We woke up on Sunday the 16th of December at 8 am ready to start the loop around 9 ish. As stated in the previous blog we had gone out the night before and celebrated Vietnams winning of the Suzuki Cup. However, we were feeling pretty fresh, although Ollie said he was a little hungover. We had already sorted everything the day before hiring our motorbikes and stuff from our hostel Chopai, who were really helpful with everything. Fred, Ollie and I chose to rent the semi-automatic bikes, and all had 110 cc Honda Blades, Connor who was a bit less confident decided to rent a fully automatic 125 cc Honda bike. We packed our day rucksacks with essentials we would need for the next 4 days and left our main large backpack at the hostel where we would be returning after the loop. With everything sorted we left the hostel and headed to the nearest petrol station to fill up the tanks. Once this was done we were ready to start the 350 km 4-day drive.
Day 1: Ha Giang to Yen Minh – 100km
We set off out of Ha Giang around 10 am and once we left the city the road soon opened up to stunning surroundings. We snaked through the countryside following the river for a period before starting our ascent up to heaven’s gate. About 30 minutes into the ride we found our first suitable viewpoint where we stopped to take a few photos. While we were enjoying the view we suddenly heard a crash and a smash, we turned around to see that Fred’s bike had fallen over due to his kickstand slipping in the mud. The first casualty of the ride going to Fred’s left wing mirror. Upon seeing his bike fall over Fred vented his frustration in typical Essex fashion “ow you’re having a bubble”. The weather for day 1’s ride was far from perfect, the rain did hold off for the first 40 minutes or so as we made our way out of Ha Giang. But once we started our ascent up heaven’s gate and into the mountains, quite literally the heavens opened and we got pelted with rain for the next half hour or so on the way up to heaven’s gate. This did obscure the views a little bit, but the ride up was still great none the less. By the time we reached heaven’s gate viewpoint the rain had stopped, and we stopped for a quick hot drink at the suitably situated café. The view, however, was none existent with thick cloud coming up over the mountains. You couldn’t see 20 m out from the cliff. Then the cloud broke and opened and we caught our first glimpses of the valley and view below which was rather cool. Thankfully the rain did hold off for the rest of the day, but the roads were now a little wet and slippy, so we had to be careful. Plus we were already wet so would be cold for the remainder of the day. After stopping at the viewpoint we made our way into Quan Ba which is the town after heaven’s gate to get some lunch. As we pulled into a restaurant I momentarily looked away from Ollie and Fred in front of me, when I looked up again they had basically stopped to pull into the restaurant. I therefore slammed on my breaks, but due to being on a downslope and the road being wet my back end skidded out. I nearly styled it out ending up sideways, but momentum meant I had to jump from the bike using my hand to prop me up from the ground as I leapt. I was only going like 5 mph so was totally fine along with my bike, so it wasn’t a big incident, but none the less I was officially the first one off their bikes, although I did no damage. The restaurant we stopped at put on a good spread but there was a really annoying baby kitten that kept jumping up onto me and Connor. After lunch, we set off again to complete the second half of day 1’s journey to Yen Minh. The rain stayed away, and the ride was nice rising and falling over the different mountain ranges. With about an hour to go before reaching Yen Minh and at one of the tops of the various mountain ranges, we pulled over again to admire one of the many views. Here we had a little discussion about no one falling off or anything yet. It was at this point Connor said “I’m getting a little too confident I think, I’m probably due a crash” famous last words Con, we set off from our stop and the very next corner, Connor crashed and fell off his bike. I was at the back of the group and Con the front so didn’t see first-hand. But on a right-hand bend his back end had slid out and he went with the bike, his bike narrowly avoided an oncoming bike. None of the locals batted an eyelid. By the time I arrive Con was on his feet so could tell he was alright, I simply rocked up saying “little too confident ay mate” safe to say he didn’t get much sympathy from us. Con and his bike were fine though, Cons clothes not so much. He ripped holes in his shoe, trousers and coat. Luckily, he was wearing jeans underneath his first pair of trouser which broke the slide a little. The rest of the ride we made our way down into Yen Minh and stayed at Tom’s Guesthouse. The dorm here had 10 double beds and no one else in the whole guest house, we quickly snatched double duvets and got into bed to try to warm up from the cold day’s ride. All in all, day 1 was a good way to start and get used to the bikes. The weather could have been a little better, but the ride was great even so.
