Scenic tea plantations at Tan Uyen

North West of Vietnam by Motorcycle: Lai Chau

It is 1:30 P.M now and I have just crossed the bridge over the Da River (Black River) between Dien Bien Province and Lai Chau Province. It was a great time visiting the former battlefields in Dien Bien.  I look forward to a great adventure in Lai Chau which is known for sublime mountains and idyllic hill tribe villages.

 

Nam Na River
The Nam Na River at Sin Ho, Lai Chau

 

Following Route 12 running along the scenic Nam Na River, I travel northward heading to Lai Chau City. Sunlight is bright and the air seems drier. The road is very quiet at this time of the day. After half an hour, it comes to a road intersection with a branch going to the center of Sin Ho District which is a nice plateau with cool climate. Having had a plan to visit Sin Ho on another trip as there are quite a few things to do there, I keep on riding further on Route 12. It is just lovely to travel on the riverside with wild mountains all around. 

 

A scenic riverside road at Sin Ho
A scenic riverside road at Sin Ho

 

 At half way between Muong Lay and Lai Chau City, there is a road block. Workers are bringing down a mountain to expand the road. It takes me nearly an hour waiting for them to clear a path to continue my journey to Lai Chau City. It is late and I can't visit many villages on the way as I wish. It is a pity but things like this happens sometimes on my journeys in the mountains. I'll always be back on another trip anyway.

 

A road block at Sin Ho
A road block at Sin Ho

 

 

Mountains at Lai Chau City
Mountains at Lai Chau City

 

It is late in the afternoon now and I'm descending the incline leading into Lai Chau City. The newly built city is in a nice valley with scenic mountains all around. It is dry and cool here. The air is very fresh. I don't want to make it straight to the hotel, so I turn into a small road to a nearby village. It is so beautiful and quiet here. There are mountains and pastures around a Hmong community. Villagers must be at home by now that I don't see many around. There is a nice small road running around the village and all the way to the mountains. It'd be lovely to have more time and go mountain biking on this road then. 

 

 Gia Khau Hmong Village at Lai Chau
Gia Khau Hmong Village at Lai Chau

 

 

A scenic village road at Lai Chau
A scenic village road at Lai Chau

It is getting dark quickly, I get on my motorbike and ride back to the city. The roads are good here and the traffic is quiet. I don't want to go out again, so it is better to have a light dinner first and then go to the hotel. The day was longer than I expected and I only want an easy and early night tonight...

Lai Chau City at dusk
Lai Chau City at dusk

Awaken to a nice morning with bright sunshine, I have some relaxing time charmed by the green tea hills around the hotel. The air is dry and fresh, the sky is blue. Feeling a bit hungry, I proceed to the restaurant for breakfast. There is a nice garden next to it and a low hill to the back. The hotel has a really nice landscape designing. There are not many guests at the restaurant and the food is simple. I make it a quick breakfast and ready to check out.

 

The hotel restaurant with nice gardenThe hotel restaurant with nice garden

The sun is very bright when I leave the hotel. I have a ride around different streets before leaving the city. The streets are quiet here given it is a weekday. It has been planned to be a big city, but there are not many residents here yet.

Government buildings at Lai ChauGovernment buildings at Lai Chau

The road out of the city to Tam Duong District goes up most of the time. There are quite a few high mountains on the way. This area is part of the Hoang Lien Mountain Range which stretches from Lai Chau to Phu Tho Province. The summit of the range is Fansipan near Sapa Town. It is foggy at some areas here and the temperatures are much lower that I have to put on more warm clothes.

Rice fields at Tam Duong, Lai ChauRice fields at Tam Duong, Lai Chau

After half an hour ride, I arrive at Tam Duong Town, another big valley with rice terraces. It is too early for lunch, so I keep on riding onto Tan Uyen. The altitude here is lower that the air is less cool and it is less hazy. Near Tan Uyen Town, there are a few ethnic villages. I visit a Khmu Village by the road side. People live in houses on stilts and the main road through the village is paved. The villagers don't have a prosperous life here, but all looks very well organized. Most people are at home for lunch break now that I can see smoke coming from the houses.

A Khmu village near Tan Uyen TownA Khmu village near Tan Uyen Town

Around Tan Uyen, there are quite a few small tea plantations. They look so scenic that I ride amid them for a while then continue my adventure further. The weather is perfect that it is over mid day and I  am just feeling great still after the long drive.

Tea plantations at Tan Uyen
Tea plantations at Tan Uyen

Then comes Than Uyen, the fourth biggest valley in the North West of Vietnam. The town here is much bigger and busier than Tan Uyen. It is early in the afternoon and it is good time to have lunch now. I pull in a restaurant at the town center which has quite a few guests. The food is not good that I can only eat the chicken and leave the other dishes untouched. On my last trip to this town I could get much better food. Never mind, I just make it quick and leave the town. I want to get to Mu Cang Chai as early as I can.

Road to Than Uyen Town
Road to Than Uyen Town

The rice terraces out of Than Uyen are so beautiful that I'm absorbed in taking photos forgetting about the bad lunch. The village in the background is very scenic too. Then there is a Thai woman in a graceful costume and conical hat coming into view. It should have been great photos if I had brought along my long-range zoom lens as all look quite far away. The photos look good enough anyway.

Rice terraces at Than Uyen
Rice terraces at Than Uyen

The green terraces do make me feel really relaxed that for a moment I forget about the time. I keep riding on leaving the valley behind and coming into an area with vertical mountains all around. I know it is the end of Lai Chau and I'm in the land of Yen Bai now. My time in Lai Chau was short and I still have 2 more trips back to this area: one to Sin Ho Plateau and another for a mountain peak near Lai Chau City. For now, my motorbike adventure continues onto Yen Bai Province and the coming destination is Mu Cang Chai...

Scenic rice fields at Than UyenScenic rice fields at Than Uyen