Ride day 2: Huyen vān Chán to Sa Pa
13 May 2016
Despite a very hard bed and a very noisy stormy night, we both slept like babies. Waking early to a stunning day outside. A quick check of the weather and it’s looking like its with us for the day – rain expected in sapa from 4’ish. Shouldn’t be a problem, since we only have 154km to go and we are ready to set off at 8:30am.
A quick load up of our gear and a wave goodbye to the hotel owner and his family who’ve come down to see us off. We decide to head up to Nghia Lo for our breakfast. 10 km up the road and we’re there. A friendly local sidles up to us as we’re stopped and asks where we are going. He then gives us directions and also a recommendation of a pho house for breakfast. We take his advice and call in for a delicious breakfast of pho bo (beef noodle soup).
Riding out of Nghia Lo and we are on fantastic country roads. We can see the mountains growing out of the haze in the distance. As I stare at the mountains I spot something that looks like a twister in the distance. After stopping the bikes and looking more closely, we realise it’s hundreds and hundreds of birds riding the thermals. An unbelievable scene!
As we climb up and up, we are blown away by the beauty and scale of the rice paddys in this area. Could easily sit and take in the view here for days!
The animal life on the roads is certainly increasing in diversity and frequency. Buffalo and dogs are around every corner. Every second corner is lurking a chicken or ten and possibly some ducks. And every third or fourth corner hides pigs. Needless to say, riding speeds are reduced for this, but also because the roads are climbing so steeply! That said, one unfortunate little chick made its last suicide dash on this day, and lurched straight into the road and under my front wheel. RIP chicken!
It’s around this time that as I look down at maps.me on the dash mounted iPhone, that we are no longer on the track. This is not a good thing! Did we miss a junction? I don’t remember a junction. So we stop and take a look at the situation. Reprogramming our destination has no effect, and it seems that the maps may not be the most up to date. We continue on, but note that despite 150km under our belt for the day, we still appear to have 100km to go.
As we press on, the roads are just epic. Traffic has died down completely and everywhere you look is fantastic views of ride paddys and tea terraces. The mountains are all around us, and it’s some of the best riding we’ve done so far in Vietnam. Despite being tired and hungry we are loving the journey.
Stopping every 10-20 km to take in views, grab a drink and some crisps to eat. Inadvertently stumbled across the best flavour of crisps ever – roasted corn. Addictive!
The road then starts to climb steeply, and we can see it winding away up the mountains in front of us. Its gone 4:30 in the afternoon and we can feel it getting cooler. Jackets zipped up and too jackets on, we ride up to the top of the pass. The highest road in Vietnam. Would love to say views were breathtaking, but unfortunately we were in thick cloud. At the summit there were a small number of bamboo and plastic tarpaulin shacks, precariously hanging over the cliff edge with a few locals inside selling their wares. The cloud was racing through the gap at the top of the pass in the strong winds. We stopped only briefly to check out the top and then switched on our lights and began the descent towards Sapa. Visibility was less than 50 foot, which made for a very slow ride down the twisty mountain roads.
We arrive in sapa town absolutely exhausted, and desperate to find our hotel. We follow the directions that we have, but no sign of the hotel. A couple of loops around the very busy sapa streets and we decide on one last pass, and if no hotel then we check in to the next one we see. At the moment we spot the Heart of Sapa Hotel up a laneway.
Pulling up outside, we are given a very friendly greeting by Ha (the manager). She arranges people to help with our bags, then welcomes us in with a freshly made juice. Very happy to have made it after a long days ride.
Bags to the room and a shower, and we are feeling more human again. Having lived mainly on snacks for the day, we are desperate to get some food. Local reviews seem to suggest the Sapa Paradise View Restaurant is very good, and it’s only 100m away (which made the choice even easier). The reviews were absolutely right – excellent service, an amazing papaya salad starter and then 2 great local main dishes washed down with local Lao Cai beer.
Dinner done, time for bed.
Full route here: