I rolled (quite literally) into the very edge of Sapa town in the north of Vietnam completely bedraggled and close to tears. This was not how I had imagined our arrival to our final destination.
Just moments before my bike’s engine had cut out completely. Again. I was stuck on a corner, on a steep hill behind a bus that seemed to be slowly rolling towards me. The rain was pouring down around us. The road looked more like a dirty brown river and I was completely soaked.
Thankfully the bus pulled away in time not to squash me. But once more, my bike would not restart and I was left to push my bike to the side of the road. After half an hour of sitting in the rain feeling quite sorry for myself, I started pushing my bike up the hill toward Sapa.
We were only a two kilometres away. So close, yet still so far when it’s up hill and you have to push a motorbike!
I got to the top of the hill, got back on my bike and rolled the few hundred metres down the other side, while Sanne scouted out a “Nha Nghi” (guesthouse). We were still out of town, but we were both tired and decided we were close enough to our destination to call it quits for the night!
After twelve days of non stop riding, and breaking down almost every day as well, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. We got inside the guesthouse and I burst into tears.
For the past two weeks, Sanne and I have been motorbiking around the north of Vietnam. We rode from Hanoi to Catba island, where we spent a few days with Fede climbing, swimming and having fun. Since then, we have travelled from Catba in the north east to Sapa in the north west of Vietnam.
It has been an incredible journey. We have biked over 1200km since we bought the bikes in Hanoi and the 1000km shown on the map is some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. Riding a motorbike through the rugged mountains on small and winding mountain passes is an amazing feeling.
The weather can be wild, thunder storms and bucketfuls of wind and rain. It can also be stunning sunshine and, as the bikes barely go over 30mph going down a hill (48kmph), and more like 10 or 15mph (16-24kmph) up one, we often rode along in t-shirts. enjoying the cool breeze and the sun.
Riding a bike is without doubt a ticket to a feeling of freedom and fun. However, it is not without it’s difficulties. I wish that I could say I have enjoyed every moment of the ride, but in truth it has been a rollercoaster of emotions.
These fake Honda Wins are popular amongst travellers and are handed from one to the next every few months. No matter how much you check it out before you buy it or how careful you are in your choice, there is no guarantee it will be reliable.
We bought our bikes from a pair of travellers who had biked from Ho Chi Minh City together. I got a gut feeling saying I shouldn’t buy the green one, but despite my better judgement I did it anyway.
Sanne’s bike has been perfect for the whole ride. Not a single problem.
Mine on the other hand, has been non stop trouble.
Lesson learned: Always trust your gut.
Since the first day, my bike has had a problem with the engine cutting out spontaneously, (as well as not restarting, not going into neutral when you want it to then slipping out of gear when you really need it… and a few other things). Every time I take it to a mechanic, they seem to fix the problem, only for it to break down a few days or even a few hours later, with the same thing. It has been emotionally (and financially) draining.
For the first 9 times that my bike broke down I just about held it together. I of course felt frustrated and annoyed but it was all part of the adventure. The scenery was still stunning, the riding was fun, Sanne and I were having a giggle a minute and the journey more than made up for the hassle.
However, each time it broke down it was that little bit harder to deal with, especially when it was the same problem again and again. I felt like I was flushing money down the drain just to ride for a couple of hours at a time.
I finally broke down emotionally when my bike broke down mechanically on the most beautiful section of the ride. It is the famous “Ma Phi Leng” pass that winds through stunning mountains close to the Chinese border. It is phenomenal scenery but despite riding through it, I remember more about the problems I was having with my bike than the scenery itself!
I have had only two days of problem free biking and although the scenery and riding has been fun, the sheer quantity of problems I have had with my bike has taken the enjoyment edge off it a little.
Luckily, I have been riding with Sanne. We have been travelling together on and off for the best part of two months and since we have been biking she has seen me hangry, pissed off, frustrated, scared, upset, in tears, laughing, smiling and having fun. She has been an amazing travel partner. Whereas some people might have left me to deal with my bike alone, she has sat with me in the rain while my bike didn’t start, hugged me, bought me biscuits, helped me fix it, and even ridden my broken bike for me when I was completely sick of it!
We have spent almost all of our time together for the past few weeks and I think that is intense for anyone. The fact we are still laughing, or in actual fact, laughing more about it now shows just how good a friend she is.