I started my trip through Vietnam in Hanoi. After China, this was a different world. Everyone spoke English again, street food everywhere, I could finally read the names of the shops, streets and hotels and… I wasn’t the only backpacker anymore! I noticed I wasn’t used to seeing Western faces anymore because every time I saw people “like me” I thought I knew this person. They all look the same right? Like the Chinese did when I just got there. Anyways, I really liked Hanoi. It’s chaotic, especially in the old quarter at night. All the plastic chairs and tables on the streets, in front of the hundreds of restaurants and bars, leave little space for cars and motorbikes… but nobody cares. If you’re eating first row you can literally season your food with the carbon dioxide coming from the exhausts passing you by on a 5 centimeter distance. But there’s a nice atmosphere. Life’s more outdoors. When I was wondering through some small streets I could often see into people’s living rooms, which were practically like front yards, facing open towards the street. Apart from the big lakes in the centre, I also discovered plenty of quarters with smaller lakes, surrounded by colourful houses.
The day I bought my motorbike (scooter actually, but the Vietnamese call it like this and I think it sounds cooler) it was the first day of TET, the celebration of the Chinese New year
. It’s a big deal in Vietnam, almost all shops and restaurants close and it lasts for a couple of days. The evening before everyone was out on the streets for the countdown, which was really disappointing if you ask me, since no firework was allowed this year. But today, apart from some people burning fake money, cigarettes or jewelry for good luck, the streets were deserted. Since I had never driven a scooter before, this was perfect for me! I could practice without having at least 5 near-death-experiences before even getting out of the city centre. I decided to just drive around in Hanoi until I felt comfortable on that thing: a Semi-automatic Honda Dream 2. After my first 2 hours of driving, I decided to have a ‘Pho’, a Vietnamese noodle soup. When I sat down, I still felt the adrenaline rushing through my veins and I could see my chopsticks shaking while I was eating my delicious Pho. Vietnamese traffic was challenging (not to say scary), even on TET day… but the feeling of freedom I got as soon as I drove away, was absolutely priceless. I knew this was going to be one of the most unforgettable parts of my journey.
Driving around Vietnam I soon got to know the friendliness and hospitality of the locals. If something is wrong with your motorbike (which happens every other day if you are lucky, and most likely in the middle of nowhere) you will soon be surrounded by at least 4 Vietnamese man who are checking and discussing what’s wrong with it. Because everyone man here is kind of a mechanic… Although you can find at least 3 mechanic shops, even in a small village. And it happened more than once that we got invited to drink a coffee, beer or even rice wine with the locals. Only a few words of Vietnamese and you will have heaps of fun with these guys.
Although the main roads in Vietnam are pretty good, taking an alternative route because you think it’s quicker, is not always a good idea. One time we ended up on a road where they removed the asphalt to make a better road (hopefully), but at this point the road was just a bumpy, dirt road with two really deep gutters for the trucks to drive through. At some point there was a roadblock because of some big trucks. Some workers were sitting on the side of the road, finishing up their day of working. They saw us waiting for the trucks to clear the road and invited us to sit down with them and offered us a shot of rice wine. And some undefined pieces of meat from a pan where they were all eating from. I skipped that one… That day we only made about 70 kilometers but it’s one of the many moments on the road I will remember.
The food in Vietnam is also YUMMY. And moreover, extremely cheap. Breakfast often consisted of one or two Bánh mì: The Vietnamese version of a sandwich, inspired by the french baguette. The pork & egg version I had in Hoi An was maybe the best one I’ve had, but I must say they were kind of delicious everywhere I tried them. When we stopped to have lunch or dinner somewhere, along the road, we would always go for the most shabby looking places with plastic chairs and tables where we saw a lot of locals. Most of the time, a proper meal cost us about 20.000 dong, which is not even 1 euro.
And then there is the Vietnamese coffee. Served on a special way with a drip-thing on your cup and condensed milk if you like it really sweet. The coffee is super tasty and my secret power weapon to stay awake and concentrated during the long days of driving in the sometimes crazy traffic. I am not only talking about the parts were there were huge trucks, trying to take another truck over at a spot where you know you’re going to be driven off the road if he continuous this manoeuvre. Or the crazy tour and local buses who continuously horn and cut you off because they suddenly decide to pick someone up at the other side of the road. I am also talking about staying focused because of the crossing dogs, cows or chickens. Although close a few times, luckily, the only animals I killed on the road were flies; splashing against my visor when I speeded up. And maybe one butterfly which got stuck in my helmet 🙁
Lastly, I can go on and on about the landscapes we’ve seen on the road… but I will write about that in another post 😉 You guys have already been waiting for a new post too long now haha! XOXO Hannah