My friend Viv from South Korea wrote me that she is going to Ha Giang, Vietnam and she is about to do The Northern Loop on a motorbike. This was one of my priorities in Vietnam, so I didn’t hesitate, I packed my backpack and I went 300 km from Hanoi to Ha Giang. It took me about 7 hours, my motorbike burned all the oil, my ass was numb and my teeth full of mosquitoes.
When I arrived, Viv was sleeping after the long bus ride. During that time I met her new friend Emily. They met in the bus to Ha Giang and she was about to do the same tour. We were just starting our conversation and there was Sierra and John entering the hostel. I met those two on Cat Ba Island. They are such a nice people. What a great synchronization. They just arrived from Sapa. It was so nice to see them again. They were about to go to Hanoi so they didn’t stay for a long time. Everyone in this hostel was either about to do The Northern Loop or they already arrived from it. I met a group doing the tour the next day. The same as for me, Viv and Emily.
In the morning I woke up and I climbed up a hill I’ve see from the hostel. What a great view from up there. When I returned, everybody was already preparing begin their journey. Emily and two girls from Chile, they didn’t have any driving experience and I was teaching them in front of our hostel. They rented a semi-automatic Honda Blade scooters and I showed them everything they needed to know. The rest was on them. I let them try to ride it on their own. Emily was riding fine, but when she was about to return back, she didn’t take a look behind and some Vietnamese man bumped into her. Their motorbikes and both of them on the ground. I was running there. Emily was fine, but the Vietnamese guy looked worse. I checked him up and he was ok. Uff. His motorbike had the right peg bent and Emily’s bike was a little bit scratched. After solving this problem, we were about to begin.
After a few minutes, it started to rain. First, I stopped because I remembered the ride I had in Thailand and how sick I was after that. I didn’t want to be like that again. It was impossible to stop every time. Viv had a tight schedule, because she was about to fly back to her country soon and so we rode even when it was raining. For 2 hours, it is ok, but when you are wet all day on a motorbike, it feels bad. But when the views started spreading in front of our eyes, we didn’t care so much about being wet anymore. It was worth it.
There is a one thing that is very common for every village we passed through. Viettel mobile operator store and Bia Hoi beer. It looks like these are two basic needs around here. Propaganda is also real here.
The rain stopped and started again, and this circle continued in all day. When the rain was too strong, we stopped in a small village for a while. It was nice to have a guitar with me. Kids liked it too.
It is great to ride a motorbike here. I like semi-automatic scooters, but having a full manual Honda Win (Sufat) was great. Hills and corners, no straight road – gear up, gear down, throttle. What a great experience! I was in the zone. I was like a scout for Viv and Emily.
I was always waiting for them where they might not know which road I took. I was getting into riding more and more and I was leaning a lot in the corners. Once I was taking a turn and the motorbike slipped. The center of mass on the motorbike was shifted back because of my big backpack and my rear wheel just slipped. I still remember every moment of it even if it took just a fraction of a second. My motorbike continued sliding on the road for about next 6 meters and I was lying on the road. Some Vietnamese that saw me ran towards me and they were trying to help me. I was lucky. I just stood up, cleaned my torn jacket and stretched. The only thing that was broken was my camera – a piece of plastic flew away when I fell down on it, my right peg was bent, my rear wheel moved to the front and my chain got loose. I was wearing my guitar on my back during the crash, but luckily the guitar was also fine. I somehow jumped from the motorbike when it started slipping. That is why I was fine. I am lucky I don’t have any hole in my leg front the blistering exhaust – I’ve seen it so many times. With the motorbike in this state, I managed to ride about 30 km and right in front of the Yen Minh village we joined up with another group that left Ha Giang before us.
I stopped in the first place where they sold some food and beer. I was way too exhausted to continue searching for any different place.
The owner was super nice, he had two kids running around, I ordered a beer a during the time he was preparing a meal for me, I started playing my guitar for the kids. Their eyes were super-shiny and later I gave them the guitar and they were trying to play it. We had a nice chat with the owner and after a while all the people arrived here. We made a deal with the owner and he rented us 3 rooms for a very low price.
My friends wanted to buy some food for the next day and so we went to a local shop. I just bought some lollipops and I was giving it to just about anyone I saw around – kids, grandmas, workers. One man invited us for a cup of tea, but it was difficult to communicate. Nearly all the conversation needed to be google-translated.
Later, we came back to our hostel and the party began. Laughs, beer, food, etc. Some Vietnamese women joined us and they were asking me to marry them. After some time in Vietnam, I was already accustomed to that so I just politely refused.
The next day I woke up early to fix my bike. The mechanic showed me that the whole rear wheel’s central part is broken. He changed it, fixed my pegs and we were able to continue.
It was raining again. More and more.
One important thing to mention is that people here don’t care about the rain. Their work has to be done and they do it no matter what.
We found this small way up to some old village. We wanted to see. The road was slippery and steep. I managed to do it, Emily as well, but Viv slipped down and she broke her knee. We put some bandage on and she was ready to continue.
The rain was getting worse and worse. I just wanted to stop for a while, but the girl, they were unstoppable and so we continued to Van Chai.
