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To see the magic of Vietnam, it’s best to do as the locals do. In Vietnam, a country of some 90 million people and 37 million registered motorbikes, this can only mean one thing: exploring the country from the back of a 125cc Honda.
My first motorbike experience in Vietnam was with Hue Rider, a local tour operator that focuses on day tours of Hue and the nearby Korean Demilitarized Zone. Unlike bus tours that are slow-moving and crammed with people, my experience with Hue Rider was much more personal and customizable, allowing me as much or as little time desired at each site in Hue. I enjoyed my day trip so much that I was convinced to cancel my bus ticket between Hue and Hoi An so that I could instead make the trip by motorbike.
On the morning of my departure, Mr. Hieu, Hue Rider’s owner, picked me up in front of my hotel and strapped my luggage to the back of his bike. Helmet secured, I mounted the bike behind Mr. Hieu and settled into the rumbly seat for the roughly 70-mile journey down the coast to Hoi An. The first stretch of the journey is glazed with lush rice fields and gently sloping mountains rising in the distance. A whooshing in my ears left me in my own private bubble as Mr. Hieu careened the humming bike down the highway, leaving me to silently drink in the green and blue colors that seemed to blend between land and sky.
Along the route, Mr. Hieu stops at some popular attractions. The first stop was Elephant Springs, a natural rock pool formation buried deep in the jungle at the end of a winding path, surrounded by misty mountains. A life-size rock carved into the shape of an elephant looks over the gurgling pools that tier their way down the slope of the hill.
Other highlights are Hai Van Pass, Marble Mountains and China Beach. Hai Van Pass is reason enough to make this journey. Translated as Sea Cloud Pass, this stretch of road crosses a section of Truong Son Mountains and affords some of the most spectacular views of the hilly landscape and sea below.
As you descend toward Da Nang, you can opt for a stop at the Marble Mountains. These five mountains are a top tourist attraction in Vietnam, so watch out for vendors who are eager to sell unnecessarily large carvings depicting lions and Buddha. But the mountains themselves are decorated with pagodas and are worth exploring.
The journey nears its end with a zip past China Beach, an 18-mile stretch of sand, whose fame rose during the Vietnam War when soldiers were sent here for R&R. Today, it's a popular swimming beach.
Finally, the tour concludes with a safe arrival at your hotel in Hoi An. Making this journey with Hue Riders is a creative way of ticking off Vietnam's coastal highlights while at a client's personal pace and without hordes of other travelers.