in Ho Chi Minh, and the answer was a resounding, “Yes!” But the reality was that this moment was just a portent of things to come.
Booking a Motorbike Tour
I’m not one to promote a specific tour company or establishment, but I am forced to make an exception in this case. Upon my arrival at my French Colonial architectural-accommodations, and after some quick online research, I contacted and booked a motorbike adventure in Vietnam through a company called Hoi An Motorbike Adventures.
The next day I was picked me up the next morning from my hotel lobby where soon after I, along with four Australians, a couple from France, and an American, found ourselves in a dirt-driveway lined with scooters and Russian Minsk Motorbikes. I had ridden dirt bikes on my Uncle’s farm on the prairies of Western Canada during my summer vacations as a teenager, but it had been nearly twenty years since then. Mark, an Aussie expat and owner of the company, kicked started one of the Soviet era 125CC Minsk Motorbikes and pointed to a nearby empty street and said, “Give it a go, see how she feels.” It was love at first sight, or should I say first gear.
Practise time completed, the group was off on our 150 kilometre tour labelled as the “Mountain and Delta Explorer” which was going to take in some of the best sights in Vietnam. After a quick stop at the Thap Bang Cham Tower, dating back to the 10th century Cham Dynasty, we were off on a dirt road moving towards a former mountain-top US forces base, and soon after an old US Air Force strip complete with helicopter bunkers. It was completely surreal to ride my Minsk down the centre of the neglected runway, surrounded by mountains whilst looking towards the horizon and the red soil that lined the vein-like cracks in the pavement ahead of me.
I tried my best to keep my composure and contain my excitement as we crossed the Thu Bon River on a ferry no wider that the length of my bike and then navigated our way along narrow and extensive pathways that dissected unending rice fields and farms. We drove past a woman in a peaked bamboo hat pulling an enormous water buffalo by a rope strung through its nose, past an elderly gentleman spreading kernels of corn over the front porch to be dried in the sun and past school children who high-fived us as we drove by. As we continued on, the inspiring scenery just got better and better. Even with all of this before me, my outward stoicism held firm, but internally it was another story. Internally I was screaming at the top of lungs at just how great felt, it was absolutely exhilarating. I was in a state of traveler’s euphoria.
Not 48 hours had passed since the War Remnants Museum and now, all of a sudden, I was sitting in the countryside of Central Vietnam in a small farmhouse restaurant happily slurping away at my bowl of noodles and listening to Mark wax poetic about his feelings and experiences of travelling in Southeast Asia. He offered incredible insight and thoughtful observations that only a seasoned “cultural middleman” could offer. As inspiring as the landscape was, the experience of having a guide like Mark was equally rewarding. A raspy voiced, coffee and cigarette fiend, he was the absolute perfect person to navigate through the bucolic Vietnamese terrain.
At one point, one of the members of the group made an off-the-cuff remark about some bits and pieces of garbage strewn about the roadside. Mark got his back up and with nostrils flared and eyes as big as saucers turned to the young lady and said rather vociferously, “Are you having a go at the Vietnamese about the garbage? Well……are you?” It was fantastic to see him defend the country he’d obviously fallen in love with and he offered in great detail and at great length his opinions on: the work ethic of the Vietnamese, how they waste nothing, recycle everything, and in general do just as good, if not a better job, at managing their country than their counterparts in the developed world.
There will be peaks and there will be valleys. This was a lesson I learned on my tour to Vietnam and, as I continue to travel the globe, one that I continue to carry with me. In fact, I would say that I often look back on my two weeks in Vietnam whenever I enter a place I’ve never been to before and remind myself not to judge my time solely on isolated negative experiences, for they distort and skew ones’ view. It would be equally unfortunate if one only remembered the good memories and walked away with an unrealistic perspective.
If you only take one thing my experience it would be this: be honest with yourself. If you don’t like something while travelling, it’s ok; you’re not going to enjoy everything, especially when you travel in developing nations. It’s important to understand this so that you can press on through those challenging times in the market, or at the War Remnants Museum, knowing that eventually you’ll find yourself on the back of a rumbling motorbike, as you skirt past stalks of rice waving in the wind on your way into the lush mountains of Central Vietnam.
By R.S. Reynolds
- If this experience has inspired you to want to explore this region of the world, search Asia tours
- Feeling adventurous? Search cycling tours abroad
- Be a respectful tourist by learning some essential Vietnamese phrases before departing
- For a meaningful way to travel search low cost volunteer programs in Vietnam
- Check out ideas for spendind a gap year in Vietnam
- If you would like to be more than just a tourist view how to teach English in Veitnam