Biking Hanoi – The Day We Go 10 Times Over Budget

Taking our bikes to the spa and our bodies to yoga in Hanoi, Vietnam

This post is part of the story of our 19 months of cycle touring 16,000 km through 22 countries. If you want to know more about biking Hanoi, read on.

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

10,197 km so far.

It’s been almost 4,000 km since our bikes were looked at by a pro bike mechanic. Since our combined knowledge of bike mechanicry barely covers diddly and squat, it’s important that we let an expert get their hands dirty with our rides every once in a while.

Biking Hanoi to a Spa For Bikes

We’d heard great things about The Hanoi Bike Collective, so we braved the slick, famously busy streets of Hanoi to get there.

The Hanoi Bike Collective is stationed in one of the narrow alleyways along the east side of West Lake. It would be easy to ride right by if you weren’t really paying attention. But once through the heavy wooden doors, you enter one of the coolest bike shops we’ve ever seen.

The Hanoi Bike Collective staff in front of the shop, Hanoi.

The Hanoi Bike Collective staff in front of the shop, Hanoi.

The ground floor is dedicated to service, coffee, cocktails, and tapas (the Spanish food, not the Hindu concept).

Upstairs they sell bikes, including some rad bamboo-framed contraptions.

biking hanoi a bamboo bike

Bamboo bike at The Hanoi Bike Collective.

When we brought our bikes in, one staff member whisked them away to give them a thorough scrub down before the service began. Amazing! We love it when our bikes are treated like posh ladies in a spa.

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

While we were hanging out in the shop, we heard a commotion out in the street. A wedding party was gathering in the alley. Everyone from the neighbouring houses and shops dropped what they were doing to come and watch the procession.

rickshaw with bride and groom in hanoi

Wedding procession in Hanoi, Vietnam.

After a little while, George, THBC’s mechanic, arrived. Stephen showed him our list of things to check on the bikes, all very basic stuff. George, who seems to be a no-nonsense kind of guy, just kept responding in his Bulgarian accent:

Don’t worry man. No problem. I’ll take care of it.

If we’d been in Europe, this kind of assurance might have made us nervous. After all, when someone tells you “don’t worry”, the instinctive response is to worry more. But here, for some reason, it just made us feel as if our bikes were in good hands.

Yoga in Hanoi at Zenith Yoga

The owner of THBC was on his way, and we would have loved to meet him, but we had to get to a yoga appointment at Zenith Yoga, just down the street.

Having arrived a little early, we took a comfy seat in the cafe at the front of the studio, and perused the menu. Mistake. They offer lots of vegan and vegetarian burgers, sandwiches, salads, and other yummy delights. It was only 10am, but my stomach wanted to sample a bit of everything. Now. Not in two hours when we’d finally finished yoga.

The class we’d come for was taught by Marzena, who has been running the studio for the last six years. The class was listed as Intermediate Iyengar, so I was a little worried Marzena was going to kick my out-of-practice butt. She did, but in a good way.

Her teaching style lands somewhere between tough and fun – a style that is shared by all of my favourite teachers. She’ll make a joke and then keep you in the pose for four more breaths than you thought possible.

Just what my body needed.

After asana, we stayed for a 45-minute meditation, which is just what my brain needed. Zipping around the crazy streets of Hanoi on a bike can be pretty discombobulating.

Of course, we couldn’t leave Zenith without sampling some of the food. As we sat, enjoying hearty sandwiches on real wholegrain walnut bread, Marzena joined us for a chat.

As Stephen says, it should probably stop surprising us by now that we have so much in common and share so many values with people we meet through yoga, but it’s still a shock to sit down and feel immediately comfortable with a complete stranger.

On this trip, we spend a lot of time on our best behaviour. We work hard not to offend local people we meet, and to be immaculately polite and proper in our dealings with vendors, waiters, and hotel staff. We also try to speak slowly, plainly, and clearly, because most people we encounter are not native English speakers.

Day-to-day, this is our interaction with other humans.

It’s hard to describe just how relaxing and refreshing it was to chat with Marzena, to let our guards down, let go of all these considerations, and just be us for an hour.

It was a little sad to say goodbye when we finished our meals, but we know we’ll be back.

Biking Hanoi – Ride For Your Life

As you may have heard, walking, driving, and cycling in Hanoi is slightly insane. The roads are narrow and twisty, with lots of potholes and manhole covers and debris to avoid.

There are relatively few cars, but this lack is more than compensated for by the volume of scooters, street vendors, and pedestrians, who cannot walk on the sidewalk, since it’s filled with food stalls.

The five kilometres from THBC to our hotel would have likely done me in 10 months ago. I never would have made it, at least not without a few bumps and scrapes, and badly rattled nerves.

biking hanoi traffic

The Hanoi traffic is not to be trifled with. Only bike here if you’re very experienced on two wheels.

Now, though, it’s no problem. Our experience in China has prepared us for biking through high volumes of slow-moving traffic, and that is exactly what you get in Hanoi. Our newly tuned bikes were running smooth and fast, which made dodging through the people and traffic pretty freaking fun.

The most exhilarating moments came when we had to turn left or go straight through a busy intersection. Instead of stopping and waiting for a light or a break in the traffic like you would in most cities, in Hanoi, you just go. A bunch of scooters coming from the left? Just keep going. Bunch of scooters also coming from the right? Just keep going.

Somehow, and I’m not really sure how it works, everyone makes it through without missing a beat. (Well, not everyone, we did see a couple of crashed scooters during our ride.)

The whole experience makes me think of the Lippizaner stallions. It’s an elaborate dance, performed by unlikely dancers, but somehow, because everyone participates and follows the rules, out of the chaos arises something beautiful.  


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  2. Comment by Scot

    Scot February 21, 2014 at 4:08 am

    Great post about THBC. But how did you go 10 times over budget?

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane February 21, 2014 at 5:45 am

      Fancy hotel + new bike parts + yoga + western vegetarian food = expensive! Plus, when you’re budget is $25 a day, it’s pretty easy to get into high multiples of that in Hanoi.

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