Episode 3: Phong Nha to Hanoi
We had given ourselves 3 days to cover the remainder of the journey to Hanoi, which would be the last of this journey on the Ho Chi Minh Road.
We headed off on the morning of 11th May, through Phong Nha town towards the north, skirting the park on a good piece of road, with great views of the limestone karst towers and fast sweeping bends. The XRs are dirt bikes, but riding them on roads like this is still a real joy, and it was great to be back in the saddle again. One of the best feelings on a trip like this is heading off on the road of a morning; whatever happened yesterday, good or bad, is left behind and your focus is on what is in front of you. We love the simplicity of this life - most of your normal day to day worries are forgotten, and your focus is on today - where will we go, what will we eat, where will we sleep. Of course for us there is a business for us to run while we travel - you can see what we do here - so when necessary we will work on our laptops in the evenings, after the kids are in bed. Still, it beats working for the man on the 9 to 5.
We had spotted a hotel online a while back, in the right place for our overnight stop, which we thought the kids would enjoy. It had a large swimming pool, and several water slides. On the way there we went past what is supposedly one of the last refuges of the remaining Indochinese tigers, the Vu Quang National Park. Driving through this area, the rice harvest was in full swing; the roads in many places were being used to dry both rice grain and straw from the harvest and in places you find yourself driving through thick straw - quite weird. On arrival, we headed for the pool, and got Marcy and Milly onto the water slides - in the event they were a bit too fast for the kids, and the shock of being slammed into water at the bottom of the slide actually had both kids in tears - so Christina and I had an awesome time bombing down while they watched!
The next morning, we tried the hotel buffet breakfast - the ban mi op la (fried eggs with bread) was ok, but we skipped the soup - the Vietnamese guests had got there before us, and all that remained in the soup pot was a lonely chicken’s foot. Really not sure why they eat chicken claws - but apparently they are considered a delicacy in these parts. The rest of the run into Hanoi over the next two days was pretty unremarkable, the HCM road had showed us the best it had to offer earlier in the trip. This last part was fairly fast, boring, dusty and with more trucks than we wanted to share the road with - although I should mention that we did see some great ducks, which Milly loves. She carries her favourite toy, Ducky Duxter, on every road trip she does, and gets very excited when she sees a hundred ducks on the roadside.
Wherever we go on this trip, we try to minimise the plastic waste we generate - so we carry our own shopping bags (recycled from old t-shirts) to avoid plastic bags, as well as metal straws to avoid plastic straws in our drinks. We also carry our own water bottles, which we try hard to refill so we don’t have to buy plastic bottles. A great resource for this is https://refillmybottle.com/ which tells you where you can refill your bottle for free or for cheap, all around the world. In any case, what we find is most cafes and bars will refill all of our water bottles for 10.000VND (30 cents) if we just ask - cheaper than a single water bottle, and no plastic generated, but still a better deal for the cafe. For more ideas on reducing waste, have a look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_waste
We were looking forward to Hanoi for some city action, good food, haircuts for the girls and getting some essential maintenance done - the G and the H keys had stopped working on my laptop. We fixed up an Airbnb apartment right in the heart of the city - a great option for Hanoi if you’re travelling with kids.
We had a nice 3 nights there - Hanoi has a bit more character than Saigon, with its old quarter still not redeveloped. We got the bikes serviced - oil change every 1000km - got the laptop fixed, and bought train tickets for the next leg. We had decided to put the bikes on the sleeper train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, at the foot of the mountains of the north. We only save around a day’s ride doing this, but it’s a great experience for the kids to travel on an overnight train, and it is easy to organise and relatively cheap - around $30 each, and $15 each bike. It was quite a buzz driving into the station and along the platform, dodging people and baggage porters, right up to the train’s luggage wagon.
I can’t quite imagine being allowed to do this at HB station in Zurich, or King’s Cross in London. With the bikes safely stowed, we enjoyed a lovely train ride through the night, in our own private carriage with four comfortable beds and a few beers to help us sleep. Next stop Lao Cai and the far north...