LIVE JOURNAL WEEK 2: Solo motorbike trip around northern Vietnam

Note: this post is alive, meaning I will continuously update it during my trip. Internet permitting, I will try to update on a daily basis

Total foreigners spotted: 50+ (about 10 talked to) The last two days I spotted and talked to many as I entered Ha Giang Province

DAY8: BA BE LAKE

Today was the first day since my trip started where I stayed at the same place for two nights in a row. This was to have a full day of exploring Ba Be Lake and by a full day I mean mostly just a 5 hour boat tour.

I took the boat tour which was great. To be honest, though, I wasn’t overly impressed with the lake as seen from the boat. Maybe I’ve been spoiled over the last couple of months but all I could think was, meh – seen better. We (me and my boatsman) came to a cave in the area and again it wasn’t too big or too much of anything but it had a spot on a rock with a nice view over a river that went into the lake.

The boat tour took me to a temple that, again, wasn’t anything special but I was invited to an enormous lunch by a large group of locals. Beer and food, with fruit as dessert. They gave me a plastic glove which I barely could fit my hand in and then it was just a matter of digging in. Lots of picture taking and smiles and “where are you from?” – always a blast!

After the boat ride I decided to drive around the lake a bit on my motorcycle. There were some quaint minority villages around the lake and I still had a couple of hours to kill.

The ride was pleasant along the lake and on the other side of the lake I found my spot. A lush green meadow connected to the lake with water buffalos mud bathing, locals repairing their boats and kids swimming. I took my bike all the way out to the water and sat around for about 30 minutes just looking at the lake.

After this I went back to the guesthouse had some dinner and called it a day.

As a final note this place was rather “touristy” and during the whole day I think I saw at least 15 foreigners. This place was crawling with tourists!

DAY 9: BA BE LAKE – BAO LAC

9:00 Wake up

10:00 Early start and I was ready to go. I got a terrific Mi Xao (Fried noodles) and an extra liter of gas just in case I wouldn’t make it to the next gas station.

I wasn’t overly ambitious about how far I’d make it today but Bao Lac seemed like a good place to stop. Ready for Ha Giang province the next day.

Oh yeah, and the path was insane as always. I noted this in my map as “wtf beautiful”.

16:00: About 30 km’s from Bao Lac I ran into Martin, a retired British fire serviceman. For the last 6 months he’d been on a bicycle (not motorbike) trip from Florida through Japan, Korea, China and now Vietnam. As I hadn’t talked to any foreigners since I left Hanoi I felt good about having some conversation so I followed him for the next 30 km’s and we talked about our travels and whatever topics came to mind. I wasn’t planning on staying with him all the way to Bao Lac but about 1½ hour later, just before nightfall, the conversation was still going.

17:30: When we arrived in Bao Lac we shared a room, took a shower and went for dinner. Dinner turned into beer and ruou (rice liqour) and it was great speaking English again. I also finally got to trying “thuoc lao”, the tobacco they smoke here.

23:00: Fittingly, Ladder 49 – a movie about firemen, were on TV and with that running, I feel asleep.

DAY 10: BAO LAC – MEO VAC

8:00 I woke up. Being hung over from the day before it was a slow start for me but Martin seemed fine.

9:30: Martin left and I took a shower, turned around and fell asleep again.

11:45: My alarm clock rang as it was checkout time.

I’ve gotta admit that it was pretty hard not just staying in bed at this time but I soldiered on and got on my bike.

More spectacular breath taking scenery. Today’s special was cloud driving. As it was dripping a little bit the clouds were hanging low, low enough that I was literally in the clouds and often above them as well.

15:00: 3 hours later I had made it to Meo Vac and found a guesthouse to check in. The room had a pretty good view, especially considering the modest $7 I paid.

For lunch I had a simple 10k ($0.50) sticky rice dish and for dinner I had a 30k ($1.5) Pho Ga (Chicken Noodle soup). When I got my soup I was promptly rather insistently “asked” to come join a group of locals drinking ruou (rice liquor) and sit at their table.

I noticed two peculiar new habits I hadn’t seen before. One was that they would always drink two at a time and the two people that were drinking would shake hands afterwards.

  1. Clink
  2. Drink (2 people)
  3. Shake hands

Another was that the woman at the table would not shake hands with me, instead she would hold her hands together and bow – sort of if she was praying. I don’t know what the reason for this instead of shaking hands was but if anyone knows, please share in the comments!

When I got up to leave I tried to pay but was told that my food had already been paid for. No need for me to pay anything.

You can say much about these people and being cheap is not one of them. What they lack in smartphones and Audi’s they make up for in generosity and wealth of life. We could learn a thing or two from these people.

