People travel thousands of kilometers by motorbike to get home for Tet

By Pham Nga   January 25, 2022 | 05:00 pm PT
Le Van Vui joined nearly a dozen people on motorbikes in December to travel 1,200 km from HCMC to the central Nghe An Province for the Tet festival.

He made the decision after learning a person had to be quarantined for 21 days after accidentally traveling on a bus with a Covid patient.

Afraid he might end up in a similar situation, the Binh Tan District mechanic opted to drive home.

After a year of living with Covid-19 fears, the 28-year-old said now he just wants to go home and enjoy a peaceful Tet.

Usually, he would fly back home for the New Year.

Vietnamese will have a nine-day break for Tet, or Lunar New Year, the country's biggest holiday, starting from Jan. 29.

The holiday often sees millions of migrant workers from major cities and industrial hubs return to their homes for family reunions.

Vui is one of nearly 2,000 members of an online group founded by Nguyen Van Linh, a Nghe An native called ‘Motorcycle Riders Heading Home For Tet’.

Members of Le Van Vui rest on the road before continuing their journey back to Nghe An Province, January 2022. Photo courtesy of Vui

Members of the group ‘Motorcycle Riders Heading Home For Tet’ rest for a while before resuming their odyssey in this photo from early January. Photo courtesy of Vui

Linh guessed that many people would want to ride back to their hometowns for Tet instead of taking public transport amid Covid and so formed the group for people to travel together and support each other.

The fourth wave that hit Vietnam last April has until now been responsible for over 2.16 million Covid cases. Of them, more than 1.9 have recovered.

A freelance laborer from the northern Bac Ninh Province said many people traveling to her province were able to find others to travel in groups and even hitch rides.

"Small groups have around 10 people while large groups sometimes have hundreds," Linh said.

According to media reports, train and air tickets were in low demand 20 days before the holidays.

Officials at Mien Dong (eastern) and Mien Tay (western) bus stations in HCMC expect ticket sales to be 30-40 percent down from last year.

Some bus operators pointed to the fact that many are staying back in Ho Chi Minh City and not going home for Tet while others choose to travel by motorbike.

Huynh Hoai Han, who runs the SOS Thap Muoi rescue team that repairs vehicles for motorcyclists returning to their hometown on N2 highway in Thap Muoi District in the southern Dong Thap Province, said the number of people riding home has doubled this year.

He expects the number to increase even more in the next few days, and said his team would work in shifts to support people 24/7.

Long-distance travel by motorbike is not without its hazards.

Nguyen Nhu Quynh, 32, said she would never ride a motorbike home again after making a trip of more than 370 km that saw her five-year-old daughter hospitalized.

She had joined a group of people to travel together from the southern Binh Phuoc Province to the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai.

She had never ridden a motorbike for more than 100 km by herself but still decided to hit the road on Jan. 19.

"My kid is not vaccinated yet, and so I was afraid she might contract Covid from other passengers if we traveled by bus".

But after traveling a third of the way, the child suddenly complained of fatigue.

Quynh found her daughter was shivering and crying and had a fever. The group of more than 20 people pulled over and waited.

"Worried about my child’s safety and afraid to bother the other people in the group, I asked someone to drive me and my child on my vehicle to a nearby hospital so that others could go on with their journey," she said.

The journey that was to have lasted just one day had stretched to three days.

Alone with her daughter after the ordeal, Quynh headed back home at a sedate speed of 30km per hour.

But on one occasion the turbulence caused by a truck passing by knocked them down and both were left bleeding.

"Fortunately, we got home safely," she said.

Migrant workers leave HCMC for their hometown in the Mekong Delta, October 1, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Migrant workers leave HCMC for their hometown in the Mekong Delta, October 1, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Many other young returnees like Vui were also exhausted from riding a motorbike for 1,200 km straight without eating properly and driving in cold weather and in the morning dew.

When he was crossing the Hai Van Pass late at night, Vui’s felt weak and his stomach was churning with apprehension.

While descending from the pass, the group told each other to stay close together and with the foot firmly on the brake.

When they reached the central Quang Tri Province, one vehicle had a flat tire, and everyone waited until it was fixed.

Thus, due to the insistence that everyone should travel together, the group reached home later than planned.

"After arriving at the quarantine facility in my province, I lay in bed for a whole day because I was exhausted," Vui said.

Linh would often remind the members to service their vehicles and have them in good shape to avoid breaking down along the way. He would also urge people to bring extra gasoline and food, a raincoat to keep themselves warm, wear a helmet at all times, and ride at a steady speed.

He said: "Long-distance riders must have good physical strength and stay alert to cope with possible problems. Two people on a vehicle must both have a license and take turns riding".

After Linh and others arrived back to Nghe An Province on Jan. 16, they rented out a house in the forest to quarantine together.

Over the past weeks, a series of localities have imposed different quarantine and testing measures on those returning home for Tet.

Earlier this month, Thanh Hoa Town in the eponymous central province called on people not to return forTet if not necessary out of Covid-19 fears.

Then, around 30 houses in Thieu Phu Commune in the province had their gates locked by authorities for hosting people returning from high coronavirus risk areas.

Vui has just completed his quarantine at the commune people's committee office, and is relieved he can spend Tet with his family.

The slight injuries Quynh and her daughter suffered have healed.

She said she plans to take it easy for a few days before worrying about what mode of transport to take to return to HCMC after Tet.

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