So I have decided to write about one of my favourite experiences in all of my travels – travelling from north Vietnam to south Vietnam….by motorbike! Yes, this motorbike right here:
Ah how I miss this unreliable heap of junk! The bike is a Honda Win 110, which isn’t actually a Honda at all but instead a cheap, Chinese rip off. Honda stopped making the ‘Win’ years ago.
The following map shows the route I covered over 10 days from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh. I actually then continued into Cambodia and then came back into Vietnam again some weeks later, but for now I will just cover my initial trip from north to south, as that is the route that most backpackers are interested in doing themselves.
Where Can I Buy a Bike?!
So I bought my bike in Hanoi from this place:
Thumbs up if you just sold a motorbike to some stupid white man who had only visited your shop to have a look at bikes with no intention to actually buy one!
Your best bet if looking to buy/rent a bike in Vietnam is to check craigslist Vietnam. Most backpackers list up bikes that they want to sell there and so do garages like the one in the above photo. It is really not hard to find a bike if you want one. Selling is probably harder, but even that isn’t really very difficult. These bikes just travel up and down the country over and over and their parts are constantly being fixed, repaired and replaced so every bike will have its own character and so the make and model pretty much starts to mean nothing because of this. You may buy the same bike as your friend and they will handle completely different. So a test drive is essential! Give it a good spin and check that everything works. Ask lots of questions and make sure that you get the blue ownership card. This basically proves that the bike is not stolen and if you don’t have one the bike may be harder to sell. Having said this, my friend bought one without the card and had no troubles.
So as you can see from the above caption, I actually hadn’t intended to buy a bike. I found this place on craigslist and thought I would just go along to have a look at what their bikes were like. But then actually seeing the bikes, and after taking one of them for a spin around the block I really couldn’t resist. Plus I had just left some friends, was travelling alone again and thought that this would be a good next step in my travels…a new adventure! How exciting! I bought my bike for 6 million Dong, which is about £170 or roughly $250 at that time. There were cheaper bikes for around $200 but I wanted a slightly newer, more reliable bike. Especially as I was travelling alone. There are many mountain passes/roads where you don’t pass any garages, petrol stations or any form of civilisation for long periods at a time and I really didn’t want to be breaking down in the middle of nowhere. My bike was a Honda Win 110. It was actually 107cc though and was roughly 3 years old. Honda Win is the backpacker bike of choice. They are relatively reliable for how cheap they are and the garages there all have spare parts for the bike in case it breaks down. And when not in the middle of the mountains, you will pass a garage like every 5 minutes or so. They are EVERYWHERE! And they are all dirt cheap too. Joy!
The Journey Begins
DAY 1: HANOI – PHO CHAU | DISTANCE COVERED – 381km
So day 1 and I set out from Hanoi. It’s lucky that I had ridden a bike before because I know many people who have had no previous riding experience at all, buy a bike and then have to make their way out of Hanoi on day 1 of their trip…baptism of fire, that’s all I will say! The roads here are extremely busy and completely FULL of other bikes and scooters. There are apparently 37 million bikes in Vietnam and I think that a big percentage of them are in Hanoi! Oh by the way, if you are planning to do the same trip then before you leave Hanoi, head on over to ‘Bun Bo Nam Bo’ and have one of the most delicious bowls of noodles you have ever had!
So I made my way out of the crazy busy city and onto the empty Ho Chi Minh Road/highway. This is the road to be on people! Highway 1A borders the coast and is completely packed with huge trucks, buses, coaches and lorries and is way more dangerous with many more potholes to avoid. The Ho Chi Minh Road is in great condition and is relatively empty. It passes through the mountains and the scenery along the way, especially in the north is breathtaking.
So my goal was to make it to Cambodia in 11 days as I had friends there that I was supposed to be meeting in Phnom Penh. So I kind of rushed my journey in comparison to most other travellers who do the same route. It just meant that I had to get up early each day, see as many attractions as I could in my spare time and basically always be ready to be on the move to the next town. Pretty hectic! If you do the same journey, I recommend taking about a month to truly relax and take it slow. That would enable you to visit more locations along the way without having to stress that you have to be up the next morning, pack all of your bags, tie them to the bike and whizz off again!
So by the end of day 1 I had made it to Pho Chau. The ride here was amazing. Really beautiful scenery, but I thought I would never find somewhere to stay. I couldn’t find any signs that said ‘hotel’ or ‘guesthouse’ anywhere (I soon learnt to look for the Vietnamese names instead such as ‘khách san’ for hotel or ‘nhà nghi’ for motel/guesthouse) and I had to stop a couple of times to ask people where the nearest hotel was. It was dark by the time I arrived in Pho Chau, 381km from Hanoi! This was actually my longest day of riding I think. I was so paranoid that I would run into trouble later on in my journey that I thought it best to cover as much distance as possible on day 1. I stayed the night in some random hotel there for about $8. There is very little in the way of sightseeing in this town as far as I could tell, and not really any backpackers.
DAY 2: PHO CHAU – PHONG NHA-KE BANG NATIONAL PARK | DISTANCE COVERED – 133km
Day 2 and I stay on the HCM Road. By lunchtime I make it to the Phong Nha National Park. This place is definitely worth a visit! There are huge caves here to see and the roads around here are amazing with winding mountain passes, great conditions and thoroughly enjoyable on a motorbike!
There was some really weird, creepy performance going on in the cave. All to add to the cave atmosphere I assume. Very ‘cavey’ indeed.
Here is a panoramic shot of inside the cave once we left the boat. The quality of this photo is probably a bit rubbish but whatever…if you don’t like it, go to the caves and take your own bloody panoramic shot!
