The Minsk Motorcycle Tour of Hanoi
OMG. Did we ever have fun on this tour! One of the highlights of the entire trip! So – it was booked as a way to see and learn about all the different sides of Hanoi. We met our tour guide and five more drivers, learned how to hop on and hop off the motorcycles – and we were off! These are old bikes made years ago in Russia. Through the crazy, crowded streets of the capital city of Vietnam! 10 million people live here and many million motorbikes rule the roads . . . It’s extremely dangerous to cross these roads by foot and we weren’t sure how we’d do riding right out in that chaotic traffic. But actually, I felt totally safe with my driver and it was actually totally fun! 😀
We headed right out into a big boulevard, riding right along with the buses, vans, cars, and motor bikes . . Eventually turned into some tiny alleyways. Hard to imagine driving the bikes in those narrow spaces along with people, bicycles, and other motorbikes. I wouldn’t want to drive this route but it was sure fun to ride it! 😃.
As this tour was meant to introduce us to the food as well as the sights of Hanoi, our first food stop was at this neat little booth. We hadn’t had anything to eat since our gourmet brunch on the boat and we were getting a bit hungry. The woman in this shop was making these interesting pan meals – served right in this little frying pan. The concoction consisted of a yummy broth, beef meatballs, duck liver, a fried egg and some veggies. A baguette was served alongside to use for dipping. Dessert for this mini meal was a small, round donut hole looking thing, which had sticky rice, coconut, and was covered with sesame seeds. Delish!
We stopped to visit with another friend of our guide. This lady was roasting peanuts with basil. Oh so good – served warm right from the roaster . . We just had to buy some of these wonderful peanuts to bring home . . .
Chin Chin then took us down a narrow alley to view this blackboard. On it was everything important you might want to know. Sort of like a local newspaper. A man from an apartment above us was waving and smiling at us . . Our guide lives with his parents in one of these apartments.
Most of the apartments here are on the second and third floors, located directly above the shops . . . The buildings are narrow but three or four stories high.
Then it was off for some wedding cake. We sampled some of this cake, which was made of green beans and sticky rice. Every bride and groom eats this because it means they will have a happy life together . .
We explored the Black Market section of Hanoi. This area offered up very narrow alleyways with shops everywhere – crammed with lots and lots of stuff. The folks who live and work in this area do not pay taxes to the government and it appears that the government looks the other way . . They are living precariously and have little money to spare. They trade good with one another and hope for some tourist sales as well. The people here were very friendly towards us . . Maybe they are accustomed to people coming through and there is always the hope for a sale. . .
And, of course, we had to try the local beer! 😀. Back on the bikes to the locals spot! Chin Chin insisted we try out this wonderful fresh beer – right from the keg! It was pretty cold and rather light. Once the keg has been made, the beer must be consumed. (Oh No!). It doesn’t last overly long. Not bad beer . . . The place was interesting. All of these places offer the customer a tiny square table with low stools to sit on. There are usually lots of other people around to show you the ropes . . . Not the cleanest place in the world . . As we left, I turned around to see the owner dunk all the glasses in a bucket of water and set them aside for the next customer . . Oh well . . . 😳
And then it was off to show us the other side of life in the city of Hanoi. We drove off the main roads onto muddy, rutty roads, down the hill to the edge of the river. Along the way were beautiful farms – bananas, sugarcane, cabbages, boc choy, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes – all lush and healthy! Once we reached the river, we found the floating village – about 25 houses literally floating in the river. These folks really do not exist in the eyes of the government. They do not pay taxes and their children do not attend school (unless they can pay double the school fee – which, of course, would be impossible.). This is bare subsistence living. The people help one another. They work for the local farmers, sell some trinkets in town, or work for someone in the shops. Hard to imagine living in these houses . . .
Both of the guides we have had here in Vietnam have explained to us how corrupt life is here in this country. Those who work for the government get lots of privileges that others never see. Chin Chin says that the soldiers here in the city work hard to protect the people. The police only work for bribes. Motor bikes are stolen all the time over here. If you lose your bike, it will likely be taken to a “chop shop”. In minutes, the bike is disassembled with the parts going to mechanics who will use them to fix other bikes . . Little chance of recovery. If you go to the police for help in finding your stolen property – they will insist on money to help in this process and then there is little chance of finding it in one piece anyway . . You just go to work saving money for a new bike . . . 😳
Once we left the riverbank, we headed uphill toward the railroad tracks. We dismounted and walked up this steep ramp (the drivers brought the bikes up) and we literally played on this bridge for a good half hour! 😀. There were narrow streets loaded with bikes going both ways with the railroad track down the middle. We watched a train go by – so it seemed safe to do our playing right in the middle of the tracks! 😁. Chin Chin loved to take pictures with his phone and he airdropped them all to us as we had coffee near the end of our tour . . We had a blast here!
And, of course, we really needed dessert! Dave wanted to share one – but once I tasted mine, there was going to be no sharing! 😜. This dessert began with a sheet of rice paper – then a chunk of sugarcane – some freshly grated coconut – topped off with black sesame seeds – all rolled up in this delicious package, ready for your eating pleasure! Oh so good!
Our final stop was this incredibly cool coffee shop, all equipped with recycled things. The tables – the chairs. Wonderful artwork painted on the walls . . Some of us had hot cocoa, others tea. John had this wonderful coffee – created in layers. Coffee on the bottom, a whipped egg yolk in the middle, foam on top. You were to sample the foam and then stir it up and enjoy! He thought it was superb! The idea of the owners of this cafe is to utilize whatever you can find around, make it beautiful and functional – thus saving the planet and making a the world a better place. It’s called Hidden Gem Coffee. There’s actually a web site for this interesting place!
And now, I must close this blog with an overview of the rules of the road over here in the big cities! There essentially are none! 😀. Sometimes there are two lanes. Sometimes not. Rarely do you encounter a street light. If you do and a policeman is around, you will probably stop and obey the light. If no cops are around – you often go right along . If you are walking and you absolutely have to cross the road – you go in a group (sticky rice) and you walk slowly and steadily. No running or racing. Usually the vehicles will let you cross . . It’s surprising that this system mostly works! 😀. The drivers are careful of one another and watch out for the walkers. Hard to believe there aren’t some major accidents!
We loved this tour and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Hanoi! So much more fun than riding in a van to see the city. And you get to try the truly local foods! We adored our guide and the drivers were all super as well . . Chin Chin speaks very good English and it was really informative to learn about his culture and get an insight into living in Vietnam through his eyes . . We were extraordinarily lucky with this tour!
So – we are now home after a trip from Hanoi To Smithfield, Maine – that lasted much of two days! Our wonderful new friend, Alex, is shoveling off the several feet of snow from our decks! We were so happy to come home to a driveway that had been plowed . . We are starting to give in to our advancing age! 😀. And hiring out some of our outside work . . . One more blog coming about our time in Ha Long Bay . No time to write blogs in Hanoi. 😳. No energy to do them on the way home . . 😀