Best thing I’ve ever done.
I played with elephants, I took a random train adventure, and I stayed the night in a local Vietnamese mountain village — and yet when people ask me what my favourite thing about my trip to SE Asia was I would hands-down say it was motorbiking from Hue to Hoi An.
Easily the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done, during this trip I felt free, alive and proud of myself all at once. I had biked before in Thailand and Myanmar, but Vietnam felt magical. I couldn’t stop smiling, and even found myself spontaneously laughing as I whizzed through the beautiful Vietnamese countryside.
Open road, ocean-views, mountain passes and … me. Just me. Just me and that bike, going where we pleased. I’ve chronicled it below, but if you go to Vietnam … I know it sounds terrifying, but get yourself on that bike and go live the most liberating day of your existence.
The bike trip too me approximately 6 hours to complete. I woke hazily in the morning around 8:30am, clambered out of my bunk bed and hesitantly launched myself into the 33 degree morning heat. Then over a delicious breakfast, I arranged the details of my bike rental with the hostel owner.
He encouraged me (pressured me?) to leave ASAP because he wanted me to be in Hoi An for sunset, but all of the traveler tips I had received told me that this trip could take as little as 4 hours. He was like a concerned Dad. In the end we finalized our agreement, I changed and packed my things, applied copious amounts of sunscreen, and before I knew it I was throwing my backpack and all my possessions into the back of a pick up truck that would later meet me in Hoi An.
I hadn’t really ridden a bike since Myanmar, so we did a quick review and then sped off to get gas. After a couple warnings about getting ripped off at gas stations (always pay with cash and always show them up front how much you’re willing to put into the tank) the hostel owner took my photo and promptly left me at the gas station.
There I was, holding a paper map and looking out at a huge roundabout filled with Vietnamese flags.
I was so nervous!
Embracing the face mask trend.
It took me a while to get going because I was so paranoid I was going to miss my turn off. I stopped a lot – for water, to talk with locals, for snacks. I was having a great time.
That is, until I stopped for a water break and wiped the sweat from my upper lip and found out that my face was fucking filthy. Now, I wasn’t going very fast, maybe 70km/h, but still I found rocks, fumes, and debris all up on me. Mixed with sweat and sunscreen, this was a recipe for disaster. Then I remembered that I had purchased a cloth head band in Thailand. I whipped it out, secured it around my face, and felt instant relief from the highway face-assault.
I can see now why most Asian people wear masks on their faces while driving their motorbikes and scooters – it really does help! Feeling badass, I carried on and watched the changing landscapes ahead of me. At one point, I took a random left toward the ocean and found myself a private beach where the owner met me on the road and hurried into a hammock beach-side. Within 30 seconds I had a beer and the wifi password, and I couldn’t imagine being any happier than I was in that minute.
After some beach time, I drove through Hai Van mountain pass and swerved my way around the winding road with a hot ocean breeze gently stroking my face. I thought the beach was cool, but this stretch of the trip was the highlight.
Lost in the city.
On my way down from Hai Van pass, I approached Da Nang, one of the bigger cities in central Vietnam. It was here that I got very, very lost and had to ditch the paper map and rely on my maps.me app to get me through the multitude of multi-exit, gigantic round-abouts that seemed to be around every bend.
Luckily for me, Da Nang has designated scooter lanes that improved my odds of survival significantly. After crossing at least 3 yellow dragon bridges, pulling several u-turns, and driving around the same round about 5-6 times, I finally got myself oriented and heading down the final highway toward Hoi An.
Water buffalo coercion.
As I pulled in, I passed by a series of rice fields on the outskirts of town. These were markedly different than the rice fields in Sapa – they were flat, and seemed to go on and on for miles. The fields were busy with workers moving their water buffalo through the fields and taking advantage of the final hours of sunlight before sunset.
Since I was almost in the city, I decided to pulled over to check my paper map and also take a photo of the fields in the dusky light. I would never achieve either goal, however, because suddenly two men in Vietnamese hats came running over and hastened me toward their field. I barely had time to grab the key to my scooter before both men grabbed me on either arm and dragged me into the rice field.
Then, next thing I knew, I was being lifted onto a half-tonne water buffalo.
… I didn’t even have time to take off my helmet.
Hysterically laughing, I gave into the situation. Vietnamese Man #2 grabbed my iPhone from me and began a photoshoot while Vietnamese Man #1 made several hand gestures trying to get the water buffalo to look up at the camera.
Eventually they relented and allowed me to dismount the water buffalo, BUT, not before my leg caught in the rope and I fell smack down on Vietnamese Man #1.
That’s right, I nearly killed a small Vietnamese man.
Sitting incredulous in the muddy, grassy rice field, we both stared at each other for a good 10 seconds before we threw our heads back uncontrollably laughing. He then got up, brushed off the mud from his pants, and ushered me back to my scooter.
Good thing I still had my helmet on, eh?