The motorbike trip took me off the well-beaten Lonely Planet path. Not only did I not find any descriptions of the towns I passed through in the book, I also fell off its map. I still can’t quite place the route we took through the northwest of the country. The first night, I stayed in a nondescript town with only a main street. It could’ve passed for any provincial outpost anywhere in China or the rest of the Southeast Asia. No pictures of that because it just didn’t seem worth it.
But the second night was spent in a charming little village that was back in the Lonely Planet book. Mai Chau lies in a beautiful valley filled with padi fields and its thatched bamboo stilt houses with electric lights and flush toilets were very welcome. Here’s a very relieved me coming into Mai Chau after being absolutely chilled in the drizzle and fog.
As we set out the next morning, the morning mist had yet to lift. The motorbike laboured a bit as it made its way up the hillside.
And the spectacular view of Mai Chau valley was revealed. The patchwork of different shades of light green and brown against the deeper green of the surrounding hills was such a sight to remember. It perked me up when I wondered what on earth I was doing suffering muscle and joint pain in the middle of nowhere going God-knew-where.
It was rare to pass by anyone at all on the road and here, both rider and bullock herder gawked in equal measures.
Some bits of the road were rather hazardous, especially with the summer rains. There were numerous landslides, one so bad that there was mud everywhere and the original road was impassable. Some enterprising locals cleared paths to get round the worst of the mudslide and extracted a toll for each vehicle that went past.
On the last day, the road started to get better. We were nearing civilisation!
But of course not without first passing by some beautiful scenery of the distant hills.
The early morning light made everything look so clean and fresh.
It certainly did make everything very much worth it, especially the short stop to stamp off the cramp in my legs and the crick in my knees.
It was the last I saw of the highlands of Vietnam and I was sad that there wasn’t time to see any more.
The next thing I knew, the sun had come out in full force and we were in the lowland areas in the southern Hanoi region. This area is characterised by the limestone formations, something like an inland Ha Long Bay.
It was lovely to be part of the traffic, savouring the country life. We pulled up at a local place for lunch, a simple affair of boiled chicken, rice and herbs served with fish sauce. The chicken was the toughest yet the tastiest I’ve had. Nothing yet has surpassed that amazing concentrated chicken taste from a chicken that probably spent plenty of time running about pecking in the dirt for real grubs and real food.
I drew nearer to my final destination, greatly anticipating my next stop with the monkeys.