Leaving Hanoi by bicycle

Day 163: Hanoi to Van Phu

18 Feb 2019

Our afternoon cycling was one of the best we have experienced so far on our cycle tour. But first, we had to endure cycling out of Hanoi. As we left the hotel, we passed on some of the items we had decided to get rid of in an effort to alleviate our weight. The lady working at the reception was very grateful to receive some of our things.

Despite it being unsurprisingly busy as we left the city centre, we thoroughly enjoyed cycling out of the Old Quarter. Our route took us along some streets we hadn’t visited on foot, and I just loved seeing all of the amazingly colourful and vibrant flowers for sale. Not just the bright, multicoloured blooms in the shops, but also the blossoming plants sold by the Vietnamese women on scooters or bicycles, the back of their two-wheeled bike full to bursting with joyful, beautiful flowers.

The city sprawled on and on for close to 20km. Passing traffic was constant and relentlessly busy. I grew increasingly frustrated with the city bus drivers, who firstly honked their ridiculously loud horn behind me, before proceeding to overtake me and then consequently swerve right in front of me pulling into the bus stop and stopping to pick up passengers. Let’s just say a few choice words were fired at them!

Finally, we took a turn off the busy road we had been on for the first hour or so, onto a slightly quieter road. Rice paddy fields and green vegetation welcomed us. We stopped for a morning rest after around 25km, gobbling up a dragon fruit each. Today had been one of the warmest days we’ve had in a long, long while. We both felt the effects of the rise in temperature, realising that it may take some days to acclimatise to the heat. As we cycle further south, the climate will rise and rise, until we reach Cambodia and Thailand in April, where temperatures will be sizzling.

On we continued, only stopping once more for a hearty bowl of ‘Pho Bo’, at the bargain price of 50 Dong for two – half the price of what you would pay in Hanoi. Adam won all the awards today for finding us absolutely stunning backroad routes away from the main road. With some flicking between Maps.Me and Google Maps, he managed to lead us down some beautiful, single-tracks that wound their way through intensely green paddy fields and hushed villages, past houses and shops where the locals were going about their quiet, everyday tasks.

A beautiful church in one of the small villages we cycled through.

It really was an absolute gem of a route. Top marks Adam! As we made progress, those alluring and magnificent limestone karst rocks we hoped to cycle past came into view. Firstly as a dark haze along the horizon, until we inched closer and closer. Eventually, we were pedalling right through the heart of them as their jagged, pointy peaks reached skyward.

The most random event of the day was being invited into a village celebration of the elderly people in their area. Once a year, their custom is to come together to dedicate a day to honour locals over the age of 70, who sit in red outfits whilst songs are sung, messages spoken over loudspeakers and food and drink gifts offered. We sat, rather awkwardly, for 20 minutes as the locals stared and we wondered what was going on really. One man spoke fairly good English and explained what was happening. 

The few elderly locals who were being celebrated.

Trying to work out what’s going on…!

Back on the road and before we knew it, the time was nearing 1630, and we knew we had about 60 minutes or so of sunlight left. Adam had spotted a ‘Farm Stay’ labelled on Google Maps… so we went to check it out. Down a narrow track into the depths of the paddy fields, surrounded by the towering karst hills, we ventured. When we reached the location, we found nothing more than a small, run-down concrete house, no signs advertising a homestay… it very clearly was a red herring. Back out of the maze of paddy fields onto the main road, we looked around for somewhere to camp, but it was all rather sodden!

Our second attempt at finding somewhere to stay was at a Buddhist temple. No monks were present, so we politely asked a woman who was working there. The answer was no; the first temple we have been turned away from. Resigned, we continued along the main road as the faint, burnt-orange glow ball in the sky descended. I spotted a sign saying, ‘Nhà nghỉ’ which I have learnt means hotel or guesthouse. We headed inside and were in luck. One room for 180,000 Dong, which is about £6. The teenage boy working on the desk was very friendly, and Adam was able to converse with him through a translation app. He helped me with my bags up to the room, which of course was on the 3rd floor. As we entered, the smell of cheap cigarettes was my first impression, common for the ‘Nhà nghỉ’ hotels, as they are often used by Vietnamese businessmen. Apparently, some ‘Nhà nghỉs’ can be paid for by the hour… but our experience of them is good: clean but basic with good wifi and a hot shower.

Unfortunately, this Nhà nghỉ hotel was in the middle of nowhere, and therefore there was nowhere to eat. Luckily, we had some packet noodles leftover from China, so we were allowed to use a kettle in the hotel foyer to cook them up. (I would have used our stove if necessary, but the kettle was much quicker and easier on this occasion!). Our dinner was surprisingly good!

We now have 6 cycling days left to pedal our way south through Vietnam, heading towards the border with Laos. At the moment, that’s 61km per day average. Definitely manageable.

Rest days in Hanoi

Leave a Reply