Two Idiots Abroad: Arriving in Vietnam
Klaus and I set off for Vietnam in July. It would be our first stop on a 3-month trip around SE Asia!
When I told people back home what I was doing, they looked at me strangely: Vietnam? What’s there? Why are you going? An older gentleman at the bar remarked, “back when I was your age, the government would send you to Vietnam for free!” Sigh.
But this wasn’t just a sightseeing trip… we were going to buy motorcycles and spend a month riding from Saigon (in the South) to Hanoi (in the North)!
It’s a common trip that backpackers and adventure enthusiasts go on, which skyrocketed in popularity after a Top Gear special episode aired in 2008 featuring the 1,000-mile tour.
Backpackers and adventure enthusiasts began venturing into Vietnam where they would buy cheap, knock-off Chinese motorcycles and make their way across the country. The bikes are notorious for breaking along the way and many mechanics make a living fixing them – often just enough to get you to the next mechanic. Sounds fun, right?!
We had been planning a trip together for awhile but were torn between this one and South America. However, after watching enough videos on YouTube, we decided this was an experience we couldn’t miss out on.
We were excited – and after a few weeks of planning, waved goodbye to our terrified parents, skeptical friends, and a lying, cheating girlfriend :/
We flew into Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), where we budgeted a few days to see the city and buy our motorcycles.
Did we actually see the city? Not really. Because we were jet lagged. And lazy. And idiots.
We barely left District 1 – the financial and commercial hub. I mean, though, it did have everything we really needed: food, hostels, shopping, parties, girls, etc. Countless places to buy bikes. But it would have been nice to see the famous Cu Chi Tunnels or War Museum. Next time, I guess. Idiots.
Saigon, in my head, is a classic, massive SE Asian city – chaotic, hot, and messy. Like a Bangkok, or Jakarta. People have a love-hate relationship with them, and I tend to lean towards the latter. And the traffic was insane! The only place I’ve ever witnessed crazier traffic was Cairo, where trying to cross the street is quite literally a deadly game of Frogger… but here, instead of cars and no rules, there are motorbikes and no rules.
Anyway – we arrived at our hostel in the middle of the night, exhausted, but (of course) something happened with the reservation and we weren’t in the system. Idiots. So we had to go to the random, sketchy place next door. It was super cheap, which was good; I woke up covered in bug bites, which was not good (this is something you’ll inevitably get used to when in SE Asia).
Even though I’m complaining a bit, we did enjoy our time there. The food is cheap and phenomenal – if you’re a fan of Pho this is the place to go. The massages are excellent and affordable – I think we went at least once a day… Klaus probably more than that. And there are some great bars to go out to; meeting other backpackers was easy. We visited the Ben Than Market, a popular, busy marketplace that sells everything you could imagine: food, sweets, souvenirs, handcrafted trinkets, flowers, etc (so I guess I can’t say we didn’t see anything!).
But our primary goal here was to purchase motorcycles for the upcoming trip.
Everything we read recommended that you take your time researching and test driving as many bikes as possible, in an attempt to find the least shitty bike for the least amount of money. Makes sense, ya?!
But did we do that? No… we bought the first ones that we found. Idiots.
The kicker was: while we test rode the bikes – Klaus noticed a problem immediately (something was wrong with the sproket but I have no idea what that means). You’d think that would have been a red flag… maybe we should go take a look at some other bikes? Sounds like a good idea! Did we? No. Why? Because we are idiots.
But it was a quick fix; the next day we were ready to begin our 3-week journey North.
Little did we know… this would be the first of several problems encountered over the first three days of our trip!