Một, hai, ba, dzô! Part 2
Part 2: Hà Giang to Cao Bằng
Day Three: Hà Giang to Mèo Vạc
-Roosters. Fuck em. See part one. I could not fall back asleep so I joined Radke to watch the sun rise. We couldn’t have asked for a more tranquil morning. Breakfast was many instant coffees, and instant noodles loaded with fresh local veggies and a fried egg. College kid raman on steroids. Jake and I took the opportunity to try smoking thuốc lào (Laotian tobacco) out of a traditional điếu cày (bamboo water pipe). Its customary everywhere to see the men wake up and smoke in the morning with their tea. It was interesting but I’ll stick to the cheap ass cigarettes. Speaking of cheap, we’re talking $.75-$1.50 a pack and everybody smokes.
-Bellies full, we loaded up our gear and hit the road. Our guide let us know that the next few days was gonna be the real mind blowing scenery. Hà Giang is known for its epic views and is not as full of trucked in tourists the way Sa Pả is. Though in recent years it has been picking up steam as a trekkers destination. We rode in through the city of Hà Giang passing by a buddhist funeral procession. Everyone marching in the streets following the hearse, wearing white headbands and throwing offerings (photo copied $100 greenbacks and large note Dong’s) on the street. Very cool to see this first hand.
-Not far out of the city we veered off into the mountains climbing elevation with lightning speed. Stopping to overlook a dam and take in what is only the beginning of the constant breathtaking views. The paved road soon became a rutted, gravelly mess still full of traffic. Sheer drops of doom lined the side of the road. Tan took the liberty of pushing us at speeds that in hindsight I shouldn’t have been taken. Right away I came around a tight right switchback and target fixated coming very close to the edge. This shook my confidence and put the fear in me. I was not feeling this track at this speed. Very little room for error. I ended up riding slower from the group and fell behind. After coming to a pretty gravelly straight away I opened up the throttle a little too hard and my rear washed out. Down I went. Thankfully we were using our bluetooth intercoms and the guys were not out of range (side note: I cannot recommend bluetooth intercom enough. Too many times it has saved our asses and just provided a more enriched riding experience. I will not travel without it). My leg was pinned under the bike and all I could feel was extreme pain in my knee. Instant regret washed over me for not having knee protection. All I could think of was I ruined our trip with my stupidity. The guys came back and I was able to get my leg free and away from the bike to assess the damage. My knee was tore up pretty badly, down to the knee cap. I was gonna need stitches ASAP. Jake being the ever prepared dude had a first aid kit on hand. We wrapped up my knee, using a local women’s razor sharp sickle to cut the tape, and popped some aspirin. Then rode 45 min to an hour all the way back to Hà Giang on the same road that I left some skin on. This time at a snail’s pace.
-We arrived at the hospital and I was taken back right away. I cannot thank Tan enough for being there cause no one spoke a lick of English. With in an hour I had my wound clean, 2 stitches, and a tetanus shot for the whopping price of 300,000 dong ($15) paid in cash directly to the doctor. I hobbled out of the hospital and we grabbed lunch then got antibiotics, anti inflammatories, gauze, and medical tape from a local pharmacy and hit the road. No prescriptions needed here. Just tell the pharmacist what your issue is. It was a long haul today and the ride is insanely twisty plus now we have to make up lost time.
-I bent my rear brake pedal so I had to lift my leg up to utilize it which caused some serious pain with each brake. I ended up engine braking for most of the ride that day which provided a unique challenge. The road was pure insanity. A motorcyclist’s dream. Jake, again, sums it up beautifully “Everyday on the road was breathtakingly gorgeous. I could not capture the beauty of Northern Vietnam’s mountains with my camera. As a motorcyclist, I can’t imagine better twisties. Imagine the Tail of the Dragon, only going on for hundreds of miles with more elevation changes. And that’s just the paved roads… We passed scooters, cars, busses, even semis up narrow mountain passes, with ankle height “guardrails” next to cliffs that dropped near vertically. We needed to keep our eyes on the road at all times, but how can you, surrounded by so much natural beauty?” Radke noticed that the full big rigs had a system jerry rigged to provide water to the brakes. It was actually pretty ingenious cause without such system there would be failing brakes and runaway trucks everywhere. Not a runaway truck ramp in sight. Logistically it would not be possible with how the roads clung to the sides of the mountains.
-Hours we rode. In and out of towns, peak to peak, fall and climb over and over again. The landscape constantly changing from pine forests to extra terrestrial rocky terrain, and everything in between. Never truly alone as there were villages and people everywhere. These lands occupied for thousands of years. It was wild to see how the people and dress changed as well. Northern Vietnam is full of many ethnic tribes such as the Mường, H’Mông, Nùng, Dao, and Tày. All with unique cultures, languages, and fashions existing in harmony with these rugged lands. Nothing like any of us have experienced in the states. I hate to beat a dead horse using the word epic but what we saw was nothing but that. Fucking epic, awesome, and overwhelmingly beautiful.
-The temps dropped soon and for the first time since getting here we were feeling cold. I was worried we were gonna be riding in the dark and these are not roads you want to ride in the dark on. Finally we crested a peak, whipped a left switchback, and could see the town of Mèo Vạc sitting in the valley below. It was more like a very small city in the clouds. Lots of multi story hotels and buildings. This was the only time we stayed in a hotel. Directly across the hotel was a public area that had a constant barrage of insanely loud talking and music. I figured it was propaganda but Tan informed us it was just the radio. Ha!
