After hopefully the last bowl of pho I need to experience for a long time (it has worn on me and I am surprised I have lasted this long), departed Sapa while the rain continued its nuanced pour of the valley to hydrate the lifeblood of the villages, aka the rice fields and terraces, with little choice but to brunt the chill and the all too familiar slick roadways. If it weren’t for the thick cloudy mist that draped itself over the surrounding valleys of Sapa, I would have been treated to the same rice terraces slaloming and cutting themselves into the hilly and mountainous landscape. After leaving Sapa firmly in the distant past, the sun crept out of the clouds and held itself prominently in the sky while unveiling less than rewarding views until I could cross over into the Ha Giang Province (the ‘G’ is pronounced like a ‘Z’) where I would begin an incomplete loop through the most northern lands of Vietnam, which remain still fairly hidden from the foreign eye. Before I hit the stretch I long expected and dreaded, I rode over cleanly paved, pothole-free pavement with sweeping views of green studded valleys and sloping hills. Quicker than I could fully realize, I arrived to the worst piece of road I had seen since the last couple times I fell down in the central highlands. This road wasn’t quite as bad but it was mostly covered with stones and rocks that aspired to be boulders. This section then led to a seemingly unending stretch of roadway I hope I never have to endure again; it truly my patience and grit. This particular road felt like construction workers shaved off merely the top layer of soil including the grass of course and then dusted it with rocks just for the hell of it. Beyond the many rocks that halted my pace to perhaps 3 mph and shook every loose nut in my bike and brain and got me bouncing more times than not off my unforgiving seat, the road contained many, many potholes. The potholes were so expansive that they covered the full width of the road at its most potent. I began to lose track of the difference between road and pothole; they appeared seamlessly together in one rocky, uncontrollable ride. I don’t know how they can even call it a road. I certainly won’t forget the one pothole that had practically turned into a small pond from the runoff of rainwater. It should not even be legally drivable yet somehow got to the other side relieved but still needed to perform more than enough weave patterns around the various potholes that burrowed into the roadway. Vietnam has its fair share of roads that are essentially hiking trails which connect very small, insignificant towns and villages, which is fine for the locals who can easily navigate it. However, for roads that connect some of the larger cities in each province, there has got to be a better way. At long last, I made it to the main highway that connects Hanoi to the capital of Ha Giang province, Ha Giang city, with enough time to complete the day long 215 km journey which felt much longer than the distance simplifies it as. The ride to Ha Giang city wasn’t noteworthy which made me somewhat fearful that the entire loop would be like this, that the excursion to this very much unvisited land would be a waste of time when riding the motorbike has already begun to tire me. Amidst the many odd distractions and dodgy encounters including cows, chickens, dogs, mounds of cow shit, etc. I had yet to graze or hit one; that is until today. Finally able to rev my quaking engine I hit the high gear and cruised (only 60 to 70 kph tops but what do you expect out of a cheap Chinese imitation motor). One random chicken was trying to cross the road but I had little time to dodge the bird when any uncoordinated maneuver might do me in so I continued rolling without breaking striding. Sure enough that chicken never did cross the road as it met my left leg in a rushed, unexpected fashion before spinning in disarray until it went motionless on the pavement. Somehow I saw all this while peeling away. After that misfortune, I eventually pulled into Ha Giang city and found myself fairly luxurious accommodation considering the price in a hotel. Ha Giang doesn’t seem to be much of a place, just a regular city but has the appeal of being sliced down the middle by a murky brown river while ringed around by scaly gray karst limestone rock protruding as jagged shards out of its green forested cloak. For dinner, I enjoyed some Com Binh Dan which is essentially a buffet just as I had for the first time in Sapa. I was given a deep bowl of rice as well as a platter of various items such as chicken, tofu, veggies, etc. For the simple fact that it wasn’t pho, I loved it. It isn’t served hot unfortunately since it is a buffet without the hot plates to keep them warm but it didn’t stop me from cleaning the plate. I walked around the city to observe the various nuances of people. Asian city life is never boring. I get to see the most random things getting cooked such as whole ducks (neck, beak, and all) roasting rotisserie-style. After completing one lap over the bridges and along the river, I met a 18 year old Vietnamese boy who wanted to chat with me to practice his English. Not only do I want to help, this is another opportunity to engage with locals, which can be a benefit for me to learn a little something as well. His English was limited but enough for conversation. I appreciate the boldness and audacity of a kid like him to approach me and stumble through his words in an effort to better his English. In no other country have I had so many locals try to practice their English with me and it is all the better that I can practice my awful Vietnamese with them! After completing one more lap of the city, I said tam biet (goodbye) to the boy and entered the chilling A/C-pumping confines of my hotel room priced at a reasonable 200,000d.
Riding Vietnam Day 186: So Whatever Happened to that Chicken that Crossed the Road?