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Published: March 20th 2012
Right from the get-go, we felt comfortable with our guides and their motorcycles.
In an area of the world where it is so easy to get by spending minimal amounts of money, we have been reluctant to splurge on big ticket items. We had read about the Easy Riders, a motorcycle group originally based out of Dalat in the central highlands of Vietnam, in our guidebook but had dismissed the idea because of the price tag. In trading travel stories with others along our path we heard independently from two people how fantastic the Easy Rider experience was and how it was the highlight of their time in Vietnam. We still dismissed it as being too costly. As we entered Vietnam we started piecing together our calender and how we would spend our 30 days in the country. Having had our fill of beach vacation for a while, we crossed the two beach destinations in Vietnam (Mui Ne and Nha Trang) off our list of places to see. With the extra time created by skipping those two towns, we toyed with the idea of a motorcycle trip through the mountains. We looked up reviews in travel forums online and had to read through 10-15 glowing reviews before finding a negative one. We came across
Spencer tried to play a trick on us by telling us we would be staying here for the night. The joke was somewhat lost, as we would have been completely okay with it.
multiple posts that spoke highly of a guide named Spencer. Feeling like dipping our toes in the water, we sent an email to Spencer enquiring about dates and costs. We received an excited reply only hours later. After bouncing back and forth on the idea of doing the trip, and the length of trip should we decide to go ahead, Matt talked Liza into doing the trip and then Liza talked Matt into doing the trip. All of a sudden, we were two days away from a five-day journey through central Vietnam on the back of a motorcycle.
We finished up our time in Saigon with the trip ahead on our minds. We seemed to grow more and more excited by the hour. Our bus from Saigon couldn't get to Dalat fast enough, and when we pulled into the bus station Spencer and his partner Jack were there waiting. We could tell from the get-go that they were two very genuine people and were fully invested in ensuring that we would have a memorable trip. After enjoying some coffee, tea, and conversation at the bus station, they loaded our gear onto the bikes and took us to our hotel.
Things You See
Cages filled with chickens are only one of the crazy things you see piled on the back of a motorbike in Vietnam.
The first taste of being on the bikes got us even more excited about the next five days. After giving us time to drop our bags in our room, Spencer drew us a map of Dalat and gave his opinions of what we should see and where we should eat. We bid them farewell for the evening and had a wonderful time in Dalat following Spencer's suggestions. We went to bed that night feeling like two eight year-olds on Christmas Eve.
We awoke the next morning, met Spencer and Jack for breakfast in the lobby of our guesthouse, loaded our bags onto the motorcycles and set out on the long road to Hoi An. It is difficult to describe our travels over the next five days without sounding repetitive and boring, because the trip was anything but. Spencer and Jack were thorough in showcasing the industrial and agricultural means by which so many central highlanders earn their livings. Six or seven times per day we would pull over on the side of the highway or turn down a dirt side road so 'Farmer Jack' or 'Professor Spencer' could teach us something new. We learned how silk, bricks, honey, rice
A couple of fishing boats on the calm Lak Lake.
wine, rice paper, and weasle coffee are produced. We were walked through fields and plantations, and taught how coffee, green tea, rice, pepper, mushrooms, cashew nuts, and rubber are all grown and harvested. We learned about culture in Vietnam, stopping at Buddhits pagodas, Catholic churches, and Cao Daist temples. We wandered through a number of minority tribal villages and were given lessons on their heritage, language, and how they generated incomes. We were taken to an orphanage and learned how it functioned. We were taught of the history in the region and in the country. We learned about President Diem, the American-appointed leader of South Vietnam, and his unsympathetic response to the self-immolation of monks protesting his rule as we stood in front of a Catholic church in Diem's hometown that was sacked following his assasination. We were taken to an old military airstrip where we stared out towards Charlie Hill, the site of a significant victory by the North Vietnamese army during the war. We were told of how it was believed to be impenetrable due to the perimeter formed by the surrounding mountaints, and how the victory was immortalized in a song learned by all school-aged children. We
Driving into Pleiku at the end of the third day, we were graced this gorgeous sunset.
visited former military prisons and traveled along the Ho Chi Minh trail. Although we followed the same template from one day to the next, there was always variety and plenty of new information to keep things fresh.
The second best part of the trip was sitting on the back of the motorcycle, zipping along the highways, past the stunning landscape. We saw mountains, lakes, valley, rivers, and waterfalls. We dealt with traffic in large cities, waved at local children while passing through small towns, and enjoyed the solitude of smaller, less-traveled roads. Staring out in silence from the back of the bike provided a wonderful opportunity for reflection and was a welcome break from the hustle of our usual travel routine.
The best part of the trip was our interaction with Spencer and Jack. From the get-go, they were entrusted with making all of our dietary decisions. We wanted to get a true taste of Vietnamese cuising and they delivered in splendid fashion. Always eating at hole-in-the-wall, side-of-the-road haunts, we had delicious pho soups, hot-pot dinners, fried rice concoctions, and some of the best coffee we have ever tasted. Spencer and Jack even troubled themselves to prepare and
A Bahnar woman weaving her traditional garb.
barbeque a chicken over a fire built on the side of the road while we cooled off in a swimming hole next to a waterfall. The conversations we had while sitting around enjoying beers after dinner provided the most memorable and irreplaceable experiences. We learned about their famillies and their family history. They told us about life in Vietnam, prevailing opinions about the government, and why people love Ho Chi Minh so much. We told stories about life in Canada and tried to bridge the gap between cultures just a little bit more. They taught us Vietnamese and we taught them English and French. From the beginning, it never felt like an employer/employee relationship, but like four friends taking a trip together.
The days passed by so quickly and before we knew it, our timetogether was coming to an end. We were promised a party on our last night together and Spencer and Jack came through with a dangerous concoction of rice wing and banana liquer. Drinking shot after shot and combining it with beer after beer proved to be overly ambitious and like a recreational jogger trying to run a marathon on no preparation, Matt ran out of
Our last day took us through beautiful mountain vistas.
steam quickly. His Halifax days felt like much more than six months removed. Liza, being much wiser, paced herself and survived to aid Jack in trying to find a girlfriend for Spencer later on in the evening. Luckily for Matt, the cool mountain breeze on your face felt from the back of the motorbike is fantastic hangover cure. Spencer and Jack saved the best for last as the mountains framing the Ho Chi Minh trail were some of the most stunning scenery we have experienced in all of Asia. Hoi An came too quickly and we were forced to say our goodbyes almost against our wills. Parting ways was difficult, as we wished we could have found a way to have them tour us the rest of the way north. Not satisfied with their agreed portion of the tour, Jack ensured we found a great tailor in Hoi An and Spencer provided us with a plan of the things we needed to see and do once we reached his hometown of Hue. Handshakes and hugs were shared and we talked optimistically of seeing each otehr again at some point in the future. We had questioned spending the money required to
The beginning of what seemed like an endless stretch of paddies.
enjoy the glimpse into life and culture in Vietnam obtained through an Easy Rider tour, but in hindsight we would hapily do the trip over and over again. Traveling with Spencer and Jack made us feel connected to Vietnam and gave us an experience we will never forget. * If you are in Vietnam or plan on visiting Vietnam, do yourselves a favour and check out their website at Vietnam Easy-Riders and send Spencer an email. He can do custom trips from numerous locations and for any length of time.
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