Easy Rider in the Northern Highlands of Vietnam

On the saddle of a Honda 125 in Sapa, Vietnam

One of my goals in Vietnam is to learn how to ride a motorcycle.  Since rentals are so simple and cheap (no paperwork or license required, just hand over $8 for the day), I figured this is as good a spot to learn.  Most motorcycles are small (110-150 cc) and maneuverable and I had been riding a manual scooter for a few weeks so was familiar with the gears.  But best of all, I had Paul as a seasoned rider to help me along.

Picturesque valley of hill-tribe villages and terraced rice paddies

So our first day in beautiful Sapa in the northern highlands of Vietnam on the Chinese border, I was off and running (after a few stalled attempts!) with my Honda 125 cruising down Highway 152 to the valley from the hilltop town of Sapa.

The landscape was stunning since Sapa is perched high in the mountains just beneath Mount Fansipan (Phan Xi Păng), the highest point not only in Vietnam but of Indochina as well.  The valley is sprinkled with terraced rice paddies and hill-tribe villages of the colorfully attired H’Mong, Dzao and Tay peoples.

Villagers preparing the rice paddies for rainy-season planting

But I kept my eyes glued to the (crumbling) pavement and my mind concentrating on the constant road hazards, such as the narrow and winding roads rising above the clouds and lacking guardrails:

At cloud-level, it's a long way down to the valley!

And at regular intervals the roads were awash in mountain streams since they lack proper drainage:

Whoopsie Daisy! Lift your feet when navigating the road waterfalls!

And they are full of pedestrians! Foot traffic abounds on the mountain road from Sapa to the valley villages:

H'Mong hill-tribe people walking the road to their villages

Animals, too, can be a road hazard, for example water buffalo:

Sidewalk for animals: water buffalo

And dogs.  Note this one is awake — most seem to be sleeping just inches from passing tires:

Canines crowd the Vietnamese mountain roads... this one happens to be awake

Even packs of Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs root and roam the open road:

Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs roaming and rooting in the road

A final hazard is a broken fuel gauge.  Paul was running on empty, fortunately coasting to this well-placed “gas station” cart in one of the villages — we learned to rely on the “shake and listen” method:

Fuel stop near Sapa, Vietnam

I was extremely careful given the adverse conditions on this particular secondary road in Vietnam, I figure if I can ride here I can ride anywhere.  At the end of the day I was thrilled to be back safely having enjoyed the magnificent surroundings of Sapa.

Here’s a quick video Paul took just to prove that I was actually at the helm!

6 thoughts on “Easy Rider in the Northern Highlands of Vietnam”

  1. Peter I am totally enjoying your blog. While you are missed at Maj you are keeping us all entertained with your great travel stories and pictures. Thanks for creating a wicked case of wunderlust! Pat

    1. I appreciate the kind words and am glad I can help spread wanderlust fever to friends and family! It has been a great trip so far, amazing beyond expectation… I miss my weekly Maj games with all of you, please keep my seat warm, I will be back playing in June! 🙂

  2. I’m going to live in Sapa after we sell the house. It’s edenic. It’s perfect. I cannot visualize the Nam War that I fought so hard against. Thanks for the great blog. I feel a bit as if I’m with you (but not on a motorcycle). Love, Mom

  3. Thanks, Mom! Sapa would be a great place to spend a couple months, but it does get cold there too. Plus a motorcycle is a great way to get around the windy mountain roads, I could totally see you as a Motorcycle Mama. 🙂

  4. Hey Harley man!
    Amazing:) makes me pine for my piggy Lucy seeing those sweet guys on the roadsides. What a breathtaking country! Miss you XO

  5. It just does’nt look quite right….you on a motorcycle. And by the way, thanks for the little extra carbon footprint!!

    I’m so envious!

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