Scenic landscape before the homestay

Motorbike Tour to Hoang Su Phi (Ha Giang)

It was the my last morning at Mu Cang Chai. I had got a wonderful adventure amid the mesmerizing rice terraces of this land. Today my motorbike adventure would continue on a road that I had not been to, though I had traveled to all destinations in the far-north of Vietnam several times.

My plan was to travel from Mu Cang Chai to Hoang Su Phi for climbing Mount Chieu Lau Thi, the second highest mountain in Ha Giang Province. The part of the journey that had been unknown to me was Route 279 from Than Uyen (Lai Chau Province) to Hoang Su Phi and the provincial Route 178 from Yen Binh Town (Quang Binh District, Ha Giang) to Mount Chieu Lau Thi (Ho Thau Commune, Hoang Su Phi, Ha Giang). Then, I would probably have a few days trekking to visit different ethnic villages amid rice terraces of Hoang Su Phi.

Rice terraces at Mu Cang Chai in bright sunshine
Rice terraces at Mu Cang Chai in bright sunshine

I had been extremely lucky with the weather at Mu Cang Chai on this trip, only a bit of rain on the first day. And today was going to be a wonderful day too, dry and pleasant. I had got deep sleep last night and had got over an hour for breakfast and for enjoying the wonderful mountainscape by my hot tea! Sunlight lit up the rice terraces making it so appealing that made me a bit hesitant to leave this dear place! No, I had better go; it was going to be a very long way that I had no ideas about the road conditions. That was 08:21 o'clock of a beautiful autumn day at Mu Cang Chai, my motorbike and I were back on the road amid the unreal golden rice terraces…

Rice terraces near Mu Cang Chai Township
Rice terraces near Mu Cang Chai Township

I tried not to stop for photography, but was forced to by the unbelievable landscape. It was so beautiful in the morning sunlight… I had been lost for some very long time until it got warm and I realized that I had quite a long way ahead. That had been lovely anyway, and I might or might not make it to the mountain tonight.

The road was a good one and there was only sound of the winds blowing against me. It was quiet when I left the township of Mu Cang Chai behind. There were more forests on both sides of the road which snaked its way through narrow mountain gorges which went on and on... The forested mountains receded at Than Uyen when I turned into the third biggest valley in the North West of Vietnam, Muong Than. The rice was ready for being collected, there were water buffaloes grazing and storks playing. I only made a few quick stops for photography and rode on.

Rice fields at Muong Than Valley, Than Uyen, Lai Chau
Rice fields at Muong Than Valley, Than Uyen, Lai Chau

The road passed the town of Than Uyen and there was a turn into Route 279. It is so excited to ride on an unknown road. The gradient went up and I got some sweeping view of a part of Than Uyen. There were some places that it was very bad road and dusty air due to trucks carrying ores. I made one stop for lunch somewhere in Van Ban (Lao Cai) then kept on.

It was 3:30 P.M when I arrived at Nghia Do (Bao Yen, Lao Cai). Some locals told me that there was a way to the mountain that I was trying to reach. I couldn't look it up on my smart phone due to no internet available in the area. No problem, I'd try this route then. The road went up abruptly and I soon found myself climbing endless gradients one after another… The scenery was unbelievably beautiful and wild, there were only the mountains and me most of the time; I encountered only a couple of local people on the way. They were not sure of where I was going….

Golden rice terraces at Nghia Do, Bao Yen, Lao Cai
Golden rice terraces at Nghia Do, Bao Yen, Lao Cai

It was nearly 05:00 P.M when there was a little community, it looked like there would be a township here soon. They had been making new roads and there had been heavy rains here that some paths were flooded. And suddenly my rear tire went flat. Someone by the roadside showed me the direction to a repair shop. It was quite a job pushing the motorbike through the muddy and flooded path to the repair shop. And it was a tough job for the man at the repair shop to replace it in sticky mud. It took half an hour or something that my motorbike was ready again. The gentleman told me that it was Ban Lien Commune of Bac Ha District and if I wanted to get to Bac Ha Town then it was 30km away. He had no ideas as to the mountain that I was trying to get to.

