Vietnam by Motorcycle by Matt Lief Anderson in Vietnam

I lived and worked in Ho Chi Minh City (Formerly Saigon) Vietnam for a year and a half. I quit my job to take a motorcycle trip from Ho Chi Minh in the South to Sapa in the North on the border of China. These are photos from my trip North over some of the craziest roads known to man.

Name:Matt Lief Anderson



Putting video stuff together, researching my next trip, and working on a book

Tell us about the place you live:

I spent 4 years living and traveling abroad, and Vietnam was one of the best places I visited or called home. Despite the fact that they were in war with America less than 50 years ago they’re an extremely kind and generous people. The traffic is the toughest thing to come to grips with in Saigon. Every time you cross the street you put your life in danger. I saw several awful accidents and two fatalities on the road and even had a coworker die in traffic earlier this year. It’s not uncommon for a 2 lane road to have 10 lanes of motorcycles fighting for position in traffic jams that you really have to see to believe. It also has a monsoon season that lasts for almost 6 months. You haven’t seen rain like this if you haven’t seen a Southeast Asian monsoon. And you can count on torrential downpours every day. Those giant raindrops are extremely painful when speeding down the road through flooded Vietnamese streets. During the monsoon season I was soaked to the bone almost every day. It’s just part of living there. And it’s not all rain and traffic. You can live on next to nothing, the people are amazing, the culture is incredible, the food is delicious, the landscape is breathtaking, and the nightlife is fantastic.

A perfect day?

I’d walk to a french restaurant in my neighborhood of Phu My Hung and grab brunch with my girlfriend and best friends who lived right down the street. Surprisingly Vietnam has the best French food in the world aside from France. After breakfast we would have a street coffee called Cafe Sỏi Đá. Vietnamese coffee is a lot different, it’s more of a desert containing a couple shots of espresso and a ton of condensed milk on ice. We lived about 50 feet from an amazing pool where we would go for a swim and have a couple of beers. Depending on how much we drank we would ride our scooters and motorcycles through the most hectic traffic in the world to District 1 and hit up T&R, the diviest foreign bar in the city. We would meet up with some other friends and finish the night with some street food and share a bucket of beer in lawn chairs outside at Phạm Ngũ Lão (one of the craziest streets in the world).

What is the best thing about your spot?

Complete freedom. Depending on the job, you usually make a typical salary that you would have in America, Canada, England, or Australia but your money goes so far. The cost of living is extremely low, so you can live like a king or queen and you can save an incredible amount. And it’s the perfect jumping off point to Southeast Asia. We took a ton of weekend trips to other parts of the country and to Cambodia which was only a few hours away. Cambodia and Laos both border Vietnam and can easily be reached by bus. And The Philippines and Thailand are a cheap flight away. We traveled every chance we got and never worried about the cost. In the end I still had enough to go from South to North on a motorcycle, visit Laos and Thailand for a few months, take a month long road trip in America and buy a flight to England.

What is the worst?

Prostitution. It’s really sad and it’s rampant. Many times the women are underage and totally exploited by older creepy Westerners.

I also hate the crime. In all honesty it’s much much safer in terms of violent crime than where I lived in Chicago, but petty theft is extremely common. I have seen dozens of cell phones, purses and laptops snatched out of the hands of someone not paying attention. It happened to my girlfriend and even my sister when she visited. My friends also found out that their cat was stolen and eaten. People are really poor and sometimes willing to do anything to get by.

What would be surprising about this place to an outsider?

There aren’t any rules. But you can use this to your advantage. I have been pulled over several times by the police but they are always willing to let you go for a bribe. They usually start at around 100,000 dong (5$) but you can talk them down to almost nothing. I never payed more than 1.50 USD. I don’t regularly smoke weed, but you can easily buy it for nothing and walk down the street smoking a joint. No one will even turn their head. It’s also really common for a spliff to circulate around a table at any outdoor bar (especially on Phạm Ngũ Lão street). Vicodin and similar pain killers are also available at most pharmacies without a perscription.

If your city was a person or character who would it be?

I don’t know. A bipolar person I guess. You never know what you’ll get.

Who are three of your favorite artists?

That’s tough… I guess I’ll say that my favorite photographers are Luke Byrne and Reuben Wu. I do get most of my inspiration from films though. You can always count on Terrence Malick or Wes Anderson to blow your mind. (Sorry that’s 4 artists).


Name:Matt Lief Anderson

City:Ho Chi Minh

Favorite place to eat:

I don’t know. To be honest the best food I had was either on the street or sitting on plastic chairs in an open air restaurant in an alley somewhere. And they literally nail every cuisine. Going out for French food or grabbing some Spanish tapas is also always fun too.

Favorite place to drink:

T&R. It’s a seedy place in District 1 with a public computer for a DJ with an extensive itunes library of experimental and indy tunes. And of course it’s also got every Katy Perry and Rihanna song if that’s your thing.

Favorite shop:

I don’t know, probably the cheese place by my house called Annam. Most foreigners dig the places with the bootleg DVDs and whisky with dead floating cobras and scorpions inside the bottle.

Local Tip:

Take a Mai Linh or Vinasun taxi. There are a million taxi’s to choose from and most will rip you off. Those two are somewhat reputable. If you’re at the airport walk out of the airport and onto a city street to hail a taxi. It will save you 5$. Or if you’re alone take a Xe Om (motorcycle taxi). You literally hop on the back of a scooter to go across town. Be confident in your negotiation skills. Never pay more than 3$ USD to go across the city (5$ from the airport). They’ll try to bleed you dry. Be firm.

You can buy your way out of any situation. If you get in trouble, offer a little money and always negotiate. Be creative. I fixed my scooter tire by giving away an old flashlight.

Must Do:

Go to Tam Coc in Ninh Binh! Everyone goes to Halong Bay. It’s really beautiful but it’s far too touristy and expensive. Tam Coc is much cheaper, less busy, and much more beautiful.