Friday, 25 January 2019

#RideVietnam Day 9 & 10 - Sapa > Lao Cai > Hanoi > Singapore - Riding To China Border Before Loading Our Bikes Up The Train

Wrapped up our entire #RideVietnam adventure after having spent two chilly days in Sapa by riding to China's Hekou Border at Lao Cai.

It was even more foggy than yesterday as we departed Sapa.

Check out my cockpit view. Even in day time, visibility is already low. I can't imagine we actually rode through the mountainous roads in this fog at night just a few days back.

As we descended down the mountain, the fog gradually clear and we were able to enjoy the beautiful views of the vast rice terraces around us.

What a big difference without the fog.

Since we didn't manage to see much the past few days, we started spamming pictures now that visibility is better.

Goodbye Sapa! You've been lovely and so picturesque nonetheless. I will be back for you one day, for Fansipan!

Mel and I rode down from Sapa to Lao Cai while my brothers and his friends took a taxi with their luggages. Since we still had time before our overnight train ride to Hanoi, we decided to check out China Border which was really close by.

Just a short 8 minutes ride from Lao Cai town and we arrived at China's Hekou Border! So close yet so far from China. We couldn't crossover as we didn't have the necessary VISA but it was pretty cool seeing locals and traders carrying tons of goods in and out from China to Vietnam via this bridge.

Sent our bikes for a good wash down to rid all that chunk of mud, stains and other forms of dirt collected from the past few days of riding before heading to Lao Cai Railway Station to load our bikes up for an overnight train ride!

The train ticket for motorcycle can only be purchased on the day of travel so to secure a space in the cargo carriage, we arrived at the station 3 - 4 hours before the train's departure time. Cost was about SGD $30 if I remember correctly.

8 hours later, we arrived back at Hanoi and when we hopped off the train, our bikes were already ready for our collection on the platform. Too bad didn't get to witness the loading/unloading of the bikes, it would interesting to see how they do it just like in Thailand.

Pho 10

Crispy pork omelette
Local dessert
Went around Hanoi stuffing our faces with all these delicious local food because it's our last day here and we probably won't be able to find such delicacies anywhere else.

Returned these trusty orange warriors back to KTM before flying back to Singapore! Our two wheel journey in Vietnam is OFFICIALLY COMPLETED! WOOHOOOO!

It's been one hella ride!

From the bustling city in Ho Chi Ming, to the vast ocean in Da Nang, up into the mountains in Sapa filled with endless rolling hills of rice terraces, what a sight it was watching the landscapes around us change while we rode through different weather, climate and terrains.

The struggling times and mental exhaustion were real, but we pulled through together, before being rewarded with all that breathtaking sceneries.

So so thankful to have done this trip with Mel who braved through this entire journey with me despite it being a first touring ride with a couple of traumatising LOL WTF moments hahaha. At the end of the day, we're happy and proud to say WE DID IT :D

What a way to start 2019 and yeah! Another adventure clocked in!!

[Singapore. Ho Chi Minh. Da Lat. Quy Nhon. Da Nang. Hanoi. Ha Giang. Lao Cai. Sapa. Lao Cai. Hanoi. Singapore]
[Mileage Clocked: 1,712KM]
[Terrain: Tarmac, Mountain Passes]
[Traffic: Moderate]
[Temperature/Weather: 17°C/Chilly]

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

#RideVietnam Day 8 - Sapa - Roaming Around Misty Sapa at 5°C

Nestled within the 100 million year old Hoang Lien Son Mountains of Northwestern Vietnam, Sapa is most popular for hiking and travelers can enjoy the nature of this untouched pristine rainforest all around.

On a clear day, you can expect to overlook gorgeous vast rice field terraces at Muong Hoa Valley and watch the local tribal villagers ploughing the field.

On a foggy day, you can expect to see absolutely... nothing πŸ˜‚

We were literally standing right facing Muong Hoa Valley but could not see a thing.