A friend of mine, Teun, once said that it’s amazing that even though these people have next to nothing they are still so much more generous and open. It’s like they are so much richer in life than “we” the typical westerners are. They have the ability to invite strangers into their houses, sleep in their beds, eat their food and drink their drinks. Share everything they’ve got with you.

In Denmark we don’t invite strangers in from the street, because, what if they steal your new laptop!?

The rest of the evening I got some writing done and fell asleep around midnight.

DAY11: MEO VAC

I woke up ready to go around 10 but the weather was exceptionally bad this day. I went to the room and figured I’d take a nap. That nap lasted till 14 – I guess my choice was made for me.

A lot of Netflix and some good food along with some work on the computer.

I also fixed my baggage holder on the bike which was almost falling off.

DAY12: MEO VAC – DONG VAN

This was a day of exploring small backroads. Unfortunately, it rained a lot leaving little room for grandiose spectacular mountain-over-valley views. It was a good day still and I enjoy driving in the clouds. When you see the other people riding towards you it’s like ghosts coming out of the fog.

Besides, there were still lots to look at. In every small village and along the roads you see minority people working, talking, walking and generally doing many different things. Even though this area is very remote it’s very alive and vibrant.

I did a double loop from Meo Vac -> Dong Van -> Meo Vac -> Dong Van using different roads. I only had to drive down the same road for a couple kilometres.

In Dong van I started seeing foreigners. As I was getting into the main part of the “Hi Giang loop” that many people take (mostly on rented bikes) it was common to see foreigners.

Driving down the street looking for a guesthouse, I was approached by a Vietnamese guy who I later found out to be Mr. Hung. He’s running a restaurant/bar, a hotel and a hostel in the town and as he offered some very reasonable prices and speaks excellent English so I agreed to follow him to his neck of the woods.

He is a nice accommodating guy who wants you to have a good stay so if you’re ever in Dong Van, check out his place called Xuan Thu. It’s also the only place in town where you can go to a real bar with pool and western music. Quite enjoyable after almost 11 days of hardly any foreigners!

Day13: DONG VAN – HA GIANG

This was a long day!

I left the hotel around 10 to go to Lung Cu, the northern most national flagpole of Vietnam. It is basically a large tower with a huge Vietnamese flag close to the Chinese border, symbolizing the final frontier towards a potential Chinese invasion.

It was a rainy day and therefore, unfortunately the pictures are mostly of clouds. It’s a shame because the top of Lung Cu gives an extraordinary 360 view of the surrounding rural Vietnamese/Chinese country side.

Check out this (very cloudy) video on Youtube:
https://youtu.be/E-QJMTygIsk

After Cung Lu I decided to check out the border crossing just because I like to see how the borders are but when the pavement stopped and turned into a dirt path suitable for walking only, I decided to turn around. Would be fun to follow this road into China because it seemed so easy and there was definitely no border control – but my common sense stopped me.

Next stop on my rainy itinerary was the first H’mong (Vietnamese minority) king’s palace in the area. He was supportive of the French in the time around the beginning of the nineteen-hundreds and so a palace was built for him. It was designed by Chinese architects with three appealing courtyards and fitting chambers. It also looks like something out of the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and you can almost see them fly around on the roofs.

16:30: My itinerary for the day was over and it was just a matter of heading towards Ha Giang City. It was 140 kilometres through treacherous curvy mountain passes. Add to that, single lane roads, trucks, rain, and the impending nightfall Ha Giang seemed far away. Besides, I’d miss the views. I figured I’d go as far as it made sense and then just grab a room somewhere along the way.

However, as I was driving along the road I passed two Vietnamese that worked at the H’mong king palace and they recognized me and told me they were going to Ha Giang City as well. Later when I stopped to take a picture, they passed me and we waved again. This procedure repeated itself as I got passed every time I stopped to take a picture. In the end, I figured I’d just stay behind them as they knew the way. One thing leads to another and before I knew it, I was in Ha Giang City.

21:30 I checked in at the first (and only) dorm I’d seen in two weeks, grabbed a beer and promptly fell asleep.

Day 14: HA GIANG CITY

8:00 I got up

10:00: After the long drive yesterday, I decided it was fair to treat myself with a day of rest in Ha Giang City – besides it was raining.

13:00: As the day progressed it cleared up and it actually became very hot. I went to the provincial museum to learn about the many minorities in this area. It is strange to see that the dresses they show in the museum are also the ones you actually see when you drive around. They’ve kept these traditional clothes through so many years – it truly is marvellous.

16:00: I finally gave my helmet that second layer of paint so that it now looks real spiffy! Representing the colors of home

19:00: We played some games of pool of which I won 2/2 so that was a good evening!

22:00: sleep


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