I drove about 3,000 KM across Vietnam. And I am still in utter disbelief I was able to do this.
I have always been curious about the world and how far I can venture out to explore and while I haven’t even gone halfway across the world, I’ve already seen so much beauty, met so many wonderful people, and experience exhilarating adventures like this trip. It was a pipe dream but I knew I was meant to do this. I wanted to do this and I made it.
After sharing all my excitement over this personal achievement to a lot of people, I noticed that half of them are impressed but the other half take it with no surprise. I guess that to a lot of seasoned travelers, this trip might be something that’s common in their world to hear stories about. After all, it is one of the must-dos in Vietnam. To most of them, women doing it might not be a surprise either. But damn it, I wanna feel proud of myself to have been able to do this, especially as a woman and as a Filipino.
Not a lot of Filipinos travel the way I do and definitely not the way European travelers do, due to the lack of funds, lack of time, or both. Like in the US, Filipinos are given 2 weeks of paid vacation leave per year (Europeans can get up to 6 to 8 weeks or at least it’s easier to negotiate this with most companies it seems).
And as if that’s not bad enough, one can’t even take that two week paid vacation in one go. You have to break it up into a few days each time. This is one of the big reasons that Filipinos can’t really experience travel the way I and a few others do but instead can only take short holidays.
I do, however, commend those who really make the most out of every long holiday (usually 3 to 4 days long) and explore either their own country, or visit neighboring countries. To be able to enjoy quick trips like that is something I get impressed by because I’m simply such a slow traveler. I used to do that back in university but after some time, I realized that was not my way of traveling.
So for me to have been able to do this motorbike trip for two months, thanks to my remote job, I am forever grateful.
This trip was a dream before but I didn’t have the guts to do it alone because I’d never been to Vietnam before and I can’t trust the safety for women driving alone on a motorbike across the country. What if I broke down in the middle of nowhere? Will I get raped? Murdered? You never know, eh?
So when I met Xaver in Thailand last December 2018 and told him about this plan if I found someone to go with, I was really surprised to hear him say he would join me! So we made a plan! Sort of. The plan was just to meet in Ho Chi Minh between February and March and just start driving from the south to the north and see how long that would take. I chose this route because I heard the north is beautiful so ending the trip there only made sense.
Here is a map of our entire trip:
The itinerary we ended up doing:
March 16: Arrive in Ho Chi Minh
March 17: Explore the city
March 18: Scout for motorbikes
March 19: Drive to Vung Tau
March 20: Drive to Mui Ne
March 23: Drive to Da Lat
March 28: Drive to Nha Trang
March 30: Drive to Tuy Hoa
March 31: Drive to Quy Nhon
April 2: Drive to Quang Ngai
April 4: Drive to Hoi An
April 15: Drive to Hue
April 18: Drive to Dong Hoi
April 19: Drive to Vinh
April 20: Drive to Ninh Binh
April 23: Drive to Mai Chau
April 26: Drive to Ha Noi
April 27: Bus to Ha Giang
May 2: Bus to Ha Noi
Total days: 49 days
After our trip together for 7 weeks, Xaver and I took a week apart to do our own little trips. I went back to Hoi An via train and he went over to Cat Ba with Sam, a fellow traveler we met in Mai Chau.
Highlights of the trip
Da Lat is a beautiful mountain city just a little over 300 KM from Ho Chi Minh. We had heard so many good things about the city that we were really excited to go there. We stayed in a hostel called Cozy Nook Hostel and it was such a good choice. It came highly recommended by friends we met over our travels and now I can say I highly recommend the place as well.
The weather in Da Lat was perfect — sunny days with cool breeze. The people were very friendly and basically a beautiful place to explore. Nearby, there are good drives with scenic views as well as waterfalls to visit.
One of the best bars I’ve personally been to is also located in Da Lat, called the Maze Bar. Yes, you can imagine getting inside the building and trying to navigate through stairs and holes until you reach the bar. It was slightly easy to locate the bar because you just followed the sound of the music. Still, it was a fun experience and although it’s an extremely touristy thing to do, I recommend everyone to try it at least once! We went twice but I think if I went a third time, it would have gotten old and boring.
Hoi An is dreamy. We extended our stay there three times, adding a day or two more each time. Did I mention I went back after I finished the motorbike trip in the north? I was in love.
Hoi An is a quaint little ancient city in Central Vietnam. There’s an excellent array of Vietnamese dishes you can enjoy, quite popular for its bahn mi so you can expect we had them almost every day, for only a dollar each. Bahn My Queen was our go-to shop because it felt worth it to have such a loaded sandwich for the price and the quality was excellent. I heard there’s another popular bahn mi store on the other side of town which became popular because of Anthony Bourdain. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try it.
