If a picture paints a thousand words, I'm pretty sure this one shows a happy lady on her bike, wearing a smile to mask a grimace.

A year and a half ago, I embarked on a challenge to finally learn how to bike at the age of 26. With the help of a friend who patiently taught me and who actually researched how to teach an adult to ride a bike, I was finally able to go around my neighborhood on 2 wheels, even braving the trail at Timberland. I also tried to bike around Manila, crossing Edsa from Magallanes to Makati, and that was probably the only day when I spit so many expletives, all aimed towards jeepney drivers.
I wanted to go for something bigger. The dream that I had in mind was to go biking in a busy place, where no one knows me. I wanted to bike in another country's busy streets. That specific country I pictured in my mind was Vietnam. 
Fast forward to November 2012, I finally step foot on the motorcycle-crazy streets of Vietnam. 
I did not dare find a bike in the streets of Ho Chi Minh, where the probability of being killed while crossing the street or even just walking on the sidewalk (if there's even one) is rocket high. Then we came to visit the small, ancient town of Hoi An where we emptied our pockets and splurged on great food. Since the town is a Unesco Heritage site, much of the place is protected, and most streets are closed to traffic, except for bicycles. Hoi An looked safe enough to go biking around.
So we declared our second day in Hoi An as Bike Day. We rented out bikes and went around the town early in the morning. It was such a joy biking around and stopping anywhere we wanted, taking photos of the shops that thankfully opened late in the day, and following the locals getting around with their daily lives wearing their conical hats. 
The good thing about Hoi An is, there are plenty of places to explore, all a bike ride's distance away. On our way to An Bang beach late in the afternoon, rain suddenly poured. We were already out in the open highway when rain started falling like pellets, and since I am almost always never ready for the rain, I was soaked even before reaching the beach. From being immobile in 2011 to biking in the open highway under the rain a year later, I felt like I have finally reached the pinnacle of my late bloomer biking dreams. I felt invincible.

An Bang Beach
The wind was cold and it was probably not a good idea to go swimming, and the sky looked like it was going to let another batch of rain out. We decided to make one last stop inside the town of Hoi An before finally calling it a day. I needed to have my photo taken: me on my bike, with the lanterns and shops as background. A photo that screams Biking in Hoi An.

We made our way back to the town, which always got busy with tourists at night. With many people out on the streets, it was quite tricky to maneuver past groups walking like they owned the streets. It was still good though since the streets were closed to vehicles. Feeling like I have earned a new badge in my biking career, I felt confident overtaking tourists walking slowly on the street. As I maneuvered to the left to try to overtake a group of 4 tourists, a motorcycle popped out of nowhere and was suddenly running close on my left side. In between running down a tourist and smashing against a motorcycle, my hand decided to go left, locking handle bars with the motorcycle, and in a split second, I said hello to the gray concrete street.

Imagine my ego crashing down with me. The whole afternoon I was elated with my biking skills, and suddenly, I got into a minor accident.

And just like a kid who does not want to be embarrassed in front of her friends, I quickly stood up, brushed myself clean, took my bag, grabbed my bike, and smiled to let everyone know I was fine. I made a mental note that the motorcycle and the driver crashed down with me (meaning I did not go down without a fight haha). That made me sound so evil but we were not really running at a high speed so the crash did not really harm us, except for the wound on my knee, a few scratches on my leg, and a bruised ego.

After putting some liniment on my wound, we decided to go ahead, take a photo, and go home. I was shaking when I rode the bike again, my legs turned to jelly, and paranoia dawned on me. Someone honked at me because I could not navigate through oncoming traffic for a few minutes.

Finally, we reached the spot.

I put a smile on and tried not to wince for the camera.

Biking in Vietnam will be remembered. And if ever I forget, I just have to look at the scar on my knee and be reminded.

Bike photo by Aaron Manila.

Sometimes you just want to sit and enjoy the easy life, never mind the price tag that comes with it.
That was exactly what I thought when we boarded the cab from Danang Airport to Hoi An. Taking the bus will only take 1USD but who knows when the next bus will come our way? Hailing a cab was so much easier, only it comes with a meter.  
And so there we were in the backseat with our eager cabbie pointing to us the beaches of Danang, asking for our itinerary while trying to inject some of the places that he wanted to take us to. Unfortunately for him, we had our eyes set on our destination and we would not be swayed. The cabbie did not get us to pay additional dollars for the sidetrip but he did get us to pay the meter at 23USD!
Tip: If you do not wish to wait for the 1USD-bus, book a private car with a travel agency for 15USD from Danang airport to HoiAn. A couple of dollars saved will go a long way!

And as if the gods of misfortune were looking down on us, rain poured on our way to Hoi An. Because we initially planned to look for a place to stay there, we decided to get off the cab and put a stop on the crazy meter at the first hostel that we saw -- Thien Nga Hotel. If only it was not raining, I would have stepped out and looked for a cheaper hostel (room was priced at 25USD/night) but the rain would not let me. I was fretting for some time, until I saw the room!


The room was cozy, the sheets were clean and soft, and the room had a nice veranda looking out over the street. Plus they had a reliable WiFi, complimentary buffet breakfast, and flat screen TV. The lovely hotel room at 25USD/night shut me up. I could no longer complain.

When the rain finally stopped, we finally had the chance to get some food for brunch. The first stop for the day was Miss Ly Cafeteria 22 at Nguyen Hue. We were the first guests of the day and Miss Ly's American husband warmly greeted us. Every item on the menu teased my taste buds but to make our stay authentic, we decided to get the local dishes. We wanted to try the cao lau (noodles), fried wontons, and white rose so we ordered the Sampling menu which had all three.

Fried wontons
Cao Lau - flat noodles with croutons, bean sprouts, and pork slices. The water used in its preparation comes from the Ba Le Well
White rose - steamed shrimp in rice paper

It was all so good that we came back the next day for dinner! Of the three dishes, I enjoyed white rose the most. And of all cities in Vietnam, I liked the food in Hoi An (actually, the whole of Central Vietnam) the most. It was here where I had the most delectable and succulent food that I have tasted in the entire week. The 3 dishes including drinks cost less than 15USD for 2 persons. That is considered pricey for Vietnam where everything is cheap, but Miss Ly's specialty cooking and her husband's warm welcome more than made up for it. The guy (too bad I forgot his name) even remembered us when we came back the next day.

It was a wet and tiring afternoon as we tried to battle it out with the rain to make the most of our time, but in the end we succumbed to another inviting restaurant at Le Loi. For dinner, we chose Streets. It might be that Miss Ly's was too high of a standard because I found the food at Streets not as spectacular but knowing that you are helping out disadvantaged young kids, it was easier to pay 20USD for dinner.

The only thing remarkable I tasted at Streets: Crispy Spring Rolls

After a considerably extravagant day in Hoi An, we decided to tone it down a bit the next day. We moved out of Thien Nga to a 15USD/night room which meant no complimentary breakfast, no WiFi, CRT TV, and stuffy sheets. And just when we thought we were successful in slumming it and cutting down costs, we ended up giving in to Miss Ly's for dinner the next day! The buns they sell on the street just can't compete with Miss Ly's cooking.


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