Language Barrier #1
Our first full day in Hanoi. Remember that hotel I found for around 50 dollars? Well.. that would be the first language-barrier SNAFU that robbed me of my American dollars. As we woke up, we went down to the lobby to find we needed to pay the night's rent. Well you see, I gave the man at the desk, the night before a 150 dollars "deposit". He, in very broken English, stated that 30 days rent at this exclusive resort was 1300 dollars a month. Divide that by 30 days and you have around 40 something dollars a night. However since we didn't want to stay in this hotel for one week and arranged for only 3 days,we were paying 50 dollars a night. 50 dollars times 3 days is 150 dollars. Right? No!
View From Our Expensive Hotel
Language Barrier #2
The rent was actually 75 per night which is astronomical, seeing how we then had to pay 225 dollars for three days, when my friends here in Hanoi only pay 350 dollars a month for a bigger place. It's kinda how things work here. We rented a motorbike the next day and it was 10 dollars a day, but if you rent it for a month, it's 40 dollars. Go figure? Of course, we didn't realize how cheap it was for a month and paid two days in advance. SNAFU number two. I will quit counting because it never ends with the "misunderstandings" and you simply have to roll with the punches.
Beers By West Lake With Friends
Cheap Beer And City Lights
We haven't done a whole lot these last few days but enjoyed the city. This city has about 7 million people. By any standard a huge city! The first day, we purchased a cell phone, rented a motorbike, explored a little, then met up with Scott and Ashley later that evening. West Lake is a pretty large lake in the middle of the city, about 10 square miles in size with the city sprawling its shores. There is a road that goes around the lake where you can find condos, cafes, bars, and restaurants of every nationality, size and price range. It is truly AMAZING! Spending time with friends on the shore of West Lake at night, in a cafe with city lights dotting the water from all directions is magical. What is truly amazing is how 7 million people live in this metropolis and you can still find spots like we did where it was quiet, serene and peaceful.
Truc Bach Lake At Black & White Cafe
Cafes and People Watching
We ended up spending the next 2 days eating at small, extremely inexpensive western and Vietnamese restaurants, and sitting at cafes watching the world go by. We checked into another hotel, for 25 dollars a night (with a better room) still in the Tay Ho district called the AU Co Hotel. It's a little weird here in Vietnam sometimes. At the hotel, we have to turn our key over to the front desk when we leave. When they show you a room in a hotel, they have no problems showing you a room where someone is already staying, they lock your motorbike up with their own locks, and there are other small unmentionables that struck us as strange, but Scott assures us this is VERY normal for here.
Shelly and I went to our favorite cafe on the lake where Sen. John McCain was shot down in Hanoi during the war. Its called Truc Bach Lake. (Hanoi has many lakes.. some small, some big) We sat with Buddha the dog, and people watched while drinking our DELICIOUS Vietnamese coffee at Cafe Black & White. They have the most amazing coffee shops here with everything from yogurt and coffee freezes, to foam cappuccinos, and coffee smoothies. The coffee in Vietnam is incredible!
Think These Guys Need Fishing Licenses?
Vietnam... Land Of The Free?
So why is this place the land of the free? I always thought the USA was the land of the free. You have 100 times more "simple" freedoms in a socialist country like Vietnam. Let me explain. There is a controlled chaos here in Hanoi that isn't only intriguing, but refreshing. You pretty much can do and get ANYTHING you want. I developed allergies the first few days here (as i do anywhere there are new pollens, dust and pollution) Of course the post nasal drip went directly to my chest. We went to a pharmacy and picked up some Codeine/Mucinex pills. No Rx, no hassle, just handed over 3 or 4 dollars and I had prescription strength Zyrtec and some Codeine. Laws in the USA say; you can't smoke 50 feet from this building, or you can't drink that beer in the street or it's illegal not to wear a seatbelt in the car. I am sure there are many other freedoms Vietnamese don't have, but for travelers like ourselves. It simply feels free living in Vietnam sometimes.
Riding motorbikes here is like a cross between the video game crazy cabbie and the bumper boats at the fair. No real rules. The lines down the middle of the road separating traffic mean little. People drive relatively slow, but it's not uncommon to drive opposite traffic on the other side of the street. You are really free to do whatever you want on the roads. Seat belts, laughable. Helmets, technically the law, but not enforced all too much. Laws don't mean much here, and they are broken often. Example. Buying a motorcycle in Vietnam as a foreigner is illegal. You must also have a license to operate one. Although foreigners freely buy,sell and trade motorbikes daily. And none of them have a license in Vietnam to drive unless you are living there permanently through a work visa. These are just a couple of examples. There are more, but suffice to say, we really love the freedom we feel in this place.
