Motorbiking Nam's backcountry Part 1

Trip Start Mar 23, 2010
Trip End Aug 10, 2010

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Our destination was Sapa, a town located next to the largest mountain in Vietnam admist the rolling fog over and grand rice terraces. Sapa is nationally renowned for its natural beauty – it is the Banff of Vietnam.

As we read about how to get Sapa in our Vietnam Lonely Planet, there was a single line that said: Motorbiking from Hanoi to Sapa is also possible and makes for a great adventure.

From the second I read that line, I couldn't stop thinking about it. The thought of going on a motorbike adventure across Vietnam’s countryside to a mountain resort completely overwhelmed me. I knew that is how I wanted to reach Sapa. So I did a bit of research on this 4 day trip and had an overwhelming amount of information and things to really think about.

Traditionally, this trip is done with a 125cc Minsk – a Russian soviet bike originally produced in the 1950s and the only one of which has continued its production to the present day. The Minsk is to bikes as the AK-47 is to rifles. Simple, powerful, and still working. My previous experiences with riding motorbikes included 1 month of riding an automatic scooter in Taiwan, 1 day of scootering in Kathmandu, and 15 minutes of riding a manual motorcycle in India. A Minsk was no doubt a full-sized manual bike. I questioned whether I could handle it.

Furthermore, I stumbled across a forum where some experienced motorbikers were advising an amateur motorbike biker who was contemplating this trip. They informed him that the road conditions in Vietnam were not good, and the drivers in this country are crazy dangerous. They told him that Vietnam is NOT the place to learn how to ride a motorbike. Several people echoed that sentiment. He went off and did it anyways, and later posted on the forum that he had a great time, but in one section he was driving too fast and slipped on the wet gravel pavement and cut a deep gash into his hand, of which the rural hospital was trying to stitch up without even cleaning it.

There seemed to be a lot of things going against me on this trip. Was I competent in riding a manual bike? Will I be able to handle the other drivers on the road? What about the road conditions and weather? That was surely out of my control.

Even with all this, I was still determined to experience this trip. There’s something about the thought of a motorbike trip that really captured my imagination. The freedom of the open air, the adventure of meeting others along the way, and the fun of ripping through the rural streets of Vietnam. I reckoned that I could make this trip work. I was fairly confident in my ability to ride and I felt that I could learn how to ride the manual bike fairly quickly. Moreover, I have dealt with crazy drivers before in Taiwan and I knew that safety lies in the fine balance of maintaining your ground on the street, driving confidently, yet yielding when necessary. And the road conditions? Well I had no control over that at all. The best I can do is drive slowly and carefully when needed, and trust that so many people have done this trip before that it can’t be that bad.

After visiting the bike rental shop, they offered me a 125cc Honda Future Neo. It was a manual bike with no clutch and styled in between a motorbike and a scooter. They told me it was just as powerful, if not more, than a Minsk and is much more reliable. I took it for a test run and determined that I could handle the manual shifting. To me, this bike seemed perfect for me and sealed the deal on my decision whether we go through with this trip or not. Sylvia was not too happy with me. She felt that I was too confident in myself and that we haven’t thought things through enough. But in the end, we did the trip and it turned out to be flipping fantastic and more importantly, we stayed safe. This taught me an important lesson about relationships. When there is a disagreement, the MAN is always right. Hahaha, just kidding. But seriously.

This led me to an important contemplation about taking risks in life. Taking a risk essentially means going forward with a decision without knowing what the outcome may be, especially when the possible outcomes may be dangerous and possibly fatal. I think all successful people in life will agree that taking risks are essential. Coming out and travelling on my own was taking a huge risk and this motorbike trip was certainly full of risks– there was no way I could have known the outcomes of these trips. But it appears that overcoming the risks involved and succeeding seems to be the most rewarding of all experiences. But we can’t simply be careless and carefree with our lives. Taking too much and too many risks can be disastrous. So the question is, how much risk is too much and where do we draw the line? As much as I would love to be a well of wisdom to my faithful and loyal readers, unfortunately, I do not have an answer. Everyone will need to find that out for himself or herself. I suggest though that you ask yourself when was the last time you took a real risk and to evaluate how it turned out for you? And if you are having trouble thinking of a time you took a risk, maybe its time that you re-evaluate what is important in your life. I am happy that I took the risk to go travelling and to have done all the things on my trip up to date. Not everything turned out splendidly of course, but in the long-run, the risks I have taken have paid back their dues with great stories, good laughs, and new perspectives.

Stay tuned for the actual trip details in the next few posts. As for now, I have somehow ended up in Paris and looks like I will be in Europe for the remainder of my trip.
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AA on

The last risk that I was about to take was to go out at 3am last night to watch the Korea game where they got rocked by Argentina instead of studying for my final exam tomorrow. Luckily, I didn't follow through.

Richard on

We still had great time nig. We got p0wned but we'll make a comeback for the nigeria game. Wait and see you'll regret not coming!

With the risk taking thing, I like to take it to the limit. It makes you feel so alive in that moment but totally, staying safe is cool. But playing life too safe is a life in an empty shell for me.

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