From Saigon to Paris: A Vietnamese backpacker's motorbike adventure

By Vy An   October 30, 2017 | 09:00 pm PT
He reached the French capital by crossing through 23 countries in just 150 days.

Tran Dang Dang Khoa, a 30-year-old backpacker from Vietnam's southern province of Tien Giang, arrived at the Eiffel Tower last Saturday. This symbol of Paris marks the end of the first part of his journey around the world by motorbike, which he started on June 1. According to Khoa, he has been dreaming about embarking on this journey for 20 years and spent 2 years preparing for it.


Khoa finished the third quarter of his journey to Paris in Italy more than 20 days ago. He shared that the book "In Vespa. Da Roma a Saigon" by the late Italian writer Giorgio Bettinelli served as an inspiration for him to embark on his journey.


One of his most memorable experiences was being escorted for 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) through a dangerous area by police in Pakistan.


Being a pilot was another of his childhood dreams, and Khoa was able to realize that dream when he reached Bulgaria. For just BGN50 ($30), he was able to enjoy 30 minutes of flying a real aircraft with a flight instructor.


Santorini, Greece was the first island Khoa visited on his journey. While the island offered a large variety of activities such as snorkeling and donkey riding, Khoa spent most of his three days there relaxing, taking pictures and refueling.


On day 18 of his journey, Khoa experienced a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony in Bandipur, Nepal.


In Georgia, Khoa had a surprise meeting with Vietnamese singer Ho Quang Hieu, who was also visiting the country at the time. From strangers, the two soon became friends as they explored Georgia's capital Tbilisi together.


Georgia is also where Khoa celebrated the 100th day of his journey, as well as where he took the best pictures, enjoyed the tastiest food and met many good friends.


However, there were also times when he felt scared and depressed, such as when he rode through Iran's scorching hot desert on roads that seemed endless.

On the left is a simple EUR4 ($4.7) lunch Khoa had on the road with canned fish bought in Bosnia, instant noodles bought in Rome, wild plants gathered in a forest and a kettle made from parts bought in Greece.

On the right is an expensive dinner he had at a fancy restaurant in Iran.


The first half of Khoa's journey was 20,000 kilometers (12,500 miles), costing him 500 liters (110 gallons) of gasoline and 25 bottles of motor oil, and taking him through 23 countries: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and France.


Some of the coins and banknotes Khoa managed to collect on his journey


On day 108 of the journey, Khoa boarded a cargo ship to cross the Black Sea from Georgia to Bulgaria. As the only passenger on board, he was given a VIP room which even included an en suite bathroom.


In Bulgaria, Khoa was invited by his friend Lesley, a Bulgarian motorcyclist who has traveled across Europe, to visit Granitovo. He also met Bob Dibble, a 70-year-old man who was traveling the world on his Honda CT110.


During the first part of the journey, Khoa lost 7.5 kilograms (16.5 pounds). However, he has not fallen sick and says a healthy diet and a good balance between traveling and resting is the key to staying fit.


Khoa was reunited with his friend Fabio in Ligura, Italy after first meeting him in Pakistan when they were traveling in opposite directions. Khoa was heading to Europe while Fabio was heading to Asia, but while Fabio has returned home, Khoa is still on the road.

"A journey is not measured by the number of kilometers covered but by the number of friends made. Only now do I fully understand that statement," Khoa said.


Throughout his journey, Khoa has received help from both locals and the Vietnamese communities in Europe.


His motorbike, nicknamed Memo for Mekong Delta Motorboat, has broken down multiple times but Khoa has always managed to put it back together.


A selfie with local children in Bulgaria.


Pakistan is one of Khoa's most memorable destinations. This is where he met and became good friends with a group of motorcycle enthusiasts from Lahore.


A group of locals help Khoa change the oil in Sukkur.


Khoa and Memo on the snow-capped Alps in Switzerland.


Memo in the middle of a field in Tuscany, Italy.

Photos and video courtesy of Tran Dang Dang Khoa

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