To the daredevil riders, nothing is more thrilling than beating the most dangerous tracks. Those bring experiences worth bragging about. That is why more and more rider travelers come to try out Vietnam’s roughest off-road courses.
In the article today, we will tell you a story of the impressive journey to conquer off-road routes of a Vietnamese young guy.
Test riding skills on various terrains
For his fondness for traveling and exploring, up till now, a final year Vietnamese student named Pham Van Duc, has visited most provinces in this S-shaped land. He has experienced so many journeys that he cannot recall all of them. But for off-road motorcycle trips in Vietnam, he has made around 14 to 15.
He shared that off-road trips are massively more difficult than normal backpacking trips since off-road tracks are often narrow, dangerous and hard to traverse. They can be greased, or pooled with a paste of mud, or knobbled with boulders. For some parts, he faces standing rock face on one side and a falling precipice on the other side. Here, if careless, you might have to pay dearly for a slight distraction.
Duc can still picture the first off-roading lively in his head. “It was the first time I took the route of Che Tao – Muong La – Ta So – Muong Lum. The off-road path was about 25 – 30 km that are bumpy and small enough at points to allow only one bike easing through at a time while minding the sheer steep just meters away that would make a frail rider suffer from a serious tragedy. Luckily, I had experienced easier trips and prepared myself mentally while studying the route carefully; therefore, I had no accident on the whole journey.”
Since then, Duc has made many other safe off-road motorcycle trips throughout Vietnam. The only accident he met was when he was at Cooc Mu (Bac Kan province). At the time, Duc was in a group of ten backpackers that were going for charity in a remote area.
The rough path was some 20 km long that started at the very beginning of the winding road to a far-flung village. It was a slippery earth road. On a downward slope, Duc’s bike lost traction and skidded for 1 meter before running down uncontrollably until it hits a big pothole and falls sideways. It was fortunate that he and his girlfriend come out safely.
Duc said, compared to normal Vietnam motorcycle tours, it is much difficult to have good riders for off-road tours. The riders often knew each other and had some trips together before teaming up into an off-road group. A standard rule for off-road groups is not to recruit novice riders who want to get in for their first off-road trips, just to ensure the safety and progress of the trip.
In their common view, off-roading in muddy roads is by far the hardest. Another Vietnamese student named Trinh Thanh Tung said that thick mud often lodged into tires and rims and slugged the movement of the wheels. When facing the deep mud, the engine can get stalled the bike itself stuck. As a result, the rider can hardly move.
On one occasion, Tung’s group was on their journey to Mu Cang Chai (Yen Bai) and they overcame many off-road sections of from 1 to 5 km long, mainly the entrances roads to the villages of La Pan Tan – De Su Phinh – Che Cu Nha – Tao Chua Chai. There were dirt roads with so much mud that the rider and the pillion passenger must work together. In particular, the rider pushed and guided the bike onwards while the other one had to use a stick to dig out chunks of wet earth from the wheels. But this situation is not as challenging as the time Tung was in a backpacking group of 19 with 8 bikes for double rides and one single on an off-road trip to Pu Luong, Thanh Hoa.
“It was 3 years ago and the roads were much worse than they are today. We rode off-road for 60 km from the branch into Mai Chau to Pu Luong. The most difficult part is the slope at Kho Muong that gave no traction on its greasy surface. It is super hard for ascending as well as descending. Each bike to climb up needed three persons. The rider controlled the throttle from his seat while two others were pushing the motorbike. Everyone in the group slipped and tumbled on that place but they only got bruises.”
In Duc’s case, he won’t forget the trip to Ba Phac (Moc Chau, Son La). The bikes kept fishtailing on the greasy road and they couldn’t control the bikes from veering off left and right. Finally, Duc’s group reached a solution that was to wind threads around the wheels to help them with more traction to avoid fishtailing before scaling a slope. Then, a group member who had a mild arm injury could not overcome the slope, so other riders had to come down and huddle up to push him up through.
Make a detailed plan for a safe ride
Off-road motorcycle trips in Vietnam are extremely difficult, so to maintain safety, most tour groups have to find a method to tackle off-road challenges in daylight. But sometimes, for a bad combination of unfortunate factors like the weather or vehicle issues, those calculations get sabotaged and they might have to navigate off-road terrains at night.
Tung recalled: “On the off-road trip to Dien Bien, my ten bike group had to traverse a road under repair at 11 or 12 PM, in a pitch-black night. When we arrived in Pa Tan town, a storm came. Then, a heavy rain came before ice pellets pour down.
The lightning flashes let us spot something like a community center, so we gathered there for shelter. Everyone was tired and hungry. We concluded that we could not stay there during the night and decided to get on our bikes again. We all agreed to the idea to stick to one roadside while riding and look keenly for each other to deal with the case that one of us got down a hole or something. If this bad situation happens, the rider had to give the signal to others by honking and shouting. That off-road route was only 7 km long but it took us 40 minutes to safely get through.”
Duc emphasized: “The vision at night was poor. We were reluctant to move at a low speed, making us so sleepy and tired. After an offroading session, sometimes we drift into slumber just by leaning our back to whatever place we find.”
Off-roading requires regular slowing down to observe other members to avoid being separated into small bunches. The most haunting trip Tung has had was the journey from Hanoi to Dong Cao (Bac Giang). The group of nine motorbikes stayed close together but suddenly divided into four small groups. After that, the Exciter of one rider was paralyzed because mud wedged to its wheels while another required other riders to come back and haul it up.
Off-roading pillion passengers also need to be skillful and experienced through many tours. The final-year student named Cao Thi Tam said that, it is certainly daredevil to join off-road tours. Even they make my butt hurt. But the experiences they offer are unforgettable.
She told about the time she almost fell off a cliff: “When my rider and I were on the way to Long Sap, it started to rain violently. The water smacked hard on our face and ceased our sight, so both couldn’t see the path clearly. When a bend came, the rider cornered too fast and we skidded down to the precipice. The rider braked on time and stayed the front wheel on the road while I managed to roll out. Having looked back, I could see the bike’s rear was already partly down the cliff.”
“There is an interesting fact that the more challenging the road is, the fewer backpacking groups set their feet there. For this reason, there’ll be more pristine natural landscapes for us to enjoy. Of all off-road motorcycle trips in Vietnam, Du Gia – Mau Due (Ha Giang) is the route I like most.
We’ve got to navigate through a road named “The Forgotten Track” since it was once under construction but somehow got abandoned. Boulders and rocks everywhere made the ride very strenuous but at the destination, all paid up by the stunning beauty of the scene there with villages, cornfields in valleys under marvelous stone mountains”.
Experiences for safe Vietnam motorcycle trips
- The newbies should practice at the less intense off-road courses.
- Prepare a powerful off-road motorbike for your trip. Check it out!
- Maintain the bike carefully because the rough road can hurt it quite easily.
- Prepare cords and ropes to fasten wheels for slippery tracks.
- Space bikes at least 5 m apart but not too far from each other.
- Calculate your time to meet up with off-road parts in daylight.
- Bring along a spade to clear the way at collapsed roads.
- When about to crash, you should fling the bike away to avoid serious injury.
- If the weather is not favorable, consider to change or abandon track.