Thursday, September 19, 2013

Vietnam: Into the Motorcycle Capital of the World

A couple of bloggers and travelers have named Vietnam as the motorcycle capital of the world. And I acquiesce. At least for the major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), the moniker does give justice to the hundreds and hundreds of motorbikes that rumble into the streets each day, sending locals and tourists a run for their lives. You cannot go to Vietnam and sashay like a ramp model. Of course, that wasn’t the impression running through my head in the pre-Vietnam days. Vietnam for me, meant coffee, French colony, and the UNESCO World Heritage site, Halong Bay.

We touched down at Tan Son Nhat International Airport at an ungodly hour. Our flight was delayed for more than an hour, pushing our 12:20 AM arrival further into the wee hours of the morning. The airport was almost deserted, save for a few sleepy personnel. We took a cab ($20) and went straight to our hostel in Pham Ngu Lao Ward in District 1. Fortunately, the taxi driver knew where the hostel was exactly located. The city was asleep too except for a couple of bars that were still open. I thought Saigon was a nice, quiet little city – until we slept and woke up the next day.

Saigon literally roars to life everyday with the motorcycles. One of the local tour guides told us that with the exception of children and old people, everyone owns a motorcycle in Vietnam. They outnumber the taxis, private cars, and buses and goodness, they run alongside these bigger modes of transport as if they were the same size!    

In Vietnam, a motorcycle driver is the king of the road -- even at rest.

So it wasn’t the quiet city I initially expected it to be, but it is a nice city. Their coffee exceeded my expectations and is incredibly delish. Something about the way they prepare the coffee or their water or their milk makes it really special. I brought home coffee from Vietnam and tried to make a cup as tasty but it is not quite the same. This is something you really have to try for yourself.

Trung Nguyen is one of Vietnam's homegrown coffee. (the chocoholic's favorite)
The French colony influence did not disappoint either. Vietnam has beautiful architectural structures. What I also admire is that they seem to be hell-bent in documenting their history, as evidenced by the number of museums they have. Sometimes, their museums overlap each other in some aspects. Nevertheless, it’s a conscious effort towards preserving their history and culture.

I will talk about Halong Bay in a separate post, as I am about to break down our backpacking trip per day. Because I really wanted to visit Halong Bay, which is in Hanoi (north) and still cross over to Cambodia (we are quite the ambitious first-time backpackers), we had to plan our itinerary really well. Although we ticked off a few items during the actual trip, we pretty much followed the itinerary we set for ourselves. Here’s a quick overview of our itinerary:

And so begins our journey.   

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