Lessons learned from riding a motorcycle across Vietnam
1. The Unexpected- That’s where the real adventure begins
When dreaming and planning for this trip, or any trip for that matter, we tend to scheme in our heads about what will be the highlight, what will make us the happiest. The funny thing is, that the unexpected events- the precise moments that we couldn’t plan for, like an engine rebuild at a country road pool hall– those are the ones we will probably remember the most.
2. People are good
The human spirit is pretty awesome. Even across language barriers, Barbara and I were blown away the random kindness that we experienced everyday. Whether it be a stranger stopping to find out why these two gringos are staring at a map on the side of the road, or the amazing gal who saw us floundering in a mud pit, ankle deep in the sticky stuff and decided to lead us to a road more easily traveled- the people who went way out of their way, taking time to help- they reassured us that the kindness of strangers is not lost.
3. Say Yes
When travelling, if you default to ‘Yes’ when anyone offers something. Say yes to 20 cent beer, yes to the offer of dinner with a local family, yes to an offer of a free bed. When you say ‘No’, you shut down potential opportunities that may have been brilliant fun before they even start.
4. A smile is universal
No matter the language barrier (and believe me, our Vietnamese is awful), a simple smile can go a long way. Often as we cruised past locals, a smile was the only interaction we would get. Those quick exchanges were often enough to bring us out of a rainy day funk. It was also incredible to be able to bring some smiles to local kids at The Village of Hope Orphanage.
5. Slow Down
Our tendency is be speedy in our travel. Barbara and I both prefer to do experience life at a rapid rate of fun, but travelling at less than 25mph for 21 days showed us that slowing down a bit is good if we really want to experience a place. When we slowed down, we really got to experience this incredible country.
6. This too shall pass
So I actually first saw this phrase tattooed on the fingers of a ex-special forces guy I met while trekking in Nepal. I’ve always liked the saying, but I really got to put it to use while driving for hours and hours in the rain. Somedays the rain seemed like it would never end. Obviously, this was silly and shortsighted. Of course the rain will stop- just like any other difficulty that came our way- be it the gnarly road that stood between us and our bed or the horrendous rain of a typhoon.
7. Getting lost is part of finding your way
Travelling in the more rural parts of Vietnam meant that often the map was outdated, or just plain wrong. Coming around a corner only to see our road go directly into a lake was certainly not something we had prepared for. But the ensuing hour and half of charades and laughter with the locals were quite fun! And although we had a rather unproductive afternoon in terms of mileage, looking back on it, I couldn’t be happier that we got so twisted around.
8. Sometimes you have to take a deep breath, close your eyes, and have a little faith that you’ll make it out on the other side
There were certainly times where we were thanking our lucky stars to be upright and on two wheels. Close calls with semi trucks, dogs, pot holes, and heck- even other motorcycles meant that we were often just inches from disaster. While I’d love to say that we made it out alive due entirely to my awesome driving skills, I know better. There were a whole lot of white knuckle moments all the way from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh. Many times, we were just plain lucky.
9. Watch out for pigs
Sometimes life throws you wrenches-er, piglets. Just got to roll with the punches…