Throughout our travels, we had heard that Northern Vietnam, and the entire country in general, was the best place to buy and ride motorcycles. We could not think of a better way to round off our trip than to head to Hanoi and find new motorbikes for the last part of our adventure.
We boarded a plane from Siem Reap, Cambodia and arrived in Hanoi late in the night. After sharing a cab with a couple of Israeli girls who were on holiday, we pulled up to a slender hotel sliced into the side of a building.. Although it was late and rather chilly, the city sidewalks were crowded with Vietnamese people sitting on step stools eating hot soups and drinking thick coffee. The world seemed to buzz with chatty energy, as the traffic expanded and contracted, moving with an organized chaos that we would soon have to mold to.
We spent our first few days in Hanoi, waking up early and filling our empty guts with their infamous dark, dense coffee. Hot, beef pho (a rice noodle soup) is traditionally served as breakfast there, so we found comfort in the warm start to our day.
We were on a mission to find motorbikes, but my husband had a specific vision for them. After seeing a bunch of a young kids in Malaysia on modified 150 cc scooters, Trevor had researched and found that Vietnam also had two bikes he was interested in: the Honda Winner and the Yamaha Exciter. Most travelers wanting to buy a motorcycle in Vietnam can find strange Chinese knock-off brands and purchase the bikes for as little as $150 USD. To us, these bikes looked uncomfortable, unreliable, and honestly, beat to hell. Unfortunately, however, the 150cc scooters that Trevor really liked were fairly new to Vietnam and practically impossible to find for sale, so, we were able to rent the scooters from a company for a few weeks for a reasonable price. They were faster, incredibly comfortable, and a fun change of pace compared to our Thai dirt bikes that we had bought and sold. Searching for our transportation in Hanoi gave us quite a few days of really exploring the city, and once we had the bikes, we were really able to throw ourselves into the chaos of local traffic and city life.
Once everything was settled with the bikes, we packed up and headed North. We had met an awesome friend in Laos, who clued us in on a waterfall that split the border of China and Vietnam and had very little tourism. It took a couple days of travel in the cold, misty weather, but the waterfall ended up being worth the discomfort.
Honestly, when we compare riding motorbikes in Vietnam (which is strangely popular) to riding motorbikes in Thailand, Vietnam (to us) was not particularly ideal. It is much easier to purchase a bike in Vietnam, but it seemed that most travelers we met on bikes were always getting stranded or having constant mechanical issues. On top of that, Vietnam was the most dangerous driving we had ever experienced outside of India, so if you are not an experienced motorcycle rider, this could be possibly fatal. Nonetheless, the travel experience of having your own transportation is total freedom in the purest form. We were able to stop in little towns whenever we wanted for food, photos, or fuel (all of which are not as abundant as other countries like Thailand), and we were able to do and see everything at our own pace.
After freezing in the North at the waterfall, we decided to head more South and check out some islands. We decided to grab a boat to Cat Ba Island, which was a bit touristic, but had some beautiful views of the surrounding islands and...pizza! (At this point, we were really craving anything that would taste like home!) It was on this island that I decided to take a second pregnancy test, because I was ten days late on my period. After having to act out all kinds of gestures, including peeing on a stick, to the pharmacist I finally was sold a test and secretly took it that evening. I was positively pregnant! Trevor and I wanted to keep it a secret from his brother Tyler, so we had to celebrate together quietly in the lobby of our hotel while Tyler took his evening shower. We only had a few weeks left of our travels before we would be home for Christmas with the family, so the secret had to wait a little bit longer.
After Cat Ba Island, we decided that we wanted to see Ninh Binh. We had seen some beautiful photos of the rice fields, and the area had recently become a little more well known after the most recent King Kong film was shot there. It was wintery and cold for our entire Vietnam travels, so the landscape was much different than the typical photos you see, but misty and gorgeous regardless. We spent a few days riding bikes and exploring the area. There were some western style restaurants in the town, which also provided some relief and comfort as well.
The combination of being exhausted from a year's worth of travels and being pregnant, brought us back to Hanoi for the remainder of our stay. We booked an Air BnB and enjoyed the city for our last week of travels. It was extremely nice to stay in one place for a bit. We went to plenty of museums, drank plenty of coffee, shopped the night markets, and ate twice at a delicious restaurant on our street called Obama Bun Cha (named after our former president because he had dined there with Anthony Bourdain on a visit).
Hanoi and the North in general was a great overall experience. This history of the war is told from the other perspective, which was interesting and eye-opening at the same time. The people were kind and helpful, and we are happy to say that we will always have friends in Hanoi. We are truly excited to get back and travel in the south someday soon. If you are reading this and have any questions about motorbike purchasing/rentals or traveling in and around Hanoi, let us know! We always love talking with travelers and learning/sharing tips!
We hope you enjoyed!
XOX- Bree and Trevor