In February 2017, at the start of our trip around the world, we explored Vietnam by motorbike. Starting in Saigon and ending in Hanoi, we chronicle the amazing people, food, and culture of Vietnam we saw along the way.

1: Saigon to Kê Gà

127 miles / 204 kilometers - 8 hours

Saigon

our trusty steeds

We left Cambodia by bus, arriving at the Vietnam border a few hours later – at the start of the journey we were forced to give our beloved passports to the bus attendant, so as we crossed into that weird liminal space between countries, we crossed our fingers, hoped we’d get them back on the other side, and left the bus. Sans passports, we were waved into a massive Soviet era warehouse/border crossing/misery palace and waited and waited and waited with 50 others for each of our names to be called out and our passports returned to us with the necessary exit and entry stamps. Ryan cruised through in 30 minutes, whereas Camille’s name was the second to last to be called. Then they tossed your luggage through an unmanned scanner (foreshadowing) and pop out the other side into Vietnam!

We don’t even really fully remember getting into Saigon. Maybe it was bus ride, or the long wait at the border, but we folded into our beds immediately upon arrival. We stayed at Hong Han Hotel in the backpacker district Phạm Ngũ Lão, a frenetic neighborhood packed with upscale Western fare and hole in the wall soup joints. That night we accidentally walked through a Caodist ceremony – we were those asshole backpackers – tired, confused, and new to the country and just bashing our way through. In the end, we were rewarded with the some of best phở we’d ever had.

The next day we wasted absolutely no time in getting ourselves some motorbikes. After doing a bunch of research on various options, we decided to go with Honda Blade 110cc semi-autos from Tigit Motorbikes. Most backpackers will roll into town and buy a refurbished Honda Win from a local shop or another backpacker just finishing their trip. This adds a certain adventure and unpredictability to your journey, as you never know when your shocks might fail or the engine might explode – both stories we heard from travelers who had done that very thing. Literally every other shop in Phạm Ngũ Lão is selling used motorbikes of various makes and models, most of them being Chinese knock-offs or real Honda Wins repaired with sub-standard Chinese parts. Not wanting to deal with the headache, we went with the “guaranteed buy-back” option, where we buy the bikes for full price up front in Saigon, and sell them back to the same company in Hanoi when we’re done, minus 200USD for the trouble.

Some Thoughts on Riding a Motorbike Through Vietnam

  • Make sure you have your motorbike license (from your home country) plus your International Drivers Permit (IDP) – it’s been accepted in Vietnam since Nov 2016, at some point you will get shaken down by the police and it’s just easier to have your paperwork. Also, it is required for most travel insurance to cover any accidents.
  • Test ride and inspect your bike.
  • Think long and hard about what style of ride you want – our ideal bikes would’ve been small, manual motorcycles. Big bikes are basically impossible to acquire, require extra licensing and permits, and the top speed limit for motos is 60 kph (37 mph). There are a couple spots where you can squeeze out a few more kph, but honestly, between the potholes, dogs, and the dust trucks, you’re not cruising any faster than that. We wanted dependable bikes that we would not be maintaining, except for oil and tires, so we went with Tigit. Best decision ever. EVER. All of their bikes except for the Honda Blades were already on the road, so instead of “real” motorcycles we got 2 cute semi-autos. But they were killer little bikes.

After picking up our bikes, we tested our ability to decipher Vietnamese café menus and ended up with a plate of Bò Né – Google Translate said it was “beef” and “butter”, but it was actually a delicious sizzling beef and onion plate with raw egg cracked on top that cooked itself in the pan, served with a stubby light-as-air baguette. Absolutely delicious. The first real meal in a new country is always a bit of stressful roulette – you haven’t seen many menus yet, and if you are like us and planning day by day, you probably haven’t done the legwork of learning the local dishes, let alone the language, but they’re often the most memorable. We were hot, tired, hungry, mildly desperate and unsure of what “butter beef” was, but once it came out we were so satisfied with what arrived at our table.

We had planned a few extra days in Ho Chi Minh City (called Saigon, it’s historical name, by just about everyone), but … things got moving and so did we! Restless and excited, we hopped on the bikes and went. We booked a spot in Kê Gà on the beach. We were lead out of the city by our fixer from Tigit (thank goodness, because navigating traffic on that first day by ourselves would’ve killed us), and then we hit the Cat Lai ferry, which put us solidly out of the city and onto Highway 1.

