March 22nd, 2010
Unable to get facebook working at the moment I’m afraid – so no pics for the time being!
We’ve been busy though – couple of days at Cao Bang up on the Chinese border, riding through some of the nicest scenery we’ve seen yet. Much less commercial than Sapa which was nice.
We’re now holed up in Hanoi, where we’ll be joined by Mat’s brother Mark for the final part of the trip. Heading off in the morning to meet the folks from KOTO, an amazing operation here in Hanoi that trains disadvantaged children in hospitality and employs many of them in their restaurant.
Looking forward to that!
March 17th, 2010
So, who knew that Vietnam has (unofficially) officially blocked access to facebook? Hope the hotel doesn’t mind the little download
I’ve had to install to get this stuff working again…
The decision to park Tom’s bike in Luang Prabang made the next stages much easier. Our friend Somxai was surprised to see us again
(he’s the guy organised our boat for us), and agreed to mind the bike until we collect it. So there it sits, on his verandah… Made
it to Muang Khau for the night, after a hair-raising trip across a suspension bridge high over a river to reach our guesthouse.
It was a great night – dinner with the owner’s family, including the obligatory shots of lao-lao! Just the preparation we needed for a
run at the border the next day…
March 16th, 2010
Our plan was to head from Cat Ba to Cao Bang, on the Chinese border, but with two ferries at snail’s pace, we got stuck in peak hour in Haiphong and decided to stay there the night. It was our first real introduction to Vietnam traffic, with a cacophony of horns, trucks, cars, scooters, pushbikes, pedestrians…, factory workers, school kids… all competing for the same bit of tarmac!
March 15th, 2010
In Vietnam, our bikes are magnets for guys of all ages to crawl over – much more so than all the other places we’ve been. They’ll jump on the back behind you, poke, pull, tap, twist every piece, then do the same to our motorcross boots!
It’s funny for a bit but we’re getting over it pretty quickly…
Feeling the need for something a little more active, Geoff signed up with Slo Pony adventures for some rock climbing in Halong Bay along with four ther Aussies called Ben and Tim.
Mat and Paul picked a less adventurous option, and chartered a boat to go in search of the Top Gear bar…
No luck on the bar front, but the climbing was excellent!
The boat ride out to Tiger Beach started out overcast and foggy, but we were blessed with a bit of blue sky later on!
Floating villages and houses everywhere. Very picturesqe, but the downside is that the water is absolutely filthy - more or less raw sewerage in a lot of places. Completely spoils an otherwise beautiful place.
Also got in a spot of kayaking
That’s a rowing technique I’ve never seen before… I think I know why Vietnam doesn’t feature in the Olympic rowing events.
The floating houses seem to all be built on polystyrene blocks with bamboo frames
Geoff on an easy number, while another guy (Joe the Alaskan fisherman) knocked over an overhang climb – his persistance paid off…
March 14th, 2010
Halong Bay… great spot to chill out for a day or two. We did the island over on our bikes,
although visibility was still not very good.
A Minsk. Not just any Minsk… this one was ridden two-up all the way from Ho Chi Minh City. We toyed with the idea of swapping the DR for it (the Minsk riders were pretty keen) but after a test ride, it didn’t appeal so much. No brakes (to speak of), no suspension (to speak of), random gearbox, and top speed about 60… At that speed, death seemed certain!
Little restaurant in the middle of nowhere where we stopped for lunch. Delicious food, some of the best we’ve found so far
The Hospital Cave – hidden inside a hill in the middle of the island, it housed around 150 soldiers during the Vietnam war.
Full hospital facilities, swimming pool, cinema, and secure bunkers for Ho Chi Minh and senior officials.
The guesthouse we stayed in was run by a family with about six girls, who were competing see who could be the most disinterested
and grumpy. It took 48 hours for us to get a smile out of this one – only because I busted her sitting on Paul’s bike!
Typical communist Asian edifice – garish neon on concrete, only half working…
March 13th, 2010
Arrived in Hanoi at 5 in the morning after all night on the train, greeted by fog and misty rain. We were hoping we’d left the
cold behind in Sapa! As we’ll be returning to Hanoi in a week or so to meet up with our new fourth rider (hope he lasts longer than the previous one), we collected the bikes and headed straight down to Halong Bay.
After the full-on action of the past couple of weeks we’re feeling the need to relax and recharge for a day or two, and this should be the perfect spot – nearly 2,000 spectacular limestone ‘karsts’, islands rising up out of the water with vertical cliffs and the bay dotted with floating villages. The ferry ride over was a mission – at Halong City the crowd of touts assured us that the ferries didn’t run anymore, and we’d need to pay some exhorbitant sum for a private boat hire to get the 15-odd km to Cat Ba Island. A short ride back to Tuan Chau and we found the local ferry – $2.50 for a bike and rider…
We shared the 2hr ferry trip with a busload of uni students from Hanoi, which was hilarious. They all wanted to pose with our bikes
for pictures, then with us (because we were so tall)…
The early morning mist, and the trains coming and going was wonderfully atmospheric…
Chooks waiting for the ferry
The scenery would have been amazing if the fog wasn’t so heavy
Too cool for school
At one point we amused ourselves by arranging our student friends into height order…
I have nothing to say….. nor does the administrator Geoff!
Mat at his absolute best!
