Vietnam is a vibrant country with such diverse landscape and a deep sense of the culture and traditions. I was aware of that before arriving here, but there is one thing I wasn't aware of - Vietnam is also a country full of pleasant surprises. Before arriving here, I knew that I want to get a motorbike, so I could be able to travel across the country at my own pace and experience an ultimate freedom. The motorbikes here are very cheap, but you know, you get what you paid for. That line can't better describe motorbikes in Vietnam. The most common bike for doing a road trip through this amazing country is, of course, Honda (replica of Honda) Win.
These bikes are usually used by backpacker and adventurers to drive from North to South or another way around. No matter which bike you get, you should be aware of the fact these bikes were probably driven tens of times through the country. It means the breakdowns are inevitable and it's just the question when you'll experience a breakdown (Knock knock, as I haven't experienced any till now!).
Vietnam is one of these Asian countries where the traffic is just crazy! In Europe, the buses and trucks are usually the slowest means of transportation, but not in Vietnam! Here these guys are the fastest on the road. Sometimes it feels like they are playing Need for Speed in a real life with horning on anything that's moving on the road! Anyway, this didn't stop me from getting the bike here.
Note: I don't advise inexperienced drivers to learn how to drive a motorbike in Vietnam as the conditions on the road and traffic are very unpredictable. I had the experience to drive a motorbike in Thailand, so I learned how to drive and be comfortable in Asian traffic. Knowing myself, these facts were more than enough for me to decide to get the motorbike in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, I'm a volunteer, which means I don't earn any money for teaching and I need to figure out how to earn money here. I'm a type of hustler, so getting money was never a problem for me. There is a huge group called Vietnam Backpackerswhere people usually post their bikes for sale. The average price for a decent Honda Win is around $250 and it was still far away. I was daydreaming almost every day and aimlessly scrolling down the page to see which bike will I, fortunately, get in the near future.
I remember one day was a bit different and kind of special for me! It was Sunday, around lunchtime, and it was hot as hell! (You may think it's just a regular day for Vietnam, but wait!) I've got used to Vietnamese lifestyle, which means I've become a bit lazy, so after the lunchtime, I usually enjoy Siesta time (lying down, drinking tasty coffee and practicing the art of doing nothing.).
It was my time of daydreaming, so as I usually did, I opened the group and started to scroll down. There were nothing new, just awesome bikes with the distant price for me, but I was really enjoying the thoughts of being able to get one of these one day. I was re-reading the post a few times as it sounds like a slap in my face. I just sent the message to Julia and we were talking. She is a pretty positive and open-minded woman who is also an English teacher in Vietnam. I said that I would really love this bike as it was my dream, and she said: "It's yours!". I was puzzled! Literally puzzled! (Still, don't know how to thank you for your kind action!)
There was a catch of course...
It's hard to believe everything is perfect or ideal, so there is always a catch. The catch was that she left Hanoi and she gave the bike to her friend. I immediately sent the message to her friend and we've got in the talk. He was leaving Hanoi the same day and he sent me the message that he would leave the bike in certain location! I've got the pin on the map and the picture where were keys and documentation hidden. The message I've got: "The keys and documentation are hidden below the bricks." If you've ever been to Hanoi, then you probably know it's a city with the population that is almost three times bigger than the population in the whole of Croatia. The traffic is crazy, the streets are narrow and it's easy to get lost. So, I was on the quest to find these bricks in the middle of Hanoi! I haven't thought a second and just accepted the challenge!
1000 Battles in Hanoi
So, I've just hopped to the bus and the ride was supposed to be around 4 hours, but it lasted for almost 6 hours! I haven't prepared myself for anything, so when I arrived in Hanoi, I was greeted by a huge rain! The only piece of clothing I had was tanks and t-shirt. Very smart of me! I arrived at the night time, but I was determined to try to locate the bike, so I went to the location that I've got from Julia's friend.
There was a huge catch!Expand your knowledge: Learn about Vietnamese culture and differences! I didn't know that the bike is somewhere in alleys of Hanoi. It was a huge part of Hanoi with narrow alleys and local shops around. If you've ever found yourself in that situation, then it's the most certain you will get lost many times until you reach your destination, even if you have a GPS.
The thing was that my destination was to find few bricks of mortar and the bike! Of course, I've got the approximate location and not the certain one! Because why to make things easier as it can be more interesting, especially when you're walking around the chaotic streets of Hanoi. I met one local man who tried to help me about the location (he was living around the place) and after an hour of searching, he wasn't able to help me! Imagine the struggle and I was so sorry for the guy as he was feeling so bad because he couldn't help me. (I'm sorry that I've forgotten your name man, but if you'll ever read this piece, thank you so much for amazing help and advice!) It was around 9 pm already and I knew it was my last call to eat something as Vietnamese usually close everything after 9 pm.
