Vietnam: Motorbike trip to the provincial mountains
January 1, 1970
by Loz Treasure
Whilst planning our trip to Vietnam, we have had been fantasising with the idea of motorbiking around the country. My brother had completed a similar trip last year and had glowing reviews. The difference being, of course, that my brother is far more mechanically minded and engine savvy than either me or my partner. Regardless, we put these thoughts to one side and set off to Vietnam with a loose plan to purchase or rent bikes along the way.
We had 3 and a half weeks to tour the country and near the end of our trip, had almost given up our romanticised idea of motorbiking in the provincial mountains. We were gearing up to put aside our original plans and instead visit the well-known tourist destination of the Sa Pa province when we met a fellow traveller on a boat cruise in Ha Long Bay. Our new friend, Joel began telling us tales of his trip to a not so dissimilar area named Ha Giang. He told us of the breathtaking mountain views, traditional and welcoming locals and of the incredible home cooked food.
We were already hooked on visiting Ha Gaing when the deal got even sweeter. Joel told us of a place called QT Motorbikes and Tours. QT, or Quang Tan, helped him out from start to finish, no previous biking or area knowledge required. We were heading back to Hanoi the next day anyway and so decided to take the plunge and visit Ha Gaing. This decision turned out to be the best gamble we took on the whole trip. It was everything Joel had described and more.
Hanoi to Ha Giang
We arrived in Hanoi in the afternoon and decided to brave the night bus up to Ha Giang. Although only a 6 or 7 hour trip, we were short on time and poor in funds. The night bus was an adventure in itself and not an altogether awful one. We managed to find bunks next to each other and settled down for a short night’s sleep, NB ear plugs and eye masks are a must. Apart from the brief stop off for a restaurant and toilet break, it wasn’t the worst night’s sleep I’d ever had, which is a plus in my eyes. Once the bus docked in Ha Giang, we were allowed to sleep in until 6am when the bus had to turn around and make its journey back to Hanoi, giving us a couple more hours of needed sleep before our big adventure.
Four Days in Ha Giang
Emerging from the bus, sleepy-eyed and defiantly not bushy tailed, we lugged our bags the short walk over to QT’s bike shop. We had emailed him prior to arriving to let him know we would be arriving early doors and were duly met by his very friendly and helpful colleague, Uerige. Once we had completed all the paperwork, paying a mere $10 a day per bike, plus the very vital $5 a day insurance, we were ready for our ‘bike lesson’. We opted for a bike each, there was no way one of us was willing to sit pillion for 4 days, and were instructed of the basics. Go, gears, turning and Stop. All in all, although informative, I wouldn’t say I felt particularly confident. That aside, we continued with our class and moved onto the theory, where were we actually going to bike too? This is where QT really came into his own. QT provided us with a map of Ha Giang, where we could realistically reach in 4 days and recommended places to stop and sleep.
Ha Giang to Du Gia
We discussed our route and set off that same morning. Although sleep deprived and feeling slightly underprepared, we were excited to test out the bikes and get on the road. The first leg of our journey was Ha Giang to Du Gia. This turned out to be one of our longest days biking, covering a whopping 105km, but QT was confident we could make it and so we chose to believe him. Although slightly shaky to begin with, we soon both got the hang of our bikes and were tearing through the mountains. It is hard to put into words how beautiful the mountains are. We stopped so many times on the first day that we worried we wouldn’t make it to Du Gia before dark. The roads are narrow and winding, often with cliff drops off one side. It’s hard to take your eyes off the view, but you really have to pay attention to the road. Although the roads are fairly quiet, every so often a huge truck will tear past without much consideration for the other vehicles on the road. They send a very clear message of ‘I am bigger; therefore move out of the way’. That aside, when you do manage to catch a longing glimpse at the views, they are phenomenal. Miles of green, lush mountainsides, with little satellite villages surrounded by rice paddies and flowers. The views on route to Du Gia got better and better as we wound our way further into the mountains. We arrived just before dark and stayed in the sole, but lovely, hostel in the village. The owner was QT’s sister in law and spoke a little English. She cooked us, the other 4 guests and what seemed like all of her friends in the village, an absolute feast. We ate like kings and drank far too much rice wine, or ‘happy water’.
Du Gia to Meo Vac
The following day, although slightly sore from our first days riding and too much happy water, we set off to Meo Vac. The ride was as glorious as the first day, and we arrived in the town early afternoon. We decided to take the afternoon off from riding and explore the village. The hiking around the town is brilliant and definitely worth doing if you have the time. We found a little local restaurant for dinner and settled in for the evening.
Meo Vac to Dong Van
The next morning we rode on to the village Dong Van, and then up to Lung Cu where you can see the Chinese border. Dong Van is famous for its Sunday market. So the following day we woke up early and went to market. This is a very real representation of life in Ha Giang province. Mountain folk from all around walked miles to visit the weekly market. Here, you can get all of your weekly shopping; meat, veg, and clothes. A specialty in some areas of northern Vietnam is Dog, which was being sold at the market alongside pigs, cattle, and goats. This was our last day in the province and so we had a long ride back to Ha Giang town. Now experienced riders, we made it back before dark, where we checked in the bikes, QT offered up his shower, and set off to catch the night bus back to Hanoi