Northern Vietnam

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By Seren Berry.

 

Read all about Seren’s adventures in Northern Vietnam – from her wild initial trip to her rewarding second. Seren currently works as a yoga instructor in Gran Canaria. You can learn more about her adventures, and book a yoga class at https://www.facebook.com/yogawithseren/ and www.Instagram.com/yogawithseren

In spring last year, I decided to book a long weekend off work and visit my boyfriend in Hanoi, roughly in the middle of his two-month trip.

My flight was cancelled twice, cutting the already short holiday down further and my new flight was seriously delayed. Just as they announced we would be boarding I received a phone call. It was my boyfriend, in tears, telling me he had been in a motorbike accident in the mountains and was about to be sewn-up by a local seamstress with only a bottle of corn liquor for anesthesia. I boarded the plane, having no idea how serious the injury was and arrived in Hanoi five hours later after lots of worrying and nearly missing my connection.

 

I spent five tense hours waiting for him to arrive at our Airbnb – we had splurged for the first night and booked a treehouse. He finally arrived with his whole leg in a brace, blood stained clothes and high on heavy duty painkillers. With the help from the manager we managed to push him up the ladder and into the tree-house, where we would begin our ill-fated weekend in Hanoi.

Fast forward six months later and I was on a flight to Hanoi, about to ride the Ha Giang motorbike loop seriously questioning my sanity, as it had nearly cost him one leg after a series of infections and surgery cock-ups. We started with an eight-hour long bus ride into HaGiang City. In hindsight I can honestly say that it was the most pleasurable long bus journey I have been on in any country. It was a double-decker sleeper bus that was near-empty so were able to take up the whole back row, where we built a sort of traveling bed fort where we could watch the farms and countryside go by.

The first night was spent in HaGiang City at the QT Hostel, who we also hired bikes from and who had previously rescued my boyfriend after his accident. Despite little sleep due to being in a bunk above a sleep-talking French traveler, we made an early start. In the morning light I caught my first glimpse of the towering karst scenery around the city, of which I had dreamed of seeing for so long. We had a traditional breakfast of Banh Mi,( a baguette sandwich no doubt deriving influence from French colonial times) and  then headed to the bike shop to choose our motorbikes. After a brief lesson involving a few guided laps of the highway, I opted for a semi-automatic, much to the disappointment of my boyfriend. However, it was only my second time riding a bike, after a short trip in Thailand a few weeks prior. We were given a personally-designed trip itinerary from the friendly staff, to include all of our wishes for the trip – hiking, markets, striking landscapes.

 

I remember the feeling of total freedom and excitement as we left the city behind and began the climb up into the mountains. We stopped off for lunch in TamSon, where the scenery consisted of soft, rolling hills. Against this stunning backdrop we had a delicious buffet meal of fish, rice and vegetables. We continued our journey passing farms, children playing in the dusty roads, buffaloes and locals wearing the bright patterned dress typical of the minority groups here. Speeding down the valley towards DuGia amidst the afternoon glow we passed fields of marijuana plants grown to make hemp clothing, their scent filling the air. Upon stopping at a crossroads to consult the map, I was greeted by a group of small children, one of whom was about three years old, brandishing a small machete. The group came over to me, laughing, and proceeded to try and pull bits off my luggage. I resorted to giving one a badge from my bag which they then all began to fight over, giving me enough time to speed off.

We decided to spend two nights at a home stay in DuGia – along wooden bunkhouse with beds separated by curtains and with beautiful large wood shutters that opened onto views of misty peaks. On the second day we explored the small town and surrounding a reason foot and by bike and spent both evenings drinking locally-made corn wine (that miraculously gives no hangover), talking with the few other travelers also exploring the loop and eating the delicious food made by our hosts (I still remember the taste of their amazing homemade fried chicken).

On our third day, we drove through some of the most impressive and terrifying scenery I have ever seen. Gorges, kilometers to the bottom, with deep drops on either side and no safety barrier around the steep inclines. I felt such bad vertigo, I could sense my legs shaking on the bike and had to fight the urge to abandon it in the road, run back up the hill and start a life in the mountains of Northern Vietnam just to relieve me from the rest of the journey. In spite of this we powered through and made it to DongVan where the largest market in Northern Vietnam would be taking place the following morning. It was impossible to find a hotel due to the large influx of domestic tourists who had traveled for the night to see the market. We tried around fifteen, all with no rooms, before finding a small home-stay with space, which was currently experiencing a power-cut.


The market began around 05:30 and we made an appearance at about 07:00 after little sleep due to a group of local tourists who spent all night getting noisily drunk in the corridor. It was expansive, filled with steaming pots of noodles served with crispy-skinned pork belly, large bowls of rainbow-colored breakfast rice, piles of brightly patterned materials and thick cotton shirts, household items, exotic-looking fruits, vegetables and an animal section where pigs and chickens were being auctioned. In every direction people were gathered bargaining, gossiping, smoking, and drinking liquor as this must be the largest (perhaps only for most) social gathering of the week.

After making a few purchases we carried on our journey to our final home stay, having pre-booked and slightly splurged. Greeted by our very welcoming host, we were told we were being given a private room despite only paying for two beds in a spare room. The room was beautifully decorated using local wood and soft lighting and we indulged in a very reasonably priced home cooked eight course meal of local food.

The following morning after a delicious breakfast, the first warm shower of the trip and a great sleep in a soft bed, we started the final part of our journey back to the city in the rain. After many skids and near crashes due to the wet roads, the sun came out for the final stretch of our journey along the valley floor to HaGiang city.

We returned the bikes to QT Hostel and jumped on the first bus back to Hanoi where we would spend a few days exploring. On the long bus journey, I reflected on the past five days. It had without a doubt been one of the most exhilarating and dangerous trips I had ever been on with several near-misses with trucks hurtling around corners towards us on the wrong side of the road and deep gorges on the other. The lack of other travelers that we crossed paths with compared with most other parts of the world really made us feel like we were part of a secret club, experiencing perhaps the last few years of such a beautiful and almost untouched part of Asia. Despite sporadic cold showers, little sleep and suffering with a kidney infection for the whole trip, it was perhaps the best and certainly most memorable trip I’ve ever been on. The out-of-this-world scenery–mountains, valleys and gorges and friendly hosts will stay etched into my mind for many years to come.

 

Read all about Seren’s adventures in Northern Vietnam – from her wild initial trip to her rewarding second. Seren currently works as a yoga instructor in Gran Canaria. You can learn more about her adventures, and book a yoga class at https://www.facebook.com/yogawithseren/ and www.Instagram.com/yogawithseren