Day 30: Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Né
The alarm sings at 630am. Bag packing time! Flo and I eat breakfast downstairs and pore over a map. What shall be the first destination of our road trip from Saigon to Hanoi? We’re looking for any way but the highway to get there, but it seems that is the only route until we’re out of the city.
As we strap our packs to the motorcycle racks, an old Vietnamese man sipping coffee suggests we go to Mui Né – a beach town 211km away. Sounds do-able. Mui Né it is!
Helmets on, identities hidden by facemasks and sunglasses, it’s go time. I position my butt on the leather of my army green Honda Win; Flo is settled in on his black one. I look at him, and even through his dark shades and dragonfly-printed mask I can see that he is feeling the same as I am – cool as fuck. Vietnam by motorbike! This is a dream. Don’t pinch us.
We hit the highway and roar through traffic thicker and stickier than molten lava crushing a honey factory. Like the other bikes, we cruise the shoulder, but it doesn’t save us from dodging raging semi trucks and angry bus drivers rattling through like they’re escaping their third speeding offense. Motorbikes shoot out of alleys like bullets and people drive the wrong way down the side of the road. Every inch of pavement is fair game for any set of wheels.
The Ho Chi Minh City skyline is behind us, then before us, behind and in front again.
The overpass we come to is closed off to bikes and we drive by the same temple three times looking for an alternate exit, seeing it from every angle before stopping to look at the map. Saigon won’t let us go. But we won’t give up. This whole highway business just isn’t working for us.
“Follow me,” Flo says, crushing the helmet onto his head. We rumble up the machines and I stick behind him through a wild patch of narrow roads with tall cement walls on either side. A massive red and white tent with fancy fabric flowing around it appears – a wedding tent. It completely blocks the street and there is no way around. Flo doesn’t hesitate.
“Excuse us!” He slows down and wiggles past the rows of chairs with me on his back wheel. Throw barricades, throw wedding tents at us. We got places to be!
This takes us to some sort of small back highway that still whizzes with trucks, but here cows are meandering, eating garbage; people are walking by shops and on the road are groupings of long white lines that turn out to be the most annoying speed bumps in the world.
We pit stop at a trucker-like lunch spot, dining with grubby drivers. Our lips perspire as the heat catches up with us while we eat. It’s three dollars for a couple beers and a few strange dishes of meat.
Back on the back road, we drive until it reconnects with the main highway where the scenery morphs into rolling hills and perfectly triangular mountains that seem to have been constructed with a protractor and exacto knife. Rice paddies and dragon fruit crops colour in the land from left to right. I belt out songs with nonsensical lyrics and whoop like a giddy girl in the throws of freedom.
Coming to a town with hordes of pedestrians and congested streets, we stop. Should we stay? It’s only six more kilometres to Mui Né, but its dark now and difficult to see each other with the traffic lights glaring in our faces. Nah, let’s go. The town opens to a wide, lit up road along the ocean and we crank it. Then, Mui Ne!
Bright lights and foreigners fill up the beach and roadside, and then diminish as the bikes turn through arbitrary alleys filled only with quiet homes. We turn back. The guesthouse we pull into is a little off from the hustle of the main drag. The lady who greets us turns everything to sugar with a single touch, she’s so sweet. She bolts to us as we arrive and sprints up the stairs to show us our room, giggling maniacally. When we ask if they have beer available, I watch her run next door and return with a full bag. Then Flo zooms off to the gym and I indulge in a shower that only 211km of riding can make feel so godly.
I’m writing in the hammock when he gets back, and we go for dinner of fish and scallops, feeding the fishtails to the miniature cats under the table.
Then we go back to our nice little icebox and pass out cold.