My navigation software let no doubts. We would arrive in Hanoi not at noon but at three o’clock in the morning. But somehow you can always go on in Vietnam and so, I could choose between five different scooter taxis even at that time. We rode through the foggy streets, passing by motorcycles loaded with freshly slaughtered pigs, fruits and flowers.
Compared to Saigon, Hanoi seems almost placid. The roads are always very full there, too, but the houses are smaller and lower. I spent a week in a twelve-bed dorm and I absolutely cannot recommend it. In the end, my strategy was to stay awake until four o’clock in the morning and to use the morning to sleep when the dorm was almost empty.
The most important thing I discovered in the city was a bridge over the Red River. It was built by the French in 1902 completely out of riveted steel. In this one week I went there seven times. In the morning, evening, at noon and at four o’clock in the morning. Around it, something was always going on and the light was always worth watching.
I met my parents in Hanoi and we travelled from north to south through the country and back to Saigon. The first destination was Halong Bay, a karst scenery made up of 2000 limestone islands rising out of the sea up to sixty kilometres away from the coastline. It is one of the main tourist-destinations in Vietnam and in the main season, about three thousand tourists visit it by pleasure boats. In February, the bay was attended only by a fraction of that and carried a melancholic-gloomy drizzle, gorgeous.
In the very south of Vietnam is the Mekong delta. We got just three days to visit this nearly endless garden. The whole delta is about 3900 square kilometres wide and enables the farmers there to harvest sixteen million tons of rice in three harvests per year. The structure of the landscape around the city of Vinh Long reminds of an endless allotment garden settlement, containing a lot of small gardens.
Back in Saigon I got back on the saddle and went on to Cambodia, the country I heard the most controversial stories about before. They ranged from “best country to travel in the world” to “a horrific place full of traumatised citizens, violence, drugs and corruption”. I expected to find the truth somewhere in between. So I put the new outer tyres on my bike and hit the pedals at six o’clock in the morning. The traffic was just waking up and its first wave floated me out of the centre to the countryside within four hours.