Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Ba Vi by Bike

It has been quite awhile since I went to Ba Vi, like five or six years I think. So I thought I should go again, and that I should pedal, since what's the point of having a MOUNTAIN bike unless you ride it up a mountain sometime? So Ba Vi National Park is a mountain. Basically just one road goes into the park, climbing from the entry gate a distance of about 12 km to the end of the road, from which it is a short hike to either of two peaks, both with small temples on top of them. The road climbs to a point just shy of 1,100 meters altitude. That's a much bigger hill than I've done before on a bike, but it is a road not a trail (therefore smooth-ish not too steep) and - at least on this particular Saturday - well traveled. Rather too well traveled for my taste, but anyway.

Leaving Hanoi it took quite awhile until my legs really felt warmed up - I could try to blame that on the cool weather recently which I've been enjoying so much, but in fact it would mostly be due to me not riding any distance for a long time. I rarely ride west of Hanoi, and the distance to reach Ba Vi is a good part of the reason I hadn't ridden there earlier. Getting near the park, I stopped at a roadside shack for a bowl of phở, I've learned to really appreciate road-side phở when I'm riding bike. (In fact I don't eat phở very often in my normal routine.) It is light enough to eat a big bowl without feeling to heavy in the stomach when I get back on the bike, and it seems to give me some energy to work with too - beef and beef broth to keep me going!

Just before the park entrance I stopped to get two bottles of chanh muối to supplement my bike bottle of combuja. Good thing too, because they were all empty before I got to the top. The traffic back-up at the park entrance surprised me, but I didn't actually have to wait in line very long, it was just crowds of people milling around aimlessly and parking cars in the middle of the road before going through the entrance.

Once through the gate and past the tour bus parked right inside, I started up the hill and the crowd thinned out. Or at least stretched out. At numerous wildflower beds along the road on the first section, lots of people stopped to take pictures. It seemed busy, groups of young people mostly, passing me in packs of motorbikes, yelling out encouragement as I pedaled oh so slowly upward. I saw two cyclists coming down the hill - they looked like pros with all the fancy kit and nice road bikes, but then, even I look slightly less foolish when I am going downhill! I did see one other cyclists, coming down when I was near the top, who slowed down to tell me that I was almost there.
There is a "resort" at about the 400 meter mark, and there was a wedding being held there and crowds of folks wandering around the pine forest and taking selfies in the middle of the road. I kept on going, in the hope that I would find a quieter and more scenic spot for a break. One friendly fellow, who passed me three times on his motorbike on the way up, kept asking if I was going all the way to the top, the answer to which I didn't really know. The plan was to keep going until I decided to stop, whether it be at the top or at some breathless, cramped-up-legs spot along the way. I stopped for breathers frequently and had something to drink, almonds, boiled eggs with salt .... But I didn't stop for long because I knew, in that case, I wouldn't get started again! So I got to the top - after probably 11.5 kilometers in granny gear, I got to the top :D

There was a gusty cool breeze up there which was indescribably refreshing. Since I was last up there, they built a biggish car parking lot there and some more buildings for selling snacks, food and đồ lễ to take up to the temples, but it remains mostly tree-covered, and since it was indeed the end of the road, I got off the bike and told my legs that it was time for them to do whatever cramping and collapsing was necessary, and be done with it, cause we're only halfway!
To make up for having run out of chanh muối, I got six bottles up there and sat on the wall at the edge of the parking lot, relishing the breeze and the view (though it was fairly hazy, you couldn't see that far), and ate almost all the food I had brought along. It was brilliant. I did not hike up to either of the peaks, I can do that next time.

