May 23, 2016: Cát Tiên, Vietnam- “I’ll send you a postcard.”

A quick memory from the first day of my motorcycle adventure through Vietnam.

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Amelia Crocker: Inspired by Amelia Earhart & Aimee Crocker.

“Trip 1- 180km from Ho Chi Minh City to Cat Tien. My dad used to work for a motorcycle rights group so before he had kids- he was constantly on the road, traveling to 31 different states for motorcycle rallies. As a child I was always surrounded by bikers and motorcycles. I should have been inspired to learn how to ride one a lot earlier in life, but the truth is, I am absolutely terrified of motorcycles but the whole point of this trip is to conquer ALL of my fears. Yesterday was my 4th time ever riding a motorcycle. We left the hostel at 5am to avoid HCMC traffic. Even when most of the city is sleeping, the traffic continues to flow without road rules and a kamikaze attitude. Red lights, stop signs, yielding at intersections, crosswalks, and lanes do not exist. Those unfamiliar with SE Asia, the motorbike drivers can accomplish the unimaginable. When it comes to driving, anything goes here. Anyway back to the drive, after two hours with my heart racing and a constant flow of “OHH MY GOD OH MY GOD” as bikes and truck fly past, we made it out of the city! Halfway through the journey, I heard a jingling sound coming from the bike. I looked down and saw screw wiggling it’s way out of some important looking part (I don’t know anything about the mechanics of a motorcycle) One hour later, this photo was taken. My transmission died and after shelling out a whopping 50,000 VMD ($4) for repairs, we were back on the road.. for 25KM where the same screw fell out. With the help of a Vietnamese family, I was brought to a mechanic and once again, I was back on the road. On the last stretch of our trip the road turned to dirt, rocks and mud but after 20km of white knuckling the handlebars, I made it to Cat Tien just before sunset. After 12 hours, I MADE IT. #ThreetoedTwowheeled

Thank you Christie and James for all of your help. Don’t forget to toast the road gods and travel safe !

P.s. here’s a quick shout out to the man I met in HCMC who told me that buying a motorcycle is a stupid idea, and that I won’t make it out of the city. I’ll send you a postcard when I get to Hanoi.”

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Selfie from inside of the van.

My bike broke down (again) shortly after arriving in a village near Cát Tiên. The sun was setting so I found a guesthouse and a bowl of Pho. I needed to find a mechanic but I also just wanted to get to DaLat. There was a local who knew a little bit of English who helped me figure out how to do that. The next morning a small, white van arrived and I was shuffled into the seat and told to wrap my arm around the (leaking) gas tank while they used a bungie cord to secure the bike. They looped the cord through the bike and out through the windows before securing the hooks somewhere on the roof of the van. I pointed at the gas droplets and the driver simply waved his hands and shrugged. The driver got back in, lit his cigarette and we were off! I spent 2 hours with my arms wrapped around my motorcycle, watching my gas tank slowly leak onto the floor, while the driver and other van passengers chain-smoked cigarettes all the way up to DaLat.

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Multiple people have asked me if I would recommend the motorcycle trip in Vietnam, my answer is YES and it will always be YES. These were possibly the most stressful two months of my life, but they were also the most exhilarating. YES a million times. Sorry, did I mention that my answer is YES? The entire trip was terrifying, and there wasn’t really a day that went by where I didn’t think “THIS MIIIIIGHT BE THE END.” There was a moment in SaPa where I parked the bike outside of a mechanic and almost never came back for it after my front & back brakes when out on the way up the mountain. I still hear the infamous echoing horn sound from the lorries in my nightmares. I can recall the sensation of (what felt like) my soul leaving my body as my bike plummeted into a canyon-sized pothole.  I vividly remember white knuckling the handlebars, shouting the most creative obscenities as I rode into the collective chaos of a 200+ person traffic circle (including motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, cars, animals, trucks.. you name it) leaving HCMC. Vietnam gives meaning to the quote “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” because sometimes you just get used to actual roads being a luxury.

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But I also felt undeniably free for the first time in my life.

