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My route North - Southern Section

I’ve always liked adventure and exploring, so the prospect of ‘doing’ Vietnam on a bike was pretty exciting! Saigon, was incredible but my feet were getting itchy and I hadn’t come to Vietnam just to set up a new life in the first place I’d landed. I started looking at the map and plotting a route when I realised Saigon wasn’t the ideal place to start – there’s a whole swathe of country below it and a little island pretty close to Cambodia, okay, I gotta go South first!

The Mekong Delta sounded cool and the floating market in Can Tho also. It wasn’t! The delta was just brown muddy rivers, lined with greens. Reminded me of a childhood trip on a canal barge on the Norfolk broads – boring! Ahh well, onwards to Can Tho, a kinda cute, sleepy, fishing town feel, pretty small with a few elderly expats, sat drinking their time away by the river. The boat hawkers were pretty persistent…I eventually cracked and let one of them take me out for a few hours, like 20 bucks or so, it was okay, the water was less brown and the breeze on the boat was nice. Alas, the scenery was pretty dull and repetitive, I was left a little deflated. Well, at least the floating market in the morning is gonna be incredible! Oh dear, oh dear, this was an epic disappointment. I’d done the one in Bangkok which was so so cool. This, however, was horrendous; dirty, grotty and dank. A random collection of floating convenience stores selling shit you could buy at any shop and totally weird Vietnamese food stuffs that looked like they would probably make you sick! Please get me outta here!

Determined to find some Joy in my Southern trip, I decided I’d ride to Phu Quoc, well at least the ferry point at Rach Gia. This was a relatively short journey, I figured I may as well go to the most southerly point in Vietnam – that’s pretty cool right. Big mistake! Totally average ride and the destination was literally pants! A 12 hour ride to get to Rach Gia, broken, exhausted and starting to question whether I would even ride much more of Vietnam. I stayed in a hell hole motel near the ferry port – standard rock hard bed, musty smell and shower that leaked more water than it sprayed!

I rock up to the ferry port, early, too early! I have 90 mins to kill, I find a little deserted café overlooking the port. I have the absolute and still best Ca Phe Sua Da, I’ve ever had! So, good I have three of them! I watch with nervous excitement as they wheel my bike across 2 very questionable planks of wood, genuinely praying they wouldn’t drop it in the water.

The ferry ride was cool, the water became more and more blue, I stood on the top deck, drinking beer and puffing away on the Marlboros, a sense of peace came over me. Riding off the ferry in the midday sun felt pretty awesome, especially as everyone else was getting hustled by the tax hand homestay owners, all touting for business. I stopped after 15 mins or so for some food, a little palm tree line street and a simple café. I knew it wasn’t a Thai island but you could feel the island life vibe.

I arrived at my homestay and met a couple of dudes, we headed to "Winstons" burger bar, boy did this guy like to talk about himself! Coming from the West, this was a pretty average burger but with UK prices! I couldn’t fathom the plethora of 5 star reviews (I was still a newbie in Vietnam!) We decided we’d hit the beach, Sunset Beach Bar, totally unrecognizable from the plush resort it is now. This was 'Old Skool' beach bar, bonfire on the beach and pic-nic tables, amateur DJ and honest prices. We finished the night in some random huge club, smoking shisha with the staff, where we were the only customers!

I spent about 2 weeks on Phu Quoc and genuinely loved it, dirt roads, hidden beaches, National Park, waterfalls and an old French fort. But eventually it was time to move on!

This time I took the ferry to Ha Tien and rode along the Cambodian border back to Saigon, another massively disappointing ride! Ahh well, out to the coast at Phat Thiet and then inland to Bao Loc. Wow what an incredible town, totally devoid of tourists, super super cute, spacious and peaceful. I stayed a few Km out of the town with an epic morning view of a distant mountain. Missing the dirt roads, I decided I’d explore the surrounding area – fantastic, covered with tea and coffee plantations, red clay and turquoise rivers and lakes. Dambri waterfall with an actual elevator to the falls – check it out – fab day!

From here I rode to Dalat, checked in to Redhouse Hostel, really funny female owner and a cool older American Volunteer. This was my first real Hostel experience in Vietnam! A total mix of nationalities and reasonably busy, the stories and banter was flowing – for the first time I felt like I was travelling again. I met a Brazilian guy “Igor”, whom I’m still friends with today. We did Elefant falls and Pongour falls and explored Dalat together, We decided, we’d hit Mui Ne and Nha Trang together!

Dalat to Nha Trang – without doubt the best road in the south! Awesome twisty mountain road with huge expansive views and delivers your right to the coast, what a contrast, from misty mountains to white sandy beaches!

Nha Trang was great, really nice beach, modern city but a little Russian orientated. We stayed at “ihome” for the free beer but the place wasn’t great. So we moved to “Bondi Backpackers”, place seemed pretty new, cheap and plush private room, little pool right on the top floor with a fabulous view of the skyline and sunset views to die for!

We headed to Mui Ne, pretty disappointing, sandflies and jelly fish made the beach pretty undesirable. We checked out the sand dunes and both decided we’ve had more fun on our off-road adventures. Moved to “Mad Monkey” – Wow – proper party hostel. We won beer pong along with a cheap bottle of vodka – happy days! Back to Nha Trang – Igor has a flight in a few days…. My first encounter in Vietnam with the ‘boys in blue’ (Khaki)…..We’d read the police were pretty keen in Mui Ne but we were like , yeah yeah, yada yada…..

We rode the coast road North out of Mui Ne, sure enough as we exit the town limits, there they are, already dealing with the 3 foreign girls on scooters. We are lucky – they’re busy! As we cruise by, the whistles start and batons are waving – we ignore them and speed up. My bike is faster than Igor’s but still I can’t understand why he is getting smaller and smaller in my mirrors – they caught him! As I pullover to think what to do, there’s a policeman along side of me shouting in Vietnamese – his white baton in front of my face! Before I know what’s happening, Igor shoots passed me, tucked in at full throttle like a bobsleigh rider! The policeman screams “stop here’ and frantically re-mounts his bike to pursue Igor, after a couple of minutes … realising I’m now free, I decide to gun it. I pass Igor and the policeman, who have turned down a side road – they got him! We meet back up around 2 hours later, closer to Nha Trang, Igor 4m dong lighter!

Our time was up, Igor was flying home and I needed a new 90 day Visa.

Off to Cambodia for a week, I rode in and out, before looping through Boun Ma Thuot, out to the coast again, up to Quy Nhon. Fantastic rides, I was feeling chipper again. Stayed just outside Quy Nhon at “Life’s a Beach Hostel” – great place, super chill with a great night life, I spent 4 or 5 days here with numerous day trips around the area. I decided I’d head North via Pleiku and that would be the start of my journey through the central highlands.


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