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Motorcycling Through Hue and Rural Vietnam

Posted: 18/12/2013 15:14

The rice is laid out on the road to dry in the sun. The grains crunch as the tyres speed over them. Harvest is in full swing, but it is monsoon season and when the sun shines, everyone gets busy.

Qui, my driver, looks about 15 or 16. But I have to trust him. Motorbikes are the most popular form of transport in Vietnam. There are 37 million of them here, and only 2 million cars.

Our journey begins on a hilltop, overlooking the Perfume River near the city of Hue. We are close to the Ho Chi Minh trail. There is still an American bunker here, pockmarked with bullet holes. From the top, there are panoramic views of the hillside and the magnificent river wending through the jungle below. It is from here that our convoy of motorbikes takes off to explore the villages on the outskirts of the city.

The rural landscape seems tranquil and harmonious. Ripe durian fruit hang from the trees surrounding the paths and buffalo graze by the roadside. The smell of incense drifts out of nearby temples. Most of the villagers work on the land - harvesting rice in the paddies and picking fruit. Each village has its own patch, farmed co-operatively by the community.

We stop at a monastery where monks serve us sticky rice, sweet tofu curry and fried spring rolls. We rest after a heavy lunch. I hear the monks chanting mantras in some distant part of the building. It's hypnotic and I'm almost asleep on the cool tiled floor.

It isn't long until we are back on the bikes again, on our way to Hue. The pace changes as we reach the city. Driving on busier roads means it easy to get lost in the whirlwind of rickshaws and motorcyclists. It is exhilarating but a little frightening.

There are no traffic rules. Our ride includes a slalom the wrong way down a busy dual carriageway. Motorbikes seat entire families on them. Often you see a couple on a scooter with a baby or a toddler wedged comfortably in between them. The children seem fine with it, there is no fear.

Qui steers carefully through the back alleys of Hue, dodging young children, adults and stray animals on the way. The streets and the pavements are a riot of stalls selling everything from colourful fabrics to caged birds. Stray dogs wander along the roads and a man whizzes by with a live pig tied to his handlebars. We pass the backs of the houses, catching fleeting glimpses of domestic life that you never see when travelling on the main roads.

The motorcycle is an emblem of modern Vietnam. Half a day riding pillion is a great way to see the country and its people at close range.

 

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