March 12th, 2010
Took the soft option, deciding to do the overnight train from Lao Cai to Hanoi instead of riding… So we rode around Sapa a little
then headed for the Lao Cai railway station. As we pulled up outside, a local guy came running over and produced a City2Sunrise business card in the name of one Tom Bender! He’d helped …Tom with his train tickets a week earlier, and so we enlisted his help as well.
With the bikes on a later train, we were trusting him not to disappear them… but he was solid and they arrived in Hanoi about half
an hour after we did. Had to feel sorry for ‘Ha’, a teacher from Sapa who was unlucky enough to have the ticket for the fourth bed in
our sleeper cabin… I’m sure our evil-smelling bike gear and snoring scarred her for life!
These ladies are from the Red Dzao tribe I believe… flogging wares to tourists.
Terraced Village near Sapa
At Lao Cai we (inadvertently) almost rode across the border to China before the border guards got hold of us and turned us around.
These guys were transporting stuff back and forward through the checkpoint
Lots of Minsks in Vietnam…
That’s China on the other side of the river… as close as we’ll get to it on this trip.
Our sleeper cabin. Quite comfortable, but the beds were about 2 inches too short!
Our conductor… She wasn’t so keen on having her photo taken but couldn’t quite hold the smile in
The bikes were left on the platform, in the hands of Ding our local mate. He came through, and they arrived at the other end intact.
March 11th, 2010
Everyone warned us about Sapa, and they were spot on…. It’s a spectacular place (when the fog clears) and so many interesting things
to catch your eye. Unfortunately most of the interesting things start tugging your elbow before you’ve even stopped, trying to sell you
everything from handicrafts to hotel rooms to motorcycles (even though we were sitting on some at the time) to their sisters…
It’s funny for about 30 seconds then the relentlessness of it grinds you down pretty quickly. And the food is mostly aweful! – overpriced
and just not very good – with the exception of a little bakery with the best bacon sandwiches we’ve found in a good while! Despite all
this there’s gems to be found.
The local meat market was the cleanest and healthiest we’ve seen in Asia – partly because it’s so cold that the flies stay away. Paul and Geoff went exploring and discovered (another) enormous hydropower project 1,000m up in a hidden valley, that will soon be flooded like many others in the region. It’s clean and green, but I understand why large hydro isn’t favoured by green groups – it’s impact on the surrounding area (and people who live there) is huge.
Another highlight was giving a local Hmong lady a lift home to her village on the back of the bike. Her day consists of walking 3 hours to Sapa to try and flog handicrafts to tourists along with several hundred others… then walking 3 hours home. I saved her two of the three hours!
What’s there to say? “Path me the Pith helmet Pleath…”
Kids playing beside the road. The drop to the left would be several hundred metres at least.
Dam under construction
The dam will flood this entire valley. Not sure what happens to the village in the base of it – presumably its inhabitants just move somewhere else.
Maintenance on this one stopped a long time ago… Nervous times taking the DR across. Paul rode – I wimped out and wheeled mine
That’s the road we came up. The fog/haze came in while we were negotiating the bridge, so we couldn’t see the bottom of the valley
until we’d descended most of the way.
March 10th, 2010
It’s just occurred to us that it is actually winter in the northen hemisphere, and in North Vietnam it gets pretty cold… Geoff’s bought a natty tracksuit that looks like a Star Trek uniform, while Mat and Paul are hauling out the thermals. With every item of clothing we have uinderneath our riding gear (sleeves attached, gloves on) we ride up into the mountains making for Sapa.
Reaching over 2,000m above sea level and frozen to the core we were very happy to reach our destination! The temperature is hovering around 3 degrees celcius… Once again the scenery was amazing, soaring mountain peaks shrouded in mist and fog, terraced valleys, spoilt by the huge scale of construction that’s going on everywhere.
The river we followed for most of the day is being dammed several hunder kilometres downstream, so the farms, towns and roads we saw will all disappear… Can’t stop progress, but can’t help think there must be a lower-impact way to get the same outcome. Just the new roads alone leave massive scars across the landscape – the place will never be the same again. Sapa is beautiful though – pity our visibility was down to about 20m as we rode in! Hopefully the fog will lift tomorrow.
These girls rode up to Mat and reeled of the standard questions – what’s your name, how old are you, where do you live…
The answers don’t matter, they’re just practising what they’ve heard at school! When they’d finished with him, they moved on to
Geoff – same questions.
The new bridge is visible in the background. Gives you some idea of the scale of construction, and the expected height of the new dam.
March 9th, 2010
Of course you already know the outcome of the story… Back at the border in the morning with Mr Linh, our fixer, and we had the bikes
unlocked and through customs in no time at all. After settling our bill, and clutching our Vietnamese driver’s licences, we became some
of the first westerners to ride our foreign motorcycles into Vietnam!
And we did it legally too…. here’s hoping it’s a sign of easier access to this amazing country. We spent the rest of the day around Dien Bien Phu – site of the Vietnamese victory over the French forces in 1954 that set the stage for France’s exit from Indochina and the eventual rise of communist regimes in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Relics from the 1954 battles are housed in several museums and recreated fortified sites in the town, including a (presumably) complete US bomber… the picture tells the story.
This time, we’re on the right side of the boomgate
Rice paddies as far as the eye can see…
We paid for it, but all we got is this photo…
I believe this stack represents an American B-26 Invader bomber, one of a squadron covertly provided to assist the French in their
battle against the Viet Minh in 1954.
Hill A1 – French central command right in the centre of Dien Bien Phu township. It has been re-created on it’s original site in
great detail, including the myriad tunnels that riddle the hillside.