Vietnam is a spectacular country, and many people claim that the best way to see it is by motorbike. However, if you really want to do this there are a few things you’ll need to think about first.
If your travelling on a budget you will want to buy your bike on cheap. Check out Vietnam’s Craigslist, this Facebook group and local mechanics. The going rate for a Honda WIN, (what most travellers buy) is $250, and you can usually sell it for a similar price. Apparently you can buy a brand new motorbike for $600, so if your seeking a more luxurious, comfortable experience this might be a better option. Whoever you end up buying your bike off don’t forget that they are making money from you, so don’t believe all the positive things they say about the vehicle. Chances are you’ll have to pay for some form of maintenance during your trip, because these bikes aren’t exactly new.
Vietnamese police are renowned for being corrupt, so if you get pulled over you will probably have to hand over some money. There’s plenty of police checks on the roads around he country, and most travellers are stopped at least once. They might claim that you’ve committed a bogus driving offence or it could be a licence check; if you don’t have an international licence you will get fined as well. The biggest extortion I heard of was 1,000,000 vnd, so it’s not to expensive. Do drive carefully at all times to try and avoid this happening.
Despite this route being so popular with travellers, it’s not exactly legal. Unless you have an international and motorbike licence your insurance will not cover you, so if you have an accident you will have to cover the fees that could be exorbitant. Some locals told me that even that isn’t enough as you are supposed to have a Vietnamese licence to drive in the country. Do check with your own insurance beforehand.
1. You can explore the country at your own speed, instead of sticking to bus and train timetables.
2. Without sounding too much like a hipster; it gives you the opportunity to get off the beaten track. The little towns at the side of the main road will have something to offer, (even if they’re not in the guide book).
3. You’ll stumble upon some beautiful sites whilst you’re driving through the country; deserted beaches, thrilling mountain passes and lush vegetation.
4. Roadside restaurants serve some of the best Vietnamese food.
5. There’s no need for public transportation.
6. You will see some truely bizzare things on the backseat of other motorbikes. My top three are: a pig carcass, a motorbike and a box of grenades!
1. You’re the driver, so you can’t enjoy the luxuries of public transport such as napping and reading your way through long journeys.
2. Chances are you’ll get lost.
3. You need to look after the bike; filling the petrol, changing the oil and maintaining it in any other way necessary.
4. Your bum will hurt from long journeys on potholed roads.
5. You’re completely exposed to the elements: in hot weather you’ll get sunburn, in rain you’ll get soaked.
6. You will be worried; whether it’s about an accident, the crazy driving, following the road signs or the police.
During the two years that I have spent living and travelling around Asia I’ve seen more temples than I care to remember. However, out of all of these sacrosanct places of worship one in particular stands out.
The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), is situated just outside of Chiang Rai in northern Thailand. Technically, it is a private art exhibition, but the style has distinct links to that of a Buddhist temple, and there are plans that in the near future monks will be housed within the grounds. It was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, and opened to the public in 1997. It is free to enter the complex.
The ornate structure is imbedded with mirrored chips which make is glitter in the light. The design is extremely baroque, and the tiniest of details are adorned beautifully, (even the the bathrooms are ornate and coloured a stunning gold in contrast to the temple). Many of the features have a deeper, ominous meaning; for example the hands that reach out desperately as you cross over he bridge into the temple represent unrestrained desire. Also, inside the ubosot there are some obscure murals which are out of sync with the rest of the design; there’s an amalgamation of human destruction and modern idols which portray the negative impact our life on Earth has.
If you do make it to Chiang Rai another must see in the area is the Black House (Baan Dam). It was created by Chalermchai Kositpipat’s teacher Thawan Duchanee, because of this there are some stylistic similarities between the White Temple and the Black House.
However, the Black House has a more sinister appearance. There is an array of unique structures scattered around the grounds and each houses some obscure artifacts. Animal furs are lavishly draped over gothic bed frames, chairs are adorned with horns and reptile skins. Each room seems to whisper about errotic soirées that occurafter daylight.