Motorcycle adventures are gaining popularity among young, adventurous Vietnamese and foreign travellers. No stops, no fixed schedules, just jumping on the bike and going- these are just some of the reasons why people are opting for motorcycle travel, especially motorcycling on Ho Chi Minh trail, over traditional train and bus journeys.
I bumped into Nick Villa (New Zealand) and George Marjak in Ha Noi one afternoon when they had just returned from a bike tour along the former historic Ho Chi Minh Trail. After living in Viet Nam for six months and understanding a bit of Vietnamese, the two young foreigners decided to take a spontaneous adventure on their rented Minsks, rather than booking an ordinary tour.
The legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail was the supply line used by North Viet Nam soldiers to link the north with South Viet Nam during the American War. Soldiers, ammunition and supplies were carried by hand, bicycle and lorries for thousands of kilometres through the otherwise impenetrable jungle that covered Viet Nam's mountainous border with Laos.
If relentless bombing did not stop him, it took a North Vietnamese soldier as long as six months to make the gruelling trek down the narrow jungle path that was the trail. Today, you can speed along the same route at 100km/hour, past peaceful hamlets and stunning mountain scenery. "I was very emotional as we drove along the road filled with so much history," Villa says.
The trail has been transformed into a highway, more than 1,200km of which are open to traffic. It begins at the gates of Ha Noi and ends at the doorsteps of HCM City. In between, the route passes battlefields like Khe Sanh and the La Drang Valley, skirts tribal villages in the rugged Central Highlands and offers easy access to some of the country's top attractions — the ancient royal seat of Hue, the picturesque trading port of Hoi An and long, sandy white beaches that seem to go on for days.
With a map, two bikes, and bags packed with jungle essentials such as: clothing, Wellington boots and first-aid kits, the two Germans started on their journey. They began on the outskirts of Ha Noi, where the journey was quite easy and peaceful at first. On the first day, there was nothing but a calm, smooth road and the sunset on the horizon. As they made their way through the city of Da Nang, Villa and Marjak visited the Non Nuoc tourism site where they met Pham Van Hung, a motorcycle and dirt bike tour guide who leads trips along the trail.
Taking advantage of their chance meeting, the two foreigners began their real adventure the next morning. As they passed through Pa Hon Village (Dong Giang District) they could not help but admire the stunning views. They took pictures of every little detail of the ethnic village, and asked Hung to take their pictures too. One thousand snapshots later, they left picturesque Pa Hon.
At midnight, they arrived at Prao, a mountainous town in Dong Giang District. Even though it was late, they still found the strength to wander around the town.
"I like to drench myself in the secluded atmosphere of the mountains, and in every detail of people's lives here. You can only enjoy these things by travelling like this. I love the spontaneity, I love that I can stop wherever I want, which I cannot do with a strict schedule on a booked tour led by a guide wearing a tie. My guide on this trip is not so bad either," Marjak shared.
The next morning, they continued their adventure from Quang Nam to Thua Thien – Hue.
I also met up with a Dutch couple Marcus Kamp, 33, and Bree Angelique, 28, who recently returned from their own journey along the HoÀ Chi Minh Trail in the opposite direction as the two Germans, from Hue to Quang Nam. They each had a dirt bike and went with two tour guides named Duong Tien Hung and Le Van Son.
On the first day of the trip, Kamp and Angelique enjoyed the fresh air under the trees along the A Roang – A Tep Pass between the two provinces while listening to their guides introduce the fascinating tales of Cong Troi (Heaven Gate) and of this legendary road during the war. They stopped in Ta Vang Village (Tay Giang District). Kamp could not help sharing his emotions: "The strange feeling when we set foot in the traditional village of the Co Tu ethnic group was amazing. It definitely boosted our enthusiasm for the bike trip."
They explained that they met about a dozen expats who were also travelling on bikes during their two day trip along the trail. All of them were ecstatic about the amazing views of Truong Son Mountain and the surrounding jungle. What amazed them even more was the life and culture of the people they met along the way.
Marco Bouwer, a 31-year old German tourist who rode the trail shared: "We are really relaxed and comfortable in nature, away from the heat and traffic that overwhelm the cities. Also, the people were friendly and curious. We often caught them looking and laughing at us, which in a way was pretty funny. We didn't mind."
If you find yourself in the mood for a spontaneous adventure, you do not have to get online to plan your journey alone. The tour guides these travellers met along the way said they work in a group of about 20 people. They each worked on their own in the past, but eventually they came together and launched a website to promote their business. They all agreed on one fair price for their services and they share in the business.
They speak English and can help in virtually any situation. They grew up here, so they have thousands of stories to tell you along the road. For just a little cost a day, you can enjoy a reliable companion and a wonderful adventure on the historic trail.
Recommendation in Vietnam tour:
Motorcycling the Ho Chi Minh Trail - Half Challenge
Taste of Ho Chi Minh Trail