October 23rd: Hanoi, Vietnam
We didn’t waste any time once we landed in Hanoi to start our administrative tasks for our Southeast Asia motorbike trip.
- Get Laos visa
- Eat (this should have been first!!)
- Buy motorbike
Our first stop was the Laos Embassy to acquire our visas as we anticipated the wait for them to be a few days, but it was only a few hours; luckily they had some pamphlets on Laos that we perused to pass the time. We exited the embassy, visa in hand, but were starved, so a Bahn Mi was in order. Luck should have it that we were able to find a shop with half-priced Bahn Mi for a whopping 15000 VND ( ~65 cents) per sandwich. Needless to say, we had 2 each!
Stomachs fully satisfied, we went to Phung Motorbikes where we spoke with the owner about purchasing some motorbikes. Phung, a nice middle-aged Vietnamese man, spoke great English and quickly recommended that we buy some “cheap cheap” bikes based on our pending trip; two Yamaha Nouvos for $220 each. We arranged to meet him in the morning at the warehouse to check them out and browse the other bikes he had for sale.
October 24th: Hanoi, Vietnam
At the warehouse, the 2 Yamahas were prepped outside for us when we arrived, complete with a luggage rack and phone holder, but as we test drove them, Ben’s was less than ideal. We took a look around the warehouse to see if there were any other options that suited the price point and need for our trip.
That’s when Ben found Tofu… but that was before we named him (**foreshadowing**). Ben took Tofu for a test drive and was gone a bit longer than expected. As I walked outside I witnessed Ben walking the bike back towards the shop; he’d run out of gas. That really should have been the first sign of everything to come, but after a quick top off from Phung, Ben cruised around some more before deciding that this was ‘the one’. As Vietnamese millionaires, we exchanged our 5,600,000 Vietnamese Dong for the motorbikes. During the transaction, Phung sat us down at a small plastic table and poured us all a cup of tea. We were now the proud owners of two beautiful motorbikes!
It was time for our adventure! As the proud new owner, I swung my leg over the motorbike, but in doing so busted my shin bone on a small corner of the rusted metal rack. A giant bulge the size of a small grape swelled at the bottom of the 2 inch cut within seconds; thank goodness for my Tetanus booster! With this cut, my bike was dubbed Destroyer (thanks Trisha for the name!). Of course, I frantically texted several doctor friends and Ben’s youngest brother, Jordan, (future doctor) to see if my shin bone was fractured, because it throbbed semi-painfully as I walked. It was determined that I’d be fine, but to wrap it up and monitor the wound.
Estimated time of arrival was 4 pm in Halong City, which would have been perfect timing to meet up with Mik and Avery (our friends from back home), but the adventure is never dull.
We quickly learned that google maps showed the routes that cars can take, but not motorbikes (ignore the motorbike icon – you’ll learn about this later). Only certain highways allow motorbikes to ride on them, so a few detours later and some google searches rendered us a new route that would set us back another hour.
Nightfall quickly snuck up on us and we were determined to make it to Halong as I was craving the company of friends. Remember how Ben’s bike is named Tofu? Well, this was Tofu’s first crumble – the headlights just stopped working and obviously, they’re quite necessary in the dark. We stopped at a mechanic (luckily there’s many in Vietnam – WONDER WHY?!) who replaced the front light as I got gauze from the pharmacy next door. No sooner did we drive away, the light ceased again; we redirected ourselves back to the shop where they changed the bulb again, but then they started to take off the bike cover. Might I mention that the mechanics cannot speak English so we are communicating with them via Google translate (praise the Lord for you Google!) and hand signals. Ben frantically typed into Google translate, “what you trying to replace?”, only to learn they are trying to replace a piece called a…
Laughter ensued by us as the poor Vietnamese kid just looked at us confused, but $25 later, we were back on the bikes with Tofu’s headlight working great this time.
Celebration wasn’t in order just yet; an hour later, Ben noticed a strange noise anytime he squeezed the brake, so we stopped. As we inspected Ben’s bike, we soon realized that the caliper for the brake was missing a bolt (the SECOND crumble). Awesome! With no mechanic shop in sight and the street looking like a ghost town, we tried to see what items we could repurpose to MacGyver the caliper back onto the bike. Just as we were searching around, an older Vietnamese man (let’s call him Gus) who spoke 0 English and a young child (I assume to be his grandson) stopped as they were passing on a motorbike. He spoke to us in Vietnamese, I understood none of it, but we pointed at the missing bolt, accordingly he motioned for me to follow him. Ben continued to figure out a way to fix the bike and I followed this gentleman by foot to a house a few minute’s walk away. Gus started shouting (in Vietnamese) through a shop’s doors, but there was no answer. He then guided me behind the house, which was on a parallel street, and we saw a man upstairs with only his shorts on. Gus shouted through the man’s front doors and he trotted down the stairs to meet us. You could tell his face was so baffled by the sight of me, and I am sure somewhat disgruntled he was disturbed, but he kindly pointed to another door a bit down the street. I thanked him in Vietnamese and then followed Gus down the road to the next shop. And just like that, typical Gus shouted again through the gate of a closed mechanic’s shop until a young guy came out to greet us. They discussed matters (in Vietnamese) as I stood there, nodded, and smiled. Pointing ensues as the mechanic (let’s call him Joe) motioned for me to bring the bike to his shop.
Gus and I walked back to Ben, where he had fashioned some metal around the spot where the bolt should have been. Gus spoke to us in what I can only assume was to follow him back to the shop. The three of us rode our bikes to the shop and Joe greeted us at the front of the garage. As we arrived, Gus spoke to Joe and subsequently waved goodbye to us all. Joe’s father(?) set out two chairs for us to sit in as we waited on Tofu to be repaired. Joe rifled through a box of used bolts trying to fit it into the spot on the bike. Eventually, he installed a bolt into the bike and we grabbed our wallet to pay him. He then said, “No, No cash”. We tried to pay him again, but he just shook his head and hand. Ben and I looked at each other apprehensively since this man had kindly opened his shop after hours and fixed our bike! Between Gus and Joe, it was such a heartwarming experience; helping two stranded foreigners without being able to verbally communicate with us. It was one of those moment you just think, wow, there are great people in this world! I couldn’t help but smile the rest of the ride to Halong City.
We arrived quite delayed to our estimated time we’d told Mik and co, but we were safe and sound, and ready to eat! It was great to be reunited with these two and of course, they knew the best place to satiate our hunger!
Don’t worry, there’s more where this came from. Stay tuned for more Motorbike Diaries with Benya and thanks for following along on our (mis)adventures!