And that's how we had it for the two days here.
Talk about managing expectations when it comes to traveling and sightseeing..

pc: exploringthisrock
One of the top key attraction at Sapa is Fansipan.

pc: imgcop
Dubbed as the "Roof of Indochina", Fansipan is not only the highest mountain in the whole of Vietnam, but it is also the highest one in Southeast Asia mainland, standing tall at 3,143m.

pc: vietnamtour
Enthusiastic climbers can do a multi-day guided hike of 630 steps up to the summit, passing through different variations of thick vegetation and plantations, to humongous pine trees and densely grown bamboo forests.

I read that the hike is nothing too technical though the last section to the summit may get a little challenging due to the steepness and altitude.

pc: discovery
But when you get to the top and witness the world at your feet, the stunning panoramic views would be worth every bit of the hike.

pc: sapatours
However, if you're like me who prefers the relaxed way to get to the summit, you can take the cable car instead. What used to take 2 - 3 days to hike to the top of Fansipan can now be achieved in just 15 minutes.

pc: vntrip
Sun Plaza Sapa Station is where you can take the cable car up, and this is how it looks on a sunny day.

Versus foggy day!

Unfortunately, not only was Sapa covered by a thick blanket of fog when we were here, the cable car was under maintenance too and would only resume operation a day after we leave this place.

Well, the nice thing was we were reunited with my brother and his friends here in Sapa!

And what better way to comfort ourselves but enjoy some hot pot steamboat together in this 5°C weather!

January is usually the coldest month in Sapa and it's considered their Winter season.

pc: sapatours
There was a few times it got so cold here that it actually snowed! And the last time it did was only in January 2018! Would absolutely love to witness this one day.

Since the weather seemed like it was going to remain foggy all day, we figured there wasn't really much of a point to head onto other attractions like Cat Cat Village as the main thing here is the scenery.

So we walked around town a little bit.

There were many shops here selling tons of hiking gears, great for hikers who need to grab some last minute equipment.

Came across this group of BMW GS adventure tourers parked outside a hotel and their bikes were also as dirty as our KTMs! Haha it's just really mud everywhere here right now due to the construction.

Interesting sightings continued to be spotted even here in Sapa where we see the local bikers carrying trees on their rides. TREES.

This one next level LOL.

Spent the rest of the day hopping from one cafe to another and just chilling around Sapa Town.

Tomorrow, we'll depart from Sapa and ride to China Border!
Hopefully the weather clears up then!

[Singapore. Ho Chi Minh. Da Lat. Quy Nhon. Da Nang. Hanoi. Ha Giang. Lao Cai. Sapa]
[Mileage Clocked: 1,643KM]
[Terrain: Tarmac, Broken Roads, Muddy Off Road, Mountain Passes]
[Traffic: Moderate]
[Temperature/Weather: 5°C/Cold]

Next stop: Lao Cai

Monday, 21 January 2019

#RideVietnam Day 7 - Hanoi > Lao Cai > Sapa - On Road, Off Road, Diving Into Sapa Valley, Riding Into A Dark Foggy Dangerous Night

"The road to Sapa isn't gonna be easy", was what my local friend Quang said to us.

Another motorcycle dealer apparently backed out on loaning us a motorcycle because they said it was a dangerous road up to Sapa from Hanoi, and given the period where we traveling which was close to the Lunar New Year, they were afraid we would not be able to handle the ride.

Well, let two young girls show you otherwise! πŸ˜„


Got up early, geared up and braced ourselves for the long ride to Sapa. Weather forecast says that it'll be wet all the way, which made us a little nervous because we really didn't know what to expect up in the mountains.

Would the terrain be slippery? Will we be constantly dodging trailers on narrow roads? What if the traffic is worse than Ho Chi Minh city because of the Lunar New Year? Would Mel be okay? 

All these thoughts paced through my mind, until I got tired of worrying and just said screw it, whatever it is, we'll just ride through it.

Before dawn break, we pushed off at 5:30AM from Hanoi and headed towards Lao Cai.

With close to 400KM to cover, we broke down the journey to 4 different parts and aimed to take a break every 100KM so we won't be over exhausted.

