We arrive in Hanoi on Saturday evening, rather late. It’s hot and very humid, even at that time. We’re glad we have an air conditioned room. It would be
impossible to sleep otherwise.
The Monday morning we get to Flamingo offices to pick up the bikes. We leave our driving licenses (and keep our international driving licenses).
We have chosen, following the agency advice, 2 Yamaha YBR 125cc. The bikes are well used! Mine has over 60,000 kms on the clock. The clutch cable is a
bit too tight and the bike keeps stalling; but we get that adjusted and the bike is then fine.
I have arranged for someone to take us out of town (for 10USD) and into the right road (highway 6). It is definitely a good idea as the traffic is mad and it
takes some time to get into the ‘groove’ of it while looking where you’re going as well! For 10 USD it is well worth it.
The traffic is mad but fluid, once you get used to the cars and bigger vehicles bullying you out of the road, and bikes from side streets coming straight at
you…. It gets easier. The traffic is slow, so fairly safe in general.
Every one seems to be involved on a mobile phone conversation while whizzing their little scooters through the dense traffic! A bit crazy!
Vietnam has changed a lot in the 9 years since we first came here. Many cars, a lot more noise, hardly any bicycles, replaced all by scooters!
As we get further away from Hanoi, we managed to make good progress. But people are replaced by buffalos and cattle, left wandering by the side of the
roads! Major hazard on the road as you never know when they are going to decide to cross in front of you!
The road us take up a mountain, and we even start to feel cold; but this does not last as we descend into the valley.
We decide to make it Mai Chau, a fairly touristy ethnic village. We find a hotel without any problems. We chain the bikes together to a railing at the entrance
of the hotel. We brought our own motorcycle lock with us. Flamingo gave us a bicycle lock! We use both.
In our contract, if the bikes are stolen, we would owe USD 3,000 per bike! Considering how knackered they are, it’s a bit exaggerated so we take all
precautions. I’ve had 2 bikes stolen in past. I won’t make it easy for those &#$*&%&% thieves!
The next day after a quick visit of the ethnic famous village we leave town and continue east. The landscape is very beautiful. The road goes up mountains
and through heavily populated valleys. The bikes average 40km/h in general. They have no power and I climb mountains in 2d gear. On the plus side they
have fantastic fuel economy and can do about 350km on a 10l tank. If only my little off-road bike back home could do the same!
We have a bit of rain in the afternoon, but it is so hot that we decide to continue, and not bother with the waterproof gear.
We spend the night in Son La at the local communist Party Guest House. It looks very grand from the outside but the inside is rather run down and dirty.
We try to find some restaurant to have dinner but nothing. We only find a street kitchen. We ask for some Nems (Spring rolls). It’s awful; they seem to be
made of tripes or something like that. The smell is awful! We also get some non-identified vegs that taste rather unpleasant! We eat what we think is Tofu
and the steamed rice and hope for better food tomorrow. The next morning we look forward to some breakfast but the comrade hotel does not serve any
We find a place near by but the coffee is not drinkable. Serious! Even Alistair cannot drink it. It seems to have some thick stuff at the bottom! I don’t want to
know what it is! I just want to leave town!
WE wanted to spend a couple of days in town but we decide to press on.
We make some progress and come at a cross road. The main road goes to Dien Bien Phu, but we are not interested to get there so we decide to take a short
cut and go north. I should have known about short cuts! I remember that time in Ecuador....
The road turns soon into a single lane goat track most of the time. Once upon a time the road must have been asphalted, but it was a long time ago. Most of
it is a dirt track. That is when you are happy to have little bikes! It is just so much easier in those trails, than on a big 200kg bike!
Our next destination, according to our guide, is supposed to be rather nice: Muong Lay (formerly Lai Chau). The problem here as you may expect is our
guide was published in 2007! Latest edition! Hmm.....
