Vietnam 2022 – Trip Report 17

Friday 23 September –

MÙ CANG CHẢI – Mộc Châu

Up around 7.30am, which is the good news.

The not so good news is that it’s taking a while for my muscles to overcome the issues associated with sleeping on another bed that consisted of one of those ‘concrete’ mattresses.

The other not so good news is that I’m still somewhat annoyed at the person I shared that particular mattress with last night.

Yes, I occasionally have trouble with letting things go….

Downstairs by 8.15am to meet Toan and Hung, then out onto the street and turn right, before ending up at my beer lady’s restaurant from last night.

We walk in and she immediately gives me a smile, which is promptly returned.  I love that, but I don’t bother telling Lisa of our ‘relationship’.

Phở is ordered, and then phở is thoroughly enjoyed.  I think I probably prefer it for breakfast more than a banh mi opla.  Well, at least some of the time.

First meal of the day done, a knowing farewell smile given, and we head back to the room to do the packing up thing.

That done, we’re quickly back downstairs to have that packed up stuff strapped onto the bikes, with the plan today being to get to Moc Chau.

While that’s happening, Toan tells me that we’ve just missed Mike.  They saw him walking off down the street, getting a slightly earlier start than we are.

Damn it!  It would have been nice to say goodbye, then have the opportunity to be annoyed at myself for the rest of the day for once again forgetting to take a selfie with him….

Onto the bikes just after 9.00am, and back out the way we came in.  Past the steep hill that caused some of yesterday’s annoyance, and then the all familiar road that we travelled yesterday.  It’s all very scenic, as well as interesting, including watching some locals go about the Instagramming and selfie thing, in a field of what looks like maybe buckwheat?, that seems to have been grown for that very purpose.

Build it and they will come…..

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We eventually reach the market with Toan’s ‘swish, swish’ pants, which brings a smile to my face, as I think back to yesterday’s little moment.

Not too far on, we veer off onto now unfamiliar roads, and the scenery starts to look a little different.

It’s still all very scenic, but it’s probably more just about typical Vietnamese countryside, along with the locals going about their day.  It’s also rather cool, and while it’s not cold, it does make me think that a long sleeve t-shirt might be a good idea while on the bikes.

I do actually have one, but it’s currently spending quality time with some of my other clothes, locked away in a bag in Hanoi.

Oh well…..

We stop a few times, for both leg stretching breaks, as well as some map checking, and it’s all pretty easy going.

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Using the breeze to remove the husks from the rice.

The scenery continues to change, including seeing some large fields of roses being grown, before reaching a hill overlooking a small-ish town, which happens to be known for its rose growing.

It kind of surprises me as I’d never really stopped to think of flower growing in Vietnam, which is both silly and embarrassing, when I think about the number of times over the years I’ve noticed flower vendors and wreath type sellers plying their trade.

Yep, embarrassing.

We stop on the side of the hill overlooking the town below us, partly for a break, but also partly to just take in the beauty of what’s in front of us.  It’s far from any type of ‘wow’ moment, but it is all very picturesque, and just quintessential Vietnamese countryside.

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Legs rested, daily life watched, we head on down into, and through the town.  As usual, the locals are all really friendly, and we receive lots of smiles and acknowledgements.

Out through the town, and there are more flower fields to be seen, along with a few of those waterwheels in a river, that we’d first seen way back in 2016, when in Pu Luong Nature Reserve.

We continue on and soon reach another, this time much smaller, town.  The section of road through the town is in the process of being remade, but judging by the state of the bits that are yet to be done, it looks like it’s been much needed for a number of years.

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The road begins to deteriorate….

But my mind is somewhat taken off the standard of the road, as school is out.  There are kids everywhere, either walking or riding, and they all look exactly the same whenever we see them arriving at, or leaving from, school.  First off, their uniforms always look so clean and well looked after, and second, they also look so happy.

Kids just being as kids should be, I guess.

But it’s their reaction when they see us ride past, that really gets my attention.  The looks on a lot of their faces is one of genuine surprise, and for the next few minutes we get so many ‘Hellos’, waves, or merely just a smile, as we make our way through their town.

We pass a couple of girls riding together, and while neither was game enough to practise their English with a ‘Hello’, one did manage a wave.  I responded with ‘Hello’, and as we left them behind, I could hear both of them giggling with each other.

We’ve had similar reactions before over the journey, but it was the level of these kid’s interest, and surprise, at seeing us, which just blew me away.  Yes, it’s only a small thing, but it was so much fun interacting, albeit briefly, with all of them.

