Awesome, just awesome!

9 July 2019

This next part of our journey takes us to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. It also takes us through yet more tough hills, but since our success through northern Laos and so far in Vietnam we feel a bit more confident in our abilities.

Wednesday 3 July 19 – Na Khai to Moc Chau – 52km

I don’t often use the word ‘awesome’ as I think it’s overused, which means its impact gets watered down. However, the scenery in this part of northern Vietnam is awesome, just awesome! Today, for example, every corner we turned we would go “wow just look at that”…

The route took us on a steady, but very manageable, climb which hugged the side of the hills and so we had stunning view after stunning view…

When we were in Norway, Slovakia and Bulgaria we talked about how beautiful the scenery was and this part of Vietnam is definitely up there with the best…

The pictures really don’t do it justice at all (what can you expect from an iPhone camera!?). But it goes down as some of the best riding we have done to date and we may go on about it for some time!

So far in Vietnam we have stayed in budget accommodation, which has been of reasonable quality, clean and cheap (around £6-£8 per night with air-conditioning). We have mentioned seeing lots of traditional country houses in this region and some of them have been converted into guesthouses. Moc Chau, our destination for today, is a bit of a tourist location where some of these traditional houses can be found, so we decided to splash out and stay in one. The building looked great, though we think that it was actually a new building built like an old one. The bedroom was lovely with floor-to-ceiling wood panelling…

….although the bathroom looked like the builders had just left and hadn’t been paid.  But that didn’t ruin the overall effect for us!

Thursday 4 July 19 – Moc Chau to Mai Chau – 65km

The accuracy of the terrain elevation data (how much up and down there is) in Google Maps, Komoot and my GPS can be a little hit and miss. When we are planning, we look at the profile of the upcoming hills and how steep they are on both my GPS and Komoot. Google Maps isn’t so helpful as it just tells you the overall amount of climbing and descending. Komoot is the most accurate, but even that isn’t infallible as today proved – it showed a steady, but not particularly steep, hill at the start. It turned out to be quite a bit longer and, at times, steeper than we expected so it was quite a tiring day. Based on Komoot data, I had put this down as an “intermediate difficulty” day, but in reality it was definitely a hard day! The last 20km was, however, a nice long descent.

When we woke it was raining pretty hard outside and that set the tone for the day – basically from the off we were soaked! The past week-or-so has been considerably cooler so on our descent we actually started to feel a bit cold. But we would rather it like that as grunting up the hills is still hot and sweaty, even when the temperature doesn’t go much above 30 degrees.

As the rain had set in for the day it was fairly murky and we didn’t get to see much of what we assume was nice scenery…

As we were nearing the top I lost sight of Martina for a bit too long, so I freewheeled back down to find her. She’d been talking to a girl on a scooter who’d stopped her for a chat and in the process gave her a load of fruit. We think the pink/purple one is a dragon fruit and we don’t know what the other ones are, but they all tasted great…

The route did take us through some tea plantations which were nice enough but to be honest I think that we were rather spoilt in north east Bangladesh. But we had no idea that Vietnam produced tea though.

We got to Mai Chau, found our (basic!) accommodation, had a snooze and then went for a wander around. All of the small towns we have visited since arriving in Vietnam have been really nice – there’s normally a buzz about them, a local market to wander around and lots of people to say hello to. Though everyone waves and says hello they then leave us alone which is really great. Mai Chau is quite touristy because it is scenic, has some nearby tribal villages and is only about 2 hours from Hanoi by bus or car. We went for a walk along the picturesque bottom of the valley and through the tribal villages of Poom Coong and Lac…

The villages are obviously quite old, but they have been updated to suit tourists’ needs, so there’s plenty of guesthouses and we saw lots of souvenirs on sale. We came across a woman working an old fashion loom – we’ve seen these all through Laos and now in Vietnam. This one was obviously there for tourists, whereas the others we’ve seen were proper working looms, mainly making mats to sell…

We found a suitable place for a quiet beer and chewed the fat for a couple of hours whilst watching the locals go about their business in torrential rain!

Friday 5 July 19 – Mai Chau

So, because it was a ‘day off’ we decided to climb the 1,200 steps to Hang Chieu, a cave halfway up the side of one of the hills that surround Mai Chau! Not overly tough, but we could definitely feel our legs were tired and we sweated a lot getting up there. But it was a fantastic cave, so well worth the effort…

 

And some great views on the way there and back…

 

Saturday 6 July 19 – Mai Chau – Hoa Binh – 65km

This was the last really big day in the recent stretch of hills in northern Laos and Vietnam and after a day off in Mai Chau we were raring to go at 5:30. The long climb out of the town wasn’t as hard as we’d anticipated – perhaps we’re hill fit now and although I wouldn’t say we made it look easy, it didn’t seem that hard. Once again the road started by hugging the side of the hills…

