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Motorbike Vietnam Part 1: Day 1-6

by | Feb 20, 2017 | Asia, Travel Stories, Vietnam | 0 comments

On a rainy evening in the outskirts of Sandnes City – two blokes in their final 20s needed one final “hoorah” before fading into adulthood. In a burst of spontaneity we had ordered tickets to Hanoi, Vietnam, with the idea that we would travel on motorbikes from Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh. More than 2300km in the Wild West of traffic. Had we done proper research? No. Did we own a motorcycle license? No. Did we care? Hell no! 

DAY 1    DAY 2    DAY 3    DAY 4    DAY 5    DAY 6    

Pic 1: Tequila can´t wait to have the crib for herself!
Pic 2: Our 2300km route that we ended up driving.
Pic 3/4: Steinar is enjoying the luxury of Hong Kong Airport and long layovers.

Safely settled in Hanoi after a fun (read: dreadful) 24 hour trip, we were ready to take in some of the sights before embarking on the adventure into the great unknown. We had 3 days to kill in this bustling city; to find a motorbike, and also to explore the much anticipated Ha Long Bay and its surroundings.

Pic 1: Enjoying the view at our hotel sky bar, overlooking the infamous Old Quarter.
Pic 2: Mmm vietnamese beer!
Pic 3: Steinar getting the royal shoe treatment for a shy 500 000 VDN…
Pic 4-6: The town really came to life at night time, with beautiful lighting and bustling life.
Pic 7-8: The streets were packed with people and traffic, not for the claustrophobic mind.


Before challenging our destiny on two wheels, we headed out by bus to the beautiful Ha Long Bay where we spent two days and one night on a cruise ship. Charging our confidence-batteries with beautiful scenery, giant caves and some dysfunctional tai chi – after two days we were psyched up and ready to get going.

Pic 1: Meet Tom Cruise, our tour guide. Yes, that was his name.

Pic 2: Can I offer you some snake/scorpion wine?

Pic 4: International crew. We got them pretty wasted the night before with our Norwegian drinking games.

Pic 5-8: Ha Long was absolutely stunning! Even with overcast and foggy weather. We visited some beautiful cave systems, i.e. “The Surprising Cave” with all its wonderful lighting.



Fear is just an illusion…

Back from the stunning Ha Long Bay and we had one final night to explore the charming old quarters filled with the smell of cheap beer, drunk backpackers and vietnamese neon signs. I love it!

Early a.m. the day after we were packed and ready, and on our way to pick up our rental motorbikes! The day had finally come, 2300km of road lay between us and our final destination. Couldn´t stop pondering about what wonders and treats we would face during the coming three weeks of driving.

Pic 1: One final night in Hanoi to check out the incredibly vivid old town.
Pic 2: Packed and ready!
Pic 3: Signing our souls to the devil…? Who knows…
Pic 4: Suddenly not feeling so ready after all…
Pic 5: Our masculine two-wheel machines that we were about to entrust with our lives.
Pic 6: First test: Make it to the gas station 500m down the road in one piece.
Pic 7: What felt like cheating death about 9 times in like 2 minutes – we already had second thoughts…

Before we knew it, we were on our way out of the city, and all our troubles and worries got left behind in a cloud of dust and exhaust. The clouds opened up, the scenery started putting on one hell of a show, and our confidence levels in driving increased to maximum capacity.

We were aiming to hit the Ho Chi Minh Highway, a fairly well maintained road with minimum traffic that runs through the country. Make no mistake, this is the road you want to be on if you want to survive. Going on the highly trafficked AH1 would be close to suicide. Besides, the scenery on HCM is told to be way better.

Pic 1-3: The scenery quickly changed as we got out of the city.
Pic 5: Animals in the road were interesting in the beginning…. Little did we know how many times cows, dogs or chicken would nearly end us.
Pic 8: Helmet Hairdo on point as always.
Pic 11: Beds as hard as timber, one could wonder why they even had mattresses…
Pic 12: Celebrating being alive after a successful day 1!

