Sa Pa to Bac Ha was a pretty quick, 4-hour ride. The only hard part was that it was scorching hot. We were sweating bullets. We got to Bac Ha, a quiet frontier town devoid of all tourist activity. We stayed there only one night. The highlight of the town was visiting a mansion that was built in 1921 by the French to appease a local tribal chieftain. I miss European architecture, and felt right at home wandering around the building, not a soul in sight except the keeper of a small souvenir shop who was in the back messing with a sewing machine.
From Sa Pa my friend and I decided to ride to Ha Giang, still skirting the Chinese border. To me it looked pretty close on the map. I would’ve guessed 5 hours max. I didn’t know that the roads would be filled with potholes most of the way, sometimes the road wasn’t even a road at all. We went at a snail’s pace through the most windy roads I’ve ever rode on. Each curve, each bridge looked exactly the same. Each kilometer took several minutes, and each minute felt like an eternity. We stopped for food in a town that was like the twilight zone. Dreary, gray communist concrete buildings, no one was out, and all restaurants were closed. Luckily we found one open. We asked a couple there how far to Ha Giang, and we learned that we still had 100 km to go through that windy crap road. We passed the time, mostly me, by singing songs at full lung-power which helped occupy my mind. Despite the heat and horrible road conditions, the scenery was beautiful. Most of the time we were next to a small river that at times turned emerald green. With it being so hot, I was very tempted to take a dip but time was of the essence.
Coming upon the next town off of Highway 1 (which signified we were almost to Ha Giang), was like finding El Dorado. We were so happy after the long, butt numbing ride through the mountains. We were only 30 minutes from our destination and the sun was going down fast.
There’s little to say about Ha Giang. We got a nice hotel with air con (an absolute must this time of year) for cheap, and I got my teeth cleaned for 100,000 VND ($5). We took a ride the next day to Tam Son. This area was heartbreakingly beautiful. The motorbike kept overheating from the exertion of taking 2 up such steep roads. We stopped twice for sugar cane juice, our favorite cool-down pass-time in Vietnam. There was a moment, riding through the mountain, when we went through a pass from one side of the mountain to the other. Once we went through, the view opened up to the other side, and we spotted Tam Son nestled amongst the tall towering karsts like a long forgotten city. Seeing the town appear like that, hidden in the mountains of way northern Vietnam, I felt like I was way off the map. In any case, we were definitely way off the tourist trail.
Later that evening, we caught a night-bus back to Hanoi, arriving at 3 am. We couldn’t go to the hotel, so we rode around the lake, we read our Tarot cards on an app I have, and just passed time until we could finally grab our things. That same morning, we caught another bus to Cat Ba island. All in all that day was a tiring, but amazing day.