In Hanoi I continue my journey. I instantly like the busy old town. Countless motorbikes push through the narrow alleyways, everywhere there are markets and food stalls. At first I make a detour to Halong Bay. As this is not possible with the bicycle I join a group. There are many islands made of carst rock along the coast and lots of caves. For 3 days we cruise around the islands. After that I can hardly wait to go get back on my bicycle again and set my travel pace by myself again. I am not used anymore that there are so many tourists and as often at such places the locals are often after quick money with the tourists.
Then I start with the bicycle towards the north west, up into the mountainous border region with Laos and China. After a first flat day the mountains start seriously. They are not big here but steep, very steep. There is hardly a flat meter here, it's constantly a 10% climb or descent. People are just incredible. Everyone who see me smiles, waves and greets me. Sure, if that is a lot of people or if I am in a long climb that can be exhausting but mostly it is just nice. But the weather I don't like. The first 4 days I cycle at cool temperatures constantly in the mist and rain. Often I don't see more than 100m. At a pass there is a big construction site. As a result I have to cycle through the mud for a couple of times. A terribly dirty thing to do under these conditions. The mud is extremely sticky and after 100m the wheels of my bike won't turn anymore. When I finally reach the village I borrow a hose and wash down the bike and myself before looking for a room.
But then the weather gets better. Just in time because this is now the most beautiful part. There are many hill tribes here in the north living in small villages in the mountains. The road is very narrow, there are only pedestrians, cyclists and motorbikes on the road anymore and it winds through countless of these villages. simply fantastic this idyll: terraced paddy fields and tea plantations everywhere, water buffalos, ducks, geese and little pigs constantly run all across the road. People live in simple but beautiful wooden stilt houses.
After a week I reach Sapa. Here are all the tourists again. Funny actually, the town is high up in the mountains where it is constantly foggy, wet and cold while all around where there is nobody it is good weather. But I am glad to be in company for new years eve, christmas was a bit dull being all by myself in a cold room somewhere along the road.
As soon as I am back from the mountains near Hanoi it is over with peace on the road. After what I already saw when I left town I am not really looking foreward going south from here. The country soon gets thin and there are only 2 roads going south. The main road No.1 I try to avoid but one day I have to go to a bigger town to get money and then cycle for a day on that road.
My goodness is that hectic here. Cars have horns adjusted to indian volume standards and they are far mor often used then brakes. By constantly blowing the horn everyone tries to get as much space as possible. It is noisy, dirty and dangerous. I try to get away as quickly as possible. Easier said than done. Road signs are not very reliable and it takes me 4 trials until I find back to the other south-north route where it is far more peaceful.
For a change I can read the writing here in Vietnam. So I soon found out that 'Nha Nghi' has to be some kind of a guesthouse. Such a place I find in almost every village and here I always get a cheap room. In the last 8 month I have almost constantly camped so this is a welcoming change.
Unfortunately the weather changes back to foggy wet and gray now that I have left the mountains. The 15 degrees are pleasant for cycling. But the gray in gray picture is soon a bit boring and the fact that it is all flat like a pancake is not really making it any better.
For the vietnamese this really seams to be winter. Everyone is wearing caps, gloves and warm jackets. They cannot understand that I cycle in t-shirt and am still sweating so much. Only when I cross the former line of demarcation near Hue the sun comes back and temperatures climb up quickly.