Northern Vietnam

1 Jan

I’d been preparing for this winter’s trip for a month.  My friend and I started in Northern Vietnam, Hanoi, with intentions of heading even farther north to iconic landscapes; three weeks of remote mountainous motorcycling through rice paddies.  And yes, to answer a question that you didn’t ask, the Vietnamese currency is named “dong”.  😂

The Vietnam government required us to have all of our documents in order before we arrived so weeks before our flight I applied for a visa online and printed out our letter of invitation.  Four months earlier, Vietnam had changed this process for US citizens making the visas year-long, multiple entry and more expensive, $155USD each.   For comparison, both Cambodia and Laos are 30 day $30USD, visa on arrival, and Thailand is 30 days free.  As an added feature, our Vietnam visa came with the custom officers not recognizing the new format and requiring a bribe payment for “coffee money” at one of our border crossings.

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Welcome to Vietnam!  — An ornate temple in Hanoi.

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An artistic photo of a student.

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A photo of other people’s children.

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I had to filter Ben this colour to make my under-eyes less dark.  Travel is all about compromise.

We spent time exploring Hanoi, drinking Weasel coffee (beans that have been partially digested by a mongoose relative, fermented, excreted by the animal, and then roasted. Ben said it was delicious, I had trouble getting past the facts.), visited a one pillar pagoda, made observations about Vietnamese money (they don’t have any coins in Vietnam), and laughed about how every single bed we slept in felt like a slab of sheet rock.

 


 

I have this idea that if you learn to do something in a harsh environment you become good at it.  It’s a working theory, but I thought that by learning to ride a motorcycle in the mountains of Vietnam — plus that one lesson from Dey —  I’d be able to ride anywhere.  No matter that it was going to be winding, cold and isolated!  Adventure and a new skill awaited!

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We rented our bikes and checked the brakes at least four times.

After getting comically separated in the first 5 minutes, spending hours familiarizing ourselves with a manual bike in a sea of Asians on mopeds, and finally getting out of a hectic Asian city, it was time for lunch.  We picked a roadside stop that looked delicious.  As soon as we pulled over the owner pointed out a nail in my tire. — Uh-oh!
Turns out, it was literally no big deal.  I had conveniently broken down in front of a restaurant/skilled mechanic.  Ten minutes later, lunch and my bike were ready simultaneously.  For 80,000dong (less than $4USD) we’d eaten and gotten my bike fixed. We felt like real big spenders handing over 80,000 clams to our waiter/mechanic. Dong dong bills, ya’ll!

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The best restaurant we found in Northern Vietnam.  Unfortunately, most of the other cuisine was disappointing and bland.

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A misty outhouse.

We quickly realized that almost every other man in Vietnam is a seasoned motorcycle repairer.  Any problem we had with the bike was fixed cheaply and (literally) meters from where we had broken down.  It was very impressive.

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Posing, when what I should have been doing was looking at the weather forecast.

 


 

It wasn’t supposed to rain.  Everything we had read said it was cold, sure, but also dry.  January isn’t the wet season in Northern Vietnam.

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A hint of gorgeous scenery that alas wasn’t to be.

It poured!
We pulled up at a street-side restaurant to find shelter, talk about what to do and as always, eat. I gestured for some water to drink. The cook seemed to understand and brought over a plastic water bottle.  I took a big gulp…. and immediately ran outside to spit it out.  What I’d mistaken for water was actually rice wine, whoops.  In hindsight, I realized that it was not sealed and accompanied by a tiny glass.  Eventually I got regular water but not before the incident brought smiles all around.

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Rainy day activities involved taking photos with the locals. Even in rural Vietnam, the women seemed to dress better than I do.

As the rain lightened up we continued back on our bikes but even gentle rain feels like hail at 50 kilometers per hour.  The conditions were dangerous; water filled up potholes and we could no longer see how deep they were.  And then another deluge.  We pulled over again.

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Not pictured: Crazy locals speeding through on mopeds wearing flip flops.

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Reexamining his vacation decisions.

Days and days of endless rain forecast; a change of plans was in order.  So, armed with a dry lunch spot, google maps, accuweather.com, and SkyScanner (a hit to our budget we hadn’t been expecting), we bought a plane/bus ticket to Vietnam’s neighbor, Cambodia. Forecasts for sunny skies and debilitating heat!

We stashed our bikes onto a bus and paid for a ride back to Hanoi where we had a flight to Ho Chi Minh the next day and, because we felt like we deserved it, got a massage.  I chose an adorable spot on Bui Vien.  The room was perfect with soft tables but Ben’s masseuse had a different idea of what we were looking for. While I was getting the stress rubbed out of my neck and back, he was violently flung around the table. The finale we dubbed the “airplane” where the masseuse held Ben in a wrestler’s hold and shook him while his spine cracked.  It wasn’t relaxing for either of us but I did get to laugh so hard I cried, making it one of the best massages I’ve ever had.

Early the next morning we said goodbye Northern Vietnam and hellooooooooo Cambodia.

Eager for adventure,
‘mi

3 Responses to “Northern Vietnam”

  1. kek34 April 6, 2017 at 7:38 pm #

    Nice to hear about your most recent adventures. My parents just got back from Vietnam – and it was exceedingly rainy for them too. 🙄 Hope Cambodia keeps you dry! Xo Think of you often!

  2. deekerson April 7, 2017 at 12:59 pm #

    Not sure I could have drank the weasel coffee, either. Love…

  3. Joan Pittel April 27, 2017 at 3:01 pm #

    How I loved having you here. Never enough time. Stay in touch. Great blog Keep them comiong. XXXOOO, Aunt Joan

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