It took me over two and a half hours (in granny gear) to get up there; and after eating, drinking, communing with the breeze, and recovering up there, it took like 45 minutes to get down - including two side roads, one of which was just a dead end and the other going through and old French colonial era village of sorts - atmospheric ruins but on that day packed with people, motorbikes and trash everywhere (I have to go back, on a weekday, to recover my sense of wonder about that place!)
The ride back home was surprisingly uneventful. Still windy, still kind of far, still all flat. Had two cups of mia đá, the rest of my food, and another chanh muối. I like the idea of riding up a mountain like Ba Vi, but oddly enough, the rides on which I've done the most climbing remain shorter rides to another area where the hills are a mere 200+ meters high, but the roads/trails are dirt and go up and down and around, adding up to more work in the end. In any case, it was a lovely day out on the bike, and now I know where to go when I have the urge to spend two and a half hours in granny gear.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Mountain Reflux

The now-almost-familiar 35km up to the odds, ends and coffee shop at the bottom of Ham Lon went by quickly, early morning traffic was light and I pedaled an easy pace on my way to that place where I met Charley on the mountain the last time. The lady making coffee remembered me, even months after the last time I was there; remembered me for speaking Vietnamese and for riding solo from the middle of Hanoi out to there.

After my caffeine pick-me-up, I went past Ham Lon around to the back of this mountain I was looking for. A few wrong turns later I found my way to the road which, on Google's map, goes up where I had given up finding my way down the last time. The path heads straight for the mountain then turns and follows along the foot. I startled a lady walking a herd of cows down the path. Passed a hilltop with grass clipped short and a lot of zigzagging trenches, I wondered if it was to collect runoff water from mountain or for military training or what.
The path got muddy and suddenly I was in someone's back 40 compound, with shacks and chickens and pigs and three very professional dogs. (For those who don't know, vietnamese dogs do not say "woof woof" or "bow wow" they say "gâu gâu", which sounds like and means GO! GO!) I jumped off the bike so they could see I stood on my hind legs and tried to talk reason with the pack. GO! GO! GO! No luck. And no owner appeared to call them off, so we kept on negotiating. GO! GO! GO! The path kind of went down into the pigpen and I could see there was no trace of any route going up where I wanted to be. So I negotiated myself back the way I had came, gingerly, until the chief puppy was the only one left and was getting tired of yelling GO! GO! at me, so he gave me enough space to hop on the bike n put some distance between us. 

On the way out I stopped to ask the cowherding lady if there were any paths up the mountain there, and found that she was mute, so I didn't get detailed directions, but she got the message across - go around the block. And by the way, herding cows in the fog at the bottom of a mountain seemed to suit her, she seemed pleased, somehow! 

So I went in a half circle to the next road heading into the mountain. I had kind of expected that first road to dead end, but I don't remember seeing that pack of dogs (or the tongue-lashing they gave me) on the map. I did look carefully at the map beforehand, and I knew my second option up was a steep climb. Where the road ended I went back through a meadow to where the steep bit started. Aside from there being no path here, this was far too steep to ride on, so it was a shockingly slow clambering ascent, dragging and heaving my bicycle along, to reach the top of this ridge. 
The ride up to this point was a bit cool, there was some mist and fine rain as I was coming out of town, and I kept my pace relaxed so I'd have some oomph left to get up the mountain. But before I got myself and my bike up the side of this hill, I was well drained of energy. Standing on this steep, scrub-covered slope trying to catch my breath, I looked back down where I'd come from. Couldn't see the meadow anymore through the mist, but when the breeze blew I could see the ridgeline over above where my first choice road had ended. Fog below, mountains above, and near perfect silence. I kept climbing.

With a certain degree of elation, and relief for the reputation of my map-reading skills, I eventually reached the top of the ridge to find an actual path following the ridge up into the forest. After I got up into the forest proper, the reputation of my map skills got all fuzzy again as I spent the next two or three hours quite lost. 
I ended up coming down into the wrong valley - the next valley further away than the one I was aiming for, and one with a few pig herds and goat herds, some lumbermans' shacks, a few very slippery cow pies, and a lot of scrubby forest picked clean of anything valuable I guess - anyway it was a valley and I did come out the bottom on the Hanoi side of the mountains, so it was all good.
Back at my foot-of-the-mountain cafe, I took a long lunch break and cleaned the mud off my legs and bike chain. Pedalled home without cramps, and with the satisfaction of knowing that, now that I've gotten up that side of the mountain, the next time I go back I can just follow the road and leave the bushwacking for people with more energy!

