We have been thinking about organising a trip in Indochina for quite a while, but couldn’t decide between Thailand and Vietnam. We bet on Vietnam because of its unique vibe – it’s genuine and not yet overly contaminated by the tourist industry. It’s a big, vast country and it’s impossible to see it all during a fortnight. Therefore, we’ve chosen to bet on the capital, the mountains and the seaside.
Vietnam is roughly the size of Poland, but has over twice as many citizens – 90 million. Hanoi has 7 million inhabitants and 5 million mopeds, and frankly speaking it’s rather hard to believe – you just have to see it. We will definitely give it a try and spend one day exploring the city on Vespas. Later, we escape the hustle and bustle of the capital and head for the Chinese border. Vietnamese mountains are quite high – over 3,000 meters, but their extremely steep peaks sure take your breath away. They tower over the terrain like no other mountains in the world.
The whole country is covered with a maze of roads. We chose the most impressive ones, sometimes only barely 40 centimeters wide. Our route strikes through narrow paths, rice terraces, along muddy roads. Vietnam is green. It’s green because it rains a loooot. And when it rains it gets muddy. And when it gets muddy the true adventure begins. The motorcycle we chose for our trip a Minsk – a true icon in Vietnam. Admittedly, we had our doubts about it, but once we tried it out, w eknew it was unquestionably the best choice we could possibly make. Minsk weighs 100kgs and has the engine and brakes of the Honda. This combination definitely guarantees 100% of unforgettable experiences!
After the trip, there will be time to let your hair down during a two-day relaxation stay on a ship in Halong Bay. You’ll get to see those spectacular rocks growing out of the water that people post on their social media pages. But we can guarantee that this will be the only thing confirming the stereotypes about Vietnam. The rest of the trip will definitely outlive any expectation you might have about this part of the world.
Join us and see for yourselves!
We land in Hanoi and get used to Indochina. It’s a big city with an absolutely unique vibe. Plenty of cosy cafes and unique shops. It’s where the east meets with the west.
Prepare for jet lag – 6 hours time difference is quite a lot. We’ll try to beat it with a moped ride around the capital. Equipped in Vespas we’ll face the challenge thrown by the cities maze and heave traffic. You’ll be surprised it’s not as difficult as it may seem.
Our garage is located conveniently at the northeast edge of Hanoi, so in good order we find ourselves crossing the Red River and heading northwards on a large road straight towards the Chinese border. After 80 kilometres we turn to more picturesque and narrow roads. Then lovely limestone rock formations called ‘karst’ begin to break up the horizon, and we strike northwards straight into it. We follow quiet country roads that meander past these unique karst rock formations, and see traditional Vietnamese rural communities close up. The karst eventually yields to empty forested hills, where Tay hill tribe people live as they have for centuries, before making a sharp decent to the border town of That Khe, where French forces suffered crippling ambushes in their war against Ho Chi Minh. 230km
Passing a number of critical battle sites amongst the picturesque karst, we turn off Highway 4 and head straight towards a remote border crossing. In the distance the density of the karst becomes apparent, and in short order we are in the thick of things, with the karst swarming around us. Nung and Tay hill tribe people till the corn and rice fields in this magical area and we have time to visit the impressive Ban Gioc Waterfall, which straddles the Chinese border. Continuing along the river which marks the border, we wind our way towards the small town of Quan Uyen, where we spend the night with a local family. 160km
We make our way south westwards, leaving the karst behind us as we ride up, over and into a succession of steep, undulating hills populated by Dao hill tribe people who construct delightful rice terraces at the base of the mountains. We’ll pass remnants of France’s colonial past like old forts, villas and bridges as we ride remote roads to the market town of Cho Ra, where a long boat will be waiting for us and the bikes. Once loaded up, we enjoy the afternoon cruising down river through the amazing Puong cave before emerging onto the beautiful Ba Be lake, surrounded on both sides by primary forest. We’ll sleep in a traditional stilt house one the banks of the lake and under the imposing 1000 metre high cliff face. Overnight in Pac Ngoi. 180km
We head north-westwards and ride up and over a number of wonderful passes, where the local people have laboured for centuries to terrace the rice fields, which spread out over the sides of the remote, wind swept mountains. We descend to the rustic, frontier settlement of Bao Lac, where French soldiers once kept a fort to keep Chinese raiders at bay. Overnight in Bao Lac. 160km
We begin our accent into the remarkable Ha Giang plateau, an out of this world region characterised by staggeringly beautiful mountainous karst rock formations inhabited by Hmong, Lo Lo, Bo Yi and Dao hill tribe people in villages that look like they date from the 15th century. The sheer size and depth of the incredible scenery is outstanding, so little wonder we will linger at Heaven’s Gate Pass, before bedding down in Meo Vac. 170km
For no other reason than to further enjoy the amazing scenery in this area, we will spend the day exploring the rarely visited tracks and trails that link the many remote hill tribe villages in this fairytale region of craggy cliffs, misty mountains and enormous gorges. If the days are right we will visit one of the many hill tribe markets that occur here, or we might ride to the northern most point Vietnam (marked by an enormous flag pole) or even visit the former palace of a Hmong king dating to the last century. Overnight in Dong Van. 100km
After breakfast in Dong Van’s charming hill tribe market, we make our slow decent off the Dong Van plateau, up and over mountain passes, through deep gorges and past picturesque rivers, all the time surrounded by the mind blowing limestone karst scenery that this region is made so special for. We have a number of route options, depending on the riding skills of the group, but all wonderful roads lead eventually to the provincial capital of Ha Giang, with its pleasant hotels and modern restaurants. Overnight in Ha Giang 140km
Today is designed to be a nice rest day, so in the morning we will make a short ride to a delightful French run eco-lodge set next to a small river in the forest. Take some time off the bike and take a walk or spend some time in the lodge’s spa, or hit the single tracks that are everywhere in this area. Overnight in Pan Phou village. 70km
The road makes a splendid traverse on sides of some large mountains before following the Chay river, with enormous mountains climbing up on either side. This is border territory, and many Hmong, Nung and Dao hill tribe people tender the beautiful rice terraced fields. Just before we arrive at the market town of Bac Ha, we pass by a massive 1,500 metre high gorge, that marks the border with China. Overnight in Bac Ha. 140km
The day starts well with a long and steep climb up the switch backed mountain that looks above Xin Man. Once at the top we are afforded grand views out over the massive Xin Man gorge and into China. Then we explore quiet country lanes where Flower Hmong people live in clustered villages, before dropping right back down to Lao Cai. Overnight on the train. 150km
Time to relax. We head for the seaside and spend a night on a ship. Great food, a massage and a some beach time make for a perfect ending of a trip.
A farewell to Vietnam…
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