vietnam, motorcycle,

Motorbiking across Vietnam

Daddy Feb 14, 2014 · 7-min read
Motorbiking across Vietnam

For just $300, you get your very own motorcycle. No, not rent, completely own. Granted they’re all ticking time bombs waiting for their disastrous end.

Trans-Nam Motorbike Tour Distance: 1,370mi/(2,200km)
Days: 14
Personal wrecks: 3-4
Group wrecks: 7

That $300 also includes lessons out on a dirt road learning how to shift. Slip your toe under the peg and lift up to shift up, and step down to shift down. Trying to juggle all that with throttle, steering, and balance is the trick, but like a baby deer, there wasn’t a lot of time to practice. I was to drive back to the bike shop and in figuring out the difference between the brake and the clutch, almost hit some white girls crossing the street. A couple hours later, the owner’s girlfriend led through Hanoi’s sink-or-swim streets thick with other two-wheelers, out to a major highway out of the city where we waved goodbye.

Our first night was in a small roadside town during the Tet holiday, meaning everything was closed, including restaurants and grocery stores. In asking locals where we could find a place to buy food, someone noticed our situation and hospitality made way for a massive rice loaf wrapped in banana leaves. The three of us passed it around until we would rather sleep.


Repairs

Our bikes constantly had problems. A headlight would stop working, a manifold would come loose, something would be slipping or misfiring. Mine suddenly stopped working after I drove it into a guardrail. It seemed like the trip was defined by mechanic A to mechanic B, but that was all part of the fun. Dan and Mitch’s 110cc bikes always outpaced my 100cc’s and were always somewhere over the horizon. It was nice to have the scenery to myself while still having the comradery in the evenings.

One such evening, the two came back to me with a water bottle filled with gas. We were in the countryside and this was the only option. My bike wouldn’t start. Dan swung his leg over the seat and really laid into the kickstart ignition. We were stranded. We asked someone person if we could sleep at the school across the street because we could see there were stairwells that would provide some shelter at least. Instead, we found ourselves dining with the local leader’s family in an out-building. No one spoke much English, so we sat awkwardly not being able to communicate much. After the meal, they showed us to a guestroom with a single massive bed; we laid their giggling as a bat flew around trapped in the high ceilings. The next morning, we realized how fortunate it was to have broken down here. We’d almost ridden through one of the most beautiful parts of the trip in the dark.

The other highlight of the trip was through a mountain pass along the coast. Fog came in and out, obscuring where we were going. After the road peaked, a spectacular view overlooking the ocean. In a fit of excitement, Dan and Mitch blasted up a random dirt path all eroded and full of rocks. They’d grown up dirt biking, and later admitted they didn’t think I’d make it up. But made it up I did, and marveled at the view while they smoked hash they bought back in Hanoi.


Transcanadians

In a little roadside village, a man held out a pocket knife to show me that it said US on it, and then he made a digging motion and pointed to the mountains across the way. He also made a gesture that made us think he had dog tags too. Another man nearby wanted me to take a picture with him and his grandson. From what we could gather from his drawings and the sounds he made, he’d shot down a helicopter and was awarded a medal. You can see the plaque hanging from the second floor banister. Times like this we told people we were Canadian; just so there’s no hard feelings. Or danger.


Those Guys

Vietnam’s scenery changes dramatically as you move south: from tropical rainforests to arid hills. Palm trees turn to pine trees, and the dirt becomes an unfriendly red. It was challenging riding over the dirt roads through the hills while the road was under repair, but by this many days into the trip, I’d gotten the hang of it. Mitch the loose cannon climbed up the side of a rock face to graffiti (yeah, he bought spray paint) an upside-down crown. Dan, being a monarchist, took offense. It was hard to watch for a number of reasons, but he made it down and we continued onward. We came to an unlocked, and unoccupied church and climbed up a series of ladders to the roof. I was fine with that much, but the other two thought it would be funny to ring the bell. They had the charisma to laugh it off when people came to investigate.

We took a dirt road along the coast to a resort town. A pair of women on a scooter waved at me, and I alone on a motorcycle waved back and lost control, hit a patch of sand that tipped the bike. In the previous falls I’d hurt my wrist from catching myself, so this time I landed on my shoulder. Something was wrong. It felt dislocated. I spent the rest of the night in our $15 beach-side room trying to pop it back into place, but there was no relief from the dull ache. Later I learned that a muscle holding the collar bone had torn, and one side of the collar bone permanently sticks up. It’s become a kind of badge of honor, even though I got it being an idiot.


Growing Up

I could still drive the remaining few days to Ho Chi Minh City, yet I found myself on the back of Dan’s bike while Mitch drove mine. Mitch’s piston had seized the night before, and he set his bike on fire. Somewhere on the back of that motorcycle it dawned on me that it made no sense that he was driving mine. He’d suggested it, and I went along with it because it was hard for me to stand up for myself. It became a challenge to “become a man”, that I rose to and said I wanted to drive the rest of the way. No big deal. We switched places, and I rode the rest of the way into 5 lanes of stop-and-go traffic into the country’s largest city. I’d not had the accomplishment of cycling from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh if I’d just “let it go”.


Hanoi Motorbikes who I’d bought my bike from, bought it back from me in HCMC for about $200. For 14 days of full-throttle excitement, that’s quite the deal! It was my first trip where I crossed a lot of distance, and inspired a trip to India that failed and became a trip to Malaysia, and later a really cool excursion across Myanmar.

Join Newsletter
Get the latest news right in your inbox. We never spam!
Daddy
Who is your Daddy?Follow
Technophobe gracing tech companies in the Global 500, Fortune 500, a Kickstarter unicorn, and several little dinky places. Bike touring is my sanity factory.