Heading Out of Hectic Hanoi - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

November 11, 2016

Heading Out of Hectic Hanoi

Hanoi to Viem Khe

November 11, 2016

We left Hanoi today heading west and south towards the Ho Chi Minh Highway. It’s a north-south highway named after the famous Ho Chi Minh and is not to be confused with the Ho Chi Minh Trail which is mostly in Laos. In the 1950’s and 60’s the North Vietnamese were secretly transporting arms to fight the South Vietnamese under the cover of the dense jungles and mountains of eastern Laos which became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It is where the U.S. initially became involved with the war.

The U.S. thought that if they stopped the flow of weapons on that trail early on they could nip the civil war in the bud and the north could be Communist if they wanted and the south would be free to be Democratic if they wanted - two separate countries. At least that’s my understanding of how the U.S got involved in somebody else’s civil war. The south asked the U.S. to help them because they did not wish to be Communist.

Today we did not wish to be amidst hordes of motorbikes and heavy traffic for ten miles or more out from the center of Hanoi. But that’s what we had to do to leave Hanoi. It was nerve-racking to be sure but on the other hand there is a mindset we both succeeded in putting ourselves in where we just went with the flow. It’s quite interesting really. To someone standing on the sidewalk observing the thick traffic and no stop signs at intersections, it probably seems like chaos. But once you are out in it you are more apt to understand and enter into the group think.

You just keep moving slowly, not making any sudden illogical moves. You flow around obstacles just as everyone else does. A bulge this way or that means that something is over there and there is no need to look at what it is but rather keep your attention on those in your immediate vicinity. There is a lot of trust involved too but we have found that people driving motorbikes in Vietnam are actually quite good at it because they have done a lot of it and always in these same congested conditions. They know no other way of driving a motorbike. They have to be good at it. This means that motorbikes come within inches of us constantly but you have to put that out of your mind and just keep moving slowly, peripheral vision activated fully and yielding only when absolutely necessary. The worst things you can do are hesitate or stop.

The thing that makes the least sense to me is when motor bikes that are entering a road from the right and who are turning right onto the road you are on. 99% of the drivers NEVER check traffic before entering. They simply enter the road leaving their fate completely in the hands of those on that road. It’s crazy. I’ve had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting several of these drivers.

So, Hanoi finally coughed us out of it’s gravitational traffic force field after about 15 miles and, suddenly, we were back in the beautiful countryside. That’s when we stopped to have an iced coffee to celebrate. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves to have lived through the thickest traffic of our lives. Hanoi traffic is legendary and we entered or left Hanoi three times and lived! We were also celebrating Andrea’s expert route decision which she had studied and etched to memory. I was impressed.

On the big bridge that marks the boundary of Hanoi’s city limits we stopped for a photo. Not ten seconds after we stopped on the middle of the bridge a man on a bicycle stopped and started analyzing every component on our bicycles. He felt the seats, tried the brakes, looked closely at how things worked and even got on. I fully expected him to take a spin right there in the middle of the busy bridge. Andrea and I just looked at each other. I mean, what do you do? He was very serious and of course language was a big issue. He was into bikes! There is a small population, largely older retired men, who are really into bikes. Ours were so unusual that he was super curious as to how they functioned. It was just another example of what we have come to expect whenever we stop for a drink of water or a snack. Something odd will take place almost immediately. Usually we will be in someone’s way. Someone will need to be in the exact spot we have stopped.

Seriously interested in bikes.
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We stop seemingly in the middle of nowhere and a backhoe will pull up wanting to dig right where we are! I’m not kidding. If we stop in front of a closed business the owner will come to open his business just then. If we stop at a nondescript section of town a huge truck will pull up and need to back into the place where we have parked. We stopped at a cemetery and just as we were sitting down on a wall to eat some oranges a dump truck pulled up and wanted to dump a load of dirt right where our bikes were parked! It’s become the thing we kid about whenever we park even if it’s only going to be for ninety seconds. But everyone is friendly even if we are in their way.

