Bicycles and Alleyways in Vietnam


Jodi and I traveled to Vietnam and the Philippines last fall. Here's some of what we experienced. Jodi's words, my photos.

In Vietnam, bicycles are more common than cars. Maybe it's the fact that they need to be able to skirt down alleyways, or maybe it's t bikes are more cost effective than cars. Either way, to capture this place without documenting bicycles would do it an injustice.

To give justice to a city, to its people, is an important part of traveling for us. Voluntarily surrendering control of how we take in and process a place matters, which is why when we travel, we get lost. Intentionally.

There was this moment in Hanoi when we had wandered down an alley and the winding nature of the alley confused our senses of direction. We were about to give up and retrace our steps when an older man gestured towards us to follow him. We weaved deeper into the maze of alleyways narrowing before us, and then, seemingly out of nowhere the man stopped, pointed in a direction and smiled. (I should note that the direction the man pointed in was definitely a dead end.) But not wanting to insult him, we followed his finger and saw the tiniest gap between buildings. After a few more twists the alley suddenly widened and we were in the middle of a busy intersection.

We had ourselves a treasure hunt. I was twelve again, so utterly gleeful at finding this hidden path. Zach and I smiled at each other, and then joined the fray, dodging in and out of traffic in search of a bite to eat.

We're used to space - wide aisles and wide roads. Alleys are typically the routes we avoid. But in Vietnam, the alleys are where life happens - where you grab groceries, where you find your barber or your lunch. They host a bevy of businesses, coffee shops, and boutiques. As a tourist, it's easy to keep to better lit thoroughfares, but if you want an authentic experience of Vietnam, you have to embrace the alleys.