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Motorcycles Diaries - The North

I think I say it all...

View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

Having taken the night to sleep on it we decided we would get the train North as we had planned. It meant spending the day in Ha Noi with our bags though and so we decided it wasn't realistic to be too active. First off we went to the train station to buy another couple of tickets, then to the Burmese Embassy to get our passports and then after a little bit of a search we found the cinema. First off we saw the new Harry Potter film, Adam fighting the urge to drop off through out and I had to admit that it was the film version of a filler track on an album. Next we saw Public Enemies which I enjoyed a little more than Adam, which may have been due to my deeper appreciation for Mr Depp.

It had been a rainy day, which made our double feature experience more justifiable. As we made it back outside we were treated to the best fork lightening I have ever witnessed and Adam managed to get some good snaps.
As we still had ages till the train we began to make the long walk to the station, grabbing a kebab on the way. When we were about half way there the heavens opened once more and we found a bit of shelter to wait it out. It persisted for quite some time and as we stood there my parents called, so I managed to have a brief conversation with them over the sound of the ground being consistently pummelled.

When it stopped we walked the rest of the way but still had some time to wait at the train station and all we wanted to do was be on our way. Finally it was time to go and we found our seats, being cheapskates we had decided against getting beds. To begin with it seemed it had been a good choice, we'd got seats with a bit of extra leg room and the carriage was fairly empty. Unfortunately just before the train left we were descended upon by a large group of men who all seemed to be part of some club or organisation. They filled the half of the carriage which was empty and despite it being gone 11pm they appeared to have no intention of going to sleep. Behind us the lights were turned off and people began to drop off, in front of us (as we were in the middle) the fun was just beginning as packs of cards were produced and the men chatted noisily. The air con wasn't working well so they opened the windows, even when it was fixed they kept them open until they were told to close them. Safe to say it was not a restful night.

Despite a distinct lack of sleep I was pleased when it was time to get off. We had arrived in a town called Lao Cai and we now had to get a bus to a placed called Sapa, the Northern Vietnam tourist hub, and here we hoped to rent a motorbike. Getting the bus involved the usual negotiation and then waiting as they try to fill it to the absolute max. The journey was quite pretty although it didn't really alert us to the kind of scenery we were going to get to see.

Sapa is quite a nice little place, it shares a certain damp quality that we have experienced in all mountain towns but it is a little more established than some. People flock here for the mountain air and to interact with the hill tribes who come out in force to make the most of the tourist trade. Most of those that visit Sapa are Zao and even though they follow you around you can help but find them endearing. The majority are women and they are all dressed traditionally in dark blue and have their incredibly long hair pulled up on top of their heads and encased in a hat/thick hair band.
It used to be that they held a 'love market' on a Sunday where the tribes men and women would come to try and find a partner, but now it more seems to an every day market. However we did arrive on a Sunday and there was a certain atmosphere and buzz to the place.

It was this fact that made finding a hotel a little tricky, everywhere seemed firstly fairly full and secondly expensive. We ended up finding a room which was ok and also had a bit of a view, we only planned to stay one night so it didn't matter too much. Renting a bike was a breeze in comparison to the troubles we'd had in Ha Noi. Next door to the hotel the man was very eager to get us on our way and gave us some advice on a route, the price seemed fair so we arranged to get the bike at 8am the next morning.

With that task complete we had some lunch, then some sleep to make up for the lack of it on the train and then in the evening had a proper mooch around the town. We had a bbq dinner, including lady fingers which are a thin, long, green vegetables and Adam wanted to try Chicken's feet. I had a bit of a taste but I couldn't quite get the image of a live chicken darting about on these pointy, clawed, talon like feet out of my head, plus there was the fact that it just didn't taste very nice. Apart from that though it was very good and the lady cooking was very sweet. We then had a bit of a wander around the market and soaked up the atmosphere for a while. Adam bought himself a new mack to replace the one that had been tumble-dried to death in Ho Chi Minh courtesy of a careless laundry service. After the long and drawn out haggling process we were both exhausted and headed to bed.

