Vietnam – Crossing a whole country on a motorcycle
Already before our first little motorbike trip in Northern Thailand we had that idea to cross Vietnam on a motorbike. Riding in Thailand was still new for us but it was that little trip which made us looking forward to a new motorbike adventure in Vietnam.
We did our research in Thailand online and found that if you want a manual motorcycle with a clutch a „WIN“ is the way to go. The original Honda Wins haven’t been manufactured since the early 2000s (most of what you’ll find, even if it has Honda decals, will be a Chinese/Vietnamese knockoff). Detech Wins are some of the best copies of the original and are available in three different models, 110cc, 125cc and 130cc. The 125cc and 130cc bikes both come with a stronger rear suspension making them perfect for two people with two bags traveling on one bike.
Now the question was: Where do we get one in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)? The options are to buy from other backpackers, on craigslist or on the street. But if you have no clue about motorbikes like we did that’s probably not the best idea. People will sell you anything even if they don’t know how to ride or maintain a bike. Lucky us we found a shop called „Style Motorbikes“. They sell and rent new Detech Wins motorbikes in HCMC and also in Hanoi. Check their website for more information. They really know their business and all the questions are already answered there. When entering their shop in HCMC we felt very comfortable from the beginning. Thanh, the owner, was super friendly and very supportive with all his knowledge. It was a no brainer for us to go this route over buying it second hand from another backpacker. There is almost a guarantee that it won’t break down (and it didn’t), we’ll save money, we won’t have the hassle of trying to sell a bike afterwards and if anything does go wrong, they’re even available via phone. After considering whether to buy or rent from them we decided to go for a rental. Renting a 130cc for six weeks did cost us 210 USD. Their prices are very fair.
Check these iPhone photos for more information about pricing:
We were excited! Now we can go wherever we want whenever we want. Traveling on a motorcycle comes with a lot of freedom. But for a mission like that, literally riding 1.650 kilometers (1.025 miles) through the jungle, you definitely have to make some compromises too. You have to commit, stick to the plan and definitely hope for the best. Let’s find out if we are made for this!
But first lets press the rewind button. We arrived in HCMC and stayed in an Airbnb room. What we didn’t know at that moment was that this was one of the best things that could happen to us. It turned out that Tan, the owner of our room, was just awesome! An unbelievable nice & helpful person taking care of all our questions & problems. We could even use his address to receive a parcel from home and he took care of one of our big backpack (for six weeks).
He was always afraid that something could happen to us on this trip and tried a few time to change our minds… „People die everyday on the streets of Vietnam, it is so dangerous. The traffic here is not comparable to Europa, they drive like maniacs here…“ And he wasn’t wrong. What we have seen on our first days in the city was crazy. Just type in “motorcyle hcmc” on Youtube and you know what we mean. But honestly all that made it even more exciting for us! We were fully amped for a new and totally different adventure!
It seemed to be the beginning something great! Riding the bike was fun (yes, even in Vietnam) and the sun was shining – why shouldn’t that going to be an awesome trip? Little we knew at that time… As soon as we started our adventure on the bike the weather changed. At the beginning you just think, that’s part of the game and everything is fun…
Yeww! Riding in the rain! Knee-deep water!!! That’s what we are here for!
We want an adventure!
But than, the raining just doesn’t stop and it does get extremely exhausting. Everything, really everything is wet and dirty all the time. And wet cloths smell! At the beginning we didn’t have a clue and not the proper rain covers for our backpacks. So everything in it was wet too. We are talking camera gear and laptop too. It was crazy… Soon we bought a bunch of ponchos. There is just no better protection than a simple plastic poncho when it comes to during rain. Every day we wrapped the backpacks into a poncho. And then ourselves.
The unedited mobile photography reality:
Every day we told ourselves that it’s going to be better tomorrow! Hell, we are here in the dry season! But the forecasts never looked good and the rain never stopped. It just kept pouring daily almost all day long. We came to a point where we couldn’t believe it anymore how unlucky we got here. Every day we encouraged each other and tried to find something positive about all this… We kept us telling that in the “North” everything gets better. We had those beautiful limestone mountain passes with tons of sunshine in our minds. That was it what we were constantly looking forward to. At the same time our friends from Austria sent us the most beautiful snow covered landscape images from their mountain adventures at home. And then images from their Christmas celebrations… “
Damn! What are we doing here? Are we not supposed to be there… with them! At home with friends & family and outside riding powder in the backcountry?
But no, we are here somewhere in rainy Vietnam. And this is all part of our trip. You learn a lot! Every day. Unconsciously. We definitely became more and more aware of how privileged we are living in Austria. With our families. Our friends. At home we take that all for granted. A good reminder.
With countless exhausting days you also get to know your partner really good. Just imagine you share every days on a small motorcycle for six weeks. In the rain. It’s not enjoyable at all. We both freaked out sometimes, went crazy or were just bitching around. Than a minute later you help & motivate each other. You look for and find things “which are not that bad”. Unknowingly you grow as a couple…
We took the Hồ Chí Minh trail from the South to the North and by doing that you experience a great amount of the “real” Vietnam. Here we met the ethnic minorities living in the mountainous areas that are referred to as Vietnam’s indigenous peoples. They don’t have a lot and their life is really simple. But they always had a friendly and curious approach towards us. It felt different. Tourism hasn’t touched much here if anything at all. We never saw other travelers on the countryside. Just one other biker on his way down from Hà Nội. The locals were super curious about us, always friendly and wanted to talk even if we didn’t speak the same languages. So sometimes it was just smiling and starring at us. The kids picked up “hello!” and through it around all day long.
Once we stopped in a village to buy water and suddenly an old man invited us to the wedding of his son which was taking place just around the corner. We had to drink schnapps and more schnapps with them. And if you are a big white ginger looking guy you have to drink even more with them. There is no choice… But more on that in one of our next blog posts.
Lucky us we had never a single breakdown of our bike. Kudos to the people at Style Motorbikes! We did the oil changes every 500-700 kilometers and that was it. Even if we would have had problems with the bike it wouldn’t be too bad at all. Literally everyone rides motorbikes in Vietnam and there are garages everywhere. Just look out for the next “Súe Xé” or “Xé May”. A mechanic will help you immediately.
Looking back now that whole post maybe reads a bit too negative, certainly not the whole 6 weeks were frustrating. It was a challenging experience which took a lot out of us but there where also many surprising nice moments and encounters too. We tell you more about them in our next post!
Photo gallery (to be continued):