Highway 1 is, for lack of a better term, a truck thoroughfare. After a couple of kilometers (“kays” in moto-speak) Ryan looked at his phone and saw a road we could hop on and cut across the oxbow of the highway. The buffalo carts turning onto this road hauling huge bags of rice should’ve tipped us off, but we were fresh and ready for an adventure. It didn’t take more than 2km for the road to trail off into a foot path through a rice paddy – running parallel to a dirt track that the buffalo carts would not have minded, but we did, because it was under 6 inches of water. It became clear that we were going nowhere fast, and pretty close to tipping over into a flooded field and just ruining the day, so we tip-toed our bikes backwards and teetered back to the main road.

The rest of the ride to Kê Gà was a bit of a slog – long empty road (although it boasts some of the highest speed limits in the country – a whopping 70kph) cutting over to the coast. Ryan also learned a very important motorbiking lesson that day – WEAR SUNSCREEN.

2: Kê Gà to Hàm Tiến

24 miles / 38 kilometers - 1 1/2 hours

As we continued driving north we left the delta of southern Vietnam and were met with a plunging coastline filled with colorful boats.

3: Hàm Tiến to Mũi Né

8 miles / 12 kilometers - 1/2 hour

After Hàm Tiến, we took a short jaunt to the other part of the peninsula to the beach-side town of Mũi Né. It’s said that many years ago it was a backpackers oasis where intrepid travelers camped on the beach, but by the time we arrived, it was a strip of beach resorts catering to Russian and Chinese tourists. All the signs were first in Russian, then Chinese, and finally English, and the tourists outnumbered the locals. It was an interesting departure from what would become our new normal, bopping between isolated villages in the countryside without a single tourist in sight.

We drove to the famous overlook of the Mũi Né fishing fleet, a picturesque scene of roundish, colorful fishing boats anchored in calm, shallow waters. The blue-painted wooden “coracle” design is thought to originate from India and are known as thung-chai in Vietnamese. The name coracle in English comes from Wales and the similar boat designs are seen in South West England, Ireland, and Scotland, but we assume this is a case of convergent evolution.

While the persistent winds on the beaches of Mũi Né made it less appealing for casual beach-goers like ourselves, the shores are a major destination for wind surfers searching for aerials.

We wandered the beach at sunset and retired early for the long 7-hour journey to Phan Rang the next day.

4: Mũi Né to Phan Rang

95 miles / 152 kilometers - 7 hours

Climbing onto our bikes early in the morning, we set off to conquer the Sand Dune Highway, a long open road of rugged coastlines snaking through white sand dunes and desolate swaths of desert landscape, and connect to a brand new highway to Phan Rang through what the Vietnam Coracles calls ‘The Dragons Graveyard’.

A few hours in, enjoying plentiful sunshine, warm breezes through our helmets, waves to our right, sand dunes to our left – we came upon the infamous police checkpoint between the Red Dunes and White Dunes. It is well known in backpacker circles that Vietnamese traffic police stop foreigners to check their papers along this road (it’s even marked on most maps) in order collect fines upwards of 200k đồng (~$10) Luckily for us, we had current IDPs, our blue ownership cards, and valid motorbiking licenses, so looking a bit deflated, they let us continue along our way.

White Sand Dunes

Further down the road, we soon found ourselves bobbing around in Gobi-desert-worthy peaks of yellow sand dunes. Locals have figured out that they have something good going on and have set up shop selling cold drinks and rectangular(ish) blue pieces of plastic you can ostensibly use to slide down the dunes. With little traffic and few families stopping to play, in a fit of desperate frustration, a line of the old ladies selling the ‘sleds’ came out into the road and formed a blockade to get us to stop and rent some plastic. We snaked our way through only to find the real hustle happens further down the road at the big dunes. We’ve heard it used to be a free for all, but now they’ve erected to charge tourists to “guard” their bikes. It’s dangerous out here, you know. If you want to get fancy, for ~$10 you can cruise over the dunes in an old US Army Jeep. Not recommended for a lot of reasons – for others, it’s annoying as heck to be walking around the dunes and be afraid that a Jeep is going to come flying blindly over the ridge at 50kph, and it’s destructive to the ecosystem. Choose wisely.