My motorbikes exhaust was getting loose and my bike was loosing power and gaining some roaring sound. A few kicks to a right place fixed it for a while.
A nice thing about Vietnam is that if you are ever hungry there is always going to be someone close selling some bananas next to the road, or if you are low on gas, there is going to be someone selling it in plastic bottles.
After a long ride in the rain, we finally reached Dong Van. I was looking for some cheap place to stay, but in the end we just payed a little bit of extra for a room with 3 beds. It was worth it. I felt like a king. I was trying to dry my clothes on top of a fan, but it was of no use. The next day, I just had to overcome to feeling while putting it back on. I would be wet in few minutes anyway. I bought a nice raincoat, but it still wasn’t perfect. I was very happy about my guitar’s case. The guitar was totally fine inside. I was very surprised about that, because it was for about 10 USD.
My motorbike didn’t want to start. I was ok with the electric starter not working, but when the kickstart stopped working, I needed to fix it. Also kicking the exhaust every time it gets off is not a good solution. Viv and Emily went ahead and I stayed in town to fix it.
When I finished I went towards the Chinese boarder where there should be this boarder tower. It was so misty that when we were basically standing right next to it, we didn’t know about it and we were asking locals where we can find it 😀
On our way back, girl wanted to illegally cross the Chinese boarder for the feeling being in China. I was waiting for them and looking after the bikes and our luggage. Suddenly 4 Vietnamese popped up from the mist and after few second I realized that they were carrying a coffin from China. They looked so funny sliding in the mud all around. They were waving at me for a help, so I stood up and was sliding towards them in no time. It was like some Charlie Chaplin grotesque. Especially when they were trying to bind the coffin on their motorbike and the motorbike just kept falling down.
On our way back I saw several kids next to the road. When they saw me, they started running and waving some flowers in their hands. I felt bad not stopping and buying it from them, but things like that will happen to you ten times a day.
Respect for Viv and Emily for their courage. 3 days ago they didn’t know how to ride a bike and they managed to ride on one of the most dangerous roads around the world.
Plenty of times we were not able to see 20 meters in front of us and behind every corner we were expecting a car or a truck. You will learn to honk before corners very soon after you meet a car there.
Two weeks after doing this tour, I heard a story about a guy falling down of the road. After seeing tourists borrowing scooters and motorbikes without any previous experience, I was not surprised.
In Czech Republic, you can see plenty of monuments from our communist era. I was born just before the revolution so since my early age, I didn’t see any being built and it just a commemoration of the dark ages. In here, I saw propaganda and new monuments being built and I realized how my country looked and felt like when we were under USSR.
Back to our trip.
We rode till 10 pm. Rain, mist, hills, slippery roads. We arrived soaked up to a small village called Du Gia. This nice girl welcomed us and invited us for a family dinner. I changed my clothes to something less wet and I joined them. Everyone was already there, I sat down, but they told me that I have to sit on the other side. Ok, ok. I sat there and the guy next to me told me: “Watch out, you are sitting in a dangerous corner.” I didn’t understand first, but after 2 minutes I realized that I am sitting right next to the 5 liter barrel of rice wine. Yeah, it was a nice evening 😀
The next day, there was a huge market right in front of the hostel. I saw people from local tribes and later I saw just browsing though all the stuff they were selling there. This was a small village of just about 500 people, but that day it looked like Hanoi.
Viv and Emily wanted to continue, but I was way too tired after previous days and I just don’t like to push myself If don’t have to. That way, I don’t enjoy my life. We said goodbye to each other.
I was invited for a lunch in a new hostel they were about to open in a few days. They wanted to make some photos with foreigners and I said yes.
There was so much food. But not just that. Another 5L barrel of rice wine and plenty of beer. I told them I need to work in the afternoon, but when they pour you a cup of rice wine, it is personal and to say no is not an option. I was in a position, when all the Vietnamese wanted to drink with me in this manner. In the beginning I thought that I can handle the alcohol better, but made me drunk by their numbers. During the drinking, they kept inviting me to their houses. I always politely refused, because of the work I wanted to do on my computer.
After several cups, I just said yes and I gave my motorbike keys to a Vietnamese guy that invited me to his house. I thought that he might be less drunk and more experienced driving like that.
He took me to his house. His wife was very surprised to see me, but two kids of his wanted to play with me. And I did. It was fun. I also showed them some capoeira in a drunken-master style 😀
Than he wanted to show me a waterfall. We went there on my bike, through a cornfield and suddenly it was there.
He also wanted to show me to some of his friends. We went to 2 houses, had some chat with locals and then he asked me for money. I was kind of sad, but I wasn’t surprised. I was kind of expecting that it is not going to be for free. I gave him some money and I went to bed and slept till the very next day 😀
I stayed for one more day resting and working and then I finished The Northern Loop by riding about 100 km back to Ha Giang where I stayed for 3 more days before my trip to Sapa.
I want to say that doing The Northern Loop was one of the best experience that I had in Vietnam. It was challenging, especially in the weather, but the views and the nature were just breathtaking. Officially you have to pay for some ticket in Ha Giang to do this tour, but I was never asked for it.