How to dodge a buffalo on a Wave

The ubiquitous Honda Wave in Vietnam doesn’t usually get a look-in when it comes to making the two wheel trek between Saigon and Hanoi. Most foreign adventure-tourists go for the classic style, for example the old Russian Minsk, in the belief that motorbiking isn’t real unless you can wrap your knees around a petrol tank. On my 5000km zigzagging tour of Vietnam’s highways from Saigon to the North – I opted for the Wave.

My reasons were common sense – it’s a cheap, common bike so parts and mechanical know-how are available everywhere. The step-through section in front of the seat is also great for putting the luggage if I don’t mind making my legs more bowed than they already are. I don’t have to strap that luggage down like I would on a rack on the back of a regular motorbike; I can just balance it there – local style. This creates more ease when I’m packing and unpacking. I can also use the hooks on either side to hang additional bags.

The Wave is powerful enough – it can climb the steepest hill in Vietnam loaded with a family of six and all their chickens and pigs. I don’t need more power.

The Wave is fast enough – I don’t need to go over 80km/hr; in fact if I did speed, my holiday, indeed my life, might end in a buffalo’s backside. Vietnam’s back roads are populated by buffalos – which can be wandering freely, on a rope tied to a barrier rail or having a lie-down in the middle of the lane, obstinately refusing to move (but with such debonair casual flair) despite semi-trailer mega-horns, so loud they can blow manure off the road. Speaking of manure, the buffalos leave basketball size lumps of the slippery stuff all over the highway.  The volume of one poo is flabbergasting. Vietnamese speedbumps. At the Defecating Olympics, a buffalo won the gold and elephant won the silver. I don’t want to be fanging round a bend into a pile of that.

A bit like buffalos, trucks with flat tires or other mechanical problems also find the middle of the road the perfect place to pull over for repairs. Trucks on their roof and bus accidents add to the list of variables to consider before twisting the throttle. You never know what’s around the corner.

On the positive side – why would I want to race through the trip of a lifetime anyway? Poking along on the Wave I am going to see much more than I would if I was thumping along on a big trail bike. And the tortoise-approach makes it much more likely for me to stop for a snapshot. In fact stopping is good because the Wave packs a power punch of pain to the rear-end after a few hours.

Dirt roads, mud, forging creek crossings. Go the Wave. It’s light so if I get bogged I can carry it out. Plus in a low lying land like Vietnam – the likelihood that I need to load my motorbike on a boat for a river crossing is high. Easy to get on and off. Bon Voyage Wave.

Finally when I get to the end of my odyssey I can reassure my burning buttocks that I am not going to turn around and ride back the 2000km or so from Hanoi to Saigon. The train takes motorbikes from North to South for less than US$25. In a country where migrating for work and riding motorbikes are the status quos, freighting the Wave on a train is easier than pronouncing “Khoe khong”. Much easier. By Michael Smith in HCMC

A buffalo blocks the road between A Luoi and Khe Sanh in the Central Highlands. Coming around blind corners and meeting an animal like this is a common event on the Ho Chi Minh Road

On Dong Van Plateau. The trusty Honda Wave can carry a heavy load on steep roads – Photos: Michael Smith

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