One of the best indications that you have a solid presenting team is to take them out of their element and see if they’re still entertaining. The Vietnam Special from Top Gear Series 12 was one such occasion as it took Jeremy, James, and Richard away from the world of cars and onto three of the most rickety, beat up motorcycles that I have ever seen. The fact that it quickly became one of my all time favorite episodes speaks volumes about how entertaining the three boys are.
The episode had everything a good Top Gear episode needed; it had pranks between the hosts (Richard’s ship was awesome), bumbling moments of ineptitude (James’ colander and Jeremy trying to start his bike come to mind), tasteless jokes regarding the war, and jaw-dropping backdrop of gorgeous Vietnam scenery.
This single episode had some of my favorite moments in all of Top Gear/The Grand Tour history. Jeremy and James trying out snake bile vodka was one of them, and Richard’s subsequent face at everything Vietnam had to offer was another. The grueling train ride in what appeared to be ungodly heat and humidity made me cringe (I don’t do well in heat). The three gifts the boys got for each other were, well, exactly what I expected. Also, I couldn’t help but wonder how badly Jeremy must have smelled when he got that massage (those poor ladies).
The motorcycle driving test segment was hilarious as well, and even though it was clear that Jeremy speaking Vietnamese was scripted, it was still a funny surprise. The one segment of the episode that absolutely blew my mind away, however, was the final portion when the boys had to convert their bikes into boats and sail through a stunning network of islands. It was truly beautiful to see nature’s sense of style as they weaved in and out between the islands of Ha Long Bay:
It’s an absolutely gorgeous sight that I can stare at for the rest of my life, and the scenery easily is as stunning as any other in Top Gear history. Besides the scenery, this special was one of the earliest episodes that I can remember that eschewed hijinks with cars and focused more on the three presenters themselves. After all is said and done and 22 seasons of Top Gear are ready for my viewing, the Vietnam Special is one of a handful that stick out in my mind. It is truly one of the greats.