I went to a Pho place and ate one of the best Phos in Vietnam. Although, I haven't opened my senses fully as I was consumed with the thoughts that I've got scammed or that I will never able to find the bike. Anyway, after a delicious dinner, I said myself it would be the last try! I did a detailed walk around the alleys one more time and in the corner of my eyes, I spotted the bike! I can't describe how happy I was at that moment!
Seconds later I've found the bricks and keys and documentation secretly stashed there! Just wooow! The catch was the motorbike was a bit broken (lights, and the front tire), so I wasn't so eager to drive it through Hanoi without the lights. I took the Grab to the volunteer house to regain my energy and think of the next steps as I needed to get back to Quynh Luu next day!
Challenges of Getting Bike in Function
I've got some pleasant dreams and got disrupted by a noisy alarm clock that I've set at 6 am. I was lying down on the bed and snoozing for an hour until I've got enough energy to leave my cozy bed. I went to the best Pho place to eat that soup since I was in Hanoi (thanks Bryan for showing me that place!). After that, I headed to the place of crime to check the bike. I couldn't move it as the front tire was stuck and the time was ticking. I went to the nearest coffee place to think about my options and what should I do.
There were a few possible options:
get the bike somehow to the bus station, put it into the bus and leave Hanoi with the bike. The only catch was that I needed some ride that will get me and the bike to the bus station that was 2 km away
go to the mechanic to repair it
just leave the bike
Luckily, like the universe was on my side, there was a local guy beside me, enjoying the morning coffee. I asked him if he knows any English (such a rude question in Hanoi, but I'm so used to a rural life where no one speaks English). I explained him my situation and surprisingly, he was so eager to help me as his words were: "You're a stranger in my land and I want to help the strangers as when I go to your land I believe in the help from locals there. You get what you get."
We drove to the motorbike and he called a mechanic and they pulled the bike away to their shop.
The bike was repaired and while we were waiting, we were smoking and drinking a strong tea in the alleys of Hanoi. This guy was so open-minded and positive and I've made a new friend. The mechanics made the bike functional, but it wasn't fully repaired yet. They said that it will bring me to Quynh Luu with some luck. I did a test ride around and I was sucking so much as Hanoi is crazy with the traffic.
Getting Outside Hanoi Was a Huge Struggle
Alright, so the bike was in a half-functional mode and I decided I will drive the bike back home. I was following the guy and he gave me the instructions on how to get outside the city, but he saw that I was completely lost (scared of the traffic and the weather was sooo hot!) He was so good that, even after spending half of his daytime with me, he showed me how to get on the right road and get outside the city. (So thankful that I met you, Tuan! We will meet again!)
The distance between Hanoi and Quynh Luu is about 250 km, so as being optimistic, I calculated I will make it in 4 hours like a bus.
Oh boy, how wrong I was!
I started a trip at 12 pm and arrived at my hometown at 9 pm - 9 hours of ride on a half-functional bike.
I wasn't aware of the fact that, at that time, the bike was not in a full-function and whenever I went faster than 50 km/h, it got very unstable and dangerous.
A quick stop on the way to Cau Giat in Nghe An.
So, I was driving for 9 hours on a highway on the hottest day I could imagine. I was driving by day, I was driving by night without proper lights, I was driving while being chased by crazy thunderstorm behind me. I've got me and motorbike home and I am alive!
Wait, it's not the end of lucky circumstances
Next day, I've sent the message to Julia with the picture of the motorbike and I asked here where are you now. She sent me the message that they were heading Vinh (the city that is around 60 km away from my hometown). I couldn't believe and shared with her my location, and she said they were passing that town! We set the meeting in my hometown! What a coincidence, right?
We had an amazing talk and time and I met her and two other crazy guys, Tom and Joel. I showed them my home and they met Bryan and Lou, they crazy guys I'm living with! We made a deal that we're going to meet in Vinh to spend a day on the beach together the next day! The next thing I remember was being totally wasted and playing frisbee with amazing people on the stunning beach near Vinh, Cao Lo. The next day, we separated our ways as they were heading to the south and we needed to get back to our hometown.
The bike was named "Daisy the Nightrider", but I simply needed to rename it to PEGLICA! By now, I invested 800k VND and it's one of the fastest and loudest bikes around!
Here are some pictures from PEGLICA around Vietnam! ;) Can't say in the words how thankful I am for everything! Julia, Tom and Joel, thank you so much guys for an amazing experience and hope to be the part of your pack one more time! It was such a pleasure to share the bumpy roads with you guys! Wish you all the best in the future and many crazy experiences!
Antonio is a long-term traveler with a deep passion in exploring off-the-beaten-paths around the world. Currently, he’s living in Da Nang city and when he’s not busy pushing the new content, he enjoys taking his motorbike around Vietnam or Laos. Some of the most remarkable experiences were teaching English in a remote village located in central Laos countryside, Nakai town. Or, living in a rural Nghe An Province while helping a local community with their English. Or, driving with the worst ‘Honda’ Win around the country experiencing daily breakdowns. Or, just read a few stories on our blog to get more information about our journey and adventures.