Motorbiking Nam's backcountry Part 2
Trip Start Mar 23, 2010
26Trip End Aug 10, 2010
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To ensure our bike didn't struggle up steep incline to Sapa, we decided to travel as light as possible. We loaded up the panniers on our bike in a minimalist fashion, bought a few more necessities for the trip, and then found our way to the highway. City driving sucks. It is so busy with other motorbikes, cars, and buses on the street, that I hardly ever got to kick my bike out of second gear. Moreover, I had lost count of how many trucks blew a smog of dense black smoke right into my face. After about an hour of driving out of the city, in an instant all the traffic seemed to disappear. I passed one truck and I finally got a section of the open road.
The ride was hot. The only way to escape the heat was to keep driving to create a nice, yet necessary breeze. Whenever we stopped, even for a minute, we would start to sweat instantly
We stopped in Mai Chau around 3:30pm and decided to call it a day. I washed my driving clothes that night to reveal the disgusting amount of dirt, dust, and smoke embedded in my clothes.
By the end of the first day, I realized why I had wanted to do this trip by motorbike. We could have done the same trip in the comfort of an air-conditioned car or bus and see all the sights from the safety and comfort of the vehicle. But there’s something about being on the open road and being exposed to the elements that makes you feel as though you really are a part of the sights you’re seeing, instead of seeing life pass by through a pane of glass. The great thing about seeing the country by motorbike is that you really feel it all - the sun on your back, the hot and humid air, and the breeze through your hair. The sights become real – you can see them, touch them, smell them (well maybe not me…). Suddenly, the journey becomes that much more real and truly becomes a part of the trip - no longer just a method of getting from point A to B.
We got off to a late start that morning – we struggled to find somewhere to fill up some gas for our bike and Sylvia and I got in an argument about driving too fast (it all worked out fine, just some couple drama)
Even to this day, I have no idea what that highway/road really was on our map… but it was beautiful. The road eventually de-evolved into a single-lane road that winded around the hills of small farming communities. With hardly any other vehicles in sight, the road was all ours through the breathtaking scenery. Every turn was postcard perfect and we took our time driving slowly to enjoy the scenery.
Eventually the road led us to the highway that we were supposed to be on (and the whole time I thought the road we were on WAS the highway!) and we resumed our highway pace. We followed the well-marked signs towards the next town "Bac Yen" that we decided we would stop in for lunch. 10km to Bac Yen. Then 5km to Bac Yen. 3…. 2… 1… 0km. And then the road ended into a river… Umm… I thought to myself, where the hell is Bac Yen? And then I remembered the rental shop said something about a ferry... Figures Bac Yen was the name of this ferry port?
So we drove down to the river, saw a tiny wooden “ferry” that held about 12 people, some baggage, and our motorbike, paid the guy 20,000D ($1) and jumped on
We stopped in a small town for a quick drink, which seemed to attract the attention of the local town people. Although I don’t know why it matters, I always seemed to wonder whether I would get the same attention being a Chinese-Canadian travelling alone through Asia (probably not…). We conversed with them by passing around our Lonely Planet phrasebook, they gave us some mangoes, and under their guidance, we drove of to the closest hotel. They pointed us in the direction of a town called Pho Yen (and we thought we were already in Pho Yen…) just 10km down the road. We finally got to Pho Yen around 4pm where we called it a night.
After a good night rest, we were on the road at 8:30am that morning. The cool morning air was a refreshing change from the previous 2 days of driving. We drove pretty solidly today to catch up for yesterday’s tardy start. We made one major stop along the highway when we came across one of the most breathtaking sites in my life (and I’ve been to some pretty spectacular places!). From our privileged spot on the highway, we had an overlooking view of gorgeous empty rice terraces filled with water that reflected like glass. Take a look at the photos (the most beautiful ones are from this place!)
We arrived at Tan Uyen that night and checked into the first nice-ish looking hotel. We tried to bargain hard for our hotel room because they were quoting prices higher than it really should have been, but for the strangest reason, one of the two hotel owners just would not budge. The other hotel lady was too busy engaging us in conversation; she seemed to take a liking to Sylvia. With our limited phrasebook, we humored each other by trying to communicate. Often, when the lady tried to say something outside of what was available in the book, she would just repeatedly yell the words in Vietnamese over and over again until she thought we understood them. And when we didn’t, she would take out a pen and paper and write down the Vietnamese words, as if this was supposed to help us understand. After nearly 30 minutes of talking, we eventually realized that she was a bit crazy, but we had already agreed to take the room. We believed she was asking us if we were married and whether Sylvia was pregnant, or wanting to be pregnant, or something about having children? I got this from her repeatedly asking “You” (pointing at me) “Iloveyou,” “You” (pointing at Sylvia), of which we replied… yes… we love each other. And then she would point at Sylvia’s slight protruding belly and exaggeratedly mime being pregnant, of which we replied no… that’s just her muffin top
We woke up that morning to rain… lots of it. So we grabbed our poncho and rain jacket, wrapped our panniers in some plastic bags, and drove carefully on the slick roads. After a few hours on the road, the rain had stopped but the roads were not necessarily better. As we reached closer to Sapa, the road conditions seemed to deteriorate very quickly. What were once nice paved roads were completely demolished by floods and land slides. This caused a serious back-up of large trucks heading up to town. I shifted our bike into first gear and tried my best to plough through these rough roads, all inclined upwards. One minute I was driving through half a meter of water, the next I was driving through thick gripless mud, all while large trucks are honking at me from behind for no reason (but just to let me know that if I stopped for even a second, they would just plough right through me). I couldn’t believe how bad the conditions of the roads were for this last stretch, but I knew we were getting close to Sapa because the roads were becoming steeper, the temperature was dropping, and the fog became increasingly dense as we climbed towards the mountain town. To make matters worse, our bike’s gas meter was flashing empty and there didn’t seem to be a town in sight
We arrived in Sapa at 2:30pm and decided to just relax and call it a day after that difficult climb. Over the next few days, we enjoyed our time in Sapa visiting various areas in and around the town, doing some trekking to minority villages, and enjoying the numerous restaurants catering for the tourists. Battling our way through 4 days of motorbiking, I felt that we deserved to be here and to enjoy the luxuries to be found here. I felt accomplished that we arrived to Sapa safely and soundly and I felt privileged to have seen the beauty on the ride there. In fact, the views we had on the way were better than any of the views we had within Sapa.
Although Sapa was supposed to be the climatic of end of our trip, I suppose its true that sometimes the journey is truly better than the destination. I am happy I took that initial risk to arrive by motorbike – the picturesque scenery and unique experiences have been engrained into my memory. I will never forget this wonderful experience I had in Vietnam’s heartland.