Vietnam Summary 2016
Below is a summary of our three months in Vietnam from May – July 2016 – the good, the bad and the ugly. We’ve included our best and worst parts, a few things we learnt and how much it all cost.
Vietnam 2016 Snapshot:
- Total days in Vietnam: 87 Days (May, June & July 2016)
- Total beds slept in: 35 Different beds
- Distance travelled: 5,500 km by motorbike
- Average spend: $85 AUD per day
- Total spend: $7,400 AUD for both of us
First things first, how much did three months on the road in Vietnam cost us? Being mindful of our daily spend, we kept a daily record of everything we spent and have broken it all down into a simple pie chart below, with a further breakdown of ongoing bike costs beneath.
Breakdown of total cost:
Note: Red ($427.27) is ‘miscellaneous’ – some bike costs were put under this category.
Cost of bike ownership:
Aside from buying the bikes in Hanoi (US $600.00 each) the cost of running the bikes is broken down as follows:
- Maintenance and repair*: 550,000 VND
- Oil changes (6): 1,500,000 VND
- Petrol: 3,630,000 VND
- Decals**: 1,000,000 VND
- Total spend: 6,680,000 VND / $396 AUD
* Maintenance and repair includes items that were damaged on the road and needed replacing namely; 1 new brake lever (30,000 VND), 1 new rear brake assembly (120,000 VND), 1 set of new back brake pads (130,000 VND), 1 throttle rebuild (20,000 VND), a new electric starter button (100,000 VND), 7 rear wheel spokes (70,000 VND), 3 punctures (80,000 VND)
**pimping our rides
The Sights of Vietnam:
We heard a lot of great things about Vietnam through friends or by reading different blog posts. After touring the country we know that everyone’s travel experiences are uniquely their own, so for what it’s worth here are our top spots and places to avoid.
This is too hard to limit to one place, as there have been so many places we have loved for various reasons. In no particular order other than general north to south, we would say the following destinations have to be seen if in Vietnam:
- Sapa for the mountain views
- Bac Ha for the tribal market
- Cat Ba for restful relaxation on the beach
- Hanoi for the old quarter
- Phong Nha for the amazing caves and scenery
- Khe Sanh for the military fort
- Hue for the Citadel and access to DMZ
- Lang Co for the beaches and lookouts
- Hoi An for the beautiful lantern lit old quarter and tailors
- Kon Tum for the friendly people
- Buon Ma Thuot / Lak Lake for the waterfalls
- Nam Cat Tien for the gibbons tour and jungle wildlife
- HCMC for the iconic sights where old meets new
- My Tho / Can Tho and the Mekong delta for the stunning scenery around the canals
- Phu Quoc for the relaxed island vibe and local animals
Least favourite place:
There haven’t been many places at all in three months that we have disliked, however…
- Sam Son gets a special mention here for being the worst place we visited. Expensive, rude, busy are just three words that jump to mind. Avoid at all costs unless you enjoy paying 2-3 times the going rate for piss poor quality and service. Also watch for the scam artists.
- We’re also sorry to say that Nha Trang gets a mention on this list. We both had high hopes for Nha Trang and had planned to stay a week. In the end 36 hours was all we could handle. If you like beaches full of sun loungers, obnoxious tourists (both domestic and international) and high prices, then Nha Trang is the place for you. We did find one nice local sea food restaurant which we truly enjoyed. But other than that we were keen to leave the moment we arrived.
We didn’t take too many tours, preferring the comfort of our own bikes and using maps.me and google maps to find our way.
However Vinh’s tour of the DMZ from Hue with Andy & Janice gets a special mention. Vinh is a very knowledgable guide with a good sense of humour and spoke fantastic English. The tour was booked through stop and go tours in Hue.
This is a toss up between a few hotels:
- The Lang Co Beach resort was a great hotel and awesome fun with best mates.
- The Heart of Sapa hotel was fantastically priced with super friendly and helpful staff.
- The Ninila fruit farm bungalows on Phu Quoc was great relaxation at a reasonable price with good food on site and our lovely baby kitten.
On the Road:
We’ve certainly had quite an adventure on our bikes and seen some amazing sights as we’ve travelled off the beaten track – sadly some we can’t unsee – like a random naked man walking down a busy country street, oh my! Here are our highlights:
If we had to pick three favourite roads through Vietnam they would be:
- In first place its the back road from Phong Nha to Khe Sanh through unspoilt rainforest close by the Laosian border.
- A close second would be the phenomenal road from Nghia Lo up and over the mountains to Sapa.
