I arrived in the bustling city of Hanoi in the late hours of the night after a long day of patiently waiting through a procession of narrow seats in aeroplane cabins and airport lounges starting from Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had absolutely no idea whatsoever about what my trip Vietnam would hold, nor where my feet would take me; embracing the inner nomad. Renowned for its cities saturated with people, its picturesque Ha Long Bay, and its history of being ravaged with war; I knew it would be an exciting, informative, and cultural experience. But, I had no idea what the following weeks would consist of and I was caught completely unaware by one of the greatest adventures of my life to date.
The following day I found myself walking down the manic streets of the Old Quarter. Where there seemed only one traffic rule – There are no rules. It seems the generic highway code everyone back home adheres to so strictly is merely a guide-line here. Walking down the streets with a delicious vegetarian Bahn Mi (basically a small baguette) in hand with the smell, sizzle and crackle as numerous Vietnamese men squat and weld various metalworks on the curb-side next to colourful storefronts selling any type of Christmas decoration you could possibly ever want for (it is December time). After a few hours of wandering around I decide to head back to my hostel and have a nap and relax.
I wake up around 7/8PM and I’m overcome with the insatiable craving for one thing. I try to curb the urge and talk myself out of it – I’ve had too many of late, I don’t need another – which doesn’t last long before I give up and venture out to the closest K-Mart where I buy a glorious Chocolate Cornetto! As I am strolling back to the hostel and content with my cornetto, I look ahead of me on the now eerily quiet street where a dark-haired Frenchman stands across the intersection with a gigantic bag on his back, an ear to ear smile on his face, and his arms spread-wide. Serkan!
I first met Serkan as he stood out-side Kopan Monastery in Nepal, drenched in sweat after walking up an endless number of stairs and being ridiculed by the small orange-covered monk-children who live at the monastery. We spent the following 10-days together in the monastery as well as bumping into each other again in Nepal and once more briefly in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
We headed into the hostel, where he checked-in and had some food before heading out into the old-quarter to a well-known party hostel Vietnam Backpackers. This is where we were to meet one of Serkan’s friends, whom he had also met during his time in Nepal; Oskar. We grabbed a few beers as we arrived in what turned out to be the beginning of a bar crawl, inclusive of people dancing on bars, a crawl-leader equipped with a megaphone, beer pong and generally people having a great time. After waiting around for a while, a 21-year-old blonde haired Swedish guy walked in with a smile which never seemed to fully leave his face during the following weeks to come. The rest of the evening consisted of cheap drinks, some more glorious Bahn Mi, and just getting to know the hilarious guy – Oskar – better.
The following morning, I saw an advert in my hostel selling a Honda Win 100cc motorbike. Turns out that the person selling it was the guy below me on my bunk! For roughly £165, a bike with broken seals on the front forks, no front brake, no fuel gauge, no speedometer, or instrumentation lights of any kind, with a dodgy gearbox that had a penchant for slipping into neutral from 2nd and 3rd gear was mine. The beautiful majestic creature I came to know as Veronika, came including a stylishly personalised helmet, and a cracked/rustling luggage rack in the deal. She was deep black with a red star – so I had to buy her right?
Turns out Oskar and Serkan have never actually ridden motorbikes. So, as we went shopping for their mighty steeds, they actually learned to ride by test-driving a variety of bikes with instruction from the salesman during the afternoon – Only in Vietnam eh!
Before heading out of Hanoi on what was to be an epic adventure (the likes of which I will never experience again), Oskar decided it would be prudent to plough into a wall just before we joined the highway, not 300 metres from the motorbike shop.
Great start, right?