Now it only took like 6 or 7 hours to do the ride, but three weeks for me to get around to posting the pictures and post-script on it... Too much to do!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Charley Horse Heaven

Having a week off for Tet, I found time to do a bike ride which I had been thinking of ever since I got to ride Núi Hàm Lợn Trail. The ride up there was cool, with a bit of mist, almost rain some places which had me a bit worried, but in the end I got only slightly damp and the day turned out perfect for riding. With an early morning start, the bike rode smooth and quiet with less than normal traffic on the road, due to Tet holiday.Following the same route I had taken to Ham Lon, I then cut around the end of Soc Son Mountain, which was a nice road through cool dense forest. There are several ‘eco-lodges’ there and I saw a pack of fellow cyclists out for an early spin, along with a few groups of local people dressed up and walking around the village, for Tet visits I suppose.

I stopped for coffee at house-front shop selling snack foods and incense, where the lady brought out the standard tiny plastic table and chair to set out in front of her shop for me. I enjoyed coffee in the fresh morning air, while neighbors dropped by, or simply held their conversations across the road, discussing the day’s plan for a community trip to some pagoda. After divulging the usual ice-breaking information (year of birth, nationality, marital status, number of children, monthly salary..) to the neighbourhood troop of Aunties who marched over to inspect me, I kept on riding. Speaking enough Vietnamese to communicate is obviously useful, but it also means that as soon as I start speaking Vietnamese, I am immediately engaged in a conversation when, sometimes at least, I wasn’t really looking for a conversation, but just a cup of coffee. I can, however, always go back to my tourist roots and order my coffee by pointing and grunting! 
After my breakfast break, I quickly got into the section of the ride that I came for. A bit more paved road, some concreted path, some well-worn dirt track, and finally to the beginning of my forest road. It turned out to be just like I expected it, based on the satellite map picture; the quarried-out end of a mountain with a gully running up the middle of it, which eventually turned into a sort of road. Weaving along the edge of some mountains, this road led up into a valley with a reservoir down on my left and the mountains up on my right.
The first stretch was a rough ascent, big rocks with steep, loose sections, and bare rock which  was ribbed, apparently from drilling, which resulted in some surprising sideways sliding of the tires. Parts of the route were heavily overgrown, and in a few places bits of path had fallen into the abyss, but mostly it was a wide path. From almost the beginning of the ascent, there was very little evidence of any use of this path. The scenery was surprisingly rugged, considering it is only about 40km from central Hanoi, and after the initial steep ascents, which according to the map reach some 240m, the road improved. It appeared to be maintained from the upper end of the valley. Some sections looked to be recently built, or rebuilt, which was curious as there was no settlement or road connection to anywhere for quite a ways - the only exception being a concrete walking path apparently coming up from the valley floor to end, with two concrete chairs for viewing the scenery, at the edge of this rough dirt and rock road.
I missed the turn I had intended to take, which would have cut back lower down along the same side of the valley to bring me out at the dam, and instead dropped straight down into the valley where a road crossed the reservoir, and then I followed the other side of the lake down to the dam. I took a break at the dam, with quiet scenery and fresh water, some chocolate, and long-rise sourdough rye bread (not many things can make that bread better than it already is, but exhaustion can). All very reviving for the weary legs.  
Just below the dam another dirt road cuts back up the opposite side of the valley following the edge of the mountains, going up to about 160m. This one was in a bit better condition, however my legs were in decidedly worse condition. Slow climbing. Some slow walking too. This road, after levelling out somewhat, curved along the mountainside with gorgeous views over the reservoir, and farther up the valley, over forest and bits of farmland below. The cool misty air made this part of the ride a true pleasure, and I kept on saying 'this is amazing' to myself every time I came around a bend and saw the next stretch of road. I startled a couple of cows browsing on bushes beside the road. After a touch of belligerence they ran down the road in front of me, eventually cutting down through the woods toward the valley.
At the far end of this road was more climbing, and at the top of one more rise which I stubbornly pedalled up instead of walking, both my legs locked up with cramps. My instinct was to try to walk a bit to get them to loosen up, but I really couldn’t bend my knees, the thigh muscle above the knee was pulled so tight. And so, in spite of how it felt, I couldn’t help but laugh at how silly I must have looked (had anyone seen it), me leaning precariously on my bike and pushing it along while swinging my legs along like dead limbs. It did occur to me, before the cramps (we call these Charley Horses where I come from...) eased off, that if I would have to walk like that all the way back out of the woods it would have taken like a day and a half!
After the cramps went away, I found that I was apparently at the end of the road; although there was a kilometer marker by the path, a few steps further it just stopped and there were thickets and nothing resembling a road. Since my legs were at the end of their road, and my bike was at the end of ride-able road, I decided to give up on my original idea of coming out on the other side of this hilly forest and circling around the end of it to return to Hanoi, and instead went back out the same valley I had come up. I did, however, drop down to the edge of the lake as that way was flatter, and there were a few houses and villages there - comforting in case those legs locked up again and I needed help getting back to civilization!
Fortunately, the legs mostly cooperated, and since they had finally gotten my attention with that bit of pegleg hobbling in the forest, I took it easy. After crossing the dam at the end of the reservoir, I rolled downhill on small countryside lanes which eventually led me to a road home. Stopped at a village shop for a drink and to eat the rest of my supplies. The proprietor was a friendly lady who was happy to sell me coffee (instant) for about 15 cents a cup if I mixed it up myself, and who wanted to talk about the war, and who wanted to know if I sent money home to support my parents.
Back on the main road, the return ride to Hanoi was slow. Apart from me being exhausted, the bike was misbehaving as the sprocket seemed to be about to retire from active duty. In any case, I made it home in one piece. I do, though, have to go back up there now sometime when I am a bit better prepared to see if I can find out how to get out the other side of the forest...

