Một, hai, ba, dzô! Part 3
Part 3: Cao Bằng to Hanoi
Day 5: Quảng Uyên to Bản Giốc waterfalls
-I got up before the roosters today and not cause I wanted to. A bit of the old ultra violence erupted in my stomach that brought me to the knees of the great porcelain god. There was no returning to sleep, and I could feel a fever creeping in. Nausea came to play, too. When the guys woke up I filled them in on the bad news. There was no way I could get on a bike today. Sadly I would have to miss the main thing I wanted to see on this trip, the Bản Giốc waterfalls. Luckily we were booked in this homestay for 2 nights so I could lay around and recover while not botching our schedule. That’s my special brand of shit luck. I instantly assumed I was suffering from an infection due to my wound, but after putting a few texts into Dr. Ben “Cool Jerk” Whitfield, he assured me that it was probably just a case of traveler’s diarrhea. Thanks again for being on call Ben! I burrowed into my bed to shiver, sweat, shit, and sleep the whole day while the guys hit the road.
**Since I missed the whole day, Jake will be taking over to fill you guys in on that day’s escapades.**
-Radke and I escaped the sickness that was plaguing Nate so like good friends, we carried on without him. And without Nate’s knee holding us back, we tore it up off-road again. Tan was into creek crossings. He’d take them even when there were other, easier options. After ripping through alleyways through small mountain villages and back out through the rice paddies, we popped out at the Ngườm Ngao Cave. According to legend, a tiger used to live there, but all we saw were bats.
-After lunch and a short wait for the rain to pass, we rode up to the Bản Giốc Falls. These falls are right on the China – Vietnam border and there’s been controversy about that border as recently as 2009. Tan explained that officially, you had to get on a list to go see these falls and the process took forever. But if you put some dong in your passport when you presented it at the entrance, your names can get on the list just like that.
-Some picnickers at the falls lured us in with beer, then went in for the selfies. We hung out with them and shared some food and small talk through google translate.
-Radke requested that we take the long way back to the home-stay, and I’m glad he did. Tan’s method for finding off-road routes was to pick a small path that went off the main road, then pull out his phone and figure out a route using Google Maps satellite layer. And he did this while riding, one handed through paths barely fatter than our tires that zigzagged every which way for 10 minutes at a stretch. It worked for the most part. There was one time we were zipping out a paved path between two mountains that ended at an impasse.
-When the guys got back from the waterfalls, they came loaded with electrolytes and more antibiotics. I was bummed I missed the day but glad they were able to bring back pics and stories. I joined in for dinner but the only thing i could stomach was rice and electrolyte ladened water. I left the group to their bottle of corn wine and went to bed.
Day 6: Quảng Uyên to Ba Bể Lake
-This morning the local swine and water buffalo decided to join in with chorus of roosters, but I was happy to wake up feverless. My bowels had dried up, but the nausea still hung on. All that matters is that I knew I was good enough to ride. The guys were thrilled when I told them the news. The host cooked us eggs and provided ample bread and instant coffee but all I could stomach was dipping some bread into sweetened condensed milk. I felt neutered not having my usual appetite.
-Tan sent us out to explore another market, but I was all market-ed out. The fresh fish and meat section in particular was very unsettling to my gut. One thing I have not pointed out yet is the abundance of food. Cheap food. Whether village or city, there are so many options to get fresh produce, a snack, or a hot cooked meal for less than a dollar. Most streets were lined with all kinds of food options where you sat on the smallest stools to scarf down you meal then move on.
-I was ecstatic to get out of this town, though I was not pumped to have to put my rain gear on. We rode back through the city of Cao Bằng, and the skies opened up on us just as we got into the mountain roads. Thankfully these were manicured well. The rain stopped by the time we got lunch. All of us were thankful to get out of our rain gear. The rest of the ride was more great roads running along rivers with jungle canopies.
-After a long day we finally came to Ba Bể Lake. What a sight. Tan told us this is the largest naturally occurring lake in Vietnam. We took the long way around to the village of Pác Ngòi and to our surprise ran into the Aussies from our first night. They were about to go on a boat ride in the Lake and invited us. We gladly accepted the invite then rolled up to the Hoành Tứ homstay and tore off our gear in anticipation of making the boat. Jake grabbed some beers (good call buddy), and soon we were walking along the lake road with the Aussies. They wasted no time in busting my balls over me going down.
-We boarded a motor boat and were ushered out onto the lake. I’ll let the pics below do most of the work describing the views. We put beers back and shared stories with our down under companions. They had a solid week as well. Off along the shores the evening fisherman were out pulling todays catches in. Finally the boat ride came to an end and while pulling the boat back to shore, Aussie Dave got his hand stuck between two boats and won himself a motorbike ride to the local doctor for stitches of his own. He yelled something about not being out done by the American Cunts, and that was the last we saw of him.
-After the walk back to the homestay we wished our Australian friends farewell and relaxed, waiting for dinner. One of us realized this is our last night for this portion of the trip, and a bittersweet feeling overcame all of us. The call to dinner came, and we sat around the table with the family for our last family style meal of this trip. My appetite still needed time to return to 100%, but I did my best trying a small portion of all that was offered. I even threw down a Một, hai, ba, dzô! or two. Tan told us we had a very long day tomorrow so we will need to be on the road early. Jake and I fought our mosquito nets while Radke laughed at our struggle. Eventually it was all sorted out, and we were out cold.
Day 7: Ba Bể Lake to Hanoi
-You know what? I’m gonna miss those fucking roosters. I layed in bed reflecting on the last few days coming to peace with their incessant crowing. Maybe it was the croaking of the bullfrogs that kept me calm? We were up early and had crepes, bananas, banana fritters, honey, and instant coffee then packed up the bikes and headed off.
-Right away we gained a lot of elevation and thanks to the early morning fog, we had limited visibility. I was shocked at how high we climbed cause I knew we’d be coming down soon the closer we got to Hanoi.
-Slowly we did descend and surprisingly quick the scenery began to grow more urban. More and more people began to share the roads with us. By the time went hit the city of Thái Nguyên it was apparent that our two wheeled Shangri La ride was officially over. We stopped here for some Phở bò and posed for pictures that the proprietors insisted on taking of us.
-Forty km’s south of more and more congestion. After crossing the Nhật Tân Bridge the familiar sight of Hanoi faced us. Tan took no liberties racing and zig zagging through the city traffic. We all got split up easily and having the bluetooths allowed us to stay in contact. Eventually we ended at the same spot we began. Sad that it was over but thoroughly psyched that we had accomplished what we had set out to do. All of us alive and well with nothing but great memories, maybe a scar. Hopefully a scar. We walked back to the shop and got one last pic with Tan. This trip would have been a totally different beast without him. We couldn’t have asked for a better guide. Such an awesome dude. We could not thank him enough. After wishing him well we crawled back to our Airbnb in the Old Town for much needed showers.
Stay tuned for scooters in Hội An….
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Published - Sep 6, 2011
Our friend Jason builds vintage motorcycles here in Philly. He knows what he’s doin. Check out some of the cool projects he’s worked on. Lots of good stuff. Check it out HERE. (click the screw icon to link to the corresponding page)