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Vietnam: Coffee and beyond

I was searching for a cycling trip, and as ever, my focus was on my favorite destination, Europe. But by the time I decided and finally made up my mind, it was already winters, and Europe was ruled out.

The extensive search began again for the best countries to travel in December. None other than south-east Asian countries reflected in my search.

My cycling friends suggested doing Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam.

And I was back in my exhaustive search. 

I was mailing to cycling touring companies, getting the best tour deals, searching for best deals on flights, AirBnB options, checking on reviews, bike hire, planning an itinerary. Phew! I was exhausted.

But finally, the plan was laid we were set of our trip, cycling in Vietnam

Excited as we board the flight

Day 1

With fewer flight options, we took a flight to Hanoi via Kolkata from Mumbai.

No one knew what was in store. Not even me, even though I had planned for the entire trip.

We reached Hanoi in the eve, and after a little glitch in coordinating with the pickup guy(as language was an issue), we were heading towards our stay.

We reached the small bylane, and our host leads us to our apartment.

With our host Thang

All the hotels and buildings in and around our stay were more vertical than horizontal, same as Hongkong. Our apartment had two rooms on each floor with three stories and a swirled staircase. We all captured one place each, luxury of staying in a condo than a hotel.

After a quick freshening up, we were out in search of food and beer. As we were walking around the street, we realized that we were staying in the central city, and we had lots of eating and drinking options.

The cosy Czech Bar
Happiness is BEER

We spotted a Czech bar and headed straight in without wasting much time.

Day 2

According to figures by the Ministry of Transport, there are 45 million registered motorcycles. For a country with a population of 96 million, that’s close to one bike for every two people. Hence our guide,Tom suggested we move out of the town and then start the ride.

All set for the ride

We reached our ride venue, assembled and checked our bikes, and were all set. The weather was terrific, and we traversed through beautiful small villages, rough patches, dirt roads, canopied trails, and places where you’ll not find tourists. We loved it. It was just our group that was riding on those beautiful trails.

We crossed Nin Bingh, did not go for the caves ride because it takes three hours for the tour, and we were running short on time. The ride around the mountains was breath-taking: beautiful, serene, and no traffic. 

Nin Bingh
All geared up

We carefully saw the banana and pineapple plantation.

Pineapple plantation

After a great riding day, we packed our bikes and cushioned ourselves in the van to ride back.

Day 3

We were up early and about for another riding day. Today we were to start our ride from the city and then move to the outskirts. While crossing the road, our guide was pretty impressed by our ability to crisscross the streets, after all, Mumbai traffic has taught us all!

We picked up the bikes from the cycle store and started our ride. We rode past the narrowest bridge I have ever seen, explicitly meant for two-wheelers. It rumbled, shook, and rattled as if it’ll breakdown any moment. I held my breath all through until I crossed it.

Resting after lots of Orange stealing from the farm
Crowded streets of Hanoi

We then rode across the periphery of the city, crossing the cabbage fields, talking to farmers (google translate came handy here), flower fields, stopping now and then for clicks or just soak in the beauty around. Weather played a significant role in making the ride favorable.

Sunflower fields behind
Chor chor.. Oranges Chor !!

Another fantastic riding day, and we were back with all smiles.

This eve we also went for a little stroll and watched the water puppet show. It’s just a 45mins show, and the artists clad in traditional dresses, playing traditional musical instruments narrate different scenes which are common in Vietnamese culture. Go for this show ONLY to experience the music. I booked the tickets in dance via Viator; you can choose your preferred timing and seating. Opt for the first row if possible to get you a clear and uninterrupted view.

Chilling at the night market after the water puppet show

We then chose to sit on the rooftop café and sip our coffees and also roam around the night market. The place was vibrant and lively. We loved the vibes around and spent almost entire eve here.

Day 4

It was a day to fly to a close-by island. We packed our backpack (as Veitjet Air allows only 7 kgs of handbag and you pay for everything else – that’s how low-cost airlines work) and headed to the airport. There are very few domestic airlines that fly between the islands; also, they are very poorly schedules and unorganized.

Off to Hoi An

But we had no choice, and with few glitches, we landed in HoiAn. Our host was excellent and very prompt in communication, and she also arranged a vehicle for the pick up at the airport. We enjoyed all these luxuries because Vietnam is not an expensive country to travel, and we were paying bills like a multi-millionaire in lakhs and billions. Uh, la la !

Our apartment was a beautiful two-floor bungalow and all to ourselves. While searching for lunch, we landed at a beachside restaurant with a breath-taking view. Vast, beautiful sea with lovely breeze made the environment all the more soothing. We had a heartfelt meal and were not at all keen to go anywhere else but just plonk ourselves on the couch.

