mvietnamvn

The second month in Vietnam had a lot of excitement. Between getting stuck in some beautiful mountains where we had to spend the night at a construction site, getting my motorbike stolen, and seeing some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in an amazing journey from the very south of Vietnam to the very north of Vietnam and driving around 2,000 km (1,200 miles)

The first adventure started with us going from city of Hoi An, to get to Hue. It was supposed to be a relatively short ( 125km), but beautiful drive, but it turned into a 3 day adventure that included us sleeping at a construction site in the mountains.

The day before at the beach in Hoi An I met a german girl Sofia, who asked if she could join us for the drive to Hue and so the three of us took off. Joey, who was our navigator (and did an amazing job at this for 6 weeks) suggested we take a “back road” and as this always sounds interesting to try something different, so we did. What the application we used to navigate didn’t mention is that the back road it suggested, is still being built!

After getting a late start to the drive and not leaving until around 2pm, we found ourselves in some beautiful landscapes, but before we knew it the road that was not paved got more and more difficult. However, we were enjoying the drive so much, that at one of our picture stops we realized that it was 4:30 pm and that we had 1 hour before sunset and we were FAR from our destination.

So we decided to go as fast as we could while trying to not be irresponsible on this dirt and rock road when it gradually got crazier with a few river crossings that the water was almost waist-high and we didn’t know if we should be trying to cross it on motorbike. We also reached a fork in the road where we had to decide which way to go. Luckily there was a construction man at that point and we pointed in the direction we thought it was and he said no, and gestured we couldn’t go that way and said we should go in the direction that we came from! This was not an option at the moment as we knew it was a few hours in the direction we came from and that It was going to be dark very soon.  After some back and forth we decided to keep going and as you can guess it started getting dark and we had to find a solution.

Miraculously just as it was getting dark we reached a construction site with a few workers. We tried to explain our situation to a few of them and asked if we could spend the night on the construction site, but they didn’t speak any English and our Vietnamese was far from sufficient for this task. Eventually some sleeping gestures were understood and they showed us to a structure where the construction site manager sleeps and there was some open space where we were able to put up some hammocks that Joey had and a thin wooden board that would be my bed for the night!

We wanted to get up and leave early the next morning, but it had rained for around 12 hours straight and the workers gestured to us that we wouldn’t be able to go because it had rained so much that the river crossings we had to pass ahead where we wanted to go had the water up our necks!

And the 12 hour downpour had the dirt roads looking very dangerous if we wanted to head back from where we had come the day before so we didn’t want to do that….We spent the day watching the rain and hanging out with the workers until a possibility appeared. A man who delivers supplies and food to the work site and is an expert at doing the journey back on his motorbike offered to go back with us and help us.

We accepted this offer and took a leap of faith that we would be able to make it! After only 5 minutes my motorbike was really struggling in the mud and started making crazy noises and letting out smoke and I was doubting if it was a good idea to continue as a break down seemed to be inevitable and just a matter of time. And after some of the river crossings my motorbike wouldn’t start again and Joey’s motorbike chain kept falling and things were looking grim. However, the supply delivery man helped us with our bikes and kept us going and after around 3 hours in the rain and it was a combination of at times being stuck in really thick mud, and being on top of very slippery dirty where the motorbike slipped and slided everywhere…but eventually we made it to a concrete/asphalt road and I almost got down and kissed it from how happy I was to be off the mud and dirt roads! And from there we went to Danang, a city in between Hoi An and Hue, where we spent a night. Before leaving the next day to finally reach Hue after 3 days and an amazing experience.

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One of the smaller river crossings I captured
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I actually snapped this shot as we were asking the construction workers if we could sleep there
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Our make shift room…hammocks and my bed on the ground
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The dining hall of the construction site where they fed us 3 delicious meals the 2 days we were there
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Sofia trying to communicate with some of the really nice workers using a Vietnamese phrasebook
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The rain also kept the construction workers from being able to do their work
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The construction guys were so friendly and curious they would come over and sit with us and here one is playing with the Joey’s juggling balls, as I was learning to juggle and this guy came to do the same…on my wooden board

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This guy was awesome, but quite the pervert…

Then we went to historic Huế,  known as the imperial city as it was once the capital and has the ruins of the Nguyen empire.  More info: ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hu%E1%BA%BF )

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We then went further up north to Phong Nha,  home to the biggest cave in the  world, Sơn Đoòng Cave, that was only discovered in 1991 by a local man. It costs around 3.000 dollars to visit this cave, so I definitely didn’t go to this one. But went to two big and beatiful caves and loved the experience. I also regret not taking any pictures, but there I met up with my friend Travian, from Vietnam who lives in this town whom I met in Laos a few months earlier and she was very helpful and fun to see there. Here is more on the famous cave:  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C6%A1n_%C4%90o%C3%B2ng_Cave)

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Of the many caves, The Dark cave was my favorite as it we zip-lined to the entrance of the cave, swam, kayaked, and the best part for me was spending time in mud up to our chests that was an amazing sensation to sit, swim, and play in and on.