-After settling in we ate dinner at a local shop (rice, veggies, and pork belly if i recall correctly) then all got much needed showers. Exhausted from all the drama of the day we soon passed out.
Day 4: Mèo Vạc to Quảng Uyên
-Even in the cites I could hear those insufferable fowls crowing in the distance. For a hotel these were the most uncomfortable bed’s any of us slept on. Radke or Jake checked to make sure that the mattress wasn’t solid wood or concrete. Surprisingly my knee wasn’t hurting too bad though my pimp strut was now in full effect. I did wake up full of fluid in my head and panicking thinking an infection was setting in, I began to whine. Thankfully the guys called me on being a pussy and I manned up, knowing they were right. Unfortunately the fluid in my head made the constant elevation changes of the day pretty annoying.
-We had Phở bò for breakfast from the same shop we had dinner at. There were a few other off road tours there as well. Turns out Mèo Vạc is a pretty popular stop over for the off road tour scene. The one group was doing it on Urials. Sidecars and all. We then put back 2 cà phê sữa đá’s at a street side cafe. Tan sent us off to explore the Sunday market while he went and fixed the couple of issues with my XR from yesterday’s spill, and general maintenance on the other bikes.
-What a sight to behold at this market! First and foremost the size of the people of this region is tiny. I mean you would have to be to well adapted to living in such high altitudes. The average person came up to our waists. At first I was concerned we would lose each other in the melay of the market but Radke pointed out that you could pick us out from 100 meters away due to how we towered over the locals (majority of them being The H’Mông peoples). Stature aside these are tough people. I saw old woman carrying loads that would make a full grown man in the states cry.
-Tan had the bikes ready to go and my rear brake was operational again. I was very thankful for that cause with these roads its an imperative part of the bike. He led us 10km in the opposite direction to the Sky Garden Mã Pì Lèng. Holy Fuck! What a view. The Nho Quế River cuts through the mountains, carving out the most awe inspiring cliffs. Straight out of a Tolkien novel but with Southeast Asian flare. Pics can’t ever grab the grandeur of this overlook. I love large scale geological formations because it makes you realize how small and insignificant you really are in the grand scheme. It’s humbling in the best way possible.
-Back tracking through Mèo Vạc, we continued on and on. More mountains, more twists, more wonder. We noticed that our elevation had slowly began to descend as the climate was warmer and the vegetation more jungle-esque. We rode alongside a river for a very long time. It was at this point we really noticed that we stood out big time. It was almost as if we were celebrities. Tons of waves and hellos from all ages, but especially children. According to Tan the modern dirt bikes just made it to Vietnam 5-10 years ago so when isolated locals see these bikes they stand apart from their usual scooters. Everywhere we stopped there were locals sitting on our bikes and checking them out. I have never met a more friendly and welcoming people. Always willing to share and include you. They loved to say Hello in English (vs the Viet “xin chào”) and wanted to know where we are from. Most general communication was manageable and we tried our best to speak in what little Vietnamese we had picked up along the way. The people are a simple people who want what everyone across the world wants. Happiness, family, friends, laughter, love, and security. Despite the fact we are from different sides of the planet and our cultures are diametrically different, we are all at our core all Humans with the same needs and wants. Again the word humbling comes to mind.
-We stopped for lunch in the town of Bảo Lạc. It was a beef stir fried rice topped with a fried egg accompanied by a side of pickled cabbage soup and fresh cucumbers. I washed it down with some Passion Fruit (Nước chanh dây), my juice of choice on this trip. While grabbing coffee’s next door the woman working there told me how handsome I was. Tan had to translate the words but her smile communicated it just fine. I gave her a “cảm ơn” and smile back. See motherfuckers, even on the other side of the planet women can appreciate a damn fine looking specimen of manliness. Told you so Ed.
- Today was a long day and Radke and I were feeling it. Riding side saddle for many km became the norm. We finally descended from the mountains and rode through the city of Cao Bằng, the capital of the Cao Bằng province. Our journey did not stop here though. We had to ride another 40km to the town of Quảng Uyên. This was the closest place to stay to see the Bản Giốc waterfalls. Soon we regained the elevation we lost coming into Cao Bằng. We rolled up to the Kiều Chinh Homestay, our homebase for the next two nights. This homestay was a little more rustic and not as posh as the last two we stayed in but the views from the backyard were something else. After settling in it was not long until the family style dinner came out followed buy a bottle of corn liquor. A few “Một, hai, ba, dzô!’s” and a couple of “Chúc sức khoẻ!’s” (happy health!) later I crawled into bed to let Radke and Jake finish the bottle of corn swill. Excited to see the main thing I came here for, the Bản Giốc waterfall and to skirt the edge of the Chinese border.
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Published - Nov 9, 2011
Tonight four of us met at the flagpole and rode fort mifflin road down by the airport. Nice crisp night for a ride. Introducing the ladies of the first girls-only ride. Hopefully we can get a few rides in before it gets too cold. Honestly, riding with a bunch of dudes is cool, but riding […]