As we get closer to town, at end of the day we press on as the night fall around 6pm. The single lane trail starts descending from the mountains into the
valley. It is a very bad very muddy track. We start passing lots of construction trucks that further deteriorate the muddy track. It’s hard going and stressful
with all the big trucks. After a long difficult descent we finally arrive to the valley. The town is just of wooden stilt houses. We turn for few miles trying to find
the hotel. The town seems built along a big river and is very long on both side of it. We pass a rickety suspended bridge and try to find the colonial
buildings built in stones, that we saw as we were descending from the mountain, thinking the hotel may be round there. As we keep asking a police man on
a 4X4 take us back to the river and make us sign to continue for 3kms.
We cross the river back by another (more solid!) bridge few kms later and stop there. As it starts to get dark we ask once again for the only hotel /guest
house in town. This time a man points to a ruin, next to the river. We can’t believe there is a hotel in that rubble of stones, but yes there it is.
Actually the guest rooms are in wooden pavilion that does not look too bad. It only had flees but we only found out later about that. And they even serve
food and have a menu in English!
We are covered in mud, the bikes and our bags too. No way to wash all that. We just get changed and go for an excellent dinner. At last food!
WE wake up the next day to a huge storm. We won’t be going anywhere today.
The town is rather awful. Few miles north the government is building a huge hydroelectric dam which will flood the entire valley for miles. People are being
relocated but the whole area is just a huge construction site with a massive high bridge that will go above the future lake, future roads etc…
As we stay in the guest house we do a bit of Laundry. I am having some stomach problems and have some rest.
In the afternoon the staff brings a huge bees hive in the living room. The hive is filled with larvae still alive. They just pick them up and put in bottles. As a
bottle is filled, they cover then with what seem like pure alcohol! One lad comes in and takes a larvae and suck it! I can’t watch!
Later on they do the same thing with the giant bees. When we ask they say they do eat all that!
Some bottles on display have scorpions inside, snakes, giant lizards, non identified stuff….
In the evening as we finish our dinner, 2 Canadians on bikes turn up in the dark. They too had problems finding the place! We have a good chat as Felix
lives in Hanoi and speak some Vietnamese, so he gives us few useful tips and words.
After few beers we go to bed. The next day the weather is clear and we leave at 8am.
Unfortunately the whole area is a construction site! The traffic, as usual in these countries, takes us through the middle of the construction works, between
the diggers, through the stones, deep mud, mess…It’s awful: sections of big rocks, of very deep mud, anything goes, which would be ok for people on big
4X4 but not for us.
Some of the caterpillars have destroyed the entire road. It take us hours to leave the town and make some progress as we get stopped again and again
while some digger make further damage before the traffic is allowed to go.
With all those delays we don’t get very far, by mid afternoon we arrive at Pa So. We had enough mud and rocks for the day. Apparently the road East is in a
bad state. As we arrive in the one street village, it turns into a 4 lanes wide street, with hardly any traffic. It’s mental as, how in the middle of nowhere, the
government built a magnificent 4 or 8 lanes roads, for prestige????
As we stop across the street of what appears to be the only hotel in town, a woman makes us sign and asks us if we want a room. It’s a traditional 3 storey
house with the living room turned into a coffee/restaurant, quite usual around here.
Alistair goes to check the room and we take it. It seems that the place is run by 2 sisters, one with twin babies. We get the top floor room with a massive
bathroom and access to the huge terrace. Heaven!
The 1st floor has 2 rooms that seem to be rented to local workers.
In the evening we go to the dinner/coffee living room for a drink and then using our guide dictionary we manage to order some spicy beef with rice and
As we get our food, 3 guys at the next table come to say hello. We drink few shots of the local rice wine with them, before going back to our room.
About 20 minutes later, as we get ready to go to bed, one of the sisters knocks on the door and drag us to the living room where the 3 guys are singing
Karaoke! They insist that we must join them. They have a full crate of beer going on and give us a beer each.
