Back home I have a bunch of Vietnamese friends, I absolutely love a hot bowl of pho on a cold winter day and I’m also the best thirteen player that ever existed (just ask my friends). Besides these points I was bound to a destination that I didn’t know too much about but was eager to explore, especially after obtaining a three month visa for what I like to call the ‘scenic route’. After a little research I decided to fly into Hanoi as opposed to Ho Chi Minh. The main reason for this is that it’s currently colder up North and warmer down South being closer to the equator. With my travels so far I’ve mainly been in hot weather so it was time to re appreciate the warmth when I eventually slithered down South.
When I first begun my trip I had met a person in my dorm in Bangkok. He had just come from Vietnam and raved how good it was with the condition that you saw it via owning a bike. The whole concept was foreign to me, that I own my own motorbike? Sounds like mum wouldn’t approve, but luckily for me mum wasn’t here and it sounded like a hell of an adventure. Now prior to this trip I had never owned a bike nor driven a manual one but this mentality has stuck with me of learning anything new and if anyone can do it I sure as hell can. Within two days of arriving in Hanoi I had scouted and purchased my very own blacked out Honda Win for $300 US Dollars off a Brazilian backpacker. The thing is I don’t have an international drivers license, nor a Vietnamese one just a blue card that proves ownership of the bike and a little bit of rehearsed lines of the clueless tourist in case I was pulled over.
My bike needed a name since we were going to be acquainted for the coming months and I had decided on calling her “Alexis”. Now my plan of attack was to explore further up North and with no experience at all I learnt how to drive Alexis in the heart of Hanoi amongst the chaotic traffic. It’s amazing how quick you adapt to the environment you’re thrown into it, as the saying goes if you can drive in Hanoi you can probably drive anywhere. Being absolutely clueless of any kind of motorcycle basics and lacking a little confidence I was looking for a buddy to tag along with at least for the first leg so I could get the hang of things. I technically didn’t look so there was no surprise that I didn’t find an accomplice but deep down I kind of wanted it that way. I knew that this was going to be a test in itself and that I could do this alone and as Beyonce says “All the Women, Independent!!” I committed to going the next morning, punched in a destination, strapped my backpack, jumped on the bike and got going. As I left the busy Hanoi the roads got quieter and the landscapes became more scenic and I was becoming familiar with Alexis after just one day of riding. The feeling was total bliss with my favourite playlist in my ear as the wind passed through my hair as I coasted through the vast countryside of rice fields and Vietnam’s backroads.
After a few days of riding I had quickly made a few modifications and adjustments to Alexis and the Motorcycle adventure.
Full face Helmet
Way more comfortable and totally worth the $30 AUD, they have a visor so it will block any wind, water, bugs or dirt blown on your face. It has also saved my ass from rocks flicked up and lucky the visor was down. Most importantly will protect you in case of an accident unlike that shitty old uncomfortable cap the previous owner had. I honestly don’t know how he done a month with that on.
Now you will need this to and has been an absolute lifesaver. The last thing you want to be pulling your phone out every corner asking was is this the right turn off? Trust me you don’t want to drive any extra then you should. This paired up with Google Maps or Maps.me will mean you can navigate with or without Internet find yourself accommodation even in the quieter towns.
I have limited driving to less than 4 hours a day. Driving all day is not fun and becomes strenuous on your back, arms, ass and legs. Time is on my side so I have been stopping every hour for stretch breaks and excuse to eat. Also been staying over night in random smaller towns so I can see what they have to offer and prevent driving in the dark.
I have had peace of mind knowing that mechanics are plentiful in case something needs fixing and that I won’t be stranded in the middle of nowhere. The roads here are quite interesting as you must be alert at all times. Crossing cows, dashing dogs, rumbly roads and ticking trucks are just a few things to watch out for. I’m taking it nice and easy after some close calls, I definitely don’t want to end this trip any earlier then it should so I’m leaving the Valentino Rossi for the Playstation.
Ha Giang and the Northern Loop
I had been cruising solo this whole time that is until I met some new bikie friends where we would soon become the Power Rangers. It was pure timing bumping into them over a quick chat and some breakfast at a Hostel where they asked if I wanted to join them later that day in their venture. They looked like fun and I thought if I wasn’t getting along I could always leave so I gladly accepted. I also hired a dirt bike for this leg of the trip to maximise the experience since it’s been always something I’ve wanted to do and to give Alexis a little break since the mountains were quite steep. I really didn’t know what to expect but I had heard many great thing about this Northern Loop.
Now fast forward five days, it was fucking awesome. The North of Vietnam has definitely left a soft spot it my heart with plenty of memories I will never forget. A place I got to share it with my new found friends, friends that I’m sure we will keep in touch with forever. I didn’t think Vietnam was so geographically diverse but around every corner revealed breathtaking landscapes and new terrain. The ride itself was a perfect balance proving challenging at some points and peaceful cruising through some of the most beautiful backdrops Mother Nature had to offer. We coasted through remote villages where we were greeted with endless smiles and waves from children. Our accommodation was mainly homestays an experience in itself where you get to sleep in a local family’s home. A place where the warm felt hospitality was priceless and the rice wine was flowing followed by a few wristies after a solid night of laughter and conversation. I highly highly recommend anyone doing the Northern loop as it’s an experience like I’ve never done and one you will never forget. All these activities felt like a dream and like we were in a movie set. Our very own version and similarities of the Spanish film “The Motorcycle Diaries” (definitely watch it if you haven’t), a film that inspired and help push me to buy my own bike and that my life could be just like a movie and I could create my own moments as proven first hand.
I really love this Vietnam trip so far and now have a deeper knowledge and a good taste of their way of life. This trip has showed me how I really like this travel style to get the behind the scenes of what makes up a country. Vietnamese people are hard workers especially the women, some walk endless hours up icy hills picking herbs in nothing but slippers. The food here is as fresh as it gets, something that has been lacking from my diet in the past few months. I have been eating just about every new dish I can get my hands on and don’t worry I still love a good bowl of Pho, probably average a bowl a day or something quiet similar especially in the colder weather. Though I still haven’t found anyone to play thirteen with yet maybe they are afraid but hoping that changes soon. I’ve been pulled over twice by the police once for alleged speeding and once for driving on a highway in which bikes are prohibited and both times I have been let off fine free. I kind of got the impression that the police weren’t there to extort me but only looking out for my safety so I could enjoy my Vietnam experience. As a tourist I if they wanted money they could have easily got some money from me which would have dampened my mood. I felt that they actually care about the reputation and tourism of the country in which I highly admire leaving me eager to stay and continue as a happy camper continuously spreading the word on how good this place is.
All is well around Vietnam but if I may be honest there has been one thing missing from this trip and that’s my new girlfriend Eva. This long distance business pretty much sucks and I wish she were here at times to experience with me ( I lie I wish all the time). This love has consumed me now that I’ve had a taste; she’s like my drug I’m prescribed to that seems to be on back order. I’m staying positive and keeping pre occupied and I keep reminding myself that this is just a test. The build up is real I don’t thing I’ve longed for something like this much in my entire life. I don’t know when exactly I will be seeing her next but it has to be done and I’m thinking sooner rather then later which would be after Vietnam for sure. Maybe finding myself for this trip wasn’t about travelling to all these countries; maybe it was about listening to your heart and chasing this love, that no there doesn’t have to be a game plan. All I know is my love story still needs an ending and I guess you’ll find out more in the next post.