The Motorcycle Chronicles - Road to Sapa

Trip Start Oct 27, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Pinocchio Hotel Tel +84203871876

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Wednesday, August 3, 2011

      After returning from the rocking boat tour around 'Ha Long Bay', I found myself trapped in the 'Bermuda triangle' that is 'Hanoi Backpacker Hostel', where travellers plan to stay one night, but end up spending two weeks here. I personally blame the free beer they give out every sunday. However, before I stagnated too long, I eventually managed to get myself together and on the road to 'Sa Pa'.

    With only 350km between 'Hanoi' and 'Sapa', I could easily make it in one day, although it would require an early start. Unfortunately after sitting idle for almost 10 days in the near by motorcycle car park, I knew SoCo was not going to be in a great mood. And it is only after much tweaking of the electrics and carburettor that I eventually get her to run, even if it isn't perfectly, but I hoped it will improve as she warms up.

    Bag loaded up once more I set out on Hanoi's crowded roads, looking to get out of the city as soon as possible. As she warmed up the problem only got worst, with the throttle becoming
sluggish, which put me in a few compromising positions involving some very large trucks, before giving up life all together. Luckily as with everywhere in Vietnam, a mechanic is never far away and I was able to get her looked at within minutes. A complete carb rebuild later and I was on the road, with the problem a forgotten memory, and on my way once more to Sa Pa.

    Like much of Vietnam's cities, finding your way around Hanoi is near to impossible with limited signs pointing the direction; and as I looked down to check my map a local women pull out straight into my path and stopped. Naturally I grabbed the brakes which locked up on the dusty road, and caused the back wheel to overtake the front, leaving me skidding down the road parallel to this idiotic women. Thankfully I managed released the break just in time to regain control and swerve around the bike, only clipping my rear foot peg. Heart racing, I eventually find my way onto 'Rt2' heading north pass Viet Tri.

    As I reached 'Rt70', near the town of Dong Hung, the running problem begins to show signs of
returning, but I continued on determined to get to Sapa tonight. However it was when my chain caught a stone, causing it to jump of the rear sprocket that I knew I was not destined to get to Sapa tonight. Bike fixed once more and with the darkness quickly setting in I decided to check into a small hotel in the town of Bao Yen, and finish my journey tomorrow.

  With all the setbacks endured yesterday I was eager to get on the road early this morning to ensure I could get to Sapa. The further north I progress along 'Rt70', the more mountainous the roads began to grow. After passing the town of Lao Cai, which guards the boarder with China, I was now only 40km away from Sa Pa, and looking at the steepest climb of the trip.
     The road was amazing with sheer drops down onto the iconic rice terraces below. The change in altitude was also most noticeable when the cold began to work its way through my jacket, but thankfully I found my way to the town and was able to get checked into a hostel.

    Having been populated by the indigenous Hmong people for thousands of years, Sapa only became known to the western world after its discovery and colonisation by the French in the late 1800's. Sadly after the second world war nearly every colonial building was razed to the ground due to hostilities in the area. Although Sapa was slowly rebuilt thereafter, it wasn't until 1993, and the introduction of foreign tourism that Sapa saw the boom that it was always destined to receive, and now leaves it as one of Vietnam's top tourist hotspots.

    I check into 'Pinocchio Hotel' which guarantees to offer the best views you are ever likely to see from a dormitory window. The dorms ($7 incl. breakfast) are located on the roof in what can only be described as a 'shed', but I could easily look past this as I gaze across the large rice terrace covered valley below.

    Walking around the town, you easily slip into this gentle pace of life, watching the Hmong tribes-people selling their local textiles and handicrafts. The Hmong are an iconic ethnic minority that reside to the mountainous areas around south China, and northern Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. Split into many minority groups, each identifiable by their unique clothing and head wear, as well as individual languages and dialects. Even after French colonisation, their way of life has change very little over the last 1,000 years, as they still work the surrounding rice terraces and forests in this part of the country. Although many thousands immigrated abroad as a result of the Indochina wars that raged for over 30years after WWII, the area still hold a large population preserving their traditional way of life.

    Sapa is famed for its world class trekking, including Vietnam's largest Mountain, Fansipan (3142m), which is ranked as South east Asia's 17th tallest mountain. Despite this, I felt content in enjoying Sapa at a more leisurely pace, restricting myself to exploring the town.

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