-North West Vietnam provided us with a few more days and a few more km’s of lovely cycling.
-We had the bottom bracket (the piece where your pedal cranks pivot around) break down on Ollie’s bike. This took a week and a whole bunch of bus journeys, problem solving and patience to get replaced.
-We have now entered Laos, our 14th country of the trip. It is a splendid place to be!
“Chuc Mung Nam Moi!”
In our minds cycling through Northern Vietnam would consist of two phases; the first stretching north from Hanoi up to Lao Cai, a city bordering China on the banks of the great Red River; and the second phase from Lao Cai through Vietnam’s tallest mountains and then south to Dien Bien, our gateway to cross the border into Northern Laos. As it turned out things weren’t quite that simple!
|Life in the fast lane. Descending from Vietnam's high places. Sapa.|
|Temporarily lost on a backroad near Lao Cai|
|Contemplative valley riding. Lai Chau to Muong Lay.|
On Jan 30th the Vietnamese saw in their New Year. The ‘Tet’ holiday is the biggest event of the year and in the days and weeks beforehand we’d witnessed their preparations. Families were gathering, blossom and mandarin trees were being carted around on every motorbike, fattened pigs were being killed, and apparently gold fish and budgies were being released.
|Typical Vietnamese rural scene|
As is the sad case with many folk, I saw in the New Year crouched over a toilet bowl hurling out the contents of my lunch. No alcohol had I consumed, not even a shot of rice wine, just a seemingly innocent Chicken noodle soup that turned out to be not so innocent after all. The Vietnamese were singing, fireworks were exploding, and I was rushing between my bed and the bathroom, violently emptying my stomach. “Chuc Mung Nam Moi!” (“Happy New Year!”)
Jan 31st dawned sunny and clear and my little bug appeared to have passed, the Chicken Noodle soup had all but passed out of me. From Lai Chau we cycled off into the new year, a little weak but in good spirits. The first 80km went well enough and then with a ‘clunk’ and a ‘crack’ and the tell tale wobble of my pedals I ground to a halt. “Chuc Mung Nam Moi!”
My bottom bracket had decided that after offering its services for 13 000km it had done enough, it’s journey was over. I can’t complain really, that’s a fair few pedal revolutions it’s allowed me to do. But to carry on our way we’d have to find another, so the search for bottom bracket number two began. We set to work!
To sum it up in brief, we pushed bikes up hills, we waited for buses, we spent unplanned nights in unmarked villages, we rode on long haul bus journeys, we waited for bike parts to arrive, we navigated the chaos that is Hanoi once more, and we bartered and begged in chaotic bus yards to get us and our bikes on journeys at a time when all of Vietnam seemed to be traveling. The whole week has been a patience-testing, problem-solving fiasco. “Chuc Mung Nam Moi!”
|Wating for a bus. This one never arrived.|
“No bus to Dien Bien.” I couldn’t believe what I was being told. 36 hours earlier this same woman had assured me buses would leave at 6pm and 7pm from this station to Dien Bien. After a bit of fossicking and haggling it really did appear there were NO buses to Dien Bien.
“Take bus number 16 to My Dinh,” said another women, My Dinh being another station in Hanoi, a long way from where we were, in a direction we did not know, in a city of 9 million, in the middle of a chaotic public holiday. Bus 16 being an overcrowded local bus which we didn’t stand a chance of getting on with our bikes. With no map and no ideas we were stumped. “Chuc Mung Nam Moi!”
Stumped that is until Anna and I both simultaneously had the same stroke of genius. If we can’t ride on the bus…let’s ride behind the bus! As Bus 16 rolled out of the yard we were hot in pursuit. For 12 crazy kilometres we sprinted and halted, we inhaled hot and stinky bus exhaust, we hollered and giggled, and as night fell we arrived victorious at My Dinh station…only to find all buses to Dien Bien were booked.
“Please come back tomorrow sir. No we cannot sell you a ticket. Chuc Mung Nam Moi!”
|Hot on the tail of Bus # 16|
By the end of Thursday Feb 6th we were relieved to have escaped the clutches of Hanoi and be back in Dien Bien with functioning bikes, feeling like we’d completed something special. We honestly felt victorious and quite proud of our efforts and the fact that at no point had we completely lost the plot despite running into hurdle after hurdle! On Friday Feb 7th we rode out of Vietnam and into Laos, the work of the last week made our entry oh soooo sweeeet!!
|Celebratory feasting on western goodness. Medicinal for recovering stomachs.|
|Not the most remarkable photo at first glance but the first opportunity we've ever had to photograph a border post. Usually they're surrounded by armed guards, this time we had to rouse the slumbering guard from his post-lunch siesta!|
|Finally we've arrived in Laos!|
Chuc Mung Nam Moi!! Thankyou Vietnam for a Tet New Year we will savour forever!!
|20 metres later...a flat tyre! What a welcome!|
HUGE thank you to Hazel Murray for showering us with warm hospitality and great home cooking during our spontaneous stay in Hanoi and for pointing us to some great shops where we could indulge in some yummy treats!! This bike-breaking cloud most certainly had a silver lining! Thanks!