Cycling to Hanoi – One Man’s Meat

We spend a mizzly day cycling to Hanoi to renew our visas

This post is part of our epic series documenting 19 months of cycle touring through 22 countries. If you want to know more about cycling to Hanoi from Halong Bay, read on.

(Don’t miss: Our post covering everything you need to know before cycle touring Vietnam)

10,187 km so far.

It seems as though the prevailing weather in northern Vietnam in February is cloudy with a chance of mizzle.

Gorgeous day for cycling to hanoi

Gorgeous day for a ride, Dong Trieu.

Another ho hum morning’s bike ride to Hanoi then, adding a new layer of filth to the bikes we just scrubbed clean less than a week ago, not to mention a lovely mud-splash pattern all the way up my tights. At least they were already filthy.

(Don’t miss: Our post about everything you need to know before visiting Vietnam)

Morning Market in Dong Trieu, Vietnam

We have finally run out of homemade muesli. Since we haven’t yet seen a decent-sized grocery store, there have been no oats to be had so far in Vietnam. So this morning, we had to do like most cycle tourists do, and go forage for food.

I wasn’t looking forward to it, but it turned out to be one of the best parts of the day. As we were riding slowly down the road from our hotel, checking out the many signs for pho and bun, a woman waved us down a side street. There, hidden behind a row of little restaurants, was the local market.

Vietnamese wet markets are a step above the Chinese ones, because, alongside the fruits, veggies, fish, and meats, they also have plenty of cooked food.

winter in vietnam

When it starts to rain in Vietnam, everyone wears a plastic poncho.

Today, we were offered fried squares of sticky rice, sticky rice filled with pate, fritters filled with yellow lentils, banh mi (which is spelled ‘banh my’ here), and freshly fried tofu. We chose a couple of fritters and two loaves of soft french bread that we were planning to eat with our peanut butter.

As we were digging out the PB, a pair of women ushered us into their restaurant to offer us a seat out of the rain. They were pretty surprised when I decided to order a bowl of pho from them.

cycling to hanoi from halong bay

The morning market in Dong Trieu, Vietnam.

I clarified the “I am a vegetarian, don’t add any meat” details in as many ways as I could manage. “An chay” seems to be a universally known and acknowledged phrase. And yet, the steaming bowl of noodles came with about a teaspoon full of ground meat sprinkled on top.

(Don’t miss: Our guide to being vegan in Vietnam)

I guess they just can’t help themselves.

In places like this, I can’t bring myself to send anything back. People have so little, there’s no way I would feel anything but awful about complaining or demanding a replacement bowl of noodles. Especially since it’s my lack of language skills that causes the problem. So I scraped the meat to the side and munched on the tasty noodles.

I’m so glad I didn’t start thinking about what type of meat was in that soup until much later.

Seeing Man’s Best (Tasting) Friend While Cycling to Hanoi

Shout out to our vegan friend Steve Cvar for suggesting the brilliant headline above.

The sight that finally sparked those thoughts is liable to haunt both Stephen and me for life.

Graveyard in the mist, Dong Trieu, Vietnam.

Graveyard in the mist, Dong Trieu.

We were making good time cycling to Hanoi along the 18, when I heard a dog whine and bark. It was coming from the back of a scooter which was just passing us. Of course, I looked over.

Imagine a wire cage, about three feet wide by two feet high and two feet deep. Now imagine those faux-furry blankets you can buy at HomeSense or Winners. Take as many of those blankets as you can and just stuff them into the cage, until the fur is squeezing out through each wire square and the cage is full to bursting.

Now imagine that those blankets have legs, and tails, and dog faces.

That is what I saw when I glanced over. A wire cage stuffed full of dogs, their necks and limbs at strange angles, their tongues lolling out, eyes glazed over. A few had enough strength left to whine or bark, but most were in what we’d call a state of shock if they’d been human.

It was such a horrifying sight, I had to bite my lip hard to keep from retching in my face mask. I couldn’t get the picture out of my head and my mind kept trying to imagine how they got that many dogs into the cage in the first place.

