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Bae Dong Il cycled across Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Bae Dong Il.
Bae is studying Vietnamese at the University of Social and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City. In May 2019, after visiting Hanoi and HCMC, he decided on a transnational cycle trip from north to south.
His parents were at first afraid the trip would be dangerous, while his friends called him "crazy".
"I chose to travel by bicycle in order to access those areas I would never see or experience traveling by car or bus," he said.
To placate his family, Bae invited another South Korean friend to join him on the trip, which cost him VND21 million ($900), including a new VND2.8 million bike. On hitting the road, he only brought three sets of clothes, a little cash and a credit card.
The young man's journey lasted from May 18 to June 12, 2019. Starting from Hanoi, he cycled to Phu Ly, Ninh Binh (northern Vietnam), Da Nang, Hue, Quy Nhon, Nha Trang (central region), Da Lat (Central Highlands), Phan Thiet (central region), Vung Tau and ended his journey in HCMC (southern Vietnam). His companion rode with him to Da Nang then decided to catch a plane to HCMC due to fatigue.
"I wasn’t sad, though I felt a bit lonely. In addition, because I traveled alone, no one took photos of me."
Bae’s favorite dish on the journey was broken rice with grilled pork, famous in southern Vietnam, and popular among many South Koreans visiting the country. He liked the highland town of Da Lat the most because of its cool, T-shirt weather climate.
Traversing Vietnam, the cyclist was often referred to as Hai Dang, a Vietnamese name. Photo courtesy of Bae Dong Il.
One of Bae’s best memories of his month-long trip was being ripped off, first buying a bottle of water at thrice the usual price, then paying VND200,000 ($8.7) for a plate of fried rice with seafood, normally VND70,000.
Another time, he and his friend were charged VND400,000 ($17) by a hotel which initially told them that the price was VND200,000. The hotel staff said that by saying VND200,000 they had meant that's for one guest, leaving the duo "speechless".
However, Bae met a lot of kind and helpful locals along the way. During a trip to a beach in Vung Tau Town, 100 kilometers from the finish line in HCMC, he slipped and fell from a rock, injuring his hand. Failing to locate a taxi, a Vietnamese tourist eventually took Bae to hospital by car.
"Actually I only rode my bike from Hanoi to Vung Tau then took a bus to HCMC because of the unexpected accident," he said.
Bae Dong Il takes a picture on Golden Bridge in Da Nang, from where he continued his journey alone. Photo courtesy of Bae Dong Il.
Bae has lived in Vietnam for almost two years. In February, when the coronavirus epidemic broke out in Vietnam, he participated in a volunteer program to distribute face masks across the north-central province of Nghe An.
He said the more he learns Vietnamese, the harder it gets, especially pronunciation. "When I talk to people in Vietnamese, sometimes they still don't understand what I say."
The reason Bae chose a major in Vietnamese Studies was because he wants to gain an in-depth understanding of the country’s culture, customs and people. Also, in South Korea, many already speak English, Chinese and Japanese very well, so he decided to study and speak Vietnamese.
"South Korea and Vietnam have a very good relationship so I want to study it further. After graduation, I want to stay in Vietnam to work but if I can't find a job here, I will return to South Korea."
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