a ride through wonderland
water falls glint in the sunlight like silver streaks across the valleys
The past few days have been simply stunning. When Phong suggested some time ago that we should go for a ride together in an area of Vietnam he was keen to explore by bicycle I thought it would be nice but really did not expect it to be quite such a stunning ride. The towns we overnight in are generally rural with little happening but they provide all we need, a good nights sleep, food and beer. We spent Saturday night in the little town of Xin Man which provided on Sunday the distraction of a lively morning market awash with a wider variety of minority people that one could shake a stick at. The place was awash with multi coloured hats and skirts and shirts and britches. Products for sale seemed to fall into three main categories, food for consumption now, colourful cloth for the making of minority person garments, and food for eating later once it was bereft of life and plucked and skinned and generally rather less lively. There was much clucking and mooing and hissing and squealing and soon I was muddy and thought it time to move on.
The early morning rain had ceased and as we followed the lovely deep verdant valley of the Chay river the inevitable heavy humidity subsided to a level that, by lunchtime, was cool fresh and most agreeable. And such has the weather been. There is rain from time to time but not too much and when we have ridden on in the rain it has been cool and refreshing, or at least, so Phong assures me.
It is the riding though, the roads and the scenery that this ride is all about. Superlatives to express the splendour of the natural, and in the case of the rice terraces man made scenery, fail me. The roads we are following now are sealed but are single lane and other than a few local motor scooters transporting anything from pigs to sacks of rice to televisions to whole families of minority peoples, all on the one motor scooter, from village to villages there is very little traffic.
We will climb, heading for the pass at the head of the valley, and the experience refreshes my enthusiasm for travel and adventure, and then we cross the pass and my jaw drops, I am in wonderland. The dense green forestation of the valley walls is streaked with silver flashes from water falls, the valley drops away into the distance with layer after emerald green layer of tiered rice terraces sparkling with the water running through them, the life blood of the nation’s staple.
This afternoon has been spent procuring a permit to allow us to proceed further north into an area that is apparently, for an undisclosed reason, rather sensitive and consequently restricted to foreign nationals. I did try explaining to the officer in attendance that I am not a foreigner; “I, my good man” I told him, “am British”. Phong kicked my shin told me to shut up and now I am fifteen dollars lighter of pocked and the proud owner of one rather dapper yellow foreigner can travel by bicycle with Vietnamese chum permit.
rice terraces weaving through to the valley floor
Flower Hmong ladies
Blue Tay girls
Blue Tay Lady
a rural café
another perfect road
tea drying in the sun
a permit to travel. beyong ‘ere ther be dragons
the view just before Heaven Gate Pass
Phong and I regularly take groups of cyclists for a two week tour though North West Vietnam a similar mountainous area with many minority groups. Should you be interested there are places still available on the tour beginning at the end of October, details of which can be found on the Redspokes website