Preamble: by the time I managed to write this second part of the travel journal, my old phone- where I had kept the diary and all the funny anecdotes- decided to bail on me forever. Hopefully this won’t impact too much on the outcome but I wanted to share this slight frustration with everyone.
Day 2 in Hanoi: we decide to have breakfast in the market area sitting on tiny plastic stools on the side of the street with some cheap and delicious Phở and a never-ending flow of people in front of us that kept us curious and entertained.
After breakfast we decided to go back to the hotel hoping to collect our lost backpacks and start the riding adventure, unfortunately they hadn’t been delivered by then, so rather than just sit and wait we decided to go for a ride around Hanoi -to get used to the crazy driving- and test the bikes on a slightly longer distance, we’ll soon enough find out that it was a REALLY good idea..
We left, unsure of where we were heading, or maybe we had a plan initially but it definitely didn’t happen because of how confusing the streets in Hanoi are; getting us stuck in loops on the highway to the airport or just taking us to whatever was in the opposite direction to our initial destination. After maybe an hour of riding -with my front wheel wobbling like a jello on a washing machine- just outside Hanoi, in the middle of nowhere, we stopped at the “cafe” of a nice old lady to get some water and petrol.
During our journey we encountered many of those “bars” almost everywhere. Literally just people- mostly elderly- sitting outside their houses on just on the doorstep, with a display of drinks and snacks, and sometimes other random things, like petrol.
The water we had was warm, yay! But I guess the main point was to get hydrated, so it worked. Those tiny “misfortunes” and this totally different culture were promising we were in for an amazing experience -spoiler alert: the promise was kept-. Full of love for life and enthusiasm we bought all the elderly woman’s remaining petrol and headed back to the city to go visit our “friend” bike seller to get my jello wheel fixed.
When we arrived where we had first bought our bikes and explained the problem, the guy jumped on a random motorcycle that was in the shop to lead us to the garage. There he got the mechanics to swap my entire wheel -with its magnificently bent rim- with the one he was riding (ready to be taken back out and sold…!)
After this pit stop that solved all our immediate problems we went back to the hotel to collect our luggage and shortly after waved goodbye to Hanoi on our way to Cát Bà island.
That was when the madness began.
The traffic was insane beyond my ability to explain, I came to the conclusion that most street lights were there for aesthetic purposes, as were the road signs. A never ending symphony of honking vehicles and the casual lorry travelling in the wrong direction on our lane would be the a constant presence in this embodiment of the worst nightmare of any British Health and Safety Officer.
At some point we stopped in a lay-by to fasten the straps holding our backpacks to the motorbikes when a nonchalant bus driver decided to “caress” Silvia’s head with the side of his vehicle. It could have so easily gone REALLY badly, but our friend Adrenaline Rush took care of any worries we could have had.
On top of this, the weather was crazy hot and the dust on our skins would make us look really tanned, covered in this muddy mix of sweat and dirt. Silvia was smart enough to wear a long-sleeved cotton shirt over her T-shirt to block the dirt and absorb the sweat, at least from the arms, I naively went for the tank top, but surely did learn the lesson.
The harder and more dangerous the whole thing got, the more hyped we were. The way to Cát Bà was a constant stop-and-go asking for directions to non-English speakers, who, half the times would point in random directions- maybe they felt that giving us their best guess was a better choice than saying they had no idea.
5 or 6 hours later -which translate to 120km (yes it is insane: slower than our most extreme expectations)- we arrived in Hải Phòng, where we were planning to catch the ferry to the island. Finding the actual pier was a whole other adventure: the maps we had were ridiculously inaccurate and we ended up in some industrial docks, it was starting to get dark, our headlights were way too dim to even deserve their name and it all became mildly dodgy when some young men on a motorcycle, heading towards the far end of the docks, passed by us and “invited” us to follow them.
I can’t remember how anymore, but eventually we managed to reach the ferry departure point. Of course the last boat had already left so we had no choice other than spend the night in Hải Phòng.
After finding a very fancy hotel -paying half the price of a hostel room in Brighton during festival season-, we were ready to feed ourselves but it was waaaaay to late in this little non-touristic town for us to expect to find any open restaurants. Luckily enough we were helped by the London-born grandson of the hotel owner, who drove us to a restaurant, walked in and translated the menu for us.
The other customers and the staff seemed quite excited to see two foreign girls stop by and I think the restaurant was kept open well over the usual time to let us enjoy our meal. Some men from another table came over to offer us shots of a really strong traditional liquor before we could even start eating one of the best dinners we had during the whole trip.
Random fact of the day: we figured out that if you’re in Vietnam, in need for some fuel but can’t find a station, you just need to look out for the green plastic bottles placed on the side of the street in front of houses: that’s the code for “we sell petrol here”.
Hope you all enjoyed Day 2 of my Travel Journal, stay tuned for the next ones coming soon and feel free to comment and share!