If you’re reading this then I have good news for you: over the past few weeks, James and I have been riding scooters from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi and I’m pleased to say we’ve made it from South to North in one piece! If you’re not reading this, well, you’re not reading it, so this is a pointless sentence.
Inspired in equal parts by the infamous Top Gear episode, many travellers I’ve met along the way who’ve done it and my reluctance to ride any more sleeper buses in Vietnam – I suggested to James a few months before he arrived that we do this. The reason you’re reading about it so late is because James – rather understandably – didn’t want his mum to worry for the three weeks whilst we were doing the journey. That’s me taking full responsibility for this – sorry Mel!
Buying the bikes
Our first obstacle came fairly early on; neither of us had the first clue about bikes. Sure, we’d been riding scooters quite a lot on the Islands and at the safari park, but did we know what type of bike we wanted or any specific features? Did we heck.
Thankfully, there are a couple of companies in Ho Chi Minh City that sell lots of bikes to tourists wanting to do the same trip as us. We opted for Tigit, and the owner Jon was great in helping us choose the right bikes for us. He dispelled the myth that we had been told that you couldn’t do the trip on scooters, and in the end we drove off with a pair of SYM Attilas.
We paid around 7,500,000 (SEVEN AND A HALF MILLION) dong for the scooters – which works out at just over £200 each. Along with the scooters, we were also given detailed maps by Jon’s girlfriend, a list of Vietnamese vocabulary that we may need on the trip as well as free luggage racks and straps for our bags, all of which turned out to be fairly essential.
The first leg of our journey would take us out of the craziness of Ho Chi Minh and go the seaside city of Vung Tau. I’d never even heard of Vung Tau before looking at the maps, so a one night stop to break up the journey to Mui Ne seemed ample. Plus, the road from Vung Tau to Mui Ne is a lovely coastal road – a much, much more attractive proposition than the deadly Highway 1.
We left Ho Chi Minh around 10am, thinking that an ever so slightly later start would see us avoid rush hour. What we failed to remember is that, in Ho Chi Minh, every hour of the day is a rush hour so it was a completely futile exercise.
I’ve often described the traffic in Asia as something of an organised chaos, and this couldn’t be truer in the case of Vietnam. Within minutes of taking to the roads of Saigon, we saw people weaving in and out of traffic, jumping red lights and even driving down the wrong side of a highway if it meant a more convenient approach to their turn off. Despite all of this; we didn’t see a single near miss, never mind a crash.
After finally exiting the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh – via an underground tunnel and a car ferry (where the “no smoking” sign was predictably ignored by everyone on board) – it was pretty much plain sailing towards Vung Tau.
This was until we were around 10 kilometres away from our destination, when the heavens decided to open. Vietnamese people somehow manage to get a poncho on within seconds of it starting to rain, so I imagine it wasn’t too much of an issue for most of the locals. Us two, however, weren’t quite as graceful and we managed to get soaking wet in the process of putting ours on. It was at this point that I discovered that my backpack actually has a rain cover so, you know, every cloud and all that.
We finally arrived in to Vung Tau around 2.30pm which, with some refreshment and rain stops, was fairly satisfactory. Google actually claimed that the journey should take under two hours, but I can only assume that means driving like a maniac or – in other words – a local.