As the sand dunes faded in our mirrors, the landscape changed again. That big clean empty road stayed big, clean, and empty. It felt like we were the first travelers to hit the pavement, it was glorious ride, everything you hope for as a rider. So clean, in fact, the local coastal villagers were using their big, clean, empty stretches of road to dry the recent rice harvest.

And then that big, clean, empty road got bigger, and emptier, and cleaner. Huge bricked promenade style sidewalks on either side of the road appeared. It became a 4 lane divided road with young trees planted in the center. The salt farms on either side of the road were 5 - 10 feet lower than the road, giving this surreal feeling of flying above the landscape.

massive salt flats

that big old empty road

Dragons’ Graveyard

And then… that big new road just ended in a blockade of oil drums and potholes.

translates to 'no cars'

While trying to decide to whether to continue or find another road, a local kid herding goats on his scooter waved us through saying that the road was fine. The ride up into the desert cliffs along the ocean was one of our favorites of the trip. Since the road was blocked off, there wasn’t any traffic – a few local goat herds, some bafflingly alone construction workers filling potholes barefoot, and some abandoned road equipment.

It’s a magnificent highway. Huge paved scenic pull outs every couple of kilometers are complete with new benches and trash cans, it was so easy to stop and just drink in the endless ocean. But it was pretty obvious why it was closed – even though the pavement was so new and clean it looked like it was laid yesterday, massive potholes five feet in diameter and huge rockslides broke up the road. Someone had gone through and marked all the potholes with tree branches so motorists wouldn’t fall in, and it was easy to maneuver on a motorbike, but I doubt the massive tour buses that this highway is obviously meant for could be so nimble. But we felt blessed by the road that was too big for it’s britches, that was too optimistic yet to handle the local geology, because it was empty. Not a truck or terrifying bus in sight, just us and the desert rocks and the massive ocean views.

on top of the world

park littered with trash

the cliff side road emptied back out into another big clean boulevard

After a few more hours we hit Phan Rang, a small, but relatively new city perched on the beach. It’s known locally for it’s seafood, but not much else. It was a relatively dim and uninteresting, but it was a place to rest our heads between Mui Ne and Da Lat. We stayed in a little guesthouse and drank wine with the owner, who told us all the local tourists come in on buses from Saigon at 3am. Dropping our bags at the hotel, we made our pilgrimage to the beach just as the sun to setting.

one of our first amazing sunsets

5: Phan Rang to Đà Lạt

60 miles / 96 kilometers - 4 hours

stubby legs and tiny stools

The next morning, a little old lady on the street made us baguettes and eggs for breakfast, a meal we would become accustomed to during our time in the former French territory of Vietnam. We geared up for our first big mountain journey, pushing our bikes to the max as we ascended the Vietnam mountain ranges to the North. After two hours of climbing, tired and lacking caffeine, we pulled off for a coffee at the edge of the road after summiting the tallest point. We were rewarded with a breathtaking view before dropping into the valley below, another two hours of gravity-fed adrenaline.

the valley below

crazy road

That night we stayed in the Dreams Hotel replete with saunas and a hot tub for about ~$15 a day, and as we sat that evening, soaking our bones in eucalyptus vapors, we decided to stay a few extra days. But take it from us, choose the town, not the hotel.

Having some time to kill, we asked around and were pointed to the Easy Rider Tour, a local group of riders who take tourists on journeys around the surrounding countryside. After booking our guide the previous day, we met our less-than-enthused guide the next morning.

The sights were… underwhelming. It was less of an authentic tour, but rather a guide driving us to tourists sites, parking, and waiting for us to pay a non-included fee to walk around some shrine or whatnot. The best part, surprisingly, was getting caught in a downpour and taking shelter under a road-side awning. We got to talking with our guide and learned about the history of Easy Riders, where our guide comes from, his travels throughout the rest of the world, and how Vietnam has changed after the war. Sometimes the best tours come from leaving the “tour” altogether.

8: Đà Lạt to Lăk Lake

90 miles / 144 kilometers - 6 hours

Bánh xèo, a rice and shrimp pancake that is the most amazing food item in the world, no joke.

