10,273 km so far.
We finally got our lazy butts out of our comfy bed and left Hanoi today. It has been so nice relaxing, going to yoga, getting massaged, and eating incredible food, but our bike trip, and the rest of Southeast Asia, awaits.
As we were leaving the hotel we met a Canadian family from Yellowknife who are out on a five-month trip. They have two young children who are experiencing new countries for the first time, including New Zealand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Turkey. And that’s just the beginning. The kids thought that New Zealand was boring, because it is too much like Canada. They are loving Vietnam so far.
What an incredible opportunity for the kids to learn more about the world, to experience things school books can never teach, and for their parents to see the world through fresh eyes.
We rode out of Hanoi, a bit nervous because other cyclists online have complained a lot about how crazy the traffic is. There were a lot of scooters in the Old Quarter, but we found it to be a fairly easy ride that took us along the top of Hoan Kiem Lake, past the Temple of Literature, and through the neighbourhood of Ha Dong.
From there we took a small cement path, barely big enough for a car, that led through small villages, farm land, an unfinished subdivision that is now being used to graze water buffalo, and finally spit us out onto Highway 6.
If you are planning to cycle out of Hanoi on your way to Laos, I recommend this route.
It didn’t take long to go from big city streets and traffic to this:
Beautifully terraced rice fields formed much of the scenery today – this is finally the Vietnam I have always pictured.
It is rice planting season, so the fields are busy places, with people out turning the soil, flooding the fields, and planting seedlings. All the planting is done by hand. Knee-deep in water, the farmers stoop over and insert bright green seedlings, one at a time, into perfectly straight lines.
They really are fields of beauty.
We also passed several large Roman Catholic Cathedrals. In the middle of Vietnam. This feels quite incongruous, except that of course it really isn’t. France ruled this region for more than 60 years. It is just that, surrounded by fields of rice and sugar cane, with Vietnamese people everywhere, the huge stone structures seem very out of place.
In Hoa Binh, our stop for the day, we wandered over to the night market, where I hoped to get my sleep sheet repaired.
Travellers’ tip: If you are planning on staying in inexpensive guest houses in Vietnam, a sleep sheet is a great asset. Usually, you are provided with a thick blanket (which doesn’t get washed between guests) and no top sheet, so it’s nice to have a layer of your own to keep between you and the blanket.
I found a woman sitting at her sewing machine, with fabric and clothing to be repaired piled behind her, and showed her the seams, which had ripped out on both sides.
Without a common word between us, she understood what needed fixing, changed the thread in her machine, and a few minutes later she had stitched it up. She then refused to take any money for her effort.
I find it very hard to not pay someone for their work, and if you read Jane’s post from yesterday you’ll know we are constantly thinking about the income disparity between us and the people we meet. But Jane told me that to force money upon her, when she had made it very clear she didn’t want me to pay, would have been insulting.
Thank you, seamstress in Hoa Binh market!
We are still in an area where dog is very much on the menu, and the signs we see advertising it have been getting more and more creative. Some have cute, furry dogs on their sign, some have photographs of crispy spit-roasted pups. We went by a restaurant today advertising their dog meat using a picture of Scooby Doo. I hope they serve it on this.
All the restaurants in town seemed quite meat heavy, and it’s hard for me to enjoy my meal when a selection of pigs tails, entrails, and live birds are on display. Instead, we decided to buy an assortment of food from the market.
The ladies running the stalls were so excited by our visit. They wanted to know if we were married, how old we were, and where we had ridden our bikes. Fortunately a young woman shopping offered to act as our translator. I really enjoy these little interactions, and it seems the market sellers do as well.
We got freshly fried tofu, green papaya salad, peanuts, and two loaves of bread for dinner. We also picked up some mangosteen, mango, and oranges, and headed back to our hotel eat. We were pretty impressed with our improvised meal, and happy to get to eat in front of the TV for a change. ♥