Our Motorbike Trip to Hue (or Bust!)

Blog entry created by: Jennifer

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“Surprise! You and Meagan are going on a bike trip!”

While we were in Hoi An, it was somehow and suddenly decided that Meagan and I would rent motorbikes and drive them to Hue and back while my mom stayed with the kids and made sure they did school for a few days.  Originally we had planned to all go on a motorbike trip together, but due to lackadaisical school progress Alex and Bella were forced to stay behind.

“Of course I know what I'm doing! I've spent a couple hours on one of these babies!”

We checked online and found that in general, it takes four-six hours to get to Hue by motorbike.  It didn’t seem like too bad of a drive, and plus we had heard that it was on a nice highway right up the coast. So what if our only motorbike experience was a two hour training session on a semi-automatic with a broken speedometer that had been taught by some friendly hotel staff in Cambodia? We were going to get automatics this time- the things should basically drive themselves! It was this confidence and belief in ourselves that allowed us to overcome our fears and decided that we could really make the drive.

Our comprehensive bike knowledge, part 2

On the morning of our first day we got dressed and each packed a small backpack full of the essentials before walking from our hotel to the nearby bike rental place (which was actually a family’s house.) We paid half of the total price and then had them fill the bikes with gas from the plastic liter bottles of it that they had. After that we went through a very brief biking lesson, which included how to turn on the bikes, how to open the storage space under the seat, which were the front and back brakes, and of course, how to accelerate. What more could we need to learn?

This isn't Dora the Explorer. We don't need a map!

After a wobbly first minute we successfully started driving out of Hoi An before we realized our first problem- we had no idea where we were going. Meagan had looked up the route on MapQuest, but could only remember that it was basically only one highway the whole way- highway 1A. Unfortunately we didn’t know how to get to that highway, but we did remember that the town of Da Nang was located on the path that we wanted to take, and wasn’t too far from Hoi An. We decided to search for a map, and parked our bikes on a sandy area across the street from some local shops and restaurants. (Note first mistake: Parking a motorbike on a SANDY area.) Unfortunately we had already left the touristy part of town, which meant that we had also left the area where maps where available. We decided to just ask which way to go to Da Nang, and then once we got there we could seek further instructions.  After riding my bike much like a bucking bronco to get out of the sand pit I was now stuck in and almost hitting a cyclist as we pulled onto the road, we were off!

Mountain climbing

We drove and drove, and eventually reached Da Nang. Thinking that we were already on 1A and that we just had to keep going straight, we suddenly found ourselves at a dead end. What to do? We decided to follow the sign we had seen pointing to a tourist area and ask there, where someone was likely to speak English. That sign led us up a paved road that took us to the top of a mountain, where there sat a small café. A few guys were building something out front, so we went up to them to ask them directions.

Average communication experience

“Hue?” We asked. I wrote the name on my hand to clarify and showed it to them. Meagan pointed further up the mountain, where the paved road became a dirt one full of pits and debris. “Is Hue that way?” (Hue is supposed to lie past three mountains when one is driving from Hoi An. We thought we might be on the first one.)

No, it turned out, Hue was not that way. The men got one of their friends from inside the café who spoke some English, and he took us to the top floor of the café where there was a view of the whole city of Da Nang. He pointed to a bridge a little ways off, and said that we needed to go there. Then he drew us what was to become our second most useless map of our journey. We thanked them, got on our bikes, and set off for the bridge, hoping that we would be able to find it once we no longer had a bird’s eye view of the city. Here we lucked out again- after retracing our path a little bit, we found a sign that said “bridge” and soon we were on it. This, it turned out, was also highway 1A. Success!

A nice break from riding

Following the 1A and Hue signs, we eventually got to a toll booth and motorbike stop. Motorbikes aren’t allowed on this stretch of the highway, which is one long tunnel through the first mountain. Riders pay a small amount of money to put their bikes on a truck that will take them through the tunnel, and then get on a bus that takes them and all of the other bikers to meet their bikes on the other side of the mountain. There’s a different road up the mountain that allows motorbikes; we were planning to take that one originally, but by this time we decided that just getting to Hue was the priority and that we could use a break from riding.

Once we know where we're going, this is a beautiful ride!

After we got through the tunnel and back on our bikes, the rest of the journey was a straight shot to Hue. We went over the next two mountains and saw beautiful views of the countryside. Crossing the mountains was one of my favorite parts of the bike trip, despite the fact that we were stuck behind large trucks coughing exhaust into our faces.

Hue at last

After a mind and butt-numbing five-ish hours riding, with stops only to ask directions and our short break going through the tunnel, we finally arrived at our hotel in Hue. We were exhausted, thankful to have made it, and extremely dirty. I looked much like a raccoon- a very, very dirty raccoon. After showering and resting for a while, we went out had had a lovely dinner and a nearby restaurant. We were considering seeing one of the sights in Hue before setting off at around 11 the next day, but you know what we ended up doing? Sleeping. Sleeping, and telling each other how much we really weren’t looking forward to riding all of the way back to Hoi An.

Home again home again, jiggity jig

Ride back we did, however, and I must say that the trip back went a lot more smoothly than the trip there. Of course it did drizzle a little, and of course we hadn’t brought rain jackets; it’s amazing how much a drizzle can feel like needles on your face when you’re moving at 50km. Luckily the rain never became more than a drizzle, and we safely made it over the mountains and through the tunnel. We stopped to have lunch in Da Nang, which may have only tasted like the best meal of my life because I was so wiped out from riding. It took us a while to find our way out of Da Nang (no thanks to the map that the waitress at the restaurant drew us- that wins as the worst map of our journey.)

Police have been known to pull over foreigners riding motorbikes for not having the proper license, but we knew from talking to other people that $3-$5 dollars is enough to get them to forget that they ever saw you (even though their standard request is $50.) Luckily we weren’t stopped at all while we were driving.

Exhausted, but safe and sound

After over ten hours of riding in two days, we finally made it back to our hotel in Hoi An. We greeted my mom, Alex, and Bella, told them about our trip, and then fell immediately fell asleep. My final recommendation to those considering driving from Hoi An to Hue? Do it! It is really fun, and a beautiful drive. But don’t go there and back in two days. And bring a map.

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Posted on: April 13, 2011 | Categories: How People Travel, recreation, Travel Tips, Vietnam

 

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