I don’t know, it just means a lot to me for some reason.

On we go, up mountains, and down mountains, the occasional waterfall off in the distance, and it ranges from cool to really quite warm.

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Every day life.

We find ourselves on a road overlooking a very large dam, which apparently is a hydroelectric dam, but it’s not until we reach the wall of it, that the true size of the set up is revealed.

The opportunity to stretch our legs is taken, while also attempting to get a grasp on the sheer scale of what it is we’re looking at.  Photos are attempted, but again, and as usual, it doesn’t really work.

Legs stretched, camera put away, we’re soon on our way again.

Across to the other side of the wall, around a corner, and now making our way up a hill, I see something off to the side of the road on the right.

It’s a rather large snake, slithering off the road and into long grass, to get out of the way of us.  It caught me a little by surprise, as the only other snake I’ve ever seen in Vietnam, apart from ones imprisoned and awaiting a hot BBQ, was a very, very small one making its way amongst rocks up around Ha Giang, back in 2017.  While it was very small, it still managed to get my attention, which resulted in my ‘comfort stop’ at the time, coming to a rather abrupt end.

Snake, and us, safely apart, we continue on.

We reach another small town, and not for the first time today, the road is in the process of being re-laid.  Parts have been done, which has resulted in lovely smooth concrete to ride on, while the parts awaiting that smooth concrete, probably couldn’t even be described as being as good as a goat track.

It is bumpy, it is uncomfortable, and it is extremely slow going.

There is, however, a river running beside us on the left, and while I don’t normally get too excited about rivers, this one, perhaps because of its shallowness, along with its rocky and pebble-y appearance, is probably the most scenic looking river I’ve ever seen in Vietnam.

It sort of helped take my mind off our ‘road’.  Sort of….

A proper road eventually returns, and a bit after 12.30pm we reach another town.  Time for lunch.

Small local restaurant is found, and like this morning, it’s once again phở.  But this time with spring rolls, which kind of made it a bit like bún chả.  But not really.

Anyway, the phở was good, while the spring rolls were really, really good.

While we were having lunch, I noticed a couple of young kids out the front.  I didn’t think too much about it at the time, until they returned with a couple of their friends after disappearing for minute.

The penny finally dropped when I realised that we were the main attraction, and once again, I loved that we were of such interest.

Lunch complete, but not really, as they had given us far too much, Toan gave us a bit of insight into the Black Thai people of the area.  It’s always interesting learning about the different cultures of the minority groups, but unfortunately, me being me, most of it often doesn’t stick.

But on this occasion, there was one little bit that did, and that was that Black Thai women, once they marry, always wear their hair in a bun.

I spent the next few minutes taking note of any Black Thai woman who walked into the restaurant, but perhaps taking more notice of the ones who didn’t have their hair in a bun.

Well, I did, until Lisa worked out what I was doing….

Lunch, rest, and observations done, we were soon back on the bikes and headed in the general direction of Moc Chau.

Well, we were, but just until we reached the next corner.

Toan stops to ask a local for directions, and while I obviously can’t understand what is being said, I know that Toan is not convinced we’re being pointed in the right direction.  We move on around the corner, another local found, and yep, we’re on the right road.

Off we go, and like with most of today, the scenery is good.  But at the same time, there really isn’t anything of any great note.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from disappointing, and could never be described as boring.

Past the usual fields of whatever is being grown, as well as regular sightings of stilt houses, and the locals who live in them.  And then of course, there were the animals.  Of which, I reckon today we’ve seen almost every variety that Vietnam has to offer.

Cows, water buffalo, ducks, geese, chickens, dogs, horses, goats, and today I was even able to throw in the snake from earlier.

The ride continues, stopping occasionally for the usual leg and bum break, but it’s starting to get difficult.

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Mainly due to the heat, with it now being significantly hotter than this morning, but also because it feels like we’re still a long way from our destination.  And with the scenery being good, but not brilliant, there’s not a lot to take your mind off things.

My other problem, of course, is the Intrepid one, somewhere behind me.  If I’m feeling this way, then she’ll be worse, and seeing as we’re now slightly more ‘happily married’, than we were this morning, I kind of care a little more than I’d ideally like to, at the moment.

The road continues; at least it’s actually in good condition; as does the heat, until we finally reach another small town.  Toan pulls up to ask directions, as Hung and Lisa reappear from behind.  We happen to be in front of a reasonable sized family owned ‘convenience’ store, and when I notice they sell drinks, it reminds me how hot and thirsty I am.

