Saigon has been slandered by nearly every backpacker I’ve met since I’ve arrived in Asia. I’ve been bombarded with lamentations about its cleanliness and its overpacked and hectic roads and streets. It’s as if everyone has prior notions about big cities being wonderous and magical, where all of their dreams will come true, only to have their expectations shat on by the street vendor serving questionable meats while the still alive chicken relaxes on his motorbike. I’m under the impression that these people allow one negative thing to shut their minds off to the possibilties of other excitements. They get annoyed by the organized chaos of the roads and so they disregard the fact that they’re in an area with architecture, people, animals, scenarios, and opportunities they’ve never been around before. It’s a shameful and all too prevalent mindset of many backpackers. That being said the moment someone tells me they dislike an area I’m much more inclined to visit it. Saigon has been quite an enjoyable city for me and although I only stayed for 3 nights I have a feeling I’ll be back in the near future.
Since before I stepped foot on my departing flight I had known that Vietnam would hold my greatest adventures. I wanted to buy a motorbike and travel from one end to the other and then after that was complete I wanted to teach English as a second language. As I’ve explained in previous posts, plans always change. These plans however have not. For a while it seemed like I wouldn’t bike it because Vietnam traffic can easily be described as some of the most terrifying and exhillirating in all of the world and it was definitely worrying me but I was able to get a lot of time in on a moped before arriving to the point where I’m much more confident. On top of that I’m traveling with two other friends, Elliott from Texas and Kevin from Australia, that I met way back in my second week of travels in Thailand, as well as a Danish guy named Rasmus that we met our first night in Saigon, so I’m not dangerously alone. The decision to bike it was made and as I’m typing this I sit a few hours east of Saigon in Mui Ne.
The second day in Vietnam my friends and I set out to purchase motorbikes for ourselves thinking it would be a fairly simple task seeing as Saigon is such a large hub for travelers to buy and sell bikes. It turned out to be much more stressful than anticipated. Deep down inside me I knew I wanted to buy a manual bike but I absolutely could not see myself learning how to drive manual in Saigon. It’s just too hectic. Luckily I met two people who were at the tail end of their Vietnam journey and who were willing to teach me the moment I met them. They knew of a street in front of a McDonald’s that didn’t have many cars or bikes driving along it so we made our way towards it. My new friend, Geoffrey instructed me on how to start the bike, how to engage and disengage the clutch, and when to shift gears. My first attempt at riding obviously ended with a stall but I had a good idea of what to do from there. Literally within ten minutes I had a much better understanding and was able to shift into second and third gear and then stop without stalling. It boosted my confidence tenfold and the decision to buy a manual was made then and there.
Elliott, Kevin, Rasmus and I then set out to buy our bikes, trying to get them from both mechanics and from backpackers on Facebook. We went through a couple of test drives on different bikes, which was terrifying since it was through essentially rush hour traffic and I had only had about ten minutes of experience under my belt, and tried haggling down the cost of the bikes for what seemed like half a day. After a while of that we decided on buying off of this one mechanic and were able to grab the four of our bikes for $1,150 in total. Success after a long day never felt so great, but we weren’t done yet. We still had to park our bikes somehwere overnight. The mechanic ended up leading us to a parking lot a two minute drive away. At the very start I stalled in the middle of traffic trying to make a left turn and couldn’t kick my gear shift back into neutral because my instincts had kicked in but my instincts hadn’t had time to learn how to react in that situation yet so I was sitting pretty fucked in the center of the street. Thankfully I fixed the problem and made it to the lot in one piece. After parking my bike I struggled to get off because the lot was jam packed with hundreds of other bikes. Because of this I ended up quickly leaning against the exhaust and singing my leg slightly. There’ll probably be a ton of burns in the same spot by the end of my trip. This incident sparked an idea in my head though. I hadn’t quite learned how to tame this beast of a motorbike yet, I’ve stalled and overall felt nervous the entire time riding, understandably. Then I’m the first of my group to get a burn on the leg, commonly referred to as a “Saigon Kiss.” Who else had a hard time taming a fire breathing beast? Ash Ketchum. My motorbike is named Charizard.
From Saigon the four of us drove to Vung Tau. Our original goal was to reach Mui Ne but time wouldn’t have permitted it and we did not want to ride in the dark. The ride itself was smooth and there were no mishaps along the way. Mui Ne itself is a pretty shitty party/beach town. The beach is disgusting and has a running sewage drain not 100 feet from the shoreline. Overall, Mui Ne is total shit don’t ever go there unless you want to just party and not remember. Fuck Mui Ne. The gang and I decided to leave at five in the morning to ride out towards Da Lat, our next destination, with the sunrise coming up. It was a super good idea and the first hour of our ride was heaps enjoyable. However, the ride overall was a fiasco in the best way possible.
After our breakfast of Pho we continued our route which led us towards the countryside, which was serene. The landscapes were incredible, packed with rolling hills and wide open fields. There was a beautiful quaint town hidden away within the hills that seemed perfect to grow up in. As we were riding by the school was being let out and dozens of children dressed in their blue uniforms with red kerchiefs were joyfully skipping about, yelling out “Hello!” to us as we passed. Everything was going swimmingly until we came upon a small road just after a turn that was completely muddy and wet. Being the dumb foreigners that we are we didn’t take the ride as slowly as we should have. I’d guess we were gong about 10 kmph when we really should have been going about 2 kmph. I was out in front, Kevin was behind me, Elliott behind him, and Rasmus behind her. As we’re driving down this muddy path my bike is flailing about but I’m catching it every second of the way. Until finally my bike turns a little too far and I lose traction. My brakes wouldn’t help and hitting the gas would have been worse, so I did the first thing that came to my mind. I literally jumped right off my bike, attempting to avoid the exhaust and not get burned. Mind you at this point falling off the bike is not necessarily a dangerous situation at all since we were going so slowly. Anyway, I jumped and fell straight into a pile of mud. I instantly laughed to myself and thought, “God dammit I look like a fucking idiot.” But to my surprise Elliott had done the same thing. We were both covered in a crazy amount of mud. Our arms, legs, clothes, shoes, faces, bikes, and bags were covered in mud. It was devastatingly comedic. The Vietnamese locals would drive on buy and laugh at us nonstop, to which I had to laugh as well. We looked like complete fools. Luckily my bike was fine and nothing needed to be fixed. Elliott’s however needed a little bit of fixing so we slowly made our way to the closest mechanic, where they too laughed at how silly we looked. The mechanic also happened to be directly across the street from yet another school that was being let out and so now we had children of all ages walking by us looking completely confused as to why we were covered in mud. It was hilarious and I loved it. These occurrences are great reminders of why I’m traveling the world. This never would have happened otherwise.
Elliott’s $ick Burn