As a full-time traveller, I get to experience the most awesome adventures all around the world. Those once-in-a-lifetime, epic, slightly scary, but so worth it adventures. I’m actually writing this as I just turned my motorbike in after riding it around Vietnam for 10 days.
Yes, it was as cool as it sounds!
In 10 days I drove from Hanoi to Hoi An, on my own. Riding a motorbike in Vietnam has been on my bucket list ever since meeting people in South East Asia last year that did it. They described it as one of the coolest experiences they ever had. And I can now confirm, it really, really is.
I’ll be honest, after seeing the traffic in Hanoi I was more than a little scared to go out on the road by myself. My motorbike experience was limited to a couple of day rentals in Thailand and Greece and I never really felt that comfortable on one. But the more I read about it on other blogs, the more I knew I just had to bite the bullet and give it a go.
The horror stories about accidents, bikes breaking down and getting lost couldn’t deter me. I did do my research though! I weighed the pro’s and cons and decided to forgo my original idea of buying a bike in Hanoi and selling it in Ho Chi Minh. Although it’s certainly the cheapest way to do it, I didn’t feel like it would be worth the hassle and doing it in three weeks was pushing it. So instead, I rented my bike for 10 days with a pickup in Hanoi and drop off in Hoi An, giving me the comfort of a high-quality rental bike and the knowledge that if I didn’t like it, it would only be 10 days. I opted for a semi-automatic bike, which turned out to be easier to drive than a fully automatic. In the backpacker tradition of naming your bike, I dubbed my Honda Future ‘Gloria’ after Gloria Steinem who’s book ‘My life on the road’ I’m currently reading (it’s incredible, read it too!).
I went to Flamingo travel to get my bike in the morning and set out by myself around midday on the 17th of January, knowing that I would meet people doing the same trail along the way. I navigated the crazy Hanoi traffic out of the city, on to the 1A highway to Ninh Binh. I made it there in 4 hours, with a little detour into the back roads to the Perfume Pagoda. From Ninh Binh it was a short ride to Tam Coc where I got off my bike exhausted but thrilled at the Central Bungalow just before dark. After a much-needed shower, I went to buy a jacket, sweatpants, mouth mask, and gloves, as riding the bike was a lot colder than I had expected. I stopped at the Backpacker Hostel for a drink, where I met a group of other bikers headed the same way.
I immediately decided on a day off in Tam Coc to do some sightseeing, visit some temples and sleep in. My body was a little sore from spending a full day driving the day before, so I decided it was best to slowly get used to it.
On the third day, I set out at 10 in the morning towards Phong Na, a two-day journey down the Ho Chi Minh highway. The Ho Chi Minh highway runs from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, but unlike the 1A it runs through the mountains and rice fields, offering stunning views along the way. Warm and toasty in my new bad weather gear, I cruised down this road stopping for pictures, lunch and gas in the little villages along the way. These villages aren’t even on the map, they’re basically just a few houses along the road, but it means you are unlikely to go hungry or run out of gas on the way. As darkness set in I stopped at a random hotel along the way. They didn’t seem to get many guests as everyone wanted to take pictures with me. Even on the rock hard bed, I slept like a baby. Turns out that riding a motorbike for 7 hours is really tiring!
Another early day, setting off at 9.30 for another 7-hour drive to Phong Na. So far the weather had held up, it was cold but didn’t rain. That changed as I approached Phong Na and drove through the low clouds in the mountains. My waterproof coat wasn’t so waterproof after all and the quality of the wet roads slowed me down significantly. But I made it to Phong Na with time to spare so I treated myself to a massage and a long hot shower after checking in to Central Backpackers Hostel. Here I met the same group of guys I had met in Ninh Binh two days previously, calling themselves the ‘Chicken Squad’. A bunch of crazy fun guys who became my travel companions for the rest of the track.
A bad hangover and even worse weather kept me from exploring the caves around Phong Na, so I just stayed inside and worked a little instead. As I quickly noticed, work was going to have to take a bit of a back-seat (pun intended) as I could hardly drive and work at the same time.