So we end up singing Karaoke in Vietnamese, not an easy task! The machine has some songs in English and they select one, Alistair ends up singing Bah
Bah Black Sheep!
The guys are very friendly, and the sisters join us for some songs, but we have a long way to do tomorrow so I decide to go to bed. Ten minutes later,
Alistair joins me! I am a bit surprised, but it appears that when I left, one of the guys made gestures that now I was gone him and Alistair “together” sign…
Maybe something got lost in translation or otherwise Alistair found himself a “boyfriend”. In any case, Alistair decided not to clarify, saying that not even
blind drunk he would get seduced by a bloke!
There is a massive storm during the night. As we get up at 7, the sky is still very dark.
The 2 sisters bring us 2 huge bowls of Pho, but I am still unwell with my stomach and I can’t eat anything. We finally get the bikes out of the restaurant room
where they spent the night, and we are ready to go.
After some time the road takes us to Lai Chau, a massive town, and we go through densely populated valleys. The road overall is actually quite good with
only some sections of dirt, but nothing too hard.
After few hours we start climbing into the highest mountains of Vietnam. We finally arrive at Sapa early in the afternoon. It is a fairly big town, very touristy as
well. As we stop in the centre to check out some hotels, 2 girls on a scooter ask us if we want a hotel. We follow them and we arrive at a backpacker hotel.
They have a safe parking site for our bikes and a big room. For only USD10 including breakfast it is a very good deal.
The town is full of tourists; we have not seen so many since Hanoi. And as it happens in places like that, lots of hassle from street vendors. In another hand,
it is nice to have a choice of restaurants and some menus in English rather that the usual street kitchen serving non identified food. We decide to make the
most of it.
WE spend a couple of days there, going on few bike excursions, eating and generally relaxing! Sapa is great for outdoor kits as well and I get an original
Northface Gore-Tex jacket for 20 USD. They are produced locally by North Face, and much kit finds its way out of factory and into the tourist shops!
Originally the plan was to stay in Sapa for 5 days and do day trips, and take the night train back to Hanoi. But we get quickly bored of Sapa and the tourists
and the hassle, and we decide to just ride south.
We leave Sapa under pouring rain! Typical! We make good progress to start with but after few hours, Alistair's bike starts to play up with the electrics. Must
be the rain, it is by now really chucking down and we are getting rather cold. By early afternoon, we turn back and go back to a town we passed earlier. As
Alistair bike just stops we are in luck, there is a Niah Nghi (guest house) just down the road. It’s an absolutely filthy place but we have no choice. You have
to be pragmatic on the road!
The place is kept by an old couple, they must be at least hundred years old and they have not cleaned the rooms for a long time!!! Our kit is drenched,
including water inside our motorbike boots. Miserable time.
On the plus side we manage to find a nice place for dinner.
The following day it is still raining. We use the old trick of plastic bags on our feet, before getting our boots. That should keep them dry.
As the rain stops, we make good progress and by end of the day we arrive in a big town. We find a very nice hotel and decide to stop there. They even
speak a bit of English!
The rest of the ride south is trouble free.
Arriving in Hanoi we use the river and the bridges to find our way to the Flamingo travel, to hand back the bikes. We end up going up and down the main
bridge 3 times by taking the wrong turning but this is not too bad considering!
After 2 weeks on the road, we made 1200 kms on those little bikes. The only trouble with them was on our last day when Alistair's chain came off, but some
builders made us signs to go back and we found a mechanic who sorted the chain back in and tightened it in 10 minutes.
It has been a great ride. We will come back for more no doubt!
We spent 2 weeks on rented bikes (Yamaha YBR 125cc) riding through the North West mountains. We rented bikes from
Flamingo Travels in Hanoi. I definitely recommend them!
Read the details and story below!
Tips: Bring your own motorcycle lock (the rental company gave us bicycle locks!) , a decent roll bag for your luggage and good