We drove on to Lăk Lake on the suggestion of a friend, and it was a pretty great way to spend the day. The roads we were on were new, with a big new bridge that gave us an amazing view of one of Vietnam’s famous floating villages. It’s hard to get a good tour of these villages which is why we hadn’t sought one out yet or later – these are people’s homes, but there are a few villages around SE Asia that have transitioned in part to being a tourist oddity.

Other travelers talk about them the same way they talk about the elephant camps – beautiful, impressive, but also deeply depressing and frustrating. The area around the lake (the largest natural lake in Vietnam – any larger lake is man made) is the home of many of the minority groups in Vietnam. The minority cultures in Vietnam seem to be treated with the same amount of respect as Native American groups in the United States – relegated to small geographic areas, and provided minimal political power.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit and learn their culture, it just means you need to be very careful when booking a tour (as we were in Kon Tum) to make sure you’re not taking advantage or supporting uncomfortable stereotypes, and checking to make sure you are welcome to drop in and say hi.

Lăk Lake

As Americans, we are not actually allowed to visit a lot of these groups without special permission from the Vietnamese government. There has been a recent history of violent revolt by minority groups against the Vietnamese government, and the fist of government has come down.

Being able to see the village from the bridge was pretty magical, but since we didn’t anticipate seeing it, and we didn’t know who lived there, we didn’t feel comfortable popping down to the river to investigate. Arrests, or at minimum, steep fines, for surprise American visits are real. So we kept on this brand new road wondering what it’s going to bring to this region: new trucking lines? mining? tourism? who knows.

Eventually we rolled into the little town on the opposite side of the lake from the eco-camp we were booked at and waited for our boat. We locked our bikes up, crossed our fingers, and hopped on the long tail that showed up for us.

We stayed at the Lak Lake Tented Camp. It was our most expensive night in Vietnam (~$90, our typical accommodation budget was ~$10-30), and a bit splurge on a romantic middle-of-nowhere getaway.

#catsofasia

It is like one of those places that pops up on Pinterest with a click bait logo saying “10 most beautiful glamping destinations in Asia”. It’s quite pretty – you take a boat over the largest natural lake in Vietnam to a traditionally styled long house with safari style permanent tents perched up on the hill overlooking the lake. And we were the only ones there (probably because $.$).

If we were staying longer (which we couldn’t afford), we’d have gone kayaking on the lake or walked through the rice fields to one of the villages behind the hotel. Instead, we drank some beers, hung out with the friendly kittens, watched the local fisherman illegally zapping fish to death with car batteries on their little canoe (electrofishing), had a really really good dinner of some of the local specialties, sat our on our terrace, and then fell asleep to the sounds of epically loud karaoke drifting across the water from the town across the lake (killed the ‘alone in the universe vibe’ a bit). Then woke up, had a great breakfast (the kitchen at this resort made it worth all the money we spent on the night – it was some of the best meals we’d had in this area), grabbed the boat back to our bikes and roared off into the distance.

illegal electrofishing

9: Lăk Lake to Kon Tum

170 miles / 275 kilometers - 8 1/2 hours

Once you leave Lak Lake and hop on the QL27 there’s not a lot going on, and then you hit the AH17 and there’s even less. If you’re on your way to Kon Tum there’s only like three places to stop for food and gas: Buon Ma Thuot, Buon Ho, and Pleiku. This is the most boring part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It’s flat, straight, dry, and dusty. I hope you made a good playlist, because you’re just slogging through the kilometers on this one.

This ride was memorable for us for how unremarkable the road was. At one point in the afternoon we were stressing about getting into Kon Tum before dark and hadn’t eaten in a few hours, and needed to eat. We were so tired and bored and hungry that the only thing we could do was keep riding – trying to figure out how to get food was going to take extra neurons that we didn’t have available, but around 3pm we cracked.

We tried the first place that had people outside, but they only served beer and coffee. Then, magically, Google stepped in and saved our tired asses. Ryan searched for “restaurants” on Google maps and surprisingly, it found something. This never happens. Google maps isn’t super great in Vietnam. We mostly used Open Street Map via Maps.me, but it found a restaurant that had an actual review (which meant it was really real, someone had been there), so we turned down a side road, sat down, and got dished out two amazing miracle bowls of fat white noodles in a thick salty broth covered in handfuls of green onions.

