This article is written by Shivam Gupta. Shivam is a a traveller at heart and an adventure lover based in New Delhi
I was in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, about three weeks back. Like always, I didn’t have a Lonely Planet or any other guidebook with me, as I believe they make one reach the touristy popular places and hide the real charm of a place. I was wondering how to explore and experience the real Vietnam while making this travel unique and mine.
At the bar at a backpacker’s hostel I met two guys, English and American respectively, who had just finished touring entire country. They did this on a Honda motorcycle and rode from the Southern part all the way up till Hanoi. When I enquired more, I learned that it took them roughly two weeks and they had purchased the bike and not rented them, which is what I had assumed. This seemed like a wonderful idea to me, as I wanted to witness the authentic culture, meet real people and go with the flow. Also, it sounded much better than booking tourist packages and taking buses/trains from one city to another.
Within a few days, after more research and enquiries, I found out that these Honda/Sym/Suzuki bikes can be bought by a foreigner for anything between US$ 500-1000 depending on the condition, year of manufacture etc. However, there was one make that was way cheaper and had a classic feel to it – the MINSK, an old soviet make which is hardly ever seen on the roads as they aren’t manufactured anymore but is commonly used by working class heroes to transport pigs, cows and bags of rice from a village to another.
I bought it for 275$ from an Austrian tourist and spent another 20$ tuning her up at a local workshop. It’s a 125 cc, single cylinder, classic black Minsk.
To gain more knowledge about the bike and the roads of Vietnam, I visited the ‘Vietnam Motorbikes’—a workshop & bike store. The guy there flooded me with a lot of details about the bike, which I kept pretending to understand since I had no clue about the bike specifications because have never ridden a motorcycle before in my life. Regardless, I felt more than prepared to ride across Vietnam on an old yet reliable machine.
At the Minsk club, when I told the people that I intended to ride down till Saigon, 1750 kilometres from Hanoi, they were a bit surprised and also somewhat amused. Not because this was rare, in fact it was pretty common and I had met several people who’d done the same, but because they were not sure if I could do it. I had told them earlier that I came from India and am 20 years old. A British guy in his 40s, one of the members of the club, came to me and said “Boy, I haven’t met a brown guy, especially an Indian, who’s done this trip in years. Plus you’re the youngest lad who has come to this club to be a member.”
More than feeling bad about few or no Indians doing this trail, I was motivated and kicked to commence on my trip. The following night, they titled me, ‘The youngest foreigner in year 2011’ and ‘The sole Indian in year 2011’ heading to ride down on this trail. It appeared less official as an Indian might/might not have done this last year or years before, as there were no records. Nevertheless, I modestly appreciated the acquired titles and thanked the Motorcycle club.
It’s been two fantastic weeks since I’ve been on the road. I’ve covered about 1100 kilometres and have been riding most days. The countryside is serene and pleasant. Every stare I get on the freeway, followed by a ‘smile and wave’ action makes me really happy. I did some home-stays where the experience was overwhelming. The language becomes a barrier sometimes but I try to interact as much as I can. The people are really warm here and usually go an extra mile to help me out whenever need be.
I’ve been riding on shiny sunny days, rainy days, through thunderstorm and flooding as well as … funny days. The landscape changes often. Sometimes the road cuts through vast water filled rice paddy fields or through lush green hills and pretty beaches. I have mostly been following the coastline but I take random detours to any village or a nice looking area.
I have occasionally been stopped by people, who invited me to their houses/shops for a cup of tea. This felt really nice. I’m delighted to be experiencing the vastness and simplicity of the road and the kindness of the people. This combined with not knowing what lies ahead has been really exciting.
Now, I’m about 600 kilometres away from my destination and going with the flow has been really rewarding. I plan to sell the bike off once I reach Saigon and with that money I wish to head to Cambodia with continue my travels.
P.S. A few days back, in Hanoi, I went to eat at the only Indian restaurant called ‘Ganesh’ where the owner told me that I was the first Indian he was meeting in five years! He added that he has met a few other Indians but they were born and raised in western countries and none was visiting directly from India. I was surprised. I want to encourage more Indians to travel (not as a tourist but as a traveller) to other nations and not just the popular spots of the world.
13 Nov 2011