We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfilment.Hilaire Belloc
Feb 10-23 2017
This is the first of a three part series about our motorbiking adventure through Vietnam. Beginning in Ho Chi Minh City and traveling for 1,500 miles to Hanoi, then a quick three day, 200 mile journey around the northwest part of the country through Sapa and the Tonkinese Alps.
Our journey begins in Ho Chi Minh City, where our first order of business was to acquire a couple of bike. We found a great service through Tigit Motorbikes, that allowed us to purchase the bikes outright with a guarantee allowing us to sell them back once we made it to Hanoi. We chose Honda Blades, 110cc semi-automatic motorbikes. They are known to be extremely reliable and allow us to have enough power to get across any type of terrain we may cross. By purchasing the bikes we were also given the registration ‘blue cards’ that would help if we ever got stopped by the authorities. Maggie named her’s La Roja (the red in Spanish), and I named mine Von Esper (after the assassin Vampire tribe from the movie Blade).
Our route would first take us to the Southeast Coast, then up through the Central Highlands, back towards the southern Central Coast and some of the countries best beaches, then on to the mountains of the Western Ho Chi Minh Road, back to the popular Central Coast cities of Hoi An and Hue, then into northern Vietnam rejoining the Western Ho Chi Minh Road all the way to Hanoi. The route would keep us on good highways, some backroads, and offer a mix of mountains, farmland, coast, cities, fishing villages, and cultural sites.
Each day would consist of between 80 and 140 miles, mostly traveling on the weekends with a few week days thrown in as Maggie’s work loads would allow. Having only driven automatic bikes in Taiwan, we quickly grasped gear shifting and the foot braking and ended up enjoying semi-automatics even more. We purchased helmets and gloves as well, and were provided some bungee cords to strap our gear on the back.
Once out of Ho Chi Minh we came to a short ferry crossing before continuing to our first stop along the Ho Tram Strip. Along the way we traveled pretty busy roads, both motorbikes and trucks, but found that a lot of the perceived dangers were highly overstated as long as you were slow and deliberate with your actions. Once arriving at our first destination we decided to spoil ourselves a bit and stayed in a beach villa at the Ho Tram Beach Boutique Resort for the night. We watched as the sunset over the South China Sea and enjoyed some drinks at the beach side bar. The grounds were beautiful and the beach was perfection.
The next day we continued along the coast on narrow and less busy roads to our next stop, staying the next night at a guest house in Phù Thủy with very friendly owners. The town seemed to be a popular spot for Russian tourists. Here is where we had the only ‘accident’ of the trip, Maggie was attempting to park her bike at a lunch stop, misjudging the curb and falling on her side. Luckily, there was no damage to the bike and Maggie was no worse for wear- her ego was more bruised then her body, spending the next few hours saying she was so embarrassed. From then on she had me help her going over curbs when parking (they are much higher then average United States ones), but after awhile she was able to do it on her own.
From Phù Thủy we would head inland for a bit towards what are known as the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The roads became more narrow and windy as we quickly gained elevation. We took a quick side-trip to view Pongour Falls and relaxing for a bit before reaching the town of Dalat. Dalat is a popular getaway and honeymoon spot for the Vietnamese, being at a high elevation and much cooler then steamy Ho Chi Minh City, with beautiful surroundings including many flower greenhouses and lakes. At night we headed into the town where the streets were closed off and everyone was out enjoying the night markets, listening to music, and hanging out with friends. We sampled a bunch of the offerings, including grilled corn soaked in butter and cilantro, a variety of grilled meats and barbecued quail eggs on sticks, hot soy milk, and rice pancakes (rice paper with quail egg, green onions, dried shrimp, and a healthy dose of hot sauce and mayonnaise- sounds intense but tastes delicious, we had seconds).
Leaving Dalat we rapidly descended through lush forests full of roadside waterfalls at every turn, including the occasional road maintenance that made for some bumpy riding. Things soon smoothed out as we began passing through rice paddies ending at the southern Central Coast, home to some of Vietnam’s best beaches. We stayed for a couple of nights in Nha Trang, another huge Russian tourist destination, with bilingual signs in both Vietnamese and Russian. We strolled along the ocean side in the evenings while I explored the city during the day while Maggie worked. Funny side story, so the time difference is big between California and Vietnam (9 hours ahead), which means Maggie has to get up to work at 4AM sometimes. While in Ho Chi Minh our place didn’t have a separate room so her work was disturbing my sleep, I vowed to then only book places that had a balcony she could work on 🙂 I still love her though and know it’s a small price to pay for us to be able to do this round the world trip together.
From Nha Trang we continued a short distance up the coast to a beautiful tropical paradise, where we would again spoil ourselves for a few days. We rode out onto the Hon Gom sandbar, a claw shaped peninsula that extended into the sea to catch a boat that would take us to Whale Island. We stayed in a wonderful beach bungalow at the Whale Island Resort, an eco-resort that sponsored a marine reserve around the small island and who were the sole occupants. Surrounding the reserve was an intense fishing industry, so the owners hoped to keep the remaining areas unspoiled and improve the variety of species and their numbers. Maggie enjoyed working next to the ocean while I went out hiked around the island. We enjoyed swimming in the clear and warm water as well. It was the perfect place to rejuvenate and relax outside of the bustling cities of Vietnam.
Once the weekend rolled around it was time to hit the road again, traveling further up the coast to the beach side city of Qui Nhon, similar to Nha Trang but without all of the tourists. While there Maggie was craving a break from the local food so I found a highly rated burger place in town. The food was fantastic, and as an added bonus we were invited to speak to a group of college students who were attending an English class in the back. It was an awesome experience, we chatted and took selfies with the students, spending at least an hour getting to know them and answering their questions, such as the differences between the United States and Vietnam, as well as our travels so far.
From Qui Nhon it was time to leave the coast and head even further off the tourist trail towards the mountains. We stayed one night in Pleiku where we hit just over 1,000 km traveled so far, so it was also time to head to the Honda shop and get an oil change and our chains tightened. The scenery and climate quickly changed from hot and dry with intense agriculture, to cool and lush jungle dotted with small villages as we reached our next stop in the small town of Kham Duc. People were excited to see us and chat, wondering what we were doing and where we were headed. Everyone was generally nice, never asking for anything, sometimes even sharing a beer or two or some snacks with us at no charge.
So far the trip has been amazing and we were looking forward to the second half of our route to Hanoi as we had reached half-way. Next up would be some extended stays in the the towns of Hoi An and Hue, as well as the caves and national park of Phong Nha before the last few legs to Hanoi, you can read about it in the post Motorbiking Vietnam Part II, or skip to the last part of our motorbiking adventure in the post Motorbiking Vietnam Part III.