“My bike is gone” I text the boys. I spent the last 20 minutes walking up and down the crowded parking garage with an old Vietnamese man, unable to locate the bike with a license plate ending in 0987. No one spoke English, but eventually they kept showing me a ripped ticket and telling me it already left the parking lot. Fuck.
“We’re coming to the garage” says the crew. We were trying to get out of Hanoi and get riding, and this had to get sorted. It starts to dawn on me that I might be fucked. Ten minutes later three motorcycles roll up the driveway with the rest of the crew, partially blocking the entrance. Andreas, David, and Kevin. I wonder if David The Pitbull is going to go crazy.
At this point the boss man gets involved in sorting this out, still no English. We’ve upgraded from an old Vietnamese man in pajamas to a slick Vietnamese man in slacks and a dress shirt. Once the boys arrive, he walks outside of the garage and then starts yelling something at me and starts motioning at me to come over. I walk out the gate, wondering if it was out here all along. He’s pointing at Kevins’ bike, still running and with Kevin on it. “Same Same!” he says and points at the license plate of his bike–0987. I realize that this is my license plate. “What the fuck?” I say. I’m completely befuddled.
We all quickly realize that Kevin is on my bike, not even realizing that he took the wrong bike–classic. He takes his key out and I put mine in, and they both work to start the bike! What shit bikes they sell to us backpackers.
We head back to Funky Jungle and I load up my pack outfront of the next door business. Some Vietnamese woman starts yelling at me from her storefront, so I just move the bike right out front on the street. She glares at me the entire time I load up. I don’t even care, she doesn’t own the street–Uncle Ho does.
Finally, we hit the road. We’re looking on fleek. Four white boys wearing identical red Vietnam flag t-shirts–squad. The adventure has begun. We take a left and a right and merge into the scooter mess that is Ha Noi. I’m lacking some power here, is this all this fucking bike has?
Less power now–wow really losing power. The red-shirted gang continues to advance ahead of me, nearly to the on-ramp. I realize now that I’m out of gas as the motor starts to sputter. I pull over to the side of the road, where a ton of cars are parked. No one can hear you scream in space–or on Hanoi arterial roads. Fuck.
I know they’ll be back in about five minutes when they find out they’ve lost me. I kill some time trying to switch this thing to the reserve tank–do these pieces of shit even have reserve tanks? I don’t have much luck. Some Vietnamese men try to help me but they don’t really get me when I’m pointing to the gas tank to show I’m out of gas. I kickstart it a few times just for fun.
Impatience is a virtue, so I walk across the street with my near empty water bottle to one of the mechanic shops lining the street. I’ll need a little squirt of gas either way. I’m trying to get through to some Vietnamese men holding court in a bunch of wooden chairs on the sidewalk when someone runs at me from behind, grabbing onto my left shoulder with both hands.
“Oh my god man are you ok?!” he says to me. There’s Kevin in his Vietnamese flag shirt, sweating and out of breath. “I ran all the way over here from the gas station when I found out what happened!”. He’s still catching his breath while I tell him I just ran out of gas. “Oy!” I hear resounding across the street. There’s David in his Vietnamese flag shirt sitting atop his bike with the breathing mask still on.
After my engine cut out, I honked and pathetically reached out to them like a fat kid watching the ice-cream truck roll by. Apparently a Vietnamese man witnessed this and sped up beside the group, honking and waving. He was pointing at and pulling on his t-shirt and then pointing behind him frantically. Pretty effective use of sign language, because everyone thought I was fucking dead. At least the shirts were effective.
“Let’s drain this bottle and use it for gas”. We all take turns chugging the remainder of my water, and then David rips off to the gas station to get me a little squirt of petrol. He comes back and I top it off and head up to the gas station and get a fill. We finally head off, and start down the freeway.
After about 15 minutes we pull over to check directions. Turns out we were headed in the opposite direction. Jesus christ. Morale was low at this point and it was already 3:00 PM. We end up driving through some bizarre dirt roads and then end up back on the freeway, heading the right direction.
The squad was making tracks for real this time. Everyone we saw loved us. Honks and thumbs up from cars passing by, head nods in the gaggles of bikes at red lights, waves on the sidewalk. We all were wearing that Vietnamese flag loudly and proudly as we set off. We even zipped right by the traffic police and onto the NO MOTORCYCLES freeway. We definitely got a free pass because of those shirts.
We get on QL32 and make it into Sơn Tây around 5:00 PM. You know you’re in town when the boulevard is lined with Ho Chi Minh and the hammer and sickle. We rode along a section of a beautiful moat surrounding some mysterious part of the city. The end point on the map was the parking lot of a huge high school stadium. We get off the bikes and there’s a bunch of kids wearing white school uniforms. While we try to figure out where to sleep, they get more and more curious and all these 12 and 13 year olds are biking around us in circles.
I try to get some info on where to stay from the food stand lady–but she seemed to be telling me about a hotel 5 KM away. I feel like we can do better–it’s nice here. While we’re trying to get some info online of where we can stay–totally futile–the kids work up enough courage to start talking to us. This chubby kid rolls up on his moped and asks us what we’re looking for in surprisingly good english. 12 year old motherfucker. I ask where a hotel is and he tells me in really good but lacking in vocabulary english that there’s a hotel down and to the right about 300 meters. He offers to show us where, and says to follow him on his bike.
Kevin’s motorcycle won’t start, but after 5 minutes we finally get that fucker kickstarted. The battery is toast on it. So we set off and ride with a brigade of 20 school children on bicycles, with us 4 dusty backpackers on loud motorbikes in the center of it all. They’re stoked to help us out, and we wave them off as we ride through the hotel gates. They’re all waving at us with their white and blue uniforms as they ride away to their homes. Adorable.
We checked into the hotel. 100,000 dong ($4.48) per person for us to share a room. Dirt cheap. The hotel is pretty nice, there’s a beautiful pond in the middle. We all get our bikes sorted out at this mechanic shop. I got my exhaust hammered out and reseated, rear pegs installed, and the tail-pipe rattle-canned black for $11. Cheap cheap.
Now the four of us are just chilling on the beds watching Con Air. It just came on while we were channel surfing. We finally made it outside of Hanoi, and it was time to relax. We agreed to spend another night here and explore this quaint and unknown little place. That moat-ringed area seemed like an adventure.
At the time of writing, I asked the room what day of the week it was, but no one could even answer me without looking at their phones. Everyone’s become a true backpacker at this point, disconnected from the clockwork lifestyle of our Western lives. It’s pretty great.