I stayed in the Lakehouse just up the road from the town here for my second night. I tried Tiger Hostel (I think that was the name) in the town, but it was full so they recommended the Lakehouse about 10 mins up the road. This place was awesome, best dorm I stayed in during all of my travels. The bunk beds they had were double beds and the rooms were very spacious and nice! Food was a bit pricey (for a backpacker), but decent quality. Plus the view was really nice! Check it…
I had muesli and yogurt for breakfast. I would put the picture up but it’s well boring (like your face) so I won’t.
I met a bunch of other bikers here as well. I would have travelled with them but we were all going in slightly different directions and had different plans, so I continued my journey alone.
DAY 3: PHONG NHA-KE BANG NATIONAL PARK – HUE | DISTANCE COVERED – 219km
It’s funny, I didn’t realise how low I was on petrol so on the morning of day 3 I set out with pretty much an empty tank. After about 15 minutes my bike started coughing and it eventually stopped. I had to get off and I wheeled it up a hill in the boiling hot weather to where some kids were selling watermelons. Once again I was sweating like the sweat beast that I am. I stopped and chilled with them for a bit, bought some watermelon and we ate whilst their mum went out on her bike to fetch me some petrol for my bike…this was of course after a bit of sign language to communicate what the problem was! I have heard stories how some Vietnamese are not so friendly but everyone I met was so amazing and really helpful! She eventually returned and I paid her a dollar for the petrol and then gave her a tip for being such a massive help. In return she gave me a watermelon! How nice. I miss the kindness of complete strangers in foreign lands. This watermelon travelled with me for a few days and I will tell the story of what happened to it further down the page…in the meantime, here is a photo of me, my bike and my new watermelon! This was taken by a man who had just painted his motorbike helmet red and was very enthusiastic to talk to me! Once again, I am loving the friendly Vietnamese people I meet!
Look at us! Just like one big happy family! I miss that watermelon :'(
So I stayed on the HCM Road and made my way towards Hue, which is where I would stay for night 4. I stayed in the Tigon Hostel (Tigon 2 actually I think) which had an amazing buffet breakfast! I love food! Oh no, now I’m thinking about muffins again! Anyway…
Before I made it to Hue, I stopped along the way to visit the Vinh Moc tunnels which are about 70km north of the city. They are tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War in the DMZ (demilitarised zone) which was one of the most bombed areas of Vietnam during the war. The area was completely empty when I arrived and it was pretty funny because I was being shouted at by all of the shop/restaurant/stall owners to buy a drink from them as I passed. I was thirsty so I went to one and asked how much a Coke was. She told me the price and then the woman in the next shop along shouted a lower price. So I look back to the woman and say “well she just said that price so….” and she instantly lowered her price hahaha. This was great being the only tourist! Where was everyone!? So I bought a drink and the lady agreed to then show me around the tunnels and be my tour guide for free. She told me that she didn’t want any money. It really must have been a slow day! Haha. But see, there you go again – more friendliness from complete strangers…I love Vietnam! The woman told me how her father had actually been born in the tunnels. So pretty awesome to have been shown around by her.
A map of the tunnels.
One of the entrances to the tunnels. This one led out onto the beach.
Unexploded bombs! Let’s hope they don’t go off now and blow me up. That wouldn’t be nice.
So anyway, I continued on to Hue after visiting the tunnels. Actually on the way to Hue, I stopped at Cua Tung Beach for lunch where I had the best ‘mi xao bo’ (fried beef and noodles) of my entire journey through Vietnam. Yummm!
So I make it to Hue, check in to my hostel and meet a really cool Malaysian guy and so we go out to grab some food together. Whilst out we see this beast:
No, it’s not a butterfly…it is a moth. More like a beheMOTH! See what I did there? Yep, I am so clever sometimes. Also, what a lovely foot! (put into frame to get an idea of scale. I learnt this technique many years ago from the film ‘The Bone Collector’ …who ever said you can’t learn anything from TV?)
A man I don’t know posing outside the entrance to the imperial city.
Inside the imperial city!
Whatever you do just remember, NOLYNG on the balustrades! I find it amazing that they can spell ‘balustrade’ correctly but not the phrase ‘no lying’…in fact I’m amazed that they even used the word ‘balustrade’! I didn’t even know what a balustrade was a couple of years ago!
I am a REBEL! Living life dangerously.
More people I don’t know posing for photos outside Khai Dinh’s tomb, in Hue, Vietnam! Yeah baby!
So I visited the imperial city and the tomb on the morning of day 4. I also visited a pagoda in the town. My next destination was a place that I had already been once before a week or so earlier before I started my motorbike trip – Hoi An. To get there I had to get onto the crappy Highway 1 (prepare for some near death experiences! Haha, jokes it’s not thaaaat bad).
And those near death experiences (I actually did crash!) will be coming next time so you’ll just have to wait to read all about them.
Will I break down? Will the bike make it all the way to Ho Chi Minh!? Find out next time! There are plenty of random stories to come such as ‘the cafe owner, the baby and the glove’, ‘the puppy that got stepped on’, ‘the crazy woman at the war bunker’, ‘the girl who likes to hit on foreigners at churches’, ‘the room from hell’ and ‘what happens when your tyre blows in the middle of a busy road and you start skidding all over the place!’. And of course I will also tell you what happens to that watermelon…exciting!
In the meantime, here are a few photos from the next section of my journey to whet your appetite for part 2…
Broken down? Who knows, you’ll just have to find out next time!
This looks rather adventurous!
Surely not broken down again!? I wonder what happened?!
This chicken is modelling my new range of chicken leg warmers for the Autumn/Winter collection. Now in stock and selling fast…get yours quick before it’s too late!