The flight, entering Vietnam and assembling the bikes went smoothly this time. In the drizzling rain, we cycled from the airport to our accommodation in a suburb of Hanoi.

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Because it poured like buckets for the first two days and then continued to be cloudy and wet, we spent a whole week in the cozy guesthouse. Here we had enough space to mend our tent, bags and clothes. What’s more, delicious food and good Vietnamese coffee were just a few steps away. We cycled to Hanoi twice. The first time to replace David’s rear wheel rim again. The cheap Chinese rim, which we had laced in Korea for a lot of money, bulged on both sides and could not be repaired. Fortunately, a mechanic had something suitable in stock and an hour and a half later we had a new wheel. The second excursion into the city was used to visit tourist attractions, whereby we found the many extroverted tourists the most worth seeing😊.

On the morning of our departure, the usual drizzle fell. As the weather forecast for the next few days was no better, we decided to forgo the planned tour of northern Vietnam and head west, where it was supposed to be drier.
The suburbs of Hanoi with their garbage, dirt and noise were particularly unfriendly in the rain. Although the roads were asphalted, their edges were not and the lack of drainage meant that the puddles were huge. The sand from the road stuck everywhere, so we didn’t look for accommodation in the evening until we had hosed the dirt off our legs, bikes and bags.

By the way, Vietnam is the first country where we no longer cook for ourselves and stay in inexpensive guesthouses (Nhà Nghỉ) instead of tents. Buying the ingredients for dinner would be more difficult, more expensive and less tasty than eating out in one of the countless street restaurants. Guesthouses are more common than places for wild camping, as every patch of ground is populated, cultivated, planted, overgrown or full of garbage. However, it is advisable to inspect the rooms before moving in, as the condition and cleanliness are often not uplifting.

After a rain-free night, the road was no longer wet the next day, but dusty and the journey with lots of traffic was not a pleasure. Because all road users look exclusively forwards and never sideways or backwards, even when exiting or overtaking, we always had to be on our guard. What’s more, in Vietnam the stronger vehicle always has the right of way, which meant that we had to yield to a honking vehicle every few minutes.
The joy of cycling was currently limited in Vietnam. Over a freshly brewed coffee with lots of sweetened condensed milk, we discussed whether we should take the main road out of the country as quickly as possible or take the short detour through the Pu Luong nature reserve. Fortunately, we had the motivation for the extra kilos and meters in altitude! As soon as we left the main road, the traffic became much quieter and we had time to look left and right at the beautiful rice fields.

After a steep, sweat-inducing climb, lots of hills and an even steeper descent (18% over several kilometers), we looked for a place to spend the night in the valley. Apparently, every village in Vietnam has a place to stay overnight… except here. A nice woman unsuccessfully tried to put us up in a motel under construction. In the dark, we started pedaling out of the valley when suddenly the same woman appeared on the scooter. She told us that we could sleep at the ranger station in the next settlement. At the ranger station in question, everything was dark and there was no one we could have asked for permission. However, the lady from the store opposite assured us that we could camp on the forecourt. Happy to have been promised a campsite, we went for a bite to eat and then met the ranger, who cleared a room for us so that we could sleep inside. This gave us an unconventional overnight stay and we were delighted with the helpfulness and spontaneity of the people!

The next morning, we again enjoyed wonderful views of the rice terraces around Pu Luong as we ascended. Later, on the main road, the landscape was no longer particularly exciting, but we were fascinated by the colorful traditional costumes and hairstyles of the hill tribes. The women from the Black Tai tribe put their hair up in a 10-centimeter bun. Because their hairstyle does not fit under a conventional motorcycle helmet, a special model with extra bun space has been approved since 2017😊.

Not only the traditional costumes and hairstyles, but also the markets were absolutely worth seeing. The trade with trees and branches as decoration for the Vietnamese New Year (Tết) was at its peak. Transporting trees on scooters was a man’s job. Otherwise, however, we mainly saw the women working hard: They are, of course, responsible for childcare and the household. In addition to cooking, washing and cleaning, this also includes field work and animal husbandry. On top of that, they take the work of loading and unloading trucks, shoveling in road construction or on the building site away from the poor men! The man then has no choice but to drive the truck, operate the concrete mixer (it’s just too complicated) or work as a supervisor😉.

We were less than pleased at the sight of the pigs stuffed into narrow baskets and the unappetizing meat displays at the market. Fortunately, on the drive to Dien Bien Phu, the roadside was no longer dominated by animal cages but by lush green rice fields. We could hardly get enough of postcard Vietnam! From Dien Bien Phu, a long climb separated us from the border crossing to Laos. We had actually intended to cross the border today. Because we underestimated the travel time and wanted to make the most of the 15 visa-free days in Laos, we are now sitting in a run-of-the-mill store just before the border post. The lovely store owner allowed us to spend the night here and even offered us her guest room in view of the cold. What a great end to our stay in Vietnam!

This post was published on February 3, 2024.