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Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Slow Bike to China - Day 4, Final Day.

Day Four:

Up early again as we were rewarded with cooler weather and the most magnificent ride through another spectacular mountain pass. No time for breakfast so we scoffed down a couple of chocco pies each and headed off into the clouds. The road (TL212) was some of the most fun riding we had experienced all trip and really tested our off road skills and the durability of the XRs. It was still a fairly major road (as far as the maps indicated) but there were long stretches of dirt, gravel, mud and serious potholes, that had us up out of the saddles as though on our own road of bones. (eat your heart out Ewen and Charlie !!!). As much fun as the road was, I think we were all pretty happy with our decision the day before to take refuge at Tinh Tuc, rather than tackle two hours of this in the pitch dark. It was like this for and hour or so, before descending into a lush green valley below. Our early morning conflab had decided that Ba Be lake was now out of the question as this being our last day of riding, we had to end up in Hanoi. Ba Be would take us out of our way and we would have had no time to look around anyway so unfortunately this will have to wait until next time.

QL212 heading South from Tinh Tuc.

Into the valley below

Stopping for fuel and Banh Mi (Bread)for breakfast in Na Phac

Once we hit Na Phac, the QL212, which had briefly become the QL279, now became the QL3. The pace picked up here as the road quality and width also grew. We did experience a heap of massive 18 wheeler semi trailers that seemed to be coming from Hanoi and heading toward Cao Bang (one of which I showed you earlier on its side). Pete's bike was still struggling with its asthma but wasn't too bad as the we left the serious hill climbing behind us. Non the less my bike decided to go out in sympathy and started to lose power and even cut out completely when in top gear. The QL 3 was in great nick and would take us all the way to Hanoi, via the major town of Thai Nguyen. Just shy of Thai Nguyen we hit a three lane freeway devoid of any traffic and we all enjoyed hooting along at a rapid pace for a bit. If this keeps up, we will be having our lunch in Hanoi. Making great time now.

The freeway only lasted 20 minutes and then we hit Thai Nguyen, which we opted to bypass completely and push on towards Hanoi, despite Turbo being in desperate need to extricate himself from all those chocco pies!!! The QL3 South from Thai Nguyen to Hanoi was pretty much road works, gravel, dust and mud, for about the next 40 minutes. Traffic was heavy and there was was some pretty crazy overtaking as we all tried to keep the group together. Once we cleared the roadworks however, the pace increased and we were looking to make great time into Hanoi, around 1.30pm.

Eventually we did need to stop one last time, 20 kms short of Hanoi to fuel up and give Turbo his much need opportunity for relief !!! Just as we were patting ourselves on the back for making such good time and being disciplined about taking shorter rest stops etc, another challenge presented itself. Pete's bike said enough is enough, get stuffed, I'm not going anywhere.

We found a mechanic, had him come with his scooter and push Pete's bike back to his shop about a km away (with his foot wedged on Pete's pillion peg). After the first hour and several calls to Anh, we spied a taxi parked across the way and discussions about worst case scenario ensued. We could always leave the XR for Anh to collect, Pete jumps in the cab who leads us back into Hanoi. Sounds abit like the sad wagon again so we opted to stick it out and eventually after a false start and a new watchamathingy fitted, we were on our way once again and still with a few hours of daylight left. Would have been a shame for us not to all finish this epic journey on two wheels under our own steam.

Again getting into Hanoi was no where near as challenging as expected as the QL3 lead straight across the Chuong Duong Bridge and into the Old quarter near the North end of the Hoan Kiem Lake. At the Southern end of the bridge is a massive round about, and once safely past this, my crappy sense of direction must have figured this was no time to test our Ha Ha levels and lead us straight to the Essence Hotel.
Helps if you enter Hanoi on a Sunday, as the traffic is likely to be significantly lighter, as was the case with us.

We arrived dirty and sweaty at the Essence to an enthusiastic hero's welcome from the friendly staff. We dropped our bags and then took the short trip around the corner to return the bikes to Offroad Vietnam. Anh was apologetic for the trouble the bikes had caused us and informed me that he had 18 second hand XR engines, currently stuck at the Chinese border awaiting clearance. He assured me that next time he would ensure I had bikes with much newer and more reliable engines. My final word on Offroad Vietnam is that I would actually recommend them as I believe they probably do have the best maintained fleet of XRs available. This will be especially true if the 18 newer engines make it across the border. Doing this trip with a guide, mechanic or even a support vehicle would definitely have been a safer and more sensible more way to have seen the Heaven's Gateway, but it is as I said at the start of this blog, it was these very challenges that made the trip what it was.

Trip finished off with some pizzas and beer at Gecko around the corner (really craved some western food) and then a few more beers and a couple of Cuban cigars over looking the Hoan Kiem Lake.

All in all a legendary trip that will not be soon forgotten. Adventure, good mates, motorbikes and magical scenery. Would I do it all again? Shit Yeah !!!

Click on the link below to see the google map of the route we took and distances covered each day. Note the unrealistic time estimation of google. Do not plan your trip based on these times. Doubling them is more realistic, but this still doesn’t allow for stops, breakdowns or doubling back after getting geographically embarrassed. Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed your "blokes only" trip this year.


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