Day 25: Friday 25 March
65km; 600m up then a glorious 1,000m down
The rain had cleared the air overnight so we saw the landscape without the usual haze. On Friday we cycled past tea plantations and white & black dairy cows. It could have been a bizarre alternate-reality England. We stopped for tea to realise it was green tea. Not as we’d imagined. This is the dairy producing part of the country so fresh yogurt was on the menu in every shop. However, by the next town there was no fresh yogurt to be seen. It still surprises us how locally produce is sold. Later we cycled past at least ten roadside stalls within a kilometre and all sold something wrapped in banana leaves. We stopped and found a black, sticky sort of cake inside. Good cycling fuel, we thought. We haven’t seen another similar stall since!
It was a lovely run-in to Mai Chau, a little town nestled in a sunny valley. It was warm, sunny and welcoming. We booked a hotel, took a stroll, and chatted with another couple of keen cyclists over dinner. Perfect.
Day 26: Saturday 26 March
65km, 600m climb straight after breakfast – our last big hill of the trip!
We were well rested again after an afternoon off yesterday so the big hill I was fearing wasn’t as bad as expected. We have definitely got stronger since starting out six weeks ago. Super-smooth roads helped us descend in record time. We stopped on the way to say hello to the Hanoi Harley Davidson club who were out enjoying their weekend. These city-dwellers with time and money to spare were very different to the locals living in the places we’re just left behind.
We arrived in Hoa Bin at 13:30 – officially after lunchtime. All the restaurants were sold out so we ate a variety of deep-fried snacks. All we could find. This fuelled our exploration of Hoa Binh’s only attraction, a huge hydro-electric dam in the middle of town. We were joined by a few unenthusiastic bus tours, bored teenagers and fishermen. The dam was big, and Soviet, and felt like an empty film set. We picked our final hostel based on the cafe next door. This cafe is excellent, probably the best in Vietnam. It has a *real* sofa, fresh juice, English books and beer. Ahhh.