Mountain

Road Trip: Hanoi – Moc Chau – Son La – Pha Din

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I have been taking motorbike road trips a few times before and it has become a serious hobby. Whenever there are long holidays, long enough to jump on the bike to drive to the mountains and back, I would definitely take the chance to get out of the bustling capital for a while. The more I go the more I realize how beautiful my country is, the kind of beauty that you, young Vietnamese people, need to go nowhere else to find. Heaven? It’s here! Right on your motherland!

Contrast to the last trip packed with 13 peeps this time our groups had only 4 people. We headed out of Hanoi on the 6th of Feb, also our Tet holidays (traditional lunar new year holidays). During roughly 3 days we drove our manual Honda through almost 800 km all the way from Hanoi to Moc Chau, Son La, Pha Din pass (one of the 4 most famous mountain passes in the North of Vietnam) and back. Read the rest of this entry »

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Road Trip: Hanoi – Moc Chau – Mai Chau

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The whole group at Dai Yem Waterfalls, 11 km away from the town center of Moc Chau

On the occasion of the long holidays last weekend (2nd of Sep is Vietnam’s Independence Day), my travel group had another exciting motorbike road trip to the mountains. This time the route was quite mild and we also drove our Honda Wave much less than our previous two trips. It was only a total of 500 km (310 miles) in 3 days. And guess you have noticed how large the group was. 13 people! My personal record for the biggest travel group I’ve ever had. Ever! Read the rest of this entry »

Climb up to the top of Indochina: Mount Fansipan in Vietnam

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So finally I’ve decided to do that trekking trip to the top of Mount Fansipan, the peak of three countries in former Indochina (Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia), located in the North of Vietnam, in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range.

Trekking up to the top of the highest mount to hug that triangle metal piece saying “Fansipan 3,143m” has become a long time tradition among young Vietnamese people. And obviously, Fansipan is also a kind of tourist attraction since it is very close to Sapa, a famous destination for tourists in the North of Vietnam, and a few adventurous and athletic travelers love to combine their Sapa trip with this Fansipan Mount trekking.

Before the trip my travel mates and I had quite a naive thought about the trek. We thought “it’s foot path and we can literally walk up to the top of the mountain(!), only 15km up and 15km down, will be easy, everyone is doing it, we’ll be fine”. However, the whole trip actually turned out to be an intensive training of physical rock climbing, which no one had told us before.

1. Tours and train tickets:

It is quite easy to organize for the trip. All you need to do is do is to book a package tour, then to buy train tickets. We booked a 2 day 1 night tour from this travel agency for 4 people at the price of VND1,420,000 per person (around USD70). Quite easy, just needed to make a few calls, send a few emails and deposit VND500,000 (USD25) 2 or 3 days before the trip.

The difficult thing was actually the train ticket part. To go to Fansipan and Sapa, you need to buy train tickets from Hanoi to Lao Cai then go by bus from Lao Cai to the town. And Sapa is so popular for both foreign and domestic travelers that train tickets sell like hot cakes, especially at weekends. Thus, you’d better go for them at least 2 weeks in advance, or else you may risk having no places at all. The best scenario is that you can buy tickets directly from the train station, however, they reserve only a small amount here so you should really go early (2-3 weeks to make sure!). If not, then you’ll have to ring the agents and buy over-charged tickets.

In the hard sleeper class of the train Hanoi – Lao Cai

I only rushed for the tickets 10 days in advance so it was a bit tough. Of course there was nothing left at the train station and I had to call roughly a dozen agents to finally get 4 places in the hard sleeper class. In fact, Vietnamese trains are quite good if compared with the trains I knew in India or Poland. There are mainly 4 classes: soft sleeper (4 beds in one cabin), hard sleeper (6 beds in one cabin), soft seating and hard seating. Advice is to go for the sleeper or soft seating so that you can sleep a bit on the train (there are only night trains going to Lao Cai). Prices per way per person updated in September 2012 are around: VND 700,000 for soft sleeper (USD35); VND550,000 for hard sleeper (USD27.5); VND270,000 for soft seating (USD13.5). Be aware that the price will change quickly due to the skyrocketing inflation in Vietnam(!)

2. Tips before the actual trip:

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Road trip diary: Hanoi – Mu Cang Chai – Sapa

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The road between the mountains

This is the second time I’ve hit long distances by motorbike, but compared with the previous trip from Saigon to Phan Thiet on perfect roads (400km two ways, plus 70km to and from the white sand dunes) this trip to the northwest mountainous area of Vietnam was much more difficult and challenging. And it was even more memorable because we, two girls, could ride a manual bike up and down the mountains and race with the big trucks on halfway built roads under thick fog and heavy downpour. It was our 3 days “living” on the bike riding through roughly 850 km (510 miles). Well, Vietnamese people do love adventures and “risking their lives”, even too much, if you ask!

Preparation: 

Seven people joined the long journey and we planned to combine charity with our road trip. The ethnic groups in remote areas of Vietnam live in very poor conditions and their kids often don’t have enough school supplies. Thus, we prepared 30 little gifts for the kids before their new school year, each of which included 5 notebooks, 3 pens, 1 small towel, 1 soap, 1 toothbrush and 1 toothpaste.

My friend and I did most of the shopping for the charity trip. The shopping part was easy until it came to carrying about 30 kilos of stuff out of the supermarket on one bike back to my friend’s place. It was quite tough for 2 slim girls like us but we managed to make it at last. And.. that was only the beginning of a tiring and challenging trip to come.

Normally in a backpacking motorbike road trip girls don’t take the drive and only sit at the back. However, one guy quit before the trip, so my friend and I decided to go together and take turn to drive. We never knew what the mountain roads looked like..

Day 1: Hanoi – Mu Cang Chai, 310km (192.6 miles)

We left Hanoi at around 7.30 in the morning. All 4 bikes were manual ones. Basically each bike looked like this, with a big bag of gifts at the back or in front and 2 people on it, each with their luggage!

This is our “horse”. We love it!

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