I don’t remember exactly where the plans to ride a motorbike through Vietnam formed, but before the trip I was already planning on doing some motorcycle riding overseas. I’d taken a motorcycle course in California, knowing that learning for the first time in a place like Thailand or Vietnam would probably not be the best idea from a safety standpoint.
Needless to say, I wanted to be careful. Riding a motorcycle was also inevitable to some extent based on the literature I’d read before the trip, notably Jupiter’s Travels, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Motorcycle Diaries. Jupiter’s Travels was the most influential. It’s an autobiographical account from journalist Ted Simon, who rode a motorcycle around the world over the course of four years. The book is a great mixture of storytelling and philosophy, and there is an emphasis on the motorcycle being the ultimate tool for getting off the beaten path to really see a country.
“To go around the world these days you can pay a lot of money to go around it nonstop in less than 48 hours. But to know it, to smell it, and to feel it between your toes you have to crawl. There is no other way. Not flying, not floating. You have to stay on the ground and swallow the bugs as you go. Then the world is immense. The best you can do is trace your long, infinitesimally small line through the dust and extrapolate. I drew the longest line I possibly could that could still be seen as following a course.” – Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels
After my ride from Chiang Mai to Pai in Thailand, I felt comfortable with the idea of riding a motorcycle long-distance. I’d done a bit of research before the trip in preparation, and I made the decision to rent a motorcycle in Ho Chi Minh and return the bike in Hanoi. Many backpackers also buy bikes and try to sell them back in their final destination, but these bikes are often unreliable, and I knew it would add some stress on the end of the trip that I didn’t want to deal with. More than anything, the rental was insurance against the fact that something catastrophic would happen to my engine along the way, and I met many backpackers in my travels who had their engines go to shit in the middle of nowhere. That was something I was trying to avoid, especially as a solo traveler.
I rented from a great company called Style motorbikes, and it ended up being a good decision. Style have shops in HCM and in Hanoi, making the one-way rental easy to do.
The three days I spent in HCM were a bit of a blur trying to get everything squared away with the motorbike and getting all the gear I needed for the trip, but I managed to eat several bowls of Pho along the way.
Before long, though, I had the motorcycle ready to go. On the morning of August 4th I headed off, nervous and excited, for the long ride ahead.