7 Day North Vietnam Tour

The Not So Grand Tour

From early September to December 2012, I worked in the North of Vietnam. In early December, Anders, my friend and flatmate who worked in the same place and I took a week off to travel the mountains of the North. The route we took was inspired by two riders who did a similar tour on Honda 250s and posted a report on advrider.com.

A couple of weeks befor we left I had bought an ancient Minsk in Hanoi from a British guy named James. He had kindly removed all unnecessary equipment from the motorbike, such as speedometer, lock, rpm counter and mirrors.

The route was the following:

The route above is somewhat inaccurate, since between Ban Gioc and Cao Bang, google maps does not connect the roads and takes a detour.

For the first five days, the weather was absolutely beautiful.

We started on Saturday, 3rd of December 2011, 07:00 GMT+7, from Thai Nguyen. The Minsk had been prepared and fuelled up, minor defects had been fixed. Anders, the bike and I were ready for adventure. Since we had decided not to use GPS, we printed a couple of maps from the Internet and from books.

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First impressions on the way to Cao Bang.

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After a night in a guest house in Cao Bang, we proceeded to the beautiful Ban Gioc Waterfall. Of course, we missed it at first and almost went to China.

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After asking locals tenaciously, making hilarious sounds while crazily waving our hands up and down to mimic a waterfall, we finally found it, and I’ll be damned if the search wasn’t worth it.

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We returned to spend another night in Cao Bang, and went on to Ha Giang early in the next morning. On the way we saw a lot of post-soviet communist chic, which I’m a great fan of. Uncle Ho has a special place in my heart.

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We stayed in Ha Giang for one day to recover from the horrible roads, and it was like travelling to the past. Grown men and women shouted “Tay, Tay!” and stared at us as if we were aliens, two 1.8m high, bright skinned, dirty Westerners on a 15 year old Minsk in the Vietnamese mountains.

While we had been assured that the Minsk can “climb the mountain very well”, the actual performance of the motorbike was rather unimpressive. The cool thing about it, however, is that if you have basic knowledge about screwdrivers and combustion engines, you can fix small defects on your own, in the middle of the road. I was surprised by the sturdiness of the bike. I only had to adjust the clutch and fix minor electrical problems.

On the way to Ha Giang:

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Mountains just before Ha Giang

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Then we went to Lao Cai and Sa Pa, but it started raining and I didn’t take pictures.

On the last day we rode back to Thai Nguyen from Lao Cai in the rain. Riding in the rain was quite uncomfortable, but when it got dark and our headlight broke, I got scared, since it’s not uncommon for big trucks to drive on the wrong side of the road at night. Somehow, we managed to fix the light and made it back home safe and sound.

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