As I mentioned previously, we don’t typically do tours, for a number of reasons. Now, we lucked out in Ho Chi Minh City with Saigon HotPot tour, which was not only excellent in and of itself, but was also free.
We were having such a great time in Vietnam up to that point – and after anticipating a more difficult and contradictory experience, it was such a relief. It must have been on that high that in a completely uncharacteristic move, I signed us up to spend major cash (for us) on a five day tour with original Easy Riders through central Vietnam. We hadn’t even met our guide – although it really helped to read fabulous reviews for Easy Riders on TripAdvisor and other travel blogs.
I am going to spare you reading through this massive post (although you should!) and say that motorbiking for five days straight was the best decision ever. Why? Because biking – or more like cruising – with a cool breeze, while enjoying 360 degree views of impressive sand dunes, beautiful sea, lush rice paddies, villages and towns, mountains and jungles is exhilarating. Also not having to plan your itinerary, research and worry about where to eat and sleep, and struggle to interact with a few Vietnamese words in a small town in the middle of Vietnam, is such a treat! These guys are professional and provide great quality service.
Quan Ba mountain along Highway 4C. Quan Ba District, Vietnam.
So you should do it – you’ll have the best time ever! Promise.
Now, for the more proper breakdown of how our five days went.
We chose one of many itineraries offered by the Original Easy Riders on their website, deciding on Saigon – Nha Trang five day tour. This allowed us to see Dalat – described by Lonely Planet as Vietnam’s bohemian escape high up in the cool mountains – without actually taking the bus to and from there (avoiding the bus at all possible costs). We would see a few places not frequented by tourists, as well as, hit up Vietnam’s two famous, and very touristy, beaches: Mui Ne and Nha Trang. Finally, from Nha Trang we could connect to Hue by a comfortable overnight train (8:30 pm departure – 10:30 am arrival).
Basically this tour checked off all the points of interest we had and got us from Saigon to Nha Trang in the exact time frame that suited our larger Vietnam – Laos – Vietnam itinerary. I was already happy with that. But what we got was so much more than that.
A banner saying something about how great Ho Chi Minh is? These were everywhere marking entrance or exits to the small towns we passed. Vietnam.
Vietnam by motorbike with easy riders
Our guide, Hai, came to pick us up sharp at 8 am as agreed from our hotel in Saigon. I stayed behind, while Sergey went to pick up his bike with Hai. Sergey would be riding on his own, while I would ride pillion with Hai. For those who understand bikes (not me), Sergey drove a Honda 125 CC and Hai and I were on Honda 150 CC . I was a bit apprehensive about comfort level of riding a bike all day for five days straight – once I am not comfortable, I am not having fun. Which kind of defeats the purpose. But what I didn’t realize is that motorcycles are much more comfortable than scooters. So no problems there. Also, we never rode for more than an hour at a time, so we always had breaks to stretch our legs.
This was the first time that Sergey drove a motorcycle rather than a scooter. It took him just a hot second to get up to speed. Luckily, Hai was really good about keeping an eye on Sergey in his rearview mirror. The couple of times he stalled in the beginning, Hai got off our bike and went to help him. By the way, if possible avoid having your first motorcycle (or scooter) lesson being in Saigon’s rush hour. Sergey, had a good deal of experience driving scooters in places like Myanmar and Cambodia, caught on very quickly.
My second most pressing concern, after comfort, was our luggage. We each have a 40L bag, in addition to smaller daypacks, and a camera bag. I was imagining strapping on our packs in the back and front and somehow keeping the camera bag upfront. So silly ) Everything was securely strapped on the motorbike rack with plenty of room to spare. Waterproofed too, which was a good precaution as we got rain the very first day leaving Saigon.
I wasn’t too concerned with safety; I always felt very comfortable riding with Sergey, and figured that it would be the same with someone who is a professional rider. Happy to report that was the case. I spent most of my time on the bike taking photographs and filming videos, never feeling precarious. No falls, obviously!
On our first day we stopped at Cu Chi tunnels – saving ourselves the trouble of taking a tourist chartered bus to and from Saigon; a lacquer ware village; and a giant Vietnamese culture theme park, complete with statues of 19th century imperial guards, lady buddahs, and a golden Ho Chi Minh. What’s amazing is that Hai knew and shared so much information about each of these stops. We learned about the Vietnam War (or American War, as it is locally known), the history of matriarchic society in Vietnam, and the scale of family owned business in the country in just one day. Later on Hai shared that for the first four years of his time with the company he learned about Vietnam’s culture and history while riding with other guides, rather than on his own. The span of his knowledge about Vietnam is really impressive.
Suoi Tem Vietnamese culture and Buddhism theme park, sprawling grounds filled with statues and temples and nearly deserted on weekdays. On weekends the park is full of Vietnamese families.
By the time we got to our hotel at 6 pm, we were happily exhausted with so many different experiences. What was really cool, and completely unexpected, is that each subsequent day got better and better.
For the next four days, our routine was the same: 8 am start, strap our luggage, suit up in helmets, and off we go until 4 or 5 pm. Seriously, just writing about this, I am wistful for that carefree way of travel, no lugging our heavy bags from the bus station, no hailing taxis. No waiting around. We go where we want, when we want.
Each day was filled with plenty of attractions (from some of the most revered pagodas in Vietnam and to small temples dedicated to whale worship, from cool hidden creeks to giant waterfalls), sometimes we would stop to visit a local family run business (coffee plantations and dragon fruit farms on the side of the road, rice noodle manufacturers, which consisted of two ladies doing the whole process from softening the rice to laying out the finished product to dry in the sun). We also stopped in to visit several minority villages, where got to hang with kids, learn about the significance of rice houses for the gods, about local agricultural practices and just see what life is like in a minority village.
