On a spring morning in January, about a month before the Lunar New Year, Mong Phuoc Minh was busy installing a homemade iron bed in the back of a recently purchased 7-seater car in the yard of his house in An Giang Province’s Long Xuyen Town.
“This year, my wife and I plan to go on a 4,000 km road trip from Long Xuyen to Saigon, then to Da Lat and Kon Tum; and later to Laos and Cambodia before returning to An Giang. This is the same route that I used for my first trans-country road trip on motorbike more than nine years ago,” said Minh, a former professor at the Can Tho University.
Minh and his wife in the backyard of their house in Long Xuan Town, An Giang Province, in January, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.
Though they were passionate about traveling since their youth, it was only in 2011 that the couple prepared for their field trip. That year, he and a group of photography friends discussed a trip to Laos and Cambodia on their motorbike. Unfortunately, everyone bailed at the last minute.
“If no one is going. We will go by ourselves,” said his wife Nguyen Thi Ngoc Cuc.
To prepare for their first overseas trip on a motorbike, the grandparents went on a few short trips. At the end of March 2012, they officially departed on a Daehan model that they’d bought in 1990, taking clothes, medicines and vehicle repair tools along.
“My wife was also careful enough to bring cups, a kettle, food containers and a mini rice cooker,” Minh recalled.
Traveling by motorbike was not easy hard, but the rewards were great. After crossing the Bo Y Border Gate in Kon Tum to get to Laos, the couple traveled 120 km through a forest to reach Laos’s Attapeu Province. With no house on either side of the road, the couple felt they had the majestic mountain forest scene to themselves.
“Many times, we were so amazed by the beautiful scenery that we didn’t pay attention to the distance,” he said.
After the success of their first trip, Minh suggested to his wife that they go on another trip on the motorbike to Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar the following year. But Cuc wanted to find a “new way to travel to make the trip more fun?”
So Minh took two folding bicycles and used them to explore the capitals of the countries they visited.
In 2015, the couple went on their first trans-Vietnam trip. This trip was less difficult in terms of scheduling and getting around, since they’d learnt how to use Google Map. The husband drove and the wife gave directions.
“The map is not accurate all the time, so we have to ask directions from people at times. We also got into arguments. He would want to turn, but the map would be telling us to go straight,” Cuc recalled.
It was on that trip in September that the couple from the Mekong Delta visited the northern region for the first time.
Nguyen Hieu, a native of Binh Thuan Province in the south, who happened to meet the couple in Ha Giang Province that year, said: “My fellow travellers and I were very surprised to learn that the couple had traveled on an old motorcycle for more than 20 days from Long Xuyen to get there.”
Mong Phuoc Minh (L) and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Cuc with their 30-year-old motorbike. Photo courtesy of Minh.
Minh and his wife suffered a few flat tires but nothing more serious on their bike travels. They had several memorable experiences, though. One unforgettable one was in the northern province of Bac Ninh Province, when they chose to rest at a small motel on the road since it was raining heavily and it was very dark outside. As they entered the check-in area, they saw many young men with “very unusual” expressions on their faces, so they felt a bit worried. As they entered their room, they suddenly heard screams.
“We thought we must have entered some place where people come to use drugs and were even more worried that we might get robbed in the middle of the night. We decided to check out and find another place to stay.”
However, as he took his motorbike out of the parking area, Minh glanced through the window and saw that the group of young men were watching football and had shouted out loud in jubilation after the Vietnamese team won a match. They also saw crowds get out on the street, holding flags and clapping their hands.
Cuc laughed at the memory: “Come to think of it, these two old people were the strange people.”
Upping the ante
Cuc on her foldable bike at the Angkor Wat, Cambodia, in 2013. Photo courtesy of Cuc.
Gaining confidence after their successful trips across Vietnam and Southeast Asia, the couple went on a pan-America trip from Georgia to California, taking only trains and buses.
“There were times when we had to stop at two or three stations, changing from one form of transportation to another. During that trip, I was amazed at my wife’s English speaking and listening skills,” Minh said.
During her first few trips, Cuc took a lot of beautiful clothes and even a few pairs of shoes, hats and scarves to take pictures. But now, she only takes the most essential clothes when traveling. They also choose cheap and clean motels with air conditioning during their travels to save money.
Being Mekong Delta natives, the couple felt most homesick whenever they rested near a river.
Minh said: “Before learning to use social media, I would send emails to my children whenever we were abroad. But sometimes, I was having such a good time that I would forget to do this, even to let them know we were fine. When we were abroad, reading their emails would make us cry sometimes, knowing that they really missed us.
“No matter where we go, our homeland is the place we want to return to the most.”