My first mistake was assuming we were taking the direct path from Hue to Da Nang which was a reasonable 100km, or 62 miles over the course of two days. "Sure... no worries." I said despite never having ridden a motorbike before. That's a lie. 9 years before I tried riding and almost careened into a rice paddy. But hey, I'm still alive and kicking.My second mistake was naively thinking one day of practice before the trip would be sufficient to keep an uncoordinated person (such as me) unharmed. Within two minutes of leaving the hotel on my rental motorbike, I found myself behind the pack and dealing with an unprotected left turn in a large intersection in Hue. Cue panic.
Vietnam driving etiquette is a whole different ball game. People move fluidly in and around you in every direction. They key is to drive confidently in a sensible trajectory (which I wasn't exactly doing). I began to turn left then hesitated and wobbled at the sight of a woman riding directly at me. Before I could register completely, I was forced into a tight turn and scraped my right side against the side of a parked taxi. In the shock, I erroneously pulled the throttle back and accelerated into a parked cyclo filled with plant pots. Well, that was certainly one way to get the bike to stop.
In typical Vietnamese fashion, grievances were immediately aired. I've been told whoever possesses the loudest voice has the most sway in the situation. The taxi driver and cyclo man immediately began yelling and pointing their fingers at me. Onlookers flocked to the area and began shouting their own version of the events. Our tour guide pulled up and got into the fray while grabbing a few bills from his pocket. In the end, the taxi driver was given $20 or so and the cyclo man got $5. Not so bad on the wallet! I was extremely fortunate and came away unscathed with only a bruise to show for the whole ordeal.
I learned a few things that day:
1) When you fail or fall, it's imperative to get up and try again right away. Especially if it scares you. Our tour guide immediately had me ride around the block with him to make sure I could do it. 10 minutes later, we set off on the trail.
2) Booking an outstanding tour guide is worth every cent or dong in this case. I went back and forth deciding between Hue Adventures, which was rated well on TripAdvisor versus hiring a guide with no online reputation for a fraction of the price. My traffic accident and the subsequent trip that followed could have been drastically different. Hue Adventures handled the situation marvelously and made sure I came home with all my limbs and a big smile.
3) Bad things can and do happen on vacations. Prepare well to minimize damage and don't let negative experiences stain the entire journey. Never let difficult circumstances own you. Don't forget to find the humor in every situation. We all had a good laugh at dinner recanting our own versions of the day's events.
The 270km motorbike ride is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. Despite visiting Vietnam three times before, I had never felt so connected to my heritage until this trip.
We rode along the Ho Chi Minh trail in the blistering heat and downpour of rain. I will never forget the children waving in the tiny village streets, buying gas from a 1960's-era hand operated petrol pump, the humbling feeling of huge trucks ambling past, the smell of thick humidity, and the sound of heavy insects calling from the thick jungles. I held hands with the vibrant 95-year-old matriarch from the Ta Oi tribe and witnessed wise kindness in her eyes. This ride gave me more than an adventure; I caught a rare glimpse into the chaotic beauty my ancestors have called home for thousands of years.
Video credit to my drone-flying brother, M.