Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hanoi to Sapa by motorbike - Our memorable travel

By Kia Ora Vietnam
The road from Hanoi to Sapa winds its way for 670 kms into the northwest of Vietnam, towards the border with Laos and China. Together with our friend Rachel and her Vietnamese friend Do, we took a motorcycling northwestern Vietnam trip and set off on a 4 day ride to Sapa. After relaxing for 2 days in Sapa we returned by overnight train to Hanoi.

The scenery is possibly the most spectacular in Vietnam, and the journey provides many opportunities to see something of the lives and colourful costumes of the many ethnic minorities of Vietnam.

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Day 1. Hanoi - Mai Chau
(150 kms, 5 hours)

After the first hour riding out of Hanoi amongst all the traffic, and getting used to a different bike, it was a pleasure to reach quieter traffic and settle into a rhythm. It was nice to see green fields again, but nothing spectacular until we crossed over the mountain pass and descended into the beautiful Mai Chau valley which is home to predominantly Black Thai minority people. On the recommendation of Richard, fellow teacher (and the person who inspired us to undertake this journey) we stayed the night at a Guesthouse in Lac Village, just out of Mai Chau. Facilities were basic but comfortable, the hospitality very good, and the environment absolutely fantastic. We immediately decided that we’ll be returning for a longer stay before too long.

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Day 2. Mai Chau – Son La – Tuan Giao
(265 kms, 9 hours)

From Mai Chau onwards, the traffic became less, and the scenery and ethnic minority villages more spectacular. Children started waving and calling out “hello” as we rode by, and stopping for a drink or meal became an opportunity to meet the local people. Having Do with us enhanced the experience as he could interpret for us.

After the standard 2-lane roads we had travelled, the road into Son La was a bazaar 8 kms of 6-lane highway with essentially no traffic except for the occasional wandering buffalo. I think they must be anticipating some future development!

From Son La the road narrowed as we climbed over several mountain passes, eventually arriving at the otherwise unspectacular town of Tuan Giao, with just one Hotel, where we stayed the night.

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Day 3. Tuan Giao - Lai Chau   
(90 kms, 5 hours)

We started the day with breakfast at an eclectic café where we ended up drinking tea with the owners in their home. The direct road to Lai Chau is the last part of highway 16 (highway is somewhat of a misnomer) which was once sealed, but a very long time ago. The road was rough, and included a number of river crossings. On these rough roads the Minsk’s really came into their own with good suspension and soft seats.

Travel was slow, but it enabled us to take in the sights and be welcomed by the Black Thai and White Thai villagers along the way. It has to be said that the further you get from the beaten track, the more interesting the sights, and the more open and friendly the people are.

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Day 4. Lai Chau – Sapa
(165 kms – 6 hours)
The road follows the river valleys for much of the way, and once again whenever we stopped we had wonderful experiences meeting the local ethnic minority people, including a wonderful half hour spent with some Miao people.

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The last part of the journey was a steady climb up past Fansipan (the highest mountain in Vietnam at 3,143 metres), and the weather was noticeably cooler as we approached Sapa (1,650 metres). Today we experienced the only wet weather of our journey, but this only lasted for a brief 20 minutes.

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Day 5. Sapa

After passing through so many ethnic villages which see relatively few foreigners, the development and tourist nature of Sapa was a marked difference. We simply took the opportunity to relax after the previous 4 days of travel.
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We last visited Sapa in January 2003 – being winter the fields were bare, and the weather extremely cold. This time, however, the terraced rice fields surrounding Sapa were a magnificent green. This truly is a beautiful part of the country.


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Day 6. Sapa – Lao Cai – Pho Lu - Hanoi

On our previous visit to Sapa the road down from Sapa to Lao Cai was unsealed, and hundreds of manual workers were toiling to rebuild the road. The result is that now this 35km stretch is one of the smoothest roads of the whole journey.

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Unfortunately the railway line approaching Lao Cai had been damaged by landslides, so we had to ride an extra 35kms to Pho Lu where we were able to put the bikes onto the overnight train to Hanoi.

It seemed all too soon that our short Vietnam motorcycling travel was over, but it must rate as one of the best road trips we have done for a long time

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