At some point in my travels, I remember getting around Siem Reap in a tuktuk to visit the temples of Angkor Wat. And while the temples themselves were breathtaking, I remember finishing the tour and thinking, “Phew — one day in that contraption is plenty!”
So upon learning three California women had travelled from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by that very method of transport, the first question that came to mind upon meeting them at an Easter potluck was: “Why?”
With their tuktuk visible in the parking lot from the balcony, the travel mates recounted the events while making a chocolate-peanut butter egg and relaxing after their three-week journey. Chelsea Blandford and Emily Curtis were already travelling Southeast Asia when they reached Hanoi, awaiting the arrival of Breezie Dueber. Once she arrived, the three friends set about planning an adventure.
“We said, ‘We need a big adventure for this trip,’” Chelsea says. “And Emily said, ‘what do you think about a tuktuk?’
Emily had travelled in tuktuks in Thailand, but soon discovered getting her hands on one in Vietnam is easier said than done. While cyclos and xe oms are common, the tuktuks in Hanoi are designated for ownership by war veterans. This presented a significant hurdle to their plan.
“I was having such a hard time finding a tuktuk,” Chelsea says. “We had many meetings about how to do it.”
The friends approached staff at Hanoi Motorbikes, who were intrigued about the possibility of building one from scratch. After considerable planning and redesigns, two-and-a-half weeks later the final result bore a closer resemblance to a canopied trailer hitched to a Honda Wave. Yet it was deemed ready for the road.
A Good Idea?
Fate smiled on the trio, in a roundabout way. Their first and most serious incident of the journey took place as they were just leaving Hanoi city limits, with luggage strapped to the roof of the tuktuk.
“I hit a bump and it felt like I popped a wheelie,” Chelsea says. The rig up-ended, as she was pulled backwards and landed her on her back, with the motorbike following — landing right on top of her.
After verifying she and friends were uninjured, the Hanoi Motorbikes crew came quickly and took the motorbike to a garage for welding on the spot. Despite the initial setback, the group remained committed — they’d come too far to not try and complete the trip.
“I kind of stopped and said ‘is this a good idea?’” Chelsea recalls.
The Road Less Travelled
The best system for the rest of the 1,600km-plus undertaking wound up being two riding on the motorbike at any given time, with another passenger sitting in the wagon and keeping an eye on luggage. Getting lost in rush hour in Danang, navigating harrowing mountain passes and meeting countless curious onlookers who’d never seen such a travelling contingent all made the experience memorable.
“I had never ridden a motorbike before,” Breezie says. “It was a really intense trip.
“[We learned through] all of our struggles that we were really able to support each other.”
Upon arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, the women used social media to both find accommodation (Couchsurfing) and sell their tuktuk (Facebook). And while Breezie is headed back Stateside, her two friends have decided they like Vietnam so much they plan to find work in Hanoi.
“I’ve seen how beautiful Vietnam is, and every stop everybody helped us,” Chelsea says.
As for whether they’d recommend this method of travel across an entire country, Emily says would-be tuktuk-takers should really think it through before they give it a try. “I’d say it’s for people who are open-minded and can endure a lot of bumps in the road.” — Harry Hodge