..and although it was a bit cloudy we got yet more brilliant views in between…

Hoa Binh, our destination turned out to be a rather nice leafy town with Da River running through it and some nice vegetable allotments alongside the side …

 

Sunday 7 July 19 – Hoa Binh to Hanoi – 84km (inc run to the local bike shop)

The road took us over our very last set of hills for a while and onto the plain that Hanoi is set on…

I’m sure that in weeks to come we’ll miss the hills but, for now, after about 1,100km of almost continual hills since Vientiane 23 days ago we were happy to be on some flat ground. We’d been told that the Hanoi traffic was a bit of a nightmare and it certainly got busier as we got closer to the city, but we didn’t find it too bad.  Maybe all the cities in India have prepared us well for traffic chaos!  That’s not to say we didn’t have to have our wits about us as there were scooters weaving around literally everywhere, cutting us up, stopping right in front of us, etc.

We booked an AirBnB room near to the Old Quarter right in the centre of town and although we got there early,  the room was ready so we could move in. This is probably one of the best places we’ve stayed in to date – it’s a large studio flat that we can spread out in. It also has access to a washing machine so we immediately started putting the contents of our bags through it!

Something has finally gone wrong with one of our bikes. Other than a single puncture back in India, having to replace the rear tyres and the brake pads a few times and regularly tightening bolts, the bikes have performed brilliantly. However, the bearings in the bottom bracket (bit where the pedals go around) on my bike were on their way out. I could feel something was wrong through my feet and there was sideways movement in the crank arms. The long-distance cycling community came to the rescue and someone recommended a bike mechanic in Hanoi. So, after dumping our kit we cycled over, gave them my bike and new bearings that I hadn’t carried all the way from London (they didn’t have any), waited an hour and came back to find my bike fixed and all sorted! Not only that they’d mended one of my mudguard fixings and cleaned my bike! In total it cost the equivalent of £3.50 the for the labour!

Chores done we were now free to enjoy the delights not Hanoi!

Our recent route…

Since Vientiane in Laos we had debated which route we should take to Hanoi. Quite low on our list of possible routes was the one going north east across all the big hills as we thought it looked too difficult for us. However, our fortuitous meeting with Hannah just outside of Vang Vieng changed our minds and on her recommendstion we made the decision to take that route. She had just completed the same journey but in reverse and although she said it was hard she also said it was doable and very spectacular. Obviously our meeting was meant to be because we did it, and with the amazing scenery it was absolutely worth it. Thank you Hannah!

This was the toughest and most prolonged period of hard hills that we have had on our trip to date and we both feel quite chuffed that we have conquered them. We are also quite knackered, so a few days off in Hanoi are most welcome and the cycling from Hanoi onwards shouldn’t be anywhere near as testing.

Some recent musings…

Since we have crossed into Vietnam we have had more than our fair share of, not-so-nice interactions with dogs. On more than one occasion Martina has got her Pepper Spray out in anticipation of using it and I have been reaching for my Big Stick. The annoying thing is that a lot of the time the dog owners just stand and laugh at us. Now, we’ve been told that it is bad form to get angry here and that we’re supposed to laugh along with them. But that is really difficult when their dog is snarling, foaming at the mouth and bearing its teeth just a metre away from us! The dog is definitely not laughing!

It’s not actually the male dogs that we have to generally worry about.  They are normally larking about biting each other, but the female bitches are there to properly see us off. They are often resting up during the day because they are more active at night and we see them lazing around in gardens and on forecourts. But don’t let that fool you…they can go from being asleep to doing Mach 5 directly at us at knee-height in a matter of seconds. They literally come out of nowhere.

We are very vulnerable on our bikes especially when we are crawling slowly up a hill and so these interactions are very scary. These incidents have got me thinking…

  • Why are the dogs here so aggressive? In the past few months, in other countries, we have had a handful of interactions with dogs and then suddenly we cross the border into Vietnam and it’s almost an hourly occurrence. What’s changed?
  • Are the dogs (and cats for that matter) more intelligent on the subcontinent and in South East Asia than the ones in Europe? Since December we have been through India, Bangladesh, India again, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and now Vietnam and I think I’ve seen perhaps two dead dogs at the side of the road in all that time. All over Europe we saw hundreds of dead dogs (and cats) during our travels.  Why aren’t there just as many in South East Asia as there are in Europe?  Are they smarter here??!

2 comments

  1. Comment by Lani

    Lani Reply 9 July 2019 at 11:11 pm

    Passion fruit. Great accomplishment on those days of mts. You have so much more of SE Asia to enjoy. I’ll also sending along another in your future aus blog. Stay well. Thanx for your postings.

    • Comment by Martina

      Martina Reply 11 July 2019 at 2:04 am

      Thanks Lani! We found this out from a local yesterday and were surprised that we didn’t know it ourselves…we recognised the taste but had no idea what passion fruit looked like! Learning all the time on this trip 🙂

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