Day 6 - Sunday, November 10
Distance - 152kms ~ 7hrs (Cho Ra - Bao Lac)
Route - Cho Ra east on Hwy #279, north on Hwy #212 to Tinh Tuc, then north on #34 to Bao Lac.
Hotel - Song Gan Hotel - Bao Lac (200,000d = ~$10)
Weather - Mixed bag. Mostly mixed sun and cloud in the morning and then a bit of spitter-spatter rain in the pm
As it was our second day on the bikes, we woke up with a tad more excitement and a little less trepidation. I think we were both still a little bit antsy and anxious getting on the bikes, but getting started for the day in a chill village, with little traffic was a lot less intimidating than the previous day in Hanoi.
As Cho Ra wasn't much of a centre with few places to eat, we decided the night before that we would eat out of our 'snack-bag' for breakfast. We sat on the front steps of our Cho Ra Hotel and had a quick bite before hitting the roads.
We travelled east along Hwy 279 for roughly ~20kms before reaching the smaller 'secondary' road north - Hwy 212. In my map book and on my GPS, hwy 212 looked like a smaller road, but it headed directly north in the direction we were wanting to go.
Posing with our trusty Hondas
The vistas along the roads were incredible, the mountains continued to slowly grow larger and the valleys were chocked full of rice paddies and the rest. We were in awe with almost every corner we would go around. Our senses were being bombarded by sights, smells and sounds (one of the hardest thing to put into words).
**( I apologize in advance for some blurry images, but I figure I'll include them anyway. I'm no pro photographer and a lot of these were shot with my right hand on the throttle, bumping down the road, pointing my iPhone, snapping a pic and hoping for the best - all part of the adventure.)**
This was the start of our secondary road north - Hwy 212.
Hwy 212 was interesting. It was mixed gravel and pavement, with mammoth potholes and all, literally a combo of everything. The route was absolutely beautiful, I would highly recommend this road. We zig-zagged up and down, back and forth, in and out of valleys, and all at a snails pace. At times, I would look down at a road far below us figuring we were going a different direction and sure enough, that is the road we would eventually end up on. This kept happening throughout this route. We covered very little distance after leaving Cho Ra as this zigzagging was time consuming, but it was a perfect second day on the road. So much to see and to take in.
SpotWalla maps link
Open the link below and click on the 'adjustments' window on the left side-bar, then change History to 'All' - If you zoom into this area in the north, you'll notice how windy and twisty each section of road is. Unfortunately, my GPS 'Spot' tracker didn't send some signals at times, therefore our 'trip-line' sometimes looks straight, but I'm documenting the roads we were on at all times.
Local kids would hear our bikes, see our flashy colours noticing immediately that we were not locals or people they actually knew, and the would frantically start waving and saying 'Hello!', we had the warmest welcome ever from these guys.
The muffler on my XR 150 was noisier than most of the other scoots, so I'm sure this also helped them in realizing it was something different coming down the road towards them.
Amanda waving at the little guy far below.
He came running down the road full-throttle waving at us. I think we wanted to climb the bank to say hi, but we kept slowly plugging along knocking down our kms to our next destination.
We would eventually end up on the road, way down below.
Amanda taking it all in.
Another road-side break. Even with the therma-rest canoe pad that I brought from home, by butt was constantly sore on the seat of the XR, so road-side breaks were always welcomed. They were an excuse to shoot more photos, enjoy more visits, spend some quality time with my beautiful riding partner off the bikes, and to have another snack.
Our route north eventually linked up with Hwy #34 north. It was the main route from Cao Bang to our east so the pavement got much better.
As we continued to travel north, the mountains around us started to get higher and the vistas and views continued to be spectacular.
Throughout the day, we were watching the weather closely. Super storm 'Haiyan' had devastated the Philippines days before, and it was set to hit the shores of Vietnam in a day and then move inland and slowly north. Forecasters were hoping that it would settle and dissipate once it hit landfall in Vietnam, but with the strength the storm had, they were unsure of any of this.
With the threat of the storm in the backs of our minds, we were trying to enjoy our every turn and without talking about it too much, we were both slightly concerned.
Stopping for a break off Hwy #34 north just south of Bao Lac.
A couple of happy Canadian-Kids on an incredible adventure.
While trip planning back in Canada - we had decided to do the famous 'Northern-Loop' of Vietnam backwards. When I say 'backwards', most do this loop in a clockwise direction from Hanoi, leaving north-west and then eventually heading east and eventually back south to Hanoi. Now this would have been fine had we been going on a loop Hanoi - Hanoi.
Our planned route was to continue south, eventually all the way to Ho Chi Minh City. I had read in other trip reports about the horrible highways skirting southern Hanoi. Doing the traditional northern loop clockwise would generally put riders on these busy highways avoiding Hanoi, and continuing south on main transport routes loaded with large trucks and much more traffic. I figured, to avoid this, we do the northern loop 'backwards' in a counter-clockwise direction and avoid this horrid mess altogether.
