I have always dreamed of biking Vietnam since I first saw the beauty of the country watching Top Gear of all shows a few years ago. Although I didn’t get the chance to travel the whole length of the country I did rent a moped for a day whilst staying on one of the islands in Halong Bay.
I had the opportunity to ride around Cat Ba island, the largest in the bay and there was no chance I was turning even that brief adventure down. Never having ridden a motorcycle of any sort before it was reassuring to be given a ‘helmet’ made of what seemed to be cardboard and the traffic in the town centre was simply…. madness.
In a way a strange madness though, where virtually no accidents happen and things run smoothly because everybody follows the rules of, well, no rules.
Leaving the town centre though was still a blessing, and out on the open roads I saw 3 different vehicles all day. The freedom of driving a moped around these places means you can really go off the beaten track, quite literally by off-roading through farms.
The weather at the time of year I was there wasn’t exactly warm and tropical in Northern Vietnam. All of the pictures I had seen of Halong Bay were of beautiful sunsets ad the more classic tropical Asian scenery I had seen in Southern Thailand. This made it all the more special that the island became a scene out of Jurassic Park. Driving through canyons with steep sides, jungle all around, virtually no people at all and a constant mist descending throughout the day made the whole centre of the island eerie.
I was not let down by the ‘poor’ weather, and actually realised that I had been lucky enough to land myself here in the off-season and so the tourist industry was virtually non existent. This was one of the rare times in South East Asia to get away from the hustle and backpacker congested sites.
The freedom of the bike was summed up by my discovery of an old Viet Cong Bunker, used in the war to destroy US planes in the region. There was simply one man who lived at the bottom of the cliff that it was imbedded in and he offered to show me round. There was no lighting of course, it was damp and cold and had a disturbingly scared feel. As of my whole trip to Vietnam, the country is littered with reminders of the war and this was yet another example, even on a fairly remote island in what seemed to me to be a natural paradise.
I paid the local for his time and knowledge but not before he had insisted he fed me with his wife’s homemade meal. He expected no money but of course it was my turn to insist, and it was another example of how beautiful the local people can be here. A stark contrast to the bloody history that was evident embedded in the cliff side with the bunker.