Garlic and onion fields at Yen Chau, Son La

Motorbike Tour to Moc Chau – Bac Yen – Phu Yen (Son La)

It had been extremely cold lately and I had a few days off from work. It was about Vietnamese Tet in over a week's time and my schedule would be hectic busy after. Well, it was just good time to head out to get some fresh air then. The forests in Vietnam's north-western mountains were full of blossoms and the land is always my favorite destination…

The Vinh Tuy Bridge at HanoiThe Vinh Tuy Bridge at Hanoi 

I left the city on a gloomy, windy and unusually cold day. Some people were carrying kumquat trees for the lunar new year celebration; others were hurrying to work on the bridge leading to Hanoi's center. Route 6 was not that busy as usual and it was very windy and cold all the way. I stopped for lunch at a riverside restaurant near Hoa Binh City; it was hazy across the Da River.

Route 6 at Luong Son, Hoa Binh
Route 6 at Luong Son, Hoa Binh

I made lunch quick and continued on the too familiar road which winds its way up and down along the mountainside. It was much colder after the Thung Khe Pass at Mai Chau due to higher altitude. I did not bother to stop for photos as I had traveled past this area several times already.

The Da River at Ben Ngoc, Hoa Binh
The Da River at Ben Ngoc, Hoa Binh

The traffic was quiet and I managed to get into the Plateau of Moc Chau early in the afternoon. The temperatures seemed to drop close to freezing that my legs became numb and the toes and fingers felt hurt. The air was absolutely fresh and the landscape was beautiful with ethnic houses amid peach and plum gardens in full bloom.

Route 6 at Van Ho, entrance to the Moc Chau Plateau
Route 6 at Van Ho, entrance to the Moc Chau Plateau

 

 

A man carrying a peach branch to the market
A man carrying a peach branch to the market

 

 

People carrying peach branches to the market for Tet celebration
People carrying peach branches to the market for Tet celebration

 

 

Hmong houses amid peach and plum gardens
Hmong houses amid peach and plum gardens

I made it to Moc Chau Farm in the heart of Moc Chau Plateau in mid afternoon. The whole area had been turned into producing organic vegetables and food for the cows. There had been big investments in developing high-tech agriculture and eco-tourism in the Moc Chau Plateau recently. The huge area of the farm looked much better organized than before. My body seemed to adjust well to the environment that I felt much more pleasant now that I stopped for photos every now and then.

Route 6 snakes its way amid green farms at Moc Chau
Route 6 snakes its way amid green farms at Moc Chau

 

Moc Chau Farms and Moc Chau Farm Town
Moc Chau Farms and Moc Chau Farm Town

It was still early that I didn't want to go straight to the hotel; I wanted to see if there was much change around the area. Here there are two towns: one is Moc Chau Town which is along Route 6 and the other is Moc Chau Farm Town which was originally the residential area of workers working in the Farm of Moc Chau. The former now is the commercial hub of the region while the latter is more for tourist-oriented services and agriculture.

Moc Chau Town
Moc Chau Town

I rode past the town of Moc Chau and turned into the road leading to the Lao border and had some climbing on the low hills on the outskirt for stretching my legs. The surrounding countryside was so quiet and it seemed there was no one in view. The landscape was nice but hazy.

Ethnic villages outside of Moc Chau Town
Ethnic villages outside of Moc Chau Town

After a while I felt warmed and thought it was time to go to the hotel which was in Moc Chau Farm Town. It is the same hotel that I always use on my trips to the plateau. The town looked more prosperous nowadays with new roads and hotels but I didn't want to go around any further. I felt like going to my room for some rest. It was so lovely relaxing in a cozy room after a long trip through the freezing cold as the day was closing to an end...

Mountains viewed from my room's window
Mountains viewed from my room's window

The next day was another very cold day in Moc Chau but I felt very pleasant. Leaving the hotel a bit late, I slowly rode on the empty Route 6 downhill. I had thought it should have got warmer at Yen Chau which is at the base of the Moc Chau Plateau but it turned windier and much colder even. There seemed to be another spell of cold winds coming into the North West of Vietnam today.

