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Cycling the Mountains 5 May 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Life, only in Vietnam, Traffic, Travelling, Travels, Vietnam.
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Last weekend, I went with a friend into the mountains to see a part of Vietnam that I had already seen, but in a way that I have been wanting to see it since I have arrived.

Disclaimer: I am Dutch. I like bicycles. How stereotypical.

When I was 12, my family went on a cycling holiday (riding from our house to the boat, take a boat to Germany (Kiel) and then cycle through the north of Germany to the Netherlands, covering around 50 – 60 km a day).

Many members of my family cycle for sport, transport and fun.

Several uncles, aunts, and cousins have racing bikes and cycle a lot, including for competitions.

My uncle decided that upon retirement (64 years old) he would join a tour from Istanbul to Beijing, riding a bicycle the whole way. What an awesome thing to do, right?

So I have a very romantic notion of bikes. I have been wanting to explore Vietnam on a bike. But I have not had the guts or the company to try (my partner is more into the motorbikes, which I admit are good fun, and faster, too).

So when my friend called and said that there was a spot that opened up on a tour that she was signed up for, I realised this would probably be my only chance! And having a follow vehicle made it a very good, easy first try, to see if I would even enjoy it.

Friday, we left on the overnight train for Lao Cai.

Once arrived, we were served breakfast, and loaded into the bus to Can Cau (120 km north) to see the local market with the Flower H’Mong. We then cycled back to Bac Ha (about 20 km) which was mostly downhill trough beautiful countryside.

That afternoon, we cycled with our guide through the countryside surrounding Bac Ha, and seeing a local village nearby. (Total of about 6 km).

The weather was glorious, slightly overcast, dry, warm but not hot nor humid.

Sunday, we explored the Bac Ha market (which I have blogged about before), had breakfast, and then set off back to Lao Cai.  By Lunch, I sent my partner a giddy message that I had already done 45 km, and only had 26 to go. The first 30 of those had been mostly downhill, and I only got nearly killed by oncoming traffic once.

After lunch (at some random food stall along the way with a marvellous spread of awesome, wholesome Vietnamese food, which we knocked back in no time) we continued, and about 10 km out from Lao Cai we stopped for pine apples, loaded up the bikes onto the truck, and did the rest of the (more busy) roads in the safety of the car. We stopped off at the river crossing to China to take a photo of us standing in front of China, which was pretty nifty, and obviously a very popular thing to do.

Conclusion? I loved it. But next time, I would want to do it without the guide, as it was like travelling with someone on a schedule, and I often felt pressure to keep going even when I wasn’t ready to.

But what an amazing way to see the country side. Half of the people we encountered smiled and waved. The other half were wondering why on earth we would want to ride a bicycle.

Most of the locals were so welcoming and friendly! A young girl, maybe around 14, decided to ride and chat with us in Vietnamese for a while. Most of them had never seen foreigners that spoke a word of Vietnamese, which was amazing. One lady looked so proud and happy that we had taken the time to learn her language, she clasped her hands together in front of her chest and just asked me lots of questions, then hardly charged us any money for what we wanted to buy.

It was a wonderful adventure, and even though I only rode 80 something kilometres over two days, it is something I really enjoyed doing, and wouldn’t mind doing more of…

Now I just need to convince my boy that he should come with me next time.

Only in Vietnam #16 16 April 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Life, only in Vietnam, Traffic, Vietnam.
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So, I recently blogged about the lovely young man riding his motorbike along without holding the handlebars, because his hands were in his pockets, which I thought to be the least safe driving I had seen in Vietnam.

Yet only a few weeks ago, this was topped. By far.

I am driving along, minding my own business, when a guy pulls up next to me. He is sitting with his arms crossed, and his left foot is resting on the throttle (yes, that would be the right handle on your handlebar), while his knee is resting on the left side of the handlebar. He is somehow twisting the gas with his toes, while also steering with his knee.

He was a young, perfectly able-bodied man, but he just could not be bothered holding on to the steering of his bike like the rest of us.

At the first opportunity, he cuts me off (he was on my right hand side, he wanted to turn left), to pull in to the perpendicular street. This is in peak hour, and the roads are super busy. Of course, someone is about to pull out of said street, which makes him almost crash into them, so he is forced to quickly sit up and grab his handlebars. Having caught his bike just before toppling over and averted disaster, he has the cheek to throw a dirty as filth look over his shoulder at the other guy that was pulling out of the street! Who was almost standing still! Who was NOT manouvering his bike with his feet… Go figure.

Only in Vietnam #12 27 January 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Life, only in Vietnam, Traffic, Travelling, Travels, Vietnam.
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I try not to go on about the cold weather in Hanoi too much. I mean, yes it is cold. But if you are here, you know that. If you are not, you probably don’t care.

But today, driving through the city centre amongst the Tet traffic and cumquat trees (still bobbing away on the back of motorbikes, but this year all wrapped up to protect the little fruit, luckily in see-through plastic, so still all good) I was overtaken by a young thing on a motorbike who clearly was not dealing well with the cold.

Normally, you see a lot of people with their right hand on the gas and their left hand in their pocket when it is cold.

This guy took it to a whole new level: He was zooming along, to about 50-60 km an hour, then he would let go of his handle bars completely, pocket both hands, and glide along through traffic until he had lost enough speed to do this all over again. Mind you, he kept it pretty straight, but that took traffic safety to a whole new level for me.

Never mind that he wasn’t wearing gloves, surely you would value your life over cold hands?

At least he was wearing a helmet, I suppose.