Viet, the name of indigenous people, Nam meaning south (originally South China)— is a country close to the consciousness of most Americans from my generation. Halfway around the globe, we stuck our noses into someone else’s civil war, creating untold havoc, killing boatloads of their people and ours, distributed a gift called Agent Orange, a deadly chemical defoliant which had enormous detrimental effects for decades, then we left accomplishing little but destruction. The war made no sense. But then again, war is a business.
The protests were well into the swing of things during my high school years, culminating in the shooting deaths of several (white) students at Kent State University by reserve forces. The level of social stress during the late 60s and early 70s compared to what is happening currently is significant. Social media was still a long way off. Now, of course, even small political issues, ever so slightly affecting our so called ‘human rights,’ run amok on social streaming formats stirring ordinary folk into a frenzy.
During my first year of college, the military draft was in its third year. The top third draft picks were compelled to serve (in Vietnam). I remember holding my proverbial breath the day my year was in the hat, but fortunately, I drew a high number, so my anti-VN war dilemma was at least partially resolved by the luck of the draw.
Anyhow, it’s all history as they say. Since opening to globalization, many Americans have eagerly returned to Vietnam, perhaps subconsciously, to make sense of what the commotion was about. It also helps that it’s an overall beautifully diverse country and people, with a respectable infrastructure, and one of the cheapest places on earth to visit while offering decent creature comforts.
My first trip to Vietnam was a dozen years ago, a week-long sourcing trip to Hanoi and Saigon. The next trip a few years ago to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) taught me that taking videos in the street was like offering up a photo-taking device to motorbike riders who would zoom by at city cruising speed and deftly snatch it from the hand of the unsuspected. My new iPhone was only one-month-old at the time.
This trip, the planets aligned and gave nephew triple S, otherwise known as Super Sonic Sam (a close relation to a once known Super Sonic Steve) and me the opportunity for a joint motorbike exploration through the southern part of the country. Trip S has been roaming Asia since our last beachside trip a year ago. Even though we’ve both been to Vietnam, we each had more wandering we wanted to do there. Fortunate timing gave us the ability to do at least part of that together.
Triple S arrived a week before me and bought a motorbike the same day I arrived. I had a rental arranged. Our plan: spend two weeks meandering from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang where we would dump the bikes and continue on our own separate paths, which is exactly what we did.
Once the convoluted visa process at the airport was concluded, I took a taxi to the place where I rented the motorbike online — about 25 minutes from downtown. After doing the deal, strapping down my bags, I made it to my hotel in the dusk of rush-hour only by listening to a barely audible “left” or “right” from the headset of my phone’s GPS while zigging and zagging among tens of thousands of other motorbikes. Anyone who has been to HCM knows, without exaggeration, that there are more than a million motorcycles, crisscrossing non-stop every which way. In most intersections, the right-of-way is left up to whoever will yield first. At times, it’s like the merging of two schools of fish swimming opposite directions, with bikes swarming on all sides, instinctively making split-second adjustments to avoid colliding. It helps to have plenty of two-wheel experience. Having ridden a motorbike through Vietnam last year, TS took on the role of our navigator.
As was the case last year when trip S and I spent a week in southern Thailand, these two weeks in VN was another rich experience helped, in part, by a mutual workout/lifestyle ethos and a shared notion of maintaining a malleable perspective.
Following is a loose sequential pictorial summary as we started in the vehicle-dense city of Saigon, followed the coast north, wormed our way inland, climbed to the chill of higher elevation, before we serpentined back to the coast, staying at a couple of beach towns on the way to our biking destination.
Till another time.