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Departure

Thursday, May 09, 2013, 07:06 GMT+7

Editorial's note: Having taken part in H2H twice, I feel that it is a unique experience that has deepened my understanding of Vietnam, which I have called home for over two years. I have had the opportunity to see parts of the country I would've never visited otherwise and get a more 'real' experience than is often available in highly developed, westernized Ho Chi Minh City. Not to mention the trip takes place on a bicycle, not the usual motorbike. I think the story of the ride is worth sharing, and I will be covering H2H 2013 in 10 parts over the next five weeks. I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me at matatarski@gmail.com.

Another year means another H2H ride. The loosely organized, all-volunteer group first cycled from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (hence the H2H name) in 2009, when a group of teachers from ILA decided that they wanted to do something different.

Not only is H2H an amazing adventure, but it is also linked to charity. Through online fundraising and events held here in HCMC participants raise money for selected organizations that work with poor, disadvantaged children in Vietnam. H2H rode in 2010, 2012, and again this past April, and has raised well over US$100,000 for charity.

H2H’s route from north to south covers just over 2,000km, and this year we would be departing Hanoi on April 3 and returning to HCMC on April 29. I was doing the ride for the second time, and I couldn’t wait. Most people assume we take the usual Highway 1 coastal route through places like Da Nang and Nha Trang, but the people who first organized H2H did a great job of plotting a course that largely keeps us in the country’s interior, where traffic is less intense and there is less tourism. As a result we get to see parts of the country that most foreigners never visit, as evidenced by the hysterical reactions of locals along the way.

The team of 20 riders, most of whom had never ridden a road bicycle before training for the journey began a few months ago, convened in Hanoi on April 1 for final preparations. We are all expats who live in HCMC and enjoyed the cool spring weather up north.

The following day we visited the Cat Dang community, about two hours outside of Hanoi. Since its creation H2H has worked with an organization that is improving education facilities in the area, and now we would have the chance to see where our money was going in person. A new kindergarten and library were already in place, and this year’s funds would help build a new community kitchen. After touring the area we were treated to lunch and rice wine shots with local Community Party officials, one of whom was very excited to get to know our female riders.

It was time to leave the next morning. We loaded our belongings into two support vans and set off just in time to get caught in a downpour. Fortunately the rain didn’t last long, but clearing the ugly expanse of Hanoi’s ever-growing sprawl took a couple of hours. By the time we turned onto a more rural highway, the sun had come out, and we were in for a beautiful afternoon.

Our first destination was Hoa Binh, 75km from Hanoi. When I rode in February last year the weather on this day had been hideous, but with clear skies now I was able to realize just how gorgeous the scenery is in this part of the country. Limestone karsts erupted out of rice paddies, and there was even a random golf course thrown in for good measure.

We rolled into Hoa Binh sometime in the afternoon, and H2H 2013 was off to a good start.

Michael Tatarski

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