I’ve been remiss, but lest the third blog I’ve started fall by the wayside to be updated monthly and then bi monthly until I finally just stop, defeated…I’ll post a resolution to be better about writing. We’re busy with the stuff that fills daily lives anywhere, and so I feel like nothing has “happened” that is worth writing about and put it off. The problem with this is that it relegates a blog to “sorry I’ve been gone for a while, look at this cool thing I’ve just done that seems to be interesting enough to merit a bit of your time” instead of a way to process and share a variety of different *kinds* of thoughts, experiences, encounters, frustrations, etc. So…
After a week of work, Andrew and I needed to get out of the city. We threw around ideas for our first real trip into the countryside, with Mai Chau
being the main idea. A relatively short drive (about 135 km from Hanoi) and a beautiful valley to wander around – walking between the rice paddies, climbing the many steps up to a mountaintop temple, checking out the Sunday ethnic market. Then our friend Thomas mentioned that he and Mattias (another friend) were heading up to Tam Dao for a day trip, and we decided to join.
Getting out of Hanoi by anything with two wheels is a wonderful, sensory experience. Instead of summarizing it with words alone, I figure the photographs (with captions) are likely to do a better job.
Rule #1: All adventures should begin with good coffee. Cong Cafe is our favorite in town, slightly more expensive than the other (35,000 vnd for a coffee is about 1.50 US, and most places hover around 20 or 25,000). It’s also some of the best. Strong, chocolatey, in a great class and never too much of the rich sweetened condensed milk. This place is almost too cool, with art that vaguely mocks the Communist Party, roughly hewn tables, handmade notebooks for sale and bare lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling. If Americans were more aware of Vietnam’s political culture I could see this place in Brooklyn. Their menus are old Lenin texts with pages clumped together and bound by brown packing tape, and the drink/food options written in Sharpie directly into the pages.They’re fabulous, and feel vaguely naughty. [Sidenote: today there were two middle-aged men in official CP uniforms drinking coffee and smoking so they’re either keeping really obvious tabs on what’s going on or they don’t think of this tiny cafe with it’s anti-establishment propaganda as much of a threat]
Most of the time leaving Hanoi by land means you go on some sort of bridge. Whether it’s the Long Bien with the water visible between the wooden slats or the crazy-long and crazy-tall Vinh Thuy, each bridge has it’s own direction and idiosyncracies. Long Bien is my favorite (you can stop for a snack in the middle, which is awesome, and then join the crowd in throwing your corn husk directly into the river… more on that later) but for our trip to Tam Dao we took the Thang Long bridge, going almost due north.
Then you’re on the highway in the motorbike “lane” that appears suspiciously similar to the road’s shoulder. Not only does the concrete in this section devolve into dust/dirt on an irregular basis, but this is also the space where you’ll find: bicyclers, pedestrians, cows who’ve decided they’d rather lie on pavement than grass, bread vendors (who doesn’t like a roadside baguette for munching) and larger vehicles when they’re turning right or asleep. And the canh sat (police) regularly pull people over who drive their motorbike in the non-motorbike lane…making it even more like an old-school video game. Lastly, there is no size limit on construction vehicles that use the roadways as there is in the US, so there are also dump trucks and cement mixers 2 or 3 times the size of their US cousins driving around.
And then you’re off the highway, cruising the countryside, admiring the little towns and feeling the sun and the breeze. And breathing something besides giant-truck exhaust. It’s green, there are gorgeous rice paddies, and the air is so…fresh. Gorgeous.
And then you start going uphill. Let’s do the rest in the photo-gallery style, eh?
Ok…as mentioned above, making this a more regularly updated thing is a goal of mine. I’m off to Athens for a week in early May, and Andrew and I head to Malaysia for three days right after that…so there are exciting things in the near future.