Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Great Northern Vietnam Motorbike Tour-Day One

People often ask me why, upon finding out where I was born, I chose to live up here in Hanoi as opposed to down south. I don’t speak the northern dialogue. It’s cold here in the winter and too hot in the summer.

I simply answer that at least 5 months out the year the weather is cool enough to wear a sweater, long pants and shoes. I can understand northerners perfectly well and if they work at it a little they can understand me too. But maybe the most important reason for living in Hanoi is the city’s accessibility to amazing scenery. And, other than a boat tour to Ha Long Bay, the best way to take in this scenery is to go touring on motorbikes, an activity followed by northerners, Vietnamese and expats alike, with religious fervor.

Up until recently, my motorbike trips have been 2-3 days with at least one rest day thrown in. A good handful of us went up to Ba Be National Park last September and then in November a few of us took a shorter tour down to Cuc Phuong National Park.  But none of us had taken on the great big tours or the northwest, north and northeast, each of which takes something like 5 days to do properly.

Here is what happened on day one of nine.

This is our crew having dinner at our favorite guesthouse in Ba Be. To be honest it’s the only guesthouse any of us have ever slept at here but we like the proprietors so much that we decided to bed down here on this trip too.

Starting from the left front is Kay, my good friend from the US. Kay has not worked for almost a year, taking her own sweet time globetrotting. We were so glad that she decided to pay us a visit, adding enthusiasm and joy. Next is Mandy, my sweetheart-a German national working for a tour agency in Hanoi. Then that's me, in case you don't recognize me. 

Across from me is Manu, fellow volleyballer and great logistical addition to our team. He's the only one of us who has experience with the roads further on. He loves the rice wine in the countryside. Then comes Kristi-English teacher, volleyballer and frequent tourer. We travelled together down to Cuc Phuong National Park last fall. To her left is Luke, her boyfriend and CIA agent. Can't say to much more about him just yet. He won't allow me to, but somehow, somewhere within this blog he will be exposed. 

The person taking the photo is Daria. You might know her from the first trip to Ba Be, the Cuc Phuong tour and many other fun things that have happened here in Hanoi. She's usually the instigator of such adventures. She's Swiss and works for the UN on behalf of Vietnam's Women's issues. She is driving the Honda Win that was purchased down in Thanh Hoa.

We started early from Hanoi, going north, to avoid the holiday traffic. On this day, May 30, 2010, Vietnam celebrated its 35 years of reunification, a tainted day in US history as the “fall of Saigon”. Every bus stop overflowed with folks trying to get home for the long weekend.  And by the time we got up to the city of Thai Nguyen, the streets began to empty.

Another few hours of driving on beautiful country roads led to Ba Be National Park with its beautiful lake. The last time here we approached the park in darkness and were not able savor the scenery.  The highlight of this day for me was seeing the entrance of the Lake from the south end in the afternoon sun.

We got to Hoa Son guesthouse with plenty of time to swim in the lake, check on our motorbikes and have a leisurely dinner before bedding down.

Other than the first few hours out of Hanoi, this was an uneventful day, the last eventful day until the end of the trip.

*Photos courtesy of Kriti Cruz, Kay Okamoto and Daria Hagemann

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