The food and drinks- that’s all !
The beautiful sea

We somehow forced ourselves and landed on the cycle seats. We decided to explore the night and lantern market that day. It was a beautifully lit market with well-placed shops and neat lanes. 

I would suggest visiting the night market at HoiAn than Hanoi. 

Lantern Market- Hoi An

After exploring almost every lane and tasting the food and drinks, we rode back to our apartment.

It was a beautiful eve as we sat and chatted for a very long time and ended the day with a great spa.

Another amazing day 

Day 5

We took the day easy as the weather also demanded the same. We went for a stroll by the beach and had a sumptuous breakfast cooked at the apartment. We then got on to our bikes and, after a little discussion, decided to head towards the pottery village and coconut village. Knowing nothing about the route, we started riding. Our google map showed coconut village closeby, so we obeyed every direction instruction.

Cafe enroute coconut village

While on the way to the coconut village we saw a beautiful café and we stopped there to have a coffee. We chatted with the host and sipped our coffees. We then continued our ride in search of the coconut village. A lady midway guided us to the village, and we were there within no time. We hopped on the round boat and went an hour-long ride. The experience was terrific. A must-do when I Hoi An.

Making friends on the way

We had our lunch, which was the toughest part for me. Myself being the only vegetarian in the group found it challenging to remove chicken from the chicken fried rice and eat, but I had to as there was no other option. That’s how travel makes you learn and adjust to all types of situations.

Here and there, somewhere
Pottery Village

We strolled all through the town and were back to our apartment by evening to board the flight back to Hanoi.

Day 6

Cheers to not just one but many more rides to come

We planned for a short ride around the town but visited the local cycling shops instead. After a hitch start as there was an ATM fiasco that took time to get sorted, I left the situation as it is and headed for our destination. Another learning, struggle until you can else leave the issue and move ahead. We then walked around local markets and shops until it was time to leave for the airport.

The beautiful, mesmerizing, filled with laughter, secrets revealed, countless beers and so much chatter in this trip.

Our last lapse of the trip was here.

Day 7

Back to base

Back to the pavilion and reality.

Must do when in Vietnam:

  • You can land at Hanoi or HoChiMinh city; both are crowded and chaotic
  • Don’t expect clean and organized lanes. You’ll have a Bangkok and Mumbai feeling there
  • Do use google translate, and it helps a lot
  • People are amicable, sit with them, and talk. It’s a beautiful experience 
  • Leave the central city as soon as possible (if you are keen for main tourist attraction then visit water puppet show, night market and center of the town)
  • Look out for experience tours where they take you to local villages showing you the essence of a country. You can opt for walking or biking tours
  • Cave boat ride to Nin Bingh 
  • Halong Bay Cruise
  • Try egg coffee, coconut coffee and even other flavors of Vietnamese coffee
  • Eat local food, also if you are vegetarian like me do try the regional cuisines
  • Two days at each place is more than enough
  • You can club Myanmar and Combodia too
  • Check for hot air balloons over golden pagodas in Maynamaar
  • Hoi An has lots of high-end hotels as well so if you are keen for luxury can check those too
  • Shopping, eating is very cheap there so look out for pieces of stuff made out of bamboo
  • You can easily create a week’s trip in less than 60-65K, which will include your flight, stay, eating, shopping, and roaming around.

Useful sites

  • Skyscanner
  • Trip.com
  • Viator for local tickets
  • Airbnb for stay

Useful links for stay and local restaurants

Experience over Gift for your children

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How do most people plan their New Year?
Goals: Career, financial, be-a–good-person, slimming, get-married, move-out-of-stinking-relationship, make-a-new-boyfriend and many more goal-a-goals.
How do I plan my year?
Keeping aside, being-a-very-good –woman-goal (which I fail always ), the primary goal is –                                                                        TRAVELa70588cc-4758-4fc1-8bda-ea127e299227
Oh ! How much I crave to be airborne or on my bike or the mountains.
But this year it’ll be different. I’ll attempt to take my boys along to as many offbeat travel destinations that I plan for myself. Although with Arun Jaitley bombarding, bringing them along each time will not be possible I know.
For the first long weekend of the first month of the new year, I came across an event on Facebook, Tour De Chattisgarh. After looking at the itinerary, it seemed perfect for a family vacation.
Why?
1. I was itching to ride and wanted boys to experience the joy of touring on the bike, I have done many, and I know how incredible it is. Check few links here:
a) Passion for cycling
b) Rajasthan Tour on foldie
c) Bhutan trail with Times Passion Trails
3. Exploring another state on bike
4. I got married in Raipur and never visited after that. It was a perfect time to relive the moments.

