Vietnam part 1

Blog South East Asia – Vietnam part 1 Written on: 24-02-2024

Overview day 463 - 472

9 february 2024 - 17 february 2024


Km’s Cycled







Vietnam deel 1 route
Laos - Dien Bien Phu - Muang Cha - Tam Durong - Sa Pa - Ha Giang

From Laos to Vietnam

The last night in Laos we camp along the route. This way we are closer to the border and we have already completed part of the climb. The border with Vietnam is located on top of a mountain. The road is nice and quiet and we pitch our tent in a wide bend. A few last mopeds pass by, but they just look, laugh and wave. No one cares if we sleep here.

Climbing out of Laos

The next morning we get on our bikes early to complete the last 10km of the climb. At the Laotian border we encounter a group of Dutch tourists. After a nice chat, we can make one of them happy with our last Laotian Kip and then it is time to explore Vietnam. But first we have to cycle another 5km of no-mans-land to cross before we finally, officially, cycle into Vietnam. At the border with Vietnam it immediately becomes clear that they don’t care about personal space here. At the passport and visa control, a Vietnamese person briefly stands next to Isabel, says nothing, and seconds later he squeezes in front of her to give his passport at the officer. The customs officer is not bothered by it in any way, but luckily he handles our passports first.

Uitzicht Vietnam
First view of Vietnam
Grens laos Vietnam
Almost there!
Tijd voor een broodje
Coffee stop
Vietnamese New Year

And then we descend towards Dien Bien Phu. The road on the Vietnamese side is a lot worse than that on the Laotian side, so we descend slowly and with caution. The landscapes are beautiful and once at the bottom of the mountain, it’s time for a quick coffee and sandwich. The residents of the surrounding houses are already testing their sound system. Preparations for TET are in full swing. What is TET? I hear you thinking.


TET or ‘Tết Nguyên Đán’ is the Vietnamese New Year festival. Another name for this festival is the Lunar New Year festival and it (usually) falls at the same time as the Chinese New Year festival. This celebrates the beginning of spring and the beginning of the lunar calendar, but also commemorates the dead. It mostly resembles the Christmas and New Year period in our country. Many people are free, government buildings and schools are closed and there are several days of celebration that involve many traditions. A real family affair.

Many traditions

This starts a week in advance, when a lot of cleaning takes place. The house, cars, mopeds and street must be clean. The new year must be started with a clean slate. Cleaning is extra important, because it’s not allowed during the first days of the new year. Otherwise you brush away your happiness. So the broom literally goes into the closet for a few days and everyone has to do their best to not make a mess!

In Dien Bien Phu we see several mopeds with kumquat trees and peach branches on the back, and families in festive clothes having their picture taken together. Many shops have already closed, but fortunately some restaurants are still open. We will make good use of that.

It is still not entirely clear to us whether everything is closed during TET or whether some things are still open. We decide to be on the safe side and do some shopping in the supermarket and at the market.

Versierde boom voor Tet
Peach tree branch with decorations
Kumquat trees
Banh Tet (traditionele rijst cake)
Bahn Tet (traditional rice cake)

Shows en fireworks during TET

At the night of  the Lunar New Year, a stage has been set up in the city with various performances by singers and dancers. We notice that no one applauds after a song. Here too we notice that personal space does not really exist. Even though there is plenty of room, they will still stand very close to you. Oh well, if they like that. At 12 o’clock there is a fireworks show (well, a few seconds too early) and it is admired by the crowd and we hear many oohs and aahs, but still no applause. When the show is over, everyone immediately starts getting ready to go. As if school is out, they disappear so quickly towards their mopeds. We also walk back to our hotel. Along the way we receive several Happy New Year wishes and from a lady and her daughter we even both receive a knitted cuddly toy and also a big, sincere hug for Isabelle. That’s a good start to the lunar new year. In the hotel we have a small New Year’s drink with some guests and the owners. Something that is not really common among the Vietnamese.

Lege straten in Dien Bien Phu
Empty streets on new year's day
Happy new year
Happy new year
Lege straten in Dien Bien Phu
View of Dien Bien Phu
New Year's day - 10 february 2024

The next day it is very quiet on the streets. The first day of the new year is celebrated with family. There are still a few shops open, but otherwise the streets are empty and the buildings are closed. A special scene to behold, but we are happy with our purchases. That afternoon we make delicious pancakes and cut a pineapple. Although, we try, but the neighbor thought Rob wasn’t doing a good enough job and took over from him. She makes it clear without many words that his pineapple cutting skills could use some improvement.

It is noticeable that there are also few tourists in this city during TET. That is not surprising, because there are many warnings on the internet that EVERYTHING will be closed, there will be no buses running and the prices of transport (if it is possible at all) will shoot through the roof. We are fortunate that we have our own means of transport and can be self-sufficient.

Pannenkoeken bakker!
Let's go!

