So you just got back from a two-week trip in Costa Rica and your family and friends ask you one thing: “So, what was your favorite part of the trip?”. Thats a really hard thing to pinpoint. I usually say “I loved it all equally, the trip was just amazing.” But if somebody dug deeper, and asked you more questions about your trip, one moment or one experience will stick out above the rest.
That happened to me in Vietnam. While backpacking through SE Asia for a couple months, I spent close to three weeks in Vietnam and I did something truly incredible: I motorbiked the Ho Chi Minh Highway for 3 days from South to North Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh Highway, more or less, follows the Ho Chi Minh Trail— a supply route for the Northern Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War. The highway is perfectly paved and carves through the mountain jungle landscape with jaw-dropping beauty.
We started in Hoi An and made our way to Dong Hoi (or somewhere close to it). In Hoi An, my friends and I were interested in renting motorbikes for the day and cruising to the beach. As we were renting motorbikes, a man approached us wearing a leather vest, sunglasses on, and smoking a cigarette. His name was Mr. Chau and he is known as an easy rider. All over Vietnam, groups of western-looking men with leather gear and badass motorcycles offer guided tours around the country by motorbike. They lead, you follow. Mr. Chau made us an offer to guide us for 3 days at something like $60 per person. He would arrange all meals and accommodation along the way. We decided to rent our bikes and head to the beach. We told Mr. Chau we would mull it over and get back to him in the evening.
After a day of sun-soaking and Tiger Beer, we met Mr. Chau at our guesthouse to discuss the trip. I was a little nervous. I had only some motorbiking experience (that same day) and driving around a foreign country in the jungle and mountains seemed kinda scary to me. My friends assured me, this is going to be awesome, just wait. So we agreed upon the trip with Mr. Chau, and the next morning we would depart Hoi An. Mr. Chau said one thing that made me feel safe and comfortable: “I am your Vietnamese father. I will lead you, I will carry you. No worries, just freedom.”
What happened in the next 3 days I really cannot explain. It was a high that I could not imagine possible. Mr. Chau led my friends and I on the Ho Chi Minh Highway for 3 days, stopping in small villages for coffee, small towns to eat and sleep in, waterfalls to jump in, mountains to climb, and historic sights to gaze at. And all the while, he would scream “FREEDOM” and yip like a monkey— some sort of primal call to the wild. It was intoxicating, so we would join him. Every time that motorbike zipped around a turn on the mountain, I saw the most beautiful landscape in my entire life. This happened over and over and over again for 3 days. I wish they had roadside cameras to capture the joy on my face (like the ones at amusement parks).
We crossed the DMZ line from the war that split the country in half. We stopped at the Vinh Moc Tunnels and explored an entire underground bunker city constructed by the Northern Vietnamese during the war. I laid on one of the most desolate beaches my mind can remember. We zipped through neon green rice fields on totally open road. Mr. Chau did not disappoint. Instead he gave me the experience of a lifetime.
When we finished our trip, we couldn’t thank Mr. Chau enough. He was our Vietnamese father, and it was tough to leave him and continue on our travels. And so today, years later, I remember this experience so vividly. This was Vietnam. This was the culture I wanted. This was freedom. I can’t recommend this adventure enough. Sometimes taking a risk, and doing something out of your comfort zone (even in a foreign land), is the best decision you can make.