Road trip. Best friends stylezzzzzzz (and Josh)
Ho Chi Minh City to Phu Quoc by Motorbike
Been quite a while since my last post. Apologies for that – it was a confluence of me being away for a few weeks and then being too lazy to write a decent, emotive post about how awesome my trip was with the boys etc. But then, I realized that I’d rather just write a factual post about what we did, so perhaps other prospective travelers can use this as a resource for planning a similar trip.
So the trip I am referring to is where Jase, Josh and Ant came over from home and we decided to hire a few motorbikes and ride the 600km round trip overland, from Ho Chi Minh City through the Mekong to Phu Quoc.
So after they came over, we took a few days off first to acclimatise, get some wedding suits made, enjoy long nights eating and drinking, and in-between – allowing the lads to learn how to a) ride motorbikes, and b) ride motorbikes in Vietnam.
The only flaw in our plan was that Josh had never ridden a motorbike in his life, and to compound matters – somehow hadn’t been on a bicycle in years. Sooooo he wasn’t able to take his own bike, so we just threw him on the back of Jases’ motorbike for the whole ride.
Tip: If you are going to do this ride, select your motorbikes well. I hired mine – a normal Honda Wave – from some random on Pham Ngu Lao (backpacker area of HCMC) and that was a huge mistake. Horrible brakes, inverse suspension and a lack of working lights makes for some seriously uncomfortable/dangerous riding. The other lads hired scooters (Sym Atillas) from a more official (western) scooter centre in HCMC. They were marginally better, but the owner came across as a serial-killer type – which as you can imagine, has it’s drawbacks as well. Contact me somehow for more information if you need more specific tips.
Anton’s ride, with on-the-fly soft-seat mod
Ok. The nitty gritty. The route. We left HCMC and headed for the Mekong town of My Tho. It wasn’t a tough ride as some of the roads were relatively new – maybe 3-4hrs riding pretty slowly, and making some sugarcane juice stops along the way.
Once we got there at sunset, we checked into a random hotel along the banks of the Mekong, and then tucked into some amazing grilled seafood, washed down with copious amounts of Tiger Beer, culminating of course, in an illogically large tip (think a months wage), and an awkward photo with our ‘lucky’ waitress.
The next morning, after some on-the-fly repairs to Jason’s motorbike (snapped accelerator lead) – we set off to the the fourth largest city in Vietnam, and largest city the Mekong has to offer – Can Tho. That was about 140km or so away from My Tho, and with some more sugarcane juice and food stops – we covered that in another 4-5hours or so.
That leg of the trip was on predominantly smaller roads, with the exception of two epic, internationally (Japanese and Australian) built bridges which crossed over some amazingly wide spans of the Mekong. I can’t really describe with any justice how exhilarating riding across those enormous, peaked bridges whilst looking down to see what is essentially the lifeblood of South Vietnam was. Unfortunately, as we were busy riding, I didn’t manage to gather any photos of this, so hopefully you can gather through my sub-par writing how thrilling it was.
Lost in the jungles somewhere
Once we got to Can Tho, we were able to catch up with a good friend – Edwina – who was coincidentally down from Hanoi for work. We were pretty knackered so we just had another grilled seafood dinner with beers that night, tried to catch the Euro match, and prep ourselves for a 4am wake up in the morning so we can visit the famed floating markets on a private boat tour Ed had organised for us. Unfortunately, Josh who was in the midst of some pretty severe food poisoning (read: WEAK) didn’t join us in the morning, but we still managed to get out there on the Mekong and enjoy some rather good scenery, and a breakfast of Hu Tieu on a floating barge/restaurant at 7am.
Tour organizer – Edwina
Later that afternoon, we dragged Josh’s lifeless body out of the toilet and set off for Rach Gia – the coastal port town we’d be grabbing a hydrofoil to Phu Quoc on. It was about a 110km ride, taking another 3-4hours. This was easily the most ‘local’ leg of the trip so far, as usually the tourist trail of the Mekong ends at Can Tho. The thing with riding on those small local roads through the Delta is that everyone lives on the ‘main road’ and they just spend their time sitting outside, chatting, drinking coffee, drinking beers and having a great old time. It is such an amazingly entertaining ride as you get an albeit – brief – glance into the amazingly charming style of life out there. The number of smiling faces, and waving children we came across only added to the truly amazing experience. Riding at sunset, with the Mekong literally running parallel with you, kilometre-after-kilometre, just off your right shoulder was unquestionably – another one of my favourite Vietnamese experiences.
By about 7pm we finally made it to Rach Gia, and grabbed our ferry ticket for 8am the next morning. Now for those of you interested, we used some mob called Super Dong Hydrofoil. There are a few operators who make the jump, but as we were a bit unorganized, we didn’t realize that there is limited motorbike-transport from Rach Gia – Phu Quoc, so you have to book a few days in advance (call them). Boat departure times are usually limited to 8am and 1pm, take about 2.5hrs and cost VND320K PLUS some completely unofficial, random loading fee which is charged to you by the boat workers when they load and unload. All up that was an extra VND400k between three bikes or something. So beware of that when you are purchasing. It didn’t seem to be a case of being ripped off for being tourists, just a very inefficient way of going about your work.
Anyways, after a night in Rach Gia, we made it to Phu Quoc the next morning. For those of you not in the know, it’s compared to Thai beaches in terms of natural beauty, but just incredibly underdeveloped. Like, barely any paved roads, and more just red-dirt, gravelly roads which are quite dangerous (I crashed twice on a downhill stretch going cautiously slowly, tearing up my knee and hand quite badly. So beware if you do take a bike out there for how horrendous the roads actually are).
We stayed at a resort called Mango Bay Beach Resort, in the ‘Reef House’ which was essentially a big hut, on a ridge, 20m from the beach, with hammocks, seclusion and just great times…with best friends. Awwwwwwww.
Tip #2: Eat at the markets at night. Find the markets near the river in town, and get some great grilled seafood. If you are riding from the dock to your accommodation when you arrive, lock down in advance the route, or run the risk of driving around in the baking 35c sun for an hour and a half on shit ‘roads’.
After three nights down on Phu Quoc, we made the jump back to the mainland. Unfortunately, being super-organized as usual, we weren’t able to get tickets back to Rach Gia, so we had to settle for a different boat, from a remote port which went to Ha Tien (110km north of Rach Gia on the mainland). After taking that boat back (2hrs – 200k with bikes), and under pressure to make it back to Saigon in a short period of time, we then ripped it back to HCMC in two days, including one night of 4pm-1am driving in pitch black through the Delta with a gazillion bugs assaulting our faces.
I am running out of creativity, and energy now, so let me just finally say that if you are ever presented with the opportunity to visit the Mekong. Do it. And try to make a road trip out of it. It was exhausting, dangerous, hilariously fun, and personally – it was great to see some best friends from back home, even if they are uncultured, embarrassing, shameless, and aesthetically awful people.
Oh one last tip. But this one goes beyond a Mekong road-trip. More of…a life-tip shall we say.
Get Crocs. Best-footwear-ever. Only downside is that you might find yourself constantly turning down the advances of interested women like I’ve found myself doing lately.