A crazy idea
We want to travel to Vietnam by bike! And preferably from Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, in the very south of Vietnam, to the capital Hanoi. But: How do we get bicycles and all the equipment? What do we do with our luggage and Sebastian's guitar? Can it work so spontaneously?
"Sure, many people travel by bike through Vietnam", our couchsurfing host Hanh explains during the dinner. "Really?" This is new to us. "Yes, they buy a bike in Ho-Chi-Minh-City and sell it again somewhere in the north." That sounds great, that's how we imagined it. “And fuel stations are everywhere, so no need to plan too much.” Wait a minute, gas stations? For a bike? "So, we want to travel by bicycle ...", we clarify again, "not with a motorbike." Hanh's eyes widen. "By bicycle?" He circles his fists around an imaginary wheel axis. We nod. "Are you crazy? That's 1,700km! Pretty far. "We laugh. "Hmm, how to organize a trip with bicycles ... I have no idea."
Our internet research has just revealed three travel blogs, on which people report about a bicycle trip through Vietnam. All items are a bit older. And everyone had already brought their bicycles to Vietnam.
So how do you go about this? We did it well again, because in our days in Ho Chi Minh City we can live with Dung, her husband Hanh and daughter Sâu. We got to know the three through the Couchsurfing platform. Dung and Hanh as locals know some bike shops and give us their contact details. And Facebook also proves to be helpful, because in relevant groups we get more information about local bike shops.
Looking for suitable bikes
The next day we go to three bike shops: Shop 1 sells bicycles from China . They are cheap, but heavy and all are city bikes. There are no trekking or mountain bikes on offer. Store 2 is run by a Canadian and appears to specialize in foreigners living in Ho Chi Minh City. We try a mountain bike. It is light, appears stable and at first glance looks quite suitable. But how should we transport our luggage without a luggage rack? The seller immediately comes up with an elegant variant with panniers attached to the frame, but these already cost several hundred euros. The bike itself is not a bargain either.
In shop 3 we are presented with two used bikes: a mountain bike and a trekking bike. We had thought of exactly that. The two have a few quirks and scratches, but look good so far. We test it and immediately feel good. Nevertheless, we don't want to commit ourselves directly on the first day of our search and promise to come back tomorrow.
"And, did you get two bikes?", Dung and Hanh greet us when we get back home. "No, not yet." They are surprised that we have not yet found what we are looking for, because there is so much choice in Ho Chi Minh City. But we have certain demands on our bikes and don't want to buy the first best. That makes sense to them.
Today is Hanh's birthday and when we walk up the stairs we notice the many voices. "Please, come!" Hanh waves to us. We follow him and stand in a cluster of small children. Hanh turns thirty today and like him, all of his friends already have at least one child. "Come, sit here." Outside on the terrace, the men have gathered. They sit cross-legged on the stone floor, in the middle stands bowl to bowl. I see rice, meat, shrimps, various vegetables and tofu. We are served plates and soon we will eat happily.
"How long are you already in Vietnam?" Asks one of the friends. "Since yesterday," Sebastian replies to him. “Since yesterday? Where did you learn to eat with chopsticks? ”, He looks at us in amazement. We have to laugh, because chopsticks are not only eaten in Vietnam. We briefly tell of our trip and that we have perfected our ability to eat with chopsticks since China, because there was nothing else for us to do because of the lack of other cutlery. He nods understandingly.
The conversation ripples in Vietnamese, only one of the friends seems to speak English. But with every beer can the otherwise so quiet Hanh becomes more talkative and on this evening he seems to outgrow himself. He talks to us in English like a waterfall, we will never hear him speak that much again in the coming days ...
We have bicycles!
The next day we continue our search for bicycles, but the two used ones from yesterday are in our heads. Since we can not find what we are looking for in other stores, we visit Shop 3 from yesterday again. Owner Thai finally makes the decision easy for us: We buy the bikes from him, but he guarantees us to buy them back if we don't find another buyer at the end of the tour. Of course, we won't get the full purchase price back with this arrangement, but we would have to pay for our transport to the north without bicycles. So we agree. Thai promises us to check the bikes again, tomorrow morning we can pick them up.
The next day we are in Thai business early. In addition to the bikes, he also equips us with a used small double saddlebag. In addition, we purchase an air pump, two spare coats, a repair kit, front and rear lights, 4 plastic drinking bottles, a cell phone pocket for the top tube, two padded bike pants and two helmets. Thai immediately gave us two sports T-shirts with the logo of his shop, which we can use very well.
Now it's getting serious. We nervously sit on our bikes that are suddenly ours . We have bicycles! And unfortunately, the first thing we have to do now is a four-kilometer drive through the terrible city traffic of Ho Chi Minh City. All major cities in Asia have a more or less chaotic traffic, but Ho Chi Minh City tops everything we saw before. Millions of scooters drive through the streets, every inch of space is used. Sebastian uses the map app on his cell phone to guide us through the crowded streets, honking and blaring everywhere next to us. After all, I can't lose sight of Sebastian, because his saddle starts at the level of the shoulders of the scooter riders and he practically hovers over the crowd.
