Today is the day. After 5650km, uncountable experiences and daily mechanic visits. I sold my bike. There was no other way. I burned it. I would have liked to ride to Laos with it, but after having overused it in my last section of the trip it’s just became unusable. As soon I stopped accelerating it would switch off – and not start again without a mechanic. Imagine how it was to ride in Hanoi yesterday without ever stopping accelerating, not at a traffic lights, not at the stop, in the traffic…This morning it didn’t switch on at all and I literally had to push it to the mechanic to whom I sold it. I actually had to push it to three mechanics and only the third one agreed to buy it for 50$….miserable, but well, it doesn’t work! When each of the mechanic was trying to switch the bike on I was preying it would give a sign a life, but nothing. Dead.
I mentioned to have over used the bike in the last section of the trip. Well that bit was the Ha Giang Loop, a road going across the mountains in the extreme north of Vietnam at the border with China. It was definitely one of the most spectacular parts of my trip and one of the most beautiful areas I ever visited in my life.
Such area is inhabited mostly by local tribes, with their traditions and their languages, wearing their own clothing and living their life in solitary. It is fascinating.
Everything was amazing and definitely worth to visit, but if I can give a suggestion…don’t do this during the winter! Vietnam is geographically in South East Asia, so one would think a tropical country. Yes and no… The South of Vietnam is definitely tropical, the centre a bit less. The North, it’s not!
Winters in the north, given also the altitude of the mountains can be very cold and, on the contrary of countries in Europe for example, they’re not equipped with heating or warm inside places. They say that’s because the very cold temperatures don’t last more than few weeks, but still, in those few weeks it’s tough.
It’s even tougher if you spend 6-7 hours per day riding your bike.
I remember to have started this trip with t-shirt, short pants and a helmet without even the visor. Then travelling north I started buying a better helmet, a sweater, a pair of heavy trousers, a poncho, a jacket, a scarf, a pair of gloves, a pair of rain-proof trousers. Now I was wearing all of it. I was actually wearing 2 pair of socks, 3 layers of trousers and 5 layers of shirts. Still I was freezing, especially the fingers. The gloves indeed were until half of the fingers…
The temperature as average was 2-3 degrees, but it also reached -1.
Imagine being on a motorbike, exposed to the cold and the wind for hours. The cold entering your bones. You stop for lunch at a restaurant and the restaurant only has outside tables. You stop to sleep and the hostels (we checked hotels as well) have no heating. That cold stays with you, it becomes part of you.
The first two nights we fell asleep fully clothed, even keeping the shoes on.
The third day we arrived to the highest point of the trip and so the coldest village. Went to check all the hostels and hotels, none of them had heating. We were wondering how it was possible that we were the only ones with this problem. It was freezing! Eventually we found someone who would give us a heated room, but that was the kids room. They offered us that room, moving their kids of out it, to a cold hallway in front of a fireplace. No way, we couldn’t possibly take the only heater from the kids and leave them in the cold.
Eventually we decided to go to a hostel made of 2-beds bungalows. The bungalow was very tiny, sort of an igloo, we thought that at least with our breathe it would have warmed up a bit during the night. That was the best we could get.
After checking in we went out for dinner and passed by some shops selling….heaters!!!
David and I looked each other startled in the face, like we had found some gold.
The heathers looked quite shitty, directly from China, probably lasting one hour before they would be broken, but well…
“How much is it for one?”
“400,000 dong” (something like £15)
“Ok, can we just rent one? We have to leave tomorrow”
“No no, buy”
He knew we needed that shit, there was no way to get a better price, we bought it and put in the room. It worked. That night after 3 days we almost felt the feeling of “warm”.
The next day I thought we were going to leave the heather there, but David was of a different advice. After all, at this stage we are Vietnam veterans. We’ve seen people bringing every sort of thing in the back of their bikes, from livestock (both living and dead) to literally entire houses of things.
So David sticked the heather in the back of his bike, as a real local.
