Motorcycling Across Vietnam: Part 1

When a Dutch stranger asks you if you’d like to drive across Vietnam on a motorcycle with him, what is the correct answer? Well for me, it was yes, see you tomorrow at nine a.m.

Our Easy Riders tour of Vietnam began in the lovely, mountain-nestled city of Dalat. Our Vietnamese guides and drivers were Linh and Yo, the former a talkative young guy with a bawdy sense of humor, the latter his kind and quiet partner.

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 My awesome Dutch travel buddy, Ronald.

The Crazy House

After visiting the (skippable) French train station in town and a few French villas, we stopped by the Crazy House, also known as the Hằng Nga guesthouse.

Built in 1990 by female Vietnamese architect Đặng Việt Nga, the Crazy House is actually a working guest house with 10 animal-themed rooms available to visitors.

To me The Crazy House seemed a bit, well crazy- a Gaudí-esque labyrinth of concrete towers and steep staircases, some of which led to nowhere.

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Trying not to trip up the Crazy House’s many stairs, I couldn’t decide if I loved it or hated the building; on one hand it was imaginative and unique, on the other it was cheaply constructed with concrete and debatably ugly.

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The Crazy House reminded me a lot of Pablo Neruda’s houses in Chile (all three of which I visited back in the day!)- an eclectic building with a bizarre layout, organic forms and secret corridors.

The Palace of Bảo Đại, Vietnam’s Last Emperor

The Palace of Bảo Đại, the former hunting lodge of Vietnam’s last emperor, was the site I was most looking forward to in Dalat.

Bảo Đại, the 13th and final emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty, ruled until 1945. He abdicated from the throne in 1945, stating, “I would prefer to be a citizen of an independent country rather than Emperor of an enslaved one.”

Four years later the French persuaded Bảo Đại to become the head of the state rather than the emperor, which he accepted. But for the rest of his rule he showed little interest in the country’s politics and was widely considered a “puppet ruler.”

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Now the palace is a museum open to visitors. Walking through the palace I felt like I had stumbled upon an upscale set of the Brady Bunch; the house was still outfitted in the original 1960s and 70s decor. It was a quick but worthwhile visit.

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Trúc Lâm Temple

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After the palace we paid a visit to Trúc Lâm Temple, a lakeside monastery replete with saffron-cloaked monks, intricate wood carvings and a statue of a Gautama Buddha.

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While I was long-since “templed out” by Asia’s many, many temples, I enjoyed Trúc Lâm- it possessed an aura of peace and was resplendent with flowers, bamboo and white pines. r5

After the temple we were back on the road- well, briefly. Twenty minutes out of Dalat one of our motorcycles broke down, so while we waited for the repairman we sprung for lunch at a dingy restaurant specializing in hot pot.

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The hot pot was one of the best dishes I tried in Vietnam: a simmering broth filled to the brim with mushrooms, scallions, tofu and an assortment of meat. As the pot simmered, our guide cut rice noodles with scissors and spooned them into our individual bowls.

Once the pot finished cooking, we fished out its contents with chopsticks and placed them our bowls with the noodles, adding herbs and sauces for flavor.

Yum.

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And twenty minutes later the bike broke down again. Really? So I passed the time chatting with some school-kids who couldn’t stop giggling when I took their photos.

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“Goodbye! Goodbye!” they cried as the rode away waving. IMG_0091

And then I retreated to a nearby hammock with a glass full of sugarcane juice. And yes that is money in my bra. If only leggings came with pockets.

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Next up was a riveting visit to a mushroom farm. Cough, cough.

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Pongour Waterfall

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The extremely shoddy bridge we had to cross to get closer to the waterfall. Our gentlemanly guide helped me cross thank god!

To be honest I’m not much of a waterfall enthusiast- my reaction to both Niagara and Iguazu was along the lines of, “Oh, that’s pretty. When’s lunch?”

But unlike Niagara and Iguazu, we had Pongour Waterfall to ourselves. I mean completely to ourselves.

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For me the most memorable part of the day wasn’t the destinations but the ride itself. Sitting on the back of the motorcycle I snapped photos of the countryside, rocked out to indie music and soaked up the seldom-seen local life of rural Vietnam.

Vietnam Road Trip Part 1 LR

Sometimes the journey really is better than the destination.

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Next up was another Michelin-quality meal at a cheap as chips hole-in-the-wall. Have I mentioned recently that Vietnam has unbelievable food?

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And then? My very first karaoke experience. To my chagrin we did karaoke in a private room; Um hello, isn’t half the fun standing on stage and making a fool of yourself in public?

I belted out My Heart Will Go On and If It Makes You Happy; two choices that were highly overambitious considering my voice was cracking like a middle-school boy’s. But after five beers anyone sounds good, right?

Though I have to admit, I doubt I will ever enjoy listening to Vietnamese pop music. Ever.

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Okay, okay- I realize the title of this post might suggest a little more grandeur and adventure than is deserved. After all, I rode across Vietnam on the back of a motorcycle.

But I have to say- I actually really liked having local guides- even on just the first day of our trip I learned more about Vietnam than I had in the two weeks previous.