While Toan gets directions from one of the family members, I make my way towards their fridge.  Two Cokes, for Lisa and I, and two Red Bulls for Toan and Hung, which is probably good, seeing as they’re the ones that need to be the most alert.

Total comes to 45 000 Dong, which, for the life of me, I cannot work out the possible unit price.

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The road outside the ‘convenience’ store. A sign of things to come?

Coke demolished, and we’re soon back on the bikes.  Apparently we have two options to get to Moc Chau; turn left, or turn right.

Distance wise, there’s no difference, but by going left, the road is supposed to be in better condition.

After last night, left bothers me slightly, but I’m prepared to go with the local knowledge.

So, left we go, and then off to the right, stopping briefly to confirm with another local that we’re on the correct road.

We are, and once again, we’re on the move.

But it’s not long before the ‘nice’ road of the town we just left, begins to change.

It’s now dirt.  It’s, mostly, dry, which is not surprising in this heat, and it’s dusty.  It has potholes the size of a small car, as well as flooded muddy potholes the size of two small cars.

It is truly awful to the extent that it’s funny, and I just can’t imagine what the ‘non better’ road must be like.

Eventually, and finally, the road begins to improve, and I start noticing signs stating that we’re around 240 kms from Hanoi.  But there’s no mention of Moc Chau.

We drive on.  And on.  And while it’s now at least a little cooler, it’s really starting to drag.

The road starts to get busier with traffic, which in some ways is good, as it feels like we’re getting close.

But there’s a down side to the increase in traffic, and again, it’s the quality of some of the driving.

Like the driver of the shiny new Chevrolet Colorado, who decided, in what could not have been a more inopportune time, to overtake a couple of cars and bikes in front of him.

Whether that was due to impatience, ineptitude, arrogance, or just plain stupidity, I don’t know, but I am prepared to make an assumption.

Congratulations though, you made it.  But only because of the fact that the guy driving the bus coming the other way, is a far more considerate driver than you’ll likely ever be.

But then there was the driver of the local bus, who overtook on not one, but two blind corners.  Again, you and your passengers remained unscathed, due only to the fact that there are others who have far more regard to their fellow human beings than you ever will.

That was just two, and there were several more, and again, it’s why I often recommend to limit long distance road travel in Vietnam.

But if you do need to spend considerable time on the road, then do it with someone who is both trustworthy and competent.  Which, not surprisingly, is exactly what Toan and Hung are.

We pull over around 4.30pm for a rest and leg stretch, still not knowing, nor being sure I want to know, how much further we have to go, but I decide to chance it by looking at Google maps.

It says 20 kms, which is far better than it could have been, and Toan confirms we don’t have much further to go.

While standing on the side of the road, a young boy walks out from his house towards the road, and as he does, he glances over in our direction.

The nondescript look he had on face is quickly replaced with one of shock, and he seriously looked like he’d just seen a ghost.

It was funny, and he immediately raced back into his house yelling out to his family, no doubt telling them all about the strange westerners out the front.

Back on the bikes, and the final push begins.  It’s cooled down significantly, but still not cold, and with it now being quite overcast, as well as it being not too far off 5.00pm, it’s also getting a little dark.

Finally, thirty minutes after scaring our kid, we reach the town of Moc Chau.  Apart from knowing, or believing, that Moc Chau wasn’t all that far from Mai Chau, I had no idea what to expect of the place.

First impressions are that it’s far bigger than I thought it would be, as it seems to take a long time to drive a fair length of the main road through the town.

As we do, and so as to not waste time looking like I did yesterday, I keep an eye out for a local beer place, in the hope that I’ll see one, and then we’ll actually end up staying nearby.

I do end up seeing a couple, but we drive on, thus rendering them unrequired.

A bit before 5.30pm, we eventually pull over near what looks to be a family run, but not overly small, hotel, and Toan and Hung head in to check it out.  We wait out the front, and while it looks alright to me from the outside, I can’t see any beer places nearby.  I’ll worry about that later….

Toan and Hung soon return, and yep, this is where we’re staying.

Bags unstrapped, and we head upstairs to our home for the next few hours.  It’s another ‘firm’ mattress, and not for the first time, the room lacks one of those cold cupboard type things that keeps beer cold.

That’s alright, there are ways around that little conundrum.

Bags sorted, I’m on a mission, so I head back downstairs to try and complete it.  I need a beer, and I need a beer badly.

