The Road to Hanoi

Trip Start Nov 02, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Vietnam  , Yên Bái,
Monday, November 26, 2012

After the Sa Pa Valley and Heaven’s Gate I return to Lao Cai, getting me back on track for heading down to Hanoi.  I really am making my route up as I go, not looking too far in advance but planning as such in manageable chunks, and I choose a route down to Hanoi through stunning scenery and villages.  I am armed with a ‘tourist’ map of the whole of Vietnam that I got in Sa Pa which seems to have the main routes and points of interest so I don’t bother buying a map.  I find that I have a great sense of direction and I have years of experience of reading roads and signs that I am pleased with my ability of planning routes and making my way along them safely, you really need to have your wits about you with the volume of traffic and the antics displayed by drivers of all sorts of machines.

I wish every day cycling could be like today leaving Lao Cai, after my breakfast of noodle soup I set off for Hanoi which should take me maybe five or six days, there are no ‘huge’ mountain climbs today but it’s anything but flat and boring, instead the road winds up and down and round little farming villages with lots of goings on.  There are so many people around from the farmers with their buffalo or cows working the land, to the many children on their bikes coming and going to and from school, they all wear either blue and white or green and white jackets deciphering which schools they go to (I presume) imagine that in Glasgow…  There are two wee girls on the road looking after the buffalo and their young and this wee tiny thing is scelping the buff with a stick making sure they stay in line...

There are fancy houses which are decorated in beautiful colors, probably my favorite is the ‘teal green/pale blue combination’, there are small huts and thatched sheds dotted around the place, along with the many banana plantations and it reminds me a lot of Sri Lanka which I still miss terribly.  Everyone wears the triangular leaf hats or the green ‘Vietcom’ hats in the fields,  while on the motorbikes and scooters the ‘helmet’s’ are more like baseballs caps with (strangely enough) a lot of Burberry going on!

I see coffin makers displaying their goods from the plane wooden coffin’s to the elaborate red or yellow and highly decorated coffin’s, they have big displays of flowers at funerals and many traditions including the ‘wake’ and frightening off the spirits.  There are stone engravers working away with big power tools, I mean massive rocks made into tea cups or buddhas, they have fans blowing the dust away from them and clearing their working area and its fascinating to watch, it’s all going on today as I cycle along just trying to take it all in.  So after only 65km I end the day at Bac Ngam with a strange enough experience with the hotel.  I thought I had booked into the hotel for the night but they came knocking at the door after only one hour wanting me to leave,  tried to explain I wanted the room for the night but they wanted me to pay way over the odds which I refused.  I had already had a shower and a nap so now it was time to leave and find another place which thankfully I managed without too much fuss, if they charge by the hour it’s not really where I want to be spending the night!  The beauty of having the security of my tent with me is priceless, the hotel just expected me to stay with no alternatives however I did manage to find another hotel maybe 5 km back up the road, and the staff couldn’t have been any nicer to me.  They made sure I was settled and showed me a place nearby for dinner and were really friendly, the place before wasn’t a patch on it!   

So, my journey continues although I’m now back to facing more climbs which I do feel are getting a bit easier, the villages are surrounded by banana and tea plantations but I love the two tier thatched buildings that I start to see, underneath they store their motorbikes, or carts and even their buffalo.  Many people here wear traditional dress and once again I receive hundreds of shouts of ‘hello’ while I’m passing, it can be a bit overwhelming with me not knowing which to answer first or which direction some of the shouts came from although many of them are from the school kids.  I've got to the point that I just shout hello back or respond to their greeting without having to turn around on the bike to see who it is.  

All the boys try to ‘race’ you along the road but without even trying I normally pass them, they tend to just give up trying to keep up with me, I have a great gearing system (yes thank you again Mr McCarthy) on the bike which they don’t have, although it does make them try harder when their street cred is at stake!  Thankfully they normally get off their bikes where there’s hills involved so I can generally get on, although there’s always one that pedals as fast as they can to pass you on the hill then die afterwards but with ‘street cred’ intact!  It’s a fun day and a relief from the constant mountains, its gentle up and downs, twists and turns and I find that my use of the gears is definitely improving!

There’s what I think are ‘vinyl’ plants, sheets of wood are laid out to dry everywhere on the side of the road, some places have bamboo holders others just lay sheets out to dry in the sun, it’s a really strange sight to see, I think our John would love it here!  The scenery has been lovely, so after another 70km I end the day at Tai Bieu which had street butchers, fishmongers, basket makers and traditional dress going on.

Next stop is Yen Bei (around 85km) which is once again beautiful and very much more of the same, I stop early at 3:30 an book in GH.  I copied my passport on the way down to save everyone (and their granny) thumbing through my passport and I’m relieved when the GH accepts it no questions, it was more animation trying to explain to the girl in the Photo Coppy Shop (it’s always spelt wrong) what I needed photocopied and it worked out well in the end.  A young girl (maybe only 2 yrs old) is dressed in a Santa outfit which is the first I’ve seen, she is lovely and strangely enough wants to come to me (Aunty Clare stikes again), so after a nice big hug I’m allowed to head on.  

Co Tiet (90km) is a beautiful ride following the river, the river is much bigger than I thought it was going to be, and wider and pretty clean looking.  Today’s journey is a lot flatter with quite a few straights (which is heaven), the fields and the housing around me is starting to change, its back to corn crops,  sugarcane, vegtables i.e. cabbage etc, all at the side of the road.  One display looks like a branch from a tree with fruit on it (although first glance I thought it was a display of eggs), I’ve never seen it before.  The next seller has the same and has a few people buying, picking from the branch, they’re black now and plum like but I couldn’t work out what they were and I didn’t see them again (dates maybe?).  Yet again there are so many kids on the roads today all wearing their green and white or blue and white jackets!! 

A final push takes me to Hanoi (90km), the scenery is again changing much flatter and straighter which I’m relieved at for a few days, might as well enjoy it while it lasts.  The roads are getting much busier though, gone are the thatch buildings which are replaced by the tall thin buildings, with beautiful designs, all decorated.  Often the top floor has a balcony, sometimes all enclosed in with railings and strangely enough huge curtains on the outside the massive windows and doors.  On the road they sell corn steamed in huge big pots, the corn is taken straight from the fields behind them, you can’t get any fresher than this!

There is a massive change in the traffic today and three times I’m clipped from behind by someone travelling too close.  It’s extremely hard not to get caught up in the momentum of the traffic flow, I keep reminding myself to slow down and stay safe, they’ll dodge me as the ‘tourist’!  I try and take a couple of videos on the way in which shows the chaos although I’ve no idea yet how to edit them (yet another learning curve challenge)!

So I arrive in Hanoi and manage to find my GH quite easily, got checked in, give over all my clothes for laundry only keeping on my thermal long johns and waterproof jacket (yep I was a sight), and headed for food and was delighted to find really good pizza and beer!  I headed back for an early night and was tucked up by only 7pm and I didn’t get up at noon the following day (that’s 17 hrs,) I must have been tired… well I am still a new start at all this cycling malarkey!  So I’ve added another 400 km approx. to my journey which I am really enjoying.

I can’t believe I’ve come so far already! 
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