The big Indochina trip: The road to Sapa

There is a highway connecting Hanoi with Lao Cai, the city closest to Sapa, which could get us there in about five hours. I knew we couldn’t get on the highway with the motorbike but looking at Google maps I saw a normal road that looked to be more or less next to it. I figured with a few stops along the way we could get there in maybe six or seven hours; a long ride but not impossible.

It was quite chaotic getting out of Hanoi but eventually we made it without too much trouble. Out on the main road things went smoother and we made some decent progress but of course there’s not much to see along the way.

In the afternoon we left the big roads and entered the road that follows the highway. It was smaller than I had expected and rather twisty but we could still keep a fair pace. Around three o’clock the road surface went from asphalt to bumpy and rutted gravel with big potholes and patches of mud. At this point I had to lower the pace quite a bit to keep safe but it was still tough going. As long as we had daylight it was doable but as it got darker it got worse and of course there are no street lights so we were limited to what light the bike could provide. Here and there the road got better but then it would become bad again after a few hundred meters, at a few points we even had to ford small streams with nothing but the headlight to guide us, it felt like we were in some kind of adventure film.

The road kept meandering along, criss crossing the highway several time,  so not only did we have to go much slower than expected, but the distance was longer too. Around seven in the evening we realized we still had several hours of driving in these kind of conditions an it would be dangerous to continue. Since we were coming up on a small town we decided to give up and find a hotel. According to the map the nearest hotel was about 20 kilometers away so we headed there. Just a kilometer or so down the road we came upon a hotel that was not on the map. What a relief that we didn’t have to keep going. So, we called our hotel in Sapa, told them we wouldn’t arrive until the next day then spent the night there in a small town in the middle of nowhere.

The next day we woke up fresh and ready to hit the road again. The road was better than the day before but still some pretty rough patches, we even had to ford another stream.

Another motorbike crossing the stream, I’m  waiting on the side getting mentally ready

I’m glad we decided to stay over though, not only because of the road conditions, but also because of the view. As we climbed higher in the mountains we started seeing terraced rice fields and higher up the terrain became more barren and rugged with some really spectacular views of the valleys below.

Down on ground level

Terraced fields 

Yini and the bike

The road up through the terraced fields 

View of the mountains above

When we got higher up the fog closed in and the roads became worse again, so we did the last 20 or so kilometers on bumpy roads through thick mists. When we finally arrived at our homestay it was too misty for it to be worth going out again so we ended up sitting in the homestay watching movies. Perhapss not the best way to spend your time when traveling but there wasn’t much else we could do, besides our homestay is really cozy. It looks like the weather will clear up tomorrow so hopefully we can do a bit of trekking.

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