I had done little research before this tip as I believe the only way to learn where to go and how to get there is by talking to people you meet along the way. When asking about Vietnam the majority of people said it’s best to travel by motorbike. Great I thought but only one slight problem, I’d never ridden a motorbike before nor found anyone to travel with.
Witnessing the road conditions, the lack of road rules, numerous crashes and backpackers covered in plasters throughout Asia, I was a little put off but I was determined to give it a go myself and learnt (by speaking to other backpackers) the best place to travel by motorbike was along the coast from Hoi An to Hue which involves riding the world famous Hai Van Pass, known to us Brits as the “Top Gear Route“.
To my delight the group I had been travelling with for a week or two agreed to ride the 150-odd kilometre ride on scooters. We paid a little extra to hire a guide to skip the hassle of trying to navigate on foreign roads with no road names. Our guide Tam took us to some interesting places along the way such as Marble Mountain which boasts fantastic views of the city of Da Nang and the surrounding area.
The Hai Van Pass was quoted the most beautiful coastal road in the world on Top Gear and I couldn’t agree more. It was rather scary riding the steep windy mountainous roads on my own bike but the scenery was jaw dropping. I had goosebumps the whole way, not because I was cold but because the ride was phenomenal. I can now understand why some people are so in to motorbikes.
We stopped for a coffee up the top of the pass before making our way to the bottom of the mountains for a lunch of noodles and rice looking out to sea.
We needed to cover another 80km before dark so we had no other option than to take the notorious Highway One. I had heard about this road from other backpackers and travelled on it myself by bus. With poor road conditions and no road rules there’s no surprise that 33 people a day die on the road. I still can’t believe the shocking driving by people across Asia, mainly in Vietnam with huge lorries overtaking others at full speed on blind bends. It’s was an exhilarating experience, something I actually quite enjoyed as I consider myself a sensible driver and made sure I stuck to the side of the road. I kept thinking about what my dad said to me when he taught me to drive, that it is important to have my wits about me.
As careful as I was I still managed to fall off my bike, twice, both whilst at a standstill with the engine off! I only came away with a grazed knee as a result of my clumsiness. After a crazy couple of hours on Highway One we arrived in Hue, said to be the intellectual, cultural and spiritual hub of Vietnam. It was here we came face to face with thousands of other motorcyclists in some of the busiest traffic I have ever witnessed. It was as busy as Ho Chi Minh City and with no road rules it was a real challenge to weave my bike in and out of traffic whilst trying to keep up with the group. Traffic was so slow moving it wasn’t really dangerous and I couldn’t help but laugh at the surreality of it all.
Exhausted, we arrived at Tran Ly Hotel safe and sound and said goodbye to Tam. All squeezed in to one room with me on a camp bed (no more uncomfortable than regular Asian mattresses!) we enjoyed a quiet night in with takeaway pizza, ice cream and an episode of Top Gear – the one where they bike the same route of course! That night I realised that I had left my passport in Hoi An nearly 200km away. I told the staff at Tran Ly Hotel and after a quick phone call they assured me it would arrive on the next bus the following morning. I wasn’t holding out much hope and was convinced it would be lost in transit considering there is no main bus company and organisation of travel in Asia involves paying some money, a quick phone call and waiting at the side of the road hoping a bus turns up to shove you on. Once again, my faith was restored in Vietnamese people and the next morning my passport arrived safe and sound. Phew.
The next morning we went to Hue Backpackers for an overpriced brunch and headed to the Imperial Palace for a dose of history and culture. We hadn’t a clue about the place or it’s history and the information inside was few and far between but the surroundings were so peaceful with no one trying to sell us anything and time ran away with us.
Tired and hungry we headed to a street marked “food street” on our map and sat down at a coffee shop. The cafe didn’t sell food but one of the young men working there walked us to a noodle store and another selling Hue Cake after I asked him where I could find it. We came back with a selection of local dishes to share with the “cake” – which was very disappointing – rice noodle dumpling filled with shrimp. The coffee was one of the strongest I had ever tasted and led to me dropping my basket to run to the loo several times in the supermarket en route home! It was probably for the best as I could have spent hours (I had already spent over an hour in there) filling my basket with cheap toiletries and snacks, most which I failed to fit in my backpack so I had to eat up pretty quickly (oh what a shame!).
That evening we went to DMZ Bar where we met some other backpackers and were given free vodka buckets. We spent the night dancing away before retiring to our room around 4am. The next morning I enjoyed a lovely bowl of Pho (beef noodle soup) for breakfast before jumping on to a bus. Leaving Californian Kev behind, the seven of us headed to Phang Nha National Park to check out the caves we had heard so much about. Time to go local!
Living life, loving travel,