Starting from the top of Vietnam in Hanoi, I bought myself a motorbike, formed a biker gang and made the gruelling journey south to Ho Chi Minh.

Arriving in Hanoi and stepping out of the taxi I was immediately thrown into the bustling atmosphere, teaming with people, scooters, restaurants and bars. On the way to my hostel I was confronted by numerous Vietnamese offering their services and products – some more persistent than others. These services ranged from selling sunglasses and food, to motorbike rides and shoe repairs. Since my shoes were a little worse for wear, I had to persevere with numerous repairers. Their eyes lit up like Christmas trees when they examined my footwear. One particular repairer wouldn’t give up for a solid 3 minutes – I practically had to run away to get rid of him!

After adjusting to this new vibrant atmosphere and getting my bearings, I set about exploring the city, checking out museums, eating pho and splurging on the 5000 dong draft beers (30 cents NZ) – I was loving it. The egg coffee is a must try in Hanoi too. After 3 nights here, I then headed north to the famous rice terraces of Sapa.

Despite it being the dry season where there is no rice growing, the terraces and mountain range setting of Sapa is nothing short of amazing. I did a 2 day overnight trek at a homestay with the village people – a must if heading to this part of the country. After 3 nights in sapa I headed back to Hanoi.

I had heard about a 3 day, 2 night booze cruise to Halong Bay called Castaways, which carried a hefty $220US price tag. I had no such intentions to pay that price for a cruise, but after a few beers at Downtown Backpackers and some convincing from one of my soon to be travel companions Elle, I booked it for the following morning. The next 3 days involved a stay on our own private island, involving tubing, rock climbing, kayaking, a full day cruise in our own private boat, and as expected, copious amounts of alcohol consumption. The tour was hands down the best money I spent in Vietnam. Not only did I get to experience Halong Bay in a fun and unique way, but I met some awesome people who I would get to know very well over the next 3 weeks.

Arriving back at Downtown Backpackers in Hanoi, there was discussion about buying motorbikes between a bunch of us. Once again this was initially something I had no intention to do, based on how accident prone I am, and due to the fact that health insurance wouldn’t cover me in an accident. But again with some convincing and some spontaneous decision making, I was the proud owner of a $250US matte green Honda Win. 7 of us then set about making our way south to Ho Chi Minh.

Trying to reach Ninh Binh on our first day riding, we were met with a cold snap in the weather which dropped to 5 degrees – not the best when you’re short on warm clothing. Discovering that keeping track of 7 people on bikes was somewhat of a challenge, progress was slow and we only made it as far as the Thanh Ha area where we found a hotel to stay. Later that night we were met by at least 10 military personnel, followed by the police, who came into the hotel questioning our presence and taking photos of our passports. Our non-English speaking host used his iPad to translate that we should go to our rooms, lock our doors and go to sleep, stating that foreigners were not welcome in the area – a hectic start to the trip!

The next day we set out to Ninh Binh where we were met with torrential rain and more freezing weather, topped off by regular breakdowns with 2 of the bikes. At this point we were wondering what we had got ourselves into. Eventually making it to Ninh Binh we decided to avoid the cold and wet weather and put ourselves and the motorbikes on an overnight bus to Phong Nha.

In Phong Nha we stayed a Easy Tiger Hostel which has a great set up and is the place to stay if you’re backpacking in the area. We met up with some of our group from the Castaways cruise which resulted in boat trip through the caves, followed by quite a few reunion beers afterwards.

The next stop, Dong Ha. During this drive we were starting to get in the groove of riding as a unit and making some productive progress, all until my motorbike decided to blow up some 100km out of Dong Ha – great. I had to push my motorbike for a good 45 minutes until we reached a village where I found a mechanic. After attempting some sign language to indicate what was wrong with my bike to the non-English speaking mechanic, he set about his business and gave me the news I was dreading. The engine was buggered. It would take 2 days to fix and that was time I didn’t have, so unfortunately I had to sell it to him for a measly $50NZ – not ideal. I then saddled up on the back of Daithi’s bike which now contained 2 people and 4 backpacks. The bike was missing its rear foot pegs so I had to dangle my legs for 2 hours – my arse and legs have never taken such a beating. Prizing myself off the back of the bike, and hobbling to the guesthouse, we had made it to Dong Ha. As questionable as the biking experience sounds so far, don’t worry, we were all still having a blast!

