(Rick Brownfield reviews of 4 days Honda road bike adventure, ~700 km)
Thank you for a great trip! It was beyond expectations. I have not regularly ridden a motorcycle (except for motorbikes in Bermuda) for about thirty years, although I was a daily rider in my twenties. You are well provisioned with safety equipment, and the bike was excellent.
I highly recommend the Honda 1600 for most tours unless dirt riding is planned for over 50% of the ride. This bike was powerful enough for the times when we were able to hit top speeds (60 KPH is flying!!), and was able to handle mud, dirt, rocks, gravel, streams, sand, and a three feet wide bamboo bridge ten feet over a deep stream. But, I have to admit that I was not riding it when we crossed that particular piece of infrastructure as I had a hard enough time walking across it without failing off, let alone riding over it. It is a good thing that Chi has excellent balance.
But, I am getting ahead of our trip itinerary.
As you recommended, we changed from the western loop to the central road due to potential construction in the western mountain passes. This turned out to be a right decision after talking with some other bikers who experienced long construction delays on that route. We spent the first night at a “home stay”, and the next two nights in hotels, with a return overnight train trip from Lao Cai to Ha Noi. In total, we rode around 700 kilometers over four days.
So, pulling out into Ha Noi traffic that first morning was quite an experience. But, with Chi’s guidance and patience, we made it to out of traffic without major incident. The first rest stop for water and coke was outside town in a small village. The remainder of that day was spent riding along the river on a sand road built on top of a dike. We saw brick making kilns, small farm plots, and small towns. The rice harvest was in progress, so we had to be careful as the farmers were using the edge of the road on the dike to dry the rice stalks and to separate the rice from the chaff.
Lunch the first day was in a local restaurant. It was delicious! This was one of the reasons that I decided to take your tour. I normally travel on business, and normally stay at four and five star hotels with multi-course dinners. It was really nice to eat in the same style as non-tourists, and to experience Vietnamese daily life first hand. It was exactly what I was looking to do on the tour.
Later that afternoon, it looked like rain as we left the sandy road, and pushed on through one lane paved roads, to mud roads, to single track to the home stay village. Luck was with us as the rain didn’t start falling until just before the home.
The home stay was a high point of the trip. We were in a “stilt” house, about six feet off the ground, and slept in the great room of the home on the floor. Dinner was served family style, with the men at one area sitting on the floor around the food, and the women in an adjacent area on the floor. One of the treats of the dinner was fresh roasted water buffalo. It seems that one of the members of the village herd met an un-timely demise as they were progressing down a mountain pathway. He slipped and fell, resulting in water buffalo road kill!
Following a warm shower in the bathhouse that had been built just for travelers staying the night, we started off into the mountains. The scenery was incredible! Fifteen shades of green were displayed in the terraced rice fields tended by the hill tribes, and the road varied from river level in the bottom of the valley to almost in the clouds over the passes. Lunch the second day was also in a local restaurant. It was packed with both local people from the village as well as with other Vietnamese motorbike travelers and transportation drivers. Not only did I have a great lunch, but I also was able to take a tour of the kitchen and to visit with Vietnamese sitting at other tables.
We had two choices for a hotel that evening, one closer and one further away. Of course, once we reached the closest one, I choose the one farthest away! Dusk was approaching, so we turned on the lights, topped off the tanks, and took off. The Off-Road Adventure continued as we did about 30 kilometers on a dirt / gravel / paved road at night. This may not sound particularly adventures to Americans or Europeans, but let me assure you that the lack of any light except the bike headlight made it very difficult to see the numerous mudslides and rock slides that covered the road every two or three kilometers.
As it turned out, I was very glad that we pushed on to the farthest hotel. The town was bigger and nicer, and the hotel itself was run by a very nice family who warmly welcomed us.
The third day was all uphill to Sa Pa. The views were fantastic. Going up on the lane and a half paved road, I fantasized about pushing a fast sports car to the limit on it. These fantasies were brought back to reality when a down-hill bus appeared without warning around a blind curve.
The hotel in Sa Pa was the better of the two hotel stays, and the food was good. It was great to have interaction with the H’Mong people in the market-place. Of course I bought several handicraft items that I had absolutely no use for, just to bargain with the smiling people.
Riding on the fourth day was the most difficult of the trip. By this point, we had traveled around 620 kilometers, so I didn’t think that the last 60 kilometers would be that difficult. I was wrong. The road (I really shouldn’t call it a road, it was more like a neglected drive-way in the mountains of North Carolina) varied from rocks to gravel to mud to sand to BIG rocks, along with several treacherous stream crossings. But, it was beautiful. On this day, I am sure that I saw a Viet Nam that very few tourists have the privilege to see. I also learned on this ride that hitting rocks under water can cause the same problems as hitting them on dry land. Fortunately, I was going very slow when I toppled over into the stream.
Chi was a great guide throughout the trip. He was very knowledgeable about Vietnamese culture and history, was an entertaining conversationalist (fluent in French, Vietnamese, and English), and is an excellent motorbike mechanic as well. I learned a lot from Chi during this trip.
Thanks again for a great trip. I highly recommend Viet Nam Off Road Adventures!
Full name: Rick Brownfield
Address: 630 Taylor’s Chapel Rd, Sanford, NC, U.S.A.
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