Vietnam road trip: Saigon to Hanoi on a Honda Dream – Part 2

IN July-August 2010 Jo Lane travelled 1700km from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi on a $300 scooter. This is her story… 

[if you’ve just joined us, you can read Part 1 of the series here]

It was surprisingly difficult to leave Saigon. After a week in the city I had found my favourite bar to watch the World Cup, the best places for smoothies, wonton soup and coffee sua (coffee Vietnamese style with condensed milk) and had befriended a number of locals – a guy who cycled his bike down our alley each day, the owners of the aforementioned food places and the staff, and most of the long term guests at my hotel to mention a few. In other words, it’s a friendly place.

Honda Dream, Vietnam

Beauty, the Honda Dream, (c) Joanne Lane

On my second to last evening I went to the Saigon Saigon Bar in the Caravelle Hotel to toast the purchase of my Honda motorbike, christened “Beauty”, and the road ahead for both of us over the next two weeks on the way to Hanoi. It seemed kind of fitting to hang out here, drinking a Hemingway cocktail in the most enormous flute glass, in the place where war correspondents once hung out.

Open air and sky high on the ninth floor of the Caravelle, the bar is a window over Saigon – no wonder correspondents boasted they could cover the action from the rooptop bar. Now in peacetime it’s great for a bird’s eye view of some of my favourite buildings like Notre Dame, the Municipal Theatre and the Hotel de Ville.

On my last visit to Ho Chi Minh City I spent my final night at the police station making a statement about an attempted motorbike mugging, which fortunately I’d come out of okay. So I was pleased that my last evening this time was spent in my place of choice – a local hangout watching the Brazil vs Netherlands game. I was a few minutes late arriving and as I walked down the streets and alleyways, the sound of the vuvuzela beamed from living rooms, shops, restaurants and bars. It seemed most of Ho Chi Minh City was watching.

“Hello Miss” the girls greeted me delightedly when I’d arrived – I’d become a regular – telling me they’d bet two million dong (US$100) on Brazil to win. Most of the crowd must have made similar bets because the first goal from Brazil brought much applause, while the remaining two to the Netherlands drew groans and sighs. Betting on the World Cup here is huge, in fact my friend on the bicycle told me it was a good time to buy a motorbike as a lot of people were needing quick cash from betting losses and selling off assets to pay debts.


World Cup action in Ho Chi Minh City, (c) Joanne Lane

I’d met a tour guide “Jimmy” earlier in the day who carried around with him photographs of the Socceroos and also Cate Blanchett and even Julia Gillard our new Prime Minister. He’d produced them when he heard I was Australian, there was no other intention than to let me know how much he liked Australia. A fellow Australian man on his tour, who’d been out at the Cu Chi Tunnels with him for the day and had friends who fought in the Vietnam War, commented on how friendly people were despite Australian involvement. He said in his week in the city he had never experienced any animosity, and tour guide “Jimmy” was pretty much the face of all that.

I could think of plenty of faces similar to Jimmy’s that I’d met and it was them, more than the historic sights, glorious monuments and whispers of Saigon’s past that I would take with me this time. That and Beauty, waiting patiently at the guesthouse for action on the morrow…

Read the next installment of Jo’s trip here