The way we treat food animals, whether it’s in Vietnam or Torino or Los Angeles, is truly detestable. The only difference between here and there is that, in the West, we hide it away and never let anyone see.

Food production how it should be, Dong Trieu.

Food production how it should be, Dong Trieu.

No Room At The 1,000 Inns in Hanoi

It’s been a long while since we’ve stayed anywhere we can feel clean, comfortable, and truly at home. Our goal for Hanoi was to find a nice little place that was a step above what we’ve been getting used to lately.

I booked a room ahead of time, checking in advance to make sure that they would have space for our bikes. When we arrived, it turns out the space for our bikes was to be the sidewalk in front of the hotel during the day, and an inside room for the evening.

bridge crossing cycling to hanoi

Bridge for cyclists and motorbikes to cross into Hanoi.

Um, no.

We tried our best to convince the employees that there was a better place, but they insisted that the bikes could not go in our room or anywhere inside during the day.

OK, we’ll have to go somewhere else then.

There are thousands of hotels here, so we picked out six within 500 m that were highly rated, and took turns going to see them. Out of the 6, 3 were willing to put our bikes inside.

Note for cyclists. The hotels that wanted to leave our bikes out on the sidewalk were B&B Hanoi Hostel (who actually seemed nice and if I didn’t have a bike I’d probably stay there), Aquarius Legend, and Hanoi Millennium Hotel. The Golden Time Hostel 2 had a place for our bikes in the lobby, but it wasn’t quite nice enough for us to stay 5 nights. The Golden Moon had a place for our bikes and looked like an excellent option.

We decided to splurge and go with the relatively upscale Hanoi Elegance Emerald. It is a branch of the same hotel I’d stayed in with my family 5 years ago, so I knew what impeccable service we were in for. Still, it comes as something as a shock to the system when your luggage is carried, your every whim is met, and you are welcomed with such hospitality.

Our bikes are being stored in a small room on the ground floor where the staff eat their meals. We could tell they didn’t really want us to come back there, but we love to know what’s going on underneath our feet.

Home sweet home at the Hanoi Elegance Emerald.

Home sweet home at the Hanoi Elegance Emerald.

It helps us fully appreciate how lucky we are to be staying in a brand new room, with an enclosed shower, and modern plumbing. At $45 per night, it’s the most expensive place we’ve stayed since Beijing, but well worth the cost so far.

Namaste 10,000 km

Since we still haven’t had a chance to properly celebrate cracking 10,000 km, we used that as an excuse tonight to splurge on the top-rated Indian restaurant in the city, Namaste.

cycling in vietnam

Eating this rich delicious meal after weeks of plain country food was an almost religious experience.

After months of eating noodles, stir fries, and plain rice, it was amazing to experience a meal filled with the rich spices and flavours of India. In fact, it was so powerful, I started to feel a little high as we ate.

I think we’ll need to come up with another excuse to visit Namaste before we leave Hanoi.

Soundtrack: Happy Bday Stephen, a Spotify playlist, by my dear friend Elke | NO, El Prado | Radiolab podcasts  


  1. Comment by Patti

    Patti February 22, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Oh, The Elegance! This brings back sooo many great memories! Congratulations on the 10,000 km. That is awesome!

  2. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie February 20, 2014 at 7:01 am

    Celebratory Indian food, hooray!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen February 21, 2014 at 7:09 am

      It was delicious too. If you are ever in Hanoi, go to Namaste. You’re welcome.

  3. Comment by Mauricio

    Mauricio February 18, 2014 at 9:37 am

    Congratulations on reaching 10,000km!! Wow, amazing. So fun reading about your trip through Vietnam….wow, wow, wow.

    Big hugs from Great Oak Circle,


    • Comment by Jane

      Jane February 18, 2014 at 8:55 pm

      Thanks Mauricio. Hugs right back atcha! We still miss Great Oak. Maybe someday we’ll make it back there. Keep your eyes on the real estate market for us.

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