The route: http://connect.garmin.com/dashboard?cid=23889036 (bike tourists note cautionary tale below – our advice – keep a beady eye out for signs, ask directions a lot and don’t get stuck on the left (South) side of the river)
This one looked like a toughie, so we started out early – Rudy sparklingly clean and delighted to be sporting a new chain. The route looked straight forward as it wound its way along the Chinese border, but before long we found ourselves on an increasingly battered road, which turned first into a track, then a footpath before petering out to nothing. The only option seemed to be a river crossing which would have been impossible in the wet season but looked safe enough at the height of the dry season. A bit like one of those team building games where you have to ferry a Catholic, a Protestant and an Islamic fundamentalist over a natural obstacle without leaving the wrong combination together unchaperoned (I think the trick is to not leave the Christians alone together) we pondered our pile of kit and the bike and prayed the Ortlieb panniers were indeed waterproof. Fortunately everything and everyone made it across intact, and we pressed on, an hour behind schedule. This wouldn’t usually have mattered (control freaks? Us?) but today was unreasonably and unseasonably HOT. Not a ‘bit sweaty’ hot, or hot for a few hours around midday, but gas mark 9 hot for the whole day. (Googling it later, we found out that NE Vietnam was experiencing a heatwave, the news reporting that farmers were unable to work until the evening as a result). We had no choice, and started the big climb of the day at midday.
Emma got quieter and quieter as the temperature ticked over 40, and then steadily climbed to peak at 49.2. Strangely I felt ok – perhaps my prodigious capacity to sweat (do you know anyone else who sweats enough that their shoes need wringing out after a bike ride?) conveyed some protection. An impromptu mid afternoon break between climbs (iced coffee, mangos,co ke – you get the picture) was our saviour, and the temperature dropped back below 40 by 4pm. We sped into Lao Cai, checked into the excellent Hoanh Anh hotel with great riverviews and a balcony, whacked the AC up to full, and collapsed on the bed.