Over and over again this would be our favorite sort of shop – they make one thing, there is no menu. You sit down, say you want two of whatever it is they serve, and get fed. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the house specialty on other tables, or, maybe you have no idea and get surprised. A good indication of quality is someone coming in, and ordering 5 servings for takeaway.

After eating, we kept going. And then the sun started to go down. And then the gates of hell opened up: the trash fires started getting lit and the dust trucks started rumbling onto the road. It’s hard to ride a motorbike for a long time. It’s hard to ride at night when there are embers flying into your face. It’s harder to ride at night when you have a tinted visor. It’s even harder to ride at night when you have a tinted visor covered in dirt truck dust. We stopped every 20 kilometers for a few hours to baby wipe our visors and lean on each other and count how long we had left.

Eventually, we got to Kon Tum.

Kon Tum was one of the highlights of our trip because of an epic “tour” (sort of tour sort of just crazy adventure) we took to the surrounding minority villages with a local artist, An. It’s such a great story it’s worth it’s own post – working on it now! Check back later!

12: Kon Tum to Quảng Ngãi

128 miles / 206 kilometers - 7 1/2 hours

Kon Tum marked the end of our time in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. There are a couple of ways to get back to the coast and Hoi An, but we’d been reading about QL24. QL24 is a really beautiful mountain road that runs through rainforest before dropping into the rice terraces towards the coast. We estimated it would be 4 - 5 hour drive, and the weather looked good. Such naïveté!

It started out clear and comfortable, but as we rose in elevation the clouds and mist rolled in. Driving through an area that looked popular with Vietnamese tourists, Ryan pulled off to adjust his jacket. He slowed down into a turn-out – his back tire slid out from underneath him – and then WHAM he was down. It was terrifying. Thankfully, he’d been going slowly, and we were in front of what looked like a casino with plenty of people walking in – they’ll help us, right? Nope.

Once the initial panic had passed, and it was clear that no bones were broken and he wasn’t going to bleed out and that the ladies in heels walking by weren’t interested in providing us with the time of day, Camille “Ace Field Medic” Teicheira slapped some bandages on Ryan’s hands and leg, wrapped his palm and knee in an orange trash bag so it wouldn’t bleed through his pants or get soggy in the rain, shoved some Advil down his throat, and we continued on. And then it started to pour.

And then the road fell apart. At first it just petered off into gravel. And then the pavement came back, sort of. Massive potholes that would swallow a water buffalo were everywhere. The only bonus of the all rain is that it filled the potholes with muddy water so we could actually see them. We did 30 km in an hour, slowly creeping along.

Trying to keep morale high

It was awful. We were nervous about Ryan’s wounds – they were soaking wet and the edges of the abrasion on his palm were saturated and white, which is not ideal conditions for quick healing. They also hadn’t been cleaned properly beyond the rinse with bottled water and alcohol wipes, but we couldn’t go any faster. 5 hours later we crawled into Quang Ngai and our guesthouse.

One look at Ryan’s hand and the guesthouse owner dragged us across the street to the local pharmacy. Clinics are few and far between, and they aren’t open late, pharmacies on the other hand, are the defacto medical care provider. The pharmacists shoved Ryan into a chair, threw on some gloves, and got to work cleaning his scrapes and bandaging him up. All the charged us for was the cost of the bandages and iodine. In retrospect, Ryan probably should’ve gotten a stitch in the puncture wound on his knee, but 🤷‍♀️.

Quang Ngai is nothing to write home about. It’s the first real stop on the coast, and has reasonable guesthouses. We wandered down to the night market for dinner, found a busy seafood restaurant, and then got swindled by a drunk guy who sat down at our table and started ordering food for us under the pretense of practicing his English. One giant plate of octopus later (Camille hates octopus) we gave up and dragged our tired butts to bed.

13: Quảng Ngãi to Hoi An

70 miles / 112 kilometers - 3 hours

Quick drive up the 1 along the coast…ish to Hoi An. We stayed in a cute hotel with a balcony overlooking a flooded field where water buffalo grazed, but was just steps from the heart of the city.

Hoi An is a beautiful city. It is also a huge tourist draw because of the Unesco World Heritage Old Town. We’d been staying in small guesthouses and hanging out on the motorbike circuit, so the bright tourist lights were a bit of a shock. But we got in the swing of things pretty fast when we realized how good the bánh mì in town were.

