Vietnam on 2 Wheels

2012 Motorbike Ride

maddix park mx

Vietnam Facts:

329,569 sq km (slighty larger than New Zealand)

As of July 2011 90,549,390 people

20,000,000 (yes million) motorbikes

Road toll 12,300 per year

85% of these deaths involved motorcycles

Why the hell would you even consider riding a motorbike in this country?

Well, as the saying goes “Welcome to Vietnam”!

This ride was something else. 12 good Kiwi blokes (unfortunately 1 was born in Australia), all with above average riding ability, were challenged mentally and physically, often on a day by day basis, with the ride.

The bikes are mid 1970 Russian 650cc Urals, one down and three up. Not a lot of suspension, plenty of noise, reliability questionable!  Fortunately a van full of parts and a mechanic are following.

Our trip starts in Hanoi and finishes just over 2200 kilometres later in Ho Chi Min City. We endeavour to follow the Ho Chin Min Trail. Our tour guide is Digby from “Explore Indochina” a remarkable bloke who has an absolute passion for the history of this country. A likeable rogue, he is also an Aussie who speaks fluent Vietnamese.

His pre-ride ramble is intense, pointing out the dangers of riding in this country. Firstly use your F------ horn at all times passing, at intersections, people crossing roads, blind corners -it is your most important safety device on the bike.

Secondly don’t avoid dogs or small animals if they are in your way, just run them over. If you hit someone and they get up, pay them straight away then get the hell out of it. In no time you will have a hundred people standing around and they’ll all want to be paid.

Lastly, buses trucks and cars will pass anywhere, on blind corners or in your lane so stay well right.  If you are lucky, the rice paddies have quite a soft landing area if you need to bail.  Shit hot this really sounds like fun, Not!

The first six days riding were all in the light rain or mist. The roads were greasy and very busy. We had two off in the first two days, one taking evasive action from a bus sliding towards him, the other not listening to the advice given and trying to avoid a dog.  Both were at relatively low speeds so only a little bark was lost but a lot of pride! Fortunately those were the only offs. However, we all recorded near misses on a daily bases - just part of riding in Vietnam.

To Digby’s credit, he took us on some remarkable roads.  Some of them private so only a handful of vehicles would be seen, others were muddy wet and bloody rough.  The roading in the North is of a lesser standard than in the South, however a lot of concrete is used, hence the unevenness. On one stretch of road later in the tour we had 67 kilometres of winding road, similar to the ParaPara road from Wanganui to Ratahi.  Absolutely brilliant.  The old foot pegs got a good workout on that stretch!

As we travelled South, the scenery was clearer due largely to the better weather. Most mornings we were on the bikes by 7.30am and by 9.30, it was 32 degrees. We followed the coastline most of the way. Clearly in the boom times plenty of money was spent on luxury beach resort apartments. The ones that are finished are simply second to none in their presentation and splendor. However, where the money has run out, it is quite the opposite. Sadly such projects litter the coastline, some will probably never see another brick laid.

Accommodation in general was fantastic. Because of the cheapness and the fact we were pretty stuffed after each day’s ride, we stayed in the first class Hotels. You can do it far cheaper, but at your own peril. A German couple we came across had stayed at a home stay. He had a few itches but she had beautifully toned legs covered in bed bug bites. Not a good look poor things!

Food was fantastic but watch the water. Beer (Tiger by choice) ranged from .80 to 1.50 per bottle. Reasonably large volumes were consumed at this price! Petrol one dollar per gallon, all US Dollars .

For a country that has been at war more than most, the people are very accepting. Perhaps that’s why it has one of the fastest growing economies. Rural Vietnam still looks very backward but everything in the field is neat and tidy and growing well. I certainly hope there are rich rewards for these people as they are certainly hard workers who toil away in all conditions. A notable fact is the woman seem to do more than their share of the work. Men seem to be gathered around outside tables smoking and discussing tomorrow’s topics. Would this system work over here ?  I don`t think so!!







Vietnam is a great place to visit

It has a great historical past

Great food, great accommodation

Great scenery, average roads

Bussing is by far the safest way to travel

If you want an adrenalin rush, do it on motorbikes and contact

Digby  [email protected]


Cheers and stay upright.


Steve McManaway

Bookmark and Share