From Dong Ha we set out to Hue then Hoi An, driving through the famous Hai Van pass, where we were met by a Vietnamese wedding at the top of the mountain. We were pulled off our bikes, given free beer and then thrust onto the car park dance floor. Along with karioke and drunken women falling over, it was a hilarious and unexpected experience. Arriving in Hoi An we stayed at Sunflower Hostel which is again another must stay. Free buffet breakfast, cheap food and beer, along with a chilled social vibe. What more could you ask for?

In Hoi An one of our fellow bikers James had to part ways and head back to work in Lebanon. Needing to sell his bike, he offered it to me for an extremely generous $100US – bloody legend. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. After a few nights in Hoi An we caught another night bus with our bikes to Nha Trang, where we caught up with another biker from the group Luke, who had decided to drive to Nha Trang instead of opting for the night bus option. Unfortunately on his journey his bike broke down. He managed to wave down an out of service bus where they took himself and his bike onboard. The unthinkable then happened as his bike in the compartment under the bus caught on fire, destroying his bike, his luggage and the entire bus! You can read more about his story here. After sending Luke our condolences we set out from Nha Trang to Da Lat.

In Da Lat we stayed at Family Hostel which was an awesome experience. Every night they had family dinner where all the guests would sit at the dining table and help themselves to a buffet dinner. The staff were all absolutely hilarious, hugging and dancing with guests on a regular basis. Da Lat is also a really unique city that feels like a European country based on its French heritage.

Finishing up in Da Lat we set about on the 150km drive to Mui Ne. This was one of my favourite drives of the trip, driving through lush windy mountainous terrain, down into the harsh dry desert with towering sand dunes towards the ocean. We only spent the night in Mui Ne before setting out early the next day to Ho Chi Minh – the last leg of the trip.

We took the coastal route on the last leg, taking in the ocean breeze before heading into the city buzz. The entire drive went without a hitch until we accidentally ended up on a vehicle only highway and bridge! We reached a toll booth where we were swiftly escorted through a barrier back onto a village road where we found an alternate route into the city.

We were in Ho Chi Minh during Tet (Chinese New Year), so the streets were relatively quiet in comparison to any other time of the year. We checked out the war remnants museum which is the most immersing and deep museum experience I have ever had – the war photography there is both incredible and sobering. Also worth a note is the Cu Chi Tunnels which are definitely worth visiting.

On my first attempt on visiting the tunnels I rented a scooter to make the 40km trip out there. Half way through driving there my moped broke down in a village. After attempting numerous methods to restart it, a local man came out of his shop to help me. He made some phone calls and we wheeled it round to another shop, where at this point, involved roughly 10 Vietnamese helpers. After some more phone calls I was informed that all the nearby mechanics were closed due to it being the Tet period. I was then instructed to hop on the back of a scooter while they pushed mine along trying to start it. Eventually it sprung back into life and before you knew it I was back on the road again… Until 1km down the road where it broke down yet again.

I was then met by another friendly local who pushed me and my scooter along to a petrol station as he thought that may have been my problem, which unfortunately was not. He drove away so I continued walking back from where I came from, until yet again I was offered some assistance from another friendly local, this time a girl called June. She spoke excellent English and let me use her cell phone to call the hostel where I rented my scooter from. A mechanic was then dispatched in my direction and we went back to her place in the meantime while I waited.

I was met with some superb hospitality, chowing down on candy bars, sugarcane juice and cherry cola and even getting my own private tour around her village. After the mechanic arrived and fixed the bike June offered to come into Ho Chi Minh and show me some of her favourite spots – an offer I couldn’t refuse!

Despite all the motorbike mishaps I wouldn’t have it any other way, it was one of the best experiences of my life without question and buying a motorbike allowed me to see the country in the best possible perspective. Vietnam is an amazing country and a must visit!