Achieving the impossible

They said it couldn’t be done. They said I was crazy. Which just made me want to do it even more.

A week ago I was in Hanoi at the northern-most end of Vietnam.

One week, 2500km, 3 tyres, 1 breakdown, 1 wheel alignment and many wonderful new friends later, I sit in my apartment in Saigon.

Mission accomplished.

Many people thought I was nuts. When I broke down on a dark, deserted back country road on the way to Khe Sanh and I was taken in for the night by a young guy named Trang to stay with his family, his father just laughed and laughed and shook his head as though my mission was the most insane thing he’d ever heard. Noone rides from Hanoi to Saigon. Noone in their right mind anyway.

One of the greatest moments was when I was pulling through an archway on the border between two provinces and they had a large police checkpoint there with a couple of serious-looking police officers standing in the road, waving people to the side with batons for spot checks. I cruised through at a little under the speed limit trying to look inconspicuous since I had no Vietnamese licence and my bike had no mirrors, and about 20 meters after I passed the nearest officer I heard a “Hoi !” from behind me and I groaned and looked back. To my surprise the police officer was grinning broadly and SALUTING ME !

Another time was coming down the steep mountains from Khe Sanh on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, when a lorry passed me and a guy leaned out the passenger side window so far I thought he was going to fall out. He whooped and hollered loudly and gave me a frantic thumbs up as if to say “Holy shit dude, you are a foreigner, riding the Ho Chi Minh Trail, on a motorbike, by yourself. That is the most epic thiing I’ve ever seen and you have my full appreciation and respect for doing that”.

One more was ats a petrol station near Binh Dan, about 220km from Saigon where I stopped for fuel just after dark and this old guy was sitting there chatting to the young guy manning the pump. He looked at me and tried to fumble out “Where are you going ?” I couldn’t understand him, but I knew what he was trying to ask. I said “Saign” and he gave me a big smile. Then I grinned and added “Hanoi … Saigon” pointing from behind me to in front of me. He literally staggered back a couple of steps and with the widest, most incredulous eyes you’ve ever seen, pointed to me, then my motorbike and said “Hanoi … Saigon ?!” and I just nodded and grinned at him. He put the back of his hand to his forehead and went “Whoooaah !” and then insisted on shaking my hand and then gave me a thumbs up and said “You number one ! Number one !” which was obviously his way of saying “Oh my god, you are a fucking legend. I cannot believe you just RODE from Hanoi. Epic man. Much respect”.

I’m by no means the first foreigner to do this trip, but most do it in company in case something goes wrong. I did it solo with just me and my motorbike. Even Top Gear had a support team when they did Vietnam and they didn’t do HALF as many kilometers as I did. I mean it wasn’t easy. Four times I had to push my motorbike due to flat (often burst) tyres or breakdowns. Fortunately there are very few places where the nearest mechanic is more than a km or two away, and I was lucky enough to not break down in any of the places in which I was in the middle of nowhere for hundreds of kilometers, so it was never a big problem. Sometimes it was the middle of the night, other times 5am in the morning after riding all night, but normally it was little more than a kilometer before I found a “xe may” (bike mechanic) who would leap to his feet and run out to help me bring it in and offer me a chair while he did whatever he had to do to get me on the road again.

There are many stories to be told, and I will tell them when I have time. This trip was a whirlwind tour though and I mostly rode all night and slept all day in hotels (though sometimes I rode all day AND all night) so I literally did not check my email or write any blog posts the entire trip. I was just so buggered when I stopped that all I could do was fall down and sleep. I have blisters and boils on my ass from sitting on the back of my bike for as long as 18 hours a day, and my skin is peeling all over from the times when I rode in the sun and had not yet managed to purchase kem chong trang (sunscreen).

So right now, all I want to do is sleep. For days possibly. Now that I’m home I can relax. I set out with the crazy goal of riding the length and breadth of Vietnam in under a week, and despite some minor set-backs and bike problems, I achieved it. On my own. With no help from anyone other than the odd bed from a kind stranger or some cheap labour from a mechanic.

Even the Vietnamese do not ride from one end of their country to the other on a little motorbike. But I did it. Through the most accident-prone country on Earth, and returned home with nary a scratch on me and very little to tell in the way of set-backs. It wasn’t like some bad things didn’t happen. I had my tablet stolen from a hotel in Hanoi, and I somehow managed to lose my phone on a back road at midnight near Da Nang, making it an expensive mission. But relatively speaking, I am just amazed that I made it home in one piece with few problems considering six months ago I had never before riden a motorbike whatsoever. Yet this week, I rode two and a half thousand kilometers across some of the most dangerous and beautiful roads in the world.

I’m quite proud of that. Wouldn’t you be ?

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