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I spent most of the trip with two other backpackers that I met at a hostel in DaLat. During one of our travel days, we were stopped by the daily late-afternoon monsoon. We were only 45 minutes from our destination but we saw a massive storm cloud coming our way and we knew that we wouldn’t be able to beat the storm. Somehow there was  miscommunication and we lost John for a bit. Keith and I were still driving as the rain started to come down. We drove until we couldn’t physically battle the rain any longer. We were in the middle of nowhere but we managed to find a tree to hide under. The rain was relentless, the street started to flood, our clothes were soaked with mud and we had no idea where our friend John went. All of a sudden, a woman ran out of her house and ushered us towards her barn. She let us take shelter under the roof with her cows. We sat in-between a cow and a pile of manure for what felt like hours. The woman eventually came out and invited us into her home. She brought us into a room and pointed at the mats on the floor, we both sat down and thats when her kid came bouncing into the room. She looked at us with a mixed expression before turning away to play with a toy. The woman left us in the room with the giggling child for a few minutes before returning with freshly steamed corn & green tea. We spent about an hour with this family, and that hour will always be my fondest travel memory. Why? Because this shared experience was more beautiful than any mountain vista or natural wonder. The kindness of strangers is something that will never stop inspiring me.

The most common concern I get from those around me is “aren’t you afraid?” or “I heard its dangerous..” I’ve put myself in plenty of skeptical situations, but I’ve been ultimately greeted with pure, compassionate kindness. I’ve couchsurfed & hitchhiked both domestically & internationally. I’ve shared all sorts of different spaces with hundreds of different strangers. I’ve put so much trust into strangers and I’ve opened myself up to plenty of people in need. I choose to help others without hesitation because I want to give back to the world that’s been so incredibly kind to me. Yes, I’ve also been placed in situations that didn’t turn out in my favor- I’ve been burned a handful of times. A couple of those situations even temporarily turned me into the person I spent years trying to avoid. I’ve only recently noticed just how isolated I’ve become. I’m here to say that I’m back. I’m back and ready to begin living again: all because of memories like this. The world doesn’t need any more fear, and we sure don’t need any more apathetic drifters.

She could’ve left us out in the rain, She could’ve left us out in the barn with her cows. I mean, we were just two random foreigners, soaked in rain, sweat and cow manure that somehow ended up under her tree. Instead of leaving us out there, she invited us into her home with her family and shared a meal with us.

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So in case anyone was ever curious about my favorite travel memory, that’s it.

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How did I end up with a motorcycle on my first day in Vietnam?

I get this question a lot, and my answer is always the same.

Because I’m stubborn as all hell. 

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I was couchsurfing in Ho Chi Minh City with two other backpackers from the Netherlands. Our host made us dinner and we all sat around exchanging stories. The two guys told us all about how they bought these two motorcycles in Hanoi a few weeks prior and they made it all the way down the coast within 4 weeks. I mentioned how I was too afraid to get on a motorcycle since I had no experience. The one guy giggled at my statement and thats when he said “I’ve never been on a motorcycle before landing in Hanoi.

If these two guys can learn to ride AND conquer the frightening streets of Vietnam, well then I can too!

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I bought an old, sketchy Honda Win from a Dutch guy named Tobias for $150. I was absolutely thrilled about the idea, until he handed me the keys and asked “Sooo.. Do you want a lesson?”

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Fast forward to a few (unsuccessful) days later: I was sipping a cup of coffee at my hostel waiting for the traffic to calm down (totally not a thing, HCMC traffic never “slows down”) so I could finally go practice again. I spent three days staring at this motorcycle but never gathering the courage to actually shift it into gear. My eyes were glued to the motorcycle that was parked across the street, and I had my helmet resting on the table. An older English guy sat down next to me and struck up a conversation about the helmet. I told him my travel plans, Maybe it was the hesitation in my voice but what he said after was what pushed me to finally get on that bike. “Buying that bike was a stupid idea and you’ll never even make it out of the city.”

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Alive & freshly tattooed in Hanoi

I’m just upset I never got to send him that postcard.

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