We were on a road to Dien Bien which was 40km of slimy mud on
the side of a hill, with a river below. After a short while the
road was blocked with a truck that had slid partly off the
track. The muddy surface was very difficult to ride on and with
no hope of the back-up vehicle getting through, and with a good
chance we’d be falling off, we decided to turn back.
We were soaked before stopping for the night in a place called Lai Chau. The hair dryers doing overtime trying to dry out our gear. That night we had a meal in a great local restaurant where the owner came and picked us up.
The local moonshine (rice wine) shooters was by now going down
a treat. The next day it was raining again. Our Vietnamese guide
and back-up man thought it would be a good idea to hire a bus
for us and a small truck for the bikes to a small town 100kms
away, by then the rain might have stopped.
Good plan, but it didn’t work as it was still pouring down when
we arrived at the town. So we unloaded the bikes off the truck
and rode on until we stopped at a small village with one hotel,
that was it for the night, we weren’t going any further.
It had stopped raining, and we lit a fire outside and hang our boots, gloves, jackets etc to dry. The staircase down to the courtyard where the fire was drying our gear was as slippery as and a couple of us fell over.
We had a nice meal though and whenever we arrived anywhere, once they knew we were Australians they would stock up the fridges with beer - so not all bad. And everyone retained their sense of humour, so the whole trip was a good laugh and that included the wet days.
The next day the rain eventually started to ease, and we were riding in the dry - fabulous. We stopped in a place called Phu Yen in the middle of nowhere. Word soon got around that we were Australians. There was one ATM in town, but no money in it. Wes had a mission, and that was to find a hair dryer, not for his hair though. Eventually he found one, it was to use on his boots and gloves. It was used extensively to dry out all our gear.
All of us had an hilarious night playing pool in the hotel’s
pool room which sported two tables - great fun.
I’m fastidious about drinking and brushing my teeth with only bottled water, so on the way out of the hotel that night we picked a bottle up off the table. I took a mouthful to brush my teeth to discover we’d taken a bottle of the roughest moonshine imaginable - couldn’t drink it - took the enamel off my teeth - hilarious.
Next day the weather was definitely fining up, although my boots and gloves were damp still, it looked much more promising. And it meant that once again we could admire the scenery and able to stop and have a look at things along the way. One stop was some guys making boats by the side of the road and another people making tea from tea leaves.
Eventually we came to the river Song Da, a huge river that
traverses North Vietnam. We had to catch a ferry to cross it,
bit tricky getting on and off, but we all made it alright.
Lunch-time and we were back up in the mountains, cold and wet again, huddled around a fire in a local cafe. We were headed down to Mai Chau to stay in a long house for the night.
Coming down the mountain we struck a main road and could get
our speed up to 70km/h. Fast for over there. But it was cold,
the temperature was 4C, and being wet didn’t help. As we got
lower down the rain stopped and it started to warm up a little.
We appreciatively pulled into the longhouse. We had a wood fire going and once again, boots, gloves, and anything else that was wet was hanging out to dry. Great place though, with good food and another opportunity to buy local goods.
During the evening we were entertained by local dancers, we got up and joined them, even doing a dance where you have to dodge clashing bamboo poles. We had a surprisingly good night’s sleep, all of us in one room with a mosquito net over the beds, don’t think there was much snoring either.
While eating breakfast on long tables in an open-walled building we watched a man try to get control of his bullock to do some plowing, he succeeded in the end, most entertaining.
The rain had finally disappeared altogether and the sun was shining. Had a fabulous day's ride across various mountain ranges before descending towards the plains. Although having said that the roads were pretty bad, pot-holed and muddy especially in the main streets of towns surprisingly. I think we spent most of the morning riding in mud, but at least the sun was shining and we were dry and warm.
We ended up riding across dykes, just fabulous scenery it was like an inland Ha Long Bay, only lakes and rivers instead of the sea - and we were riding through the centre of it!
Near Ninh Binh we stopped and were rowed by Vietnamese ladies in three dinghies though various limestone caves. It was a surreal experience. There was even a temple in the centre of all these hills with caves going though them, I think there are over 50 in all. We gave them a hand paddling. It was off season and there were only a few others around.
That night we stayed in the city of Ninh Binh, bit weird too, a
lot of the buildings were only half-completed, walking to and
from the restaurant was a bit like you were walking through a
Next day we were heading for Hanoi. We had a choice the main
road or the back roads, so naturally we took the back roads,
what a ride! It was fantastic, more riding along dykes, and
through small interesting villages.
We stopped in a small cafe on the way, which apparently is the
best noodle shop in Vietnam. Great news for everybody else, me,
I’m looking forward to some chips. Eventually we came to Hanoi
with the traffic building as we got closer to the city.
By now we were more used to riding in traffic and riding
towards the centre of the city wasn’t really too bad as long as
you kept your wits about you. We eventually dropped the bikes
off 7km from the centre.
What a fabulous trip, we’d had a great time, even though challenging at first everyone kept their sense of humour and it was one long entertaining, funny (ha ha) ride.
We had a celebratory drink and I had a meal of spare ribs and
chips - marvellous - and 50c beer. We had another night in Hanoi
to recover and pack. In the morning though we met one of the
directors of the Womens Union of Vietnam (something like 35
million members) who helps administer the charity that helps
educate the poor and isolated children for Bob Greer and the
She was delightful, and we had a look over their museum, before
tea and a Q and A with her. This was followed by lunch in an
upmarket restaurant where she picked out traditional food. We
were given presents from her and Cooney, our Vietnam guide who
also turned up also with a present each, most unexpected and a
great way to end the trip.
You can look at the website: platypus-charity.org.
There’s a North Vietnam Challenge 2014 which is the same as we
went on only a few months later (and drier), have a look it’s
well worth it.
Our Vietnamese crew are partners in Asian Lotus Travel -
Thanks to everyone involved in the trip, Bob Greer, our Vietnamese guide and back-up man and especially all the other riders.