Having done a couple of solo trips, I realized it is actually very different traveling alone vs with someone. When you're alone, you can do everything at your own time, own target. You stop whenever wherever you want.

When you're traveling with someone, you have to consider the other person's thoughts. But when both parties are able to get along, the impact of emotions are sometimes intensified when you're able to share beautiful moments with that person.

Mel is younger than me and it's her first long distance touring ride, so I couldn't help but constantly feel this sense of responsibility to make sure she's doing OK, although I know she is a big girl and always take good care of others without letting anyone worry for her :)

Barely 40KM out from Hanoi, our gears, bikes and baggage were all splattered with tiny specs of mud.

The tarmacs were wet initially, possibly from an earlier passing shower, but the rest of the roads we were on was dry. It was cloudy, but no rain so far!

Passed through a few small towns, where some of the roads were broken but nothing our bikes couldn't get across. Traffic was pretty light but we couldn't go fast as for the safety of ourselves and the locals, we had to always keep our eyes wide open to look out for villagers who would cut across anytime, anywhere.


After doing about 100KM with an average speed of 39KM/H (yes, we were going that slow... but safe!), time for a short coffee break!

Oooo this was pretty good, tasted like a sweet double espresso. This cup of coffee looked really thick when it was served and me being afraid it'll be too bitter ended up pouring too much cindesned milk it tasted like we were just drinking the latter.

Mel took out all her heat packs and was trying to warm herself because it was actually quite cold, at about 15°C, while I was busy being OCD and wiping down our dirty helmets and cameras.

Before we slipped into hibernating mode at the cafe, we hurriedly got back onto the roads.

Along the way, we had to overtake some huge trailers and that's where we knew we made the right choice by renting the nimble KTM 390 Duke because it had enough torque and throttle response to quickly overtake these fellas before the vehicles from the opposite direction approached.

Next thing we knew, tarmacs disappeared as we found ourselves riding through these sticky gooey mud filled with a thousand pot holes.

How to go fast you tell me? πŸ˜‚
We were bouncing away on our bikes through this bumpy ride and with each hole that we hit, our bags that were strapped down felt like it got a little looser each time.

The mud trail went on and on, Mel was cursing through our Cardo Packtalk Bold as I was just trying to maintain my balance while laughing back at her.

Finally, we were out of the sticky mud and back onto broken roads, passing through small villages of different ethnic groups where we noticed the local women were dressed in their own traditional wear and carrying children on their backs with a cloth tied across their shoulders.

This was how much space we had whenever big trucks from the opposite direction approaches, squeezing us all the way to the side. Give way or be squashedddd.

Then, we were back sliding through slimy slippery mud terrain again. Still, Mel and I held up alright as well as the KTM Dukes did!

Approximately 260KM into our ride, we arrived near the province of Ha Giang with our bikes and bags all covered in slimy mud. I had to be careful not to stain the inner cheek pads of my helmet when I adjusted my balaclava with my fingers/gloves that were dirtied with mud too.

After going through all that terrain and encountering trailers that dropped debris on the go, the screen of Mel's GoPro Hero 7 Black was found cracked. It probably got hit by a flying stone from one of those trucks :(

Her precious Arai iridium visor got scratched pretty badly too 😭
Sigh.. the parts and parcel of touring life...

Last I remembered our KTM Dukes were orange, and my bag was black.
It's now all one color - greyish brown.

To catch up on time, we skipped lunch, only filling our tummy with a glass of avocado juice off a random cafe by the sidewalk and continued on into the mountainous range of our journey.

With our average speed reduced to 35KM/H, the journey to Sapa seemed like it was gonna take forever to get there. But we pressed on..

Slowly, gradually, we watched the landscapes around us change as we rode deeper and deeper into the mountains.

We didn't care if we were riding on tarmacs, broken roads, or mud anymore.

We were just so absorbed riding in between valleys of rolling padi fields, just like what we knew Sapa to be.

Then, we saw the sign, "Lao Cai".

