Mike and Jess decide to swap four wheels for two, sample the highly popular Bia Hoi, and find out what it’s like to do battle with a water snake.
We arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam via a day bus from Nanning at about 3pm, which gave us plenty of time to go out, enjoy some local food and even a couple of cheeky drinks.
We quickly learnt that Hanoi is crazy. Wonderfully crazy, but still crazy nonetheless. The roads are bustling to the brim with scooter drivers, rickshaws, taxis and motorbikes, yet they all seem so used to the situation: it was like they had built-in bat sonar on their vehicles. You could cross the road blindfolded and not be hit by anyone, though we weren’t feeling quite brave enough to try that.
It wasn’t long before we had found ourselves a nice street bar where we could sit down with a particularly inexpensive local delicacy called Bia Hoi. Often called the cheapest beer in the world, Bia Hoi is essentially local home-brew beer that is sold on street corners across the city. For the costly sum of 5000 Viet Dong’s ($0.25), you can get yourself a scooner’s worth of pretty drinkable goon.
Obviously this means that the streets are filled with happy people (locals and tourists) sharing stories and enjoying each other’s company. Indeed, despite the sun going down leaving us on the side street of a city we had arrived in only six hours earlier, we felt very much at ease with the place. With an atmosphere this joyous, we were meeting people quickly, and this is how we met the guys at Vietnam Motorbikes. Started up by a New Zealand couple who had moved to Vietnam to set up their own company, their aim is simple: sell motorbikes and give bike tours. So before we headed back to our hostel for the night, we had come up with a rough plan to buy a couple of Win-100 bikes and drive them down to Ho Chi Minh city, where we could quite easily sell them on.
The next day, with the weather playing up (it is the rainy season after all), we took a brief walk around some of the beautiful temples and lakes that Hanoi has to offer. As we were walking around West Lake, we watched in amazement as one of the fishermen appeared to have caught himself a sea snake. Ever the one to help, and after watching the guy struggle to find a knife that would be able to cut the head off, I remembered that I had a swiss army knife on me and offered my services as head remover. Sea or water snakes in Vietnam are fairly common but when we spoke to some locals afterwards they said they rarely see them in Hanoi. And from what we could gather, our vanquished foe had been a Dog-faced Water Snake, which is mildly venomous. Another brush with danger for this avid adventurer.
We made our way back to Hanoi’s old town to organise the bikes for our trip and fortunately the guys offered us some lessons, which we snapped up. An hour or two was then spent back at West Lake, hanging onto the back of the bike, getting to grips with clutch control and gear changes. It was just like at the beginning of the trip when I kept stalling our 2004 Renault Clio on one Devon roundabout or another. Fortunately it wasn’t long before we had the basics sorted.
Later that evening we made our way around the winding side streets of Hanoi’s old town and treated ourselves to some delicious Vietnamese Pho. Moving into Vietnam from Mongolia and China you really do feel as though you are on a tourist trail: the only other patrons in the bar we walked into were four giggling English, Scottish and Australian girls. With sole reign of the jukebox, the hours seemed to disappear as the night descended into one of barefoot dancing.
With severely reduced memories, we woke up feeling less than chipper the following morning. We were certainly not looking forward to a multi-hour bike ride down the coast to Saigon, via via Hoi An.
Well, one more day in Hanoi wouldn’t hurt…
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