Nice ride report BA. Some great photos too. I recognize so many of the places, and we even stayed at some of the same hotels. Don't know why you were stressing about the permit for Ha Giang - I told you before you left that you'd get if from the first hotel you stayed at in the province!!
Like you I took great inspiration from Comrade Art in getting the confidence up to do the trip. And what an adventure it was.
Looking forward to the rest of your story....thanks