Throttle Jockey Diaries Part 1
Hey there everybody, I don’t know if you heard, but apparently some guy named AJ has been posting loads of cool pictures and awesome posts to the blog lately, so I thought I’d try and do the same today to keep him on his toes.
Today I’m writing to you from Hoi An, a city of about 100,000 people, rich with culture and history, and located about halfway up the Vietnamese coastline. We arrived late last night after an 11 hour marathon motorbike ride from Quy Nhon, but more on that later, for now I just wanted to update you guys on our travels through Vietnam, and hopefully share some useful information and funny moments (there is no shortage of those) with you as well. Our story begins in the bustling streets and bright lights of Ho Chi Minh…
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC as the cool kids call it, resembles many of the other South East Asian megacities at first glance. It is a massive city, boasting a population of over 8 million people, where the roar of traffic and the teeming crowds of people are never far away. This is especially true of District 1, the main backpackers hub of Ho Chi Minh, where the streets are alive 24 hours a day, and the nightlife is carousing 7 days a week.
Naturally, this is where we found ourselves on our first day in Ho Chi Minh, but strictly (ok, mostly) for business purposes. To be more specific, we were on the hunt for motorbikes, and if you are in Ho Chi Minh, this is the place to do it. Walking along the streets of District 1 you will notice bikes with for sale signs on every corner, and a mechanic or 5 every block with a full inventory for sale. You will run into loads of ex-pats trying to off load there bikes as well. As I mentioned in my previous post, we were lucky enough to get a package deal, as we bought 3 Hondas off of 3 fellow backpackers, to the tune of $200 apiece. The bikes all needed to be looked at by a mechanic immediately after purchase though, which gave us two days to explore Ho Chi Minh.
Although our time in Ho Chi Minh was mostly spent concerning ourselves with purchasing bikes, we also ventured around the city, trying many a delicious banh mi sandwich, visiting the War Remnants Museum, and passing by the replica Notre Dame church the French built here. We also visited the Cu Chi tunnels, a vast Viet Cong tunnel network two hours northwest of Ho Chi Minh, and a scene of heavy fighting during the war. Friends, if you ever find yourself in Ho Chi Minh, I highly recommend the tunnels and war remnants museum for the education you will receive here on the Vietnam war, especially because it gives you a chance to see the war from the Vietnamese perspective. It won’t be the happiest day you have in Ho Chi Minh, but it might just be the most meaningful.
Back in District 1, our first few nights were relatively low key, but things took an unexpected turn on our 3rd night, when we ended up having one of our most memorable nights yet with the locals who ran our hostel. Even though they spoke very little English, and we spoke absolutely no Vietnamese, they invited us to have a few drinks with them, and before we knew it, we were teaching them beer pong, and yelling “Mot, Hai, Ba, Vo!”, a Vietnamese saying which means “3-2-1 cheers!”. The night ended with attempts by our new friends to improve our non existent Vietnamese (to little avail, and much laughter), and with us reciprocating by trying to teach them English. It was a night I won’t soon forget, thanks to the amiability of our Vietnamese hosts, and the stinging loss at beer pong AJ, Alex, and I suffered at their hands.
Two days later, we departed Ho Chi Minh in the dead of night, marking the end of our first chapter in Vietnam, and the beginning of our second. The setting? Mui Ne.
Our drive from Saigon to Mui Ne was spent almost entirely upon the infamous 1A, a busy freeway running up the coast of Vietnam. With the heavy traffic, loud honking, and other unique hallmarks of the roadways found in Vietnam, the 1A can make for a pretty stressful drive, so you can imagine the relief Alex, AJ, and I felt when arrived at the beaches of Mui Me. And what a sight it was, guys.
The road into Mui Ne is classic desktop background material. The road itself winds around the picturesque coastline for miles, giving you ample time to admire the turquoise ocean waters, which stretch off to the horizon, eventually meeting with the blue sky. After a deep breath and one look at this scene, the stress of Ho Chi Minh already seemed miles away (I’m trying with the puns here guys), which might be one reason why I was so fond of this place. The city itself is positioned around a long stretch of beach front road, with resorts and restaurants lining the side of the road closest to the beach, and local shops and hostels lining the opposite side, and stretching up into the sand dunes.
For us, the biggest plus of staying here were our accomodations. This might seem like an odd observation, considering we shared a 12 person room and our hostel had the word “budget” in it (whatever makes the money last longest, right?), but things ended up working to our advantage, as the hostel was part of a larger hotel system. This meant that although we were paying the bare minimum, we were given access to the swanky hotel area. Naturally, we abused the hell out of this privilege. As a result, much of our time in Mui Ne was spent relaxing and recharging by the pool, and getting ready for our next trip up into the hills of inland Vietnam, and to the city of Eternal Spring, Da Lat.
As we made our way from Mui Ne to Da Lat, it was clear that this was what we had been waiting for. Free from the chaos of the 1A highway, we now found ourselves on less travelled roads, winding through the beautiful valleys of the Vietnamese countryside. These roads would present challenges of their own, however. As the route gradually became steeper, and our climb to Da Lat intensified, our bikes began to struggle (they were $200 after all), and the unrelenting scream of the engine drowned out even my own thoughts, and dreams of noise cancelling headphones. Against all odds, we made it the summit after a few shorts stops, and began our short descent into the town of Da Lat. I should also note that before beginning our descent, we checked the March Madness scores, and learned that Gonzaga won their second round game! Let’s go!!! It was definitely going to be a good day.
