13 – 17 April, 2013 – We finished our breakfast – two banana pancakes each – packed another 3 pancakes and left at around 8am in the direction of Hanoi. The first 55km we had to cycle back from where we came, which didn’t really bother us as the landscape was so beautiful and everything looks different anyway if you look at it from the other side.
After around 30km I fell for the first time on this trip from my bike: a small girl of around 10 years approached me while cycling and I thought she wanted to say hello but instead she took my handlebar and pulled at it with both her hands. I couldn’t keep balance and fell in the middle of the street. As she immediately ran away I just left my bike where it was and tried to catch her to tell her off. As she fell I got her easily, held her with both hands and explained in English very angrily that what she did was extremely stupid. She was crying and screaming as if I was lynching her, she was clearly scared to death. I hope she will never ever do such a stupid thing. Only when I let her go I noticed that blood was running down my right lower leg, it seemed that my pedal went into my shin. By then Johan had returned to the ‘scene’ together with a few locals and we cleaned and bandaged the wound to continue cycling. For the next few days I wasn’t really in the mood to return the many hellos from the children and always gave them a wide berth.
For the rest of the day it’s been an easy cycling day, with slightly improving weather on still quiet roads and we stopped at around 2.30pm at another home-stay, this time we had to share the huge sleeping room in the stilt-house with everyone: three other tourists and their tour guide who arrived shortly after us and the house-owner with his wife, mother and 6 children. When we woke early in the morning, people were sleeping everywhere, in every corner of the house.
The next day would become another exciting day as we would cycle into Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital with a population of around six million people. I wasn’t really looking forward to cycling into town, actually I was a bit scared knowing the mad traffic in Vietnam. The first 60km went easy as there was still not much traffic and we cycled on a good road with a wide shoulder. As soon as we decided to take a smaller and what we thought a more scenic road the nightmare began. Horrendous traffic, a bad and bumpy road, one industrial zone after the other, a lot of dust and no shoulder. Cycling wasn’t fun at all and we couldn’t wait to finally arrive in Hanoi. Despite it being a Sunday, everybody seemed to be as busy as any other day and truckloads of sand, stones and other building materials passed.
The closer we got to Hanoi the madder traffic became and the easier cycling went. Believe it or not. But streets became wider again and there was one wide lane for (motor)bikes. It actually was a great feeling going with the stream of thousands of motorbikes and the one or other bicycle. It felt more like diving into the city and Johan and I being a small fish within a school of fish. Right in front of Ho-Chi-Minh’s Mausoleum we achieved our first 10,000 km!
We were supposed to meet with Sibylle, our Warm Shower host at the Bicycle Collective, a combination of a bike shop and café run by a Spanish guy. For those who don’t know Warm Showers: it is a global network of people who offer free accommodation to touring cyclists. And if you are lucky you end up with great people at a place like Sybille’s. We had our own bedroom, our own bathroom, a great view over the West Lake and could use her kitchen and washing machine. We fell asleep with the frogs’ singing and woke up with the nearby cockerel as anywhere else in Vietnam. From the first minute we felt at home and stayed four nights with our wonderful host Sybille. As she is German she even downloaded ‘Tatort’ series for us so we are now able again to end our weekends with watching Tatort on Sunday evenings (we might watch it a bit earlier though as we usually go to bed really early).
We really enjoyed Hanoi as a city and it feels smaller than it really is. There are great places to visit and we went to see a performance of the water puppets,Vietnam’s unique charming contribution to the world of marionettes and a traditional art that is at least in Hanoi nowadays only shown to tourists.
We also visited a traditional shop-house also called tube-house. These houses, built in the 19th century, evolved from market stalls into narrow single-story shops, under gently curving, red-tiled roofs. Some are just two meters wide, the result of taxes levied o street frontages and of subdivision for inheritance, while behind stretches a succession of storerooms and living quarters up to 60m in length, interspersed with open courtyards to give them light and air.
And we met more great people at the Bicycle Collective (another reason why we didn’t do as much sightseeing as we originally had planned; and our other great advantage, as we do what we want to do and change plans as often as we like ;)). First we met Guim, a Spaniard who cycled the world by e-bike, fell in love with a Vietnamese and founded the Bicycle Collective. Later we met Tony. A 71-year-old British guy who has traveled by bike for more than 35 years and now waited for his Chinese visa in Hanoi. He is such a lovely and inventive guy, with a lot of great and sometimes funny self-made gadgets for his bike such as a second handlebar for different riding positions, racks welded to his bike and an air saddle. The latter is made of an inner wheel tube wrapped around a normal saddle, then a cotton cloth sewn around it and finally pumped up. Hilarious but certainly comfy. He sang a self-written Laos song for us and we chatted almost all afternoon with him.
Later that day we met Katya and Mirko, a couple that has traveled the world together since 2000 and since 2002 on their bicycles. Katya is Slovenian and Mirko is Czech. Mirko started traveling as soon as the iron curtain fell and borders opened in 1989. They earn their living by making jewellery which they sell wherever they are. Great idea and a great and inspiring couple. They flew home to Prague the day after we met to visit families and friends, make some money and will continue their journey from Hanoi in September.
The downside of traveling the way we do is that we meet a lot of people, some of them become friends and as soon as we know each other a bit better, we have to depart again, mostly in opposite directions. On the other hand in today’s modern world we have the opportunity to stay connected through social media wherever we are we and still feel close to each other while being far away. We love it!
13 April, Ban Nua – An Nghia: 84km
14 April, An Nghia – Hanoi: 112km
15 – 17 April, Hanoi: 49km