We were absolutely floored how in any ordinary looking family house a production team of two to twenty may be toiling to produce goods for local markets or even export. We learned about rice-based food industries (rice noodles, rice wine), fruit and flower farms, tea and coffee plantations, and mushroom farming. It completely blows me away how much we learned about recycling. Vietnamese really do use everything. We went to a rubber tree farm, where we learned that trees produce sap for 25 years. After that, trees are cut down and the lumber is used for furniture. Meanwhile, the sawdust is used to grow mushrooms!
The making of Vietnam’s famous round fishing boats. Still made by hand, out of bamboo. Although the few we saw at sea were plastic — obviously there is a difference in price with handmade product fetching a higher sum. We stopped by a small fishing village where Hai explained it all to us.
I asked Hai to take us someplace to buy the personal size aluminum coffee filters, which are ubiquitous in Vietnamese cafés. He obliged, and now we are proud owners of four diamond filters. Actually, Hai took us to a coffee plantation, where we go to try weasel coffee. Never heard of weasel coffee? Well, it’s the finest in the world. At least the Frrrench say so. The concept is simple – weasels eats some coffee plants, and then poop out the coffee beans, which by that time have been coated in special enzymes from their stomachs. The beans are cleaned and offered up for coffee brewing. #Notthatgreat #tryanythingonce. That’s what I have to say about this.
Another great aspect of the trip was the scenery. The nature that we saw over five days was spectacular and diverse. We drove through cities (well Saigon) which was kindof amazing – human tetris, except I was a bit worried for Sergey (he did great!) We passed endless rice paddy fields and fruit farms, we drove by the sea and sand dunes, we got out to do a jungle trek and explore a creek by Mui Ne, which had spectacular red and white sand formations surrounded by streaming water and lush vegetation. Cows and water buffaloes roamed across the highways. We explored a giant waterfall, getting completely drenched in the process.
What we ate
Throughout the day we would have three meals with Hai, plus as many coffee breaks as I wanted – usually at least two. I really, really like Vietnamese coffee culture. And the fact that coffee culture is synonymous with siesta time during the hottest part of the day didn’t hurt either.
Vietnamese coffee is served in mini presses and is extremely strong
Every self respecting café in Vietnam comes with a bunch of hammocks. Driving through the Vietnamese countryside is hard work due to heat and shear volume of experiences, so time for rest is essential.
But let’s talk about the meals. We’ve eaten local our way through Asia, but this was an entirely different experience. Having a Vietnamese guide – who has scouted the best places for eating and snacking on local delicacies – order for us in Vietnamese, instead of us struggling to explain what we wanted, spoiled us rotten on our trip. Every morning we would have either pho or rice porridge for breakfast, which was most delicious every single time. We also had the best hot pot of our lives in some small town that probably isn’t even on the map. We’ve had grilled seafood in Mui Ne at local (!) prices. Some of our best meals in Vietnam – including a family dinner with Hai’s wife and parents in Dalat – were on our tour. (We would be remiss if we didn’t mention a beautiful family dinner we were invited to in Saigon). What I really liked about Easy Rider tour is that while lodging and transport costs are included, we pay for the food on our. Since the guides share all of the meals, we always went somewhere local, cheap, and very very good. One time we had lunch full of meats, whole table full, for only $6 for everything.
Let me tell you, as independent travelers who like to eat well, we’ve never had it so easy. A local guide, who has scouted the best locations for amazing and cheap and delicious meals? Three times a day, every day, for five days? Yes please. And also can we have some more? Because this isn’t how it usually goes for us — we’ve had some very delicious food on our trip, but there have been more than a few misses due to language barriers, or you know, because not all local food is delicious.
I really wanted to try some of the local specialties, such as snake juice (aka highly alcoholic liquid made from snake and a bunch of jungle plants).
Where we slept
Our accommodations were similar to where we usually stay as budget, independent travelers – inexpensive guesthouses. The big difference was that we didn’t have to put in the work to find great value in this price range — it was already all arranged! No scouring the internet or walking around in the heat to find something clean, welcoming and comfortable. We were thrilled, and couldn’t ask for more. Unlike food, accommodation is included in the price of the tour.
One day though, we really lucked out. On our third day we made our way high up to the mountains in Di Linh, to a tiny resort – Juliette – not accessed by any public transport. We had our own waterfall and a gorgeous swimming pool overlooking the mountains. No other tourists in sight. It was truly magical.
But really the best part was getting to know Hai – by the end of the trip we felt so sad to say goodbye to him. Over five days we learned so much about each other, had great conversations about everything from daily life to literature, that it was like saying goodbye to a friend, not a tour guide. Hai invited us to meet his family – his wife and parents – in Dalat. I had so much fun hanging out with his mom and wife in the kitchen. My help wasn’t really requisite, but it was so cool to watch them prepare our delicious dinner. We also visited with Hai’s sister and her husband and daughter, having wine and artichoke tea. A very special night, that we will always cherish.
We received a partial sponsorship from The Original Vietnam Easy Riders. But we always tell it like it is and all views expressed are entirely our own.
ORIGINAL VIETNAM EASY RIDERS
Office: 35 Dinh Cong Trang Str – Dalat – Vietnam
Cell: (+84) 908 298416 (Mr Hai)
Email: vietnameasyridertours@gmail. com – firstname.lastname@example.org
Website: www.vietnameasyridertours.com – jeeptours-vietnam.com