Vietnam part 2

Blog Souteast Asia – Vietnam part 2 written on: 06-03-2024

Overview day 473 - 490

18 February 2024 - 6 March 2024


Km’s Cycled







Route niet beschikbaar
Ha Giang - Cao Bang - Haiphong - Cat Ba - Ha Long - Mong Cai

Ha Giang

Prachtig mooi

On the day of arrival in Ha Giang it is very cloudy and foggy. Not really the weather we had hoped for. We do a quick sundance and hope it works. The next day we leave early and the weather luckily seems a lot better. Still some clouds, but the sun soon breaks through.

The vast majority of people ride this route on a moped/motor and it’s still vacation time in Vietnam, so we notice that the road is busy. It doesn’t take long before we see the first accident. At a busy point, around a tight bend, a dog suddenly runs across the road. The moped cannot swerve around anymore. In a split second the dog flies through the air, a Vietnamese driver and his passenger (a tourist) slide across the asphalt and the moped slides behind them. It’s happening right in front of us. The passenger is covered in abrasions from shoulder to buttock and the driver has a bleeding hand. They will for sure feel sore for th next couple of days. Fortunately, no other serious physical injuries. The dog runs whining into the rice fields, no idea how it ended up, but it may have ended up as dinner. 

The Ha Giang loop is simply beautiful. We can be short about that. We do not cycle from viewpoint to viewpoint, it’s one long incredibly beautiful route. It doesn’t stop. How many times a day can a person  say that it is really beautiful? Well apparently very often.

Our expectations were not sky-high and the challenge of climbing this much altimeters alone was a reason for us to take on the Ha Giang loop anyway. The fact that it turns out to be so beautiful is a big bonus. “The sky path” was also recommended by a fellow cyclist. We wouldn’t have wanted to miss that route! A beautiful path above the main road. A bit narrow, but oh so beautiful. Although our brakes suffered during the descent.

Cycling the Ha Giang loop
Cycling the Ha Giang loop
Cycling the Ha Giang loop

The climbs are tough, but we get a lot of encouragement. We have fun looking at the open mouths of tourists on mopeds and we can’t get enough of the views. Even on the bike we sometimes feel like we are going too fast to see everything. And we are very lucky with the weather. It is dry every day on the loop, the sun breaks through early to drive away the morning dew, and the sun shines for the rest of the day. There is however a lot of burning going on thist time of year, which creates a kind of haze, but we are happy to take that for granted.

Cycling the Ha Giang loop

Energie booster

We don’t cycle the entire loop, but about two-thirds. We want to head east, so after 4 days on the official loop we take a different route. The climbs are starting to take their toll and our very last climb is difficult. It is a steep one and it is warm (38 degrees). When we just started climbing, we are stopped by a couple of Vietnamese who are having a picnic on the side of the road, behind the guard rail. We get a bottle of water, some chocolate cakes and we have some kind of conversation with hands and feet. This openness and friendliness does wonders for our energy leves and gives us that little bit of extra energy that we could use right now.

To brake is to fear

The Ha Giang loop was a lot of climbing, more than the Pyrenees, more than the Alps, and even more than the Atlas, which we’ve crossed 3 times. So take it easy after the Ha Giang loop? Not a chance! We are still in the mountains and we still gain almost 1000 meters of altitude every day. Even though we are off the Ha Giang loop, the views are still very beautiful.

It’s not just our legs that have a hard time. The brake pads are no longer what they used to be. It’s high time to replace Rob’s. We ordered brake pads during our stay in Bangkok, but they were not of top quality. While Isabelle has been driving with the same brake pads for 10,000 kms, Rob’s are gone after +/- 1000 km. But finding the right brake pads is not very easy, especially in the small villages and towns we drive through.

energie booster
Energy booster
Lekker koffie
Coffee on the road
Fietsen in Vietnam versiering

Different weather

After a few beautiful days with lovely weather and blue skies, the weather suddenly changes. Rain, drizzling, cloudy, cold, thick fog, it’s bad, to put it politely. Yesterday we were longing for a cold drink, we are now warming our hands on a cup of hot tea. We cycle, high in the mountains, straight through the rain clouds, it is not raining inside the cloud, but the humidity is about 143% and we cannot see a thing in front of our eyes. We put on our rain suits and put on our windbreakers over them for visibility. We have no idea if we missed any beautiful views, but that’s fine. We are happy that it is not too busy on the road.

Fietsen in onze Regenjassen
Werken de regen
Dichte mist
Handen opwarmen aan warme thee
Werken op de velden Vietnam

After two weeks of cycling and always coming up with a reason why we should have a rest day somewhere else, and because we just couldn’t get enough of the views, it is now really time for a rest day. We immediately make it 2 rest days, since Isabelle is quite good at not resting on rest days (“You’re here now, let’s visit everything in the area”). Rob is less into that, on a rest day he prefers to take it easy and actually rest a little bit. These two “rest” days provide a nice balance. In addition, the weather is still bad and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better in the coming days. We spend our rest days in Cao Bang with the air conditioning on, heating our room. From there we visit the Ban Gioc waterfall which is located on the border with China. Not only is it a very beautiful waterfall, it is also the largest in Vietnam. So that can also be crossed off the bucket list.

