After Southern Vietnam, ending a full month in such a large and interesting country, here come the stories of the North: the nature of Ninh Binh, the chaos of Hanoi, the placid Hoi An (again) and a big stage on the bicycle towards Hue, the Kingdom’s ancient Capital.
11 February, Ninh Binh (Vietnam) | Day 255 🇻🇳
14 hours on train and another one on my bicycle to go back to … Yangshuo!
12 February, Ninh Binh (Vietnam) | Day 256 🇻🇳
I came to Ninh Binh because Fulvio, a friend I met in Nha Trang, told me many great things about the landscape and the boat rides between rivers, rice fields, caves and mountains (which remind me so much of the ones I loved in Yangshuo), especially when it’s sunny and on a midweek morning.
Upon awakening, however, the sun was only a vague figure.
And of course I realized only after the first yawns that today was Sunday.
At the pier I was overwhelmed by the number of parked buses, by the whistles of the brigades, by the megaphones of the guides and by the crazyness of people fighting to get on the boats, almost as if they were mad chickens on the run from a hungry fox.
Only three minutes and I literally flew away, trying as usual to find a more peaceful place in order to enjoy what still remains a remarkable natural masterpiece.
So I took my bicycle, crossed a few villages still gagged in the silence of the fields, reached the I-don’t-know-which-Dragon Mountain, climbed it to the top where I met two new little friends – two colored stones with a typical Vietnamese hat someone left perched on a small tower – and, from above, together we waved our hands gently both to the mountains and … to the boats of the mad chickens.
I forgot to say that, at the end of the day number twohundredandfiftysix, the sun came out.
And, like a peacock, it showed off its feathers until late in the evening.
Until it collapsed.
13 February, Hanoi (Vietnam) | Day 257 🇻🇳
It didn’t happen since a very long time.
Actually the last time was in Budapest, back in July.
Before that it happened in Zagreb and Sofia, but after Budapest … not anymore.
What am I talking about?
Simply, to be able to “conquer” the Capital of a new Country riding my bicycle.
All the other European Capitals – from the Balkans up to the Baltic countries – and again Moscow, Ulaanbaatar, Beijing, Vientiane and Phnom Penh were officially touched by train or by bus (I cannot consider those 15 km I pedaled to enter the centers in Beijing and Vientiane, once I left the bus station, to be “valid”).
I still remember the satisfaction and happiness of the first time, in Zagreb, on the fifteenth day of my journey.
Today, almost 8 months later, after covering 100 km which separated Ninh Binh from Hanoi in less than six hours, after getting punctured, after fighting with a dancing bolt, the indecent traffic and the cruel smog of the Capital of Vietnam (yes, dad, I only learned a few days ago that Ho Chi Minh City is not the Capital of Vietnam, but Hanoi), the feelings are exactly the same: satisfaction and happiness.
So here it is, the nineteenth – and also, probably, one of the last – Capital of my funny trip.
So here I am … Hanoi!
14 February, Hanoi (Vietnam) | Day 258 🇻🇳
You understand that you’ve seen already enough of temples, pagodas, museums, churches and attractions when, instead of reading the captions, learning about the historical backgrounds, focusing on a guide book, observing statues and various historical objects, you prefer looking up to the sky and, day dreaming … you try to breathe the colour of the orchids.
Cause that’s the only thing you really care about.
15 February, Hanoi (Vietnam) | Day 259 🇻🇳
(Where pollution is only a chimera)
16 February, Hanoi (Vietnam) | Day 260 🇻🇳
“And then, one day, it happened.
We have been knowing each other since we were kids. She used to live right next to me, and every morning we were going to school together. I often helped her with the backpack, when it was too heavy, and she was holding my hand until I had to say goodbye to go in my class. Sometimes we were fighting, but then her mom used to invite me for dinner and inevitably we ended up making peace.
She was by my side when I lost my parents, and I remember that I held her in my arms for a whole night that day she came to sleep with me, after someone broke her heart.
She was my best friend, and I could not hope for more.
Then, one day, while she was preparing coffee, I looked at her. Perhaps for the very first time. She was like dancing, beautifully, in her white silk dress. I was possessed by an irresistible force, so I got up and hugged her. Her hair was like jasmine. I shivered on my knees and in all the foundations of myself, when she turned to me. A tear was cutting down her cheek, but couldn’t reach nor break her smile.
