I hope that Hong Kong and I will one day cross paths again. What a wonderful start to my trip. Check out more photos here.

*Vietnam is up next, my first stop after Hong Kong (Part 1, 2, 3, 4). Part of my Travel Letters series; sent on August 31, 2009*

Chào from Vietnam!

vietnam cone hat

Okay, so I lied. I’m not actually in Vietnam anymore…I am currently sitting in an internet cafe in Siem Reap, Cambodia, trying to finish this email update that I began a week ago, with the intention of sending it out before I left Hanoi. Apologies for the lack of updates. A big thanks to all those who sent me emails and updates on how things are going on your side of the world and I’m sorry I haven’t properly responded to them…I will (eventually!).

It’s been a busy 3-4 weeks since my departure from Hong Kong (my flight, by the way, was fortunately unaffected by the storm), and I don’t even know where to begin…

In three weeks time, my travel companions, D and Y, and I bussed our way from the southern city of Ho Chi Minh, formerly known as Saigon, all the way to northern Hanoi, city of lakes. Here are some details of the journey thus far…

Motorbikes: a love and hate relationship
Something like every 1 of 2 people own a motorbike in Vietnam. In big cities like Saigon and Hanoi, motorbikes dominate the road. To the Vietnamese, a motorbike is not just a mode of personal transport. It’s an instant cot, a prerequisite for scoring dates, an outdoor cafe, and a u-haul truck (some things we’ve seen transported on a motorbike include: 5 bicycles; 4 bonsai trees, a 6 ft by 4 ft metal window frame, jugs of water, a family of 5).

ho chi minh city motorbikes

For pedestrians and tourists, it can be an overwhelming assault on the senses. The engines roar, horns are a-honking, and exhaust is steaming from the tailpipe. To the foreign eye, there doesn’t really seem to be any set road rules (or if there are, no one seems to really follow them.) Crossing the street is a feat in itself, but we’ve learned a few ways of getting by the whizzing vehicles. The first, is to find a local, and closely follow behind them as they navigate the sea of motorbikes. The second is to just walk…and trust that the motorbikes will swerve around you. We’re getting a lot better at the latter!

Moving away from the high density city centres to places like Nha Trang, Hoi An, and Cat Ba Island, there is a lower concentration of motos. In fact, the quieter streets provided the perfect opportunity for us to embrace the popular moto and learn to ride it. On a trip to Cat Ba Island, we rented 2 motorbikes for about $10 USD (for reference, $1 USD = ~ 18,000 Dong) and cruised through the scenic coastline, earning ourselves a nice bike tan and a growing respect for the motorbike.

cat ba island motorbike
(me and my new ride!)