In the morning we had a quick but expensive breakfast (we were looking forward to finding some cheaper food on the road) and then we went to pick up the bike. The guy had told us it was a new bike, which had made us more inclined to go with him, Adam was definitely keen to make sure we got one with good brakes this time. It was a semi-automatic which meant it was a bit smaller but we were expecting to have to endure sore bums no matter what and it would be beneficial on the steep climbs.

We pulled away and straight away that sense of freedom rushed back, what happened over the next few days was completely up to us and we could go where we liked. Once out of the town we headed West and it didn't take long for us to blown away by the scenery. We have been in the mountains a few times on this trip but this beat all that we had seen. Maybe it was being on the motorbike, as you are able to view the complete panorama as well as take in so much more than when you are just walking, it was a bit of a sensory overload. I categorise the first day as Misty mountains, as the majority of it was spent circling the highest mountain in Vietnam, Mount Fansipan.
Its summit was shrouded in cloud but gazing up from below now and again there would be a break and you would get some indication of how large it loomed. The hills rose and fell all around us, offering up large valleys for us to stare down into. 3DSC00013.jpg

Waterfalls were a common feature, ranging from a trickle of water snaking it's way down the hill side to a significant torrent shooting to the ground below.
We stopped to have a look at a few when we got further away from the town as they were quieter. Soon enough we had left the tourists behind and we were out on our own and open to the surprised looks once more. Just the way we like it. We stopped for lunch in a small town and they were amused by our presence.

The man who'd rented us the bike had described a route that we could do but based on the miles we had covered so far it seemed a little conservative. He told us not to go one way because the road was a bit bad but it made the most logical sense as it provided the right sized loop, so off we set. We were heading for the town of Lai Chau which would take us the closest to China either of us had ever been. We had read that it could get quite chilly in the mountains but we were being treated to glorious weather which just made the colours of our surroundings even more amazing. The deep, rich green of the trees combined with the bright, vivid green of the grass and all set against a blue back drop. On days like this nothing beats mother nature.

We were dirty, sun burnt and sore by the time we reached Lai Chau, a very strange place indeed. From what we gathered from the guidebook and the surroundings I think the town is being rebuilt after the old one was flooded (on purpose) when a new dam was erected.
We drove around for a while trying to find somewhere to stay and a few places, despite advertising themselves as hotels turned us away and we ended up returning to the first one we'd seen which was firmly in the being built part of town. Still the room was nice enough and we were happy just to be off the bike for a little while.

In the evening we drove down to a man made lake which was really quite pretty and gave nature a bit of a run for it's money.
The sunset was really pretty, as the low lying cloud which hugged the mountains was tinged pink and orange. I am definitely a fan of misty mountain sunsets. The finale was strips of warm orange light which streaked across the darkening sky.
As we stood photographing it the locals looked on and I asked Adam if he thought they took something like this for granted and he said 'yes and you probably would too if you lived here.' That probably is true although I find it hard to believe.

We had dinner in a restaurant/banquet hall, it was completely deserted and in this town I wondered if it ever got full or whether these people are just waiting for the place to be full re-populated. The people were really friendly as we communicated via the guidebook list of handy words when ordering food. After that we went to bed all excited about what we would see tomorrow.

The next day was our one year anniversary and it was the perfect way to spend it. It was more tropical than the first, as the road dropped down to follow the river as it carved its way through the rock.
The trees and vegetation became more jungle like and the humidity raised a little. The weather continued to hold as the sun shone down brightly and it really was making the trip for us. Not having to bother with the ponchos as we had done in the South was a blessing. We saw a little boy riding on top of a water buffalo which is one of my favourite images from the trip so far, no matter how many times I see it.
It just seems to encompass the beautiful simplicity of life for these people and I find myself envying them. We then saw an elephant on the back of a lorry which I have to say I wasn't expecting, not sure where it was heading but I managed to snap a quick photo when the driver slowed down for us. I hope it was going somewhere nice.

As we drove along side the muddy waters of the river we saw lots of butterflies, some of which were really large. We stopped and Adam took on the role of David Attenborough/Bill Oddy as he remained perfectly still and with a bit of perseverance got some great photographs.
The whole flapping of butterflies makes me a little jittery so I thought it was best to leave him to it and quietly observed. Being able to stop like this in the middle of nowhere is what makes the bike the best thing we have done.