With this plan, we faced one major concern:
Once foreigners enter the Ha Giang Province in the north where Vietnam borders China, it is mandatory that travellers have a permit to allow them into this region. The popularity of this route has been increasing more and more over the years, therefore attempting the northern route clockwise allows travellers to obtain their permits at most hotels in the city of Ha Giang.
As we had to enter the Ha Giang Province at the wrong-end, we had little to no information on where to obtain our permit. This was somewhat disconcerting as we had also read that without this permit, the police and military would seize motorbikes, impound them in Ha Giang, and then make you find your own transport there to pay huge fines and to sort the whole mess out.
We had no permit, we weren't sure where and how to get one, but we continued along our merry way hoping it would work itself out - getting closer and closer to the Ha Giang Province boundary.
A couple of long hits on my horn made Amanda pull over and look back. I had just passed a Pho Bo sign and I thought it was a good time for lunch. We doubled back and stopped into this family run place below.
After a steaming bowl of beef noodle soup and a cold Mountain Dew (crazy choices of soda pop in each of these shops), we got a picture of a bunch of the folks at lunch and then continued north.
At a Ho Chi Minh roadside monument.
It started to mist and slightly sprinkle, so we donned our rain gear and hoped it wouldn't continue.
As we pulled into the town of Bao Lac it started to rain harder and luckily this large hotel was staring right over us. We walked right up to reception and immediately had a challenge communicating with the young girl running the desk. Turns out, it was the daughter of the woman who runs the hotel. She started screaming at her mother to come to the front desk to deal with us as her teenage angst was making the process quite difficult, I'm sure more for her than us.
We were showed a room that hadn't been cleaned and it looked quite rough in our world, but we figured we didn't have much choice in this town and opted to take it. That is what you get for 200,000 dong or $10/night - a roof over your head. The woman proceed to change the sheets and give it a quick clean while we scooted our bikes up the main ramp and right into the hotel lobby for the night.
They had good WiFi in the hotel (as do most in Vietnam), and we opened up Google Translate to aid us in our permit dilemma. I figured they would know something about where we could obtain a permit before entering the Ha Giang province to the north - which we would be entering the following day.
Both the mother and daughter at the hotel had no idea what we were asking for. They kept shaking their heads as they didn't know anything about a permit to the north. It then hit me, why would they know anything about this, they lived in a different province, a province where foreigners don't need permits.
I figured with good WiFi, we could get online after dinner and dig for some more information.
Our parking spot for the night, in the hotel lobby. (An aside. I left my riding gloves on the speedo of my bike for the night - these were the gloves that took me from BC to Panama and back. I knew I left them there, but figured it was safe in the hotel lobby. Well, thanks to some douche, they weren't there the next morning :( Chilly hands for me for the next few days
After hot showers at the hotel, we headed back into the showers outside to look for a restaurant for dinner. The hotel owner told us to walk to the left and there was a place to eat a few doors down. We found it, walked in, and immediately began conversing with the cook at the front. All we wanted was another bowl of hot noodle soup with beef or chicken - pho bo or pho ga (and hopefully NOT getting dog meat by accident as this is always a slight concern). As we start pointing at the glass case in the entry of the restaurant filled with mystery meat, we both point at the chicken that we clearly see sitting there in front of us. I proceed to say in my amazing Vietnamese, 'Pho ga, Pho ga'... thinking this would be easy to land ourselves a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup on a cold, rainy Vietnam night.
One of the cooks comes over to our table once we sit down and organize our Coke and Bia Ha Noi, and he has a piece of paper that he has 200 written on. He is telling us that the meal will be 200,000d - basically $10, the same as a night in our hotel. Normally x2 bowls of soup, a couple sodas and/or beer was less than $5 total for the both of us. I'm taken aback as a savvy traveler thinking that we are getting 'gringo'ed' good, ripped off as-it-were. I look at Amanda and then back at the cook, and I tell him this is way too expensive, and then a few other things. He of course understood every word of my english, ... yeah, no. Another communication breakdown. We were hungry and tired from a long day on the road, this was the last thing we needed.
I handed him the paper and nodded to bring us the chicken noodle soup for $10. Who cares. Lets get on with this.
He then comes to the table a few minutes later with a large bowl of rice, a plate with the boiled chicken, and a small dish of soya sauce, ... and that was it (see picture below).
(It wasn't until later that night and after a discussion about the meal when we figured out what had happened at dinner. I was of course feeling ripped-off and discouraged as we didn't get what we wanted. We both realized that we didn't get ripped off, well, not totally. We actually paid for the amount of chicken they served us - with a bit of 'gringo tax' on top we are sure. We both remember the cook weighing the chicken after the '200' was written on the paper. The other thing we figured out a few days later is that 'pho bo' is normally served for breakfast and lunch, not for dinner. And, there is normally very little meat in the soup. We also later learned that the price of meat is quite high in Vietnam. It was a learning experience that we made sure didn't happen again in our travels - although it was bound to...)
Our wonderful evening meal in Bao Lac.
Next up - how would Superstorm Haiyan hit Vietnam? Would it affect us? And how were we going to get Ha Giang permits??