You can't imagine how overjoyed we were seeing this sign after riding for about 9 hours now.

Gawwdd I was so tired! Yet truly thankful at the same too for being incredibly blessed with superb weather throughout the ride so far.

pc: vietravel
We didn't encounter any of the rain that the weather forecast reported, neither did we get caught up in any heavy traffic that locals said we would. Don't think it would be a pretty sight riding through these narrow paths in a thunderstorm.

Nature can be fickle, with the clouds coming as fast as they go. At one point it could be gloomy and the next it would be a bright. Somehow just never really sunny.

Right now we were just engulfed by these surrounding forested limestone and granite mountains, nothing else seemed to matter, as we felt our fatigue silently falling behind each breath of ours that is being taken away by the magnificent views.

pc: goasiatravel
Some other travelers were lucky to capture this scenery on a clearer day where the gentle sun rays painted these padi fields golden brown.

From Lao Cai, it was about 50KM to Sapa.

We have done over 300KM for the day and our energy level is running low while the skies started to slowly dim.

We knew we were near China-Vietnam border when we started seeing a heavier flow of traffic with trucks and trailers carrying goods, importing and exporting out of the country.


It was getting late but we had to stop by Lao Cai Railway Station to purchase our overnight train ticket back to Hanoi in advanced to secure a bunk bed space when we return in 3 days time. From what we know, Lao Cai Railway is the only one that allows the passenger and motorcycle to board the same train whereas for other railways in Vietnam, you probably have to take a separate carriage from your motorcycle because the cargo train runs on a different schedule.


By the time we started making our way through the last section of our journey from Lao Cai Railway Station to Sapa, it was pitch dark. Google maps showed that it was just 22KM away and estimated time of arrival was... almost 2 hours later! We were shocked...

Soon after, we realised why.

We were practically riding in complete darkness navigating our way through narrow, steep mountainous roads with lots of tight sharp corners that didn't come with any roadside reflectors.

Average speed? 18km/h.

To make matters worse, we were then accompanied with extremely heavy fog which further reduced visibility to zero. Our tinted visors had to be lifted up otherwise we couldn't see a thing with all the fog's vapour on it, which left our faces frozen because it was only 7°C right now.

It was so difficult to see, I literally almost rode into a mountain wall. We couldn't jam our brakes too as the roads were wet and by doing so it may cause us to skid.

At times, trailers from the opposite direction had their high beams on damn it was blinding. Plus they were going down quite fast, which was scary as you never know when they'll lose control and skid right into you.

Through our comm set, I was constantly talking to Mel and giving her as much heads up as I could on the next bend or road condition I encountered as I was going before her. She was depending on my rear tail light as a guidance too.

But at one point, the fog got so thick that she couldn't see me and was left in complete darkness on her own, as I was too. I could hear the anxiety in her voice and sensed she was starting to feel afraid when she couldn't see me at all, so I calmly told her not to worry, that I'm just a few metres up ahead.

I stopped by the road and waited until she caught up right behind me before we stuck really close to each other and arrived at Sapa town safely.

The roads in Sapa town was terrible because it was undergoing construction. Zillions on potholes filled with mud water everywhere.


By the time we checked into our hotel, I was beyond exhausted I felt light-headed. We literally rode before the sun came out until the sun went down. 15 hours out on the road... No joke.

Mel later revealed to me that when we were riding in the dark earlier on, for once she seriously feared for her life and was thinking how much insurance payout her parents were going to get should anything happen to her πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

Extremely thankful we both made it to Sapa safe and sound!!! We did it!

Rewarded ourselves with some warm bubble tea before hitting the sack.

Damn, what a ride it has been today.

[Singapore. Ho Chi Minh. Da Lat. Quy Nhon. Da Nang. Hanoi. Ha Giang. Lao Cai. Sapa]
[Mileage Clocked: 1,643KM]
[Terrain: Tarmac, Broken Roads, Muddy Off Road, Mountain Passes]
[Traffic: Moderate]
[Temperature/Weather: 7°C/Cold]

Next stop: Sapa Valley