Qui Nhon – Nha Trang
To read about the city of Qui Nhon click here
As the cozy beach town of Qui Nhon was disappearing in our mirrors, we passed by a fellow foreigner with luggage strapped to the back of his scooter. While cruising down the open road I noticed that he was behind our pack of three. Assuming he would eventually pass by us, I kept an eye on him in my mirror. Miles later the mystery rider was still following us and I guessed that he was looking for the safety of riding in a group.
When we stopped to fill up our tanks, the solo scooter passed us by. Part of me was hoping to meet him, as it is always interesting to hear someone’s story. We continued on for probably an hour and as the rain started falling, we pulled into another fuel station to take cover as we poncho’d up. It just so happened that the guy following us had the same idea. Waving to say hello, we eventually walked over to him and that was how we met Matt.
As a foursome, we left the gas station ready to face the rain. We only had two hours of riding left so halfway through, the four us stopped to find something to eat. Every restaurant and food stall we stopped at seemed to be closed. After a handful of rejections, we decided to grab a cup of coffee and finish our drive.
This gave us an opportunity to have a real conversation with Matt and we learned that his home is in Brisbane. He had been traveling around Vietnam with a friend, but Matt was left solo after his friend had to fly back home to Australia. Biking through Vietnam was something Matt had always wanted to do, but after seeing a horrific accident involving a truck, he wasn’t so sure. But since he had already bought his scooter he decided to keep riding.
Passing on the pass
Eventually the peaceful coastal roads came to an end and we were faced with yet another pass to climb over. For some reason the concentration of trucks was much higher than any of the other passes along our journey from Hanoi. With three riders behind me it was difficult to find room where all four of us could safely make it through. Somehow these trucks would find room to fit three wide on a two lane road. Blind corners and wet conditions didn’t deter these drivers from passing each other. Although I’m not sure, I believe the truck drivers have a secret language using their blinkers to let others know when to pass or not. Here is a video taken by Matt!
Not long into the final hour of our day, we saw a cloud that looked as thick as a fume of exhaust. The cloud stood out amongst the surrounding hills where bits of sun were peeking through. It was obvious at what point we entered the wall, as large drops of rain were pelting us through our layers of clothes and rain gear. For a minute I actually thought it was hail.
Right in the middle of the rain storm, I looked back to check on the crew and only Tash was behind me. I pulled over to the side of the road where large puddles were already starting to form. In the distance I could see Jojo and Matt working on her bike. Her motorcycle seemed to be running out of fuel and Matt kindly used his spare water bottle full of gas to fill her tank. But the bike still had a lack of power and continued to sputter. After Matt dried off the spark plug the bike ran well enough to keep moving, although not at 100%.
The last half hour of the day cleared up and we started to dry off as we reached Nha Trang. We had no idea how large the city was and it took us 20 minutes just to drive from the north side into the middle of the city.
Nha Trang – Dalat
To read more about Dalat click here
We were once again a group of three, as Matt was staying in Nha Trang for one more day. Riding out of the city was surprisingly simple as we only had to make a few turns and rode through mild traffic. As we made it the through countryside we started climbing up a steep pass, where there were some great viewpoints.
Besides some deep potholes in the road, we had an uneventful first part of the day. But you know how that goes….
As we climbed higher we hit some mild fog, but as we rode even higher the fog became incredibly thick. The visibility was low and we couldn’t see another vehicles headlights until they were 50 feet away. Along with the fog, the temperature dropped a considerable amount and we all started to feel the chill.
Things got worse when the rain started falling. Brilliantly I decided to ride in flip-flops, shorts and a tank top and although I now had a poncho on, I started shivering. To add to our misery, Jojo’s bike started losing power and she was forced to climb each hill in second gear. We all rode slowly together for a while until we pulled over to take a look at the problem. There was a wide shoulder up ahead so we pulled over and it turned out to be a terrible place to stop.
We stopped at the most windy section in the entire pass. Trying to quickly diagnose Jojo’s bike as my poncho is flapping around in my face I notice another problem. The stupid luggage rack had broken again!! This time it was so bad that the only reason the rack hadn’t fallen off was because her luggage was actually holding it to the bike. So we were forced to stay in the wind tunnel even longer. We re-strapped her bag farther towards the seat to ensure it’s safety. Unfortunately it forced Jojo to sit farther forward, which only added to the already miserable scenario.