#catsofasia

child safety means putting a high chair on your moto instead of just holding on to the kid

Something delicious and fried and covered in shredded green mango

14: Hoi An to Đà Nẵng

16 miles / 26 kilometers - 5 hours*

Da Nang from on high

It’s a thirty to forty five minute drive to Da Nang from Hoi An. It’s pretty and suburban. You can see a glimpse of the ocean down short streets, and it feels a million miles away from the port hustle of Hoi An.

Since the drive was so short and our hotel room so boring, and the weather not perfect for a swim, we hopped back on the bikes and drove the Son Tra Peninsula. It was AMAZING.

We cruised around the Peninsula hanging out with monkeys, the massive Goddess of Mercy, ancient banyan trees, and epic rock slides until it started to get dark, then we buzzed down the mountain after an amazing sunset into the famous neon bridges of Da Nang back to the hotel.

15: Đà Nẵng to Huế

80 miles / 128 kilometers - 5 1/2 hours

Welcome to the Hai Van Circus

Đèo Hải Vân, the ‘ocean cloud pass’, is a famous mountain pass between Hue and Da Nang – famously dangerous and famously fun (as evidenced by the Top Gear episode). It’s significantly less dangerous now that it used to be since there’s now a massive tunnel underneath the mountain so most motorists can shoot right through underneath the twisty fog covered mountain pass. Now for the most part the only traffic on the Pass are the vehicles not allowed in the tunnel (trucks with hazardous materials and livestock, and motorcyclists), and the tourist buses.

We’d gone a couple of weeks in Vietnam already only meeting a handful of other travelers – traveling from Saigon to Hanoi on a motorbike is a popular trip, but we wouldn’t have known it from the people we met on the road. Until you get to the top of the Hai Van Pass. Holy smokes there were a lot of people. Huge tour buses were packed into the parking lot of the cafes, flocks of Easy Riders with selfie stick wielding passengers, and dozens of tourists on rented motorbikes from Da Nang.

After the hustle and bustle of the Hai Van pass, we decided to take a long and meandering route to avoid the dirt trucks on Route 1. After winding through little farmers tracks around the peninsula, we found ourselves starving and in serious need of some food. We drove into town, mimed us scooping food into our mouths, and the locals led us to a granny who fed us delicious bowls of BBQ pork and rice. We arrived into Hue after dark, falling into our beds with sore backs and shoulders.

The next evening we went out and found some ‘Free Sightseeing’, and ate one of the best meals we’d had in Vietnam.

Sassy lemonade with a :heart:

18: Huế to Đông Hà

52 miles / 82 kilometers - 2 1/2 hours

By this time we were feeling comfortable on our motorcycles and decided to take an easy drive complete with some detours. We stopped outside of town near some rice fields and as soon as we took off our helmets and the locals could see our blond hair in the distance, they immediately came over to take some selfied with the foreigners.

Rice everywhere

Unfortunately, Dong Ha was really boring, the main draw being a big 5-star hotel in town we stayed in for $30. We thought we got a great deal, but as soon as we finished breakfast, Ryan was running to across the dining room towards the bathroom and was stuck with food poisoning for the rest of the day.

19: Đông Hà to Phong Nha

95 miles / 154 kilometers - 4 1/4 hours

Looking at our guidebook and not seeing much between Dong Ha and Phong Nha, we decided to head to Phong Nha. The drive was filled with beautiful limestone karsts and caves. We stayed at the Chap Lay farm-stay, had a long talk the next day with the guest relations manager, and took the crazy ferry over the river the next day to avoid a 20 minute drive.

After arriving in Phong Nha we signed up for a multi-day caving adventure where we bushwhacked through the jungle, staying in tents during pouring rain, and literally swam (yes, swam!) through multiple caves, seeing crazy spiders and bugs. Good thing we decided not to go swimming and missed the leaches. Not surprisingly everyone in our party got terribly sick from the cold and the rain, so we ended up staying a couple extra days to heal and sleep.

