If there isn't a market nearby, there is certainly a side-of-the-road cafe, complete with red plastic tables and hammocks. If we are riding in the hot afternoon, we stop to relax and drink ca phe da (iced coffee) before continuing on our way.
When we have bike troubles on the road - we need a kick start or I somehow let my bike fall over - we don't need to look far for help. A very skilled and equally scrappy mechanic is surely nearby. Or a flip-flop wearing Vietnamese man will drive up on his scooter and stop to help out. I think they were born with the ability to quick-fix a motorbike.
The roads between the tourist cities are long and sometimes rough. We could spend one long day on HWY 1 and reach the next popular place by night, but instead we choose to spend three long days on the smaller, less hectic roads. We experience much more this way. Those little towns between the tourist spots are much more exciting and real than any beach town covered in Russian and English signage.
Besides, it is always better to be on any road but HWY 1. I'll take dirt and hills over honking trucks and diesel fumes any day. The scenery off of HWY 1 is infinitely better, too. When you round a corner and suddenly the ocean is sparkling beside you, it's hard not to smile. When you go up a small hill and the agriculture turns into a heavily fogged jungle, it's scary but so awesome. A bit more frightening is the moment the pavement turns into sand and gravel (these small roads are constantly under construction it seems). I just hold on tight to my clutch and my handlebars and then celebrate when the pavement returns.
Still, the dirt, gravel, hairpin turns, and hilly terrain are much better than HWY 1 where buses honk in my ear as they whiz past. Going from pavement to gravel is much less frightening than dealing with trucks that come barreling towards my face as they pass the motorbikes on their own side of the road. The three day rides are totally worth not riding on that death trap.
Really, those long three day rides that make us so tired and so smelly are what allow us to actually see Vietnam. A lot of people live here and there are so many incredible sights to see. If you are into the great outdoors - whether your thing is the beach, the desert, the mountain, the river or the jungle - there's sure to be an eyeful of it right around the corner. Vietnam has incredible terrain, and seeing it from the back of a buzzing motorbike is exhilarating. You couldn't convince me to get on one more charter bus with overzealous honking and air conditioning ever again.
On the road, it is hard not to stop every 15 minutes and pull out my camera. I've managed to capture a few moments for you, but I've taken so many more mental images that I hope will never leave me.