As we came down the pass, it warmed up slightly, but we were already chilled to the bone. Jojo’s lips had turned purple and Tash was trying her best to control her shivering. There were still many smaller hills to climb and Jo’s bike continued to struggle.
When we neared Dalat, my gps guided me in a direction that I scratched my head at, but not wanting to stop I trusted that it was correct. We ended up circling around the entire city, which in most scenarios would have been just fine. Farms, greenhouses and terraced fields of the countryside were interesting to see, but we just wanted to be warm.
We finally got within ten minutes of our hotel and as we were on the city streets, Jojo ran out of fuel.
It wasn’t a big deal, a gas station was nearby so we emptied a large water bottle, filled it up and returned it to her quickly. Despite the many obstacles we all kept a good spirit. After a day that long and miserable I felt like we could make it through anything.
The best decision we made regarding Dalat was reserving a hotel with a hot tub. Immediately after checking in, we all jumped and had a cold one. That was probably one of the most enjoyable beers of all time!
Dalat – Mui Ne
To read more about Mui Ne click here
After joining up with Matt in Dalat, he decided to finish the rest of his trip to Ho Chi Minh with us.
One more mechanic
We discovered that Jojo’s exhaust was causing all of her bike’s performance issues. The pipe had broken where it attaches to the block, which caused her lack of power and large amounts of fuel consumption. In Dalat we took her bike to the first mechanic we could find. After surveying the problem he told us it would be cheaper to buy another exhaust and reinstall it for only $15!!! While we waited for the mechanic, Tash’s bike fell over and her clutch lever broke again!
As the mechanic returned I couldn’t believe my eyes. He brought back a brand new shiny exhaust and within 45 minutes he reinstalled it, re-welded the luggage rack and replaced the clutch handle. I know I’ve said this many times before but I am astounded every time by the efficiency of the local people.
As we headed out of town the weather looked a little iffy but we chose not to put on the ponchos. The ride ended being pleasant as the rain held off and we drove on quiet country roads. As our gas tanks needed a refill and we were in a remote area, we found a makeshift gas station and filled up.
After turning onto the QL28B we rode next to a large lake for a few miles and eventually crossed a bridge over one of the lake’s fingers. We started climbing a mountain on the edge of the Kalon Song Mao Nature Reserve. This was one of the longest stretches of climbing steep hills that we had encountered on our entire trip.
Reaching the top we were rewarded with an incredible view over looking lakes, valleys and distant mountains.
We started our descent and around the first corner was a huge surprise. A truck and an SUV were stuck in the middle of the road due to a large mudslide. The two vehicles were just a few feet apart as the large truck was spinning it’s tires and sliding toward the SUV. Soon after we arrived the driver stopped trying to move through the mud and a large group of men were standing around scratching their heads.
Meanwhile, Matt and I were already trying to find a route around the mess. The center of the road was completely blocked and covered in two feet of thick mud. We inspected the ditch and it appeared to be firm enough to walk our bikes through without getting stuck. As we walked back toward our bikes a large gush of mud washed out from surrounding hill. We decided not to wait any longer and headed back to the motorcycles.
By the time we reached our bikes a few large buses and cars were stuck in line. A large group of people gathered and started taking pictures of the chaos. Matt and I successfully pushed all four of the bikes to safety and even helped out two women who decided to follow our lead.
Then it was time for the downhill! The switchback corners seemed to never end as we cruised down the mountain. Traffic was almost nonexistent since we were the only people to clear the mudslide. This was some of the most fun on the entire road trip. It took us 30-40 minutes to reach the valley where we stopped for a short break to stretch and share our enthusiasm for the exciting ride.
The day before we left Dalat, Matt had informed us that he heard about some police road blocks intended to target tourists near Mui Ne. I’m still not sure if these road blocks are occupied by real police or impersonators but they are just trying to scare tourists into bribing them in order not to go to jail. If it wasn’t for this information our route would have taken us directly through one of these road blocks. Thanks Matt!
Knowing that we were approaching Mui Ne, I got nervous as I saw two police motorcycles ahead in the distance. Both cops u-turned in front of us and were heading in our same direction, so I slowed down and kept a long distance between us. At one point I even stayed behind a large truck so they couldn’t see us. After a while the cops pulled over and we had no choice but to drive past them. Luckily, they seemed preoccupied with something more important.
