I’m on a Hanoi-bound flight from Guangzhou, flying high and feeling high. The past year of teaching English in China has flown by! Ok, enough with the flying metaphors. I feel at ease, confident, and excited about what lies ahead in the coming three months. I haven’t traveled solo since I backpacked through Columbia in 2012; it feels good to be back in the saddle again. I’ll spend Christmas and welcome the new year in northern Vietnam. The big challenge, aside from the obvious language barrier, will be learning how to ride a motorcycle. Baby steps. First, rent a clutch-less scooter. Next, upgrade to a clutch. Finally, buy a used motorbike and conquer SE Asia! Throw caution to the wind! Translation: I will drive like a grannie and slowly travel from Point A to Point B, with a solid helmet.
Well, I ended up jumping in the deep end two days later. While enjoying a coffee at the Hanoi War Museum, I casually struck up a conversation with an ex-pat because I noticed her bike helmet. She bought her scooter from Minh’s Motorbikes, located outside of the tourist-saturated Old Quarter, where I was staying. I called the number, received a free scooter pickup, and was learning to drive a Honda Win 110cc up and down a back alley before I knew it. It took a good 30 minutes of rough acceleration and stalling before I felt comfortable entering the madness that is Hanoi traffic. I bought my very first vehicle for $260, and received the necessary Vietnamese registration and a verbal guarantee from Mr. Minh that my bike could be serviced for free at his shop and affiliated shops in Hue and Ho Chi Minh City. As a bonus, I met a laid-back couple from Quebec that was headed my way so we decided to travel to Cat Ba Island together on Christmas. Strength in numbers, right?