Vietnam Motorcycle Diaries

Vietnam baby, it’s a great, great place.  Recently I had the pleasure to write an article for about my time riding a Honda Win motorcycle around southern Vietnam, which you should most definitely check out here.

Vietnam is too big for one article though, it’s too big for one book even. With that in mind let’s take a ride through Shameless Traveler’s Vietnam Motorcycle Diaries to get the goods that didn’t make the cut for the article. For starts check out this crazy video my buddy Mark made of our ride around the country:

Vietnam 2012 from Mark Beechy on Vimeo.

First thing that you should know, which I learned in Saigon, if it’s 12:30 at night and you see lawn chairs on a street corner and if you sit in those lawn chairs hookers will fly out of the bushes like spider monkeys and go get you beers, cigarettes, or any other item that can be attained at a convenience store for a small fee and the time it takes you to haggle with them.  


This sounds ridiculous, possibly miraculous, but there is a strange dancing energy that flows through Saigon, a wildness in the streets that sometimes can only truly be appreciated by sitting in an old aluminum and nylon strapped chair with a cheap ass pungent smoke dangling from your lip as thousands of locals on motorbikes fly by with the world on their bikes.

I mean it, the world, they have everything from entire washing machines, huge panes of glass, and I’ve even seen families of five or six on a single bike. I saw a guy with four slaughtered pigs harnessed on the back of his bike bobbing and weaving through traffic like a Vietnamese Bill the butcher.

When I did finally decide it was time to move on from my particular street corner I then had to cross the street. A mindless act where I’m from, but a battle of odds in a Vietnamese city.  There are thousands of motorbikes zooming endlessly across the street, like an impassable roaring cement Mississippi River. However, there is a trick the locals taught me that sounds like suicide, but it is the only way.  You simply walk at a normal pace directly into traffic straight across the street.  You don’t look right or left, you definitely don’t rush or go slow, you move at a natural pace and keep your eyes on the prize. You just walk into traffic. The drivers anticipate this natural pace and they correct their heading to avoid you like a school of fish weaving past on both sides.  It’s like the leap of faith Indiana Jones takes in The Last Crusade, except instead of the Holy Grail waiting for you on the other side there is pho, which is a close second.

These guys were really excited to serve us pho.
These guys were really excited to serve us pho.

Pho is a magical noodle soup and Vietnam’s numero uno street food.  It will be your lifeblood, your hangover counter, your re-hydrator, and your constant assurance of deliciousness everlasting while you are in Vietnam.  You can find Pho anywhere, and since luckily the Vietnamese language is written using the same alphabet as the English language you just have to keep your eyelids peeled for signs with those three magical letters P-H-O.  You can find pho anywhere in Vietnam, in the city, the jungle, the fields, small towns, the beach, pretty much anywhere you can think of and you can count on it to be cheap and wildly delicious.

In the case that your pho does provide you with a wicked case of the chocolate milkshake butts fear not, all medicine in Vietnam is sold over the counter.  Whilst enjoying a Jack Fruit fritter the food poisoning gremlin struck, which reminds me, don’t get drinks with ice in them in Vietnam, the water in the ice is usually not super clean and I believe that was this gremlin’s origin.  Anyways with the high jumps and the low squats I made my way to the local pharmacist.  Neither of us spoke more than two or three of the same words, but after a very descriptive game of charades he knew the pain I was feeling and prescribed me a Ziploc baggy of pills the size of my fist. I mostly had no idea what those pills were, but Mount Poo-vius didn’t care so down the hatch they went.  A few days later I was back to my old un-clenched self.

Doc said this should cure..pretty much anything.
Doc said this should cure..pretty much anything.

With my stomach intact and my belly full of pho and possibly bahn mi (Vietnamese dream sandwiches) my buddy and local yokel Jeremy took me to the local beer hall to enjoy some Bia Hoi.   Bia hoi is Vietnam’s version of locally fresh brewed beer, and by fresh I mean made that morning and delivered in plastic jugs to the street corner or local beer house you’re drinking at the same day. It is not monitored by any health agency or organization, but at 20 cents a beer sometimes you just gotta say who gives a shit. Plus the alcohol will kill the germs right? Right!?! The best part of slamming bia hoi’s is that you can slam many jugs of them (roughly 3% alcohol) and do so in the company of the locals.  We never saw many other foreigners in the beer house Jeremy took us to and it was kind of awesome because the locals became more interested in mingling and housing brews with us. I love me some international diplomacy. Maybe NATO needs bia hoi.

Bia Hoi Buddies.
Bia Hoi Buddies.
Which brings me to the people, the beautiful, friendly, helpful, kind people of Vietnam.  This can be said for many countries, but Vietnam has great and welcoming people and not just people that are taking your money, but strangers on the side of the road drawing you maps because you got lost on your motorcycle. Or locals buying you a jug of bia hoi because they want you to feel welcome. Maybe you forgot your giant 3 foot tall pink teddy bear that was strapped to the back of your motorcycle that your buddy bought for his girlfriend, but while you are out getting dinner it starts raining and the family that runs your hotel sprint out into the pouring rain to save said giant pink teddy bear and include it in their poker game under the cover of a roof (see below).  Anyway, anyhow you cut it the Vietnamese people are pretty damn cool. Until the next time I write about a million more reasons I love Vietnam, walk on travelers.
Our pink teddy bear despite being saved from the rain took this nice ladies down in the poker game with a full house.
Our pink teddy bear despite being saved from the rain took these nice ladies down in the poker game with a full house.

Next entry: Five Reasons Tibet will Change Your Life

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  • Steven

    Posted on February 03, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Looks like a great trip. Fortunately there are many possible backroad adventures awaiting in Vietnam. Nice shots of the local life

    • Shameless Traveler

      Posted on February 03, 2014 at 7:06 pm

      It was an amazing trip indeed, but not the last as you wisely observed there are endless back road adventures still waiting to be conquered.

  • Will

    Posted on March 04, 2014 at 5:16 am

    Haha.  Great video and you are correct about walking into traffic slowly.  The key is to be predictable so a slow and steady pace is great advice.

    Motorbikes are THE way to go - just watch out for “cong an.”  wink

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