Reader Ride: Northern Vietnam

Text: Lori Baker • Photography: Lori Baker, Josh Baker

My husband, Josh, and I decided before starting a family that we really needed a BIG bike vacation. We wanted culture shock. Yet without a lot of money to spend and no previous adventure travel experience, we found it.

Toronto to New York, west to Seoul, then arriving in Hanoi after dark—it was the longest flight we ever experienced. We were excited, anxious, and a little apprehensive as we rode by taxi to our hotel in the Old Quarter. We passed shops, homes, parks, and open markets where the flurry of activity led us to believe that it must be a party of gang activity. There were so many people, so much noise so late at night. This was definitely foreign to us and very scary. Little did we know the locals were simply bartering over seafood, farm animals, and fresh fruit.

Arriving at our hotel, which was very deep and very tall, about as wide as a double garage, we were exhausted and hot and happy to get our room for a night, including breakfast.

The morning brought renewed energy, excitement, and curiosity. We walked the city in every direction and began to take in and appreciate the local culture. The first time we crossed the street, we did so by sticking close to an elderly man and trusting his faith as we followed him into four-way traffic. The rule is to never interrupt flow—do not change speed or direction under any circumstance. Witnessing the markets in daylight, we realized our fear from the previous night had been unwarranted. By that evening, we were exploring them in the dark as well.

By day two, we were headed into Halong Bay on a beautiful teak junk with room for only eight passengers. We spent the night with a delectable meal of fresh seafood under the stars. We met new friends from France, Italy, and Australia, and with them, we explored local rock formations and floating fishing villages. We screamed in glee as we launched ourselves off the roof of the junk into very warm water. After exchanging contact info, we were bussed back to the city, ready for our upcoming 12 days on bikes.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2012 back issue.