"It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop" - Confucius
After my adventures in New Zealand I always wanted to go on a cycling adventure again. Non of my friends liked the idea, until I met someone who did (lucky me). We started planning and in June 2019 we set off to China & Vietnam.
We fly to Kunming. A large city, partly traditional Chinese, partly showing the China of today. During the day the streets are crowded with many, many electric scooters. At night most buildings are illuminated light Christmas trees. We do not want to know how much electricity is used...
We have a route description which should bring us to Hanoi in about 13 stages. To acclimatize there is a day trip to the Bamboo temple on the top of a hill. We learn how to read the description, to climb and how to adjust to the temperatures of roughly 28 degrees Celsius. It is a lovely tour and we feel we should leave the hectic city as soon as possible.
We cycle in the direction of the Red River, which we will follow to Hanoi. The route takes us through the countryside of Yunnan province, where most of the people work in the fields. Small-scale farming of rice, lotus, cabbage, chili peppers, you name it. With over 45 million mouths to feed in this province only, you cannot have enough food. It surprises us a bit how friendly and hospitable the people are. Everywhere we hear 'Ni hao' and people are waving at us. Along the way we stay in villages like Chengjian, Tonghai, Xinmeng, Qujiang, Jianshui, Nansha, Xin Jie and Hekou. Some have a nice historic part, with lovely buildings. In Jianshui we visit the Double Dragons bridge.
After 6 days of cycling (a bit more than 400kms) we decide to enjoy a resting day and visit the rice terraces of Yuanyang. A World Heritage Site in the mountains close to Nansha. We are picked up by our driver/guide and enjoy a lovely day. The views are fantastic (even though it is mostly cloudy), the people colorful and the food is very nice. Along the way we go for a short hike through the paddies and are being treated with excellent views.
In Hekou we pass the border with Vietnam. A hilarious exercise, especially as we do not speak the languages (and neither were the customs agents). We are looking forward to the Vietnamese food. Not that we did not eat well in China, we have been able to point at the ingredients and use the translate app to ask for some nice dishes. Luckily people understood and prepared nice meals. We stay in Lao Cai, change our RBM for Dong, have to adjust to the different currency and learn how to say hello (Xin chao) in Vietnamese. The dinner is great, even though we figure out that the translate app is not working properly here. People do not seem to understand the translated text.
We cycle via Bac Ha, Pho Rang, Yen Bai, Co Tiet to Hanoi. Along the Red River mostly, enjoying the scenery. Vietnam is certainly a lot greener than China. We see less construction sites, less pollution and many more birds and butterflies. Most important though, the people. Again everybody is cheering to us, waving from the fields, kids run to the streets to say hi. We realize we are the only tourists and we are cycling. Two strange things around here. Even though many people visit this region, they usually only go to Sa Pa. We decide not to go there for that reason. We cycle up to Bac Ha (with increase percentages of up to 10%). A small village, with a traditional market and without tourists on the day we are there. Nice!
In all villages we stay in simple hostels. All with hot water and air-conditioning. A necessity, as temperatures are going up to around 40 degrees Celsius (with apparent temperatures of over 50). We choose the warmest period of the year, so we start every morning before 6 to be able to avoid the hottest parts of the day. In the afternoons we rest, buy supplies for the next day and have dinner. Our expectations of the food have been overrated. Due to translation problems it is difficult to order food. There are no menus and we cannot make ourselves clear. Realizing people eat almost everything, we eat with some care. Fortunately we mostly manage to get something to eat, even though we usually cannot define what it is.
After another 7 days of cycling (540kms) we arrive in Hanoi. It is busy, chaotic and we see tourists for the first time. Our bubble bursts a bit. We need to switch to being regular tourists now. We stay in a rather luxurious hotel, have dinner in proper restaurants, book massages and decide to go on a cruise in Halong Bay. The cruise is very relaxing and we think well deserved. We feel our legs and are very tired. Luckily we do not really have to do anything on board. A bit of kayaking between the amazing rocks, a lot of eating good meals, enjoying an early morning Tai Chi session and visit a small cave. And the views, they are magically beautiful.
Back in Hanoi we have our bikes packed for transport, do some shopping and realize it is the end of a very interesting trip. Almost 3 weeks we have been able to enjoy the culture of 2 countries. Both very nice, unexpectedly hospitable and challenging in a way.
謝謝 / cảm ơn
Along the way I wrote a blog. The articles are in Dutch and can still be read (Onderweg heb ik een blog bijgehouden. De artikelen kunnen nog steeds gelezen worden):
- Op weg naar Chengjian
- Chinees eten
- Dieper het zuiden in
- Fietsen in de tropen
- Rijstterrassen van Xinjie
- De Rode Rivier
- Xin chao Vietnam
- 10% en meer
- Bloed, zweet, maar geen tranen
- Universele (glim)lach
- Langs de Rode Rivier
- Nationaal hitteplan
- Vegetarisch of niet
- Alles went, ook decadent
- Tot ziens