While there are plenty of planes, trains and private transfers to get from city to city in Vietnam, we love motorbiking and thought it would be the perfect way to travel slow and see a lot of the countryside up close. We were right!
We just completed a four-day motorbike tour with Phong Nha Motorbike Tours in Vietnam, leaving from Phong Nha and ending 700 kms later in Hoi An.
Our trip started from our hotel in Phong Nha where Hung, the owner of the company and primary guide, met us with our motorbikes. I was nervous that we would be riding full-sized motorcycles, which we don't have experience with and wouldn't be able to drive. Fortunately for us, Hung had two small motorbikes, the same make and models we'd been driving during our month on Koh Lanta in Thailand.
Hung strapped our bags to the back of his larger Honda motorcycle, and we were off!
We were lucky the first day with sunny weather and no rain. Our tour took us through the countryside and mountains along the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail, which the Vietnamese used to transfer supplies and troops from the north to south during the American War (what we call the Vietnam War). The trail consisted of winding mountain roads close to the border with Laos.
We stopped frequently to stretch our legs, take in the view and grab photos of the amazing scenery.
Our first day was the longest with us leaving at 8 a.m. and arriving at our first stop for the night around 5 p.m. At the hotel we rested and then met Hung for dinner at a local restaurant. By that time, the power had gone out for the whole town, so we enjoyed dinner around candles and make shift flash lights. Very atmospheric!
On the second day we woke up to rain. If you've ever motorbiked in the rain, you know you can get soaked quick, and it's a pain. Luckily for us, Hung provided heavy-duty rain ponchos and pants that kept us totally dry. Our helmets also covered our faces to protect our eyes, and he provided gloves which meant gripping the handle bars that much easier.
Despite the weather, we trudged on covering ground all the way to Hue, a larger city. Most of the ride up until this point had been on back roads where "traffic" was just an errant herd of water buffalo, so it was a big wake up call to head into a big city and join the craziness that is Vietnam's traffic.
Unlike back home, motorbikes and cars don't stop to let you go, and there were very few lights to officially denote the stopping and starting of groups. Instead drivers behave like huge schools of fish.
If you need to turn across a few lanes, you just slowly start to inch out. The oncoming rush of bikes, cars and tuk tuks with inevitably start to flow around you as you part the group. It's actually very graceful to watch, and I was constantly amazed that people don't get into more accidents. Luckily people drive nice and slow in the cities, so as intimidated as I was by the mass of traffic, I felt better knowing I could just take it slow like everyone else.
We spent the night in Hue and had dinner on our own. This was the night that I discovered leeches all over my body, so needless to say we didn't do much besides shower and drink wine in our room.
The third day was spent biking around Hue. Hung took us to have breakfast, and then we explored a beautiful and tranquil temple where a number of monks live. We got to watch a religious ceremony and learn more about how young men become monks and how they live their lives. It was fascinating.
We also explored the Citadel where the king used to live and work.
At the end of the day, we headed out of town to the countryside to see a covered bridge from the 18th century and to tour a rice museum. We learned about how the farmers in the area cultivate rice and how they produce important staples like rice wine and flour. That night we headed back to our hotel to relax and prepare for our final day of biking.
We got started early on the fourth day, heading out of Hue at 8 a.m. We were met with heavy rain, so we went slower than usual and stopped often for coffee to take a break and dry off.
We drove through the (usually) stunning Hai Van pass, but unfortunately the rain and fog obscured most of the view. We did love seeing the sea for the first time as we crept over the mountains though.
By midday we'd nearly reached our destination, so we stopped at a cave system located on the top of a marble mountain. We toured around a bit and took some photos, enjoying the break in the rain.
By 2 p.m. we'd reached our final destination of Hoi An, and Hung returned our luggage. We thanked him for showing us such a unique glimpse into rural Vietnam, and he headed back home.
All in all, we had an amazing time on this tour. For just $65 per person it included the bikes, gas, an English speaking guide (Hung) and our accommodations at night. All we ended up paying for was our food, which was extremely cheap because Hung usually ordered and made sure we got the real local rate. He even paid for a number of little things like coffees when we stopped for breaks and different street snacks he wanted us to try. He also surprised us the last morning with a bag of Vietnamese coffee because we'd been raving about how much we loved it. It was such a nice touch!
Hung has great information about his tours at Phong Nha Motorbike Tours! If you book a tour, tell him we say hello!