Vietnam is beautifully diverse country full of stunning natural wonders and adventures just waiting to happen and there is no better way to see this county than on a motorbike – or so I’ve heard. Since touching down in Saigon a little over 12 months ago, I have hardly left the city, and as much as I love her chaotic energy, recently I’ve been craving nature and fresh air and a little peace from the never-ending noise. I decided to get away from the hustle on bustle for a week and hit the road on my first solo, motorbike trip, riding from Saigon to Dalat via Cat Tien National Park.
Time to put my new bike to the test
Before this trip, my motorbike experience has been limited to puttering around Saigon on an ancient scooter with a cheap, plastic helmet on my head. Seeing as I was going such a long way, a friend lent me a proper helmet.
The morning I left I stood next to my bike, packed and ready to go, fiddling with the strap of the helmet unable to figure it out, before giving up and Googling –
“How to do up a motorcyle helmet”
Once I got that sorted, away I went. As I rode further from Saigon, the country-side opened up and I wound my way through bright green rice paddies, rolling hills and small towns. I found myself falling into a relaxed and easy rhythym of riding and taking it all in when suddenly, “SNAP”, “BANG”.
Shit! One of the straps holding my all stuff broke and both my bags went flying 50 metres down the road. I pulled over and ran back to get them, my helmet still on and my head wobbling around, making me look like one of those bobble-head dolls.
I packed things back on as best I could and drove carefully until I got to a garage. I tried to indicate to the man working there that I needed to buy another strap by pointing at the one I already had and rubbing my fingers together in way to indicate, ‘money’. The poor fella just looked really confused at the foreign lady pointing at her bags and making weird hand signals.
I tried my smattering of Vietnamese –
“I want”, “I need”… but we got nowhere. Then I tried-
“Mua”, the Vietnamese word for, “buy”.
“Mua!” he said.
“Yes, yes, mua, mua”, I said and I think we were both a little bit chuffed about finally having a communication breakthrough.
The petrol station man pointed to a small shop, then he walked to the edge of the road and started to shout towards it. I didn’t understand any of what he was saying, but I am guessing it was the Vietnamese version of –
“Sheryl. Sher-yl. I have a lady here that needs an occy-strap. I’m sending her over”.
I bought two, just in case another broke, re-strapped my bags, tried not to think about what state my laptop might now be in and continued on. I was headed for Cat Tien National Park and according to Googlemaps it’s a drive that should less than four hours. I seemed to fall into some motorbike time-space vortex though, where Googlemaps would say I was 95km away, I’d drive for an hour and then I’d still be 82km away.
I was starting to get a little tired and over it when I heard a, “thud”, and thought my bags had fallen down again. I quickly stopped and looked at the road around me but my bags weren’t there. I had no idea what the noise had been, but not only were my bags not on the ground, they weren’t on my bike either. I looked back at the long empty road stretching out behind me and, heart pounding, I turned the bike around.
No bags to be seen!
I felt sick as I wondered just how far back had my bags fallen off the bike? Laptop, cash, all my clothes, my passport – everything was in those bags and now they were gone.
Fuckity, fuck, fuck, fucksticks fuck, I was in a bit of a panic.
As I started to drive I heard some scraping noise and thought,
“Oh my God, what now?! Is something wrong with the bike?”
A Vietnamese fella drove past and started pointing, and it was then I realised my bags had fallen off my bike but they were still held on by the strap and I was dragging them along the road.
I pulled over and this time I strapped those babies on like my life depended on it. Vietnamese people are absolute legends when it comes to transporting things by motorbike, so I guess I still have a lot to learn.
See, this guy knows how its done.
Exhausted, I finally arrived at Green Bamboo Lodge in Cat Tien National Park, where I made myself at home in my bamboo hut by the river.
After an evening here spent drinking rice wine with some Vietnamese guys, I was up early to head off again, hoping it wouldn’t take me quite as long to get to Dalat as it had taken me to get to Cat Tien. The scenery from Saigon to Cat Tien had ranged from the dull to the pretty and pleasant, but once I was out of Cat Tien and on the road to Dalat, the landscape became increasingly jaw-dropping.
The smooth road wound and weaved through jungle covered mountains, vast coffee plantations and remote villages. Every turn seemed to offer another sweeping view of lush green valleys dotted with distant homes and farms and it was such a joyous feeling of freedom to be out alone on the road with barely any other cars or bikes around.
Stopped for a coffee on an isolated farm and met this happy boy. He showed me his picture book and we had a running race (he won!)
I wasn’t too far out of Dalat when I checked the fuel gauge. I still had a bit under half a tank and seeing as getting fuel is a bit of a pain in the arse – I have to unload my bags to open the seat to get to the tank, I decided to wait until I got to town so I could leave my bags at the hotel and it would be a bit easier.
I was only about 15km out of town on a windy narrow road, looking forward to giving my bum a break when I looked at my petrol gauge and saw it was now very much in the red zone. How could this be? It hadn’t been that long ago that I’d had over a quarter of a tank, had it?
“Oh God. Please, please, please can a petrol station appear!”
I was in big trouble if I ran out of fuel. The road was narrow and winding and if I had to pull over there really wasn’t a lot of space to avoid a truck or bus that might come flying around the corner. I had all my bags, so trying to hitch-hike into town to get petrol, and get back again, especially when I don’t speak Vietnamese, was going to be almost impossible. Pushing my bike 15km through a mountainous road wasn’t really going to happen either. I realised that if the bike wasn’t going to make it, I was up shit creek.
“It’s okay. It’s in the red zone but it’s not on empty”, I tried to reassure myself. “I’m not that far away. 12km, 10km, okay now 9km, I’m going to make it”.
I looked at the fuel gauge again and my heart rate went up as I saw it was now it was right on empty and I was still around 7km out of town. I incredibly anxious the entire time and I don’t think I have ever felt such joy and relief at the site of a petrol station when I finally came upon one. I could have kissed the bowser.
Travelling by motorbike is both exhausting and exhilarating and this trip already has me hooked. Day-dreaming of big adventures, I’ve checked if I can ride from Vietnam to India, (I can’t. Border crossings at some countries make it almost impossible), but this is definitely going to be the first of many.