Living in Vietnam, you won’t get very far without renting, buying or borrowing a bike. Whether you go for a giant automatic that resembles a spaceship, a classic traveller Win or Wave or something in between, you quickly become accustomed to zipping down tiny alleys and sitting in traffic facing a hundred directions, and you’ll learn to fall in love with the freedom of road trips in Northern Vietnam.
I own an old, jangly Honda Dream. The countryside favourite that could carry a cow if you wanted it to. It has pieces hanging off of it, a few areas held together by electrical tape and it sounds a bit like a small helicopter.
Yet, I love it. And I feel like riding a shitty old bike in Vietnam has taught me a lot. Not only about how to ride a bike and not die, but about life and travel too.
Here are a few of my hard-earned lessons from riding bikes in Vietnam:
People are arseholes and idiots.
They don’t care about your jumpy 1st gear or your wobbly front wheel. They have their own agenda and destination and they will get in your way with their awful driving (especially if they live in Saigon).
Stop caring. Let their arsehole-ishness wash over you. Ignore, ignore, ignore. Because ultimately they don’t care about your anger or frustration, so why should you?
Life is not always easy riding.
Life is uncomfortable, life is bumpy and life is slow in the most infuriating ways. But those feelings of being uncomfortable, of being hot and uneasy, are good for you. They keep your expectations realistic and help you adapt. Getting used to being uncomfortable let’s you refocus your attention on the things that matter.
This is especially true with travel.
OK, you are hot. But hey look at that incredible view!
OK, the bus is 4 hours late but it was cheap so how can you complain?
OK, you got ripped off and you feel uncomfortable. But hey look at this amazing souvenir you’ll cherish forever.
Being uncomfortable also makes you appreciate the comfortable times a whole lot more. Ah the days before we bought our new Kawazaki, when Jay was in Thailand and we got to ride his Suzuki…
Being adaptable will make you a better person
I am 100% a better driver because of having a difficult bike. Without having to learn how to adjust sticky gears, or understand what it feels when the bike, with no petrol gage, runs out of gas, I wouldn’t know half of what I do about bikes. And, really, I still don’t know much.
I didn’t give up; I adapted and now I feel like I can do anything, go anywhere. I’m more confident in myself as a driver simply because it’s hard to be confident in the bike!
You can’t always have what you want.
I’d love to have a brand new automatic and whizz around town without a care in the world, heading to the mechanic only to get my oil changed (check me and my bike maintenance, dad!).
But I have this old, clunky Honda Dream that is often terrible to drive in traffic and you know what? It still gets me from A to B in a relatively safe manner.
Equipment is not an excuse for not doing something.
That weekend we camped in Xuan Son National Park, the Honda Bonus packed up and wouldn’t start. So instead we took the teeny tiny Dream. 6ft tall Oli, me and all our camping gear. We made it and had an absolutely amazing weekend.
And you know who really appreciated it? Every other local Dream owner on the road! We could sense their pride whenever they drove past with big smiles on their faces.
Get on whatever mode of transport you have available and get out there into the world. Have an adventure. No excuses.