Anyway, the countryside was gorgeous. We wound around on small roads, off the beaten path, way out in the country and aimed at intersecting the Ho Chi Minh Highway the next day. Since we still were not far from Hanoi there was a lot of activity everywhere but, actually, that is what we have come to expect most places in Vietnam. Vietnamese are industrious!!

The entire time we have been in Vietnam I have seen large bonsai-ish trees in large flat planters. The trees are usually planted on top of some interesting looking piece of karst which is porous. The favored tree is a type of banyan with roots wrapping themselves around the karst stone. They are the Vietnamese version of bonsai - much larger.

When we passed a place that had some really nice ones I stopped and without getting off my bike took a couple of photos. Of course at that moment a woman rode up on her motorbike and wanted to get through the driveway I was blocking. But she was not in the least perturbed. She got off her motorbike and came over to me with such an insistent look that I wanted to say, “What is it Lassie?” She was trying to tell me something. She wanted me to come inside and photograph more of the trees.

Bonsai - Vietnam Style
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She made me understand that she was the director of the place which must be a society for that type of bonsai. She led me to each of the trees that she thought were the most important for me to photograph. But I was not to just take any old photo. She directed me as to angle or a full or partial shot. She watched the screen on my iPhone and would not let me take the photo until she thought it was in the right position. She cleared off debris from the base of a couple of the trees and moved a wheel barrow that was unsightly and in the way. She was a real perfectionist. I felt as if I was suddenly shooting a catalogue of her trees for her!

She's the director of this place all right, even directing how I photographed. This unsightly tree needed to move I guess. I found it amazing that they could chop off roots so severely and the tree would survive.
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I wish I could grow trees like these.
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The whole time I was wondering how I got myself into this photography job and kept looking at Andrea to see if she was perturbed and wanting to move on. I think Andrea sensed what I was up against and didn’t act impatient. I had to be gracious because the woman was being so nice to show me all her favorite trees. Plus, I love trees and those type of trees are incredibly beautiful to me. I therefore photographed dozens of them! When I had photographed all the trees she thought I should have photographed she made a gesture that that was the end. Then she gave me her business card and invited me to sit down and have tea. No words at all between us, just a mutual love of dwarfed trees.

Andrea and the director of this society for Vietnam style bonsai.
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When we were finally back on the road we began to see a line of karst mountains in the distance to the west that strangely made us feel as if we were approaching the Tetons from the east. They were a beautiful line of mountains.

Back in the countryside.
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Coming attractions
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Karst again
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Then the road ran along some water past lots of duck farms. When we noticed an adorable Nha Nghi we decided we had better stay there. It was newish but seemed oldish with lots of wood. The owner was excited we were there and immediately heated water for tea. I mean, I guess you don’t just unpack the bikes and carry stuff up to the room. You first sit and have tea even if you can’t converse. The man seemed like a super nice person and so very excited to have us as his guests. He was vibrating with excitement in his oversized rock-hard wood chair.

When we finally did get all of our panniers up to our room and got settled it was time for dinner so we walked out onto the streets of the tiny crossroads. There were no restaurants other than the one that served cat and dog meat exclusively. The only other food we saw at that crossroads were ducks on a rotisserie. We had seen someone walking home with a bag from that place so we walked up and held up one finger. After the woman removed a duck from the grill I realized that we had just ordered an entire duck. She cut it into bite size pieces expertly with an enormous butcher cleaver. She added two plastic bags full of brownish sauce and a bag of greens. And off we went to our room to eat.

The duck had been filled with curry leaves which gave it a distinctive Indian fragrance. We sat on our bed and ate that entire duck. At six dollars it obliterated our normal cost for dinner but we were celebrating having extricated ourselves safely from Hectic Hanoi. From beak to feet the duck was excellent. And so was the day.

Our room inside the newish oldish guest house.
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A most wonderful person - the owner of the guest house and his son.
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Pillows and bedspread
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Today's ride: 34 miles (55 km)
Total: 267 miles (430 km)

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