Warning: The following material may cause extreme excitement and enthusiasm and could result in the reader jumping on the next flight to Hanoi. Read on at own risk.
A Explore Indochina tour is not for everybody. If you tend to spend your time locked in your house, curtains drawn, sitting in a corner contemplating whether to risk stepping foot outside the front door today or not, stay where you are. If, on the off chance, you are not like this then book yourself on a Motorbiking Vietnam tour as soon as possible. Waste not a second longer. Even if you’ve never sat on a motorbike before (like me) you can learn, and afterwards you will thank yourself for having the foresight to do something so unique and wonderful. Expect to meet new people, learn about other cultures, travel through breathtaking scenery, have heaps of fun and generally experience life to the fullest. Come prepared with a good sense of humour, a relaxed attitude and a hunger for discovery.
One morning, a lifetime ago (okay, actually about 4 weeks ago), I awoke and flicked through a few pages of my guidebook. We were going to be flying into Hanoi shortly and I had no idea what my partner Sean and I would spend our time doing during 18 days in Vietnam. As I read about Hanoi I rediscovered a piece on motorcycling tours. It suddenly struck me that this was the ultimate way to see some of the country and I wanted to do it. The rest, as they say, is history. Our tour (the first one) was for 7 days through the North East of Vietnam. It took us through some of the most beautiful rural and mountain scenery we have encountered anywhere in the world. Remember the saying that size isn’t everything because although these may not be the largest mountains in the country they are certainly of great beauty. And the fact that the guide books rave about the NW but have relatively limited information about the NE tells you one very important thing – most tourists never get to experience the NE (but that is bound to change!).
The NE is a region of incredible beauty, winding deserted roads and friendly smiling faces but unless you are fluent in the language and customs of the Vietnamese people, you will miss out on so much more than this. Our guide enabled us to speak with and learn about the lives of the people who make this region come alive. The first fuel stop we made along the highway out of Hanoi is a perfect example of this – we were invited in to drink tea with the owner. We found out that the owner had spent time in East Germany and Czechoslovakia some years ago for work. We learnt how to say how old we are and where we are from in Vietnamese. We discovered the ritual of tea drinking and the popularity of the thuoc lau pipe. All of this and more from one fuel stop!
The experiences continued. I am not going to tell you about the specifics of our trip because they are Sean’s and my memories and the experiences we shared are not going to mean as much to anyone else. Instead, I will tell you what a typical day on a Explore Indochina tour entails. Wake for a hearty breakfast of delicious beef noodle soup or scrumptious bread and eggs with coffee in preparation for the day’s riding. Saddle up the bikes and set off on any number of different types of road surfaces (spanning all levels of ability). Stop for a cool drink along the way and chat with the shop owner and the locals who gather around. Admire the beautiful scenery. Dodge cyclists, trucks, dogs, people, potholes, puddles and the odd buffalo. Enjoy lunch in a town or a great picnic in a scenic location. Maybe stop for a swim or a walk. Take a tea break and talk with more people. Go crazy with the camera. Pull into a town for the evening and stay in the most comfortable lodgings available. Relax with a bia hoi (locally brewed fresh beer). Get cleaned up. Head out for dinner and enjoy excellent country food and learn about ruou (rice wine) and its cultural significance (by drinking copious amounts of it). Hit the sack and sleep like a baby until the morning when you get to do it all over again!
Suffice to say I cried when our tour ended (I very rarely cry about anything) and only 3 days later we set off with another tour to the North West with two American guys. We were not disappointed. The NW is also remarkable, full of greenery, interesting villages and people, rivers and waterfalls. My newfound ability on a motorbike meant we were able to tackle some more challenging roads and conditions. I can now say I have ridden through/over/on/in bitumen, dirt, gravel, rock, water, mud, grass, road works, suspension bridges made of bamboo and more under all manner of conditions. Whether you are an experienced rider looking for a challenge or a novice like I was, these guys know the right roads/paths/tracks for you to make the most out of your trip. If you are looking for a unique experience within an extraordinary country travelling just like the locals on a Minsk motorcycle, with a fluent guide (and most excellent companion) who will take care of everything, and you are ready to have the time of your life – this is for you! If not, stay in your corner….
Michelle and Sean from Australia