Navigating a crowded Saigon market on a motorbike: not for the faint of heart.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail follows the infamous supply route created by the North Vietnamese guerrillas during the Vietnam War.
Streets of Hanoi.
We began our motorbike journey from Hanoi (left), headed toward the south to Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon through rice paddies, green jungles and white beaches. On this route one is frequently reminded of Vietnam’s history of French colonization and war.
As we traveled between the rural areas and charming towns and cities, we were greeted by welcoming Vietnamese (and sometimes local water buffaloes), which we wouldn't have experienced had we been on bus or airplane. Friendly Vietnamese children with smiling faces waved as they walked to/from school on the village roads, while farmers tended rice crops and farm animals grazed on the roadside.
Most of our nights were spent at homestays with hosts who made us feel at home in a country where few people speak English. There are Vietnamese homestay websites that offer accommodations at a fraction of the cost of hotels/motels, and you’ll experience Vietnamese culture in an entirely different way.
The trip from the rugged jungle mountains of the North through the Central Highlands to the coast of the south into Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon takes about two weeks, including a stop at the beach. Sometimes we didn’t see a single person for hours as we drove through the countryside.
Some of the highlights of the trip were the location of the infamous battle of the Vietnam War, Dong Ap Bia (Hamburger Hill) and the historical city of Huế with its Imperial Citadel complex of temples along with abandoned American military tanks languishing on the property.
We also spent a day on the Mekong Delta to see the Cai Rang floating market, where hundreds of small boats compete for space on the water to sell their goods.
Hanoi bike shop.
There are several motorbike shops in Hanoi owned/operated by English-speaking expats, including Cuong's Motorbike Adventure and Rent A Bike Hanoi. Bikes run $10-20 a day per bike, and you can pay a shipping fee of $60 per bike to have it shipped from Saigon back to Hanoi once you arrive in Saigon. Most shops only rent Honda bikes, which are considered more dependable.
Renting a motorbike in Vietnam is relatively easy – provided you have experience riding motorbikes and select a reputable rental company. Gas in Vietnam is cheap, so this is a low-cost way to immerse yourself in this beautiful country with such friendly people.
We began our trip in Hanoi in late summer (August) and headed south as the weather started to cool down. If you like hot, humid weather, you could start in the south/Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon and head north to Hanoi as the weather gets cooler.
Vietnam is a magical place to travel on a bike, but it does have hazards; it's for experienced drivers only. Traffic can be chaotic. Once you learn the road rules, however, it’s easy to navigate around the country. Western highway laws and rules don't apply in Vietnam, so be sure to acquaint yourself before the trip.