GPS: Friend or Foe?

The magical travel technology that exists these, at the push of a button, is amazing. Map maker apps, GPS trackers, mileage counters. You name any travel device and there is probably an app for it. But do these devices hinder us from our adventure or broaden our possibilities?

The reality of Wi Fi and 3G in Vietnam is that it can be very unreliable. From lack of transmission towers, to a very large addicted Facebooking community, to fibre optic hungry sharks, you quite often find yourself in a dead zone or several kilometres from your actual location when using map applications. In time I’m sure it will improve as a large portion of the youth are very tech savvy. But, until that day comes, you might want to keep your eye on the sun.

There seems to be two schools of thought on technology and adventure motorcycle touring scene. Some, like my mate from the UK likes to borrow the J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘not all those who wander are lost ‘ and to a certain extent I agree. I loath those long, straight, congested roadways that simply go point A to point B. If you have ridden the AH17 you can relate to the inner beast that is unleashed when crammed into a fast moving hive of cars, buses, motorcycles and trucks all jockeying for their piece of the pavement. Vietnam has so much more to offer, in the case of touring Vietnam by motorbike, when you get on to the roads less travelled. A simple outdated map from the Pham Ngu Lao district street hawkers , a big smile and a lot of body language can get ya out there.


The other train of thought is that technology opens up so many more possibilities. For example, I’m a huge fan of ‘Travel Map Maker’. It doesn’t label as many roads as Google Maps, and there are no direction functions. However, it allows you to drop colour coded pins and write details of where you were or what you saw there. The pins sometimes are a little off the mark sometimes, but it gives you a sense of the journey you took. And it allows you to find those sweet little nooks you don’t read about in guide books and blogs. Now, if only they allowed more that 1000 pins. Between my friend and I riding on our days off in Korea we ran out of pins before the season ended.


There are some gambles to be taken when it comes to apps for Vietnam. For instance, in the city, apps don’t distinguish between car and motorcycles. So there are directions in Google that are far more efficient, but it doesn’t recognize that some roads are one way for cars only. It can make getting around Saigon extremely frustrating if you don’t know it well. In the countryside it may show a small village connected by ferries that no longer exist.


But then there are those special moments where technology and a little dumb luck pay off . Once, I was in Can Tho basically spending the day trying to out run storms. Right around 2 pm it looked like my luck had finally run out. It was the beginning of the rainy season, so it was presumed it would not be a light sprinkle. Looking at the app pictured above I had two choices, ride 67kms north west and the 72kms north east back to Can Tho. Or a country road that followed a river to the junction of another river. But there was the 25km risk that the dirt road would come to a dead end. But the call for adventure won out in the end. Sure enough, I got to the end and there was a local ferry waiting that was only 20kms from Can Tho. My timing couldn’t have been better. No so sooner did I drive on we set sail for the Can Tho side of the river. Made it back in town just in time to sit on the rooftop patio of the Mango Hotel with a bag of beer and watched the first downpour of the rainy season. Talk about luck.

The lesson in the end is take some chances. Photograph landmarks or memorize them.. Carry a business from your hotel and use VPS ( The Vietnamese People System). Whatever method you use, just get out there and get lost. To borrow another quote from Tolkien, ‘Still around the corner there may wait a new road or a new gate ‘.

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