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Beginner on a motorbike in rural Vietnam


I finally reached Ho Chi Minh City after two months of driving down the coast of Vietnam. I started in Hanoi, an absolute motorcycle newbie who was overly confident in my ability to learn how to ride a manual bike and hit Vietnam’s main coastal highway in less than a day.

A few hours in, after many stalls and near crashes, it started raining. Then it started pouring.

There I was, soaked to the bone, stalling out every time I had to downshift, riding through muddy waters nearly up to my shin and getting passed by lorries driving way too fast for the weather and time of night.

But I had been promised that riding the 1000+ kilometers from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City would be amazing, and knew that I’d get to stop in some of the most beautiful places in the world, so I kept going, convinced that my bike and I would “click” eventually.

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Fast-forward a couple of months and there I was, my bike loaded onto the slow ferry from the mainland to Phu Quoc, Vietnam’s island paradise. Joe and Jack, my riding buddies, both had worse bikes than I and ended up selling them for parts before we boarded the ferry. I resigned myself to riding alone and meeting them at the hostel, me on my motorcycle and them on the bus that supposedly ran from the ferry port to the town of Ba Keo.

The first 50 meters were uneventful…then I turned right onto the highway, the only throughway to the rest of the island according to the ever-trustworthy (or so I thought) Google Maps.

All of a sudden I found myself riding in sand.

I stopped for a second as my back wheel spun out and caught again…should I turn back? No, I thought, I’d already come too far to turn back…just a few more minutes and there absolutely HAD to be a proper road I’d come upon. That’s how things work in this part of the world, right?

Then the sand turned into mud. Uh oh…I saw travellers passing me going the other way completely covered from hip down in what appeared to be clay. Not a good sign.

I asked folks along the way (none of whom spoke a lick of English) when the road would turn back to pavement and if I was on the right route to Ba Keo (which of course, I pronounced incorrectly so everyone just looked at me like I was a Looney tune).

An hour in, the mud turned into slippery clay that would have been hard to walk in, let alone drive through. Dozens of lorries were parked en route, stuck in the slippery clay.

I should have been relaxing in a hammock on the beach with a beer by this point, but I had covered only 1.5 kilometers. I was certain I had missed a turn to the actual highway.

Road, Phu Quoc, Vietnam

I tried to keep mainly in the tracks of lorries that had passed through, but the back wheel kept getting caught up in the smaller indentations made by other motorcycles the clay and I kept spinning out.

Most of the time, I was able to right the bike by keeping my feet close to the ground and using them like training wheels. But a few times, my bike just tipped right over with me on it, leaving me with bruises, burns and cuts that were then quickly covered in mud.

Now would have been the perfect time for some dual sport tires or at least motorcycle boots, full trousers, and a motorcycle jacket instead of flip-flops, shorts, and a tank top.

At this point I was more frantic than frazzled. I felt like a novice skier who had just woken whizzing down a double-black diamond.

What kept me (a little) calm was the fact that every few minutes, locals on scooters or automatics would pass me looking absolutely serene even while they were sliding around and covered in mud.

Beach, Phu Quock, Vietnam

Two hours in, and only 5 kilometers down, I stopped a traveler going the opposite direction. I gave him a sign-language song and dance routine, trying to convey “mud is bad, when is the road smooth”? I pointed at the clay, mimed a bumpy ride, and then shook my head furiously, signifying that it was bad.

The gentleman responded in perfect English, “the road is paved about 2 kilometers ahead”.

Smiling again, confident that it wouldn’t take me a full 24 hours to get 40 kilometers, I slid on.

All of a sudden, I heard a cheerful voice shouting my name. Joe and Jack passed me on the back of two scooter taxis, both covered in mud and both grinning like idiots at the ridiculous roads we were on.

As it turned out, I wasn’t lost…the highway was just under construction. The only vehicles that could pass were two-wheelers. Everything else just got stuck in the mud.

I’ve never been so happy to see a paved road. Finally back on solid ground, the rest of the road to Ba Keo was smooth sailing. A day of epic riding then ended, like most do, with a well-deserved beer and a hammock. This time, it was on a beautiful, isolated beach. Not a bad way to end the day!

281016vietnam4Over the past 10 years, Laura Knight has been a motorcycle rider. She has built up an incredible passion for travelling by motorbike and always wishes to contribute to motorcyclist and traveler community. This is the reason why she created MotorManner.com where her passion is turned into useful and interesting information to the motorcyclists and travel lovers. Visit her blog to read more articles about motorcycle traveling gear reviews and helpful tips!

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