By midday we had made it to the town we had planned to spend the night in but there was really nothing there. We stopped for a drink and bought a few snacks but we would have to continue on. It meant about 90km more which would take roughly 3 hours. The road climbed back up a little and we were in amongst the rolling hills, all of it being farmed.
It reminded me a little strangely of the Windows XP Desktop background with the image of that rolling green hill. With the little villages of simply erected wooden buildings in these lush surroundings it made me think that this would have been a perfect Shire for the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings and the movies could easily have been filmed here.
Finally we reached a place where we could stay the night. We had a quick bite to eat, bought some fruit for desert and headed back to the room for another early night.

The next day on the bike started out with us passing a quite significant landslide
and then we or rather Adam had to navigate his way down and up a small track where I am guessing the road had completely fallen away.
I got off the bike to make things a little easier and followed behind, pushing him at one point when things got a bit steep and the ground didn't provide enough traction. Perhaps this is what the man had meant when he said the road was not very good.

Having covered a lot of ground the day before we took things quite slow and had an easy target in mind. The scenery became more reminiscent of a forest and we saw one tribes person on the back of a bike with a gun strapped to him.
Adam thought it looked home made and we presumed he was off to do some hunting. The mountains here were quite narrow in places and cut through the valleys like knives, I thought the tops of them looked like the islets at Halong Bay and wondered if maybe there was some connection.
We stopped to snap a few photographs of ourselves there as we hadn't really had much opportunity to get a picture with both of us in it.

We continued on and then suddenly Adam came to a halt, apparently he had spotted a grasshopper on the road and he wanted to go and have a look.
It seemed to be very subdued as it sat there motionless and very much in harms way. We took a few photos and then Adam got it up on a stick, it was actually quite cute when you looked at it up close.
After the human-insect encounter he popped on the grass and we were on our way once more.

By early afternoon we reached the town of Than Uyen and we decided to stay the night here. There were lots of hotels to choose from and we even saw another Western couple so we knew we were getting closer to Sapa once more. We picked a hotel because it seemed to have a nice view of the mountains and then we had a brief walk around the town. We got a lot of quizzical looks and some young people called us over to sit and have a cold drink with them. English is not that widely spoken in Vietnam, not like other places we have been too so the conversation was really limited and it was a shame because it would have been nice to have a proper chat.

After we returned to the hotel the heavens opened and it began to pour with rain. We stayed in the rest of the day and ate in the hotel in the evening. We didn't have too much ground to cover the next day but with there being little else to do we made it another early night.

The next day it was raining lightly and it was quite misty.
We decided better to be safe than sorry and we bought ourselves a couple of ponchos, we didn't want to be caught out if it started to pour. The bad weather didn't really matter because for the majority of the trip we were covering old ground, in some ways it made it more interesting. At times when we were climbing higher into the mountains the valley below was completely banished from view and it just looked like a white abyss stretching on into the distance.
Now we experienced the cold weather of the mountains and we were so thankful it hadn't been like this the last few days.

We made it back to Sapa by late morning and returned the bike. Reflecting on the trip Adam said that the road must be one of the best in the world for motorbike exploration, with it continually twisting and turning and a surprise around every corner. Back on two feet we walked round the market and ended up spending quite a bit of money. The local tribes girls pulled at my heart strings and they really are so sweet, one was my age and had three children. Such a different life.
We bought some handmade decorations they use for their clothes but we thought would look good on a Christmas tree. A few more purchases having been made, we knew it was time to leave. Our train back to Ha Noi was not until later that evening but we decided we'd go and wait at the station.
Only one more day in Vietnam and then it was off to Thailand. Time seemed to be passing by quickly these days.

Our last day in Vietnam was spent looking round the shops in Ha Noi. The value for money when it comes to bits and bobs for the house is amazing and looking back we may have gone a bit over board, still I think it was worth it.

We had really enjoyed our time here, and the differences between the North and the South seem to compliment each other. If I had to pick I'm not sure where I would suggest people visit, perhaps if you can only experience one, then go North. The scenery is breathtaking and you'll still find lovely people who will make your experience memorable.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 01:00 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world

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