After months and months of dreaming and planning and decisions and changes, we finally set off on our road trip on a cloudy Monday in August. Bad weather had us facing the wheels South, not North and we spent 12 days travelling by bike from Hanoi to Hoi An. It was everything we could have hoped for a cross country Vietnam road trip and we discovered some stunning new areas of the country.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be outlining guides for taking bike trips in Vietnam, including packing tips and budgets, but for now let me share some stories from the road. These are taken straight from my journal.
Day 1 – Cam Chau – 137km from Hanoi
‘Jimi swims in murky streams and startles boys with no shoes on their feet. We walk between fields of sugarcane – high above our heads and blue at the stem – loud with the whisper of voices working deep within the fields.
Towering above it all are those iconic rocky Vietnam hills, drenched in jungle and shooting up between flat green fields.
We walk and talk and sigh with contentment, breathing in the fresh green air with every step.
As we turn back to our Nha Nghi, we admire the sun seeping between the blue clouds and glinting off the smoke from fields afire. Bright, bright green, then dark, dark stone, followed by a wisp of air in a hundred shades of orange, white and blue.
Later, we eat cross legged on woven mats of green and red, among family who are not our own.’
Freedom is an intense feeling. It makes your limbs feel light and your chest feel hot with anticipation. That first day on the road was full of that feeling.
Day 2 – Hoa Quy – 208km from Hanoi
We don’t get far before we get a flat tire.
After getting the wheel off, we see what an awful job was made of the last repair. Oli and the mechanic then wrestle with the brakes for over an hour.
In the meantime we are slowly surrounded by young girls with inquisitive faces, overseen by a women with the kindest, wonkiest smile. At one point she goes into the house and brings back a bamboo fan to cool Oli down with. She cannot believe the sweat coming off him!
We eventually get the wheel back on and pumped up, giving the family a measly 2 dollars in thanks.
The ride onwards is beautiful. Velvety, layered rice fields and tiny hamlets of small stone houses. Ancient trees provide shade over bridges over winding rivers.
Packing up after a lunch of delicious road chicken, the heavens open up. We find shelter in a tiny shop with two wooden benches and four red chairs. We sit and watch the rain with two cold cokes in hand.’
Day 6 – Phong Nha – 532km from Hanoi
‘We awake to more rain falling in a lazy sheet over this random town we’ve stationed ourselves in. But we’ve already spent one day off the road and we don’t want another night of noodle soup.
So we pack our things, eat a Vietnamese bakery breakfast that includes custard and chinsu and we head off into the rain.
In just a few kilometers the rain begins to ease off and, apart from an interesting moment where Jimi pukes over the front of the bike, it is smooth riding.
The rain leaves behind a white mist that clings to the top of the craggy mountains beside us. Their green slopes concertina fold across the landscape in a mesmerising wave. The road is spectacular, all the way from Pheo to Phong Nha National Park.’
Day 7 – Phong Nha, again
‘Today we enjoy the peace and quiet and slow pace of life that exists at Wild Boar Eco Farm.
We swing in hammocks and take long walks along the stream. I read, Oli fixes the bike (again) and we eat numerous helpings of peanut sauce with bbq chicken.
We remind ourselves of the joy of simply being. We watch the stars that night from the swing, our feet dangling over the inky black river.’
Life on a Vietnam bike trip is a rush of road beneath your feet, wind relentlessly beating against your face. It’s lazy afternoons over fresh sugarcane juice and early nights, exhausted from the ride. It’s winding roads and mountains coming in and out of view, rising up and falling away beside endless rice paddies. It’s the kindness of strangers and the generosity of mechanics.
A Vietnam road trip, long or short, is something you can’t miss.