Imagine for a moment a place where cars yield to bicycles. Where there is a large designated lane (the same size as a car lane) for two-wheeled modes of transport, specifically bicycles, scooters and motorcycles, on the right side of every two-lane road, and a separate single lane designated for cars, trucks and/or vans. There is no road rage from cars and trucks trying to run us cyclists (bi-cycle or motor-cycle) off the road. There is a common respect for each other. Everyone merges in the round-abouts, which are a dime a dozen because street lights are very few and reserved only for the larger cities. When a car decides to turn right, s/he must work their way through the traffic of the cyclists. Imagine the amount of emissions that are saved by the larger use of motos and bicycles and lesser use of the gas-hogged cars and SUVs that seem to be limited here.
Then imagine the smiles on Casey and my faces as we ride motos through the hills of breath-taking countryside and mountains of the central highlands of Vietnam, and ride bicycles along the coast of the South China Sea. Freedom. Beauty. And each of us reunited with something we love and miss.
We knew that we were headed to somewhere good when we showed up for our Vietnam Airlines flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) a mere 50 minutes for the international flight departed in Singapore, and the flight attendants just smiled, handed us our boarding passes and told us to “have a nice flight.” We hadn’t missed a flight yet (and this being our 33rd flight on our RTW we felt pretty proud of ourselves), but we had already resigned to the fact that we were certainly going to miss THIS flight. We just didn’t time our transport to the airport very well, and I think we were having a tough time leaving Singapore where we had finally felt some culture relief. Nonetheless, for those of you who may not travel internationally much, it is a standard requirement to be checked-in for your flight at least 2 hours prior to the departure time at a minimum. So us arriving under 2 hours, and even worse, UNDER 1 hour, was pretty much a guarantee that they were not going to let us on the plane. And to add flame to the fire, if we did happen to get on the plane, it was more than likely that our baggage would never make it with us.
Thankfully, we were taken care of. We made it, bags and all!
We spent time in Saigon by enjoying the incredible national and international food (from Vietnamese pho to Spanish tapas), taking in the night life with the tourists (with a glass of wine/scotch at the top of the Sheraton overlooking the city, and hit the infamous dance club “Apocalpse Now”), experienced the hustle and bustle of busy city life (jumped on moto-taxis and sho
pped at the markets) and took a different look at the history of the American War (as we call it, the Vietnam War) by visiting the War Remembrance Museum. In the central highlands of Vietnam we spent three nights in the mountain town of Da Lat where life was cooler in temperature and the sun was shining sans city smog. We rented motos here, and explored the countryside on our own, whizzing past the locals and taking in the smells and sights with the wind hitting our faces. It was so lovely. We got lost a few times, stumbled upon a few villages, found a silk making farm and watched how silk was made (from hatching silk worms to the weaving of fabric), scooted past the trucks up the mountains, stopped for a late afternoon café and racked in about 120 kilometers or so. It was so fun! This is also where we rented a few bikes, wandered the large local markets, botanic gardens and partook in one of the better Vietnamese meals we had.
The drive from Da Lat to the coast of Nha Trang was probably the most beautiful drive we have taken on this trip – albeit the most windy and nauseous imposed. Glorious lush green mountains with views that would not quit, on well-paved roads and in a comfortable bus no less! We then spent a few days on the beach where we took long walks, rented more motos and bicycles and saw a few of the local temples and sights. We also treated ourselves to a traditional mud bath at a spa up in the mountains as we watched the sun set. We had to pinch ourselves…nope, we’re awake!
The bottom line on our experience here: we fell in love with this country. It was an unlikely place for us, during an unlikely time (travel tired) for us to feel this way, but we have loved our visit in Vietnam. We were sorry we hadn’t more time to stay (we already bought our next 3 flights back to Latin America and it was ridiculously priced to change them) but we are hopeful that we will return again some day. It is a gem.