Thursday, September 03, 2015

A Hill and a Dirt Road

Since I got my bike here, I've never quite gotten up the energy, or had the right opportunity, to ride up a mountain like Ba Vi or Tam Dao – two mountains both within 100km of Hanoi and both with roads rising something to the tune of 1,000m upwards. I made a small step in that direction, on a small hill, last weekend.

Saturday morning, having packed up some water, a spare bicycle tube and a jar of Nutella, I took off at the pleasant (for riding) hour of 5.30am. After getting out of my neighborhood the first stretch of riding was over a bridge and on a new expressway. Riding this road at the crack of dawn always cracks me up – there are a handful of trucks, almost no cars or buses, and streams of joggers and cyclists from the nearby villages out getting their morning exercise in on this brand new six or eight lane highway.

Before long I turned off that road onto a two-lane going more or less straight north to Soc Son.  Along the roadsides were a lot of shops and industrial sites, with a fair amount of fields and ponds as well. Saw quite a few folks out fishing for breakfast (I guess) and, at that time of the morning, there wasn't much traffic so it was a pleasant ride.

A gravelly dirt road goes from Soc Son Town over to the bottom of Soc Son Mountain. Now it feels like you are in the countryside – rice fields, cows on the road, the smell of burning rice straw, locals taking a break from field work to gossip across the road as you go by, and the loud clanging of somebody beating on something metal which passes for the breakfast bell at an army base I passed by.

At this point I've gone about 30km, almost entirely flat like a pancake – a FLAT pancake. The road up this “mountain” I'm going to rises approximately 280m. That is something like 2/3 the height of the “Welsh Mountain” back in my quê, for those of you who know it, so you know this is really just a hill. When you are riding bike up something, it is helpful to think of it as a hill; when you are talking about it later, you are allowed to call it a mountain.

This mountain has a remarkably well paved road up to very near the top, probably due to the fact that there is a giant statue of Thánh Gióng on top, which is, well, a whole 'nother story. While the road up the mountain is so much smoother than any road to the mountain, it is still a very steep hill. On reaching the top, I collapsed into a heap and drank up everything in sight. After recovering my senses, I kind of wondered why I picked such a hazy day to ride up this hill – I could barely see the big statue on the peak up a long stairway, and there was no view at all, just fog and trees. I could tell, however, from the burn in my legs, that I had just climbed up a mountain, so I'll settle for that.

After flying down the mountain and putting my brakes to the test (they seem to work better now that I had them cooking hot, although they are not quiet...), I followed the road around the end of the hill, cutting across the last bit on a dump truck road to reach the next valley facing Ham Lon Mountain. After passing by a fishing lake (no fish yet, the guy sitting on the bank said), I turned up a dirt road/trail which goes up to about 180m and follows along the edge of the mountain for some 7 or 8 km before coming back down into the valley. 