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Then we went further up north to Nin  Binh, where we spent a day exploring these gorgeous views on a boat ride with some new friends.

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Then we went to fabled Halong Bay and stayed a few days on Cat Ba Island, where we marveled at the stunning scenery and even spent Christmas on this spectacular island. At times I felt like I was in the scenes from Jurassic Park or images I have seen of New Zealand.

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We met actor Steve Carell at our hostel in Halong City and he came with us to Cat Ba Island. OK, maybe not…but our friend Shane definitely looked like him and was a lot of fun
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Tio, our friend from Holland who is traveling on a bicycle through south east asia and I saw at the ferry station and started talking to and we all hung out the next few days together

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My very good friend and now brother Joey from Belgium who I traveled close to 2 months with between Cambodia and motorbiking Vietnam. We both learned a great deal from each other and he was amazing company.

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Our lovely Halong Bay cruise

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Part of our Christmas eve gang where there was a big party outside a hostel with people from all over the world

Then we finally made it to the capital, and the famous Hanoi.  Funny enough my motorbike broke down as we entered the city and Joey actually pushed me with his foot from his motorbike into the insanely chaotic traffic where motorbikes come by the hundreds on every block going in every direction. It reminded me of something I learned a few years ago called Chaordic theory, where there is order among chaos.

I fell in love with Hanoi and was tempted to stay living in this city and can’t say I won’t go back at some point to do just that. The mix of the french architecture of the old town and the intensity of the smells, sounds, chaos and delicious food stole my heart.

I spent around 10 days, and New Years Eve there with my good friends Stephen and Susanna whom I had met in Indonesia 6 months ago who were amazing hosts and showed me around some very special places and food spots and dishes. I also met some great new friends in Hanoi who made the experience even better and we went to a few art exhibits, cafes, bars, parks, museums, etc.

Something funny also happened while in Hanoi. My motorbike was stolen outside my hostel by some crazy Danish guys who apparently were getting high on opium at my hostel! Fortunately they brought it back 2 days later apologizing, right before we were going to their hotel to find them as we had found out who had done it and had witnesses and even video footage. In exchange I had them pay for some repairs to my motorbike was needing and sold it a day later to a nice Finnish guy from the hostel. It was sad to part ways with Carmen, my beautiful motorbike who brought me a lot of joy.

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Carmen, my beautiful and first motorbike (maybe not the last) that brought me a lot of good times and adventures, and kept me safe! Here without the rack for the backpack, as it had fallen off that day!

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One day my friend Alex from England asked if we wanted to go do an “escape room” I had no idea what he was talking about, but sounded interesting to try. So we did a scavenger hunt type game where they lock you in a room and you have to find hidden clues and decipher codes and find a way out in one hour. It was fun and different! Here’s more info on the game:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_the_room

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Next to his mausoleum is the Ho Chi Minh museum I visited and found this to be REALLY inspiring. Nguyen Ai Quoc, alias Ho Chi Minh, that liberated his country from the French and then the U.S. and unified Vietnam began all of his accomplishments by handing out leaflets in the street in Paris! DON’T YOU EVER THINK YOU CANNOT MAKE A DIFFERENCE!!!!
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The Ho Chi Minh mausoleum where I went and you see his embalmed body on display

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There is this beautiful lake in the middle of downtown Hanoi that looks amazing at night
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One evening Stephen took us to a big lake where we were like little kids having fun driving our motorbikes around the beautiful lake pretending we were in Need for Speed or something. Fun.

