Motorcycling the Ho Chi Minh Trail – Riding Days 1 – 4

I’m a pretty novice motorcycle rider.  I hadn’t ridden in America after taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course in 2006 except on the back of other people’s bikes.  My ex always wanted me to take a dirt bike riding course to familiarize myself with bikes.    I rode a few motorbikes in Laos, putt putting around on scooters on not so great roads.  The furthest thing from the safety of dirt bike riding courses is probably the streets of Hanoi, where I first took out the fully manual motorcycle that I had bought.  Hanoi is like a throbbing school of fish.  It seems like millions of motorbikes all moving at once, in some perfectly orchestrated motion that feels like it should cause more accidents than it does.  How does everyone know to swarm around at the same time, to all launch from the light seconds before it starts?  It is, days after riding, still the most stressful thing to ride through.  That my bike randomly stalls when I am stopped does not help.

This is how you know you’ve left the cities. I wish I got a better picture of these beautiful patchwork hills.

As soon as you are out of Hanoi though, my does it open up.  The roadside turns into rice fields.  The five lanes of traffic turns into one.  Soon few people are on the road beside you and a few buses, trucks, and locals going by on motorbikes or bicycles.

The view to my left at one stop.

And the view to my right.

I love seeing the random ponds and lakes with duck and geese everywhere.  The smaller waterways sometimes hide water buffalo up to their ears in mud cooling off.

This is in the panorama above but it’s so beautiful alone.

Why yes, my giant waterproof parachute pants ride up on the kneepads I wear underneath. That’s my bike Raymond behind me.

And that’s a little girl or water buffalo across the road that probably rides the same bike as me.

Often water buffalo and cows cross the road at will, leaving you to screech to a stop or to thread between a few.  Locals often honk at them.  I even saw one gas station attendant chasing a bunch off her grass.  This isn’t even to mention dodging all the cow pies on the road

So hard to keep your eyes on the road when everything off the road looks like this.

Hay is everywhere on the road.  I’m not sure how that works with the start of rainy season and the random torrential rains.  It wouldn’t seem to dry out all the hay on the road when it gets wet three times a day.  I love seeing the tractors and trucks full of hay.  The tractors are so laden the drivers hunch beneath them barely visible.  The tractors bounce with a head of hay along the road, looking like giant fuzzy muppets coming down the road.  As we head south more it’s more water buffalo dragged carts.

The marker for the start of the trail. I was expecting a bigger statue for some reason.

The roads are still dangerous of course.  I had one day where some children threw fist sized rocks at my bike and helmet.  I guess mischievous jerk children exist in all countries.  A few minutes later a dog nearly bit my ankles off.  I’ll go head and avoid that road.  That’s not to say there aren’t ladies swerving left turns slowly dragging 25 feet of bamboo real slowly.  The Motorcycle Safety Foundation course is great but it didn’t prepare me for that!

A fully laden Raymond. He drops a lot because he’s top heavy and has a lame kickstand.

I’ve reached the central area of Vietnam, laden with beautiful national parks full of the world’s biggest caves.  I’m not far from the DMZ either.  The next few posts will have a little less road and a lot more stuff.  I’ve seen a lot less foreigners than I did on the northwest loop, but that may be partially due to the higher speeds making me focus less on other drivers.  I do have a goal of trying to find a couple riding where the female is riding as well.  So far if they’re a couple, I’ve only seen the female riding on the back of bikes.  I have run into a few female riders on the road though.  Either way, this is still the best way to see Vietnam.  This is a different, slower Vietnam that I like a lot more than the cities or tourist traps.

1 comment
  1. It is my sincere dream to ride in Vietnam. Until then I will read your post with interest. Ride well, ride hard, ride often.

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