This was mostly a beautiful route for a mountain bike, although the roughest stretch in the center was not ride-able, and hauling the bike on a steep sometimes muddy hiking trail through thick underbrush got old fast, even if it was only a km or so. Definitely worth it though – this was the first time that I've had this bike on a trail where a mountain bike is actually called for! A few breaks in the trees offered views down to Ham Lon Lake, a reservoir used for irrigation which was almost dry when I was up there in early spring – it appeared mostly filled now.

After finding the blacktop again, I stopped for another drink break,  and after gathering up some more energy I headed home the same way. The guy fixing a track-hoe on the dump truck road – I had asked him for directions on the way up – wanted to know if I had found what I was looking for. I guess I was just looking for a hill and a dirt road, and I found both, so yes :)

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Blatant Domestic Bliss

I suppose that one of the things one learns with age is how to keep doing the same thing, but in a new way. One reason (excuse) that this blog is rarely updated anymore is that my experiences in Vietnam are not so often 'new' anymore. A few years in one place will do that to you! While I might regard this as a loss, I like to think that any lack of new locations in my daily geography is more than compensated by the fact that the life I live is manifestly of my own choosing.

I was thinking of all this recently after a rainy, cold winter weekend in Hanoi. (The fact that we live in a concrete and tile house with no heat gives me special dispensation to call 50F "cold"!) I did not go on a bike ride. I did not find a new lake, or ride along the river. I did not find out anything new about Vietnam.

I made pancakes. Now, my pancakes aren't as good as what my wife makes, but they are still fun to make.

We went to the mall. I actually suggested going to the mall, which should tell you how unpleasant it was outside! An out-of-town sort of mall which was refreshingly empty, we walked all four floors, the daughter charmed some bored salespeople, and we left after having fixed my coffee crave.

I made ginger snaps. Round bits of crunchy, zingy goodness, these things were almost as good as I remembered them to be, a rare result indeed! We lacked the hot spiced cider which would have made them perfect, but tea does almost as well. Might have to come back to that recipe.

My wife made eggs and bacon. Now bacon is something, like a good hamburger, that I never bothered to appreciate until I hadn't had it for a long time. Now my dear wife cures it herself, for Pete's sake, and it is worthy of profound appreciation.

My wife made coconut-covered donuts. I don't mean  far-from-the-tropics dried coconut from the store, I mean coconut from a coconut, of the Monty Python clip-clopper variety. I don't mean donuts from the store either, I mean donuts from a pot of boiling oil on the stove. Now I know I'm a touch provincial, but this seems extraordinary to me. It's like the muses of Entenmann's and Achenbach's both came to the Orient, collided with a coconut and landed in my kitchen on a Sunday afternoon.

Some days, when I think about how I used to wander around trying to find something new all the time, and eat street food day in and day out, I don't miss it at all. (I still eat street food, just not every day.) A few days after that weekend, it occurred to me how oblivious I am to the blatant domestic bliss which that weekend was more or less drowning in, as is most of my life these days. It sneaks up on you, domestic bliss!

I'm not suggesting that domestic bliss is best represented by food; clearly the food is only one of the more superficial aspects of the thing I'm trying to talk about. But, seriously, pancakes, the mall, bacon, donuts... all in one weekend? How could Vietnam get any better than that?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Habits Happily Resumed

Back in Hanoi after a long summer away, I am amazed at how quickly I find my comfort zone on the cacophony of these streets. After the 12 hour time shift turns the world neatly on its head, and a few days of dealing with a sullen stomach surprised by the sudden onslaught of airline food and street food in quick succession, I am once again pedaling to work. This is a habit I missed over my long summer. Jumping on my bicycle again felt very good, in fact the thing feels so light and responsive to everything I put into it that I thought for a minute there was something wrong with it. But no, it's just a nice bike which hasn't been ridden for awhile. I am in the process of fixing that!

After work, sometimes, the road home goes around the lake. The rowers practise on the lake, a few runners and a lot of cyclists practise around the lake, and the fishermen practise in between us. 