That was the moment I understood everything.
Even today I ask her sometimes to dress in white, those days when the air seems to be missing. Almost always, however, I don’t even need to do it.
Because she already knows.
She. My only dawn, after a night without dreams.
She. The only one able to melt slightly on my surface, becoming herself my purest essence, like a snowflake sitting on a mountain lake, right there where the spring sun already begun to clear waters from the ice.”
As for me, it is time to leave Hanoi.
For this city brings me clearly to madness.
17 February, … (…) | Day 261 🇻🇳
3 simple little rules.
The only ones I had given myself, before leaving.
The only ones that I forced myself not to break, during my trip:
1) Do not take flights, except to return home (my 10 days in Greece, in August, were only a short vacation; you’d remember that I had to wait for the Russian visa in Warsaw, where there were only 10 degrees … and I didn’t bring my bicycle with!);
2) Only use the bicycle, once you reach a new city / destination (no scooters or motorcycles, nor even for Arabian Nights attractions);
3) Never go back the way you came (except, like rule number 1, to go back home).
Today, after tireless respecting these three simple little rules for almost nine months, I’ve broken one.
Which one? You may guess 😊
I’ll tell it tomorrow, explaining also why.
Because, for a couple of days … I’m going to stay here.
18 February, Hoi An (Vietnam) | Day 262 🇻🇳
It was rule number 3, the one I broke.
Yes, because yesterday, unlike what it has been done so far … I went back to a place where I had been already, following the same road.
I went back to Hoi An.
But here are the 5 reasons which brought me to that conclusion:
1) I didn’t want – even making a mistake, I know, like it happened in Cambodia with Angkor Wat – to continue up North towards Sapa and Halong, where everyone, but really everyone, seems that need to go once they’re in Vietnam;
2) From Hanoi the only connections with Laos (Luang Prabang and Vientiane) were terribly long and costly that I almost regretted the Transiberian Railway;
3) From where I am now maybe I will succeed – if weather helps me – to ride a little longer along the Vietnamese coastline, going to Hue and then cross into the South of Laos … where hopefully I’ll meet up with two friends I’ve not seen for months;
4) In Hanoi it was almost impossible to see the colour of the sky during the day and even the light of the stars, at night;
5) Because Hoi An, although extremely touristy, as I described a few days ago … is really beautiful.
19 February, Hoi An (Vietnam) | Day 263 🇻🇳
“And on the twohundredandsixtythird day, he rested.”
20 February, Da Nang (Vietnam) | Day 264 🇻🇳
When you read a poetry for the first time and then you meet it again in a place, the same day:
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”
(Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī)
21 February, Da Nang – Hue (Vietnam) | Day 265 🇻🇳
After leaving the beautiful – if sunny – Da Nang.
After conquering the super hard Hai Van Pass.
After melting under the heat and sweating like never before.
After getting punctured … again.
After reaching the ancient Hue only in the evening, escorted by a fire ball high in the sky.
After suffering for other 120 km on the roads of Vietnam … I think I can be satisfied even with this Country.
And now I’m finally ready to begin my way to … Tibet!
22 February, Hue (Vietnam) | Day 266 🇻🇳
“I was born 23 years ago in a village between Hoi An and Quy Nhon. My parents are farmers. They grow rice and vegetables, and every day my mother sells them at the market. Me and my four brothers, even as children, used to work hard to help them. It was the only thing we knew, and the only one we could do. Sometimes we even couldn’t go to school, because we had to feed the pigs or to graze the oxen. But I liked it. I remember that sometimes I used to bring the animals with me to discover new mountains, new valleys, new fields. Wherever they stopped to eat the grass, I used to take out my books and study. Or to read. Or write. Today I’m studying here in Hue, to become a doctor. I hope I’ll be useful someday with my future job, and I know that, somehow, I will. Although sometimes I think back to those very peaceful moments, when I was alone with my father’s oxen on an unknown hill, and I regret them.”
Thank you, Ban, for stopping me while I was walking slowly on a day I just wanted to do nothing.
