The route: http://connect.garmin.com/course/1182344 (a tough climb but easy to navigate and beautiful riding)
The chat: Another day, another tech failure. For some reason the GPS didn’t capture the ride – sorry to disappoint all of you who love to pore over average speeds, maximum temperatures etc, so the above is technically a plotted ‘course’ not an activity, as we usually present for perusal. But it was a beautiful, if tough ride, passing the highest pass in Vietnam (Tam Trong, just over 2000m up) and the highest altitude we’ll reach on this trip. The day started with the purchase of an overpriced second hand camera to replace the broken one, and at least as importantly, our last chocolate tarts for the foreseeable. Then it was just up up up, into the cloud, stopping only to swap travel advice with the irrepressible Tony, a forty-something bike touring Canadian who briefed us on exactly how to get to Luang Prabang, down to which guest house restaurants to try, and indeed which dishes to order when we made it there.
The beauty of cycling is that every ying yas a yang, and the downhill from the top of Tam Trong was fantastic, even if the road surface was broken up around many of the hairpins. Vllages along the way felt more ‘real’, with tribal men and women (the latter always in traditional garb, even if they were up to their knees in a rice paddy) working the land, not trying to sell their wares to tourists (there were none, pther than us). The road levelled off in the valley, leaving us a steady roll into Lai Chau, the first in a string of rather odd NW Vietnamese towns. Lai Chau is a friendly, albeit ordinary Vietnamese town, to which a 6-lane highway to service a plethora of administrative buildings has been built. Entering the town for the first time, then, is a bit like coming into a major, new build, North American city – devoid of character, and with a lot of space -very un-Vietnamese. Then, just as one is despairing that there are no hotels and no restaurants, the familiar sight of a hotpotch market, ‘ban my pate’ stands and the odd ‘khach san’ (hotel) sign come into view, and all is well again in the bike tourists’ world.