Saturday, January 4, 2014

Vietnam 2014 – Day -2 – The preparations

This is the story of the trip I am taking to Vietnam, to celebrate the new year. Annie has to start school on January 6, but I am off until January 27 so I figured I would take a quick trip somewhere. Taking into account that I had just been in Latin America, and that in Europe it was too cold, I set my sights on either Africa or Southeast Asia. My criterion was very simple: find the cheapest flight available to a place I had never been before. I let my fingers do the walking and found I could fly round trip to Hanoi for US $925!

Once I had settled the country, the next step was to decide how I was going to move around. Rental cars are always a dicey proposition in Asia, where regulations seem to exclude foreigners, and Vietnam does not have a comfortable system of trains or buses. Ah, of course, you can always rent a motorcycle! I got on the web and right away found an outfit that was ready to rent me motorcycle for three weeks for a mere US $150. Perfect! Oh, but there was a hair on the soup, they warned me that the Vietnamese police is very strict about riders needing a Vietnamese motorcycle driving license. Go back to square one! Not to fret, said the outfit, our Mr. Nguyen can do the necessary paperwork for you; all he needs is US $100, an image of your US motorcycle driving license, and a digital photograph.

Capital! Now all I needed was a US motorcycle license, which in turn would require for me to learn how to operate a motorcycle and pass the exam. I asked around, and got the good advice of taking the Motorcycle Safe Riding course, offered through Modesto Junior College. The course is actually offered throughout California in partnership with the California Highway Patrol, and for US $250 you get two days of classroom instruction and two days of on-the-bike instruction. It was great, and even though I didn’t  exam at DMV. A word to the wise: you would be a fool not to take this excellent course before getting on a motorbike. I went to DMV, took the theory exam, passed it, and two weeks later I was the proud bearer of a new license with the motorcycle endorsement.

After I sent the necessary paperwork to Mr. Nguyen I stared at my brand new license and wondered “What can I do with my jarrito nuevo?” Buy a motorcycle of course! From there on I kept looking at Craig’s list for a good opportunity, lost a great opportunity because the owner sold the bike to another guy, even though we had made an appointment for the mid afternoon, and finally ended buying a scooter made by Piaggio (the same folks that build the Vespa) for US $2,000. Add to that registration fees and insurance, and I was looking at a cool US $2,500. Great fun, but my cheap flight to Vietnam triggered a series of events that led to a total expense (to date) of: $100 + $250 + $2,500 = $2,850. This may not turn out to be as inexpensive a trip as I thought it would be!

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