Indeed, it turned out to be just that. As we drove into Da Lat, our eyes were fixed on a beautiful mountain town, best described as a hybrid of French and Vietnamese architecture. Since I have no idea what that means, here are a few pictures of Da Lat:
Since Da Lat is relatively small, it is the perfect city to explore on foot. The hub of the town is also centered around a beautiful lake, which provides a scenic background for an evening walk. Walking around the “downtown” of Da Lat, we experienced a massive night market, where AJ was kind enough to bestow upon me my first bike “ornament”.
But don’t fear my friends, I would have my revenge shortly. Back to Da Lat, we summited the highest peak in the area, called Lang Biang, and took many walks around the city, and around the lake. Naturally, we had to make a stop at the local mechanic as well, and it was there where we tried to get our bikes back in top shape for the next leg of the journey, which would take us back down the hills and to the coast, and to another resort city, Nha Trang.
Well, This ” short” blog post I had planned has turned into a short novel, so for the sake of brevity, I have condensed the last couple days of our trip into the umbrella category: The Coast! Our trip along the coast began in Nha Trang, a large resort town, with more beautiful beaches and stunning views (and oddly enough, loads of Russians).
It might seem like this is just going to be another paragraph about another nondescript city, but wait, stay seated my friends, for there was something about this city that would set it apart from all the rest. As we drove up to our budget hostel, with a long day of driving behind us, we were all looking forward to a nice night of relaxation and WiFi. Then it happened. As the three of us walked towards the front door of our hostel, we were confronted with something we had never seen before. Immediately, all converstation stopped mid sentence, and the three of us stopped dead in our tracks. in front of us, written impetuosly in big letters on a whiteboard, stood two words: FREE BEER. Attempting to maintain an air of dignity and calmness, we tried to contain our excitement as we inquisitively questioned the hostel owner about this anomaly. Thinking the sign was a joke, not daring to even hope that this beautiful phrase contained a shred of truth, we were reassured that there was indeed free beer. Since this is a family blog, I will leave this story here, and leave the rest up to the imagination of the reader to decide what happened next.
Actually, if you are in the writing mood, feel free to leave a comment telling your own version of the story of the rest of the night however you want 😀
Our final two stops before Hoi An would take us to the coastal towns of Doclet, and Quy Nhon. These two days we spent exploring the unpopulated coastline of Central Vietnam, and getting ridiculously sunburnt. Despite the sunburns, it was a time I enjoyed greatly, as we were able to explore beaches in peace, and wander aimlessly around the coast, venturing through small villages that you would never know existed, where time goes by slowly, and there is no need to rush anything. It is isolated places like these where you can stop for a day, or an hour, and it is easy to forget all about any of the worries or troubling thoughts you might have been holding onto — What could there be to worry about in a place that feels a world apart from everything else?
Eventually we would have to trouble ourselves with one question: how to get from Quy Nhon to Hoi An. We could choose to make the trip in either one day, or break it up into 2 days. Feeling confident with our motorcycle skills, we decided to shoot the moon, and go for it all in one day, all 291 Kilometers of it, on you guessed it, the 1A highway. The trip ended up being 11 hours in total, which is a looong time to be on the back of a motorbike, but we made the best if it, stopping at a couple museums on the way, pulling to the side of the road from time to time to enjoy Red Goats (blatant red bull knock offs) and eating in some of the less travelled places in Vietnam. After a few bike breakdowns towards the end of our journey, we rolled into Hoi An at around 8 o’clock at night. After a bike ride like this there are few things that can pique your interest, and these mostly center on the most basic needs, like food and sleep. Upon entering Hoi An, we satisfied these needs, by grabbing some Pho, and hitting the bed hard and early that night.
If given the chance to do another 11 hour ride, I would most likely decline it, but am I happy that I did it? Definitely. It was another unique experience that I won’t soon forget, and was just another aspect of motorbiking through Vietnam that makes it such an interesting experience — where else would I have gone on an 11 hour bike roadtrip?
So here we are, 2,000 words later, my fingers are cramping, but I’ll push through it for a few final words and thoughts. Regarding our next few stops, our current plans will take us inland on the Ho Chi Minh road for a week or so. Supposedly, this is a leg of the trip to very remote regions Vietnam, and some of the most beautiful. The bike rides are long, since there are some stretches of road that go without civilization for hundreds of Kilometers, but I have to say I’m looking forward to it immensely. There are very few feelings which can top cruising on a motorbike through the jungle, with the massive trees and canopy towering over you, or slowly driving through the fresh green valleys and solitary limestone hills of inland Vietnam. It is an experience I would recommend to anyone.
That’s all for this post everyone. If you made it this far, or even if you didn’t, thank you for checking out what I wrote! It was a big one this time, and perhaps redundant, since AJ, Alex, and I have all been writing about this segment of our trip, but sometimes it seems that we are doing so much in Vietnam, it takes 3 people to write about it all.
It has officially been one and a half months now since we landed in Bali and began on this trip, and in that time I have met so many great people from all over the world, and have also had the time to reflect on how lucky I am to know all the amazing people I know back home, so my next post is going to be about just that. I hope you will check back in to see it in the coming days. So long guys! Much love to all of you around the world, from somewhere in Vietnam.