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Đi bằng xe máy

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Driving past the water park on the shore of West Lake, Zack commented on how unsafe the Ferris wheel looked – “I would NEVER get on that thing” he said, a comment I found ironic as he swerved to miss on oncoming car, narrowly avoiding the scooter passing on our right. We were taking a quiet and relaxing Sunday afternoon spin around the lake on our new scooter; anyone with any inckling of what Hanoi traffic is like will understand that this drive was is neither quiet, nor relaxing… but it was a lot of fun. We are now the proud owners – actually hirers – of a white Sym scooter that we have affectionately named Mantle, which is obviously short for The Praying Mantas.

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At this point Zack is the only one of us actually driving and I am the official navigator. This works well as Zack’s pro-scootering skills do not extend to any directional memory of Hanoi’s streets and my complete lack of driving ability or awareness is increasingly apparent. Besides this leaves me free to back-seat drive, shouting in Zack’s ear whenever we are nearly smushed between two buses – just kidding dad 😉  I’m also able to watch the scenery and interact with other scooter riders at the traffic lights, I even got to pat a dog that was sleeping on the lap of a neighbouring driver.

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A few weeks ago The Satorialist posted a blog entitled “If you’re thinking about… scooters” Well as it turns out… I am (well at least posing with it):

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Last weekend a friend of Zack’s from Northwestern came to visit and we all went to Ha Long Bay; a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site five hours east of Hanoi. Expectations were low. Having done a lot of reading about the area for my work, I am well aware of how polluted and poorly managed this site has become. However, we were pleasantly surprised and had a wonderful few days enjoying the spectacular scenery that makes Ha Long so special. Without time to write a proper post, here are a few photos from the trip:

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Floating villages in the bay

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Selling vegetable

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Breakfast on the deck

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Cave exploring

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Rất mưa (very rainy)

ImageHeading home from dinner with friends on Friday night, the air was hot and thick… more so than usual. A typhoon was predicted for the weekend and we could feel it building in the dark air. We woke Saturday morning to heavy rain that continued throughout the day. While perhaps not typhoon level – Hanoi is a way inland – the rain was bucketing down. With no food in the house we ducked around the corner to pick up some fruit and veges from the market. We returned home drenched, but with a good looking pineapple and ingredients for soup, bread and marmalade.

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Despite the downpour, vendors and market goers seemed relatively nonplussed. People were plucking ducks, wringing chickens necks, chopping mystery meat, hawking bananas and custard apples. Scooters, still on the road despite the lack of visability, zoomed past, their drivers sheltered by colored ponchos, only visible as colored blurs in the rain. The bia hoi sellers brushed a never ending stream of water away from the small tables and chairs on the sidewalk. Zack gazed out the window and planned future holidays while I cooked… the marmalade was a bit bitter but I was happily surprised to find that my bread turned out perfectly.

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Sawadee Ka

ImageSkidding down the steep, eroded hill I was wondering if we should have forked out the extra money for a four-wheeler ATV. Sure the old scooter was $40 cheaper but how much would the medical bill be when these dodgy brakes failed. Up ahead, our friends had developed a new plan… As Sait pulled the bike over the broken bitumen drops, Emily got off and walked along beside. I decided to follow suit.

We were at Koh Samet, Thailand. A small island approximately 200km from Bangkok airport, an easy long weekend from Hanoi. The previous day we had sped into our cove, lined with palm trees and small hotels, ready to enjoy the sandy beaches, warm water, and many meals of fresh seafood and Pad Thai. Despite the rainy season the weather was lovely; refreshingly cool after Hanoi, which was getting too hot and humid to enjoy time outside. With two full days we decided to first explore the island on scooters before spending a day snorkeling off shore.

ImageDespite the (literally) rocky start on the scooters, the day picked up when we “discovered” a stunning clifftop lookout with views down the coast and out to the sparkling blue water. This side of the island, less sheltered than the cove where we stayed, had a small surf and the day passed in a salty, sandy haze of eating and playing in the waves. Emboldened by our relaxing afternoon we jumped back on the scooters for the 15 minute drive home. An hour later we had driven in a circle, twice. Thinking we would try a different route home, my confidence in my directional capabilities had gotten us lost.

ImageEnergized by our adventure we decided to catch a taxi to a nearby restaurant – the taxi turned out to be a pick-up truck with benches nailed to tray. Tightly gripping the sides and trying not to swallow too must sand, we barreled along dark, bumpy roads before arriving at a quiet, rickety restaurant built on stilts in the sea. Watching the water lapping through the floor boards I ate the best Thai meal I have ever had – vege spring rolls, addictive fried rice, aromatic curry, fresh fish, and, in Sait’s case, more fried rice. In desperate need of exercise after such a meal we stumbled home through the headland forest, following a woman who sprang across exposed roots and outcropped rocks, invisible in the dark until we nearly tripped over them.

ImageThe following morning brought more adventure and as we started out in a speedboat ready for a day of snorkeling, black clouds began to gather on the horizon. The sheltered geographic location of Koh Samet means that it gets very little rain in the wet season and throughout the day we watched as dark thunderheads, flashing with lighting, passed around us.  Swimming over small coral reefs in the glowing aqua water, we watched small fish, some with noses as long as their bodies, dart around sea anemones, and schools of transparent fish float by, unconcerned by the many spectators watching their progress. Although the rain didn’t reach us, the wind did. Speeding between islands, the boat crashed through the choppy water, airborne for a moment before slamming back into the waves, jarring us all and sending up shrieks among some of the passengers. I loved it and the ride reminded both Zack and I of when we would take out the speed boat in Gambia.

Our final evening we walked along the beach to watch a wedding at a neighboring hotel. As the wedding guests sent sky lanterns (like mini paper hot air balloons) in to the inky sky we danced in the sand to the cheesy love songs played by the wedding band.  The next day we woke to rain on the roof of our small cabin, making it easier to leave. On the journey home we were already planning our next beach holiday… where to next? Image