After the first cramped drive through the chaos, I slowly relax. Although we are surrounded by hundreds of scooters that move around us like a rolling sea, the traffic seems to be working. Nobody drives really fast and we keep up well with our bikes. The traffic flows and everything dodges, slows down, honks, drives a little faster or dodges again. Anyway, it works. A feeling of triumph spreads inside me, I'm full of adrenaline. When I feel almost too safe, Sebastian suddenly brakes and I have to avoid sharply so as not to hit him in the back. Some scooter driver just drove from the sidewalk to the full street without looking.
Finally we are standing in front of Dung's house, both trembling, excited and high. It was by far the most blatant bike ride of my whole life. I have never had to drive down to the last fiber. It was fun. And still I'm glad that we made it for today.
We push the bikes to Dungs drugstore, where they sell all kinds of beauty products. Since her apartment starts just behind the small shop, we roll her across the store to get to the stairwell of her home.
"You got bikes!" Dung and Hanh come towards us and are thrilled. Together we examine the bikes and the purchased accessories.
The next morning we contact Quýnh. We met her in Osh, Kyrgyzstan a year ago, when she was kind enough to take us a few hundred kilometers in her rented car. We didn't expect to see her again, but now we remember that she lives in Hanoi. “Questions don't cost anything,” we think to ourselves, and write them down. Would we be able to send our backpacks and Sebastian's guitar to her by post? Because we want to explore Vietnam with two bicycles and we cannot possibly take all our luggage with us. Your answer is not long in coming. "No problem, send your stuff to my address!", She writes to us. Class!
The next day just flies past us: We have to organize packaging for Sebastian's guitar, because the transport company doesn't take it in a thin bag. We are lucky in a guitar shop and are given a discarded guitar cardboard box, which we will later stuff with old styrofoam from Dung's stock. We decide to buy two other sports t-shirts because black is not the ideal color for a bike tour in the Vietnamese sun and they also do not fit us properly. We give her dung, which she is happy to take over.
In the evening we start packing. We have a small two-part saddlebag, everyone should be entitled to one side. In our room our rucksacks "exploded", there are heaps everywhere. There is a bunch of "yes, I have to", "no, stay here" and "no idea". My bunch "Yes, I have to" is clearly too big. With Sebastian it doesn't look any better. No chance, we will never get our luggage together in such a tiny saddlebag, even if we muck out so well. We have to buy one more.
Our last evening in Ho Chi Minh City came quickly. We felt so comfortable with manure, hanh and sâu that we cook spaghetti with vegetable and tomato sauce as a thank you and goodbye. Will you like it? As a little amusement we want to show them how we eat spaghetti in Germany: with a fork and spoon. The problem with the project, however, is that we can only find three metal forks in the kitchen, otherwise there are only tiny plastic pieces. There are no more in the house. No matter that will be fine.
While Hanh's mother, who is visiting, and the housekeeper quickly switch to the usual chopsticks, little Sâu in particular has a lot of fun eating the spaghetti with a fork. Everyone seems to like it, it is even taken care of. We are glad!
We lie nervously in bed in the evening. It should start tomorrow. Have we thought of everything?
The next morning we get up early, have a quick breakfast, and drive to store 1, which is nearby. The seller had shown us saddlebags several days ago, the same ones that we finally bought at Shop 3. Fortunately, he still has exactly one in stock. We also stock up with new drinking bottles, because the first ones we bought smell like plastic despite being washed several times.
Back home we repack everything, we finally get our luggage under. We are loading our bicycles, the handles are not yet in place. When everything is finally fixed and we actually want to go, our stomachs report. It's 12 o'clock, we're hungry. Great. How lucky that the housekeeper cooked for us and that together with Dung, Hanh and Sâu we were allowed to eat a delicious Vietnamese noodle dish for the last time.
We are ready to go at 2 p.m., hours later than we had hoped. Dung hands me the Vietnam emergency question that we wrote yesterday. One last photo session, finally we push the bikes onto the street. Not only are Dung, Hanh and Sâu standing on the sidewalk, Hanh's mother and housekeeper are also watching, the seller from Dung's beauty shop and the street vendor we have always greeted the past few days. "Where to?" He asks Dung with a look at us. "Hanoi!" We understand and the old man nods approvingly and shows his thumbs up.
"So, come on now!" Sebastian gets impatient. I push my packed bike onto the street, swing my leg over the saddle and put my right foot on the pedal. "Bye Bye! Thank you so much for everything! ”We wave to Dung, Hanh and Sâu. And then we set off, excited and a bit nervous about how this first long bike tour of our life will be.