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Solo Motorbiking Vietnam, Part 5: Completing the Ho Chi Minh Road


Day 11: A boring drive to Pho Chau

The plan for today. Source:

I woke up, ready to go. Unfortunately, there was one thing that I did not prepare for: rain! It was the first time I was hit by it. The one thing that I didn’t pack was proper motorcycle rain gear, and looking back at it now, going motorbiking in Vietnam during the rainy season without it was probably a mistake. Oh well!

An unwelcome sight: rain.

I must have waited at least one hour before the downpour turned into a drizzle, at which point I decided that it was good enough to go. It continued to get better, clearing up after about 30 minutes.

My goal for the next four days was to ride every day, between 200 to 300 kilometers (125 to 200 miles) daily, eventually making it to Hoi An, a beach town where I could rest. This was because I wanted to cover a lot of ground so that I would have time to spare for getting out of the country due to the time left on my 30 day visa. Along the ways, the sights to see would be:

  • Phong Nha, a town renowned for its caves (At the end of the second day)
  • Ho Chi Minh Road, a world famous motorbiking road due to its emptiness, an awesome winding road, and its jaw dropping beauty on the third and fourth day.

This meant that during the first two days of driving, there would be nothing too interesting. I had to find a way to entertain myself until I made it to Phong Nha.

And yes, today’s drive was quite uninspiring. I spent most of the time on wide, national roads, sharing the road with car traffic. Sure, the roads were newly paved, but straight roads are quite repetitive. There were also a lot of cars, buses, and occasionally trucks. I pushed on as much as I could, trying to entertain myself through this boredom by looking at the villages around me.

This was how the road looked like most of the time. This is actually in a break of traffic, it was usually more packed.

The most interesting, but not necessarily fun, part of the ride happened in the last 30 kilometers (20 miles). I noticed that the ground in front of me was wet, and then suddenly, I was caught in a downpour! This lasted for about 5 minutes. Everybody around me was wearing a poncho, and I was the only one without one! The best way that I could describe how it felt was is as follows: Imagine being in a pool with all of your clothes on, except you’re outside. This means that you’re always soaked, but your movements aren’t hindered by the water.

Interestingly enough, I thought the whole experience of being poured on was kind of fun; when I got to the hotel in Pho Chau (my stop for tonight), I wasn’t even that annoyed that all of my clothes were wet. I changed and checked out the town, and I was getting looks from literally everybody in town. This is when I realized that I am in some random town that tourists haven’t heard about. I look like an outsider. Everybody wanted to say hi to me!

On my stroll: a lake with a nice park around it.

This popularity was nice at the beginning, but after about 10 or so times, I booked it as fast as I could back to the hotel, since it was getting a bit much for me :sweat_smile:. I spent the rest of the day in my room figuring how to dry my clothes the best overnight so that I have something to wear tomorrow.

Day 12: Phong Nha

The plan for today. Source:

With mostly dry clothes, I set off for today. I was really glad I pushed yesterday, since today, I didn’t have as far to drive; only 220 kilometers (137 miles). The beginning of the road today was mostly the same as yesterday, flat and boring.

The views were less inspiring than my first week.

It was about halfway through the drive today that I was longing to say hi to some other backpackers. The last three nights, I was staying alone in homestays and hotels. Luckily, Phong Nha was a more well known town because of the caves, so there were bound to be some others there.

Also about the same time, I saw something I haven’t seen before: a fellow motorbiker, dressed in full gear! We waved hi to each other, and rode together for the next hour. It was really fun riding with others again, like I did in Ha Giang.

What made this even more fun was that he looked like he knew how to drive well. He was taking every corner pristinely, and he knew exactly how to control his motorbike, especially when passing others. This made me focus more on the ride and be more aware about how I was driving.

Unfortunately, two things kept this ride from being perfect. The first one was that it started to pour at times like yesterday, and this time, it was COLD. The road took us through a mountain pass, and I didn’t prepare any real winter clothes; I was borderline shivering. Luckily, it didn’t last too long, and we were back in the valley, where it got warm again.

But the second thing that made this ride not perfect was that I fell. This was a rather stupid fall that caught me by surprise while we were going slowly through a town. What happened was that the ground was wet, and I tried turning, but the tire didn’t grip the road. This meant that I tried to go one way, but the bike went the other, causing me to fall off. The bike fell on my left leg, and was on the ground for a solid 15 seconds. Luckily, I didn’t hurt myself too bad.

