Country of motorbikes
Vietnam is a country of motorbikes. There aren’t that many countries, at least not that I have been to, where motorbikes outnumber cars by a handsome number, but Vietnam is definitely one of them. For that reason motorbikes soon become a major part of your life in Vietnam.
Hanoi, the northern capital where I lived for close to two years, is the city of BEEP BEEP. I have a vivid memory of the constant ensemble of sounds from my first day and it is only fitting that the same continuous and sometimes painfully piercing BEEP BEEP was there to send me off two years later. The Vietnamese are horn-happy, not because they are being rude or impatient, but because they are telling you they are behind you, or just letting you know they’re now arriving at an intersection. OK! I think some of them must be horn-happy. Regardless, motorbikes are the blood that brings the city to life making it one of the most captivating and exciting cities I have ever visited. Needless to say I was soon on a bike and traveling with the masses, wide eyed and fascinated. You really feel a part of the city once you’re on a motorbike. The Vietnamese are professionals and it’s a treat to watch them. Many carry three and sometimes four people. Young kids ride without helmets, a logic I still can’t understand however it’s believed to be in their best interests. Bikes carry anything you can think of; from large pottery to furniture, live pigs, chickens or countless cases of eggs. Some would sell goldfish from the back of their motorbike; individually packaged in clear plastic bags. Another was carrying a bee hive with thousands of bees buzzing inside a makeshift net container. After a year in Vietnam I still managed to be surprised by some of the insane things loaded onto a small 110cc bike.
My fondest memories in Vietnam were all happened on the back of a bike and my whole experience would have been vastly different if I hadn’t been getting around on two wheels. For a first time traveler I can understand the daunting prospect of putting yourself into the crazy mess of the city’s traffic, especially if you have never ridden on a bike before. It is for this reason that many travelers just don’t do it. But, before you throw the idea away completely, due to warranted safety concerns, I want to tell you about my favorite travel experience I have had anywhere in the world. This was a 3 week trip in Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, which covered around 2,000km and was as a whole very safe.
My wife and I bought a bike in Hanoi from http://vietnam-motorbikes.com/en/home.html and got it sent down to Ho Chi Minh City on the train. The Bike cost $350 and it cost about $20 to send it on the train. We picked up the bike from the train station in Ho Chi Minh City and were on our way. One of the major benefits of do it yourself travel in Vietnam is the absolute freedom that you have. To me, this is priceless. You can do what you want, go where you want and do it when you want without the restrictions of tour companies and the like getting in the way of your trip.
In our 3 weeks on the road we saw such diversity in the landscape. We were taken away at how beautiful the scenery was and how in most areas in was virtually untouched. At one point, on a clear morning, we were hugging the coast line of the South China Sea. On our right was inviting blue water and pristine beaches while on our left were steep sand dunes in various colors of red, brown and white. From dried bushes in the dunes and sea side views, we went to luxurious green tropical vegetation, and later on to lush green mountain tops. All along the way was rice paddies filled with diligent workers. The rice paddies were a fluorescent lime green and the vast variety of colors from other crops and vegetation was eye catching. Each patch had its own shade of green which at times made the setting seem surreal. We drove up and down hills, in and out of valleys. The hills around us were efficiently cultivated with coffee, fruit, rice and bamboo. Most of this trip we enjoyed on our own because the countryside of Vietnam is mostly quiet and peaceful.
We found so many enjoyable things to do along the way. We had grilled seafood on the beach in Long Hai, went sand sledding in Mui Ne, and swam in hot springs. We did a grueling mountain bike session in Dalat and canoed on Lak Lake. We saw the effects of the war on communities and visited orphanages in the Central Highlands. We stayed in traditional Vietnamese houses and visited the villages of the ethnic minorities. We listened to monks chant in their pagodas in Da Nang and enjoyed the full moon festival in Hoi An.
Probably the most rewarding experiences were spending time with the Vietnamese people. They are always friendly and welcoming. We met so many kind and interesting people on our trip who were only too happy to share a Vietnamese coffee or a shot of homemade vodka (for the men only). We often ate street food, sitting on small plastic chairs, which is the best way to start up a conversation with the locals. Our Vietnamese language skills progressed well during our 3 weeks on the road.
Traveling on a motorbike in the Vietnamese countryside is relaxing and extremely rewarding. We had a perfect sense of freedom while at the same time felt very safe. For us, it was one of those trips that changes the way you travel. Now, whenever we have the chance we use a motorbike to discover a new place. We really look forward to our next Vietnam trip through some different parts of the country. Our whole 3 week trip is documented on our blog http://teamfroz.blogspot.com/ as well as all our other experiences from our year and a half stay in Vietnam.