The last mountains (well, for now)

Our mountain tour is slowly coming to an end. We have now cycled more than 1000 km through the mountains, starting from northern Thailand. Sometimes tough, but always beautiful and we wouldn’t have done it differently for the world. Unfortunately, even after two days of rest, it is still bad weather. The temperature continues to drop and we are happy that we both still have a set of winter clothes with us. These come in handy now. Without it we are shivering on the bikes. It is difficult to dress well for this weather. Our raincoats get wet on the outside from the rain and when we climb they get wet on the inside from our sweat. During a descent we then cool down to icicles. Layers, layers, layers, we always half undress before a climb and when we reach the top we quickly put our clothes back on to stay warm during the descent. Did we mention the weather has been bad the past few days? Even if it doesn’t rain, you get wet from the drizzle that has been in the air for days.


And now you might think that we are staring sullenly over our steering wheels. But nothing is less true. Of course we would have preferred the weather to be better. We are still cycling through a beautiful area, but we don’t see anything! But it also makes us realize how often we are (or have been) lucky with the weather. We are pushed outside our comfort zone again and that goes well for us. We also thoroughly enjoy a hot cup of tea or coffee, we enjoy a warm blanket again, and an air conditioner that has a heating setting. All kinds of little things that are easy to take for granted when everything goes smoothly. So there are certainly positive sides to this story. And when it clears up a little, we enjoy the views we have at that moment 10x more than we would normally do.

Fietsen in Vietnam
Fietsen in Vietnam

No more climbing

And then the climbing is really over. We cycle towards Cat Ba and Ha Long Bay and we see a new side of Vietnam. It is quiet in the mountains, not so densely populated. Now we cycle from town to town. We try to take as many small roads as possible and they are not always in good condition. And due to the rain (yes, it is still bad weather), some paths are covered with a thick layer of mud. FUN!

Cat Ba

Almost everyone knows the famous Ha Long Bay. In 2011, Ha Long Bay even made it to the list of the new 7 natural wonders of the world. Cat Ba is the little sister of Ha Long and the nature reserve around Cat Ba is called Lan Ha Bay. The area is similar but a lot less crowded. We had doubted for a long time whether we wanted to visit Cat Ba’s Lan Ha Bay or that wonder of the world in Ha Long Bay. We couldn’t choose so we decided to do both.

Cat Ba was indeed very quiet, we book a boat tour at our hostel and we’ll see what happens. We still haven’t seen the sun since the Ha Giang loop so we’re hoping for some good weather. The day starts cold. We are shivering on deck with 5 layers on while most passengers seek refuge on the lower deck. It is a little warmer there because you are out of the wind, but you see little of the bay and that is exactly what we came here for. We remain outside, and fortunately we are prepared for the cold. We found the boat trip surprisingly enjoyable. The nature is very beautiful, but in all honesty we didn’t think it was super spectacular. Just beautiful. The boat tour also includes cycling around the island and a fish pa. Rob’s feet are attacked/massaged by hundreds of fish. Isabelle is a bit more sensitive to the tickling, so she chooses to keep her feet dry.

Cat Ba
Cat Ba
Cat Ba
Cat Ba
Ferry cruise

After a fun day we cycle further to Ha Long Bay. Expectations are high because you don’t put something on a list of 7 wonders of the world for nothing, right?

In any case, the trip across Cat Ba to the ferry is a nice bonus. The road surface is perfect, the nature is beautiful and there is hardly anyone on the road. The ferry to Ha Long Bay is actually also a mini cruise because we sail between the islands to the port.

Cat Ba
Veerboot Cat Ba
Ha Long Bay

Our tactics are the same as in Cat Ba. We book a boat tour at our hostel and we’ll see what happens. The sun should shine again on Monday so that’s a good thing! We book the tour for Monday.

Monday starts with, you guessed it, bad weather. Monday also ends with bad weather, so we don’t see much of Ha Long Bay. But unfortunately we simply cannot control the weather. What annoys us much more is the enormous crowds in Ha Long Bay. We moor a few times to kayak, visit a cave or walk to a viewpoint, but we don’t enjoy it. It’s like you’re waiting in line at Disney World. You can join the back of the line and you shuffle along one step at a time. Ha Long Bay is also more polluted than Lan Ha Bay (but that’s not surprising with 100x more tourists) and it costs about double. And then we still have bad weather!

Ha Long Bay could be stolen from us. Possibly our worst day of traveling in the last 16 months. Ha Long Bay is too crowded. Much and much and much too crowded.

Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay

Fortunately, we have a nice hostel with a good kitchen, so we are happy when we get back to our hostel. Our minds can be fully focussed at our next target: China!

We’ve had it planned for a long time. Since this year we no longer need a visa. With the caveat that you do not stay in China for more than 15 days. China is quite large, so crossing China in 15 days is simply impossible. But we can reach Hong Kong in 15 days.

We will officially leave Southeast Asia on March 7 2024. We hope that China can show us a completely different Asia again. We are really looking forward to it. A relatively unknown country about which we hear many strange and crazy stories. Let’s go!

Ha Long Bay
Vietnam China grens

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