I realized that I had turned into a wrong way and I had to come back to Route 279. It was possible to travel to Bac Ha, then Xin Man and Hoang Su Phi but that was not my plan; I had been there too many times already. I decided to go back. It was dark when I reached Nghia Do and Route 279 again. It was dark and the road was very bad that I arrived at Yen Binh Town (Quang Binh District, Ha Giang) at 07:30 P.M in pitch-darkness.

The hot chicken soup helped me to recover quickly and I got a clean room at a hotel near the restaurant right in the town's center. After a hot shower, I had some relaxing time watching television while it rained heavily outside. It turned out later that I had the best sleep that night more than ever that I could remember in my life!

The morning came with a relaxing pace and I got time for a hot tea in the room. Looking out of the window it was cloudy and moist, but it wasn't raining. I had had a long day yesterday and I couldn't make it to the Chieu Lau Thi Mountain as planned. I had gotten lost and discovered a hidden beauty of Bao Yen and Bac Ha Districts (Lao Cai Province). The day had been a wonderful experience looking back now…

Rice fields at Quang Binh, Ha Giang
Rice fields at Quang Binh, Ha Giang

Leaving the hotel at 07:30 A.M I got time for breakfast and left Yen Binh at 0800 A.M. It was cloudy and hazy still. I checked with some local people and found that Route 178 and another route via Tien Nguyen Commune (Hoang Su Phi District) were both in extremely bad conditions. But there was a small but fairly good road via Xuan Minh Commune (Hoang Su Phi) which should save me quite a distance compared to the route via Viet Quang Town.

Mountains at Xuan Minh, Quang Binh, Ha Giang
Mountains at Xuan Minh, Quang Binh, Ha Giang

Route 279 from Yen Binh Town was in bad conditions but once I turned into the small route heading northward to Hoang Su Phi District then it was fairly good. The altitude went up suddenly and I could feel my ears popping. There were patches or rice terraces amid a vast forested area. It turned more foggy and came a rain. The road was meandering with quite a few blind curves, but it was without traffic. I saw only some locals working by the roadsides.

A scenic village road at Thong Nguyen, Hoang Su Phi, Ha Giang
A scenic village road at Thong Nguyen, Hoang Su Phi, Ha Giang

It stopped raining when I was about near Thong Nguyen and things looked quite familiar to me as I had been here many times. That was about 11:00 A.M. The road was very quiet and I had a pleasant time soaking in fresh air and tranquility. At first it was flat road, then there were gradients going up and up. The sun was coming back and the air was soon warm. I felt really hungry and there were no restaurants nearby.

Rice fields at Nam Ty, Hoang Su Phi
Rice fields at Nam Ty, Hoang Su Phi

When I was near Ban Peo there was a fruit stall by the roadside and the lady had Com Lam (steamed rice cooked in a bamboo pipe). I ordered tangerines and a pipe of Com Lam and had a simple lunch with superb views of the wild nature around.

A peaceful road amid fresh mountainscape at Ban Peo, Hoang Su Phi
A peaceful road amid fresh mountainscape at Ban Peo, Hoang Su Phi

After lunch I followed the excellent road to Nam Dich, then took the high road with stunning views of valleys and mountains leading to Ban Luoc. There were quite a few landslides on the way that at some points the road was almost hollow underneath the concrete surface which was waiting to be gone into the ravine. The scenes were quite wild, stunning and scary…

Sublime nature at Ban Luoc, Hoang Su Phi
Sublime nature at Ban Luoc, Hoang Su Phi

The landscapes at Ban Luoc were captivating and I spent quite a while getting lost in the wonderful sublime nature. When I got to the base of Mount Chieu Lau Thi it was 15:35 and it was blue sky with pleasant temperatures. The distance from the mountain base to the hut near the summit is 9km and I was happy as things were so far so good. But I soon found out that I was too optimistic...

Trail to Mount Chieu Lau Thi, Ho Thau, Hoang Su Phi
Trail to Mount Chieu Lau Thi, Ho Thau, Hoang Su Phi

 

Bad trail at Mount Chieu Lau Thi
Bad trail at Mount Chieu Lau Thi

The road which went up all the way was extremely bad, and it turned from bad to worse to horrendous. At a point, a part of the mountainside was gone and at another point the road itself was about to be gone into the ravine. The Com Lam I had for lunch did help me a lot in pushing and pulling my motorbike through sandy, muddy and slippery mounds of earth blocking the path.

