My Motorbike Is Not For Sale…Yet! (Part 2)
My first long trip on the motorbike was supposed to be a short 2.5 hour trip to the beach city of Vung Tau. After getting comfortable driving around the city on my bike I was ready to pack up and leave the smoggy polluted air of Ho Chi Minh City. I was headed for clean air and a few days stay at the beach. After I packed up my bike, completely sweated through my clothes and gave a last handshake to my bruv, Kevin, I was on the way.
“Woah, holy moly” was my first thought as I pulled the bike out of the driveway. The bike doesn’t have the same balance after it’s been packed full of all my stuff. I knew it would be an adjustment, but after watching all the Vietnamese drive around the city carrying what looked like an entire business or farm on their bike I figured it was a breeze. It took me a few minutes and one really wobbly U-turn in the middle of a busy road, but in no time I was feeling like I didn’t have 60lbs. of gear strapped to the back.
I was off and smiling from ear to ear feeling like a free man. I had completed a 150 hour TESOL class, bought a new bike and was finally following my dream of driving through Vietnam on a motorbike with a need to be nowhere soon. The excitement was like Christmas morning for an 8-year-old kid after Santa left a bunch of presents under the tree.
I’m driving along and smiling with a feeling of freedom in a Communist country like I’ve never felt in 33 years of living in the Land of the Free. I’ve got Google Maps leading the way on my journey to the beach. The sun is shining in front of me and there are some potential rain clouds blowing in behind me. I’m doing my best to keep ahead of the rain and it seems to be blowing a different direction then I’m headed. The views are probably boring for anyone from Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s my first time seeing everything and I can’t get enough. I’m cruising along the highway outside of the city when Google Maps tells me to exit and get on another highway after taking a roundabout.
I circle the roundabout and head for the entrance ramp when all of a sudden I see a “no motorbike” sign. I’ve witnessed a thousand times a day the lack of traffic rules in Vietnam for motorbike drivers, but I’m noticing no other motorbike drivers are headed that direction and I’m not about to be the one guy who breaks the rule everyone else isn’t breaking. There is a time to break the rules. This is not that time and I don’t feel like paying a “ticket” or becoming one with the bumper of a semi-truck.
I drove up and down a one lane dirt road town looking for someone who could speak English without any avail. I’m going to be honest at this point my brain decided to think some funny things. Like “why the hell did I think it would be a good idea to buy a motorbike and drive it through a country I wasn’t familiar with and could not speak the language?” I took a couple of deep breaths and gathered myself. Then the lessons from my childhood kicked in from when my dad made me navigate road trips with an atlas before technology changed the way we navigated. I’m zooming in and out on my iPhone looking at all the roads and potential ways to go. I decided I have two options. 1) Go towards a road that disappears into a river and reappears on the other side, while hoping there is a ferry there to carry my bike and me across. 2) Drive the longer way up to Bien Hoa and follow the road down from there to Vung Tau.
It’s getting to be the middle of the afternoon and I decide to play it safe and take the longer route to Bien Hoa where I can stop at a coffee shop, cool down and recharge my phone. Of course, when I get to the coffee shop the power is out so there is no cooling down. I’ve been told that it is the end of dry season and the government requires certain areas to go without power for a few hours occasionally to conserve energy. I don’t know if it is true, but it really doesn’t matter at this point. Thankfully, my laptop was charged and I was able to get my cell phone back to 75% while I cooled down sipping an iced Coca-Cola.
I was back on the road, but the rain was starting so I had to put on my rain jacket that fits ever so nicely over my bike and handle bars to keep my hands dry. The rain didn’t last much longer than 5 minutes thankfully. I stopped for gas and put the rain jacket back under the bungee cords. The road to Vung Tau was less than 100km away and I was starting to get used to the feeling of a semi-truck barreling past that side of my head. The sun was setting as I arrived at my place for the night, but my smile was still ear to ear. I just completed my first solo road trip in 5.5 hours. Not bad for what was only supposed to be 2.5 hours!