Exploring Vietnam on a Motorcycle!
As we crossed the Cambodian – Vietnamese border we were tired from our long ride, however the anticipation of new adventures kept our spirits up. Exploring Vietnam on a Motorbike was, undoubtedly, going to be as exciting, and as colourful, as our exploration of Cambodia. We were looking forward to every new experience…. and then we reached the outskirts of Ho Chi Ming City!
Our excitement flagged a little as we hit the horrendous traffic. In Vietnam there are 37 million motorbikes…. Ho Chi Ming City must have 36 million of them! Seriously! The traffic in HCMC was horrendous. We were exhausted and we hadn’t booked accommodation ahead of time. We needed a bar with free wifi!
It took an eternity to find a bar as we had no idea where we should be looking. A few hours after reaching the outskirts of HCMC, with a glass of wine in hand, we were finally in the heart of the city and were able to go on line and book a room. I then had to convince my backside to get back on the bike for the ride to our accommodation… not an easy task I will tell you. At the accommodation, with our packs on our backs, we climbed the stairs to the fourth floor and collapsed on our bed. We had only ridden about 230km but it had taken us 8 hours!
In Ho Chi Ming City we visited the War Remnants Museum. This museum is dedicated to the crimes and atrocities of what is known, in Vietnam, as the American War. It is a subjective war story told from the side of the Vietnamese. I found the ground floor of the museum very interesting… this included information about press and propaganda and the international support for the Vietnamese people.
However, the upper floor was very confronting in its depiction of the brutality of the war and the effects of Agent Orange and Napalm. Dwayne was able to continue to view the displays whereas I chose to sit this one out. Some of the photos are devastating to look at, they show everything… I could not look at them.
We also visited the Cu Chi Tunnels which was a Vietcong strong hold during the war. It was interesting to see how they lived in such small spaces, particularly how they disguised their cooking fires by cooking in the morning; the smoke exited via many small vents spread out through the forest, which made it appear to be nothing more than the morning mist. As well as tunnels, there are also displays of gruesome booby traps, a man demonstrating how they made sandals using old tires, and a woman demonstrating the making of rice paper wrappers, to name but a few of the interesting things to see here.
What I found disturbing was the sound of gun fire as I walked through the area. I didn’t know about the gun range so I wasn’t sure if it was something that was set up to give you an aural experience of the war and atmosphere of Cu Chi ‘camp’… that’s what it did for me. Very unpleasant and got louder as we made our way (unknowingly) to the gun range. At the gun range you can pay to fire weapons. This is also the place to stop for a drink and a snack if needed. I found this area too loud and uncomfortable and I was happy to move on.
Then we came to a tunnel… it was time to explore. It was here I discovered I really didn’t like exploring tiny tunnels! I couldn’t get to the end of the tunnel quick enough! The tunnels are so small – and I’ve been told that the tunnels, the tourists go through, have been made bigger for the tourists to traverse easier. There is nothing to see in the tunnel as you stagger through, bent double, with people in front of you and others behind… my mind defiantly wandered to what would happen if someone in front of me had a heart attack! Doing one tunnel, once, was enough for a life time!
When we left HCMC our second substantial breakdown, on our road trip through Cambodia and Vietnam, occurred. On our ride to Phan Thiet the first thing to occur was the chain coming off. No major dramas there. Dwayne finally put his “tool kit” purchases to good use, and after getting the chain back on we continued our trip. We were not back on the road long, before the back wheel completely locked up and we came to a sudden stop. Dwayne’s immediate thought was that the motor had blown up and seized. With further inspection he discovered that the arm that holds the brake housing (stops it from spinning around) had lost it’s bolt. The brake hub had therefore spun around with the wheel, pulling out the brake rod, which then wrapped around the hub locking the brakes completely.
We then experienced the friendly and very helpful Vietnamese people firsthand. A man stopped to help us. He spoke no English so was not really able to help (at that stage), although he clearly wanted to. After Dwayne made the bike rideable again (though not safe), the man convinced me to get on the back of his bike and with Dwayne following he took us to a mechanic.
The mechanic, along with his brother, mother, son and aunty made us very welcome, giving us chairs, a place to put our luggage, coffee and a pot of tea. They spoke no english but it was not long before we were ‘playing charades’ and learning some Vietnamese words. Eventually the bike was fixed, at a ridiculously low price, and we were once again on the road.