Our crew in the caves

Modern art, with cave

The thing of nightmares -- a spider the size of your face

Our campsite on the river

Bún Bo -> Bún broken at The best spit roast pork and noodle shop in the world (probably)

24: Phong Nha to Phố Châu

109 miles / 175 kilometers - 10 1/2 hours

A stretch of old military landing strip now an extra wide stretch of the Ho Chi Minh Highway

Feeling rested after our extended stay in Phong Nha, we set out on what was supposed to be a relatively short drive on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to Pho Chau. As we were zipping through the mountains in the middle of nowhere, Ryan turned back to see nothing but road. He waited a few minutes, but when Camille didn’t come around the bend, he headed back to find Camille pushing her bike up the hill, back tire flat.

We pushed the bikes to the side of the road and fruitlessly tried to call Tigit Motorbikes for some emergency help, but since we were in the middle of nowhere in the mountains, our phones didn’t have and signal.

Shortly thereafter, we met some sad tourist bros who didn’t have enough gas to get to the next time and didn’t bring any jackets. We showed them that the route was mostly downhill from there on our phones and wished them luck. We could help them about as much as they could help us that that point.

Luckily, after about a half-hour of trying to flag down the few cars that passed, a couple from Colorado, precipitously jammed onto a cheap Honda Win with all of their luggage, slowly puttered up and offered to give us a hand. They had a tire patch kit, but neither us really knew how to get the tire off the wheel.

We were able to flag down a passing tourist bus by throwing ourselves into the road, and after some tense negotiations with the drivers, we agreed to pay 300,000 Vietnamese dong (~$13 USD) for their assistance. We though it was highway robbery at the time as that was about our weekly food budget, but they had us over a barrel and in retrospect was worth getting us out of that jam.

With a newly patched tire, we set our for Phố Châu for a decidedly creepy night in the hotel where Vietnamese traditional medicine was founded.

25: Phố Châu to Hà Nội

251 miles / 404 kilometers - 11 hours

In the final sprint of this marathon, we woke up to find Camille’s rear tire flat again. Supposedly in their haste, our tour operator saviors from the day before created a pinch flat on our patched tube.

Nearing the end of the Ho Chi Minh Highway

After some gesticulating and copious use of the Google Translate app, we were able to wheel the bike to a nearby shop to get the tube replaced. For some reason this usual 15-minute job took several hours and we spent a lot of time chatting with the local Vietnamese families about our trip.

Moto repair shop

They thought we were strange for wanting to explore Vietnam, remarked on how good our teeth were, and were shocked that we didn’t have many babies waiting for us as home. We were also offered many times the ubiquitous tobacco bong điếu cày that is infamous for putting first-time users on their asses. Head to the link above for a video.

Tea plantations

After over ten hours on the final stretch of road to Hanoi, constantly dodging earth mover trucks spewing clouds on dust into the air, our backs, arms, legs, brains, and souls all ached from the long day day of riding.

Yes, that is exactly what it looks like: a crate of dogs heading to a restaurant near Hanoi. :(

Some of the ridiculous vehicles you have to contend with on the road

And then the road just keeps going

Spacewoman

We hit the mountains just as the sun was starting to set

Hanoi

As we pulled into Hanoi after dark, we weren’t fully prepared for the craziness that in the metropolis, replete with 11-wide moto lanes and criss-crossing expressways flying overhead and inexplicably plunging underground. Haggard, slowly snaked through the city trying to follow the directions on our phones who not hitting the bikes in front of us. Soon after jumping on the expressway towards the center of town, we quickly lost each other. There not being any room to stop or pull over, we knew each other would just proceed to the hostel and we would meet up there.

One of the few automobiles on the road slammed his brakes in front of Ryan, causing him to fly forward on his bike and bruise the front on his legs. The car didn’t fend as well and there was a huge dent in the bumper and a very angry Vietnamese man yelling at Ryan from his car. Not wanting to get tied up in Vietnam police bureau-crazy (the tourist is always wrong), Ryan zoomed off and was lost in the sea of moto lights in the crowd.

Beautiful Hanoi

We settled into our Hanoi hostel, grabbed a much needed banh mi, showered, and sunk into our beds. We explored the cities many coffee shops, markets, stumbled into the annual festival, and ate some amazing food. With that, we flew from Hanoi back to Bangkok to continue the rest of our world tour.

FIN

Total 2,096 kilometers.

:v: :heart: :wave:

quick thanks to Travelfish and The Vietnam Coracle for the most amazing and wonderful guides to this fabulous country. We had no idea what we were doing and couldn’t have done it without them!