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The lanterns in Hoi An, in Central Vietnam, left it’s visitors swimming in color day and night.
Photo by Alexandra Sieh
The lanterns in Hoi An, in Central Vietnam, left it’s visitors swimming in color day and night.

“These bikes seem all right,” I said, testing out the brakes.

“Let’s just hope they hold up,” Manfriend replied. “We don’t need them to bust, like that one did in Cambodia.”

Photo by Alexandra Sieh
An Bang beach, near Hoi An, was a typically tourist beach, but that didn’t make sunset any less beautiful.

“Or leave our bums aching like those mountain bikes in Yangshuo (in Guangxi Province, China),” I chuckled.

For our second day in Hoi An, in Central Vietnam, we were prepping for a day of cycling around the outskirts of the city. We had our sights set on an herbal village nearby, and then a beach after that.

And while I was apprehensive for all sorts of reasons — me and bikes haven’t mixed well in Asia — Manfriend and I weren’t strangers to bike rides together.

And in fact, once we had left the city streets, the quiet stretches of road out to the villages felt soothingly familiar. Just like Cambodia, in fact, when we were following our guide around the farms outside Siem Reap.

No, so far, Vietnam had felt familiar in all sorts of ways.

Unsurprisingly, as this latest trip was my third to the dizzying country.

Photo by Alexandra Sieh
Sapa’s hillsides went on for miles, with villages scattered along each rice terraces.

There would be plenty in that wonderful week that would jog my memory. Like the rich, sultry tastes of the country’s famous coffees, slow-dripping from their filters, or the unique blends of architectural styles around every city’s turn. Cramped inside a sleeper bus, neon lights making things all too disco-esque, it felt just as strange as it had almost four years ago.

And yet, even in a country so small, there was no shortage of “new” to uncover.

Hell, we hadn’t even seen everything we could in Beijing, and I had lived there for four years. What sort of dent had I imagined three short visits would make?

So while Hoi An felt as cramped as Hanoi did on that first trip of mine, its lanterns’ lights cast a glorious newness over the city. Its nearby coastline was well worth the cycle, leaving our bums no worse for wear. In fact, it was my first trip to the beach in years — certainly my first in Vietnam.

Photo by Alexandra Sieh
The coffee in Vietnam is stuff of this columnist’s dreams.

And while I had seen rice terraces through the mists in Ha Giang, they seemed worlds apart from those we found sprawling out in Sapa. Trekking through those hills, we visited villages that blended seamlessly into the crafted hillsides. I kept looking out at the vistas, at the mountains half-hidden by the clouds. Who knew Vietnam could look like this?

Even Hanoi felt fresh. This time, though, I had Manfriend by my side, and his awestruck face reinvented the sights for me. We did things I hadn’t before — visited temples I had only snapped photos of, and enjoyed a spa I wouldn’t have considered stepping into.

On our last day, sipping a coffee on a hidden little rooftop terrace, I chuckled to myself: Even three trips hadn’t been enough. Not in a country as chaotically stunning as this one.

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