- In third place would be another road in the north heading from Bac Ha to the eastern perimeter border of lao Cai province. This road however becomes exceptionally challenging after crossing the provincial border.
Other notable mentions would be the Hai Van pass north of Danang; the winding backroads through the Mekong delta along canal sides and over bridges; and the coastal road south of Hoi An past the prawn farms and across the small local ferries.
Least favourite roads:
Since we are mentioning favourite roads, it’s also probably worth bringing in to the mix some of our least favourite roads of the journey:
- In first place by a country mile is the coastal road from the Cat Ba ferry towards Haiphong. This road is dusty beyond beliefs and excessively busy. A serious one to avoid.
- A close second place also goes to another road in the vicinity of Ha Long Bay which is the coast road from the Chinese border in towards Halong town, past the huge open cast mines.
- Third place goes to the QL1 / AH1 which is a road that should be avoided where possible in favour of backroads. It’s a major arterial road with heavy traffic and constant horns beeping.
Other notable mentions go to the road at the far north of Phu Quoc island, which whilst being a main road is essentially a 7km potholed muddy dirt track in serious need of repair; the road that never was on the way to Kon Tum; and also any of the roads that are in the middle of road works, as these are unbelievably dangerous areas that we had to ride through, as we discovered on two occasions.
Things to expect to see on the roads:
- General rule is that the biggest motor on the road has the right of way; it’s never a motorbike
- Cars and trucks overtaking each other at speed on single lane roads, including on mountainous blind corners – they drive as if they are weaving on a motorbike, incredibly dangerous
- Cars and trucks driving on the wrong side of the road, often for no reason
- Beeping horns from behind means “watch out I’m passing you, now”
- Oncoming traffic with lights on means “I’m coming through on your side of the road so watch out cos I’m bigger than you” – Still, it’s nice to get the warning
- Animals roaming free will decide to cross at any given moment, we’ve slowed down, swerved or stopped for: Water buffalo, cows, chickens, roosters, ducks, geese, goats, cats, dogs, snakes and… young children playing on the road
- On the country roads the children flip out in excitement at the sight of a westerner and there are choruses of “hello” and giggles as you pass them, you’ll make their day if you wave and say “hello” back
Thankfully no police stops or bribes of any kind. We saw a lot of traffic cops at the side of the road in their distinctive khaki uniforms, but when they spot westerners on bikes the tendency seems to be to wave them by. Unless you are riding without helmet or like an idiot, the police tend to leave you alone.
Not a section we expected to include given we were on motorbikes. However, there were some poor unsuspecting victims of the ride:
- A chicken that out in front of Eddies bike (RIP chicken).
- A second chicken on a different day thankfully remained relatively unscathed after a high speed knee butt. A very close call!
- A cobra (alive when Eddie passed it, dead moments later when we returned to check it out after Tracey passed it)
- Un countable number of flies, moths, butterflies
Weird things seen carried on back of bikes:
This list could go on and on and on, so in the interests of space we are listing the more obscure items. Best to assume if anything you are thinking of is less bizarre than this list… Then it was seen! Here goes:
- 5 people, 1 bike
- A goat
- A pig
- Multiple pigs
- A dog on handlebars
- Cages full of ducks, chickens, dogs, puppies, Pigs, piglets
- Water containers with air pumps and live fish
- Plate glass
- Door frames
- Display cabinets
- A fridge freezer
- Gas cylinders
- Water / beer – approximately 15 cases
- Wood. Lots and lots of wood
- Huge carts attached to the back
- Side cars with shopping stalls attached to the side
- Various contraptions dangling off the back and sides; the most scary being a man riding along a dusty potholed dirt track with an open fire dangling on both sides keeping his huge cooking pots on the boil
Sadly we have seen a few accidents on the roads and had a couple of minor ones ourselves. Accidents we witnessed include:
- A truck flipped in the mountains
- A bus crashed across a ditch in the mountains
- A Range Rover flipping on a straight road in central Hanoi
- Motorbikes colliding with one another right in front of us in central Hanoi
- Aftermath of a motorbike and car collision in central highlands (sadly a fatality)
- Aftermath of a backpacker swerving to avoid dog and flipping motorbike
- Motorbike and bus collision just outside Nha Trang
- Phu Quoc local got flipped of his bike at high speed after not seeing a steep dip in the road, covered in cuts and bruises and very shaken up
Well, that’s a wrap! Vietnam you’ve been superb and we hope to visit you many times over the coming years.