Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | April 26, 2010

Good Morning Vietnam

We spent our first night in Vietnam on a boat in Ha Long Bay. Since we had arrived in darkness the night before, our guide Leah had suggested sleeping with the curtains open so that we could immediately take in the dramatic view upon waking. We did, and it was stunning. What’s more, the open curtains allowed for a small boat with three fisherman to take in a decidedly different kind of view, although luckily I was in a robe. Good morning, Vietnam.

Our plan for the day was biking on Cat Ba island. After spending hours traveling the day before, I was anxious to get a few miles of road underneath me. I needed to work up a sweat, and Cat Ba did not disappoint. We hit some rolling hills straight off the boat, and fortunately my friend Mr Tien, our motorbike escort, was there to point me on the right direction so I did not have to wait for the rest of the group.

I generally don’t bike in a large group. For longer rides, I make an effort to go with friends for safety’s sake, but never more than two or three people. So staying in a large pack is not something that feels natural to me. Additionally, I found that when we came through villages as a large group, people would stop what they were doing and stare at us. As a solo rider, however, I could still catch people in the midst of their mundane activities, giving me an inside look at their daily lives.

Having said that, however, there is something nice about the comraderie that comes from being with other riders. My favorite day of biking on the trip so far had been a fast ride (thanks to good tempo-setting by John) on a rolling dirt road in Laos, four of us chasing each other up and down the hills. Cat Ba offered similar riding, but with substantially more dramatic scenery. Rolling hills, little traffic, small villages, friendly people, and lots of photo ops. What more could you want?

Well, truth be told, I was hoping to see monkeys but didn’t, and John almost got taken out by a motorbike. But otherwise, it was a perfect morning. We saw lots of people in the villages (not to be confused with the Village People), and they greeted us with a mixture of warmth and surprise. The cry “Hello! Hello!” became the de rigueur greeting of the day.

I saw several things that made me realize how many similarities we share across cultures, such as a woman screaming at someone I presumed was her husband. (One of the gentlemen on our trip wondered out loud “Gee, I wonder what that poor guy did wrong.”) I also saw things that highlighted our differences, like the woman in the hot pink jumpsuit cutting fresh flowers using a decapitation-worthy machete. You know, just the other day I had my hot pink jumpsuit on, and I thought about grabbing my machete to bring along, but I just didn’t think it worked as an outfit. Apparently it works well in Vietnam.

In spite of, or more likely because of, the similarities and differences, biking on Cat Ba was a singular experience. We capped off the day by visiting a floating village in Ha Long Bay, and then some kayaking into the caves on the islands. As we drifted off to sleep on our gently rocking boat, I took a moment to appreciate the tranquility. As it turns out, that tranquility was short lived.


  1. Sue:
    We missed you at book group – I had no idea what you had been up to! All I can say is WOW! What a treasure of an experience. Can’t wait to hear more about it from you in person upon your return. Savor every minute, Sally

  2. It is really a great story. And this is a great advice for all who are thinking about these.

  3. From one travel, adventure lover to another, I am living viacariously through you right now. Your writing is so descriptive I feel like I am livin’ it. Can’t wait to hear more!

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