It took us all of ten minutes to be swallowed by chaos, but we were happy to be on this side of the border. Dien Bien is quite a beautiful area, and the town is rather nice. We had one day of flat riding, and then we hit a mountainous area for the next couple of weeks. From there to Hanoi it was around 1,000km with 15,000m elevation gain, the hilliest stretch we had up until now. Luckily the grades were gentler since we left Thailand, with the exception of some tricky but short bits on the Ha Giang loop.
Sapa is an interesting place to visit, it looks positively alpine and has a crazy fog that wraps over everything every 20 minutes. It's amazing. We wore our warm clothes and had hot drinks, it felt like Christmas. Sapa is another place being developed at a crazy pace, there were so many cranes around, and you just hear construction noise everywhere. But we were very happy to go and see it anyway.
From there we rode towards Ha Giang to start a loop going to Dong Van, Meo Vac, and back. @Pawlus was kind enough to give me some pointers, as he rode the Ma Pi Leng pass a few months ago. The amount of tourists on motorbikes in this area was incredible, I feel uncomfortable easily in these situations as there was a bit of a gap year vibe going on and it inevitably creates a reaction on the locals.
In a loosely related note, it was in one of the climbs of this area that I lost my cool to a degree I didn't know I could. A guy in a scooter overtook us, stopped and took out his phone. We know this can happen, after all we're a couple of farang on a tandem, it looks ridiculous, fair enough. I just get really annoyed when there's no smile, no hello, no nod to engage before you put your phone in our faces. We overtook him puffing and sweating and clearly making a face to say 'we're not cool with this'. My girlfriend opened her harms like 'really?'. I think the guy didn't realise it at all, because I could hear him starting his engine and inching closer, very slowly. He went parallel with us, phone still in hand, filming us without saying a word or anything. Such a weird feeling. I totally lost it, I don't remember feeling so aggravated, and obviously I felt super ashamed straight away. Ultimately the guy meant no harm, and he was doing no different from what we see a lot of tourists doing. I hope he managed to capture some, erm, interesting footage to amuse himself.
Anyway, the Ha Giang area is incredible, so very dramatic. I don't think we rode through more beautiful mountain landscapes in SE Asia. The valley marking the border between Vietnam and China is so deep it gave me vertigo looking at it.
After Ha Giang we rode to Hanoi, where I am now on a mini break. In a couple of weeks we go back to China, where the idea is to make a high altitude route to see how we cope before Central Asia. It's getting so close now! All we have left is a few hundred km in China (we have a friend flying over, so we won't ride much there), then pack it all up and hit Tajikistan. Wow.