At Phan Thiết we stayed at the touristy area of Mũi Né. Mũi Né is very popular for its surfing, kitesurfing and it’s red and white sand dunes. Like a lot of these tourist areas in S E Asia it is hard to find access to the beach due to resorts being built right along the beach front. On the 10km stretch of highway that runs through Mũi Né you will find resorts line the beach side, while restaurants and shops are predominately on the other side. The resort we stayed in was up a side street on the hill and it had great views. We used our motorbike to ride into the local villages to eat, preferring the cheaper and more authentic food. We found some delicious treats including some great little egg crepes with seafood and sprouts.
Well worth a visit, if you are in the area, is the Fairy Stream. It is a nice walk along the stream to a small waterfall. The waterfall is not the highlight though, it is the walk itself. The stream has cut its way through an area of red and white sand creating a very picturesque meandering stream.
We had an uneventful ride to Nha Trang which, we discovered, has an attractive stretch of beach, beautiful clear water and easy access to the beach – bonus! We spent a lazy day on the beach and enjoying the delicious Pho soups, before our time constraints propelled us to move on.
After a relaxing day on the beach, we were up at 5am and on the road by 07:30am. We arrived in Quy Nhon at 12:30pm and checked into our hotel. It is unusual for us to not have a shower and put our feet up for a minute, perhaps with a drink, before we go off to explore our new surroundings. However, this time we went up to our room, dumped our bags and went looking for lunch. We found a great place where everyone (Vietnamese) were enjoying lunch and lots of beers.
We got chatting with a table of friendly people who then insisted on taking us to their weekly karaoke session. It was so funny… no one really spoke english and those that did, did not speak it well…. and we know very, very little Vietnamese! The music was so loud and yet we were all still trying to communicate. Every time anyone took a mouthful of beer we all had to “cheers”. Crazy fun day! We were then invited for dinner and after, coffee, before we got back to our hotel room at 7:45pm. It had been a long day and we were tired. We slept well and hit the road early the next morning.
We decided to stay at Quảng Ngãi so that we could visit Sơn Mỹ Memorial. The Sơn Mỹ Memorial is the site of one the most horrific crimes of the American War, known as the My Lai Massacre. On March 16 1968, during this massacre committed by US troops, 504 villagers, most of them old men, women and children were killed. The plaques recording the deaths of each family – name and age – were disturbing; some of the victims were so young.
The next day we had a picturesque and problem-free ride to Da Nang. It was from here we thought we’d sell the motorbike and fly back to Langkawi. After spending the day looking around we discovered Hội An and moved there for the remainder of our time in Vietnam. We both absolutely loved Hoi An. We stayed in a guest house called Hội An Mountain House with a very lovely host called Dinh. Dinh’s breakfasts were amazing. We had omelettes, pho, noodles, smoothies and banana pancakes, just to name a few dishes that we enjoyed with our two course breakfast! We were even invited to a family dinner with Dinh’s family and friends.
Hội An is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a beautifully preserved old trading port that reflects its colourful history in its architecture. The architecture, which is a mix of many styles including wooden Chinese shophouses and colourful French colonial buildings is an enchanting reminder of days gone by. The eclectic array of infrastructure includes restaurants, markets, shops, temples, canals and even a covered Japanese bridge. Do not miss Hội An if visiting Vietnam!
We went and had a look at the Marble Mountains (Ngũ Hành Sơn) in Da Nang. The Marble Mountains are a cluster of five marble and limestone hills named after the elements metal, wood, water, fire and earth. The mountains all have cave entrances and numerous tunnels. Thuy Son (Water) is the the only hill accessible to visitors. It is the largest and and has a number of natural caves and tunnels. Thuy Son is also home to to pagodas dating back to the 17th century. There are several buddhist sanctuaries within the mountains, and the area is famous for its marble sculptures. There is even an elevator up the side of the hill for those unable to walk it. However, if you can take the stairs do so because you will see a lot more.
We spent a day visiting Cham Island. On our tour we visited a small, but interesting, museum. We then walked though a field of ducks and cows to get to Hai Tang pagoda, and bought a sea urchin to taste, before going back to the boat for a snorkel. The snorkelling was disappointing, but I hear that the diving and snorkelling is really very good in this Marine Protected Park, so perhaps we just picked the wrong tour to go on. Lunch was fantastic, after which we had a chance to relax on the beach before heading back to Hội An.