On the journey back to Hanoi, I was thinking that the long summer back in the US hadn't really felt like the more than three months that it was. Packed with work, a little travel, and a lot of activities with family and friends, the time flew by quickly. However, arriving back in our neighbourhood in Hanoi, it suddenly felt as if we had been away for a long time. Good times race by!
Out by the lake, sometime over the summer they widened this little stretch of street and installed these gaudy Formula 1-looking stripes on the pavement. I'm hoping they won't inspire Formula 1-like driving, and in any case, I'm sure in a couple more months they will be faded and dusty enough to not stand out so much - hopefully they will still keep anyone from driving into the lake though.

Farther around the lake I stopped by this little contemplative spot. It seems like it should be, say, the entrance to a hidden temple or a forgotten tea-house or something. However, it is not. Rather, it is the side entrance to one of those giant hotels where I am a little nervous about stopping in front of for fear they will jump out and charge me 30$ for parking, or something ridiculous like that. But in fact, nobody noticed me or the red bike, and I kept on moving on.
Most of the way around the lake, after finding my favourite lakeside watering hole closed up for the day, I stopped down the road for this cup of coffee under a shade tree leaning up against the railing. Now this is a habit that takes no time at all to resume, only that I forgot to bring a book with me!

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Shopping Commute

One of the contrasts which I enjoy maintaining in my life in the US (such as it is - a few months every year or two), is the comedic lack of proportion between the 18 wheelers I drive for my job and my chosen commuter vehicle, a scooter.

The scooter has two wheels, one floor, a little bit of some kind of style but no rumble whatsoever, and a box big enough for a helmet or a bunch of flowers or two bags of groceries or, I suppose, a free kitten. My commute , it should be said, is twenty miles of about the most ideal scooter roads around. When I go to work in the middle of the night, the highlight is the stars. When I come home in the daytime, I watch the fields and the farms, and it seems at least half the farms have stands out selling something. The summer isn't long enough to stop at all of them, but I do my best! So here is a selection of what's beside the road tempting me on the way home from work.

As my summer commuter workhorse, the scooter is about perfect. Mostly, it is about enjoying the ride on the way to work and back. I don't know about the price of horse feed or coal these days, but its also pretty nice for me to put on 100 miles going to work and bringing home goodies, and then to fill up the tank for this:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Great Lakes Hanoi

Hanoi is a city of many lakes. Many of the best known landmarks in town are either right next to a lake, have a lake inside them, are inhabitants of a lake, or are, in fact, a lake. Tran Quoc Pagoda is almost surrounded by West Lake, the Temple of Literature has a handful of ponds inside it and a small lake across the street, cụ rùa the mystical mascot of Hanoi lives in Hoan Kiem, which is in and of itself an attraction which every tourist, and more than a few of the rest of us, have to walk around to have truly experienced Hanoi. Many of the city's lakes have trees, green space and sidewalks to walk around them – all of which are not so easy to find in central Hanoi if you are not next to a lake.

In the spirit of properly exploring this city in which I live, as a mission for a new bike route, and as a test of my Zen sensibilities for enduring Hanoi traffic, I set out on a pedal-driven journey to see as many of Hanoi's lakes in one trip as I could.

My goal was limited to the lakes inside the perimeter of Minh Khai - Truong Chinh - Duong Lang - Duong Buoi - Lac Long Quan and the Red River. Having mapped out a route only roughly ahead of time, I missed four of what turns out, in my count at least, to be 32 lakes/ponds in central Hanoi. With the three lakes I went past on the other side of the river, that makes 31 lakes for the day. The great in the title should be understood to refer to the number of lakes, not the size of them! Almost 65 km on a very loopy route passing by quite a few places that I had never been to before in my years in Hanoi, plenty of friendly faces, hundreds of cafes (I only stopped at two, honest), and – yes – a couple of traffic jams as well.

Here are the lakes in the order I saw them. “Hồ”, by the way, means “lake”. Many of the lake names are simply the name of the area, the village, as most of them were in villages back in the day. The four that I missed are listed in parenthesis in the order I would have seen them, had I followed the map!