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We have done five-star holidays, beach vacations, foreign tours, camping, hiking trips with boys but never a cycling trip. An adventure freak mom has passed on some traits to boys too. Hence I thought to attempt this trip with boys.

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Why should you move away from the comfort zone and gift your children experience?

1. Situational obedience (discovered a new word )

Before I booked the tickets, I had to seek permission from the school. Boys were instructed to be on their best behavior and studies until I visit the class teacher. I came out grinning ear to ear from the school gate with a permission letter in my hand. See, that’s why it’s important to obey mom when she asks. Give me a high five here !

2. Being methodical and systematic

Both of them were given a cabin size trolley and instructed regarding the number of clothes, undergarments, footwear, and anything that they feel will be significant during travel to pack. The younger one had not-to-forget-tactics. He kept his watch in the shoes as they arranged the clothes for the next day early morning flight he said, “mamma, I’ll not forget this way.” Nice one!

3. Meeting, making and not “adding” new friends

Mumbai is always on the run and gives less opportunity to socialize. We end up having a handful of people to interact and mostly limited to within the housing complex. While on the trip the boys associated with people not only across India but other countries as well. It was great to know about Giom Tell from Switzerland who is exploring India on a bike. Check his profile you may find something interesting, Giom’s profile

Riding with Alexi Grewal, an Olympic gold medalist was a remarkable opportunity.About Alexi Grewal

Ben’s passion towards creating customised bikes – check his page, Life Behind Bars

The gang of boys from Gujrat riding for the cause “ek bharat,shresth bharat.”

Swati and Tarique ,couple with multi-facet talent and super enthusiasm towards life !

Namrata , Lorraine and myself -mother of two were riding all through this tour. It was great to see that is not just me who makes multiple phone calls back home when on a tour like this 🙂

Observing, understanding, adjusting and knowing people’s habit, the way of living, language and behavior is what we learn hands on .Boys made their own set of friends and were happy  be riding, playing or just chatting with them

4. Discipline without saying “the” word

Every morning we were supposed to report at 5.30 am for the ride (which we never did, that’s another story), but boys were up with my one wake up call. Their dresses ready for the next day and bags packed too. We were riding to different locations each day and bags were supposed to be transported as well. Temperatures dropped at certain places, and Mumbaikars are too lousy when it comes to cold winds. Younger one being asthmatic had sneezing attacks in wee hours but all wrapped up in a blanket they were always ready on time. There was no fuss about early morning rise.

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Sid , all up and ready for the ride

5. Adjusting beyond the comfort zones

We all have to agree that we have a far more comfortable life now than what it used to be in our childhood. I was amazed on how boys adjusted to whatever was available. Although we stayed in Chattisgarh tourism guest houses, they had their limitations. There was no fuss or cribbing about food. Sid, who is such a fussy eater ate whatever was available because I told him to eat adequately to ride well the next day. No hot shower but just a bucket of warm water and they were happy with it wherein Abhi at home loves his hot water shower twice a day. They adjusted to every situation .

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6. Discovering new likings

Sid has always been an outdoor kid. Full of surplus energy and enthusiasm, unable to fix his liking on one thing. So typical ME . While Abhi is a happy go lucky child. Happy and satisfied with himself and his surroundings. This trip gave both of them to do what they wanted to and find their happiness rather than their parents forcing them in some hobby classes in the name of skill building. Children are born with multiple skills, let them explore themselves.

7. Observing relationships

We had solo riders, families with children, couples, father-son duo riders in this trip. It was an excellent opportunity to observe the bond and connect with each relationship. It was amazing to see the confidence senior citizen father had in his young son as they were riding together. I saw Sid from the corner of my eyes nodding his head in approval of this relationship. I also saw him blushing whenever he saw Ben and Stephanie. together,  teenager syndrome is setting in now.

8. Independent decisions

They took small but independent decisions in the entire trip. They chose the clothes they wanted to wear the next morning for the ride, although I guided them on layering up. Picked the food they wanted to eat from the buffet with Sid evidently seeking approval from me on the right quantity(he was riding each day). Deciding the distance and whether to ride or not. Choosing to ride after the fall or not (Sid had two falls).The decisions were small, but they give them immense confidence in being responsible.

I am glad about my decision to take all my three boys on this trip. We were addressed as the tribe called “Charon dishayen” (Char-four, means we family of four and Disha- implies direction, which is also the meaning of my name).

We all learned something or the other from this trip and had an enriching experience. It is important to let children be themselves, take own decisions, get dirty, mess around, get tired, be in the sun, fall, get hurt, above all let them grow the way want to.

I am mighty proud of all my three boys for being together throughout , no tantrums , utterly cooperative and  understanding. I underestimated your hidden trait. Mom is sorry about it but a strong pat on your back Som, Sid, and Abhi.

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