Stay tuned for day two of the motorcycle journey!

Have you ever driven a motorcycle across Vietnam? Or ridden on the back on one like yours truly?

Note: Easy Riders in no way paid or perked me for this review.

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20 Comments

  1. Firstly, lẩu with locals is the best. Did they constantly add stuff to your bowl? I miss eating with Vietnamese people!

    Secondly, money in the bra is very practical! Most expats do it. Wait, should we be keeping that a secret…

    Thirdly, karaoke in Asia is always in private rooms. It’s usually always about solos too, much to the dismay of most Westerners. Also, many Vietnamese youngsters also eschew Vietnamese pop music in favour of K-Pop. Who am I kidding… I do too!
    Ruth Elisabeth recently posted..It’s ok to forget wordsMy Profile

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    • Haha glad you agree with the money in the bra trick. And yes, the Vietnamese guys basically taught me how to eat hot pot… I was clueless!

  2. This looks so fun!! I love being on the back of a bike – while I sometimes get a little skittish since I’m used to driving my own (the loss of control is a little unnerving sometimes) I feel like you get to see SO much more than when you’re just concentrating on the road. And that food looks absolutely delicious! I miss all the Vietnamese food in Vancouver, I can’t imagine how much better it must be there in Vietnam!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Expat Blog Awards 2013!My Profile

    Reply
    • I honestly liked being on the back because like you said I just got to relax and look at the scenery. And I was shocked by the difference between Vietnamese food abroad and actual Vietnamese food- it’s drastically better in country!

  3. Tony and I rode the entire length of Vietnam on a motorbike (driven by Tony) earlier this year! It definitely allowed us to experience the country in a way we wouldn’t have been able to if we had relied on the buses or trains, but it was definitely hard on us because riding a motorcycle as your only form of transportation for weeks on end (especially with Vietnam’s traffic) is really exhausting and starts to hurt.

    There were a lot of things we really enjoyed about southern and central Vietnam, but I have to say DaLat wasn’t one of them. There wasn’t anything wrong with it per se, but after having toured around the north, we found the countryside a bit underwhelming and the city just didn’t grab us the way other places had. Maybe if we had had a local guide we might have changed our minds… or maybe we would have wound up seeing mushroom farms and a bunch of other random things!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Into the Blue: Diving SipadanMy Profile

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    • That’s amazing you took the trip yourselves! I’d love to do a longer and independent trip someday. And I’m curious, what was your favorite part of Vietnam? :)

    • Thanks so much, Leah! That’s what I aim to do so I’m really glad to hear that :)

  4. I think I have an easier time saying which places I least liked in Vietnam as opposed to those I liked best. There wasn’t any place that we HATED while in the country, but Dalat and Hoi An were our two least favorite places, though for differing reasons. Food-wise everything south of Hanoi was our favorite and we tended to like the food better the further south we went. But for scenery and culture, I think it would be hard to beat what northern Vietnam has (and this is why we found motorcycling around Dalat a bit underwhelming). If really pushed, I might say Hue was my favorite city as the food is awesome and the architecture and surrounding countryside is also really incredible. There’s so much history in that city that I could see pretty happily spending weeks there trying to discover it all.
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Into the Blue: Diving SipadanMy Profile

    Reply
    • That’s so interesting to hear you didn’t like Hoi An- I’ve never been but it seemed really popular with backpackers. I will definitely check out Hue and the north at some point and congrats on diving Sipadan by the way, loved your photos!!

  5. I think I’ve pretty much commented the same thing on all your Southeast Asia posts, but this looks amazing! So many people I met did this and loved it. Regretful once again…

    Though I will have to disagree with you and say that private karaoke rooms are one of the best things ever!

    Also, do some Michigan enjoying for me over the holidays, okay? Like, eat tons of Middle Eastern and maybe some Coney in my honor :)
    Amanda @ Farsickness recently posted..Bright Lights, Big City: Christmastime in LondonMy Profile

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    • Oh my god don’t worry I’ve already started! I literally asked my mom to bring Lebanese to the airport so I could have it as soon as possible. And I definitely want to go back to Vietnam and motorcycle independently :)

  6. We hired motorbikes whilst in SE Asia last year – my partner rode and I hopped on the back. We’d love to do a motorbike tour, the only thing that bother me when we hired bikes was that my bum would hurt so much after spending so long sat on the back! How did you find that?
    Jennifer recently posted..Hiring a motorbike in Luang PrabangMy Profile

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    • By the end of the day I was definitely a bit sick of riding a motorcycle… but because the tour was only two days long I didn’t notice too much soreness.

  7. This is great! I love Vietnam, and have been there several times, but never to or around Dalat. Still, I have had hot pot, drank sugar cane juice, laughed with children, and ridden on the back of a motorbike. I think it is great that you hopped on the back of a bike to tour with Dutch guy. Why not?
    Amber recently posted..Bali ResolutionsMy Profile

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    • Haha right? It was an amazing time, I’m so glad I went :). And isn’t Vietnam the most magical country?

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