Three lakes on the other side of the river, a prelude to the main event:
Hồ Lâm Du 1: A new fish raising shack floats in the middle of this lake, and there is a lady at one corner selling bánh rán on the sidewalk. Lâm Du is the name of the place, the village.
Hồ Bồ Đề: A handful of cafes on one side of this lake sit across from the school (usually full of uproar) and the local People's Committee building (usually dead quiet).
"Hồ Đình Ái Mộ": This tiny bit of water is in front of the Ái Mộ communal house, where the friendly neighborhood elders will invite you to stop for tea and bananas.

Hồ Gườm / Hồ Hoàn Kiếm: The most famous of all Hanoi lakes, home of the 'Turtle Tower' island and Cầu Thê Húc, the red wooden bridge to Ngoc Son Pagoda on Jade Island, and the famous turtle who always causes a traffic jam whenever she comes up to the surface. Green space, walkways and wide streets all around it.
Hồ Hai Bà Trưng: Very small lake in front of Hai Bà Trưng Temple, a friendly motorcycle mechanic is on one corner next to my old house, surrounded by a small street which usually doesn't get too much traffic. “Hai Bà Trưng” are the Trung Sisters, legendary Vietnamese heroes from about 2 millennia ago.
Hồ Thanh Nhàn 1: A relatively good sized lake I had never been to before. I came out on the residential end of the lake and had to jump down next to it and duck under a bridge to get to the park end of it, and the park stopped about halfway back up the other side.
Hồ Thanh Nhàn 2: This lake has no road, alley or path to it, it is surrounded by the backs of houses and businesses. I got there climbing through someone's “yard” (don't tell anyone) from the big Thanh Nhàn Lake, and got out through a walkway at the back of a bia hơi. I got a surprised “hello” from a lady hanging laundry behind her house, and the guy sitting by the lake watching his black puppy play around was friendly enough – I asked him if there was a road I could get out from there, he said no … he didn't say “What the sam hill are you doing here?”, he just said no, and kept watching his puppy while I rode halfway round the lake and back again to find the back of that bia hơi.
Hồ Thanh Nhàn - Võ Thị Sáu: Nice small lake with a sidewalk-style path around it. There was wedding preparations going on at one corner when I went by, and I had to wait for the procession of suit-ed and áo dài-ed folks to get through the alley before I could keep going. Võ Thị Sáu, the name of the main street past this lake, was an anti-French guerrilla, captured at age 16 after throwing a grenade and executed at age 19, who now has streets all over Vietnam named after her.
Hồ Qùynh: Very cool lake with only small streets around it and cafes green vines hanging the whole way out across the street, like the picture in my head from Turpan, on the Silk Road. Quỳnh is the name of a common flower here, and also used as a given name, usually for women.
Hồ Tiến: On the campus of Bách Khoa University, which was very quiet on a Sunday, this lake was overshadowed by the big library building next to it. It doesn't even have many benches around it, it was looking under-appreciated.
Hồ Bảy Mẫu: The big lake in Công Viên Thông Nhất (aka Lenin Park), with swan-shaped paddle boats, and sweet walking paths all through the park. No bicycle riding inside the park – that is what the sign says anyway. Mẫu is a measurement of land, so this lake is presumably 7 mẫu in size.
Hồ Thiền Quang / Halais: A squarish lake neatly taking up one city block, I buzzed around this one pretty quickly on streets with traffic, though there are walking trails and trees around the lake too. Thiền Quang means something like 'enlightened path'.
Hồ Ba Mẫu: Oddly, having been around the lake in Lenin Park like a hundred times, I am not sure I had ever gone across the street to this lake, which, although not in a park, is large (3 mẫu, apparently) and has a lot of open space around it. Good for riding, good for relaxing.
Hồ Kim Liên: Another one I had not been to, this lake is hidden between the French Hospital and one of my offices, and has a very competitive 9 year old bicyclist prowling around it just waiting for a new challenge. Kim Liên is the name of a golden lotus.
Hồ Hố Mẻ: I had been past this lake but never really looked at it before, and frankly it isn't much to look at. Small square lake, reasonably clean as far as I could tell, but with main streets on two sides, a muddy track on one side and an overgrown path on the other. There is a bus stop there, so its easy to get to I guess, but no big trees, no green space, no cafes. It does, though, have a nice name – which I have no idea what it means.
