Leaving Vietnam

Lao Cai Travel Blog

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Being a constant celebrity in Vietnam.

Since Malaysia we've followed little red lanterns and houses decorated with protective pictures of the ancestors and after roughly 7000 km in sout east Asia we're finally here! We've arrived in China and have started working our way north, through the enormous mountain ranges that form the tail end of the Himalayas. Our aim is Lanzhou approximately 2500 km north and from there we will ride another 2000 km west. This route will take us north of the high Tibet, through some isolated and arrid landscapes to Urumqui and eventually kasakstan.

South east Asia has been god, each country is special with it's own landscapes and pace of life. However one morning in northern Vietnam, it became clear that we'd probably been in southe east Asia for too long: Daren had overdone the Bia Hoi the previous night and as we sat on a wall, having our elevenses curious kids tested 'hellos' and 'okays' from a distance.

resting on the Red River tracks.
Daren sighted a quiet 'oh, go away' and I muttered a less diplomatic 'p.. off' under my breath, as we both stared firmly into the concrete, ensuring eye contact was impossible.

So, lately we've dscussed how long is too long to be away. There's such a fine line between traveling because it gives you life and happiness and to being away for too long, becoming a stranger. I for a start wear harems trousers now, which should be a shure sign to go home! But also I get increasingly paranoid when my friends don't email enough. How long does it take to cross that line i wonder? How different are your thoughts allowed to get before you become a stranger on the road? In Hanoi we meet another long distance cycelist by coincidence. He turned out to know Daren from the Lonely Planet long distance cyclist forum, that serves as a valuable advice line for us.

Flower ladies.
In panic of loneliness I feared whether this would be our social relations of the future? Random strangers dropping in from the virtual world of a geeky chat forum???  

The problem with much of the south east Asia that we went through, is that it is so well travelled; There's always a hotel within reach and there's always someone speaking english about. Unless you go looking for your adventure it can easily be lost in a world of cheap luxuries. And when the adventure stops being an adventure, dark thoughts come and it's hard to justify being away for so long.

But then we went out and tried to find an adventure.

we were heading north up along the red river towards China. Part of the plan was to do a 130 km ride and we left just as the sun rose.

Views from Sappa mountains.
Some sleepy flower ladies were already opening their little stalls, but most of them we meet as we rode out along the misty river; Old creaky bikes, heavy with yellow and purple flowers. it was idyllic but the ladies shouts of 'Dawai' and "dosvidanya" revealed the past of Vietnam. These ladies would most likely have been involved with Ho Chi Minhs, russian backed guerilla army, fighting for their communist Vietnam. It was a cruel time and now they are flower ladies...

We went on through valleys bathed in dusky smoke and sweet smells from large fires drying out the casawa roots. We crept upwards and eventualy left the main road for dirt tracks directly along the river. Again our map failed us and throughout the day we didn't know where we were, eventualy we left the map completely and offroaded along a bumpy track, diving up and down through more or less dry river beds that led into the red river. A lady rowed us over a particulary large one and in language confusion I haggled the price up instead of down...

70 km later, still on the tracks our 130 km goal became unreachable. It got late and as we thought we'd be camping we stopped for tea with a local family in a small shed and stocked up on bread and water. But to our surprise a town appeared and we ended up in a homestay for the night. The next day, although there was a tarmacced road, we chose to stay of our map for another 50 km. As bumpy and unnegotiable as they were they offered some good mountainbiking. 

And so it is: we reached Lao Cai, Vietnams border with China, but before heading over we took a bus to Sappa, a mountain area populated mostly by ethnic minority groups. we rented a moto and shoot along little roads, over windy passes and into other valeys.  We passed small wodden villages, old tribal ladies carrying huge bundles of wood, tribal girls gathering stuff in baskets on their backs and old men drinking dodgy homebrew. The views were stunning with high peaks above us and deep valleys below us. 

The want to see things has been firmly set in me by my parents who traveled central Asia thin; They went to Siberia, Gergia and Armenia and to the Stans. They found the perfect wine in Tiblisi  and smile back from faded photos infront of the mosque in Samrekand.  As we sat looking into the valleys I knew that as much as I miss home I am so gratefull that I have the want to see things. And with China being just a day away I felt the old excitement of what lay ahead bubbeling within me again.   

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Being a constant celebrity in Viet…
Being a constant celebrity in Vie…
resting on the Red River tracks.
resting on the Red River tracks.
Flower ladies.
Flower ladies.
Views from Sappa mountains.
Views from Sappa mountains.
Lao Cai
photo by: cimtech