Total kilometers: 1760km
Total punctures: 2
We are in Hanoi at the moment, and it is fantastic to be able to communicate with people in English and (especially) order food from an English menu. Ohh, the little things...
Over the past four days, we have crossed over the Lao-Vietnamese border and have been cycling through remote North-Western Vietnam from Dien Bien Phu to Tuan Gio.
Although the mountainous topography (and ensuing mountain passes) have continued, the roads are in far better condtion than in Laos. However, apart from the beautiful H'mong women in their traditional dress, the scenery has been far less attractive, compared to the beautiful temperate jungles and crystal-clear rivers of Laos... I think that I really forgot how polluted and dusty Vietnam is!
Having cycled to Tuan Gio, we decided to sit down and take stock of our travel plans for Vietnam and reconcile those with the amount of time we actually have left... As suspected, we were cutting things really fine, and were not leaving enough time to explore the beautiful coast. So, we hatched a plan to fast-track ourselves (and bikes) to Hanoi and continue from there.
Yesterday, we caught a 5am local bus from Tuan Gio to Hanoi (420km) for only $12 each (!!), and 10 hours later we were in Hanoi. Yes, 10 hours! Lucky we are on holiday and in no real rush ; )
So, after navigating insane Hanoi trafffic from the bus station, we managed to find a lovely little guest-house down a quiet alley-way, and have been enjoying civilisation before we head off to Cuc Phong National Park tomorrow morning. We are hoping to leave early and hopefully beat the horrendeous traffic - heading out on a Sunday morning should help too...
We have had a lovely day walking around the Old Quarter and central lake, stocking up on reading books and groceries, and treating ourselves to a delicious breakfast and pizza and beer for lunch. Yum!
We are having a fab time, and looking forward to squeezing the last out of our holiday and catching up with family and friends when we return.
E & V.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Kilometers cycled: 1680.8
Punctures: 2 :(.
I know tht it has been a while between posts people - sorry about that, but we have really been living rural Laos styles for the past wee while!
So we DID get the boat to Nong Kwai from Luang Prabang, a tiny little 10 person long boat to be precise. The boat itself was a real laugh, but thankfully water tight, and perched upon our tiny wooden seats we got the most amazing picture-postcard scenic trip up the Nam Ou river. The trip took ~7 hours all up, so definately not a speedy trip, but it really was a brilliant way to travel.
In Nong Kwai we had a brilliant evening drinking Beer Lao with our new French and German friends, and spending the night in a little bungalow by the river. Next morning we went over to see about getting a boat up to Muang Khua, near the border crossing to Vietnam we wanted to use. Hmm, as it turned out there may or may not be a boat going that way at 11am depending on how many passengers show up... Instead of sitting around waiting 'till 11am we just decided to cycle it to Muang Khua over 2 days. After studying our Laos map and it sounded reasonable so we set off...
Well, we knew they would be big days, and indeed they were!
The first day we cycled just over 100km to Oudomxay. Which doesn't sound too bad, except that in covering that dstance we had to conquer two massive mountain passes on very dodgy rutted roads.... Cycling up the mountain passes themselves are not so much the issue, but it is the time that it takes to climb so high and also the fact that that time is not regained on the downhill because we had to take it slow due to the dodgy road... So toward the end of the day Vanessa's rear tyre suffered a puncture, but we eventually got to a guesthouse just outside of Oudomxay as the sun was fading. Whew! The guesthouse was pretty fun - little school-camp-like cabins out the back of a familiy's house, and over a bamboo bridge -very rural and tranqil.
We were given some random tentacle soup (spicy!) with sticky rice and beer Lao for dinner, which was actually pretty good! Electricity for lighting only between 6:30pm and 10pm.
Next day was much the sameness although a bit easier with less big hills but the same dodgy roads, but we made the 110kms to Muang Khua just fine. The scenery was breathtaking, so a very good distraction from those thigh-burning hills ; ) Again only limited power from 6:30pm and 10pm.
Next day we going to be a big one with the border crossing into Vietnam. So we set of early at 7am, cycled down the hill to the bridge to cross the river...but there was no bridge. OK no problem, we waited for the small longboat that we ferrying people accross, and got us and our bikes to the otherside to continue along the road to Vietnam.
After setting off on he other side of the river, the "road" soon deteriorated into what could be described as an ox-cart style track, composed of silt, mud and sharp big rocks.... hmm, this couldn't be the major road linking noth Laos with Vienam, could it?? We asked several people "Vietnam?" and they all pointed up the ox track and confirmed "Vietnam". So this and the fact that it really was the only road out of Muang Khua confirmed that yes, indeed this was the road to Vietnam.... So over 5 1/2 hours we forded 2 rivers (photographic evidence comming soon), crossed 2 dodgy little bamboo bridges, climbed one large mountain pass (they don't seen to come in "small" in north Laos!) and covered 45 bone shaking kms along this "road" before it got to mid afternoon and was becoming patently obvious that we would NEVER get to the remote border crosing in time. We both decided that the best option was to try and hitch a lift to the cossing, which was probably going to be easier said than done as we had only had 2 vehicles pass in our direction all day!
But afer about 30 minutes a dump truck came along... A dump truck is probably not the most obvious choice for a lift, but really we were not picky and were certainly going to give it a try! Good thing we did; Our bikes and bags were nestled atop the load of road gravel in the back, and the two of us were nestled in the cab with the 3 Loa truckies :). We had a good time with them all laughing at each others Vietnamese, and pretty soon we had covered the 30kms to the Lao border. No problems there, then another 10 kms of hell-road to the Vietnamese border control where we were hit-on by one of the border guards (very sweet), and then cycled the remaining 45 kms on beautiful sealed Vienamese roads to Dien Bien Phu, arriving just as the sun set.....
So pretty crazy last days in the far north of Laos. We have definately had the whole "rural experience", and have well and truly gotten quite literally "off he beaten track"!! Brilliant.
Hope you are all keeping well,
E & V.