Day 2: Yen Minh to Dong Van via Lung Cu – 85 km
The weather on day 2 was much better. The cloud and rain subsided to give way to beautiful clear blue skies. The first half of the ride was from Yen Minh to Lung Cu which is basically the most northern point in Vietnam. The ride out of Yen Minh was astounding. With clear weather and amazing roads, we cut through the Vietnam countryside. Around every bend was another unbelieve view. Equally amazing was the road with its twists and turns climbing up and down the mountainside. We were very much in rural Vietnam now and quite simply it was one hell of a ride.
By the time we made it to Lung Cu, we had been separated a little bit. Fred and Ollie were in front but had taken a little detour which Connor and I rode straight by. Therefore, we arrived in Lung Cu before the boys. We made our way up to the flag point wondering if the boys were already there but were no were to be found. After waiting about 20 minutes we did start to wonder if something may have happened and were about to ride back the way we came when the boys came into town. Having explained they went down some dirt track to try and find the Chinese border which is why they were a bit behind. After climbing up to the top of the flagpole in Lung Cu and enjoying the views here we had some lunch before starting the ride to Dong Van where we were staying the night. The first part of the drive was back the same way and past the Chinese border. By border I mean there is a barbed wire fence that has been opened to allow people to walk through. Basically, it’s a little tourist attraction for riders on the loop to say they quickly stepped foot in China. We parked up our bikes in Vietnam and headed to the fence. Now obviously there are signs up and stuff prohibiting people crossing into China illegally, but we were hardly going to stay. We basically ran in and out again just to say we had officially stepped foot in China. I even threw a stone from Vietnam to China (not many people can say that).
We didn’t stay too long though as soon after we arrived a group of around 10 people on the Chinese side of the border arrived and stopped waiting there. By this point, we were safely back in Vietnam but we’re sure they had come to stop us from entering again or to try and catch us if we did. There was even a mountain ridge where we could hear something whistling a tune and saw someone move on the top of the ridge probably to signal to people in China about people approaching. After our bit of fun and time in China (all of 5 seconds) we headed on the remainder of the way into Dong Vang once again sweeping up and down mountain valleys and roads. We successfully navigated day two with no incidents!
Our residents for night two was CND Hostel which is right as you arrive into the town. This night wasn’t so lonely with the hostel practically full. We enjoyed a family style dinner whereby everyone in the hostel sat down to eat with the hostel owners, once again the rice wine came out. After we sat around the fire drinking a few beers and singing some songs with the other guests till around 10 pm. There was a really nice Dutch family who were all doing the ride together, 3 daughters, mother and father. They were lovely, and we had a great night spent around the campfire with them. After the night’s entertainment, we headed to our beds (by beds I mean mattresses on the floor and fell asleep fully clothed due to the temperature being about 9 °C, no doors to the room and well let’s just say they don’t do insulation in Vietnam. At several points in the night we were also woken up by what sounded like two enormous explosions, the second even closer than the first. We were thinking the Chinese had come to get us. The next morning, we were told it was fireworks, but we aren’t convinced as I have never in my life heard a firework so loud as that.
Day 3: Dong Van to Du Gia via Meo Vac – 92 km
We struggled to get Ollie out of bed on day 3 (nothing new here) but once we finally did we headed off again around 10 am. Firstly we headed to the Petrol station in town to fill up for the day’s ride. When we were here Fred said that he saw some people on Motorbikes get pulled over and said he saw some Police. Now technically we weren’t really allowed to be on the bikes as we didn’t have motorbike licenses, plus I was the only one with at least an international car driving license, so we weren’t taking any chances. We, therefore, took the long way around the Police by going “around the houses” (through rice fields). The track was very uneven and once again Connor fell off. Although he more just fell over due to the speed he was travelling at so was fine. Once we had navigated the potential police stop and made our way back onto the main road we continued the drive on our planned route. Today promised to be the best drive of them all along the Happiness road which passes from Dong Van to Meo Vac and is considered to be the best road in the whole of Vietnam. The weather as well played its part and we were once again greeted with clear blue skies. As we begun to make our way up our first mountainside to start the happiness road Connor again had a crash about 10 minutes after his last and it was his worst. I was out in front so didn’t see it, but he said a dog appeared from nowhere and ran out in front of him. He slammed on the break but once again skidded out along the road cutting his ankle in the process and spraining it a little. It was lucky that once again he was wearing jeans under his litter trousers and his big jacket otherwise it would likely have been much worse, although he did once again rip the pair of shoes he had brought the night before after ripping his first pair in the accident two days before. (The jeans saved you in the end Connor, even if we had all been taking the piss about how bad they looked when you brought them in Hanoi). Once again after checking that he hadn’t done any serious damage although the bike was a little worse for wear, we carried on up the happiness road. By this point Connor no longer wanted to be on the bike so probably didn’t enjoy the most scenic drive of his life. I did however sit behind him and go at his pace admiring the view. Ollie and Fred were far less kind and zoomed off enjoying the road. It was probably the worst time for Connor to lose his confidence as not only was the drive stunning the road was probably the most dangerous with massive sheer cliff edge drops to one side. We navigated the road to the Ma Pi Leng viewpoint, which offered one of the most incredible views I’ve seen in my life.
