Wednesday, May 1, 2013

From south to north

Strawberry Rice fields forever... We made it! Approximately 2'000 km lie behind us, yesterday evening we arrived in Ha Noi, with our bikes. With goose bumps on our arms, we drove over Long Bien Bridge in Ha Noi, the view over the town and its humble skyline was proof that we arrived. Unlike when exiting Ho Chi Minh some two weeks before, we were very confident on our bikes. With ease we curled through the masses of motorbikes, busses and lorries. We will encounter difficulties back home in Switzerland, should we continue with our Vietnamese driving style... It really is a dangerous place, the streets of Vietnam. Everyone is a pirate, and every second one is drunken on top. Worst of all are the bus drivers, they must be under immense pressure to maintain a certain schedule and to run their line as fast and as many times as possible. The only way to survive is to become a pirate yourselve and to have a rice wine with locals here and there. Sometimes I tried to explain their way of driving with their sacrificial offerings; we visited multiple temples and religious locations where people would offer literally anything, hoping that it would bring them luck. Some offered money to the goods, others a watermelon or a pack of cigarettes. Right after they would swing themselves back on the scooter and hit the road with not a single look back, left or right. With 40 deads per day on Vietnamese streets, I am sceptical about this method of insurance...

Our journey through Vietnam took us to places where no bus or train would ever take you to. We stopped at beautiful small fishing villages to taste delicious seafood meals, we made breaks at remote beaches that we only had to share with sharks. All in all we both somehow cought fire with this travell-on-a-bike-through-a-remote-destination idea...

The picture on the right is showing the morning sun over Tam Coc (near Ninh Binh). After stopps in Hoi An, where we got some tailormade suits, and Hue, we arrived at 6 am at this wounderful place. To gain some time, we loaded our bikes from Hue to Ninh Binh in a nightbus, which turned out to be a great decision. At the time we arrived in Tam Coc, no one was awake yet, just us and the sun. We still managed to hire a local lady for a boat trip through jungle hills, sharp rocks and underground caves.
Later that day we (stopped at the mechanic again for Claudette) headed for Hai Phong, the container harbour of Ha Noi. We managed to find a ferry to Cai Vieng the same day:
Once on the island, we drove to Cat Ba. Amazing landscapes and a broken clutch accompained us on the way. Once there we were about to discover that every single room in every thinkable place was taken by Vietnamese tourists who came here to celebrate the Victory of North Vietnam over South Vietnam. As everything was full, we had to take any offer available and were in the end happy to find this cosy place:
Ok, yes, it was full of cockroaches and the roof was leaking. But guess what, we are in Asia and this is Asia. Furthermore, the room came with a private roof-top terrasse, which offered us the best view you can get on Cat Ba harbour and on the festives taking place due to the independance day. So we spent a good time with the following view, some beers, and communist songs in the background.
 The reason why we eventually went to Cat Ba was not the town itself (although worth a trip), we intended to book a boat trip through Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay, starting from Cat Ba. Should you ever intend to see the Halong Bay as well, I strongly recommend to do it via Cat Ba as well. Prices are not even half as high compared to what you pay from Hanoi or from Halong City. We managed to book a tour for $20 each, including a full day trip through the two bays, snorkling, swimming, caves and kayaking in the bays plus food included (and even good and plenty of food).
Halong Bay really is as beautiful as you always think. More than 3'000 islands and hills offer a unique experience. There are two downsides however 1) in Halong Bay itslef, there are too many tourist boats (go to Lan Ha Bay, fewer boats there, just as beautiful). 2) The littering issue! The bays are in parts full of swimming plastic bags, water bottles or beer cans. Its horrible how this amazing place gets more and more ruined by the waste thrown into the sea. We witnessed a couple of times how Vietnamese people threw their empty bottle or can out of the ferry into the water, as if it was supposed to be like that... It also has some dangers when swimming in the bay, you might easily confuse a swimming plastic bag with a jellyfish...

Nonetheless, we had a great day in the bays, our endless hours in the saddles of our bikes were more than rewarded. The following morning we left Cat Ba in pouring rain, we were heading for Ha Noi. Voila, here we are now, trying to sell our bikes. It seems however, as if Ha Noi is not really the best place to get a decent price for a Honda Win. These ''Hondas'' are made in China and are far less seldom in the north than in the south of Vietnam. While a really good Honda Win costed about 350-400 USD in Saigon, similar bikes are available here for 250-300 USD. So we will see... either we find a French backpacker willing to pay a nice price, or else we will keep them and drive to Sapa by bike instead of bus. This would ultimately mean that we would also take them to Laos later on... (if Claudette does not fall apart earlier).

Ha Noi is at the same time probably the last chance to find a fried cat - unless I might be lucky in Chengdu, China later on...

stay tuned,


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