Only in Viet Nam…

The thing that we love to do the most while travelling inside Viet Nam is to rent a motorbike and get out of the cities or tourist areas to explore this place for ourselves. Quite often after obtaining the motorbike we will glance at a map, make a decision in which direction we will head and go that way. If we see a road or lane way that looks interesting we will turn into it to see what we can discover. Travelling this way brings many unexpected results but even the way in which we have rented motorbikes makes for interesting telling.

During one weekend visit to Vung Tau I enquired at our hotel reception as to the price and availability of a motorbike and was advised to “go and speak to the man on the door”. I duly went and spoke to the doorman of the hotel and we negotiated a price for two days but he told me that I would have to wait until he finished his work shift and then he would go to his mothers house to get the bike. “Your mothers house?” I enquired and he revealed to me that yes, it was actually his mothers motorbike that we were going to rent and that she would do without in the meantime. OK, I guess that the rental money was more important to her than having her Honda for the weekend but knowing that we had rented someone’s personal means of transport still didn’t prepare me for the experience that we had in Hoi An.

We rented a motorbike for one day in Hoi An (cost for one day hire – VND60,000 or US$4) from the hotel directly opposite our own. They had a prominent sign at the front of the building indicating that we could rent a motorbike with driver or without. We opted for the “without” and went on our merry way. Around lunchtime we were saturated by a heavy deluge and after sheltering for a while in a small street side restaurant (banana pancakes and iced black coffee [ca phe da]) we headed back to our hotel for a rest. The rain had set in and we thought that any more touring was probably out of the question so I went to pay the man and return the bike. Lo and behold as I was paying him the sky was clearing and he encouraged me to keep the bike for longer, so when Lisa came downstairs expecting to go for a walk through town (change of clothes and shoes) there I was sitting on the bike with a stupid grin on my face. We headed out of town in the opposite direction from the morning and had a great ride through small hamlets, came across a pottery where Lisa spun her first ever clay pot (remember the change of shoes, now think of the wet clay) and generally had a fantastic time (another story). Subsequently we got back into Hoi An after dark and when we went to return the motorbike to the hotel, there was this poor man standing and waiting for us. You see, this was his bike and he needed it to get home. He had finished work some time before and had patiently waited for our return. I’m glad that we returned it to him with more fuel in it than when we got it as I felt guilty seeing him waiting on us. However, the best motorbike renting story so far happened in Da Nang.

Whenever I think of renting a vehicle of any kind in Australia I think of filling out forms, buying insurance, proof of identity, a valid drivers license, no criminal record etc. etc. So it comes as a bit of a surprise when renting a bike (as I did one time in Vung Tau) and asking whether or not I need a license to be told by the hotel receptionist “No sir, you don’t need a license, you just need to be careful”. Hmm… that’s good advice, particularly with no helmet. But I am constantly amazed at the trust that people have in you in Viet Nam. They give you an item of their own property which would be hugely significant to them and watch you drive away on it, no deposit, no paperwork, nothing more than the assurance that “Sure I can ride a motorbike. No problems”. That’s why this story from Da Nang is so special.

Lisa and I arrived in Da Nang City Airport at about 7.30am and by about 8.30am we had checked into our hotel, discovered that we could rent a Honda from them for US$5 per day and wandered off on foot to find some breakfast and have a look around. As we hit the streets we were greeted by xe om and cyclo drivers wanting to take us somewhere and all manner of other persons seeking to sell us something so by the time we had finished a bowl of Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup) and were into some serious window shopping we were both getting a bit flustered. Lisa had seen some “sensible” sandals (remember the change of shoes) that she wanted to try on so we headed towards a shoe shop that had caught our eye.

We were almost there when I heard a voice just off the footpath to my left. It was a guy on a Honda shadowing us, “Hello, what’s your name? Where you from? Where you go? I take you. You want go tour on back of motorbike. I have friend we take you both, no worries”. To this incessant dialogue I had been making fairly terse replies in a negative sort of fashion and I thought that I had this guy beaten when he asked if we wanted to go on a xe om (back of motorbike) tour by telling him quite emphatically that we were going to rent a motorbike from the people at our hotel. “How much they charge you? Where you stay? I have one other Honda brand new, I rent to you for $5 a day”. But I begged off all of this and hurriedly entered the shoe shop where by now Lisa was seated far down at the back trying on sandals.

I went over to see what she was doing and before long I realised that “old mate” from outside was looking over my shoulder (literally) and he began adding his comments about the design of the shoes and telling Lisa that she was a lucky woman because we were going to rent his motorbike and go for long rides around Da Nang. I turned around and looked at this guy, he introduced himself as Tom. Tom turned out to be a really nice person albeit a little pushy.

He told me that his other Honda was at his house and that he would take me there on the back of his bike. “OK Lisa, how does this sound, I leave you here by yourself in a shoe shop in a place where we know nobody and I take off on this guys bike who I don’t know to go somewhere that I know not where and hopefully I will return with a motorbike and we can get on with doing what we like to do most. Is that OK?” “Sure” she says with a slight gulp.

Well the fact of the matter is that we drove to his house which was only a few kilometres, Tom gave me the keys to his brand new Honda (less than 1200 Klms on the clock), asked me if I knew how to ride a bike and showed me the way back to the shoe shop. Tom gave us his mobile number scrawled on a scrap piece of paper (I’ve kept it as a momento) and apart from telling him which hotel we were staying in, that was it. Bye bye, see you in a couple of days, nice meeting you, we’ll look after your bike. No deposit, no paper work, just an agreement between three people. Marvellous!

It comes under the heading of “Only in Viet Nam” and is the type of experience that will keep me here.