Vietnam road trip: Saigon to Hanoi on a Honda Dream – Part 3

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]

SOMEONE told me that traffic in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) only really stops for two hours each day. I hadn’t really believed them until I attempted to leave at 5.45am, and discovered National Highway 1 was already pumping. It seemed about half the population of the city was heading to Bien Hoa with me. Of course, that’s a gross exaggeration but it took me almost two hours to travel the first 20km. I had no plan to travel much on Highway 1 – despite the fact it linked HCMC and my destination Hanoi – and this first experience had already proven my decision wise.

Traffic in HCMC, (c) Joanne Lane,

At every intersection there had been a bottleneck and even when we moved, it was slow. I soon worked out the most dangerous vehicles weren’t the largest on the road – the trucks and long-distance buses kept in the fast left lane and tooted their passing. Cars similarly weren’t too bad and largely kept out of the motorbike lane. But the small local buses were a horror, diving in and out between us without any warning. My fellow motorbikers were exceptional apart from one group who came through on the largest bikes I’d seen so far in Vietnam. They were dressed in full leathers and weaved in and out of traffic like it was a dodgem car alley, almost causing several accidents.

When I had packed up Beauty, my Honda Dream, that morning at the hotel, my guesthouse manager Qu’yen came out into the gloomy alley to give me a handful of bananas and a spare raincoat. She asked when I was planning to come back to Saigon in a tone that displayed her concerns, but of the pending trip she said nothing. I knew she thought I was a little mad. I ate those bananas to celebrate when I turned off Highway 1 towards Vung Tau. Thanks Qu’yen.

On Highway 51 the traffic eased and the scenery improved. Shops, bus stops and industry gave way to paddy fields, buffaloes, cows, small houses and villages. I went through places called Long Dien, Binh Chau and La Gi. Some were difficult to find a way out of and I did numerous trackbacks.

The first green fields I see outside HCMC, (c) Joanne Lane,

I stopped frequently – to photograph women sowing rice to which they gave me a peace sign and their men called me over to drink something that looked like rice wine. I stopped to watch men driving buffalo along the roadside or herds of goats in the fields. I stopped to watch fishermen mending nets and stocking their boats in places like La Gi and Phan Thiet, famous for its fish sauce. And I stopped to see a dead man, charred black from the sun and still wearing a motorbike helmet.

Mending fishing nets, La Gi, (c) Joanne Lane,

I’d come across a group of some 50-60 people on bicycles, motorbikes, carts and cars all stopped by the side of the road. They were trekking in and out of the bushes so I watched them for awhile until curiosity got the better of me. I got off my bike and headed in about 20 metres through the scrub. I wished I hadn’t – the poor man must have been there some time. Hopefully it wasn’t a bad omen.

By lunch time I was ravenous and ended up in a town that didn’t seem to have a single bit of food on offer. There were several cafes and shops selling biscuits and chips but what I wanted was a hearty bowl of noodle soup. The next town was 30km down the road, so eventually I pulled in at one cafe and showed the girls working there the phrase “I am starving” in my phrasebook. Moments later I was feasting with them on pork, rice and vegetables. They refused to take any money, let me sleep in a hammock in the heat of the day and waved me off with smiles when I left.

It was almost sundown when I got to Mui Ne but I was glad I’d pushed through the whole 268km – although this is a guestimate as one of the things I’d discovered about Beauty today was her odometer didn’t work. Stretches of golden sands awaited me. Beauty was put to bed – she’d rolled on with no hiccups, her first real challenge and she’d shone through.

Beauty arrives at the coast, (c) Joanne Lane,


Read the next installment of Jo’s trip here