It’s amazing that $11 a night at a hotel in Vietnam will get you a delicious breakfast of bacon and scrambled egg on bread, endless tea, coffee, fresh fruit, AND the friendliest staff I’ve ever met. They made it a priority to learn our names right away, greeted us every time we walked by, gave us mini Vietnamese language lessons, and even set up our phones with 3G sim cards. If I were living here long term, I would seriously consider living in this hotel.
A common thing for backpackers to do in Vietnam is to ride a motorcycle the length of the country. Byron and I have had aspirations to take part in this for a long time, and even took motorcycle classes and got our official Connecticut Motorcycle License back home in preparation. We had been going back and forth trying to decide between renting a bike, buying one, or going with a really expensive tour company to ride from Hanoi all the way south to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). After our airbnb host and many others said going with a tour will take all the fun out of it, we decided to go solo and buy our own bikes. This is much easier than you would expect as there’s hundreds of backpackers coming into Hanoi each day at the end of their motorcycle trip, hoping to sell their bikes for a range of $200-$300. It’s interesting because these bikes are in all sorts of conditions, ranging from barely rideable to decent. however, they’re all roughly the same price because these backpackers don’t know anything about bikes, let alone riding them.
Today we were on a quest to find two motorcycles that would be suitable for driving the whole country, with a price tag we could afford. The most commonly-sold backpackers’ motorbike is the Honda Win, or rather the fake Chinese copy version. The first one we saw sounded rough, but it at least made it around the block for a test run. We continued on the quest and stopped for some nourishment in a dirty side alleyway “restaurant”. There were miniature sized plastic chairs with matching tables crammed against the side of the alleyway, with dirty tissues, garbage and general filth in the area. A woman was crouched over an open fire on the street corner cooking skewers of unidentifiable meat and questionable vegetables. Byron decided this would be a fine place to eat, and I foolishly went along with this (he later apologized for this decision). We tried to squeeze ourselves onto the tiny chairs and asked for fried noodles using our Vietnamese translator app. Apparently they only cooked one thing at this place, and it was not fried noodles. The questionable street meat was soon on our plates, along with a basket of unwashed greens. I took a pair of unevenly matched chopsticks from the tin can on the table, and prayed to the indigestion gods to have mercy. The most shocking part about the entire meal was the fact that the woman demanded we pay double the cost of what we’ve paid in legitimate clean restaurants. With stomach pains and regret, I vowed not to eat in dirty alleyways again.
We continued the motorcycle hunt and saw another okay one and got plenty of good information and advice from a fellow backpacker on which roads to take and which ones to avoid. It seems like there’s some sort of immediate bond between people that motorcycle the country, and there’s plenty to talk, advise, and reminisce about. The last bike we saw of the day was the best we’d seen, and the most expensive. The Dutch backpacker selling it was a great salesman and we bought it, after a long search for a functioning ATM.
Our Semester at Sea friend, Dylan, was staying at a hostel in Hanoi, so we rolled up on our motorcycle and showed off our new purchase. Thankfully, he was staying at a Western-owned hostel, which had a full menu of burgers, wings, beers, and fries. I was in heaven eating my cheeseburger after having to stomach that sketchy alleyway lunch earlier.
We decided getting two motorcycles was the way to go in order to carry both of us plus our enormous packs, so the hunt for another bike continued. We arranged to see a bike in front of a nearby hostel, yet the poor kid couldn’t even find the motorcycle at first, let alone start the bike when he did. It was painfully awkward watching this scrawny wire-rimmed-glasses-wearing boy pathetically try to kick start the bike as it just wheezed and coughed.
Needless to say, we didn’t buy that one and continued on our way. One of the fun things to do in the Old Quarter is to wander the streets and get lost until you come upon something interesting. We’ve stumbled upon vibrant Tet (Lunar New Year) Markets, moss covered arches of the Old Gate, and an enormous indoor market called the Dong Xuân market. There were four enormous floors filled with blue jeans, leather jackets, chopsticks, and just about anything else you can imagine.
Today’s lunch was better than yesterday’s, but we still ended up eating a set menu item consisting of liver, wonton, and more mystery meat.
After another terrible motorcycle test drive where the dudes selling it were practically begging us to take it off their hands, we were getting frustrated. We dined on fast food burgers and fries at Loterria and debated what to do about the motorcycles. Thankfully, one more backpacker messaged us to test drive his motorcycle, which was in much better shape. This Canadian traveler had apparently been riding bikes since he was a kid and knew his stuff as he was explaining how great his bike was. We bargained him down to a reasonable price of $270 and we became the proud owners of another Honda Win. Now we were fully committed to the solo motorbike journey.