by Anna Idler
Our guide for the day, Hoang, delivered this affirmation this to Rachel as he strapped her helmet on and moved on to “inspect” the headgear I’d chosen. Not very comforting of an assessment. But we were too excited at the moment to care.
We were in Hoi An, Vietnam, preparing to drive motorbikes six hours to Hue, our next stop. To practice before we headed out of Hoi An, Rach and I drove our allotted bikes up the block and back while our guide watched. We jerked our bikes forward, zig-zagging along, and had a couple near-collisions (curbs and people).
We were deemed ready.
Rachel’s friend from home Ryan, who is visiting us, was on the back of the guide’s bike; Rachel and I had our own. We had headbands over our mouths and noses to block debris and rain, and sunglasses on; the guide gave me his to borrow because mine were, of course, lost. Hoang pulled out in front and revved his motorcycle into gear, motioned for us to do the same.
We turned our keys and lurched forward, still not used to the feel of the bikes yet but had zero time to dwell on it. Vietnam throws you in.
Riding here is messy. There are too many places to look, so much going on. Stray dogs dart through traffic like it’s a game. Water buffalo trot along the dirt backstreets. Other riders fly past you, more skilled than I will ever be on a bike. At one point next to me two young girls were driving home from school, the passenger in the back nonchalantly stuffing her homework papers into her backpack as they cruised down the highway.
There are little rules here; riders must drive on the right side, but if you’re on the shoulder of the street, you really can go any way you want. Horns blare all day long; riders use them to notify others when they’re passing you.
“In the States, horn means you are angry!” Hoang explained, chuckling. “Horns here save your life.”
We drove through tiny towns alongside lagoons, fisherman dragging their long boats into the marshes. Our guide told us that fishermen leave the shores at 7:00 p.m. and occasionally don’t come in until two or three in the morning. I guess it takes that long to get something worth bringing back.
Rachel, Ryan, Hoang and I drove up Đèo Hải Vân – The Pass of Ocean Mist – a mountainous road in Central Vietnam. Hoang showed us the ruins of an American base camp the troops set up during the Vietnam War, “so they could see everything,” he said.
We continued on and swam at a hidden pool called Elephant Springs a few miles off the main road. We avoided pot holes and gunned it up steep hills to get there. The Spring were stunning: clear deep pools of fresh water, mini waterfalls you can slide down, and daring locals diving off the rocks surrounding it.
The true test came during the last half an hour of the journey, when it was dark and traffic was heavy. Hoang and Ryan sped ahead while Rachel and I tried to keep up. Everything blurred in the light rain. We switched our lights on and ditched our sunglasses, desperately trying to see. We were now being given a real taste of the Vietnam weekend commute.
A million horn beeps later, we arrived in Hue safely.
My friend asked me why we were motorbiking to Hue from Hoi An. I didn’t really know why, only that it seemed like the coolest way to get there. This trip has had that theme: do it for the experience. It may not be the most practical, or the safest, but it will test your limits and leave you with the best memories.
“Good enough” reasoning for me.
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26 year-old Anna Idler lives in Montgomery County, PA and is a freelance writer for Montco Happening. To learn more about her travels, check out her website Outlaw Summer.