Some friends of mine travelled to Vietnam just before us and recommended doing an Easy Rider Tour. It involves hopping on the back of a motorbike with all your luggage and touring for a few days. I would love to get my motorbike licence and do some travelling by bike, but as I don’t have a licence or a bike this was a good easy option. We just had to turn up and let someone else do all the work. Easy Riders are popular in Vietnam. If you are travelling around for a while you will almost certainly be approached by someone asking you to do their tour. There are a few companies called Easy Riders. I am sure one of them is the original one, but it can be confusing, so if you find or are recommended one you like, I’d go with them. Given our time restrictions we decided to pre-book our tour from the UK. We agreed to meet in Dalat and travel for three days to Ho Chi Minh.
We met Jean and Tu at the Minh Tam cafe in Da Lat. They were to be our friends and guides for the next three days. We started with introductions and a Vietnamese breakfast of noodle soup with prawns and quails eggs and green tea. We strapped in our luggage and jumped on the back of their bikes heading for Ho Chi Minh. For the next three days we travelled through the countryside and never saw another tourist. We were in their hands with everything we saw, where we ate and slept. We rode up hills and down winding roads past vegetable fields, flower farms, green tea fields, through forest and tropical jungle. We visited Pagodas and temples. They told us that Vietnamese people can be both Buddhist and worship their ancestors. Temples are for ancestors and Pagodas for Gods. We stopped at a couple of waterfalls: Elephant falls which was a tall narrow waterfall that we scrambled to see and a man-made waterfall with a huge statue of Mary with incense offerings in front of her.
We visited peoples homes and businesses. A couple who made grass brooms, a silk factory, wooden statues made from tree stumps, barrel drums and a tea shop where we tried jasmine, lotus and artichoke tea. We stopped at a basket making shop, incense stick factory, a home with rice papers drying outside, a silk factory and charcoal makers with huge igloo shaped ovens. A Cashew nut factory, latex trees, Bonsai pots and a Funeral shop.
We rode through rice paddies, past roadside stalls selling pieces of meat with fur still on and past large groups of children on the backs of trucks for the mid-autumn festival. We nearly got stuck in some really muddy roads. We had to get off the bikes and let Jean and Tu skilfully navigate the mud. We visited a hill tribe with an old lady who stretched her ears with bamboo and lived in a small house provided by the state with her family of about ten. We sat next to a table of buddhist nuns with shaved heads, passed groups of children running, shouting hello and graceful students on bicycles in their uniforms: long white silk trousers and tops with high pony-tails. We visited a huge war memorial and the Cu Chi Tunnels.
We have stayed in some grotty hotels on our travels and were quite nervous about this trip, but the accommodation was good. We stayed at bike friendly hotels where we rode our bikes straight into the reception garage area. The rooms were all clean and comfortable.
The food was good and like nothing we’d had on our trip so far. We stopped at roadside stalls and bars with chickens wandering around pecking at the ground. Village cafes where everyone stared at us and a roadside cafe with hammocks and karaoke in the middle of the day. Places we almost definitely would not have stopped on our own but where we had the best food of the trip. Jean and Tu always ordered for us to get us to try different local foods. We had a lunch spread of boiled chicken, pork slices, stir fry, spring rolls, fried tofu, spinach soup, pork with an amazing dip of salt, pepper, lime and chilli and longanberries for pudding. Thick dark Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. Rice paper wraps (summer rolls) with mixed salad and mint leaves, carrots, cucumber, onion, star fruit, shish-kebab style sticks and a chilli sauce and chopped peanuts to dip our wraps into. A fresh, vibrant flavour explosion. We had breakfast looking out at a lake with men standing in the water fishing with their hands and buckets. BBQ steak, salad, mint, star fruit and a chilli, salt and lime dip. Roadside beers. Fresh mielies. Tapioca dipped in sugar, salt and nuts. Banana leaf tea. And the best breakfast I’ve ever had, a slow cooked beef stew and baguette. The stew came out of a huge pot that had been cooking over a fire for hours.
As we got closer Ho Chi Minh we knew we were ending the end of the trip. We saw and heard more and more bikes and scooters until it was actually crazier than Hanoi and we were right in the middle of it! Farewell to the peaceful Vietnamese countryside and back to the consistent sound of hooting. Jean and Tu dropped us off at our guesthouse and we said our goodbyes. It was an amazing experience that I would highly recommend if you go to Vietnam!
Last Stop: Hoi An
Next Stop: Ho Chi Minh