It was a dreary morning with grey skies and some drizzle and I was to cycle 17 km, around the West Lake in Hanoi. “Would you like a helmet?” my guide Hung asked when we picked up the rental bikes, and for unknown reasons I declined.
Anyway, the ride to the first stop, the Tran Quoc pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, was quite short. The temple area is always crowded, but particularly so this morning: the Vietnamese New Year celebrations were just coming to an end and it was the day of the full moon. But people still found peace.
I felt that I was constantly in somebody’s way until I found this tranquil spot:
We still had some 16 km to go, so it was time to move on.
As we were back on the bikes, sweat broke out on my forehead not because of the physical exercise but because of what I saw that we were headed for: a very busy road with trucks, buses, cars, motorbikes galore, cyclists, pedestrians and street vendors. I had no helmet. I still wasn’t used to the bike with its handbrakes (I learned cycling on a bike with foot brakes and have used such bikes ever since). It was only my second day in Hanoi and I certainly wasn’t used to the traffic intensity, rhythm and style. And it was a bit slippery due to the drizzle.
I decided to adopt the style of other two-wheel riders I had observed: I cycled as fast as I could and looked neither left nor right as I turned onto the heavily trafficked road. It worked.
Luckily we soon turned off into a much calmer and narrower road that followed the lake shore. Still I felt a bit uneasy with honking cars in front and behind and motorbikes and scooters on my heels. As the ride continued to the north and northeast side of the lake, traffic became much less intense and I picked up confidence too. In fact, I started enjoying the ride very much indeed!
We stopped for a rest in a small café on the lake from where the view was great in spite of the grey clouds:
And the coffee, Vietnamese of course, with condensed milk, was fabulous!