Landslide on the trail to the summit of Chieu Lau Thi
Landslide on the trail to the summit of Chieu Lau Thi

 

 

Scenery at twilight at Mount Chieu Lau Thi
Scenery at twilight at Mount Chieu Lau Thi

It was about 4:30 P.M when I was 7km from the mountain base meaning I'd have 2km to reach the campsite when there were quite a few huge boulders blocking the path. It might have been due to some heavy rains and landslides. I thought I wouldn't be able to make it further. The choices were that either I could leave my motorbike there and hike up to the campsite or I could just travel down and give up my plan. I took the latter choice and descended the mountain and got down to the mountain base a bit after 5:20 P.M. There was a homestay of a Nung ethnic family nearby which was just wonderful given that it was getting dark soon.

Nature around Chieu Lau Thi
Nature around Chieu Lau Thi

The hostess of the homestay greeted me when I came. She made tea for me and told me about her family and how they started providing the service. The husband came back home from work some 15 minutes later. We had a chat while the wife left for the kitchen. The man then showed me about his house and took me to my bed upstairs. He urged me to have a shower then be ready for dinner. It was only a short conversation with the hosts but it helped me a lot in understanding local life and local tourism. I was so glad about the decision to go down the mountain.

The cozy bed
The cozy bed

 

 

Bathroom's window open onto a nice valley
Bathroom's window open onto a nice valley

 

The great valley in front of the homestay
The great valley in front of the homestay

Dinner came much quicker than I had thought. The lady was surely a great cook. She said they had not expected guests tonight and had only pork and water buffalo meat. I told her that was perfect for me and showed my appreciation for her wonderful cooking. We had a nice conversation and quite a few drinks of local spirit. Their father had dinner at a party in the neighborhood and the mother was a good drinker. She kept raising a toast and another. I had to apologize that I couldn't drink more. The husband would have to get up early for work at a local government office and I told them I wanted to go bed early too. It rained heavily during the night, but I had wonderful sleep anyway.

The facade of the house
The facade of the house

I felt quite embarrassed getting up late in the morning when everyone had been around the breakfast table already. I had a quick meal with the hosts and went about their house for some photos. In daylight I could see the house better. It was a huge wooden house on stilts overlooking a scenic valley. I thought I'd be lovely to stay here a couple of days trekking in the area. But I'd have to come back on another trip then...

Sublime nature at Ho Thau, Hoang Su Phi
Sublime nature at Ho Thau, Hoang Su Phi

My plan for the day was to leave for Ban Phung Village where there were wide views of golden rice terraces on high altitudes. After bidding farewell to the hosts I found out that the inner tube of the rear tyre was flat again. The host told me that there was a repair shop just on the road, 100m away. It took me another hour to get it fixed again and departed at 09:00 A.M.

Rice terraces at Ho Thau
Rice terraces at Ho Thau

It had rained hard when I was at the repair shop but stopped when I was on the road again. The sun came out some time later, but the morning was mostly cloudy. The road was fairly good and the landscape was beautiful and golden rice terraces on the mountainsides. My journey was relaxing. After a late lunch at Vinh Quang Town, my adventure continued on a high-altitude road heading to Ban Phung. Some parts of the road were blocked by dirt from recent landslides but it was still passable anyway.

Roadblock to Ban Phung Village
Roadblock to Ban Phung Village

It was 1:45 P.M when I rode into a small road leading to Ban Phung when there was a road block ahead. I came over and found there was another block nearby. A ranger kept waving his hand to signal me to go away but I didn't understand. He then came over and told me that more trees might be falling down soon! Wow, that was not nice. I thanked him and said I'd come back some day. I had had a backup plan already.

Road to Ban Phung
Road to Ban Phung

It was bright sunshine when I turned around and it was quite warm when I reached Vinh Quang Town again. The whole afternoon was a very pleasant experience. The golden rice terraces were dazzling in bright sunlight and I got heaps of beautiful photos. I was so taken by the captivating landscape that it was nearly 6:00 P.M when I arrived at a homestay at Thong Nguyen. The homestay here had wonderful views of a plunging valley in the front and again I was the only guest.

