The following guest article has been submitted by Mariska Roothman.
Ask any local to show you the “real Vietnam” and they’ll all chant: the Easy Rider Tour.
As this was our first visit to the country we took the locals’ advice and started asking around for a reliable tour guide. Through the hotel manager at the Oasis Hotel in Nha Trang we met Mr Chanh, an Easy Rider tour guide.
His job wasn’t only to keep us safe, but to take us on motorbikes along roads less traveled. Little did we know that our worlds would soon be changed forever. This was partly attributed to wonderful scenery and unknown power contained within a sweet.
This “real Vietnam” (soon to be known as the best journey of my life) took us to a small rustic, colourful local shop.
“Not enough I think…” said Mr Chanh as I took two bottles of water for the road. “Nothing up there you know.” So I grabbed more water and two big bags of sweets.
With every turn the landscape started to change. Big roads turned into narrow paths. Cities turned into villages. Fancy hotels were nowhere to be seen. Tiny bamboo huts spread up high on muddy roads. Tourists became less until it was only us on the open road. I felt overwhelmed. Were we the only strangers entering this foreign land?
As we drove through the villages, locals came out to greet us. We had to travel slowly. The roads are in a bad state with many stray animals. Mr Chanh took a turn onto this very bumpy and muddy road. “Oooh monkey bum!” he shouted. “Not too far we go.” We stopped in front of a tiny wooden house. It must have been raining the previous day as the area was covered with mud and water.
A Vietnamese lady came out to greet us. It looked as if she was wearing worn out pyjamas. She had the biggest smile on her face. She came towards us and directed us to go inside her house.
There was a small table and plastic chairs on which we were invited to sit. We were offered some fresh Vietnamese tea by our host. Although she did not speak English, I could see that they live a very poor life. She seemed happy, but something inside her was crying out for more. Their house consists of one room. They have one bed that is shared by about eight people. The floor was muddy and the house was very cold due to openings in the wooden walls.
I went to fetch some water and remembered about the bag of sweets I bought. I took it out and asked Mr Chanh if it would be OK to hand some sweets out to the children. “Why not?” he said with a smile. There were about six youngsters. It seemed as if they had not seen a sweet before.
Their mother showed them how to open the wrappers to get the treats out. Their eyes lit up. Everyone grabbed more sweets until the bag was empty. They were so happy. Our host was smiling and shook our hands. Even the elders, from the other side of the street, came out to greet us! The children ran around us, laughing and holding their sweets up in the air.
Money cannot buy you moments like this.
Mr Chanh told us that the people living in the mountains are very poor. They live from the land and never get to travel anywhere. They rely on truck drivers, tourists or farmers to bring food and other luxuries from the towns. For them, something like sweets is a luxury. I bought another huge bag of sweets for about three dollars. After visiting two villages the bag was empty. I wish I packed more sweets! It is so cheap and it doesn’t take up a lot of space on a motorbike! If you have some elastic bands you can easily stack your luggage on the back of your bike. This enables you to rest your back against it while driving.
The villagers will accept any gifts you have to offer. This can be anything from noodles to sweets, a lighter for their fires when cooking, or a scarf to keep them warm. Small gifts will go a long way! Seeing how the locals loved our sweets made us appreciate life so much more.
Always travel with a kind heart and wear a smile! Besides, a smile doesn’t take up any space in your backpack, and sweets don’t either!
>> Book an Easy Rider Tour through Viator.
About Mariska: I am a South African, traveller and firm believer of Vietnamese coffee. Magic is present at any given moment, and I would like to share these “moments of magic” with you – through stories, travel ideas and photos. It was Christopher McCandless that said: “The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.” Follow our adventures as we take small bites from the universe! Blog, Instagram, Facebook.
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What a lovely story and wonderful advice to always travel with a kind heart. Reading this made me smile.
I love this story as well! I’m glad it brought a smile to your face 😀
Loved your post!
Also your photos are great, what camera do you use?
Abby Woody says
Oh, I loved reading this! It sounds like your trip touched your hearts and the hearts of the people you met, too! I have to say, I completely agree about being transport-independent. It can totally change a trip for sure!
I completely agree with being transit independent, taking the road less travelled, and getting the chance to meet people! However, I’m going to challenge your point on bringing the candy and gifts. It’s also impactful to show the people that you meet that your worth can be measured by a smile, conversation, and quality time (not saying that those things didn’t happen in your experience, providing an alternate respective to your lovely post).
An amazing story! A bag of sweets…….will definitely remember that when we are on the road again!! You had courage to explore the off roads!!
I would guard against taking sweets/lollies/candy to rural or less populated areas. Sometime people mightn’t have access to proper dental care. I only say this because I’ve done tours through Vietnam and Laos & Cambodia, and on both trips I went to hill tribe villages and children would beg for “bon bon”. Both time my guide told me about the local dental hygiene practices, also it encourages the kids to beg.
My recommendation would be to take little cheap souvenir toys (like the little koalas from Australia).
Sorry for the rant. I’m glad you had a great trip, but I just thought that I would share my experiences.
Wow this is a wonderful story!! I’m actually heading to backpack through Southeast Asia for a month and a half in September and October with my boyfriend. We are definitely planning to visit Vietnam and would love to experience the country like this! Do you have any way to get into contact with Mr Chanh now? Or maybe the hotel you stayed would have a way for us to get in touch with him to set up a similar expedition. Would love to hear from you!
Mariska Roothman says
We stayed in Nha Trang.
There are so many amazing Easyriders there that you can chat with. All of them are very keen to take you around and give a more “local” experience. 🙂
If you are more adventurous, you can actually go by yourself. We saw so many tourists on their own motorbikes.
If you are planning to go North, I have heard that Sapa is amazing! (We did not have enough time to fit that into our route)
You are more than welcome to contact me and I will give you some more information.