I got some help getting the bike up from some locals, and I finally got to say hi to this unknown driver, as we didn’t stop yet! He turned out to be a man from New Zealand who’s been motorbiking way longer than I have.

I crashed only 5 minutes from the hostel. This was convenient, because it meant that I could go and lay down in the bed very quickly. And I needed that. I had a considerable headache and a bruised leg.

The worst that happened to me. Thankfully I was wearing all of my gear!

I had enough energy later to get up later, so I hung around the hostel’s common area the rest of the day. I met up with some people that I actually saw in Ha Giang! It’s really crazy how small this backpacking world is here. You meet up with the same people at the same hostels on your trip unplanned.

I gave myself a treat after the hardships I've been through today. :pizza:

The hostel I stayed at, Central Backpackers Hostel, was awesome. Aside from the peaceful night I had, the common area provided a nice place to socialize. On top of the unlimited free beer they provided between 7-8 pm, the awesome backpackers that came here, and the dirt cheap accommodation, there was no reason to not to stay here.

At 7pm, I couldn’t resist capitalizing on the free beer, where I socialized with the other backpackers that also came for this opportunity. I learned that most of them would be in Hoi An in two or three days, just like me! I wonder if we all follow the same guides online; it seems like we were always following each other around the country :joy:. I ended the night teaching some new friends how to play Tysiące before going to sleep.

My injury got better, and I decided that it was fine to go on the long ride tomorrow. I could have stayed an extra day in Phong Nha and checked out some caves, but I thought that I’d already seen enough already. I wanted to make it to the warm beach as soon as possible.

I would drive more carefully tomorrow, and try my hardest not to repeat the same mistake I made today in the future.

Recommendation: Central Backpackers Hostel, for the reasons mentioned above.

Day 13: Riding the Ho Chi Minh Road, Day 1

The plan for today. Source:

With no headache and just a lightly bruised leg, I set off on the long journey with no pit stops to Khe Sanh. It was about 230 kilometers (143 miles) away, or about halfway between Phong Nha and Hoi An. A lot of tourists say that this is the most beautiful ride in Vietnam, especially on the motorbike, because of its remoteness and the way that it’s paved. Let’s see if that’s true!

I had a nice distance marker by me for the entire journey!

There were three distinct parts of the ride that I’ll cover here. The first part of the road had me driving through a national park, mostly devoid of human settlement. This would have been an amazing ride if not for the misty weather making the ground wet. It was still a great ride, but due to my fall yesterday because of the wet ground, I was being extra careful so the same thing didn’t happen to me again. I spent less time being taken away by the scenery and the road, and more time making sure I didn’t fall!

This picture contains almost the entirety of the width of Vietnam!

Later, on the second part, the weather got nice (meaning no wet ground!), and there were more villages scattered about. This was like riding on a dream road! It felt like I was on the best racetrack in the world, and I had it booked out all to myself. I could ride how I like, and there was really a sense of freedom being on this beautiful road while being surrounded by amazing scenery.

This part of the road was amazing. Beautiful views, a windy road, and completely empty!

However, in the third and final part, the weather took a turn for the worse again. I entered the jungle again, this time with some more towns scattered about. The mist was very thick, meaning I couldn’t really see the surroundings so much. At least there was no rain, meaning that I didn’t get soaked like before, but it’s hard to enjoy a road when you can’t see it!

Would you have fun driving through this? I had to make sure oncoming trucks wouldn't hit me!

But were the views here the best in Vietnam so far? I would say I preferred Ha Giang better, due to the extreme elevation difference between the mountains and the valleys. Another thing that I liked about Ha Giang had more beautiful rice paddies carved into the mountains. This was something that I didn’t see during my ride here.

But that’s not to say that the Ho Chi Minh Road was bad in any way. In fact, I would argue that you might find it more beautiful if:

  • You like riding through places where almost nobody lives (in particular the national park).
  • You like seeing beautiful, unpolluted rivers and mountains.
  • You like being in the middle of a thick jungle.

I was basically hugging the Laotian border the whole ride.

These are some highlights during my ride:

  • I think a whole village going to a wedding? There must have been at least 150 motorbikes going to an already packed wedding venue.
  • Kids waving at me, and one of them giving me the middle finger! I later learned that this means nothing in Vietnam, and doesn’t have the same connotation as it has in Europe or the US.
  • Lots and lots of wild animals on the road.

