The End of the Honda Wins: Sapa to Hanoi
Our 4 days in Sapa were fairly uneventful. I got into a pretty standard routine that began with a 6:30 AM wake up for breakfast. The hotel we stayed at offered a breakfast buffet which, was the sole reason we choose the hotel. Breakfast was brought out every morning at 6:45. Armed with my laptop I would commence my 3-hour breakfast binge. Literally, staying around the buffet drinking coffee and eating an assortment of crepes, eggs, sausages, watermelon, and bread. Accompanied by Alex and Taylor, our thought was that we would eat a huge breakfast and then skip lunch to save money. Our hotel was positioned in the valley below Mt. Fansipan, the tallest mountain in Indochina. At 10,312 ft, we were only able to see the peak of Fansipan once during our 4 night stay. A mixture of fog and rain with periodic sun breaks characterized most of our stay in Sapa. As Taylor was feeling under the weather one day, Alex and I decided to hike down through the various villages that make up Sapa. The actual town of Sapa is a built up tourist town surrounded by small tribal villages. Some of the larger villages have been developed into tourist destinations, offering 20 plus bed dorms, bars, and restaurants. These were still rural but didn’t embody an authentic Vietnamese feel. Some of the smaller villages, did, however, seem untouched by tourism. These offered small homestays, where you could stay with a family in a small wood hut. We thought of doing one of these homestays but honestly, we were a little burnt out and all the homestays were a bit expensive. Hiking through the villages was a great experience and the rice paddies that surrounded them were the highlight. Set on shallower slopes than the rice paddies we saw up north, the expansive rice fields engulfed the valley below Fansipan. The rice harvest is not until the Fall so many paddies were empty collecting water. This caused many of the terraces to appear as reflecting pools of the mountains above.
On our 5th day in Sapa we made the decision to wake up early and drive straight from Sapa to Hanoi. The owners of our hotel told us we wouldn’t make it to Hanoi in a day and we should stop halfway on the journey. We were getting pretty over our bikes and the thought of spending 2 more days on them was enough to motivate us to ignore the advice. The bike trip was 10 hours straight on the bikes and over 300 KM. This made it the longest ride of the trip thus far. The ride outside of Sapa was beautiful. Comprised of little traffic and small Vietnamese fields, we couldn’t complain about the beginning of our journey. The last 3 hours of our ride were a bit hectic, but we expected that as we were entering the capital city of Vietnam. Only clipping one motorcycle and almost hitting a local woman, we made it successfully to Hanoi. The bike trip had ended and I couldn’t had been happier to know I never had to sit on my bike again. Of course, the entire bike trip was a blast. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it, but a month and a half on a barely functioning motorcycle, whose seat was half the size of my ass was about enough for me.
Once in Hanoi, our main objective was to get the bikes sold as soon as possible. This was made difficult due to the fact that the Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi motorcycle trip was much more popular than the North to South route. Too much supply, not enough demand. By the grace of God we lucked out and had 4 people in our hostel room who wanted to buy 3 bikes. 2 of the soon to be bike owners were from the UK and 2 were from the States. They were making the trip south and decided last minute that they wanted to bike through. Which, I would still recommend to anyone traveling through Vietnam. Although, I may complain and be dramatic in these posts, I would not change a thing during our time in Vietnam. We taught our new friends how to ride the bikes as none of them knew how to drive manuals. I set them off for their 3 AM departure time and just like that, our bikes were sold to new owners. The experience of selling bikes isn’t usually this easy for other travelers. For some, it takes over 3 days to sell their bikes. Others end up selling them to a mechanic for under $100 because they had a flight already booked and needed to leave. We sold the bikes for exactly what we bought them for, $200. The only cost to us was gas, oil, and maintenance which came out somewhere between $150 – $200 per person. In the whole realm of things, this was not too much of a financial burden. For free access to an entire country, I can’t think of a cheaper way to do it.
Aside from selling the bikes, the 4 days in Hanoi were spent eating, sightseeing, and hanging out. One day was essentially dedicated to Ho Chi Minh and wandering his mausoleum, house, and museum. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was our first stop and was one of the best free tourist attraction I have ever been to. After waiting in line for 20 minutes, we were let in as a procession of tourist through the mausoleum. Caked with security, no one was going to take a photo in the mausoleum. Enclosed in a glass casket, Ho Chi Mins body was laying down in the center of a granite room. The wall behind the tomb was comprised of a red stone wall with a hammer and sickle and the Vietnamese star in yellow rock. You got a very communist vibe from this place but it was peaceful all the same. Ho Chi Minh himself looked like a sleeping old man. The only thing that led you to believe he wasn’t sleeping was the inch to half inch gap between the palms of his hands and his thighs where the rigamortis has set in. We processed thought the mausoleum and continued towards Ho Chi Minh’s house and the place he ruled during his time as the leader of Vietnam. We visited his garage which, to no surprise as full of Russian and vehicles gifted to him from the Soviet Union. After this we wandered through the Ho Chi Minh museum. The architecture and artwork in this museum were the highlights. The museum was very modern and used modern art to help symbolize various portions of Vietnamese history during Ho Chi Minh’s rule. The museum was full of elementary ages school kids. Excited to see white tourists we were greeted by one bold student who said “hello”. After we said “hello” back the entire group of 30 plus students erupted with many hellos until the entire museum echoed with little Vietnamese children yelling “hello”. The only other tourist attraction we visited was the Hoa Lo Prison. Also known and the Hanoi Hilton, this prison was used to house American Prisoners during the Vietnam War. The main emphasis of this prison was how it was used by the French during their rule over the Vietnamese. However, there was one section dedicated to its uses during the Vietnam War. In this section they had John McCain’s flight suit he was wearing when he crashed on display as well, as well as some other artifacts. They also made it abundantly clear that no Americans were mistreated during their imprisonment here. Photos of prisoners cooking Christmas dinner, playing volleyball and basketball, and smiling filled the exhibit. Obviously, there is a minor difference between Americans and the Vietnamese regarding their views on this prison. Anyhow, it was interesting to see the place and the Vietnamese opinions on it. I have included a photo of the introduction plaque included at the museum. Give it a little read, and you will have a general feel of the vibe the Vietnamese tried to give off about their containment of American soldiers. Aside from this the rest of our time in Hanoi was spent eating and drinking. We tried to live up the free beer and amazing food. Our next stop is Cambodia for 9 days then off to Thailand!