This was the day we expected the ride to get serious, and we were not disappointed!
We are now heading due north intending to hit the Chinese border, and then start moving east.
The day started out with an easy and very scenic ride to the large town of Lao Cai. Here for the first time my GPS proved worth all the hassle of setting it up by steering us through the complicated route through and out of this town with no fuss. Uh, well that is until we hit Hwy 70. Somehow my GPS missed the critical turn to head us north toward Muong Khuong. We headed about 20 miles off course in an easterly direction. I knew something was very wrong when the Garmin told me to turn south. I knew we had no southerly routes unitl late in the day, so what the heck is up
Stopped the bikes and of course, as we later found out, the biggest problem is to figure out exactly where you are. Asking locals is a dangerous thing to do as they usually have no idea where their town is located. They look at the maps and are seeing foreign objects. So we had a bunch of locals arguing about where we were right then. Eventually it seemed the only lady in the group was the smartest and had the best idea of where we were - she seemed real certain of herself, it jibed with where I figured we ought to be, and the men seemed, well.....a bit clueless. So following her gestures (no one spoke a word of English) we did a U turn and headed back the way we came. About 18 miles later I see a sign for the road we wanted heading north. We took the turn and followed a lovely road up through pretty scenery. We stopped to take a look at the scenery and a passing couple on a scooter stopped to talk. Turned out to be a German tourist who had hired a female guide on a scooter to show him the area. I was VERY impressed. She was the cutest, sharpest dressed guide I had ever come across. Very nice! Smart German! Onward north we went. Finally near Mujong Khuong we came upon the road up to the Chinese border, a 17 km detour. Off we went in the direction of China and soon enough we arrived at the border post, China not 25 yards away. Immediately behind this pic of Zach is the border gate and on the other side is China.
We then went back to Muong Khuong and started heading east, and immediately conditions became very tough. Totally messed up road, very rough, under construction. Harsh riding conditions. But the scenery remained great. We climbed up into the mountains and were now riding parallel to China about 20 miles, at most, from the border. The tough conditions continued for 130 kms, by far the most difficult riding of the trip to date. It was very isolated. There were no villages, no pedestrians, no road signs to reassure us we were on the right track, only the occasional motorcycle loaded down with large sacks of goods of some sort (probably coming in from China). It was difficult to be sure we were on the correct road but there were so few roads in the area how could we be wrong. Well we weren't wrong fortunately, but it was a long hard ride only made easier by how beautiful it was.
Our destination for the day was the town of Bac Ha which has a large weekly market attracting minority groups from far and wide. Fortunately our plans had worked out such that we were going to be in town the next morning on market day and we planned on visiting the market before leaving town. Finally after a few small villages, and stops to ask if we were on the correct road, we reached what we thought was the town of Bac Ha. I asked a local if this was Bac Ha and he grunted reassuringly. There was a large but empty market area so it all looked right. But the town was really small for one so renowned for its' market, and we could not locate the main intersection or few hotels mentioned in the Rough Guide. Of course as usual no one spoke any English. We spent at least 45 frustrating minutes going up and down, all the side roads, everywhere, trying to locate a hotel.....but nothing of the like to be found. Finally a passing truck driver spoke to us. In his reasonably understandable English he told us Bac Ha was another 30 kms further down the road!
So off we went in search of Bac Ha. Finally toward evening, tired and worn out, we reached Bac Ha. Much larger than the hamlet we had mistaken for the town. We soon found a hotel, pretty darn nice and $20, checked in and headed for the shower. We were really, really dirty by now.
We took some time to walk around town, had a reasonably decent dinner, quite a few beers, and then headed for bed, totally wasted. It had been an epic day, the first really hard, tough day of the trip.
Total distance for the day, tough miles, 240 kms (150 miles)