Because I couldn’t go caving the day before, I decided to stay in Phong Na for another day and went to see the Phong Na cave. A boat tour took me from town into this beautiful river cave. The cave was huge and absolutely breathtaking! Of course, no night in Phong Na is complete without a party, it was back to Easy Tiger and Andy’s Bar for the third night in a row.
Despite the previous days drinking, we were up bright and early to continue towards Hue. But of course, bikes needed fixing, room keys needed finding and before we were finally ready to go it was 2 hours later than planned. That’s backpacking for you! We went to the Duck Stop Bar along the way where we fed and played with the ducks and were treated to a delicious lunch. After that, we finally started tracking through Phong Na National Park. Unlike the rest of the Ho Chi Minh highway, there were no gas stations or villages here. So it was lucky that the boys had some spare bottles of fuel when I ran out in the mountains! We rushed through the gorgeous landscape and made it out to the nearest hotel just before dark. We ate a local restaurant where we joined a group of local teachers for a party. Which meant a lot of selfies and a lot of beer!
Up early, we fueled up, packed up and continued to Hue in 4 hours with a stop to fix a flat tire along the way. The weather became hot and sunny making it a beautiful day to ride. The last stretch took us on the 1A highway again, a much less interesting road to drive. We checked into the Amy2 hostel and drove down to the beach for a quick swim and a beer. Another flat tire slowed us down on the way back, but we made it in time to watch the Vietnam-Japan football game, for which the whole city seemed to have turned up to the bars. Despite Vietnams loss, we still partied hard as ever, meeting up with groups of people we had met along the way from Hanoi. That’s the fun thing about biking through Vietnam, everyone is always going North to South or South to North stopping in the same places at more or less the same pace. So even if you ride by yourself, you’ll catch up with everyone in the evening.
We opted not to go sightseeing in Hue, sadly, as time constraints forced us to continue to Da Nang in one day. The drive to Da Nang crossed some terrible streets full of potholes before landing us at the Hai Van pass. A Top Gear special made this stretch of tarmac famous with lots of daytrippers on the beautiful mountain pass. Of course, we ran another flat right at the top, which took a while to fix. We made it down to Da Nang just in time for rush hour, which meant crazy traffic getting into the city. We checked into Kon-Tiki Hostel, went for dinner and took a Grab to SurfZone to dance and drink some more. After a week of these parties, I stuck to Coca Cola for a night, but still had a lot of fun. I also knew that I had to drive to Hoi An the next day as I was going to have to return my bike there.
Three of the guys opted to ride with me to Hoi An rather than stay in Da Nang. We drove in 1,5 hours along the coast to find that most of the hostels in Hoi An had already filled up with backpackers. We found free beds at Hao Bihn and after lunch decided to hit the beach again. Of course, no happy hour can be passed up by these guys so we returned in time for free cocktails at the hostel. By this time, even the boys were feeling a bit worse for wear, so after some bar hopping in the centre of Hoi An, we all called it a night.
On the morning of the 27th, I reluctantly handed my bike over at the local Flamingo Travel office. It was bittersweet parting with Gloria, who so perfectly carried me across almost 1000 km through Vietnam. My rental bike was in perfect condition, had no breakdowns or issues. It was more powerful and in better shape than the cheap backpacker bikes the guys had bought, who frequently had to stop to get things fixed. All in all, it was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I think 10 days was the perfect amount for me as it was long enough to really experience it, but not so long that I was getting bored of it. Even after a couple of hours, I felt so comfortable and confident riding a motorbike and will definitely do something like this again. It was tiring but got to see parts of Vietnam that I never would have seen and I had the complete freedom to go where I wanted. It even has me considering getting a motorbike license back home and riding actual motorbikes.
So that was my epic adventure of partying and driving my way down from Hanoi to Hoi An. I can recommend it to anyone, and that includes the ladies! I didn’t meet any girls doing the same but you should, because it is so fun and empowering.
Are you thinking of doing something like this? Do you have any questions or concerns? Let me know in the comments. As always, you can help me spread my story by ‘liking’ it and sharing it on social media.