The first time I drove a motorbike (or more accurately a 125 CC scooter) was in Bali, Indonesia, and it was definetly an experience. If you’ve been to SE Asia at all (or even if you’ve just seen the Facebook videos), you will know that they’ll let anyone drive a motorbike, and everyone and their dog has one. It’s a little bit insane at times, but when in Rome, right?
We were staying in Ubud and wanted to explore some of the temples in the surrounding area, which is easily done on the back of a bike. Our Air B&B host was kind enough to organise getting some for us, and after a quick: “here’s the helmet, here’s how you start it, don’t crash” we were sent off, each of us with our own bike and not a clue how to drive it.
Common sense prevailed, and we (I mean me) spent a few minutes driving up and down the secluded lane our Airb&b was located on, until I felt like I had at least a little bit of an idea of what I was doing. Feeling pretty pleased with my driving capabilities (on a straight lane with no traffic, going 10 km/h), we headed off and down the road into town to start our adventure.
I don’t know why I was surprised then when it turned out to be a lot more difficult going 40 km/h on potholed roads with more traffic then a McDonald’s car park on a Saturday morning, but I was. And surprise pretty rapidly turned to terror as it started to sink in that this could actually kill me. My internal monologue at this point went something like this:
“Why am I doing this? Who thought this was a good idea? I’m going to DIE! STAY IN YOUR LANE! Breathe, you can do this, it’s oka-NOPE IT’S NOT OKAY, EVERYTHING IS NOT OKAY.”
Add a few choice expletives and you get the picture. I was not enjoying it, and it didn’t help that the rest of my group were oddly serene and relaxed about the whole thing. I did manage to calm down and make it into town where, just as I thought I might marginally be getting the hang of it, I promptly drove through an intersection (when I was trying to turn right) and straight into the side of car that was waiting on the other side. Both the bike and myself ended up on the ground, people stared (I’m surprised it wasn’t caught on camera; I’m sure my face was pure comedy gold), and I tried very hard not to burst into tears as I watched my entire group (who had all managed the turn in front of me) drive off, none the wiser. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt, neither the bike nor car were damaged, and a nice old man came over to make sure I was okay, and then helped me up and get resettled on my bike. I caught back up with everyone (who had noticed my absence by this point), and we continued on. I spent the rest of the day in fear of any corner (they’re tricky, they are) and going as slow as a turtle, much to the annoyance of everyone else.
Needless to say, I did not leave Bali with a great desire to ever drive a bike again, and from then on I was quite happy sitting on the back of Rich’s bike letting him do all the hard stuff (like turning). I managed months and countless bike rides like this, until we got to Hue. Or rather, until it was time to leave Hue.
You see, between Hue and Da Nang there’s a mountain pass that is famously known as “the most beautiful coastal road to drive”, and made even more famous a number of years ago when the Top Gear boys decided to film themselves driving it. We were there, in the exact city they had been, with that glorious road between us and our next destination, and my husband was not leaving unless it was on the back of his very own bike. With no passengers, I might add. Can you see my predicament?
Hoi Van Pass was the original and, for a long time, only road that connected the two cities and, as well as being a beautiful coastal road, was also considered very dangerous due to the amount of traffic along it and the unpredictable weather (this is starting to sound great, right?). A number of years ago they build a tunnel through the mountain, and now the only traffic on the pass are bikes (which are not allowed in the tunnel), oil tankers (also not allowed), and buses filled with tourists (allowed but people want to see the pass from the relative comfort and safety of a bus and not a bike). Accidents and deaths on the pass have drastically reduced, and so Rich rented us two bikes with the promise of great fun (I was not convinced).
Because the pass is so often frequented by tourists on bikes, most of the rental companys allow you to take the bike one way only and they will drop your luggage off to you when they come and collect the bike upon your arrival. It’s a pretty good set up, and not bad for $15 USD each. We were (begrudgingly) doing it.
Knowing my abject terror of driving with a lot of traffic on the roads, Rich planned a cross country route to get to the start of the pass (rather then main roads), and I would highly recommend doing it that way. It was slightly slower, but it was a much more relaxed drive and we got to see a little bit of the Vietnamese countryside as well.
I have to admit, whether it was due to the location (and a lot less traffic) or the fact that I’d just spent months getting comfortable on the back of a bike, I was a lot more relaxed driving this go round and, I dare to say, even enjoyed it. I still wasn’t great about going super fast, but I managed a speed that I was comfortable with and that Rich wasn’t too annoyed by.
The pass itself was in fairly good condition (especially for SE Asia), and we saw very few other people on it – a couple of others on bikes, maybe three oil tankers, and one bus. The weather was great, although it got a bit cold and we did got rained on for about 30 minutes at the top of the pass. There were a lot of bends and hairpin turns, but the road was wide and there were pretty good barriers whenever there was a cliff or drop. Rich took the lead, and yes we did stop in all the same places from the Top Gear episode, which made him extremely happy. The top of the pass had a few local stands and a sign (which we read), but other then that it’s not really worth stopping. It was pretty cloudy at the top when we went, which is apparently the norm, so we couldn’t see the view at all, but within about 10 minutes of starting our decent on the other side it cleared up.
I like going downhill even less then I like corners, so as I was meandering my way down Rich shot ahead to try out some speed. He stopped every once in a while to let me catch up (and show me he was still alive) before speeding off again. We (both) made it to the bottom and managed to navigate Danang city traffic (slightly more terrifying) to get to our hotel, where our bags and a shower were waiting for us.
I wouldn’t say I loved the experience, although Rich did, but I managed to get over my fear and relax enough that it was pretty fun. I probably wouldn’t say no to driving a bike again on my own, and who knows, maybe with a little bit more practice I might just love it enough to get myself one for scootering around the UK!