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ough

Member since May 2012 • Last active Apr 2019

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    I almost forgot how beautiful northern Vietnam is.

    It really is. More than makes up for the shock of us realising we were in dog-eating country.

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    Not important by any means, but I realised that my thread is under Current Projects. Probably best moving it to Touring?

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    @bibimbap Would be nice to read your impressions when you're back. Genuinely curious, must be quite a special part of the world.

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    Some more around Ha Giang

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    Ma Pi Leng pass

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    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.

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    Back to Vietnam then. I don't know if we were lucky, but it was SO nice to see a blue sky again. This is a picture we took just down the pass from the Laos border, it's a nothing scene (actually it's a tarp set up by the lady who we were buying sugarcane juice from), but look all this blue and green compared to the pics above. Things make shade! Hard shade! Felt good.

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    Bit more Laos

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    We covered a lot of ground by boat in Laos. It's an amazing way to travel, shame there's less and less of it as the rivers are being dammed. As with Cambodia, it's remarkable to see the pace of change in Laos, mostly due to Chinese influence. We crossed a couple of bridges being built for the new Vientiane railway, it's hard to imagine the impact it will have once it's ready. But it's also equally hard to imagine what places like Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng must have looked like a few years ago, I'm aware we've already visited a Laos in transition. It felt a lot more undeveloped and remote than the other countries we visited up to now, which was interesting to experience. Some of the landscapes are incredible, though I don't think we rode through the most dramatic parts.

    There's two reasons for this: one is the smoke, which was a real downer for us unfortunately. Laos was as bad as the North of Thailand, if not worse. We parked the bike in the guesthouse's garden in Luang Prabang, and we could see soot accumulating on top of it. Secondly, we heard reports from other cyclists that the main road to Vientiane was taken over (and being destroyed) by trucks working on the railway. The stretch between Luang Prabang and Vientiane was on my bucket list, it's one of the roads I really wanted to ride because I'm a sucker for karst landscapes, but I ended up thinking we were there on the wrong time and it wasn't going to be enjoyable.

    So we came up with a plan to ride in search of another karst area, so we wouldn't feel shortchanged. Satellite images show a lot less burning in Vietnam, so we decided to ride East and go to Sapa and the Ha Giang province. I left Laos feeling like I'll want to go back again, the little stretch of road 1C we rode to Nong Khiaw was really pretty, I'd love to ride its whole length one day. But now we couldn't contain our excitement in going back to Vietnam, to our own surprise.

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