17 October 2013

Vietnam, Part 1: Hey there, Hanoi! I Love You!

I arrived in Hanoi on Saturday afternoon around 1pm. Even though I purchased my Visa online, I still had a good long wait at the airport before I was cleared to enter the country. This--of course--after I had waited in the wrong line for a good thirty minutes. Once cleared, I made my way to baggage claim where I found a young man waiting for me with a sign that read LINDSAY BAILEY. He drove me to the Golden Silk Hotel, right in the heart of downtown Hanoi.

One of the sights I found most intriguing upon arriving in Hanoi were the pop-up haircut stalls. On one street that we drove down, every 5 meters or so, there was a chair and a barber. A mirror hung squarely on the wall or gate in front of the chair. Barbers were seen giving straight razor shaves and haircuts. Hair puddling up around their chair legs. These barbers had it organized so well that if the weather hinted at rain, they could basically fold everything up into a little case, grab the mirror and go. (Sadly I don't have any photos of this, but I do have a drawing which will be posted at a later date.)

Once I got to my hotel, I realized just how many scooters were around me. Scooters, mopeds, motorbikes. Crossing the street was like playing Frogger. Only I was the frog, trying not to get hit. The trick--I realized--was to stay confident in your stride and just walk. The people on their bikes will look out for you. The traffic and driving is incredible, though, and should be experienced firsthand. There is no one way to do things, so people turn right from left lanes, back up in intersections, and pull out into oncoming traffic. I find it exciting and boisterous! But apparently close to 30 people die a day in Hanoi due to traffic accidents . . . 

Once I got inside of my hotel, I checked-in and was immediately swept up to the 11th floor where I had previously booked a half-day of spa treatments: a facial, a massage, a sugar/salt scrub, and a pedicure. By the time I got back to my room, it was time for me to go to bed and get ready for my big bike ride tomorrow.  No dinner, no replenishing of fluids after releasing all of my toxins. Foreshadowing.

I ended up waking up around 5:30am. This proved to be a great idea because I had no clue when my bike guide was coming to pick me up. So I packed and prepared everything: dividing up what I was going to take with me into my backpack and what I was going to leave with hotel in my suitcase. I got a call at 7:58am that my guide, Tony, was here and it was time to go. No breakfast, no water. Foreshadowing.

Once in the van that was waiting for me outside, I was introduced to two fabulous guys: Jeremy and Jeff. They were friends from high school, meeting up for a quick jaunt in Hanoi. Jeremy flew in from India and was only riding with us until lunchtime. Jeff was from North Carolina and joining me on the entire adventure.

Our goal was to ride 60k before lunch. The ride was easy, flat. We had to traverse through traffic a few times, but for most of the ride we were just on a cement path that went through miles and miles of pastureland: cows and water buffalo sharing the path with us. It was a new and exploratory way for me to see a country. I quite liked it!

At about the 45k mark, my body gave up. It was blisteringly hot outside, easily over 100 degrees. Not a cloud in the sky, the sun was beating down on us. My head was pounding: seemingly beating to the sound of "no water, no food, no water, no food". Then my stomach started getting really nauseous. I got off of my bike and began to feel slightly delirious. I started walking around and couldn't shake how I was feeling. Tony and Jeff had traveled ahead, but Jeremy got off of his bike and started walking with me. We began looking for shade for me to sit under, but there was none. Just miles and miles of green pasture. This was it, I kept thinking. This was how I was going to go: in Vietnam, walking along a path. Nothing exciting, just a heat stroke. No way, man!! Hells no!

A couple of ladies had ridden past us on a scooter, they got off of their scooter, climbed up to the road and tried to help. But neither of us spoke the same language. So they squeezed our tires a few times and when I pointed to my stomach, they just kind of looked blankly at us. A guy rode by on his motorcycle and Jeremy tried to convince him to give me a ride. When that didn't work out, Jeremy called Jeff and asked them to bring around the van. Ugh, I felt awful. Physically I thought I was going to die. But I also felt bad because I was now holding up these two great guys during their vacation time. Especially Jeremy because he flew all of the way from India to see Jeff for less than 24 hours, of which he was now spending time making sure I didn't die in Vietnam. Goodness! You could tell from the draining color in my skin that I was about to go down, so it was a good thing that we stopped.

I started drinking water like a fiend once I hopped in the van. Tony took us to this tourist joint to eat. I sufficiently replenished my fluids by sucking down a giant coconut water. I followed that up with several more bottles of water and some not-so-tasty morsels of Chinese food. Jeremy took off to the airport, and it was now time for Jeff and I to begin the second leg of our adventure . . . 

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