Thank you for convincing me to practice a bit of English with you, smiling purely for an hour.
And thank you for opening me the gates to your story.
And to your beautiful poetry.
23 February, Hue (Vietnam) | Day 267 🇻🇳
When someone says “The Forbidden City”, the mind flies, immediately, to Beijing, to its dazzling Imperial Palace and the court/city that arose around it.
I was fortunate two years ago, when I visited it.
I still remember the astonishment that overcame me when I entered, right after crossing the ramparts which separate it from Tiananmen Square, and all those fantasies that followed about dynasties, heroes, battles, myths, tales and customs from a China that no longer exists …
I also recall the flood of tourists (mostly Chinese) that was there, from which it wasn’t easy at all to get away, just to carve out a few moments of dreams and solitary visions.
Today, in Hue, I discovered that also Vietnam can boast its own small “Forbidden City”, the place where the Emperor used to live, in this ancient capital of the Kingdom, before history decided to lash furiously this warm and friendly country.
All the fantasies about dynasties, heroes, battles, myths, tales and customs which this Citadel is able to evoke, are probably not even comparable to its giant neighbour’s majestic and imposing ones … but as for silences, dreams and moments of incredible solitary visions, it is undoubtedly the most beautiful Forbidden City in which I’ve ever managed to lose myself.
24 February, Towards Laos | Day 268 🇻🇳 – 🇱🇦
I had high expectations about Vietnam, before leaving. I never understood why, but it is a country that always intrigued me, fascinated me and which I always wanted to visit.
During this trip, however, my interest had been greatly reduced, especially in these recent months in Asia and after listening to various stories from other travelers, often far from positive.
Many times I heard something like: “Oh, Vietnam … forget it! It’s a country in extreme changes, highly populated, hyper busy, very touristic and even unsafe, especially in big cities! And then the Vietnamese people: you’re just a walking dollar for them! They always try to cheat you, you’ll see!”
The day I asked for a month-visa, in Phnom Penh, I had mixed feelings: on the one hand I didn’t want to miss the chance to stay in Vietnam, if it ever convinced me, but on the other I was certain that I would never come to the end of my 30 days.
Well, that day was January 23rd, the day before a bus led me to Ho Chi Minh.
The impact was hard, I cannot deny it.
Chaos, traffic, noise and bad weather undermined, during the first days, my already low enthusiasm.
But here I am now, one month later, at the Lao Bao border, while I tend my hand – like a greeting – to a country that has managed to give me so much: fresh climate and smell of pine in Dalat, stormy beaches in Quy Nhon, colours and sweetness in Hoi An, sea flavours in Da Nang, peacefulness in Ninh Binh, intriguing shades and scents in Hanoi, some very exciting and passionate bicycle paths … and above all, several friends.
The meetings with people, as always, make the difference.
Out of rhetoric, if these last 30 days in Vietnam have exceeded my wildest expectations (even without visiting Sapa and Halong), I owe it especially to people.
First to those from home who have been following me via social since a very long time, and every day give me strength to keep going on my own way.
And then to those who have been part of my Vietnam.
Some of them maybe just helped me, welcomed me, had dinner and laughs with me, and some other shared with me moments, hours and even whole days, being able to give me memories and true, intense, happiness.
So: Giacinto, Michela, Virginie, Francisco, Karin, Randy, Han, Trinh, Fulvio, Alex, Vicki & Chris, Katya & Anssi, Suong, Szymon, Kinga, Jorge, Alyssia, Cynthya, Nadine, Jenny, Tho, Phi Phi, Hoa, Davide, Alberto, Le, Romain, Jeremy, Sam, Tarek, Sean, Mario, Camille, Antoinette, Anh, Truc, Bong, Ban, Ly, Alessandro, Martino and Vicki … this greeting and this big THANK YOU, today, are mainly for you!
KM on BICYCLE: 720
KM on AUTOBUS: 1570
KM on TRAIN: 880
NIGHTS in HOSTELS: 25
NIGHTS in HOSPITALITY: 4
NIGHTS in TRAIN / AUTOBUS: 2
EXPENSES: 749 €
“GOOD DAY”: “Chào buoi sáng”
“THANK YOU”: “Cam On”