After nearly 150 km and 3 hours we made it safely to a small town called Cam Thuy. Day 1 was done, and we were surprisingly still alive! Not bad. Not bad at all… We found a small hotel along the road, and met quite a few backpackers doing similar trips. One of them told us that the scenery we could expect next was nothing short of breathtaking. Unfortunately, we wouldn´t know… We thought we would meet more tourists along the road, but these were the only ones we´d meet for several days.


Into the storm…

Pic 1: Steinar, A.K.A MacGyver, is constructing his own protection against the sun.
Pic 2: Overtaking massive trucks in the rain was always a blast…
Pic 3: The face of a happy man hiding from the rain…
Pic 4: Oh what a wonderful view we had… Little did we know we were driving into a typhoon.

Back on the road, ready for the second day of amazing views and mesmerising scenery. Oh well, that didn´t happen. Instead we got to enjoy heavy rain, cold weather and what we found out was the aftermath of a tycoon that caused flooding along the entire central
coastline of Vietnam. This forced us to re-arrange our trip and alter our course. This was also one of our longest stretches, which took us a good 7 hours to complete.

At least our spirits were on top, and we made it to Pho Chao – a town with shady massage parlours, one great café and a wonderful local market place. The absence of tourism was a refreshing feeling, but the standard of the hotel beds also seemed to worsen the further off the beaten path we travelled. I was never gonna take sunshine, western food, and soft beds for granted ever again. 

Pic 1: Taking a walk through Pho Chao after 255km on the bike, looking for a restaurant.
Pic 3: Yes, I´ll have a…. Hmmm… *Google Translate*
Pic 4: Our first encounter with the traditional vietnamese ice coffee. We had no idea what was happening.

Pic 1: Let´s get a massage, we said… Not the kind of massage we had in mind, so we didn´t stay for long.
Pic 2: No, this is not trash. This is our self-made continental breakfast from the market.
Pic 3: Steinar, the Mushroom Man!
Pic 4: A final checkup before taking off. We had regular stops at service stations, which were easy to find. 


Feeling small in the big caves

What will be forever remembered as the worst night of the trip – rock hard beds, shitty air con, pouring rain outside, and hungry from not eating properly – morale was low as the weather forecast showed rainy cold weather for many days to come. We had planned our trip in more detail at a café the day before, and we figured «oh, what the hell» – it´s not like we could turn around at this point. So we sucked it up, ate our vietnamese carrots, put on our mushroom-looking-ponchos and set course for Pho Nha Ka Bang – a very popular national park which holds the worlds largest cave systems – and swarms with backpackers. We were ready for some western standard again. #Divas… 

Pic 1: Driving on these roads somtimes felt like a video-game. A very dagnerous one…
Pic 2: The cows always had the rights to the road.
Pic 3-4: As we got closer to Pho the mountains started dancing around us in the hazy cool air.

Pic 1: The closer we got to the national park, the prettier the scenery.
Pic 2: Looking for our hotel on well maintained roads.
Pic 3: Blanket and Beer, all a man needs! 
Pic 4: The entrance of Pho Nha Ke Bang City.

Barely making it over the mountain pass that lead to Pho Nha Ka Bang, with gas-lights flickering their low warning angrily – our patience was put to the test when there was no civilisation in sight to save us from the inevitable. Luckily, like we would come to learn, when all seems hopeless and shitty – some «miracle» always comes to save the day. We made it safely to the National Park, and found our charming hotel, Farm Stay, where we met some awesome backpackers that we drank the night away with.

The day after, we all went exploring caves together in the pouring rain. This was the coldest day so far with 14C, heavy winds and just miserable visibility. But we powered through, went to Paradise Cave and saw some damn caves like we came here to do! Nothin´ gonna stop us. This area is home to the largest caves in the world, and you can spend a whole week trekking in just one of them. This is a place
I´m definitely coming back to some day. 

Pic 1: Inside the largest cave system in the world. You can book a 7 day trip in here!
Pic 2: Drinking games and shenanigans with these crazies.
Pic 3: Next day we bailed on Pho Nha Ke Bang and headed to a city down the road for a 4-star hotel.
Pic 4: Same cave system, this one called Paradise Cave.


Should we keep going?

