Since learning how to live alone in Hanoi, I have adopted the unfortunate mindset that if I can do that, then I can do anything. This has led to dangerous character traits like fierce independence and fearlessness, which, in turn, has led to some serious solo adventures.
My weekends happen on Thursday and Friday, so everyone has either work or school and I’m left to my own creativity to fill the free days. After two full weeks in the city, I was desperate for nature and hopped on a bus to Ba Vi National Park with no plan and no transportation once I got there. Turns out that park is designed for motorbikes to navigate its various attractions, so my feet could only show me a few things, but I was happy enough to be surrounded by green that I didn’t mind. Plus, a nice British couple saved me a few kilometers when they gave me a ride up.
Last week, I made some more hasty decisions that turned out a lot better than they should have. I found a motorbike tour company called Freebird Adventures and could not resist with a name like that. For the sake of my bank account, I opted for a one-day tour in the countryside, and Minh, my fantastic tour guide and driver, picked me up at 8:30 a.m. for a full day of mountains, lakes, and lotus seeds. Minh prides himself on showing people the ‘real’ Vietnam, so our destinations had more cows than people and don’t show up on a Google search. I ended the day re-ignited from nature and with a very sore butt from sitting on a motorbike for ten hours.
The next day, aware that I had exactly three free days left and wanted to see several things on those days, I decided to attempt a one-day trip to Cuc Phuong National Park. When I told Minh my plan the night before, he said it could not be done, so after that I obviously had to do it. I took a 2.5-hour bus followed by a wild 20-minute xe om (motorbike taxi) ride and arrived at the park at 11:45 a.m. I needed to return to the bus station by 2 p.m. to get back to Hanoi in time for dinner with Minh (he invited me to dine with his family because he is genuinely the friendliest), so I hired my xe om driver to zip me to the Cave of the Prehistoric Man and back to the Endangered Primate Rescue Center in those two hours. I mostly wanted to see the latter, but it was closed for lunch time and did not reopen until 1:30 p.m.
Besides the time issue, I also had a money issue. I had a limited amount of cash and between admission to the park and primate center, my bus fare home, and the xe om fee, I had to barter until I had exactly enough to cover it. When I got to the Cave, a woman offered me a flashlight to rent for 10,000 dong (less than $0.50), but I could not even afford that and instead explored the (very large, very dark) cave with the red focusing light on my camera. Inside, I happened upon a rusty ladder, followed by two more rusty ladders, and decided it would be a good idea to climb them. Near the top, I began to see real light from the sun, and I eventually emerged into an even bigger cave that opened out into the world via a cliff. It was a pretty spectacular reward for some literal blind faith.
Back at the park entrance, I waited eagerly for the primate center to open, but I had to wait for another group to come before the tour guide let me in, so we did not get inside the center until 1:35 p.m., which was the time I realistically needed to leave to get back to the bus station in time. I allowed myself five magical minutes with the monkeys, fell in love with them, and then ran back to the entrance in my birkenstocks and hopped onto the motorbike at 1:41 p.m. I knew I could trust my driver to go really, really fast, and we arrived at the bus station at exactly 2 p.m. Once I paid that fare, I had exactly 7,500 dong left to my name. The bus fare from the Hanoi station to my apartment is 7,000 dong. Like I said, I can do anything.
The next morning, mid-way through my long run, I decided to continue my adventure streak and attempt to run all the way around West Lake. I run along West Lake every morning and have completed out-and-back long runs from both ends, but I wanted to string it all together because I love loops, I knew it was around 17-19 km in circumference, and I wanted to be able to say I ran all the way around West Lake. Including the time to and from my apartment to the lake, it took me 100 beautiful minutes. And I’ll probably do it again this Saturday.