We got even stopped at a traffic light by some backpackers asking to which hostel we were going. I was like:
“We’re not stopping in this village, we go to the next one. Why?”
“Oh, because you’ve got a heather guys. Would be nice to share the same room”
Me and David looked at each other proud of our genius investment.
The last night of the loop we stopped in the nicest hostel of that area, in Du Già. There were quite a few backpackers there, it was cold as fuck, but we all ate outside. Family dinner. That’s a common thing in Vietnam, which is quite cool. A lot of hostels organise these family dinners, where backpackers eat with the people running the hostel and their families.
The dinner was good, quite a bit of food, but most of all a lot of “magic water”. Some local liquor they make over there on the mountains to keep themselves warm and it’s drunk as shots.
We had quite a bit of shots of magic water. I mean the guy from the hostel could say only few words in english and two were “magic wadaaaa”. He would shout that always more frequently during the night. After dinner we stayed there outside the hostel, in the middle of the valley, playing guitar, singing Vietnamese songs and drinking magic water. Until one by one we dropped to bed completely drunk and exhausted by the cold.
The following day we descended the mountains and finished the loop in Ha Giang, the city giving the name to the loop. It was incredible to take off my clothes after 5 days. I was certainly dirty, but actually I don’t think I dripped a single drop of sweat in those days.
There in Ha Giang David managed even to sell the heather to the hostel where we were staying.
Tomorrow I’m going to take a flight to Laos, I still find it incredible that my experience in Vietnam and in general with the motorbike has arrived to an end. Originally I wanted to go to Laos by bike, but besides being the bike dead, I don’t have too much time travelling left and I feel pretty tired and proofed by this ride. Probably I’m the only person I know in Asia who hasn’t had a bike accident, although the bike stopped twice by itself and the second time especially was quite tough, I had to push it for over an hour, up on the mountains in the very north of Vietnam (during the Ha Giang Loop), through the tribes villages who didn’t even speak Vietnamese and barely had electricity, with dogs attacking me and having to ford a river…It was quite a ride.
Here is a list of every stop I did throughout my road trip:
Phnom Penh – Siem Reap 320km ☀️
Siem Reap – Kampong Klheang – Siem Reap 110km ☀️
Siem Reap – Battambang 163km ☀️
Battambang – Kampong Chhnang 201km ☀️
Kampong Chhnang – Sihanoukville 284km ☀️
Sihanoukville – Kampot 96km 🌧
Kampot – Can Tho (🇻🇳) 252km ☀️
Can Tho – Ho Chi Minh City 172km ☀️
Ho Chi Minh City – Cu Chi Tunnels – HCMC 110km ☀️
Ho Chi Minh City – Mui Ne 217km 🌤
Mui Ne – Da Lat 180km 🌥
Da Lat – Pongour Falls – Da Lat 110km ☁️
Da Lat – Nha Trang 135km ☁️
Nha Trang – Tuy Hóa 136km 💨
Tuy Hóa – Quang Ngai 286km 🌧
Quang Ngai – Hoi An 115km 🌧
Hoi An – Hue 138km 🌦
Hue – Prao 157km 🌥
Prao – Hoi An – Da Nang 124km 🌤
Da Nang – Hue 114km 🌧
Hue – Phong Nha 219km ☁️
Phong Nha – Paradise Cave – Phong Nha 50km 🌦
Phong Nha – Vinh 208km 🌤
Vinh – Ninh Bình 201km ☀️
Ninh Bình – Trang An – Ninh Bình 27km 🌤
Ninh Bình – Cat Bà 175km ☁️
Cat Bà – Hanoi 158km ☁️
Hanoi – Cao Bang 286km 🌤
Cao Bang – Ban Gioc – Cao Bang 184km ☁️
Cao Bang – Meo Vac 175km 🌥
Meo Vac – Du Già 122km ☁️
Du Già – Ha Giang 110km ⛅️
Ha Giang – Hanoi 285km ⛅️