Vietnam By Motorcycle – There and Gone to Saigon
Vietnam by Motorcycle – There and Gone to Saigon
Well, after 10 major stops, open roads and congested traffic, a new exhaust, clutch, front & rear brakes, tons of new friends, and 2158km through torrential downpour, scenic mountain ranges, beautiful rice fields, and beautiful beaches we made the trek by motorcycle from Hanoi to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). We’ve had bumps, bruises, wrong turns, bad roads and worse directions. But after three weeks on the road and a month in Vietnam the final chapter has finally come to an end.
Unfortunately the final leg from Mui Ne to Saigon is stuck literally entirely on the A1 Highway, thus although it’s a quick and painless run, it’s full of traffic, congestion, and blast exhaust from trucks. The drive takes about three hours in a straight shot, or four with a few stops, giving you the morning in Mui Ne to hit the beach one last time and still have enough time to navigate the traffic in Saigon before the sun sets. You are definitely going to want to get into the city before dark if you’ve never had to deal with the insanely populated but relatively smooth traffic of Ho Chi Minh City.
First of all, although most of SE Asia has a large percentage of bikes on the road, none compare to that of Vietnam. Roughly 95% of registered vehicles are motorcycles or scooters and it’s clear to see. Saigon has built dual vehicle lanes, and dual motorcycle lanes into the city and they’re majorly occupied. There are literally thousands of bikes running through these lanes and although it sounds intimidating it’s quite a fluid and relatively smooth drive.
Saigon or Ho Chi Minh is and incredibly vibrant and enjoyable city. The city itself is built into a series of districts and comprises a total population of about 9 million. The term “Saigon” is used to refer to a series of more urban districts of Ho Chi Minh City. However, most backpackers only experience District 1 since it’s the main hub for cheap accommodation, eats, and attractions. However, there are lots of historical sights, informative museums, and theme parks to keep your days busy all throughout the city.
Where to Stay
Virtually all backpackers head directly to the Pham Ngu Lao area. This area is home to about a hundred different guesthouses, dorms, and hotels, loads of cheap restaurants and a full helping of nightclubs and bars that run late into the night. You can find cheap rooms with a/c, or clean upbeat dorms that organize pub crawls and include free shots and a drinks every night.
What to Do
For starters just walking around the bustling streets can keep anyone busy for a day of taking in the various smells of market stalls, perusing through stalls selling ‘homemade’ trinkets and clothing, or just witnessing the onslaught of traffic that is incredibly congested but always moving.
- Visit the War Remnants Museum. This museum drives home the true brutality of the war in Vietnam and the ongoing effects of the product ‘Agent Orange’. The exhibit is quite one-sided but it’s rare that Westerners get to truly see the atrocities that were committed during this war.
- Visit the Dam Sen Water Park. Unlike Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh is hot and humid, and a day out at the fun water park that contains more than 15 different slides and a bunch of other attractions is sure to cool you off.
- Witness the Songbirds of Tao Dan Park. Located in District 1, not only is this 1000-acre park home to an abundance of trees and a well-needed rest from the infrastructure of Ho Chi Minh City, but most mornings starting at 8am citizens of Saigon bring their caged songbirds to sit in a circle and speak to one another in a spectacle that brings a smile to your face.
- Visit many of the Pagoda’s around the city. There are many historical buildings throughout the city, if you happen to have a bike there are numerous cathedrals, museums, and palaces to keep you busy.
- Visit the Chu Chi Tunnels. Similar to the Vinh Moc in the north, these tunnels facilitated Viet Cong control of a large rural area just 30km from Saigon – two major sections are opened up to the public.
The End of the Road
Although we were reluctant to get rid of our bikes we knew that it was time to pass them on to the next set of travellers. We took some pictures, threw up an advertisement on ‘Craigslist Vietnam’ and simply waited. Within 24-hours we’d received multiple messages from people interested in buying the bikes. Although we’d paid $260 we were willing to sell them for $220, or $400 for the both of them. It just so happened that as we were putting the bikes in the shop for a quick fix a friendly Ukrainian guy named Valeras simply walked up and asked “Are you two selling these bikes on craigslist?” He’d seen our ads but had been unable to contact us. So after a quick 30-second test drive he decided that these were the bikes for him and his girlfriend so we sold the lot for a quick $400. The best part is that this couple became our new travel buddies and we spent the last few days in Saigon touring around the city on our own bikes after selling them and had the peace of mind that our beloved bikes were going to a couple that would treat them with the same care as we did.
Vietnam has by far been my favourite country to travel through. The people are friendly, the accommodations and food is cheap, and the landscape traverses along every spectrum from sandy beaches to karst mountains. Although this has only been my first tour through this amazing country, it certainly won’t be my last.