INTRODUCTION For many, adventuring in Vietnam starts with deciding which way to travel north from HCM City. Its generally a toss up between the coastal route & the HCM Trail; a simple choice at first glance for those who deem themselves predominantly war buffs or beach bums. Having ridden the southern half (Da Nang southwards) of both in the last 2 months herewith some thoughts in an endeavour to assist those contemplating making the journey in the near future - I say 'the near future' as a key ingredient in the decision making process is to recognise the staggering pace at which new roads & bridges are being constructed, &, more importantly, existing roads can be deteriorating. The HO CHI MINH ROAD Heading up Hwy 14 via Hwys 22 & 22B is a rewarding run bordering Cambodia & embracing the unspoilt hinterland & the southern reaches of the Truong Son Range that separate Vietnam from Laos. Its a run through scenic topography varying from craggy mountains to fertile plateaus & plains. The rich soils around Buon Ma Thuot, Pleiku & Kon Tum support coffee, tea, rubbber & pepper plantations while the mountains support an abundance of fauna & flora. There are some of the best waterfalls in the country. Its an area that can offer respite from soaring temperatures in other parts of the country. Its home to a diverse mix of ethnic ('hill-tribe') groups, & to an equally diverse number of religions, including the Cao Daism, itself founded in Vietnam. Many different architectural styles, traditional music & theatre, festivals & foods compliment the countryside. Its also a staunch reminder of the destruction of war, more particularly the American War in recent years. Although as recently as 2009 Hwy 14 was reportedly in relatively good shape, I found sections of the road to be in a total state of disrepair. Deep potholes & ruts, gravel & dirt made for dangerous, long & dusty runs at times & remember we were travelling outside high season. The sections north & south of Kon Tum & parts on towards Buon Ma Thuot & between Gia Nghia & Dong Xaoi were amongst the most deteriorated. The situation is worsened by the fact that all those using the road naturally seek the best going - bikes can swing out each & every way without warning, cars are constantly changing line in an attempt to minimise the bumps, trucks push you to the limit in terms of available space along the gravelled sides of roads, whilst buses simply terrorise you in a display showing a total disdain for the safety of others, including their own passengers as they charge along all over the road, their horns blarring non-stop telling you simply to 'get off the road'! Traffic is constant though lessens south of Buon Ma Thuot. Side-roads to avoid the carnage are few & far between (other than 14C which would see you miss most of the more interesting towns & villages). Remember also that finding anyone who speaks english is extremely rare, that signage is poor & a good map difficult to find. On a positive side there are Honda & Yamaha dealers & service centres in any town that has 'warranted a dot on the map', & in the case of a Honda there are simple general & tyre repair shops almost every kilometre along the road. Petrol stations too are everywhere. HWY 1A -THE COASTAL ROUTE The coastal route offers some of the best beaches in Vietnam & some of the best preserved temple complexes in the country. It offers many of the sites for which Vietnam is internationally famous, including Nha Trang, Hoi An & several other UNESCO World heritage sites. Its the most 'westernised' part of the country (if that's the comfort level you are after). The scenery is mesmorising, the colours kalaidescopic, all the more-so as it changes so dramatically every 100kms or so with an associated change on its inhabitants that one could feel to have travelled to a completely different country. Hwy 1A is, however, as the name implies, the country's principal roadway & the traffic confirms it! Be ready for the unexpected; anything can happen. Stay right (though watch for those swinging recklessly across traffic to head left & those entering from the right without looking), give way to anything bigger.............say your prayers! Dont be over-keen in your planned daily kilometrage; given the concentration needed, this can be a tiring outing. Nothing changes with the mentality of truck & particularly bus drivers - they will simply pull out into your lane at any occassion sounding the horns to tell you to 'leave the road'. There are side-tracks which will take you around parts of Hwy 1A & I would strongly recommend you seek information & maps (forget signage or asking people along the route - they travel little, cant read maps & 5 different people will give you 5 different directions) & use these bypasses. They will take you to absolutely wonderful places, untouched by the stresses of the modern world, places of rare beauty & charm (& being off 1A may see you live a little longer). Dealers & service centres for Honda & Yamaha are in all major towns & cities with owner operated Honda repair tyre shops everywhere as are petrol stations. CONCLUSION Both are great routes & a decision depends very much on the individual/s concerned. Road conditions should, however, play an important role in the process - you truly need up to date information on new roads & bridges, road upgrades & particularly on the condition of the existing road, in particular details of any parts that have deteriorated substantially. (In what I feel would assist others, maybe those that find this post useful could update the information as they ride either road).