Once here we bumped into some people who stayed with us the night before and Connor finally got some sympathy from a kind Dutch person who was studying medicine. In the end, he had around 15 people crowded around him to make sure he was alright, none of them us as we enjoyed the views. At this point, Con had decided he didn’t want to ride anymore. We convinced him to make it the remainder of the 20 minutes to Meo Vac along the stunning road where he could then get a bus back to Ha Giang. He agreed and once again I went slow with him while Ollie and Fred raced off in true Top Gear Fashion haha. The Ma Pi Leng pass or happiness road is honestly the best rode I have ever been on and I’m glad I took it slow with Connor as I was able to take in the astonishing views that the rode offered it was quite simply out of this world! We made it to Meo Vac with no more incidents. Once here we had some lunch and Connor jumped on a bus to head back to Ha Giang (motorbike strapped to the roof). That left Ollie Fred and me to complete the rest of the loop. I must admit with Connor now gone it allowed us to put our foot down a little and we fell into a pattern of me out in front, Fred behind and Ollie bringing up the rare. The road allowed it though as it was probably the best afternoon driving wise we had. Once again, the views were unreal, but the road was simply astounding. There was nothing else on the road as we really were in the middle of nowhere. The road swept one way then the other up and down different mountain ranges and we all agreed when we arrived in Du Gia for the night it had been an amazing day riding (really did feel like we were doing some kind of tour for top gear).
In Du Gia, we stayed in another guesthouse with mattresses on the floor once more. We also bumped into our Dutch friends from the night before who were staying 200 m down the road so headed to them to enjoy a few more beers around the campfire in their company.
Day 4: Du Gia to Ha Giang – 65 km
The final day of the loop was the shortest day and probably the worst. The weather held up again, so we didn’t get wet, but the road condition was terrible for at least half the journey. It’s probably a good job Con left as I’m sure he would have fallen over around 5 more times on the final day. The start of the ride was okay as we left the rural homestay behind but the road, if you can call it that soon turned to a terrible gravel path. (As bad as Blue road in Tiptree Deb haha). The photo is actually a relatively good part it was much worse in places.
We therefore had to go slow and focus a lot more on the road as opposed to enjoying the views. We did stop to enjoy several viewpoints and snapped a few more photos for Instagram. But most of day 4 was spent on getting off the road as quickly as possible as it was so bad. Luckily it was the shortest drive of the whole trip! I would recommend to anyone planning on doing the loop in the future to find an alternative route if possible. However, in places, it did appear that maybe they were starting to do some road works to hopefully try and improve the condition a bit more. With about an hour left on the trip, we stopped somewhere for lunch. Just as we were leaving the restaurant a man showed up and took a liking to Ollie, kissing him on the hand, stroking him on the face and then giving him a big sloppy kiss on the check when he left. Fred and I found it hilarious, Ollie not so much and we quickly got back on the bikes to finish the ride. We all skilfully navigated the harsher road conditions and made it back to Ha Giang safely with no incidents.
In conclusions, the trip is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done and will be something I don’t ever forget to the day I die (plus I have the blog to refresh my memory if need be). There were totally out of this world incredible views around every twist and turn, photos and superlatives will never do it justice to how amazing the scenery was. The road itself was so fun to drive along (save the final day) and the people and cultural life we saw in rural Vietnam will stay with me for a long time. Once again everyone was so nice and friendly. We passed numerous groups of children who would all shout “ello” and wave to us as we passed, we even managed to high five a few of them as we went. For someone who had never driven a motored 2 wheeled vehicle before coming travelling, I don’t think I’ve done too bad with the whole diving aspect. As I said the trip has certainly been my favourite part of our travelling adventure so far and I feel so lucky to have been able to do it.
We now move onto Ha Long Bay where we shall be spending Christmas. I will try and write the next blog as soon as possible but will likely have my mind on other things over the next few days so bare with me. Until then I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas!