Driving the north was fantastic!!! Really off the beaten path and definitely an experience few venture to have.
The nice thing about not being on the tourist circuit is that it feels “authentic.” No locals wearing costumes for tourist. No menus serving western takes on dishes. You eat as the locals, you see the locals in their natural environment, and you experience the true friendliness of the people who aren’t english speaking touts trying to sell you something. It really is a beautiful and wonderful experience! Challenging at times but very rewarding.
For me, eating in northern Vietnam was definitely a challenge. Many restaurants are only open for a couple of hours a days. Some are open only for breakfast, some only for lunch, and some only for dinner. Some look like a person might have decided that they were going to open a restaurant out of their house at one time and then decided not to do it. I guess they just never got around to taking the sign down. For a westerner it is impossible to ask or know. During the day, I would drive through multiple villages looking for something open and would see “com pho” signs but they definitely weren’t open. And in the evening, I had to wait until around 7 pm for dinner and walk around searching for something open. Even walking into an empty restaurant doing the hand to mouth gesture for food, often times got a really confused look back. The locals never really understood that one. It was much easier if someone was eating and I just pointed!
Pictures of the “Green Pickle” never get old! He is so photogenic I must say. Look how happy he looks in that picture. Exploring Vietnam on motorbike has just been incredible. It is definitely the way to go! Everyday I have pinch myself so I know it isn’t a dream.
Ca phe den – Vietnamese coffee. Takes about 10 minutes to drip if the beans are fresh. I actually own one of these devices back in home.
One of the challenging roads. Notice the 18 wheeler stuck on the road. Major highways haven’t been built yet in Northeastern Vietnam so 18 wheelers cruise on the same roads. Often times it became very precarious encountering one of these on a muddy steep switchback. The “Pickle’s” name switched to the “Muddy Pickle” that day. I still haven’t washed the bike but don’t worry, he’s had plenty of rain showers to clean off a little.
One the villages where I stopped for a rest stop and breakfast.
In Ha Giang, I went out for dinner. As I sat their eating alone, a table next to me drinking beers and invited me to join their table. I accepted the offer and ordered myself a beer. They didn’t speak english and my vietnamese is minimal but I have to say it is getting better. Google has a wonderful app, called google translator which has been a life saver in Vietnam!!!!!! So armed with my google translator and lessons from my new friends, I learned a bunch of new words. I also tried some more local dishes that were awesome! One of the dishes was like beef stick wrapped in leaves then dipped in a spicy sauce. Interesting and savory. After a few beers, they asked if I wanted to join them for some karaoke. “uhh, YES!!!!! KARAOKE IN VIETNAM!!! I WOULD LOVE TOO!!!!” I have been talking about this ever since I got to Vietnam. Karaoke bars are everywhere here and it is a big deal here! So what better way to get a local experience than to karaoke! In Cat Ba, some travelers and I went to one but got really confused, intimidated, and walked out. So Karaoke bars have private suites what lots of buttons and a mission control station which is not in english. It definitely takes a little knowing what you are doing to get the ultimate experience. There are all sorts of snacks and drinks laid out like in a football suite for the taking. I was really excited that my new friends were going to give me a lesson on how to karaoke correct way. As we walked into the room, there was a serious multitude of lights which you can control to make any type of feel that you want. Disco ball, no problem…flashing lights, okay. Did you say want more flicker on the lights? Ok, no problem…turn it up. But not too much. We don’t want everyone to be sent into epileptic seizures. So one of guys went strait for the light mission control station and cranked on the lights until we were all about to be convulsing on the floor. One of the other guys armed the karaoke cockpit and grabbed the mic! “Here we go! Lets get this party started. KARAOKE IN VIETNAM!!!” The mic reverberated and echoed in the room, the words and video showed on two screens according to what direction you wanted to be standing or sitting. It was so much fun!!! I had a blast!!!! We sang in our own private club for the rest of the night. After me trying to sing one song in Vietnamese, we realized that wasn’t going to work, so I just watched the serenades and cheers’d with them a loud “Yo!!!” which is cheers in Vietnam! Vietnam bucket list item – Karaoke with locals – CHECK!
I would like to add that they refused to let me pay for dinner or anything. They actually angrily refused when I strongly insisted. This is Vietnamese culture! There are certain rules about who pays, such as who just got paid, who is the oldest, who is the host…so forth. So the one guy who just got paid that day picked up the whole tab for everyone. I snuck out of the room to buy a round of beers and paid without them knowing. Like I have said the Vietnamese are wonderful hosts!!
Seriously, I was definitely blown away around each corner at the scenery of northern Vietnam. After a while, I had to stop taking pictures and just drive on.
After following the Chinese border around from the east to the west, my last stop before heading south was Sapa.
Sapa is an incredible trekking town and very much reminded me of Nepal in a sense. It is located in the mountains and actually gets a couple weeks of snow each year. It is filled with numerous outdoor knock-off shops selling plenty of North-Face gear. There are beautiful hill-top tribe ladies that fill the streets selling guided tours and weaved items. It is definitely touristy with plenty of coffee, english menus, and western dishes. I will admit it was a nice break to be able to order a food easily and to eat when I was hungry.
Sapa – Beautiful view from the hotel where I was staying at.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to throw this on the blog or not. Traveling has been one of the best experiences of my life. I haven’t regretted doing it for a single moment. Unfortunately sometimes bad things happen but that doesn’t change my desire to travel any less. I love it!! But travel is about experiences. Some good, some bad. It is all part of it. While in Sapa, I was hit by a taxi driver from behind while talking to a friendly hill-tribe lady. The car knocked me down and then he proceeded to drive over me with the vehicle. I’m not sure why he did this and he couldn’t speak any english to answer my questions. In my opinion I was not in his way or blocking the street. I never heard a honk to get out of the way. I was standing on the very side so I am pretty sure this was a deliberate and unprovoked attack. Also I would like to add, I didn’t have any prior experiences with this driver either that could have provoked such an attack. And also I don’t think this was a case of crazy driving. Maybe he was disgruntled on life, angry at westerners, bad day, road rage? Who knows, but he decided to swerve and cowardly run over a tourist from behind. The beautiful thing about this ugly situation, is that all the locals came to my aid and stopped the driver from leaving. Everyone was very helpful telling me the Vietnamese protocol. Most of the people didn’t speak english but the english speakers were telling me “He pay you injuries! Bad people! He drive you hospital, drive away, no pay. You watch him!” “Okay I got, it! This guy is paying for my hospital bill! I’m going to watch him like a hawk!” I have been warned from locals that there are good people and bad people in Vietnam. I can honestly say, that I have had nothing but wonderful experiences with good people in Vietnam. I have been amazed how good the people of Vietnam are here. Very big hearts, very welcoming, very caring, and very generous. So please don’t judge this country by this one bad apple. We can’t judge the US for the maniacs who do public shootings. There are “bad people” in every society. I am sure this was a very isolated experience. As I travel, I learn that things are different in every culture. In America, a person would go to prison for attempted manslaughter for such an violent act. In Vietnam, the guy was forced to take me to the hospital and pay my bill which literally was $5 for x-rays and examination. He wasn’t very happy about that but I wasn’t going to let him get away without paying for it. I don’t feel like it was justice for the crime but fortunately nothing was broken. I am still pretty sore and I am hoping something isn’t torn in my foot. Hopefully it heals quickly! I am able to walk on it but feel an annoying discomfort and pain if I bend my big toe. Anyways, I am still very stoked on Vietnam and traveling here!! Still a great place! And yes, I would still recommend Sapa!
Sapa is a really beautiful and wonderful place. Due to the incident, I didn’t get out for any trekking or real photographs. Here’s the street where it all happened. This is the main tourist street of Sapa.
I have the say the hospital was very nice. I was the only person there which was a little erie! There was a staff of only three which didn’t make sense for such a big building. The building was huge, much like a hotel. They parking lot didn’t have a car parked in it. I was there in the evening so I’m not sure if it was closing time or not.