Arriving in HCMC
I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in mid- march. According to the web, spring is the best time of year to travel in Vietnam because temperatures are moderate, with little to no rain. After spending 3 weeks in Nepal, including an incredible 10-day trek in the mountains, I was unsure if anything else could top it. After all, the trek was much more than a challenging hike for me. Being in the Himalayas, brought me back to a place that felt like me, a place of comfort, inner peace and ease. How could that be topped? Well, so far each place has been different, providing different lessons, and serving different purposes. I knew Vietnam would be the same.
Initially Jack and I intended on finding jobs teaching English (as certified TESOL teachers) for a few months in HCMC, but “the shoe just didn’t fit.” Most organisations were looking for minimum 1-year commitment, when we were looking for no more than 3 months. Any other work being offered was scattered and inconsistent hours that wouldn’t be sufficient enough for the cost of living. Additionally, I didn’t really like the city. From my perspective, it was well organised, clean, and modern, with a lot of expats living there. As a result, the already existing Western culture has heavily influenced the city (restaurants, clothing, shopping centres, houses etc.) to accommodate existing expats. At first, this sounded like an ideal situation, as it wouldn’t hurt to have some homey comforts available. But after being in the city for a week, something just didn’t feel right. The air quality was poor, traffic was crazy, and there was no open space near by. For me, these are game changers. Not to mention, I had a chest infection from breathing in dust in Katmandu, so clean air was a must at the time.
Change of Plans
On day 7 in Vietnam, we had dinner in HCMC with another Canadian couple we met previously in Bali. They told us about their plan to ride motorbikes across the country from South to North with a couple of friends. After that, our thought process went something like this, “stay in the city to work, or go on an epic adventure across the country on motorbikes?” It wasn’t even a debate. We had one day to buy a motorbike, put on racks, and find tarps for the bags.
So with a tentative plan of riding along the coast, going through the mountain region and finishing off on the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail, the six of us set out with 4 bikes, 2 girls, 4 boys and a lot of bags. Our biker gang name became known as “the sexy six.” Sure it could have been a bit more badass, but the name felt suiting at the time. We were about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. One that would involve breakdowns, falls, flat tires, scrapes, bruises, broken racks, wheelies, frozen hands, kick starts and sore bums.
Freedom & Open Roads
After getting on board with this idea, everything seemed to fall into place, at least in terms of autonomy. As a group, we had an independence that is seemingly difficult to find as a backpacker. We didn’t have to depend on flights, trains, or buses to get us from A to B. We could make lunch and bathroom breaks whenever we wanted. If we were hungry, thirsty, or tired, we could stop at any time. If we didn’t like a hotel for any reason, or thought it was too expensive, we could just check out the next one. If we were really enjoying ourselves somewhere, we could stay longer. If someone wanted to stop to take a photo of the many landscapes, we could do so with ease. Aside from being considerate to each other as a group, we had the freedom to do as we please. For us, this was an unparalleled convenience that really added to the experience.
In addition to basking in freedom, there’s a funny sort of feeling that you get from being on a bike with open roads in sight. With your hair blowing in the wind, the sound of the engine rumbling, gears shifting, while breathing in fresh air and admiring the surrounding scenery of beaches, sand dunes, mountains, jungles, and limestone structures. Admittedly, before this trip, I never really liked the idea me (or someone I cared about) being on a motorbike. I’m not sure what took away my fear? Perhaps travelling has given me a new perspective of what fear can do to people. It keeps us from trying new things and it keeps us from taking chances. As a result, it keeps us from feeling alive. I thought – why not? Plus, as it turns out, Jack is pretty good at riding a motorbike, which made me feel all the more safe being on it.
Since we anticipated teaching in Vietnam, we arranged our 3-month tourist visa well in advance. This gave us ample time, not only for the bike trip, but for exploring the North of Vietnam as well. We used about 6 weeks for to bike ride from HCMC to Hanoi, and then we spent 2 weeks up in the North. However, 2 months was more than enough time to see Vietnam. We decided to leave early and head to Thailand. In my next blog post, I’ll breakdown some of our highlights from Vietnam as a whole, including places, activities, restaurants, and foods. After that, will come a post from Thailand.
Until next time! Thanks for reading.
Helpful hint! Use The Vietnam Oracle website if you’re interested in the bike trip. It’s extremely detailed.