Hi Hanoi Travel Blog | Chapter 7

r.j. kushner
4 min readDec 23, 2023

Well, it happened. I had my first ride on the back of a motorbike in Hanoi.

Nhi was meeting with a friend at the mall and asked her father to ask me if I wanted to give it a try.

It’s something of a right of passage, one I quickly turned down in a display of complete cowardice when I visited in 2019. This time I accepted eagerly. Nhi suggested it’s partially because I needed something to write about for this blog.

I was ready to embrace the adventure, discover my dangerous side, and was presented with a yellow flower-covered helmet Nhi wore when she was a little girl. I was told it was the only one available. Nhi’s mother took a picture of me in it.

Nhi’s father took the motorbike out and drove it to the front of the apartment building to pick me up. It’s a Honda, circa 1997, and in immaculate condition. A classic. I don’t see many like it on the road.

There were rubber-covered foot holds in the back of the bike, which I was relieved to see, because I had no idea what I was going to do with my feet and legs. I got on behind Nhi’s father and put my arms around him, but not all the way, just around his sides, close-fisted, trying not to squeeze.

We took off slowly. I didn’t have to worry about balancing, as the bike does most of the work. Our pace felt a little bit like being in a bumper car, but instead of bumping into other cars, the goal is not to weep with fear on your father-in-law’s shoulder.

The only truly unnerving part of the ride was when we turned into the real traffic, a roundabout where it’s every man for himself. It helps to see how bored all the other riders around you look; their smoking and texting makes you feel like it’s no big deal that your kneecap was inches away from being removed by a Suzuki Omni.

We rode around West Lake, two lakes that used to be one, and took in what was unfortunately the most romantic sunset I’ve ever seen in my life. There was a perfect view of the cityscape across the lake, with flowers of every color lining the shore for the coming new year.

I was too nervous to try to take my phone out of my pocket for a picture, so I kind of had to just live in the moment and try to soak it in. By this point I’d relaxed my arms to my sides with my hands on my knees. The wind from the lake felt nice and every time I caught my reflection in the rear view mirror I was smiling like a big dope.

I grew more confident and started turning my head around to see more sights. There was some construction going on, as well as a swanky party in a lakeside restaurant.

Several people smiled at me, and I thought perhaps they were impressed to see an American riding with such ease and confidence. Then I remembered I was wearing a little girl’s helmet.

We picked up Nhi at the mall at dusk. The plan was for her and I to walk back, but she suggested we do something called “sandwiching” — wherein three people ride the motorbike together, one in the middle. Nhi took the middle. I gave her the flower helmet.

We rode back in the dark laughing and feeling like kids, listening as the Honda struggled under our adult weight. We took the back roads and I was told this time not to lean too far in any direction.

We made it back and I dismounted and my legs felt rubbery. I told Nhi’s extended family of my harrowing journey the next day and no one was the least bit impressed.

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r.j. kushner

Dubbed by the New York Times as “all out of free articles this month.”