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Vietnam - Motorbike Capital of the World

Explore's John Farrugia recently headed out on an adventure to Vietnam and here he shares his most memorable moments.

"I read in a magazine that there are around 100 motorbikes for every car in Hanoi and I completely believe it. It’s all about the motorbike in Vietnam. Mix that with some bicycles, a few pedestrians and very few cars and you have lots to photograph. Not only are there hundreds stopped at each red traffic light, they are everywhere, they went everywhere and they would slide into the smallest places imaginable. You look one way and see motorbikes as far as the eye can see, the other way is the same, there is no break in the traffic. 

There are no crossings for pedestrians, it really appears as if there are no rules at all.

Crossing the road was an experience and the best advice I received was to simply walk slowly and take deliberate steps. Whatever you do, don’t try to anticipate the traffic direction/moves; just look at your destination and watch each way with peripheral vision; if done correctly, the motorbikes will avoid you. 

You may think that not having a car would limit you. How in the world would you transport things, let alone your family? No problem here; it’s easy to fit a family of four or five on a motorbike. I saw young babies cradled by their mother sat on the back with a young child sat (sometimes stood) at the front holding on to the steering. I had fun taking pictures of all the various items transported, as they would stack things up to five foot high on the back and take off. I saw tables, chickens, TVs, panes of glass, sacks of rice ... the list can go on and on - nothing ceased to amaze me.

A four-hour bus ride from Hanoi took us to Halong Bay, where we embarked on an overnight junk-boat cruise. This is certainly one of those ‘once in a lifetime experiences’ that would be criminal not to include on your Vietnam holiday. I went in February when it was a little cooler and thousands of mini-islands covered by a light mist made the whole experience even more mystical. We cruised out into the bay; beautiful green water with giant limestone islands everywhere. 

The accommodation and food on the boat completely exceeded expectations. We sat down to a lunch of beef and papaya salad, clams with lemongrass and other tasty items. In the evening, there was a mini cooking class where we learned how to make crispy spring rolls. Afterwards we went squid fishing off the back of the boat. I’m not much of a fisherman, but I caught the only squid of the night!

From Hanoi we had an hour's flight to Da Nang, the closest airport to Hoi An and a 30-minute drive away. The city of Hoi An is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sitting beside the Thu Bon River, the city has managed to retain the graceful charm of its past, while avoiding the frantic traffic that one finds elsewhere in Vietnam. Here you can walk the streets without fear of being knocked over. The name Hoi An means “peaceful meeting place” and nothing could be more apt for this quietly elegant town which seems almost dozy after the wild streets of Hanoi.

Hoi An was my favourite destination in Vietnam. I loved spending time by the river, watching the sunset, and drinking an inexpensive beer or two. The town is packed with picturesque historical homes, pagodas and street-side cafes. There are many reasons to visit including the international influences left over from years gone by, the Japanese-covered bridge, the nearby temple site of My Son and of course the tailors. Having a garment tailor-made in Hoi An is an experience not to miss in Vietnam. Tailor-made suits, shirts, blouses and skirts are all available at very reasonable prices.

Did I find what I was looking for in Vietnam? Yes, and more."

John travelled on Vietnam and Angkor in comfort.

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