Month 9: Vietnam by motorbike

I entered Vietnam through the south of Cambodia and went straight to Saigon, as everyone calls it, although officially named Ho Chi Minh. Since I wanted to travel Vietnam by motorbike I split my first few days there between seeing the sights of the city and looking for the right motorbike and partners in crime for the journey of driving from the South (Saigon) to the North of Vietnam (Hanoi).

3 friends I had met in Cambodia, Sofia (Dutch) and Max and Joey (Belgium) told me they were also interested in traveling Vietnam with motorbike and that they were arriving in Saigon in a few days, so I saw the sites while they arrived.

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Statue of the man who gave Saigon its new name, Ho Chi Minh, which  means “he who illuminates. He was an amazingly patriotic person and liberated and unified Vietnam. Saigon is a big city many refer to as the business hub of Vietnam.

 

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Some of the crazy motorbike traffic around Ho Chi Minh and in the big cities in Vietnam. This is where I learned to drive a manual motorbike. The one I bought!

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I also had the pleasure of visiting a fine arts museum in Saigon and loved the art I saw there. Some french influence with a lot of local flavor and talent.

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I also went to the War Remnants Museum which was interesting, and sad. The hardest part for me, and where the tears could not stay in and overflew was with images of children and people born with deformities caused by the Agent Orange chemical that the US dropped on the Vietnamese people,  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_Orange)
Decades later it is still causing deformities and problems both in Vietnamese civilians, and US soldiers and their families.

I also went to the famous Cu Chi tunnels, from the Vietnam war that were really impressive. They were intricate and super stealth tunnels that were like underground cities as the tunnels were homes, hospitals, factories, and more importantly vital for winning the war as they allowed people to appear and disappear in seconds, leading the US soldiers to say that the Vietnamese guerillas were everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

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When of the tunnel entrances and the wooden cover wood always be covered with leaves. They even made the entrances below leafy trees to provide for cover. And they would put chili peppers to throw off tunnel smelling dogs!

 

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A side view/slice of the tunnels displaying how the tunnels had various rooms and levels, entrances, and sometimes even access to water.

I was able to crawl around these small tunnels and get a feel for what life was like down below. I also was amazed to learn about how with so few weapon and resources, Vietnam was able to win a war against an enemy with all the technology, weapons and resources. But it was no match for the will of the Vietnamese, coupled with their long, long history of dealing with invasions from the Chinese, the French, and Japanese.

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Inside the Cu Chi tunnels. Photo by Sofia van den Beuken.

Next was the daunting yet exciting task of buying the right motorbike (knowing nothing about motorbikes) and learning how to drive a manual motorbike (where you have to shift and use a clutch, etc)  in such a hectic city as Saigon, where there are literally millions of motorbikes and people in the streets), where the city traffic is madness with motorbikes driving like maniacs coming from every direction.

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Shopping Around. We looked at many motorbikes before choosing ours.
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Paying for motorbike! $280 dollars.
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The chosen one! A Honda Win, 110 cc named Carmen, after the Virgin Carmen that drivers in Colombia worship in exchange for her protection. I am FAR from religious, but thought that it couldn’t hurt to have all the protection I could get before embarking on this dangerous, yet beautiful motorbike adventure!

Our maiden voyage was down to the Mekong River Delta, where the mighty Mekong river that starts in Nepal goes into the ocean in the south of Vietnam.  It is also called the rice bowl of Vietnam, since a great deal of rice that is consumed in Vietnam comes from this area. We went to Vinh Long and met the friendliest couple in the world who helped me find a mechanic and then invited us to dinner and helped us find a place to stay. The next day we went to Can Tho and saw the floating market, and then went back up north in some downpours to Bien Hoa, north of Saigon.

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This was the friendliest couple in the universe. When my bike broke broke down the first day of driving, they pulled up next to me and asked me if I needed anything. I asked about a mechanic and they took us to one around the corner and then translated the problem for us, and helped us get it fixed for free. Later we ran into them and we had dinner with them and they paid for our food (despite our protests) and then took us to a hotel…so friendly!

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We had many mechanic issues the day of our 260km drive to Dalat, and ended up doing some forbidden night time driving…luckily there was a full moon to help light up our way.

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From Bien Hoa we had a very long day and put in 260km to Dalat, which was crazy and included night driving (which everyone tells you not to do, and we had vowed not to) but we arrived in Dalat which was beautiful and where we spent a few days exploring in the mountains with some cooler weather and beautiful scenery.

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The “Crazy House” in Dalat that is like a Gaudi and Dali creation.
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In Dalat there was a waterfall that you could go down to on this type of roller coaster that you could control and brake, etc…

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Some beautiful music and singing by students at the Dalat square.

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Although we were going South to North…From there Joey and I went south to Mui Ne, which we had forgotten about and skipped on the way to Dalat, and returned and spent a week there between the amazing hostel and family, the waiting for waves to surf, meeting good people and partying, football, celebrating Joeys birthday and even a music festival.

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Fully loaded bike ready for adventures.
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Joey with some new friends we made as we stopped to let the rain pass at this construction site and kicked around my little football with them and hung out.

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An example of the constant dangers of the road where people, animals, things all of a sudden charge into the street in front of you.
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First time I had yummy Mexican food in a Loooooong time. It was delicious!
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Hostel group dinners out on the town with the family.
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So we took the grilled goat and then dipped this rice papers in water to soften them, and used fresh veggies to make our own delicious rolls.
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We also were able to play some football a few days, which made me happy.

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Joey teaching me how to do  hand-stands. I am getting better! At the beginning I could do 2 seconds, now almost 30 seconds! Picture by Estelle Ficinus.
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After having to wait a few days for the waves, we finally were able to do some early morning surfing….felt great to get out again. Picture by Estelle Ficinus.

From there we left and spent a night in a town called Cam Rangh, one in Tuy Hoa, one in Pleiku (where we realized our one month visas were about to expire and sent our passports to Saigon through a travel agency and traveled almost a month without our passports) and arrived in Kon Tum where we did some volunteer teaching and enjoying time with Mr. Hien and his family and students, which was a beautiful experience. My teaching experience up to this point had always been with adults, so it felt great to teach kids and even some toddlers that were adorable.

From there we drove to Quang Ngai and spent a night, before arriving in lovely Hoi An, which is one of my favorite places in Vietnam. An incredibly beautiful historic center with amazing architecture, by the river where the lights of colorful lanterns reflect on the water, and also a lovely beach and chilled out vibe. We met some great people and enjoyed some food, drinks and sports on the beach.

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Hoi An has these beautiful colored lanterns that reflect off the water and make for a spectacular setting in the Old quarter.

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This was an amazing month that I loved. Especially traveling with a motorbike where you feel ABSOLUTE FREEDOM. 360 Degree views and the option to stop and enjoy the view or take pictures whenever you want and we discovered so many small villages and towns that we would have missed out on if we were traveling with a bus. It is also really fun and exciting, as it is dangerous, but incredibly rewarding with gorgeous landscapes and views.

So far, Vietnam is spectacular. Stunning natural beauty with amazing food and friendly people (despite what people had told me!)

2 thoughts on “Month 9: Vietnam by motorbike

Add yours

  1. What a great read! And I’m so glad you decided to back track to Mui Ne. You are truly an extrodinary man whom I’m greatful for having shared a week with. Your passion in taking the road less traveled is incredibly inspiring. I have no doubt your blogs will get many readers out of their comfort zone and venture out to the unknown….I hope my kids are one of them. The world needs more people like you!

    Liked by 1 person

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