I bet harvest season looks amazing here.

At the end of the ride, going over the final mountain pass, I was getting cold again! I was seriously starting to get enough of this :sweat_smile:! I was really looking forward to the day after tomorrow, where I would finally be at the beach in Hoi An! I heard it was very warm there, and after driving for so long, I could not wait to finally rest up for real for three days.

I made it to Khe Sanh, with relatively dry clothes, found a hotel, and lazed around for the whole day before going to sleep, because:

  • The wear of driving so many days in a row was starting to get to me, and I really wanted to rest.
  • My bruise was still hurting me.

My treat for finishing this rough day.

Tomorrow would be a longer day if I wanted to go straight to Hoi An, about 300 kilometers (200 miles), but I know that if I do it, I’ll be rewarded with a nice, long, well-deserved warm rest at the beach.

Day 14: Final day of Ho Chi Minh Road (Destination: Hoi An)

The plan for today. Source:

The weather was clear today, which means that I felt more confident since there seemed to be a lesser risk of falling. The first half of the road was along a crowded road with trucks, but it later turned empty like yesterday!

The road today kept hugging the border to Laos.

During the road, I came upon a tunnel. I was expecting this tunnel, as I saw it in a picture from a blog. But when I went inside, it was like nothing I’ve been in before. It had no lights! If you’ve never been in a tunnel like this, it’s quite scary. Everything is suddenly dark around you, and in the middle, all that you see are the two blips of light at the ends!

I just had to get to the other side, right?

What made it even more scary was that I saw a silhouette of a large, unknown animal on the other side. I was still in the jungle here, so it could have been anything, I thought. But it turned out to be just a cow from a nearby herd right outside the other end.

Remember when I said I could enjoy the ride today like yesterday (because it was dry)? What I actually meant was that I got more careless, thinking that I wouldn’t fall like last time.

Which, after this tunnel, there was a patch of water due to a partially overflowing river. And would you believe that this tiny patch almost caused me to fall exactly the same way as I did two days ago, where my front wheel lost control?

As I did before, I tried to turn, but my front wheel started slipping under me! But this time, I was going faster, and there was was a wall coming up right in front of me!

I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to save myself. I was on the brink of falling, when I used all of my strength to keep the bike up, and regain control when the ground became dry. I immediately stopped and thought to myself: “Wow, if I fell, no one would be here to save me if something serious happened.” I wanted to pull off to the side to catch a quick breather.

…and do you want to know what happened next? There was another patch of water! I thought nothing of it, since I thought it would be fine if I was going slowly. But here, I tried moving my front wheel again (very slightly, might I add!), but it moved way too much, causing me to fall again when the motorbike tipped! At this point I just felt stupid for letting this happen to me right after almost getting into something serious.

The two patches of water that caused me to lose control. You can see the first one far in the back.

Luckily, it landed on my right leg this time (not the bruised one), and I was able to get it up alone. There was even another bike passing by 2 minutes later, which was actually lucky if anything serious were to actually happen to me then.

I then noticed that the clutch didn’t grip as well as it did, and it was harder to switch gears. It was good enough to drive, but I told myself that in Hoi An (still about 100 kilometers (60 miles) away), I would go and check it out. (Spoiler alert, it ended up being fine without a mechanic all the way until Ho Chi Minh City.)

At this point, I just really wanted to get to the beach where it was warm and relaxing. I needed a break from riding (and also falling)! Being on this bike for so long was starting to become really a bit much for me. As I wanted to get this over as quickly as possible at this point, I continued to power through until I reached the hostel.

I drove the rest of the road very carefully, successfully not falling again. The highlight I have from the rest of the drive was the last road, which was named QL14G. This road is very bumpy, which actually makes it a lot of fun! If you have the chance, try this road, which links Prao and Hoi An.

A section of the QL14G. Would recommend!

The Ho Chi Minh Road was a mixed bag for me. On one hand, I really liked the mountain driving when it was nice, and I think that this road is amazing for a motorcycle when the weather is nice. But between the cold weather and my falls, I don’t think that this fully lived up to the hype I thought it would. I would still recommend riding this road on a nice day though!

As I approached the hostel, I started feeling the very very welcome heat. Never before was I so glad that it was 38C (100F)! And it was dry!! I was very excited to spend the next three days at the beach relaxing, sunbathing, swimming, and enjoying summer!