So this post is about 2 months delayed. Better late than never? After about a week and a half of making my way on foot I knew that I needed to get my ass on a motorbike, ASAP. That is the mode of transportation this city is made for. Getting chauffeured around town on the back of other people’s motorbikes was getting old and I was feeling like a big, white burden. And the Vietnamese bus system… no thank you. Not that the 3 hours per day that I had been spending on it feeling like Gandalf in a Hobbit hole weren’t fun… I’m just a free spirit and no cage (nor bus) can contain me.
Buying My Very First Motorbike
I got my motorbike from Quang Minh Motor. Mr. Minh is a good guy and has a good reputation amongst the expats in Hanoi. Also, he speaks English! I bought a used motorbike for 300 USD. I bargained that down from like 320 USD – go me! That’s 20 extra doll hairs in my pocket. He offered to throw in the helmet to go with my new bike free of charge. Unfortunately my head was too big for anything that he had in the shop so he had his wife run out to purchase selection of bigger helmets, which was nice. When she returned, the helmets she brought with her were bigger… but still not big enough. I appreciated the effort though so I graciously left with a helmet intended for an 8-year old. Fun fact: 2.5 months have passed since this happened and I am still wearing that helmet.
Many expats will just rent motorbikes but I chose to buy one. I concede that going the route of renting a bike is quite cheap, but my logic is that if I can sell the bike for even close to what I bought it for then it will be cheaper in the long run, even if it means less money in my pocket right now. Of course, this means that I am making a bet on myself not to get into a wreck, but if that does happen I will have bigger problems than the damage done to the motorbike.
Nah, It’ll be fine.
Fast Forward 3 Weeks
It was the middle of the night and my motorbike and I were lying in the middle of the road at the end of a long skid of broken metal, gasoline and blood. Getting in a motorbike accident or two… or three or four has turned out to be sort of an Asian rite-of-passage.
Rewind about 60 seconds and I was riding next to a friend of mine on our way to get a few drinks. Our bikes were close enough that we could speak to each other without having to yell over the wind. Because there is a curfew in Hanoi, the roads are mostly empty by this time of night save for a few motorbikes and cabs. It is supposedly common for the cab drivers to start drinking on the job everyday around 10pm as customers become more and more scarce. At that point however, I did not know this, so I thought nothing of it when a cab sped up very close next to me. But then the cab suddenly started to drift towards me so on a split-second’s notice I did my best veer away from it. I succeeded in avoiding the cab but unfortunately that meant steering into my friend. Our handlebars caught and we both fell sideways into a skid together.
Don’t worry, neither of us were seriously hurt. My right leg was pretty bloody but overall it could have been much worse. Indeed it ended as any good motorbike accident should, with laughs and a fist bump between friends. It was the first crash for both of us… so we’ll always have that, I guess. When we arrived at our destination I ordered a beer to drink and a bottle of water to clean the gravel out of my cuts. My bloody leg was a great conversation starter for our group that night.
My bike was miraculously okay. If it there had been damage though, Mr. Minh also fixes any issues you have with your bike for free (if you bought it from him, that is). Within the first 3 weeks of having the bike I managed to pop both of my tires kick off my kickstand. To fix the tires I went to a local garage to avoid driving too far on a flat. That cost me 100,000 VND the first time for having to replace my inner tube and 400,000 VND the second time for having to replace my actual tire.
When I had to get a new tire it was my 2nd time in their garage in a week. The look I got from the mechanic when he saw my bike - I wish I could have captured it to share with you somehow. All I'm going to say is that I think that there was some serious judgment coming my way for my apparent mistreatment of my bike.
I did go to Mr. Minh for the kickstand though and he had it fixed in 30 minutes. No judgment either.
Here are a few choice shots of the chaos that is Hanoian traffic. There will be more on this craziness to come. Fear not.