Becoming an Addict

My name is Chris and I am an addict.  My drug is my motorbike, for motorcycling the roads of Vietnam is absolutely incredible.  It is a mix between being in a Need for Speed video game and an episode of Planet Earth.  I can think of no words to describe the experience except it is like being in a constant state of euphoria. 

I’ve come to realize that riding a motorcycle is way more than just a driving experience.  It involves all of your senses at once.  Your eyes take in your surroundings, from the waterfalls in the distance to every pothole in the stretch ahead.  Your viewpoint is not limited by the frame of a windshield.  Rather it takes in the entire panorama unfolding before you and you are a part of the scenery, immersed in the scenery, instead of an observer.  You smell the local herb gardens on the side of the road, the exhaust spewing from giant cargo trucks, and the ripening bananas from the plantations extending as far as you can see.  You feel the vibrations of the wheels overtop each rock, the forward propulsion each time you open up the throttle, the wind crashing into your face, the heat from the sun and the chill from the shade.  You hear the shouts of local children as they wildly wave their tiny hands, eager for a simple return of acknowledgement.  You hear the firing of the trailing truck’s engine increase as it prepares to overtake you.  And yes, you can taste the dust and bugs flying into your mouth if you were to yawn (but that’s why there’s face masks, and nobody yawns on their bike anyway).   

Driving a motorbike in Vietnam was made popular by an episode of Top Gear in which the three hosts attempted to bike from Saigon to Ha Long City in 8 days.  This worldwide exposure revealed the scenery and routes that make Vietnam a biker’s wet dream.  But starting out in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) is anything but.  As myself, Jeff (from Holland), Martin (from South Africa), Karthik and Nick (from England and the US respectively) set off to head north of the city, we quickly realized that street signs are nonexistent.  However, traffic í anything but nonexistent.  Familiarizing myself with driving a manual was not the easiest of feats while dodging traffic, constantly slamming on the brakes to avoid the bikes and cars that cut me off without a second thought.  After several wrong turns, we eventually made it onto the highway and out of the city. 

Several days of riding later and we got to experience what riding in Vietnam is all about.  The 723 from the mountains in Da Lat to the beach city of Nha Trang is the most beautiful road I have ever been on, even beating out the coastal roads in the south island of New Zealand.  Ascending up the mountains, we dropped the bikes into third gear and weaved our way around looping turns until the clouds were no longer above us, but all around us.  The clouds were cold and wet, dewing up our visors and limiting our visibility.  But that which we could see was heightened by the cloud’s presence as waterfalls passing underneath the road seemed to cascade down into the abyss.  Descending beneath the cloud cover, our vision was illuminated to reveal lush green jungle extending mile after mile, broken up by the occasional terraced rice patty.  In the far distance, the sunlight made its way through an opening in the clouds, making the road before us seem like the promised land.

The best road I've ever been on.

The best road I’ve ever been on.

Descending down that mountain will be the first thing that I associate with motorbiking for the rest of my life.  Every thirty seconds another turn twisted its way down the mountain, allowing us to bank through by leading with our hips and dipping our shoulders.  We would quickly redistribute our body weight and prepare to bank to the other side, eager to see the new landscape awaiting us around each level of the mountain.  After close to an hour of pure riding bliss, we reached a straight away and opened up the bikes, letting them weave effortlessly amongst the sparse traffic as we embarked on Na Trang. 

The road near Nha Trang.

The road near Nha Trang.

We spent two nights in Na Trang partying with tourists and enjoying the beach and local seafood (blood cockles in tamarind sauce, seafood hot pots, fried cuttle fish), occasionally taking leisurely joy rides because we missed the bikes.

Seafood, street food.

Seafood, street food.

So it’s only been a little over a week and I’m officially hooked.  I’ll have to feed this addiction in Vietnam because similar to drugs, it’s very difficult to get a motorbike across the border.  I know one thing is for sure, I’m most certainly going to try.