(Ao Khương Thượng): I had intended to go by this one next, I have never seen this pond, but just totally forgot … too much sun???
Hổ Xã Đàn: Sweet lake, one side has cafes pushed up on the sidewalk practically overhanging the lake, while another side has, across the street, cafes and bia hơi with a huge (by Hanoi standards) open space in front for sitting outside under the trees.
Hồ Huy Vân: I wasn't expecting much from this lake, small and in the middle of what has to be one of the most densely populated areas of the city, but in fact it was delightful – trees around it, everything was clean and taken care of, and the pagoda on the corner looked spic and span.
(Hồ Linh Quang): Based on the map, I wasn't sure if I could get to this lake, and I just rode through the neighborhood without going down every alley to find it, so I didn't see it.
Hồ Giám: Across the street from the Temple of Literature (Quốc Tử Giám), this lake is small but surrounded with well manicured lawns and, on the day I was there, completely deserted except for me.
Hồ Hảo Nam: They just finished a new wide street past this lake, the other side of it didn't look easy to go around so I just went past on the new road, waved at it, and kept going.
Hồ Đống Đa: A big lake with a nice alley running around it, somehow I don't think I had ever been around this one before either. The side near the main road looks a bit industrial with giant pylons standing in a line across the corner of the lake to support the new metro rail system which is, at the moment, just a lot of concrete pylons and messy construction in the middle of roads and lakes.
Hồ Thanh Công: I used to work up the street from this lake, it is pretty big and the one entrance goes through “Indira Ghandi Park”. Thanh Công means 'success'.
Hồ Láng Thượng: A long, narrow lake lined with cafes and bia hơi places staffed with those guys who jump out in front of you in hopes of startling you into stopping and buying a beer. Another nice spot which I had never seen before.
Hô Ngọc Khánh: I used to work up the street from this lake, too, and stopped there for coffee on the way home all the time, it is a quick loop off a main street.
Hồ Thủ Lệ: Another long lake, between Daewoo Hotel and the zoo, this one has more swan/duck paddle boats. I went in to the park at the far end and walked around, but didn't go into the zoo itself - I haven't been there for a few years, but I don't remember being so inspired by it. The lake is nice, it has a big island in it with two bridges and walking trails.
(Hồ Giảng Võ): This lake was next on the list, and I have been there often before, but I had my head down and rolled right on to the next one … I'll remember it next time!
Hồ Đội Cấn 1: I don't know the actual names of these two lakes, but they are close to Đội Cấn Street. Cutting off the street onto the alley the first one is one your right.
Hồ Đội Cấn 2: Back another alley to the left is the second lake, which is right behind the B52 Museum. I went halfway around until the path got all sandy, where I turned around.
Hồ Hữu Tiệp: A couple hundred meters through a skinny alley are two more “lakes”, or perhaps they are just one lake with a road across the middle! The long skinny one on the left I'm calling Huu Tiep Lake.
Hồ B52: And the square one on the right commonly gets called B52 Lake – it has the remains of a crashed B52 bomber sticking out of the middle of it which was shot down in 1972. I was pretty tired by this time, so I stopped at the “B52 Cafe” which has your standard Vietnamese coffee and a chunk of B52 sitting there as a curiosity/memorial.
(Hồ Ngọc Hà): This very small lake is also just a stone's throw (if there were no houses in the way) from the last three, but I was intent on getting to West Lake for a cool breeze and a proper break, and so I overlooked it.
Hồ Bách Thảo: Inside the Botanical Garden, this place is great for walking around, but since I wasn't in the mood for walking I just rode past on the street, looked in, and put it on the list. There is a big mound in the park which reminds me of those old burial mounds in the US midwest … I suspect it isn't related though.
Hồ Trúc Bạch: On my right as I came up Thanh Nien Road, Truc Bach Lake I am familiar with thanks to having spent many a productive hour sitting next to it drinking coffee and watching fish and lizards.
Hồ Tây: West Lake is by far the biggest lake around, often offers a cool breeze and the route around it is the standard cycling circuit in Hanoi. Being worn out, I just stopped at my watering hole to watch the lake for awhile without going around it.

And that was the end of the Great Lakes Hanoi tour, I only missed four and didn't fall into a single one, so I'll call that a success.