What I also found to be great is the availability of vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants around! There’s quite a number of them, too, Cay Me – The Tamarind Tree being one of my go-tos as it was close to where I was staying and had quality food.
The ancient city also nestles a number of quaint little cafes, with every single one pretty picturesque. I spent my days exploring them so I can find a good place to work in but I always found myself ending up at Rosie’s Cafe (in fact, I was there every day). The food is top notch for me, especially the Mushroom Quinoa. I also liked their smoothie bowls because it wasn’t just blended fruits topped with more fruits like all the other hipster places. Their concoctions are unique.
The city is conveniently close to the beach, which is only a 10 minute ride away by motorbike and a little bit more on a bicycle. It’s also 30 minutes away from the city of Da Nang, where you can take regular trips to if you find Hoi An to be too small and miss the bigger city life. There’s also an international airport there which makes it easy to get in and out of Vietnam or to quickly fly to another city in the country.
I think this place is perfect for a relaxing vacation and likely a place I’d consider living in someday.
Words cannot express how much this leg of the trip has caused me to feel the most exhilarating, the most lucky, the most grateful person on this earth.
We did the Ha Giang loop for four days and is easily one of the best days of my life, feeding my eyes with unbelievably beautiful sceneries. It’s out of this world and my pictures don’t even do it justice — at all. Not even 20%. At some point I got teary eyed because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and what I was doing in my life. I feel so damn lucky.
I’d go back in a heartbeat.
P.S. For motorbike driving beginners, I really don’t recommend you do this because the roads can get steep, windy, slippery, rocky, and ultimately dangerous. I’ve witnessed a few accidents along the way. There is, however, an option to hire a local to drive you around and do the loop.
This part is not an exciting highlight. I only want to write about it because eventually, shitty days happen. Bad travel days come. And that’s fine. There’s no other way but up. For Xaver and I, it was in Quang Ngai… just before reaching Hoi An.
Apart from the fact that driving from Quy Nhon to Quang Ngai was going to be the longest ride thus far (at least 4 hours, which later turned out to be 5+ hours since we took the side roads instead of the highway), Quang Ngai was the lowest point of our trip. It wasn’t just for this trip either. Separately, we both thought about our previous individual trips and although I had an emotional breakdown once in Ha Noi a few months before, this was definitely rougher.
We had already been tired of driving at this point, what with nearly covering half the country already. Our motorbikes were the next big issues. While my bike, Chad, had a minor hiccup in Quy Nhon, it was working fine afterwards. Xaver’s, however, has had several issues with the spark plug, the engine, and other shit I didn’t know about. At times it wouldn’t start and other times, it wouldn’t turn off. No joke. Even when we took out the keys, it would still be on. We thought, it’s fine, we’ll put up with it. Once we reach Hoi An, we’ll take a 7 – 10 day long break and get our bikes fixed up.
But the universe can be funny, eh? While we were only two hours away from Hoi An, we encountered several issues. We just arrived in Quang Ngai exhausted as hell. When we got to our hotel, the bed was hard as rock. I don’t even understand why they bothered putting a mattress on the bed frame. It felt like just the floor. Anyway, we thought, it’s all right. It’s only going to be one night.
During the afternoon, Xaver was coming down with a fever. Again we thought, that’s okay. We’ll have a nice long rest in Hoi An. The next day, we set out, gassed up, aaaaaand Xaver’s bike completely stops working. We tried to find a mechanic and figured it would take too long to fix it so I said, why not just stay an extra night and not stress with driving, so we did.
We hadn’t eaten lunch so by the end of the day we got really hungry so I pulled out my bike so we can go out and guess what? My bike stops working, too. I was at my lowest point because all this just came in a day. Xaver and I decide to walk to the market to get food, walked back, tried to keep our chins up but it was hard.
In the morning, I got my bike fixed within 30 minutes and we were OFF. I was so ridiculously desperate to just get to Hoi An and theeeeeeen my tire pops halfway through. I just started laughing inside. This was all too much. Luckily, we were 100 meters from a mechanic. Got that fixed, drove a bit more slowly to Hoi An to be careful and FINALLY… we reach it. It was the most relief I’ve felt in a long time.
Hoi An treated us really well in the end so our spirits were lifted almost instantly.
Bad days happen and I take it as a way to really appreciate the good days. This is definitely one of the best things I’ve done in my life so far and I am grateful I came out of it a better person, growing from the circumstances I encountered and friendships I built… and coming out of it with zero accidents 😉
Get out of your comfort zone and explore the world. It’s a magical place. Do something crazy. Do something new. You’ll learn so much about the world and so much about yourself.