February 18, 2016

Exploring Vietnam By Bicycle And Kayak

Words : Jodi Regan
Photos : Zach Davis

Exploring Vietnam By Bicycle

In Vietnam, bicycles are more common than cars. Maybe it’s the fact that they need to be able to skirt down alleyways, or maybe it’s that bikes are more cost effective than cars. Either way, to capture this place without documenting bicycles wouldn’t do it any justice. To give justice to a city, to its people, is an important part of traveling for us. Voluntarily surrendering control of how we take in and process a place matters, which is why when we travel, we get lost intentionally.

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There was this moment in Hanoi, Vietnam when we had wandered down an alley and the winding nature of the alley confused our senses of direction. We were about to give up and retrace our steps when an older man gestured towards us to follow him. We weaved deeper into the maze of alleyways narrowing before us, and then, seemingly out of nowhere the man stopped, pointed in a direction and smiled. (I should note that the direction the man pointed in was definitely a dead end.) Not wanting to insult him, we followed his finger and saw the tiniest gap between buildings. After a few more twists the alley suddenly widened and we were in the middle of a busy intersection.

We had ourselves a treasure hunt. I was twelve again, so utterly gleeful at finding this hidden path. Zach and I smiled at each other, and then joined the fray, dodging in and out of traffic in search of a bite to eat.

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We’re used to space – wide aisles and wide roads. Alleys are typically the routes we avoid. But in Vietnam, the alleys are where life happens – where you grab groceries, where you find your barber or your lunch. They host a bevy of businesses, coffee shops, and boutiques. As a tourist, it’s easy to keep to better lit thoroughfares, but if you want an authentic experience of Vietnam, you have to embrace the alleys on a bicycle.

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Exploring Vietnam By Kayak

It was just before 7am when we hopped in wobbly kayaks and made our way through the islands of Halong Bay, pushing water out of the way and the thought of sleeping out from our minds.

A UNESCO Heritage Site, Halong Bay sits east of Hanoi off the coastal town by the same name. Winding through the grottos and islands as the sun fought its way over the misty horizon, we set our own paths as if we were discovering the place for the first time.

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In order to see Ha Long Bay, to travel in and around its islets, and to hike its caves, you need to hop on a boat. We hopped on a bit of a larger one, which would carry us around the bay for two days. We ended up meeting a couple from the Netherlands who were using money from WWOOF-ing in Australia to fund their Southeast Asian adventures. They dreamed of one day owning a coffee shop in the town they grew up in and we swapped stories our first night, sharing our favorite spots we’ve found, snafus we’ve gotten ourselves into around the world, and the community you meet when you travel for long stretches.

The next morning we all woke up early on the boat and jumped into kayaks to explore a little more recklessly and more closely these huge rock formations and the islets that make up Ha Long Bay. For a couple of hours we meandered through the water, listening to the birds and the sounds of the waves lapping up the sides of the kayak. We made our own path and took turns paddling so that every so often we could each bask in the sunlight and take in the smells of the ocean.

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