With the old town looking like a film set (which it was for two nights whilst I was there) for some kind of romantic movie that requires faded colonial grandeur, I found it to be a very charming and r...
With the old town looking like a film set (which it was for two nights whilst I was there) for some kind of romantic movie that requires faded colonial grandeur, I found it to be a very charming and relaxing place and welcome break from the hustle and bustle of some of Vietnams other cities/towns I visited. But it was in the surrounding countryside that I had my best experience of my trip, a motorbike day trip with ‘Hoi An Adventures’.
I think the term ‘Adventure’ is often used a bit too often to describe trips or in this case part of the company name and ethos. I am happy to report that with these guys it definitely lived up to its description.
With a few years road riding in the UK under my belt and wanting to head off road again after a disastrous day trip several years ago in Ibiza head butting stone brick walls and destroying bits of bike; I googled motorbike trips in Vietnam and found lots of positive reviews pointing in the direction of Hoi An adventures. With the time I had in town it would have to be a day trip, so I plumped for the ‘Off-road adventure’.
Meeting my bike for the day for first time was a bit of a shock. After the first practice ride I soon realised the speedometer didn’t work and neither did the odometer. But you can live without those. It was the lack of bite of the front break, and whimper of the horn that got me nervous. Anyone that has ridden in Vietnam will know how important the horn is if you want to make it through the day on the road. The puddle of oil that had formed under the bike was also a bit of worry, but I was told by our guide of the day and company owner Mark (an Aussie ex pat, born in an outback barn, stubble stronger than sand paper kind of guy), that it was when the oil stopped leaking that I should worry! The bike itself was called a Minsk; you might remember it if you have seen it as the one that Richard Hammond rode in the Top Gear Christmas special to Vietnam. The Minsk is a two stroke 125cc pre World War 2 design made in the former USSR, designed to be the work horse utility vehicle, go anywhere, carry anything, fix easily kind of bike. My model left the show room at the end of the 90’s and I’m sure has covered hundreds of thousands of miles, but with the faulty odometer no body knew.
It was me and another Aussie tourist that was on the tour that day, I think his name was Hugh, well that’s what I will call him. Hugh was a slightly rounder and older ‘born in an outback barn, stubble stronger than sand paper kind of guy’ than Mark. But being with the two of them and having fewer near death motorbike experiences and oozing less testosterone I could feel my man bits slowly recoiling inside myself.
We headed out of town about 9 am. Within minutes we were off road, well riding over a local villages football pitch! After half an hour we had our first real challenge. A 50 meter bridge crossing...A 50 meter bridge crossing that happened to be feet wide and made of floating tree stumps lashed together! The key to the crossing was to just keep going and pray you didn’t stall. The anxiety caused by the notion of having to kick start that bike on a moving bridge was enough to help focus my mind and get me across.
The next few hours were spent crossing over tarmac roads, heading down dusty dirt tracks and along the narrow man made ridges between rice fields. The sun soon reached its peak intensity at what would have been around 40 something degrees Celsius with a 90% humidity. I was sure I was the only Englishman out in the mid day sun along with the mad dog that started chasing Marks back wheel for several minutes!
Despite its faults including the oil slick that even BP would be ashamed of, caused every time we stopped, my bike was a true warrior. It was wounded but still able to haul its mechanical torso up every incline I threw at it. That was more than can be said for Hugh’s. His green beast was fading. After much electrical jiggery- pokery by Mark and getting enough parts out of his panniers to build a whole bike, it turned out that the offending culprit was a knackered spark plug.
I was following Mark most of the time with Hugh behind me. I’m glad I wasn’t following too close though as at one point I spotted Mark in the distance heading down a slope, well the bike heading down minus Mark. Riding up to help him I broke the cardinal sin when you arrive at an accident I didn’t assess the scene. Going in all guns blazing to save the day I ended up myself getting stuck on the slope trying to stop my own bike sliding down and crashing into Mark’s. After a few minutes of digging my heels in and grabbing the puny front brake with all my life I was soon rescued by Mark!
The lunch stop at a small local road side restaurant (a tin roofed shack) was a welcome break. A few litres of water and bowl of noodles later we were ready to go again. It was only after trying to stand up again that I realised how knackered and dehydrated I was as nausea and light headedness’ set in, and we were only half way through the trip. It was also at this stage that I realised how dusty I was as I wiped my face with a complementary wet wipe. My trousers were also looking a state covered in petrol that leaked from the poor fitting cap and oil from the engine. The used wet wipe also came in handy to clean the oil that had been sprayed onto my rear wheel.
After lunch we headed back into the countryside again, at one point coming across an abandoned airfield used by the Americans in the war. The tarmac runway is now a little overgrown with weeds, but this didn’t stop me trying to break the land speed record for a Minsk.
The toughest section of off road was soon to come, a road that seemed to have been made of mini boulders, like a cobbled street made of uneven rocks. To save my spine from being shortened from all the pounding the bike was taking, It was strictly standing up riding on this section. Getting to the end of this section was a great relief; I remember getting off the bike and just sitting down for 10 minutes panting like a thirsty dog.
From here on in the trip got easier as we travelled on more tarred roads for longer sections. However a road about to be tarred did prove a little tricky as the loose stones that were laid in preparation caused the rear wheel to slide around giving me a few heart in mouth moments. As we neared Hoi An again we passed through tiny villages. On hearing us coming all the kids in the village would run out to the side of the track to wave, and some brave ones stuck their hands out for high fives on the move which always brought a smile to my face.
Finally around 5pm we got back to the workshop where we started, parked the bikes up and Mark being the typical Aussie got some cold beers from the fridge. We all told stories about our own mini dramas we had had that day, and the beer tasted even better knowing that I had just completed my own mini Paris to Dakar. It had been one of the most physically and mentally demanding days of my life, but also one of the best.