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He only went out for some milk A blurb of monstrous proportions - it was only supposed to be a couple of lines and the odd photo.

Bike Trip around NW Vietnam

VIETNAM | Saturday, 31 March 2007 | Views [2876] | Comments [1]

This one was caused by Darren

This one was caused by Darren

So it's 6am and I'm strapping Bob (the backpack) onto my bike, Darren is doing the same with his.  On the pavement is my jacket with my camera inside, a small bag of Darren's and 2 owners from the hotel we stayed in.  There are people around, but not many - out of nowhere comes a guy on a scooter, he drives onto the pavement and nearly knocks the old guy over from the hotel.  The old guy makes a grab for him and the guy on the scooter grabs Darren's bag and then zooms off.  Darren as quick as a flash starts his bike and speeds off after him, i dozily continue to strap a lopsided Bob onto the bike while all this is happening.

2 minutes later Darren is back...the scooter had too much of a lead and too many roads to choose from...he's lost all of his memory cards for his camera and a load of less important stuff.  It's not exactly the greatest of starts to our road trip.

It's hard not to shake off out start but we head out of Hanoi on our way to Son La.  It's a 320km drive and should take about 10 hours - a gentle introduction on how to ride a bike.  To cut a long story short we 'lose' each other after about 20km.  I decide to go it alone to Son La: Darren has the spares and tools for the bike, the map and the bike experience.

It's a tough 280km.  I break down only once, a really worrying time, but I manage to jump start the machine on a steep hill.  I lose count of the times i manage to put the bike on its side too - i have to remember it isn't a bicycle.  I also discover that the bike can do over 100 if you have it fully opened up going down hill, with your body as flat as possible :-)

I reach Son La at 3pm - I've spent a lot of time on full throttle and my hands are shaking, my body aches all over, and sitting down is pure agony.  But hey - i made it.  I immediately go for the Internet - not an easy task, but when i find one i have two messages from Darren, the short of it is:

Message 1:

"where the hell are you?, i stopped for a rain coat and then you were gone. I spent 3 hours looking for you, I'm going back to Hanoi, if i don't hear from you tonight i will contact your embassy tomorrow."


Message 2:

"I'm now near Hanoi, I've decided to go to Son La instead in the hope you have persevered to get there, and are not dead.  I'm not sure i can make it to Son La tonight.  Hope to see you soon.

thank f***

We do meet up that night, as well as losing each other, by the end of the trip we manage to lose 2 bottles of water, 1 sleeping bag, 1 mosquito net and 1 map - some of those roads were just dreadful.  We have a (deserved) beer or 3 with a guy called Dan who we meet in Son La.  He's just come from Sapa and the region - but I'm not sure he saw it through his drug hazed eyes.

Riding a bike through the isolated countryside of Vietnam: how do i describe it.  It's a real priceless mixed bag of emotions.

Joy at coasting down a road with the engine off and hearing the wind whistle through my sandals.

Horror at clipping a chicken (i guess that one never did cross the road), or running over the head of a gecko.

Fright at a child deciding to cross on his bicycle right in front of me (grinning all the time), or at being 'attacked' by a snake as it comes flying out of the side of the road - scared i think by Darren's bike.  I only just missed it and i actually jumped onto my seat to avoid it's bite (trust me i was worried).

Annoyance at being hit in the head by big juicy bug or the 'needle like' pricks on my face as I get hit by little flies.

Realisation that it's not a good idea to try singing while riding - not even 'keep your motor running....' Too many bugs :)  gulp   ow   swallow .  I have to make do humming knightrider and blue thunder theme - remember that?

Excitement at skidding and sliding my way through roads under construction, fine sand creating so much dust I can't see the bike in front of me, never mind the road or what is coming towards me.  Brilliant :)

We've gone through miles and miles of little villages, we've said a million hello's and goodbye's and waved time and time again to excited little children and adults who seem pleased to see us.  The views have been amazing, paddy fields greener than green, misty topped mountains, lots of different hill tribes in amazing traditional clothes, ageless rural life and farming bringing us to our senses in this modern world. 

By motorbike is a great way to step back-in-time, it's a pity about the environmental effects, but even i don't have months to spend cycling around.  We only have 1 major breakdown, and Darren's fluent use of Vietnamese sign language and a little phrasebook get that fixed.  We visit a few small towns in the NW area and stay a couple of nights in Sapa - for me it's a disappointment after being 'out of it' - too many tourists and again I'm the western wallet.  Even here I'm offered an assortment of drugs and women...The weather is also not on our side, the mountain of Fansipan which i would love to climb is continually surrounded by mist, and we nearly miss the city when we arrive because of it.  We know we are in the right place however when a gang of kids suddenly jump on their bikes and come tearing after us, nearly hitting us several times: "come visit my hotel, only $6".  Grrrrr

It's around 380km back to Hanoi from Sapa - we decide to give it a go in a day - hopefully it will take about 10 hours.  6 hours in and Darren decides to pull out from behind a truck into the way of an oncoming bus.  He's an experienced and good rider, it's with shock, disbelief and horror that i watch him lock-up his back wheel, control it, lock it up again and then go down just in front of the oncoming bus...

I can still picture it clearly, Darren pulling out when he shouldn't, the bike going down and the bus skidding to the side of the road to avoid Darren, what a relief - time really did slow for me. 

Before I've stopped the bike, Darren is up and has moved his to the side of the road, and one angry bus driver has climbed out of his bus.  He's gone off the edge of the road into a ditch and one of his back wheels is spinning in midair.  It's not exactly the greatest of ends to our road trip.

Apart from a few minor physical injuries, the main damage is to Darren's pride and outlook on life - it says a lot about a guy when his first reaction is to the people on the bus and the last to his own plight.  He's a very experienced biker and as he says, this was an important refresher lesson for him.

The bus gets pulled out of the ditch by a passing truck - it then takes every bit of money we have in our pockets to appease the bus driver.  I literally stand at the side of the road with my pockets hanging out - they even want Darren's watch.  We've gathered a huge crowd from the nearby town - even they laugh at the spectacle of us 'paupers'.  A fortunate ending for a stupid 1 second mistake.  Very lucky...

Here's a Youtube video of after the crash:


Tags: biking




I would like to see that video but Thailand has censored all of Youtube. Sounds like you're living on the edge. :-) Shane: You will just have to trust me that it's the best video in the world...ever. Honest.

  Marie Apr 18, 2007 5:01 PM

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one ruined t-shirt and one ruined pair of trousers.  cool.

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