Magnificent mountainsides at Nam Ty, Hoang Su Phi
Magnificent mountainsides at Nam Ty, Hoang Su Phi

In the evening everyone was back home. The hosts were a couple living with their parents and their two daughters. We had a simple meal for dinner that I guessed the family should have everyday because they had not been informed of my arrival. It was a lovely experience anyway. I got quite a few drinks and a lovely conversation with the hosts and the two little girls. After dinner, the family had an early night and I had a nice stroll in the front yard of the family. Another beautiful moonlit night amid imposing mountains…

Mountains at Thong Nguyen, Hoang Su Phi
Mountains at Thong Nguyen, Hoang Su Phi

 

 

Full moon night at Thong Nguyen
Full moon night at Thong Nguyen

Awakened at 06:30 A.M I opened the window and found it was foggy. It was another night on this trip that I had had wonderful deep sleep. Here it was so peaceful, the hosts lived in another house in the back. I got up and wandered about the house for some photos. The fog lifted quickly and sunlight was soon glaring through the clouds. The little girls had left for school and the family was about to go to work. They had a big bowl of noodle soup for me which I finished quickly. I wasn't in a hurry today, just a relaxing day before heading home. I told my hosts that I'd hike around leisurely to explore the community and the mountain and wasn't sure if I would be back in time for lunch. I just didn't want to be a nuisance for them to prepare food and wait.

Foggy morning at Thong Nguyen
Foggy morning at Thong Nguyen

 

 

Amazing scenery in front of the homestay at Thong Nguyen, Hoang Su Phi
Amazing scenery in front of the homestay at Thong Nguyen, Hoang Su Phi

The sun came out and disappeared quickly leaving the sky to dark clouds. The whole area was soon wrapped in thick fog again and a rain came. I had been strolling mindlessly through the village into the forest. I had my raincoat with me and had no intention to come back to the house. It rained heavily for an hour or so and stopped and the sun came back with searing heat.

A trail from the village to the forest
A trail from the village to the forest

 

 

Villagers are putting up the roof of a new house
Villagers are putting up the roof of a new house

 

 

The village in the rain
The village in the rain

It was over mid day and I thought that had been lovely enough. I took the lower trail to hike back to the village thinking that I might want to pass the market to get some food. But after further hiking in the blistering heat I thought that shouldn't be a good idea, as I would have to climb the steep gradients back to the homestay. So a took a deserted trail through a small wood and arrived back a bit after 2:00 P.M.

Captivating landscape in bright sunshine
Captivating landscape in bright sunshine

Nobody was in the family living area and I got a beer from the fridge and got back to the house for guests. The young hostess was preparing blankets as there were more guests coming tonight. We had a lovely talk of local life and community-based tourism in the village. It was bright sunshine still but the air turned much more pleasant.

Finishing the beer I had a lovely shower and had time to look at my photos. The other guests were arriving one by one; they had to come here by motorbike. They were of a big group of reporters and journalists coming here to promote local tourism. The house was soon noisy but I understood their work and didn't feel annoyed at all. The house was quiet again when they all left for dinner at another house. I had an early night after dinner but couldn't sleep much…

Awakened early in the morning but I tried to get some sleep back. The big group worked late at night and got up early in the morning too. They were really hard working people. I waited until they had all departed and the house was quiet again, then got up and had breakfast. It was a lovely and sunny morning today. And I had a long way back home.

Bright sunshine in the front of the homestay
Bright sunshine in the front of the homestay

Bidding farewell to the hosts at 07:40 A.M, I followed the familiar route and rode leisurely back to Hanoi. It was lovely weather at first and started bucketing down at Tuyen Quang. The rain stopped when I was near Tam Dao Mountain Range and it turned lovely when I was on the new highway heading straight to Hanoi. Arriving back home at 16:40, I had wonderful time again by my hot coffee reviewing the photos of my great adventure to the far-north of Vietnam...

Fresh mountainscape at Thong Nguyen, Hoang Su Phi
Fresh mountainscape at Thong Nguyen, Hoang Su Phi