Read about our initial motorbike adventure here.
Because we had the motorbike, Jake and I were able to get off the beaten backpacker trail and have truly unforgettable adventures. Without the motorcycle, we would not have been able to make the leisurely trip north from Hanoi on backroads. We would not have met Sử in Sa Pa or visited the lovely village of Trùng Khánh. And we probably couldn’t have spent as much time exploring the most remote tombs near Huế. The motorbike allowed us to explore cities (and the roads between them) at our own pace.
That’s not to say that we didn’t have our share of bad experiences. It’ll be no surprise to anyone when I say that motorcycling is a dangerous activity. We took a total of three tumbles on the bike:
- While leaving Bản Hiêu.
- While motor biking around Sa Pa, the day before our tour with Sử.
- While leaving Cần Thơ.
We were both lucky that our tumbles caused no permanent damage to either us or to the bike. We walked away from the first two instances with a couple of small scrapes, but the third caused no damage (except for bruised egos).
We also got firsthand experience shopping for motorcycle helmets in Vietnam. In the pursuit of safety, Jake and I both purchased DOT- and SNELL-certified HJC helmets before we left the US. These helmets lasted us a month and a half, until we arrived in Đà Nẵng and they were stoked while we visited a museum. I could go into a long rant about the theft (What the heck is the resale value? Less than 1% of the people we see wear full face helmets! Most just wear glorified plastic baseball helmets!). Suffice it to say, our stolen helmets made us extremely frustrated and angry. We then had to go buy new helmets, and were dismayed by the available options. On the day of the theft, we were only able to find one shop. We bought the safest-looking helmets there: no chin bar, and a flimsy visor that just barely extended past our noses. The helmets ended up being very noisy, and since he was at the front of the air stream, let all the bugs splatter on exposed parts of Jake’s face. We replaced them as soon as possible, once we found the only store in Đà Nẵng that stocked full face helmets (X135 Shop, on Trung Nu Vuong). The new helmets didn’t fit as well as our old ones, and Jake’s had sub-par ventilation, but we still rejoiced. Safe heads! No bugs! Functioning eardrums!
The number of good experiences easily made up for the bad. One of our favorite motorbiking days was the day we drove from Đông Hà to Huế. Rather than take the direct highway, we decided to take a scenic route and drive along the coast. On the drive east, I started to notice large white patches between the trees; when we stopped, I realized that the roadside crops were growing in sand. Once the road terminated in a beachside parking lot, Jake decided to try to drive out onto the sand. Unfortunately, after about five feet, he had to call it quits. The sand was too fine and our tires were too smooth and narrow to give him any traction. I hopped off the back of the bike and he slowly turned it around. Once the bike was parked on solid ground, we walked out to the water to get a closer look at the beached fishing boats.
Later that day, we stopped for food in the tiny village of Điền Lộc. We ordered three plates of food, each representing a different stage of bird life. The first, a fried chicken leg, was fairly mundane. The second was bánh trứng nướng, a rice cracker topped with egg and savory goodies, including pork floss. The last (and most novel) was a plate of fertilized quail eggs. All three were delicious.
Over the course of two months, we made our way via train and motorbike from Vietnam’s mountainous north to the Mekong Delta in the far south. We rode 3,713 km on the bike. I’d be lying if I said that each kilometer was wonderful — the seat got uncomfortable after sitting for a couple hours (even with occasional stops) and we drove through some unavoidable cold and wet weather. However, the time spent on the motorbike was unforgettable. Both Jake and I agree that the best way to truly see Vietnam is on the back of a motorbike.
Alas, all adventures must come to an end. We sold the motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City. A French guy replied to our Craigslist and bought the bike; he and two buddies are now riding through Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. And Jake and I are continuing our Southeast Asia adventure via bus, taxi, and plane.