Vietnam 1

  1. 11. 2017 - 4. 12. 2017 646km

We landed in Hanoi late in the evening and this time we checked if we could sleep there to avoid any complications. The smaller airport that looked it had not been completely finished, operated 24 hours a day, so we there wasn’t problem with staying overnight. However we couldn‘t sleep much, and after awakening we needed a coffee. It was too hot that was why we ordered ice coffee. We were little bit surprised at its preparation. Pre-prepared coffee was in PET bottles, instead of milk  they squeezed some yellowish stuff out of the tube, shaked it for a long time and at the end added a pile of ice. Its taste was also quite weird, it didn‘t taste like instant or ground, it was sweet and thick. After a few sips, we remembered: Drink only bottled water with an undamaged cap, and don‘t drink drinks with ice any way! We stared at each other, shrugged and said it was from the airport, so it would be okay, and then we sipped. With loaded trolleys, we struggled out of the hall and we tried to find a suitable place to assemble the bikes. When we got out of the door we had to refuse many taxi drivers who wanted to take us and our large luggage to the center of Hanoi, which is 30km from the airport. Why didn‘t this happen in Japan, where we really needed help? The passers-by and airport staff were watching us closely when were assembling the bikes. Some of them occasionall gave us a hand. After two hours everything was done and we could go. But after a few meters, our gps navigation failed and after restart it let us to oppposite direction which we really didn‘t want to. The only option was to run over a two-lane road to the other side to our direction. The traffic was busy and the drivers were hooting  at us. At that time we regret to had refused the taxi. Even when we were in the right direction, the situation wasn‘t better, and we immediately realized that the driving style in this country is completely different. Everyone drives where he needs, it doesn’t matter if it is on wrong side of the road, they constantly honking their horn to let the other drivers know where they are. Later we realized there was nothing to worry about, even if it looks crazy, they are driving relatively slowly and the accident happens only exceptionally.

From the wide asphalt road we turned right to a bumpy dusty road between suburban houses. At that moment we were shocked. Along the way, there were heaps of rubbish that sometimes was burning, passing cars and mopeds swirling dust up, children and adults shouting at us "Hello" and waving at us, people were sitting in the street selling the fruit and vegetable, next to them others carving the meat on the ground, the flies were flying around the fresh meat, the cows were going through, and the hens sat in the chairs at the cafes. Neither of us has ever been in SE Asia, so when we came from almost sterile Japan, where everything had strict rules, we perceived the mess and the chaos more intense. We were simply shocked, not in negative way, just suddenly everything was so different from how we live in Europe. It was clear that we would process mixed feelings for a long time.

We arrived at the hotel where we fell into the bed and stared dully in the ceiling. In the evening we went to the Old Quarter of Hanoi for dinner. How grateful we were that we cycled from the airport insted of taking the taxi, at least we were ready for the traffic in this country. The roads in the city were full of cars, buses, and mopeds. Moped is the most important kind of transport, it can carry the entire family, the goods, animals or furniture. There are hotels, bars, cafes, restaurants, street food (small plastic tables and chairs on the street where Vietnamese food is served), markets with clothing or bakeries in the side streets of city. On the sidewalks there are fruit and vegetace vendors. Despite the fact that Vietnam is still communist country, the atmosphere here is very relaxed. In the Old Quarter, there is Hoan Kiem Lake, where Vietnamese spend time playing badminton, Chinese chess, or exercising in the outdoor gym. There is also the water puppet theater near the lake which we visited. Its origins date back to the 11th century. It is said that it was for entertainment of farmers on flooded rice paddies. In the individual games we watched, there were significant Vietnamese mythological animals - a turtle, a dragon, a unicorn, a phoenix - and everything was accompanied by live music.

In order to get better acclimated in Vietnam, we chose two organized trips. The first one was a trip to Ha Long Bay. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, with almost 2000 limestone islands, where King Kong or James Bond was making. Thanks to mass tourism, this place is losing its magic.

The second trip was to the village of Mai Chau, which lies in a valley surrounded by mountains in the north. Traditional wooden houses on "stilts" are home to black and white Thai. We were able to see the cultivation of rice fields and traditional dances and we visited the Sunday market where was each villager.

Although both excursions were fine, we missed our freedom. We packed our panniers and flew Hanoi nest. In order to avoid the dangerous road No. 1, we chose the route through the remote villages, where asphalt alternated with clay. People weren‘t too used to tourists here, so we were a great attraction for them. They wanted to take pictures with us, "hello" was heard from everywhere, many the kids were running to us and we gave them the sweets. It was a wonderful feeling to see their happiness.

We were close to the oldest national park in Vietnam, Cuc Phuong, and it would be a shame not to visit that, especially becouse it was allowed to ride a bike there. After about two kilometersin the park, we reached the lake, where there was an informatin board. There were pictures of the animals living in the national park on the board. We were surprised that viper snakes are living there. I was scared but Paja was surprisingly fine. We feasted our eyes on big beautiful butterflies and special grasshoppers for a while and then kept going. We cycled just few meters when a live bright yellow snake was lying on the road. It could have been 1.5m long and it was waiting for a victim. We tried to scare snake into slithering away, but nothing worked. Even the passing Vietnamese on bicycle didn‘t scare it, it only little bit moved, raised his head and kept waiting. The snake also ignored the motorbikes. Paja wanted to keep cycling, but I couldn‘t find courage to do this. Just the imagine that we could meet another one made me sick. And this was the end of our trip to the national park without a guide. In the evening, we read that it was a violent poisonous white-lipped pit viper. What else to say, we'd rather watch buffaloes in the fields.

It didn‘t take long and it started to rain, the quiet side roads were getting muddy. We had to go to road No. 1. We rode in continuous rain, dense traffic, the landscape was covered in a fog. In these rainy days I had flat tire, first on our journey. In all the mess on the road there was a nail that punctured the tire. To make matters worse, the hotel rooms were moldy and damp even if we tried expensive accommodation. Another problem was the food, Paja doesn’t eat the meat for several years, and after a few hours in Vietnam, I also became a vegetarian. Unfortunately, the more varied menu was only in Hanoi, since then we had gotten always only rice, fried tofu and some grass. We couldn’t stay that. One day we stopped at the bistro and the older lady wanted to serve us the same food like usually. We were so desperate that we opened her fridge and showed her exactly which ingredient we wanted in the meal. Other time we tried to explain to them through the translator that we wanted meal without meat and they offered us  fish head, chicken feet or animals organs. Tasty pastry also diappeared long time ago. We ate tropical fruit at least. Vietnamese coffee always lifted our spirits. We have completely fell in love with it. This is a very strong , sweet and flavoured coffee. The coffee was brought out with a layer of condensed milk at the bottom of a small glass with a stainless steel phin filter sitting on top. The coffee already dripping into the glass and mixing in with a condensed milk. In the end the ice is added. The result is simply perfect.

Central Vietnam where we were approaching was hit by monsoon rain. The chance to the better weather was minimal that time. We prefere not to use support means transport, but eventually we took a train in Dong Hoi, journey to the south, to the sun, took 18 hours.

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