After checking out some caves in the miserable cold weather, we decided to bail on our original plan of staying here a couple days and headed to a city nearby to cut some kilometres off the next stretch. Found ourselves a four-star hotel with yet another weird ass massage.  Why can´t a massage parlour just be a massage parlour??

Oh well. This was the point were we decided to alter our route for the coming days as we read in the news and heard talk about massive floods in the cities Hue and Hoi An. Not wanting to get stuck, we figured we´d head up the mountains instead to try and escape the rain. By now we were both so tired of the bad weather, and I got really sick – so we debated taking a train further south. Good thing Steinar talked us out of it, or we would´ve missed a lot!


Fever and Flooded Cities…

Pic 1: Vietnamese people as jolly and polite as always.
Pic 2: Started seeing some serious road damage from the typhoon that had just passed.
Pic 3: Upside with all the rain were all the beautiful waterfalls along the stretch.
Pic 4: A dam running wild. The typhoon had left its mark.

So instead of heading into the very popular cities Hue and Hoi An due to the bad flooding, we decided on taking the mountain pass instead – which would lead us to some lesser know towns. The road from Dong Hai was great – less rain, some great waterfalls and just magnificent scenery. A Luóis was a peculiar town… According to what I read on Google, there was a plan for making this a touristy area due to its importance during the war (Hamburger Hill), and because it was pretty close to major tourist city Hue. They put some money into it, built a big (weird) war museum, got a whole bunch of brochures printed, propaganda on the city speaker, and packed with vietnamese trendy cafés. Yet, we were the only white people in the entire town. It was a small town, with massive empty government buildings mixed together with primitive restaurants and smartphone-shops. Oh, and it had a pretty fun marketplace. Finally bought some proper boots and retired my summer shoes, that by now were destroyed by mud.

Pic 1: Super excited about the marketplace.
Pic 2: So colorful, and so tight you could hardly move through the hallways.
Pic 3: What will be remembered as the best dinner the entire trip!retch. No idea what we ate, tho…
Pic 4: Empty war-museum/structure with old war relics and propaganda on the speakers.

DAY 6: A LUÒIS – KHAM DUC 213km 

Landslides and a flat tire…

Pic 1: More waterfalls.
Pic 2: A little hike off the road to check out a waterfall.
Pic 3: Visibility level 0…
Pic 4: Insane landslides all along the road, glad it missed us!

Rain, rain, and more rain terrorized us the entire stretch from A Luóis to Kham Duc. It also brought its buddy “fog” along so we basically couldn´t see shit the entire 6 hours we were driving. God damn, was it ever gonna stop? I was sick, tired, miserable, cold and wet – and if that wasn´t enough: To top it all off I got a flat tire in the middle of the f****** mountains. Great. Luckily the vietnamese are the kindest people in the world and it didn´t take long till the tire was changed and we were back on the road. Or should i say “back on the river”… It certainly seemed like it at times. It was however quite interesting driving in this weather as there were so many landslides and waterfalls along the way. Scary, yet intruiging. 

Pic 1-2: Waterfalls, waterfalls, waterfalls!
Pic 3-4: Poor dude stopped to help us, sat in the rain for a good 45 minutes but unfortunately his pump didnt work.
So we had to push the bike, hoping that a house with a repair shop would miraculously show up in the middle of nowhere. Luckily it did!

Pic 1: Are those rivers or roads? Not sure anymore!
Pic 2: They sure have some work to do…

After what must have been the longest stretch due to the flat tire, we barely made it to Kham Duc before the darkness lay its blanket over the land. Though it was nice feeling the weather getting warmer, I was still sick as a dog and the rain kept coming non-stop. We found a decent hotel, had a couple beers and called it an early night.

Next day the forecast said it would finally stop raining, and just be overcast. We could not be more excited, but dared not be too hopeful as the forecast varied by the hour. Fingers crossed and God of Sun be merry, we didn´t know how much more of this we could take. To see how that hope turned out, check out part two! 

VIETNAM on two wheels – PART 2

Surviving 7 days of typhoon, landslides, fevers and weird meals – what could we expect next?