Let’s face it, when touring through Southeast Asia on a backpacker’s budget, time for peace and quiet doesn't just fall into your lap.
You're constantly running across motorbike plagued streets, clutching your bag in fear of pickpockets, bargaining with street vendors or somewhere in between. While all of this is part of the Southeast Asian experience, there are plenty of ways to escape the hustle and bustle as well.
Hidden beyond Vietnam’s busy cities is a tranquil countryside that not many tourists get the opportunity to explore.
Rice paddy fields blend into farming villages, which blend into war memorials, which blend into ancient temples. Miles of open land make it nearly impossible for tourists to get to know this rural backland on their own, but with the right tour guide, it’s an unforgettable adventure.
My day with Hoi Ann Motorbike Adventures was a standout of my entire month in Southeast Asia.
After a few days in this country, it’s not hard to see the important role motorbikes play in the culture.
Wanting experience Vietnam as fully as I could, I knew I had to take my first motorbike ride while I had the chance, but I was nothing short of nervous.
Luckily, HAMA’s drivers made my nerves disappear with ease. Their years of experience and effortless confidence made my day on the back of a motorbike as comfortable as could be.
We decided to do the ‘Higher than Hai Van Pass’ tour, which took us everywhere from flat farmlands to rising mountains. Not only did we get to take in the beauty of the land, but our clearly experienced tour guide made sure we were learning along the way as well.
One of our first stops was a 900-year-old Cham (an indigenous people of Vietnam and Cambodia) temple tower.
Studded with bullet holes, the scars on this ancient tower were traces of the past. Based on the shape and size of certain holes, it was clear the bullets had come from an American shotgun, our guide told us.
Our next few stops taught us more about the Vietnam War, giving us insight deeper than the simple tidbits we learned in high school.
We biked to battle fields, war memorials and even graveyards, all while passing through beautiful rice paddies and intimate farming villages.
Seeing the trauma this country went through during the war, while at the same time experiencing the openness of the Vietnamese people, was truly a moving experience.
After some brief history lessons, we began the climb up Son Tra, otherwise knows as ‘Monkey Mountain.’
Zipping up the stunning coastline, there are plenty of overlooks perfect for that typical ‘Vietnam views’ photo. Whether you're looking over the city of Da Nang or one of the seemingly endless beaches, the sights just don't stop.
The backside of the mountain is where to keep your eyes peeled for the infamous monkeys that live there.
Driving slowly and keeping our voices low, we were able to see a family of three monkeys calling out to each other from the peaks above.
On a high from the catching a glimpse of some furry friends in their natural habitat, we whizzed down the mountain, riding past Vietnam’s tallest Buddha statue as well as a colorful fishing village.
Our last stop was Marble Mountain, a cluster of marble and limestone hills on the outskirts of Da Nang.
Surrounding the mountains are craftsmen skilled in sculpting and stone cutting. Their work transforms the natural stone seen on the mountains into works of art.
Heading back towards Hoi Ann, our minds were buzzing with thoughts of all of the sights we had seen that day.
From the rolling countryside to the winding mountain, our tour with HAMA gave us a glimpse of all sides of Vietnam.
Without this tour, the lovely backlands, historic battle fields and breathtaking peaks this country has to offer most likely would have remained a mystery to us.
When I think back on Vietnam, I remember the sights we saw while off the beaten path — the sights that made our trip feel authentic.