On the second day of the Lunar New Year we get on our bikes again. And we like that. The days in Dien Bien Phu have flown by, but we are both looking forward to the route we will be cycling in the coming weeks.

Fortunately for us, a few more restaurants are already open and it looks like it will be a beautiful day. Along the way we see many families celebrating Tet. The people are dressed in beautiful traditional clothing, eating together and singing karaoke. Everyone is in a great mood and everybody waves to us all the time. When we drink a coffee at a bar, we are immediately offered a piece of Banh Tet (traditional rice cake) and smoked meat. It is very nice for us to see how Tet is celebrated.

We notice that many restaurants are still closed. If something is open, they often only have noodle soup. No problem of course, but after 2 days of eating noodle soup 3 times a day, we reached out noodle quotum.

The views make you very happy. What a pleasure it is to cycle here!

Fietsen in Vietnam
Fietsen in Vietnam

Looking for somehting else then noodle soup

We go looking for lunch, the goal is not noodle soup, we are referred to a shop further down the road. The bar is open and we ask if they have anything to eat. Two customers who are drinking coffee speak a little English and intervene. Even though the bartender says there is food, they think it is really not enough for us. We (cyclists) need to have a decent meal. “Come with us to our grandmother’s house.” We follow them and are allowed to take a seat under the house (the house is on stilts). They bring out all kinds of plates with delicious food left over from the holidays. It’s delicious and more importantly, it’s filling!

As if that wasn’t enough, they insist that we also bring a large bag of food. We get so much that we no longer have to look for dinner in the evening, and there is even food left to fill the snack bag. We feel really lucky.

We krijgen goed te eten
bedankt voor het eten

Many mountains in Northern Vietnam

The landscape we cycle through is beautiful and we are lucky with the weather. It is not cold, but quite cloudy, which makes it wonderful cycling weather. We gain quite a bit of altitude every day, but despite that we decide to make a day of 100 km. We’re doing well, but the next day we have a big climb of 13km planned and then we really feel that long day of yesterday. The climb is tough and has no rest areas, so it is difficult for us. When we finally reach the top, we stop to drink some water. We are immediately approached by a family who are all having a picnic there. We are waved to come and before you know it we are showered with noodles, meat, fruit, vegetables and other delicious food. We accept a few things gladly, but also try to make it clear that the rest is really for themselves. But boy, that food does do us good! Just what we needed after such a tough climb. And with such a nice encounter, everything tastes even better.

Groepsfoto na een zware klim

Our longest climb ever

The next day we continue climbing as usual. And not just any climb, no, this one is 26km long. After a successful search for a good breakfast, we get started. Fortunately we are doing well and with a second breakfast halfway, some nut bars and a treat from a truck driver in between, we reach the top after 4.5 hours of climbing. And here too the views are beautiful. Fortunately it is not too foggy and we have a beautiful view of the mountains and the roads we cycled. Time to descend towards our accommodation. We quickly book a homestay just outside Sa Pa, where we only have to roll to. We cycle through Sa Pa and are surprised that it is such a turbulent city. On the map it looks as small as the other towns we have passed, but this is really very different. Lots of colonial buildings, lots of chic looking hotels and it’s busy. Not necessarily a place for us, so we are happy with our choice to stay a little outside the city.

But what beautiful surroundings Sa Pa has. Once again the views make it completely worth it!

Fietsen door Vietnam
Fietsen door Vietnam
Fietsen door Vietnam
Fietsen door Vietnam
Fietsen door Vietnam
Fietsen door Vietnam
Sa Pa and the neighbour

“We have to go left here.” We are looking at a small path on a steep slope that leads to the homestay. Oh dear. Two Dutch people who have just returned from a walk turn around and shout that it is indeed a steep slope, but not that long. “Otherwise we’ll help you push your bikes.” Rob has to look twice, but then he calls out: “Elles?” It turns out we know those two Dutchies! We should have known: “Schaijk a World Village”. Before you know it, you’ll meet your old neighbor in Vietnam. We push the bikes up with some help and then a pleasant evening of catching up with acquaintances follows. Elles and Maikel, thank you for the pleasant evening!

Ha Giang

After Sa Pa, all that climbing is over for a while and our legs can recover. Not that we have short days, but with a lot less altitude meters we fly over the Vietnamese roads again. From Sa Pa it is 3 days of cycling to Ha Giang where we will start the famous Ha Giang loop. Back into the mountains, again a lot of altitude meters.

Spoiler alert: the Ha Giang loop is one of the most beautiful parts we cycle this trip. More about that in our next blog.

Many people want to take a picture
Vietnamee ontbijt banh cuon
Vietnamese breakfast Banh Cuan
Fietsen door Vietnam
Fietsen door Vietnam
The weekly testdrive
Fietsen door Vietnam
The daily bike examination
Fietsen door Vietnam
All the best from us!

Laat hier je reactie achter.

Deze site gebruikt Akismet om spam te verminderen. Bekijk hoe je reactie-gegevens worden verwerkt.