Back in Hội An between eating all the delicious food – Gỏi cuốn, Phở and Bánh mì, we were trying to sell our motorbike. It was not the best place to sell the bike as there were a lot of them around. However, we did end up getting about USD $110 for it so, as far as money spent on travelling expenses go, I think we did really very well. We were sad to see “our girl” (aka the motorbike) go but we couldn’t take her with us! Once the bike was sold we booked our flights home. Our exploration of Vietnam had come to an end… there is still so much of Vietnam for us to see and we look forward to visiting it again soon.
Travel Notes (Sept/Oct 2015)
VND – Vietnamese Dong written here as ₫
Things to do and see
War Remnants Museum – entry cost less than a dollar which is about ₫ 15000.
Hours – the museum is closed every Monday and Friday
28 Vo Van Tan, Ward 6, District 3, HCMC
Phone: (+84) 8 3930 5587 – (+84) 8 3930 6664
Fax: (+84) 8 3930 2340
Email: [email protected]
Fairy Stream – Free
Thuy Son (Marble Mountains) – Cost ₫ 15000 (less than a dollar). Extra for the elevator – not expensive though, another ₫ 15000 I think.
Cham Island Snorkel Tour – cost about USD$30
Hoi An – Hoi An Mountain House
Cost – ₫ 370000/night (AUD $22.00).
Pros – Good size room, sitting area, clean, TV, A/C, kettle, fridge, good wifi in room, on site restaurant. Delicious breakfast each morning. Free use of bicycles. Cooking classes available. Restaurants, pharmacy, shops and motorcycle rent within walking distance. Taxi into the main Hoi An area is around AUD $2.00. Dinh is a wonderful host and speaks good English.
Cons – nothing that I can think of.
Our verdict – Booking.com rating 9.5. It was well worth the money.
Da Nang – Danang Beach Hotel
Cost – ₫ 285000/night (AUD $17.00).
Pros – Nice staff, reasonably modern place, TV, desk, close to beach.
Cons – We had two twin beds push together… With the phone sitting in the middle on the bed. Small room.
Our verdict – Paid extra for deluxe not sure what we got for that… Probably the view (view not worth the extra money). We were a little disappointed.
Quang Ngai – Ngoc Huong Hotel
Cost – ₫ 300000/night (AUD $18.00).
Pros – Large room and cheap food nearby.
Cons – Bad location on a main road very noisy. There were ants in the room. Bathroom tiny. No kettle or hairdryer as the promotion said. Beds uncomfortable.
Our verdict – Trucks honk their horns all night. It makes no difference to be on the fifth floor (where we were) they still woke us all night. People across the hall arrived back at 0300am and proceeded to have a party in there room, with their door open. So got very little sleep.
Quy Nhon – Khang Khang 2 Hotel
Cost – ₫ 385000/night (AUD $23.00).
Pros – Comfortable enough for the one night stay.
Cons – No bath when told there was.
Our verdict – Disappointing. We were not impressed by this hotel. We thought it cost more than it was worth. The promotion said it had a bath, there was not.
Nha Trang – Queen 2 Hotel
Cost – ₫ 175000/night (AUD $10.50).
Pros – Great location. Easy walk the beach. Lots of places to eat. TV, A/C, fridge.
Cons – Had to buy fly spray for the mozzies. Also had ants crawling on the wall.
Our verdict – Great value.
Mũi Né – Mui Ne Hills Budget Hotel
Cost – ₫ 200000/night (AUD $12.00).
Pros – Pools. Nice clean rooms. Friendly staff. Great bar and restaurant with great views. Good position with a short walk to the main street with shops, restaurants.
Cons – nothing that I can think of.
Our verdict – we were up graded so didn’t end up with the budget room. We had a huge room with bath, A/C, TV, fridge, view.
Ho Chi Minh City – Binh An Hotel
Cost – ₫ 240000/night (AUD $14.50).
Pros – friendly staff.
Cons – Not what we expected. The promotion of the room said it was 35m2 but it was tiny (also was told there’d be a sitting area and hairdryer – there was not). Room wasn’t cleaned during our 3 night stay.
Our verdict – Too far away from HCMC centre – if you do not have your own transport. No english spoken.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only OCD person who wanted to straighten this picture at the Cham Island Museum. Was I?
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