After a brief telephone conversation with my friend Günter, it was relatively quickly clear that he would visit me in Vietnam for 2 weeks. Unfortunately, there was a small misunderstanding in the arrangement of our meeting place, which led to his flight to Hanoi about 2,000 km further north of Saigon – where I was staying at that time. With Vietnam Airlines it took me exactly 2h and 10 minutes to arrive in Hanoi – from the warm south into the cold north. The joy of seeing each other again was great, as was the surprise: 5 °C outside temperature was not what either of us had expected. Normally the average temperature in February is around 20 °C. Further north, in the mountains, 8,000 cows have died during this period due the heavy snowfall.
Hanoi is the capital and the seat of government of Vietnam and about the same size as Ho Chi Minh City. The center, the old town is characterized by a maze of small alleys, built in the French colonial style. As everywhere in Vietnam, motorbike traffic dominates the street scene, although in this narrowness without sidewalks, the traffic seems much more threatening.
The thing about motorbike traffic is one of those things – although there is a terrible chaos from the outside, I have actually only seen one minor collision between two motorcycles, and nothing happened. One of the two riders was drunk and you had to get him back on the bike in pairs so that he was able to continue riding. I can only compare the obvious functioning of this mess with the choreography of a swarm of birds. Everybody is driving in such a way that he keeps an eye on his immediate 2 or 3 neighbours and reacts to only them, the rest of the participants on the road do not concern you anymore. I spent a few months in India on the road with my motorbike, and it was the same there. I was particularly impressed by this elderly woman who marched completely unperturbed by foot through the traffic in the middle of the road.
Due to the weather conditions, we decided to shorten our stay in Hanoi drastically, to see only a few sights and to cancel the planned boat trip to the famous Halong Bay. Neither of us wanted to freeze our butts off on a boat overnight. After visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and a long stroll through the city, we took the night train to Hue, 700 km further south. The hope was high that the weather would be better and warmer there.
Hue is the former emperor and capital of Vietnam, located on the Perfume River. Unfortunately our hopes for better weather were not fulfilled. It was rainy and freezing cold there as well. The visit of the old imperial palace was an adventure – especially because this complex is mostly preserved in its original state and leaves an impression that is by far not as cheesy and pompous as many other comparisons in South-East Asia.
We could each rent a motorbike for one day to ride through the sand dunes and fertile valleys of the countryside. It was a great trip with the reverse problem to the north. Because of the temperatures of more than 40 degrees we could not keep up with drinking.
After Günter started his journey back home, I could spend another week with my buddies in Saigon. From there my flight to Singapore was already booked, where I was meeting up with my next visit from Austria.