Two Weeks on the Road: Hồ Chí Minh to Đà Nẵng
I was unquestionably nervous. I’ve dodged cars on a motor bike through Phnom Penh, traversed highways through northern Thailand, and weaved by the endless potholes plaguing the roads of Cambodia, but Ho Chi Minh was undoubtedly something new. Complete and utter madness. We were trapped in a city of 8.2 million people with miles of unfamiliar roadway separating us from the safety of Müi Né, our first destination.
The only sensible option it seemed, was to seek out of Saigon under the cover of darkness before the hordes of motorists began their daily work commute. So, at 3:50 on March 14, we quietly crept from our hostel, and officially began our motorcycle journey through Viet Nam. With the roads virtually empty, we snaked our way through a maze of streets to Highway 1A and away from the impending chaos.
In the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh, still an hour from first light, came the first signs of engine troubles as my throttle became stuck while approaching a toll checkpoint. As we pulled to the side of the road to assess the problem, AJ mentioned his foot was covered in oil and was unable to restart his bike. Thankfully, in Vietnam bike shops are more plentiful than Starbucks in Seattle, and no further than 50 feet down the highway, we came across a mechanic asleep in his shop. Two hours later we were back on the road to Müi Ne, glad to have made it safely out of Ho Chi Minh.
Since that first morning of uneasiness, 2 weeks ago, we’ve traversed over 1,000 km of roadway, experienced more motorcycle mishaps, and watched as the true beauty of this country unfolds before us. Viet Nam, already, has surpassed expectations. The landscape here is stunning. Massive forested hills slope into crystal clear water of the Eastern Sea. Beaches stretch miles in either direction, free of pushy merchants and relatively clean by South Asia standards. The country clearly understands the importance of tourism and has done a commendable job in keeping these areas litter free. Even in Ho Chi Minh, sanitation workers toil day and night to empty trash bins and sweep the streets clean. Further exceeding expectations, the blend of French and traditional Asian cooking has led to an incredible culinary experience. Full of fresh and diverse flavors, every meal is an joy. We are continually indulging in new and unfamiliar cuisine, wandering cities and searching back alleys for the best kept local secrets.
The coast has been our primary refugee from the first days of chaos in Saigon, traveling north through Müi Ne, Nha Trang, Tuy Hòa, Quy Nhon, Hoi An, and Dà Nang. Recently, poor weather and visibility has slowed our progress north to Hue, leaving us to wander the historic streets of Hoi An and Dà Nang city. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the ancient seaside town of Hoi An, a major international trading port from the 15th to 19th century, is a well preserved blend of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese architecture. It’s narrow streets lined with shops, restaurants, and food stalls, and makes it the ideal place to rent a bike and explore for a day or two. Further north lies Hoi An’s modern port neighbor Dà Nang; a quickly developing city of hotels and high rises lining the gorgeous Non Nuoc Beach. This now commercialized city, at the mouth of the Hàn River, was once home to the most heavily trafficked air base during the Vietnam War. Famous today for its beach, Dà Nang doesn’t have much else to offer travelers, other than an impressive dragon bridge capable of breathing fire.
We decided to spend a day wandering the streets and peeking into shops hoping to find some redeeming quality, other than its beach, to give the city praise for. When nothing worth seeing could be found we headed towards the beach despite the poor weather. While the grey skies and continuous threat of drizzle made for less than ideal swimming conditions, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to enjoy afternoon run along Dà Nang’s beautiful stretch of sand.
For a short sightseeing trip, we drove the coastal road into southern Dà Nang to Ngu Hành Sơn, otherwise known as The Marble Mountains. Here we found five marble and limestone hills jetting up from the flat landscape. For 15.000 dong, we explored the caves full of Buddhist and Hindu grottoes illuminated with colorful lights.
With the forecast calling for clearing weather we are ready to take our journey inland to the infamous Ho Chi Minh Highway. Ahead of us lies the biggest challenge for our bikes thus far- a 220km stretch of mountainous roadway free of gas stations and repair shops. Ready to tackle the challenge with a new oil change and a few added decorations, we’re hoping luck is with our Honda Wins on this next adventure.