***Video montage of the trip can be found at the bottom of the post***
One Motorbike – Two Bags – One Couple – One Month; One Awesome Adventure!
This is a motorbike adventure in Vietnam that both Carlo and I were looking forward to for so long. ‘Top Gear’ was the main reason why, and I blame them for putting the thought of motor biking in Vietnam into our susceptible heads!
The plan was to buy a 125cc manual motorbike in Hanoi and drive it all the way to Saigon in the south. The prospect of cruising down through the Vietnamese countryside made me feel nervous, anxious but really really excited.
Normally, we are research freaks when it comes to visiting a new country and I usually spend a lot of time planning a route and things for us to see and do along the way.
This research plan wasn’t applied to our trip to Vietnam, and the only investigating we carried out was watching the Top Gear Vietnamese Special over and over again. Let’s just say that seeing Jeremy Clarkson constantly make a fool of himself didn’t help us too much!
So we decided to just ‘wing it’, as they say.
Arriving in Hanoi, we had no contacts, no bike lined up, no maps and no plan; our only goal was to make the 2,100 kms trek from Hanoi to Saigon and we had a month to do it.
Our first port of call was to buy a bike that was strong enough to carry us both and two bags (one rucksack and a laptop bag).
We figured that we would need a 125cc bike to get the job done properly, and the boys at Hanoi Motorbikes sorted us out.
Meet “Charlie” – (Yes, we christened the bike Charlie!)
Here are some facts about it:
Make and model – Suzuki GM125
Cost – $550
Green Papers, 2 Helmets, a map, a secure lock, some spare parts and driving lessons were all included in the cost price.
We were delighted with our new purchase and felt that we got a good deal – the bike was in great condition and we were rearing to go.
It was Carlos first time driving a manual bike and as much as he tried to hide it, he was kind of bricking it. Luke sorted him out with a driving lesson and we were good to go – now that he had mastered the mechanics of the bike, he just had to deal with the insanity of the Vietnamese drivers.
Not an easy feat at all.
We left Hanoi on the February 13th with a full tank of fuel and excitement and a hell of a lot of nerves!
Our first stop was Halong Bay.
The drive there was kind of disastrous to be honest; the entire route was lined with road works, we were both absolutely freezing (hadn’t anticipated just how cold it would be) on the bike, and we quickly learned of the dangers of driving in Vietnam.
This journey didn’t exactly calm our nerves, but it did prepare us for what lay ahead on the rest of the trip.
After two breakdowns and many visits to the local mechanic, we were finally on our way and began to make the journey down south.
Here’s a quick look at the towns we stopped in along the route, and also the accommodation that we stayed in in each place:
Hanoi – (KOTO Hotel)
Halong Bay – (Alex Hotel)
Thanh Hoa (Thien Y Hotel)
Ha Tinh (Binh Minh Hotel)
Dong Hoi (Huunghi Hotel)
Hue (Hong Thien 2 Hotel)
Hoi An (Han Thuyen Guesthouse)
Tinh Binh Dinh (Thao Trinh Hotel)
Nha Trang (Thien Hoa Hotel) (New Star Hotel)
TOOK THE BUS FROM THIS POINT ON!
Mui Ne (Blue Sky Hotel)
Siagon (Spring House Hotel)
In hindsight, we made the wrong decision about the road that we took, and we failed to complete the entire route with Charlie. Instead, we decided to take the bus from Nha Trang for the rest of the journey to Siagon.
Why? Because the roads were just too damn dangerous.
There are two ways to do this trip; the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the highway, and (unfortunately) we took the latter. Our lack of research bit us on the butts as had we taken the time to actually read other people’s reviews, we would have taken the Ho Chi Minh trail.
There were days on that deadly highway where we put in 9 hour stints that covered a measly distance of up to 270 kms.
Each day consisted of an endless game of ‘chicken’ with the oncoming buses and lorries and needless to say, we lost every time.
The bigger the vehicle you have in Vietnam, the more power you have on the road. Lorries and buses stand at the top of the food chain while motorbikes sit miserably at the bottom.
There were many times when we literally had to go into a ditch to avoid a collision with an oncoming bus, who was readily driving in OUR lane.
As you can imagine, Carlos road rage got a good exercising.
We had two accidents during our time on the road, one of which was more serious than the other. But we both survived them and emerged the other side with only a few minor cuts and bruises.
We expected to have lots of breakdowns and maybe a fall or two off the bike so they didn’t shock us into calling a halt to the motorbike trip in Nha Trang.
Our wake-up call came on the journey from Tinh Binh Dinh to Nha Trang when we came upon a fatal accident. There was a body of a man lying in the middle of the road, his face was covered with a blanket and there was blood and guts splattered all over the road – bit graphic I know.
His motorbike lay nearby.
We knew that approx. 30 people are killed every day on the roads in Vietnam, but what we saw that day just shook us to the core as it kind of hit home how easily an accident like this can happen. I thought about that poor man’s family getting the call to say he had been killed in a motorbike accident.
Seeing the reality of what can happen, Carlo kind of lost a little confidence in his driving abilities. After a long discussion, our conclusion was that our life was more important than any motorbike adventure, and we both decided that it would be best to ‘bus it’ for the rest of the trip.
Even if we were a little disappointed and disheartened, our decision made us both feel much happier – and a hell of a lot safer.
Charlie took the bus with us too, as we stowed it in the underneath compartment on both bus trips that we took.
On arriving in Saigon, we were extremely lucky to have someone lined up to buy the bike off us. He inspected it and was happy to give us $400 for it.
It was time to say “Bye Bye” to Charlie!
Did we enjoy the overall experience?
We had some bad times during the trip, but we also had some very good times. I enjoyed the feeling of freedom; cruising through paddy fields while observing the locals at work was absolutely amazing. Having the sun shining down on us, while having all our belongings on the back of the bike gave us a sense of independence and contentment that we will never forget.
Breakdowns became the norm for us. We made over 15 visits to the garage in total, with problems that varied from a puncture to a snapped clutch. Breaking down was frustrating but not that troublesome, as there was always a friendly local that stopped and directed us to the nearest garage. Repairs on the bike were speedy and extremely inexpensive.
Good old Google maps came to the rescue! The 3g coverage in Vietnam is incredible, so no matter how deep we were in the countryside, we still had phone signal. Local SIM cards are cheap and plentiful; we opted to go with Viettel and had zero problems.
Advice for anyone that is planning to do the trip?
Simples – Take the Ho Chi Minh Trail! Seemingly, the path is a lot more enjoyable and scenic. More importantly, there is a lot less traffic to be found on this route. I do often wonder how things would have been for us if we had opted to take this route instead of the highway.
Would we do it again?
Hmmmmmmmm…probably not. Having said this, we wouldn’t completely rule it out. Although this post might seem quite negative what with having talked about breakdowns, accidents and dangerous situations, the trip was actually a great experience.
The countryside was absolutely beautiful, the locals were super friendly and helpful, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the gorgeous town of Mui Ne and the food was delicious.
If we were to do it again, we’d just do the necessary research and take the safer, more scenic route like everyone else does!