A common thread amongst many travellers is their dislike of seeing other Westerners. Oftentimes, they will even ignore each other. When I’m travelling, I always prefer the remote location, or the difficult road, in search of something authentic. Tourism is a souless void created to protect the timid while simultaneously robbing them. When I got to Hanoi, I was feeling this urge to get into the real Vietnam, away from the backpackers and tour buses, and into somewhere more dangerous. It’s in these dangerous places that real travelling begins. It’s when you are outside your comfort zone that true growth occurs. I wasn’t on holiday, after all; I was trying to learn some things about myself, and I needed to breakaway from the ordinary to get it done.
Hanoi was my favorite of the major cities in VN, followed by Hue. Both places had a real charm to them, especially in the old quarters. But Hanoi was home to some of the best pho, or noodle soup, I had ever experienced. It also claimed to have the widest selection of Bia Hoi beer cafes in the country. It was wonderful drinking ice cold pilsner for a quarter a glass amidst the tropical humidity of the night air. The best guest house in Hanoi is called Manh Dung II Guest House on 2 Tam Thuong in the old quarter. Ask for the lovely Thom, she’s a skilled tour guide, as well. After awhile, however, the incessant motorbike traffic and chaos of the town begets the desire for fresher climes.
The Northen part of Vietnam, along the Chinese border, is just such a place. I decided to rent a Russian Minsk motorbike and head into the mountains for 12 days, away from all the tourists and into the unknown. From intel I gathered along my trip, there was a 21 km stretch of road between the towns of Dong Van and Meo Vac that contained some of the most sublime vistas to be found anywhere in Vietnam.
To get there would take a few days through many undeveloped roads, to say the least, so I employed a guide named Hung to get me through the gnarly parts. This was a brilliant idea, since most of the areas I was heading to spoke no English and if my bike broke down, which it inevitably did, I’d be screwed.
It’s a great feeling of freedom getting on a motorcycle when you’re travelling. You get the panoramic sweep of the landscape and the complete openess to the world your driving through. I was high fiving kids as I motored through villages, and kicking chickens out of my way, as well. Plus, you get all the smells and sounds around you, keeping you in perfect tune with your environment. I’m not a great rider, but I felt a huge rush as we exited the hustle and flow of Hanoi into the pastoral countryside due North. The road to Meo Vac was looming large in my mind as this new chapter began.