Teaching Ourselves To Ride A Motorcycle While In Phong Nha, Vietnam

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Nicole and I rented a motorcycle. 

This was one of my must do's when we were planning our trip to Vietnam. For a few weeks, I even became fixated on the idea of us traveling solely by motorcycle during which time I probably read every blog that's ever been written on the subject. But we came to our senses and realized that renting one periodically along the way would have to be good enough.

Nonetheless, my desire to rent a bike only increased after spending time here and seeing that motorcycling is by far the most common means of transportation throughout the county.

A Couple Of Bandits On The Run

A Couple Of Bandits On The Run

So yesterday morning we asked our hotel owner to arrange a rental for the day. He made a quick phone call and five minutes later a local woman drove up on our motorcycle.

Quick pause for some background. The last and only time I've ridden a motorcycle was a dirt bike when I was twelve years old. Besides that, earlier in the morning I had spent ten minutes googling how to operate a motorcycle.

But no worries! The local woman hopped off the motorbike, left the engine running, and handed us the keys. Nothing to sign, no deposit, and no verification that I in fact do not have a Vietnamese drivers license. I still don't know how much we will be paying for the day rental (although the going rate around town seems to be 100,000 vnd (about $5)). The hotel owner spoke very little English so I pointed to the bike and shrugged my shoulders to say, I have no idea how this thing works. He understood, hopped on, and showed me how to shift with the gear pedals, and also the horn button. It was just like the Google articles I read!

Seeing this play out, Nicole thought maybe I should drive up the road and back one time before she jumped on behind me. Nah, I've got this. And we were off!


First stop, the gas station on the other end of the village because the fuel gauge was on empty. We pulled up cool as cucumbers and like a couple of bandits on the run as the attendant filled a local women's bike in front of us at the only pump. I killed the engine and waited our turn. Unfortunately, the bike was still in gear and wouldn't roll forward with the engine off. So when it was our turn, seeing that I couldn't get the bike to move, the women who had been in front of us shooed me aside, hopped on my bike, got it into neutral, and pushed it to the pump while I watched, sort of like I imagined Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper would have done it in the movie. 

The attendant filled the tank (costing us $3.50) and we are off again. Except that I didn't know how to start the engine. Although this confused the attendant, he finally figured out my problem, showed me where the starter button was, and then we were off!

At that point, I figured it made sense to head straight for a busy highway, so that's what we did. Our plan was to drive an hour or so, according to Google Maps, to a nice beach restaurant for lunch before circling back home. 

Once on the highway, it quickly became apparent that we were not travelling the speed at which Google Maps calculated our route. (I have no idea how fast we were going because the speedometer didn't work, but the motorbikes in Vietnam are much smaller than is typical in the States and go slower). The 95 degree heat also wasn't doing us any favors. Were we wearing long sleeved motorcycling outfits? No! Shorts and t-shirts for us, meaning we got baked in the sun. It was about this time we realized that motorcycling was not the leisurely good time we thought it would be, it was hard work.

View During My Ride On The Backroads Later In The Day

View During My Ride On The Backroads Later In The Day

Although we didn't have any catastrophes or crashes, after about an hour of riding, having made it two-thirds of the way to our destination, Nicole was done with this experiment in adventure and I was completely fine with that. So we congratulated ourselves for not having decided to buy bikes at the start of our trip and make that our primary means of transportation, turned around, and headed home. 

All in all, it was a fun experience that I'm glad we tried. I actually took the motorbike out later that day by myself (Nicole was done) and cruised some back roads which was awesome. But an easy rider I now know I am not. :)

Traffic Jam

Traffic Jam

Like this post? Want to read more about Travis and Nicole's travel adventures? Check out Our Overview And Observations From Travelling For Two Months Through Vietnam.

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