It’s been a good day, but it’s also been a long day, and I just need to sit and relax and think about very little.

I bump into Toan downstairs who is talking with the owner, so rather than heading outside and taking my chances by picking a direction, I ask him if he can find out from the owner of any local place nearby.

Apparently there is a bia hoi place just a few doors up, which is absolute music to my ears, and Toan also seems excited about that, as he decides to join me.

We head out, turn left, and begin what should be a fairly short walk.  We reach a restaurant, with a guy out the front cooking a delicious looking whole pig on a spit, and there’s still no sign of any bia hoi.

Toan goes back to the guy with the pig, and asks him if he knows anything about what we seek.  As expected, he does, but it seems it no longer exists.  The ‘now’ construction site, next door to the restaurant, was the bia hoi place, but with the building now being rebuilt, there is no bia hoi.

After being so excited about the day finishing on a much more positive note, I’m shattered, and I can’t help but wonder what the next disappointment will be.

But all is not completely lost, as the pig guy tells Toan that we can have a few beers in the restaurant.

Happy days!

We quickly head in and do exactly that, and it was nice to be able to just sit and chat for a while. A couple of beers had, and while Toan returns to the hotel to get ready for dinner, I’m not quite done, so have a couple more while also letting a few back home know that we’re still alive.

Eventually the time comes, but not before using Google translate to organise a couple more (20 000 Dong each), seeing as there’ll likely be a request from someone, as soon as I get back to the room.

Back to the hotel, and yep, it was a good decision to get an extra one.

Shower had, and it’s back downstairs to meet Toan and Hung.  It’s actually now raining, but fortunately not heavy enough for Toan’s ‘swishing’ pants, and we head back up to our beer restaurant.

We end up having hot pot, and while the beef was a little tough, the rest of it was pretty good.  But as is always the case, it was more about where we were, and who we were with.

Dinner done, I need to do something about some take away beers, as well as a soft drink, and also solve my lack of a fridge issue.

I leave it to Toan, and as usual, he doesn’t disappoint, and I quickly find myself holding a traditional Vietnamese esky of a plastic bag full of both beer and ice.

Back outside, the rain no longer a concern, we make the short walk ‘home’, before setting up my ‘esky’ in the bathroom sink.

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Where there’s a will….

The usual Trip Advisoring, and a few notes, on our once again, ‘firm’ bed, as well as some thinking about what we’d seen and done today.

I said before that it was a long day, and it was.  There were times that it really dragged, and there were times when it also got really difficult.

The morning was easily the highlight, with it probably having the best of the scenery.  But it was more than just the scenery, with the interactions with some of the locals, mainly the kids, being the most enjoyable.

Whereas the afternoon was more or less a travelling day, and as such, it felt like an exercise in merely getting from point A to point B.

This was by no means a criticism of Toan; I completely get that that’s what’s required at different times; and I am well aware it can’t be Disneyland every day.  I think part of my problem was, and just like my trip in 2017, I’d left the entire planning of it all with Toan, and as such, I didn’t really do any research on what to expect.

There are two reasons for that, with one being that I didn’t need to do any research, seeing as Toan was looking after all the organising.

The second reason however, and this is the main one, is that I tend to not do too much research on what it is that I’ll likely find in a place, and what’s involved.  It’s not due to laziness, but more that I want to be surprised at what I see, when I see it for the first time, rather than having preconceived ideas after looking at photos, and or watching You Tube videos.

But yeah, the downside to that is not knowing, or understanding, what a day might entail, and as such, sometimes not realising that a day like today was, essentially, going to be little more than a ‘travelling’ day.

So yep, I think I need to find a happy medium in future, in how much ‘research’ I do, just so I can be a little more prepared.

Next stop Mai Chau, which will be our final night before returning to Hanoi.  And having seen it in 2014, I’m really looking forward to seeing it again.

Oh, and with no ‘incidents’ today, along with my ability to eventually let things go, the Intrepid one and I are again back to playing happy families.

Cheers,

Scott

4 thoughts on “Vietnam 2022 – Trip Report 17

  1. love your determination for the cold knock-offs each day…I completely understand. That ‘make do cold cupboard thingy’ reminds me of the days I travelled across country SA, staying in the local pubs. Their hand basin also doubled as an esky in the less flashy locations :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, to me it’s just a great way, and pretty much the only way, to finish a day. Gives you a chance to stop and think. And yeah, there’s always ways around certain issues. :-)

      Like

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