North Vietnam by motorbike

By Monika Kvassheim, National University of Singapore

My favourite trip last semester was motorbiking from Hanoi to Sapa in Vietnam during recess week. Warning, recess week at NUS is like reading week in Manchester, except in Manchester it’s treated like a recess week and at NUS it’s actually treated like a reading week. After a night train from Sapa to Hanoi and flight to Singapore on Sunday I had to take a midterm 8 am on Monday, worth it, but challenging.

Hanoi is one of my favourite Asian cities, the old quarter is great and there are terraces like this everywhere. The Bánh Mi is amazing.

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I have visited some of the South East Asian countries before, so this time I decided to spend more time in the places I went rather than see as many as possible. I really liked Hanoi last time I was there, and regretted not leaving time to go further north, so I decided to go there for recess week. My Korean friend Janice, also an exchange student, came with me. We spent the first day and a half in Hanoi getting things ready and feeling the vibe. None of us had driven a motorbike before, but the rental guy let us try it around the block a few times. Driving out of Hanoi was not nice, traffic felt crazier being in it rather than just observing. We stopped after every intersection and made a plan for the next one, and with patience and stress eventually made it to a quiet highway.

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One of the streets of the old quarter

First stop was Mai Châu which isn’t far from Hanoi, but on the way we stopped at some caves, for lunch and got lost once, so it was an eventful day. As the sun was setting we drove down the Thung Khe Pass and it was amazing. It got dark before we found a home stay we could afford, but where we ended up was really nice. It was off season, so we had a room that would probably normally fit 15 to ourselves, and we woke up to a beautiful view.

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Mai Châu

The second day driving it was raining really hard and after passing two accidents we decided to be safe and stop in Môc Châu. On the way we stopped in some simple shop while the rain was at the hardest. We got better rain coats, asked for tea and they let us sit in their living room till the worst rain passed. People kept surprising me with their niceness throughout the trip.

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Us in the living room of the people who sold us raincoats and gave us free tea

We had to leave early the next morning since the trip to Tú Lê was longer than the rest. It was also the nicest one. We drove on small mountain roads through small villages and even took a “motorbike ferry”. The ferry was tiny and narrow, we were very proud to get on it in the first place, but were then simply asked to turn. Haha we needed assistance. Somehow, we crossed the lake without ending up in the water. We were also slow drivers and did not make it before sunset. There were no street lights, so we had to drive the last bit in the dark and it felt 50 times longer than it probably was. Tú Lê was pretty much just 60 meters of shops and homestays along the road. We ate in one of the homestays, and husband had several friends come over and talk to us. Communication was pretty bad as none of them spoke English and the translation app was doing a bad job with the Vietnamese. It’s interesting how well you can understand people from body language though. We experienced it earlier that day for lunch when we needed a break from pho and a woman cooked an amazing meal for us by just pointing at ingredients.

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The result of the body language food ordering, Janice’s photo

There were rice fields and corn fields everywhere. The scenery kept getting better, so I wouldn’t recommend going the opposite route. This way we started out amazed and never got bored. After Tú Lê we headed for Than Uyên. This was more of a city and they actually had an ATM. We walked to see the lake and the market.

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From Than Uyên we drove straight to Sapa. Just before we got there was the highlight of the motorbiking, the Quy Ho Pass.

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Quy Ho Pass, we drove up that road just before we started driving down to Sapa

Sapa was also beautiful, but it felt very touristy after the trip we’d had. We went on a village hike with a guide and it was a really good day.

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Sapa

From Sapa we had to drive about an hour to get to the train station. We got lost and ended up spending about 2.5 hours, but people were helpful again so we made it in time for the train.

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Everyone wanted to help giving directions, though none of them understood English

I made a film with random clips I took, sorry about the wobbliness.

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