We flew from Siem Reap, Cambodia into Danang, in central Vietnam, but immediately drove the short distance to Hoi An for our departure on our motorcycle trip, which turned out to be the highlight of our month in Vietnam.

Hoi An

We spent a couple of nights, but sadly only one day in Hoi An, a quaint old trading port that has become a bustling tourist destination. Renowned for its timeworn merchants’ homes, riverfront streets and Chinese assembly halls, Hoi An was shaped over time by Chinese and Japanese settlers, and hosted a myriad of European traders in the 15-1600’s. Hoi An lost out on bustling port activity in the late 1800s when its river silted up and trade moved to Danang. All the better for us as Hoi An is consequently one of the best-preserved historical ports in Southeast Asia. And the tailors….wow. They are everywhere, and cheap, and quick!

Getting fitted for a custom shirt that will be made in one day. $20 USD.

Mark actually wanted a suit with this banana pattern….thank goodness it took two days and we only had one before leaving.

Taking a short cruise on the Thu Bon River which runs through Hoi An.

A portion of the Thu Bon River is lined with markets.

These boats were originally built during the French “colonization” because the French taxed the Vietnamese based on the length of their boats. Quite an ingenious way around the rules!

A fisherman expertly throws his net out on the Thu Bon River.

Net throwing 101.

The student gives it a go…

…..success on the first attempt!

Teacher and student are all smiles!

The old fashioned nets were a stark dichotomy to the modern bridge in the background.

Prominent in Hoi An’s old town, is its “Japanese Bridge,” dating to the 16th-17th century. Accepting an invitation from the Nguyen lords, the Japanese and Chinese settled on either side of the waterway spanned by the Japanese Bridge. At either end of this wood-planked bridge is a pair of statues, monkeys on one end and dogs on the other, which are believed to represent the years construction was started and finished. The Chinese characters hoisted above the bridge in 1791 describe it as the “faraway people’s” bridge.

The Japanese Bridge lit up at night.

Hoi An’s old town is lined with flowering trees and strings of lanterns…..

….that light up to create very festive night scenes (with lots of tourists taking selfies)…

….including us.

Evening in our hotel in Hoi An – a lovely little resort hotel as it turned out.

The bell staff at our hotel laughing about how heavy our luggage is…. all this on a motorbike?!

Motorcycling with Hoi An Motorbike Adventures

From Hoi An, we started our 4-day motorcycle trip with Hoi An Motorbike Adventures with our guide, Lee, an Australian who’s been living in Vietnam for 3 years. We are so thankful we booked this trip as we got such a better feel for the country and its people by getting out into the countryside rather than just visiting the more touristy urban areas.

About to set off on our 4-day motorcycle trek, weaving through Vietnam’s mid-section.

We first passed through Danang which has grown to be the third largest city in Vietnam and is the commercial and educational center of central Vietnam. It is a relatively young city. It has experienced explosive growth since the end of the Vietnam War and has grown into Vietnam’s most important port.

Lady Buddha, just outside Danang, is 230 feet tall — which exceeds the height of the “Christ the Redeemer” statue in Rio by more than 100 feet.

A view of Danang from the Monkey Mountain, the ridge of the peninsula which juts out into the East Vietnam Sea outside Danang.

The spot above Danang where the US supposedly landed the first troops via helicopters in 1965.

The coastline on the peninsula outside Danang was stunning.

We passed many rice fields along the way – green and lush.

A model posing for a professional photographer in a tea plantation.

We lunched with 92-year-old Glay Khen, the former head of the local minority group – the Co Tu – and an ex-NVA (North Vietnamese Army) commander. Mr. Khen is a decorated war hero, and represented the Co Tu people with the Viet Cong and at the Paris Peace Treaty meetings. Mr. Khen was a gracious host.

He showed us some of his awards…

….and some of his trophies….

….and the weapons he used when hunting. 

A skilled woodcarver, he has even made his own casket.

A painting of Mr. Khen as a younger man….

…and, finally, a replica of the house in which he was born.

Mr. Khen’s family made a delicious lunch for us, dishes that they would only partake in on special occasions.

After lunch, he let us hold one of his pets…

….no… not nervous at all…

After leaving Mr. Khen, we traveled on to Bho Hoong, a remote Co Tu village where we stayed overnight.

The valley in which Bho Hoong village resides.

We crossed this bridge to enter Bho Hoong Village.

After a day of riding, including a little off-roading…

..we had a quick dip before dinner.

As we returned, a wicked game of volleyball was in progress among the villagers. Apparently, volleyball is a big deal in Vietnam. Almost all of the villages have a community volleyball court.

Dinner was in this “Community House”…..

…and was a feast prepared by some of the villagers.

After dinner, a group of villagers (mostly elders) played traditional Co Tu music for us.

They each played a different instrument. (videos)

Including these two who were both over 90 years old. Look at the incredible flexibility. Mark had knee envy.

Day 2, after leaving the Co Tu village, we headed out on the Ho Chi Minh Highway west, which runs north/south along the western border of Vietnam. Kept in excellent shape, it was built to relieve some of the traffic on the north/south coastal route 1 to the east. Because it is the mountains, however, it gets very little traffic. Therefore….a perfect motorcycle road!

We stopped along the Ho Chi Minh Highway for a quick dip in one of the many pools….

…created by waterfalls.

We tried out a bit of dirt biking. The Vietnamese are experts at riding these roads. We were novices…

….especially along roads like this.

A last view from the Ho Chi Minh Highway west before arriving at the historically significant city of Hue, where we spent our second night.