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Enjoying Bia Hoi, or fresh local beers on tap that are very fresh and delicious and only cost around 30 cents each. Here with Susanna’s lovely parents that were visiting.  and Stephen and Susanna and Joey!
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My estimate is that this man is 211 years old

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Mien Ga! After Stephen and Susanna showed me this street stall down the block from my hostel I went EVERY day at least for a meal and they already knew when I arrived and the man who took care of the motorbikes became a friend and would pour me his rice wine every time I came
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My friend Stephen all of a sudden drove into what looked like a t-shirt shop and we had no idea what was going on, but after a few seconds we realized it was the passage to a hidden coffee shop that you could climb several floors and had a great view of Hanoi and the lake in the middle of the city. Here he is coming out.
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EGG COFFEE! Egg with a beaten egg cream on top…it was good!
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Delicious Bun Cha
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One day in Hanoi I ran out of money and couldn’t find an ATM and asked this street sweeper if she knew if someone could take me for the little money I had left and after some gestures and asking around she had someone lend her a scooter and she took me to meet my friend Stephen in a park for some slack lining!
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I was really happy to get back on a slackline after many months without having the chance to. Luckily my friend Stephen also loves this activity. We had a really nice afternoon slacklining with a crowd of happy people and teaching some locals.
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Hanoi has a curfew, but bars pull down the gates and keep their bars open secretly sometimes even till sunrise. Here you can see the bar closed from the inside.

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After my time in Hanoi my friend Franck from France and I decided to head up to Sa Pa for a few days of hiking to minority Hmong Villages and then we made our way east to Ha Giang where we rented  scooters and did a motorbike loop that is known to be the prettiest views in Vietnam, and it lived up to the reputation. Absolutely gorgeous.
Northern Loop (Ha Giang-Yen Minh-Meo Vac-Ha Giang)

 

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The woman on the right is Moo, a Hmong tribe woman whom we stayed with for a night. She cooked an abundance of delicious food and her family was lovely. Here she ran into her mother on the way down the mountain the next day.

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After our hike to the village where we did our home-stay, we went and sat on these amazing rice terraces and spent the afternoon. SONY DSC

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View of mystical and beautiful Sa Pa, that blessed us with amazing weather while we were there even though most people I met said they had no visibility when they went and it was freezing. We had the pleasure of exploring it in shorts and t-shirts
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Strong images of dog meat and parts at a local market in Sa Pa

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Do you see what this stylish man has in the bag he is carrying?

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We made it to the “North (Flag) Pole” of Vietnam where you can see across into the valleys of China.

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We saw many women like this that carried very big and heavy loads on their backs for very long distances and you could see some that cause permanent damage to their backs.
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Our Ha Giang Loop gang. Franck on the left, and Marie and Sina from germany that we met on way to Ha Giang after having to spend a night in Lao Cai

What motorbiking Vietnam is like….Exciting!
The most dangerous of all the animals on the road are the same as the most dangerous animal on earth. Humans! Everything from scooters to big trucks at times will drive full speed the wrong way and make you get out of their way, or decide to do just about anything to put your life in danger. But this is perhaps why it was so much fun. I REALLY enjoyed the driving. I described it to people as if it were a game. A high-stakes game for sure, where my life was on the line, but it was so much fun that usually when I pulled over I had a big smile on my face between the excitement I just faced and the views I just saw.

The best way to describe the experience of traveling on motorbike is Freedom like no other. Never being subject to a bus time schedule, just the sun going down. Either way, we took our time and were able to pull-over to enjoy the view or take pictures almost whenever we wanted (unless racing to beat the darkness!).

Here is a beautiful video that Joey made of his trip, that I was able to be part of most of it that has really nice images and gives you a feel for the experience.

Beauty of Vietnam
The beauty of Vietnam. Mountains, lush mountains….in all shapes and sizes and rice fields and picturesque scenes almost everywhere one looks with farmers in typical cone-shaped Vietnamese hats worked their fields and people tended to their business while tending to their babies and children.

The people
The people are almost all friendly. They might have a tough exterior, but a smile and an attempt to speak their language almost always made them reciprocate this friendliness and often led to displays of their kindness and generosity. However it is worth mentioning that the more touristic the area, the less friendly the people.

I also really liked that people really  use their parks, and beaches and open spaces to exercise or play games, or to socialize before they start their work day, or at the end after their work day. From south to north I noticed this in the parks and I found it beautiful.

The Food
The food at times was repetitive, but in general it is delicious. Their tends to be tendency to use fresh ingredients with several varieties of noodles (mostly rice noodles) in dry form or in soup form with vegetables and a choice of meat, etc.  Some of my favorites were Bun Cha…thin vermicelli-like noodles that you dip into a broth with fried pork. Another I liked very much was Mien Ga..transparent noodles with veggies and soy bean sprouts and peanuts with chicken. And the most interesting was a big flat fried noodle with egg cooked onto one of the sides. The fried noodle had a crispy element and this would come accompanied by sautéed vegetables and choice of meat, that complimented the crispy very well.

In conclusion: I LOVED Vietnam and I highly recommend you go!

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