Viet Motorbikes Hanoi
Our First Vietnamese Motorbike Wreck
We decided to meetup for lunch with Scott and Ashley, and on our way, we crashed the motorbike! We went down like a sack of potatoes. I have wrecked many times on a motorcycle and bicycle. Sometimes the fall is in slow motion, other times.... you are simply on the ground in disbelief you just crashed. This time it was the latter. As we were going through a particularly crazy/ dangerous intersection, (There are 5 or 6 roads all merging and crossing with no lights or stop signs) there was a motorbike coming from one direction and a truck from the another.
How It Went Down
We had Buddha in his bag and Shelly was on the back, as the truck began to turn toward us, there suddenly came some kid with two girls on the back of his bike HAULING ASS!!! He was barreling right for us at a high rate of speed, and to keep him from hitting us, I jammed on my brakes, and the bike washed out from under us. We hit the pavement in a flash. I got up yelled a few choice words (he didn't understand) and picked up the bike, saw that the dog and Shelly were ok, and pushed the bike out of the intersection.
We were scraped and bumped up, but not injured! I have been injured many times worse on bicycles, on many occasions, than in this wreck. Buddha didn't have a scratch. I have a raspberry on my left elbow, left knee and shin, banged up my right shin a little, and my left calf feels like a permanent charley horse. Shelly banged up her left knee (not her surgery knee from last year) and skinned up her left forearm as well. Other than that unscathed.
Fixing the Bike and Learning To Ride
We got the bike started and I realized something was wrong, we bent the front forks on the rental bike. The front tire now rubbed on the fender and made large turns impossible. Long story short we went to lunch and then decided to go buy a bike and get this one fixed. Total price of fixing the forks, 15 dollars. We bought a 2001 Honda Dream II, 100 cc motorbike for 350 dollars from Viet Motorbikes, from a guy named Viet. He was a trustworthy guy who gave us a fair deal. It's a good bike and runs great!
That evening, Shelly and I decided to take the two motorbikes around West Lake. Shelly has very little experience on a bike, and did great on the rental. She is a natural and has only really ridden a motorbike once in Utila at the airport while traveling Central America last year. There is very little traffic around Tay Ho on the West Lake access road and it has a perfect blend of hills, turns and even some pot holes to help her learn. What a great girl!! Not many people would wreck on a bike in the morning, then get on a bike in the evening to learn how to ride. Most would be terrified to even try... not Shelly!
Bobby Chinn's Restaurant
Halong Bay and Bobby Chinn's
We had a great time riding around, taking in the lake by stopping from time to time to sit and gaze upon the lights of the city. We kept it mellow, as we will for a while until she gets some experience. The bike is perfect for her. I am not sure what I am going to get yet. Still searching for the right bike. Tomorrow we will meet up with Scott and take off on the bikes for some city exploring. We are planning on going on a tour to Halong Bay. It's one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites, and a newly made "one of the 7 natural wonders of the world". We hear there is nothing like it in this world. Halong Bay is 4-5 hours away from Hanoi, on the China Sea.
Traveling in Hanoi is an amazing experience. The people here are beyond nice, you almost feel as if it's false kindness. The people are generally honest, hardworking and kind, even if they are crazy drivers. We also ate at Bobby Chinn's in Hanoi and at a really expensive, however great meal! We ate at another place and ate crickets, ostrich, and squid with the suckers still attached. It was all great actually. The crickets weren't all that great, but not bad, just not great.
Traveling In Vietnam - Truc Bach Lake
Change In Perspective
So here we are embarking on a trip that is full of excitement and new adventures. This is different for us. We traveled in Spanish speaking countries before. I speak fluent Spanish. But, this is the first place we have traveled where we don't know the language and the language barrier makes it more difficult. We are absolutely hooked on traveling and exploring new cultures and Hanoi is about as different as it gets. Our perspective on life will change. Our perspective on everything will be tested.
We are going to Halong Bay to relax then come back and get ready to tour all over Southeast Asia. This is our first time being in Asia, and people say we are crazy. I guess that is their perspective. Our perspective is one of curious exploration that may blind us to the dangers. Maybe our perspective is simply one of not setting barriers to exploration. Either way, we are in for a life changing experience in Asia and we can't wait to learn.