The route started with a 900m climb over 25km. Luckily I played my only veto card of the trip and we caught a bus for £4. I would have payed ten times that! The bus driver played wailing local music very loudly and the woman in front asked us to top-up her phone as her eyesight was bad. Some cheap glasses would probably sort her out but she didn’t have any.We got to Son La city, our initial destination, by lunchtime. We were wet and filthy. It is only the second time we have seen rain and it turned the road brown with mud.
The mile posts started counting down to Hanoi, 300km. Alex pointed out that we have four cycling days left so…. After a pregnant pause I did the maths and realised it was possible to make it all the way on the bikes. Our relaxed plan to finish with shorter distances went out of the window. We both enjoy a challenge too much and re-planned over lunch. We added a pleasant 25km to our afternoon and enjoyed a tailwind.
We have got rather used to turning up in small towns and finding a guesthouse room for less than a tenner. We’ve also learned that every restaurant, cafe and street food stall specialises in one thing. Breakfast, coffee, main meals or desert; its impossible to get two in one place! The latest craze for teenagers here is tea cafes, they sit around all evening chatting and sipping cold, flavoured sweet teas. Perhaps because the central government has made tea a ‘major industry’ here in order to promote it. Still, much nicer than the bar culture in the UK.
Thursday 24 March – 90km, 900m up.
We haven’t spoken English to anyone since we left Sapa eight days ago. This means we have only spoken to each other. We are still firmly on speaking terms so that’s a bit of luck!
Thursday was a hard day with the hills in all the wrong places. The first was right after breakfast. The second made up the final 25km as the road wound-up to the side of a wide, dead-end valley. Rain, mud and a stiff headwind added to the elevation to make a long, long day on the bikes. We were glad to make it to Moc Chau, another non-descript town we’ll remember because it was cold. A chilly 12 degrees (not sure how we will cope back in the U.K. next week!).
We discovered a busy bakery. Sitting by the bread oven was the only warm place in town so we stayed for an hour watching the local shop keepers buy their stock. We munched through samples of freshly baked bread and cakes as they came out of the oven.
We finished the evening with a whole roast chicken between us. The chicken was skinnier than UK ones so not as bad as it sounds! Delicious. We gathered that Vietnam beat China 2-1 at football because the commentary was on at 90 decibels while we ate (everything is so loud here!).