We had to turn onto the busy noisy highway 1 once again for the last leg of the day. This was the first time all day that we were able to ride our bikes at full speed. While cruising along we had our choice of three lanes, although all of the bikes keep to the right and the trucks usually stay to the left.
In Vietnam the lines in the road actually don’t exist. At least it seems that way and bikes don’t use their blinkers much either. They don’t make any sudden movements, but instead just slowly drift toward their direction of choice.
At one point I passed a guy on a scooter and decided to do what the locals do. After passing him I just slowly started drifting back towards the right side of the wide highway. As soon as I started moving to the right a bus roared by me and was easily a foot or less away from my left side. Tash told me that the bus intentionally moved in my direction and there was nobody on his other side. I don’t know what the bus was trying to do, but it definitely made my heart rate rise!
The day was full of great views, fun stretches of road and plenty of excitement. All four of us agreed that was one of our favorite days of riding.
Mui Ne – Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
To read more about Ho Chi Minh click here
The final 136 miles of our 1550 mile journey started with traveling through the bigger than expected city of Phu Thuy. We eventually merged on to the dreaded highway 1, which was dense with trucks, dirty and noisy as usual. After an hour of dodging trucks and buses we turned off on the QL55. It was a breath of fresh air to get away from the larger vehicles.
A fitting end
The rain started coming down and we put on our ponchos. Little did we know, the rain wasn’t going to stop for another two hours. Matt’s jacket had already soaked through and we were all starting to get cold as the warm air that we were accustomed to seemed to vanish. By the time we stopped to take a break and attempt to find lunch (which didn’t happen) we were all cold, but not as cold as Matt who was completely soaked through. Luckily he found a poncho during our break and he had a big smile on his face, knowing he would stay warm.
It seemed fitting that our final trip on the bikes would be a wet one. But we rode through it with no problems, just like every time before.
The roads outside of Ho Chi Minh progressively got busier as we approached the large city. After riding next to more obnoxious trucks, we once again broke off from the busy streets. Our first destination was to locate the ferry that would take us across the Soai Rap river, in order to avoid the big highways. On our way to the ferry we drove through an industrial area where everything appeared gray from being covered in layers of dust. Everybody around us was using a face mask to prevent breathing in the nasty air. Truck tires were throwing a mist throughout the air and our ponchos had already started to resemble the color of the area.
After a gps miscalculation that led us into a port where security guards were armed with semi-automatic rifles, we turned around and eventually made our way to the ferry terminal. We got in line with hundreds of other bikes and followed them through to the toll collector. After staring at container ships and busy cranes off loading cargo we docked with a large thud. Once the ferry was tied down a sea of bikes poured out of the large boat and we were on the way.
It felt strange knowing that our month long adventure was coming to a close. On the final 30 minutes of riding, one would think we’d have seen it all. But as we crossed a massive bridge over the Saigon river we saw the frame of a motorcycle, completely charred and still on fire!
The last adventure of our journey was trying to make it through the Saigon traffic. I’ve never seen a concentration of scooters on such a large scale. Imagine what the start of a marathon looks like, except everybody is on a scooter! Driving through the rush hour traffic required every bit of concentration I had. Looking down at the gps and checking to see if everyone was still behind me was almost too much to handle.
Just before it started getting dark we found a place to stay and before we knew it, the trip had officially ended. That night we rode our bikes for a few more minutes to the motorcycle shop that was going to buy them back. It was a simple process, the guy at the shop didn’t even give the bikes a once over. He simply handed us cash and we were done.
This trip will forever be one of the most memorable adventures of my life. When we first started I was nervous about many things. Tash’s lack of experience on a motorcycle, dangerous drivers, large potholes and the possibility of bribing policemen were on the top of my list. I’m incredibly grateful that we decided to jump into the unknown. Despite driving for over 1500 miles and staying in 14 different cities, each day seemed to bring unique sights and experiences. There is no better way to engage with a country than riding through on a motorcycle. By doing so, we were able appreciate the landscape, people and culture in much more detail. If you ever find yourself cruising through Vietnam don’t forget to stop for pictures, eat some local Pho and wave back to the wonderful people of Vietnam.