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Travel by Motorbike in Vietnam

VIETNAM | Monday, 29 January 2018 | Views [681]

I thought I was going to die today. Careening down the steep mountainside on the back of our rickety rented hostel motorbike, whipping around curve after curve of thin roadway hugging the cliffs, facing multiple moments of certain head-on destruction in the shape of a tour-bus-passing-a-transport-truck-going-round-a-curve, I thought I was going to die today.


Sterling and I are in Ðà Lat, the capital of Lâm Ðőng; a beautiful surprise of a city in the highlands of Vietnam. It was built as a resort centre by the French in the early 1900s, and the architecture really shows. It comes as a refreshing surprise compared with the heavy, thick smog of Saigon. We decided to rent a motorbike from our hostel and take it touring around the city to see the nearby attractions; this is a much cheaper way to see what's around without paying jacked up fees for tour groups. Little did I know that by accepting this plan, I was agreeing to approximately 45 minutes of fearing for my life on the hills.


For those who haven't experienced driving in Vietnam, there are no obvious rules. If you want to enter traffic, you pull out into the road without looking. If you want to turn left (across oncoming traffic), you trend towards the left and assume others will go around you. If you are driving a bus full of sleeping travellers on a mountainside and you want to pass another vehicle, you pass at breakneck pace going uphill coming up to a curve around the mountain. You are comfortable in the certainty that your honking will be enough to warn the vehicles smashing down the mountain of your approach. Oh, and don't worry: there are no blind-spots in Vietnam, so don't bother checking them. I'm actually certain that here, one navigates traffic by sound instead of sight. Constant honking seems to be the only way to know where to go and what is safe.


Leaving the hostel, we headed through town at one of the busiest times of day (lunch time). The bike felt flimsy even to my inexperienced legs, and it seemed to shudder and jump for no reason at all. It was narrow and also short, so the combination of Sterling in the front with me behind meant that the back of my bottom was almost hanging over the edge. With no backrest to speak of, the only thing keeping me from sliding off the seat was a combination of my squeezing thighs and a wee little handrail for my left hand (my right hand held my phone, navigating). The plan was to make our way to the Elephant Waterfall, have some lunch and then maybe continue on to see Pongour Waterfall, about 50 km out of the city.


At certain points during this first ride, I closed my eyes and left it to fate. Being the passenger instead of the driver, basically all you have is blind trust in the driver and in the system. I'm sure that there is more of a system in place than I can follow, because with all of our time watching traffic, we are yet to see an accident. I still couldn't help being acutely aware of my bare legs and of the very firm road surface. I was also unashamedly tearing up from fear (I'll admit it), even while entire families with young children passed by us on their motorbikes, laughing and chatting. We even saw a pair of local women, each absorbed in a cell phone, comfortably winding their way up the mountain to the city.


I will say this: there is something very exhilarating about this type of travel. The wind whipping through your hair, the freedom and the view from the bike really makes for an incredible experience. It is also less frightening the more that you do it. On the way back to the hostel I was happy enough on the seat with my phone in one hand and our GoPro in the other. And the money you save! Instead of paying $35+ dollars for our day, plus food, we paid $5 for the motorbike for the day, and about $1 each in entrance fees. For the budget-conscious tourist, this is certainly the way to go. Would I do it again? At the risk of contradicting everything I've just written... absolutely!





Tags: da lat, motorbike, on the road, vietnam


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