Motorbike newbie explores Vietnam
THE motorbike exhaust burn on my leg has almost healed, thanks to the expert care of nurse and travel buddy Melanie Miller.
It now forms a perfectly round reminder that before I headed to Vietnam I'd never sat on a motorbike.
Melanie is by far the better, safer rider, more able to negotiate the oncoming trucks, bikes and cars headed straight for her.
My turning circle was not the tightest and the injuries we both sustained when I didn't quite commit to crossing an intersection are still healing.
Despite the injuries Vietnam on two wheels turned out to be the best way to traverse the country, but do watch out for chickens. They quite literally run out and cross the road, neck first, ahead of your bike.
We started in Hanoi, hiring bicycles to explore the city, finding our way around the French Old Quarter before walking around the stunning Hoan Kiem Lake and later watching the famous water puppet theatre.
A trip through the Hoa Lo Prison took us back to the war, from the French guillotine to sewerage escape tunnels.
Only a few hours by bus to Mai Chau and we were navigating the countryside by motorbike.
Mai Chau stays in my mind for the stunning and expansive rice paddies in the valley and compared to Hanoi, the population.
Where a backpacker's dorm goes for around $5 a night each, a hostel room is only a few dollars more.
We completely avoided staying in backpacker dorms and instead found comfort in bungalows, home stays and hostels.
Home stays are springing up around the area as families look to keep travellers for a few nights in their stilt houses.
We taught the two young children we stayed with how to play cards in the mornings while their mum prepared breakfast.
It felt like a true holiday; taking each day moment by moment.
We finished off by finding the 1000-step cave at the top of a mountain that overlooked the valley.
Heading to Sapa we were greeted with four days of rain ... that was not part of the plan.
After the first days' failed attempt to hike down the mountain to a nearby H'mong village we turned back and acquainted ourselves with our hotel and the fireplace.
Weather turned in our favour as we made our way across to Halong Bay where we stayed at Cat Ba Island, a tropical island and our hub to go on boating, kayaking and island adventures.
Navigating a kayak through bat-filled caves and grottoes was a highlight, as well as climbing to the top of a sharp, jagged mountain in thongs.
One unlucky traveller lost his selfie-stick held go-pro in one of the cracks of the mountain.
We flew down to Da Nang and spent time in the ancient city of Hoi An before flying back via Hue.
During our time in Vietnam we never quite got used to the condensed milk coffees, but quickly got accustomed to the cheap local beer and amazing food on offer.
Pho (beef noodle soup), seafood straight out of the water, fresh spring rolls and pawpaw salads were among the culinary delights.
Vietnam was everything we hoped it would be, though it took a week of late-night wanderings to find a karaoke bar.