Route 6 snakes its way amid the mountains at Yen Chau, Son La
Route 6 snakes its way amid the mountains at Yen Chau, Son La

The cold winds slowed down my riding. And I got off Route 6 sometimes to visit some Thai communities living further in the mountains. There was not much of a plan for the day; I just tried to travel to places I hadn't been to.

Garlic and onion farms at Yen Chau, Son La
Garlic and onion farms at Yen Chau, Son La

It was coming close to mid afternoon that I arrived at Co Noi T-Junction which is where Route 37 meets Route 6. It was a very famous spot during the Dien Bien Phu Battle. I had never been to this route before and it was so exciting. The scenery was lovely, the road was excellent and the ride was so relaxing. I've read so much about the places here in history books and the name of each is too familiar to me. I had had plans to travel through this region for a long time and it was only today was I able to do it after several adventures into the North-West in several years!

Co Noi Monument
Co Noi Monument

Route 37 goes up at Co Noi and is relatively flat after that. Later in the afternoon I passed through Muong Khoa and rode along the side of the Da River into Ta Khoa. It used to be a ferry here to cross the river which was replaced by a lovely bridge some time ago. The landscape around the bridge was idyllic but it had a wistful mood…

Route 37 from Co Noi to Bac Yen & Phu Yen, Son La
Route 37 from Co Noi to Bac Yen & Phu Yen, Son La

Arriving at Bac Yen Township late in the afternoon, it was about to get dark. I rode around the town and found a couple of decent hotels but felt I wasn't much fond of staying here tonight. My plan for the next day would be to explore another unknown road from Bac Yen to Nghia Lo via Ta Xua and Tram Tau. I thought I might be better to proceed to Ta Xua, then continue further onto Tram Tau and Nghia Lo tomorrow. It got dark quickly and the road from Bac Yen to Ta Xua was appalling.

The Da River at Ta Khoa, Bac Yen, Son La
The Da River at Ta Khoa, Bac Yen, Son La

It was pitch-dark and freezing when I arrived at Ta Xua and the air was damp. The area of Ta Xua is a hot tourist spot for young people from Hanoi who love chasing after clouds at weekends. There were a few rudimentary homestays and restaurants at a village that I booked myself into one of them.

Bac Yen Town, a bird's eye view from the high road to Ta Xua
Bac Yen Town, a bird's eye view from the high road to Ta Xua

It was during a casual conversation with the owner of a restaurant at dinner did I discover that the road from Ta Xua to Tram Tau was in dilapidation and it was not a good idea to proceed on that road. It was a bit disappointing but there was not much I could do about it. I had come to the place that I hadn't been to and that was just fine enough.

It was freezing cold during the night that I got little sleep although I had put on three thick blankets upon me. When I first touched the blankets and mattress, I thought they were all wet and cold as if I had put myself into a bucket of ice water! They turned warmer after a while but the cold winds underneath the floor of the house on stilts made the mattress uncomfortable during the night.

A street at Bac Yen Township in the morning
A street at Bac Yen Township in the morning

Awakened by someone early, I got to the door and peeped outside. It was still dark but I could see it was so foggy, damp and cold. It was definitely not a good time to set out, I went back to my mattress and tried to get some sleep. Some time later people started departing and it was daylight but still very foggy. It was no use waiting further, I double-checked my luggage and bade farewell to the hostess.

A tributary of the Da River (Suoi Sap) on the way from Bac Yen to Phu Yen
A tributary of the Da River (Suoi Sap) on the way from Bac Yen to Phu Yen

The road in daylight was not as bad as I had thought earlier. I couldn't take any photos due to thick fog. It was extremely cold too and my fingers felt hurt again. The temperatures were more tolerable back at Bac Yen Township. The road from Bac Yen to Phu Yen was fine with some scenic mountains on the way.

Muong Tac, the vast valley at Phu Yen, was empty at this time of the year. During rice crop, it is a wonderful place for photography. I stopped a while here and got some lovely photos anyway. An early lunch at Phu Yen made me feel fully charged before setting off on the adventure again. It was over mid day when I was passing Con Pass between Son La and Phu Tho Province.

Muong Tac Valley at Phu Yen, Son La
Muong Tac Valley at Phu Yen, Son La

I had traveled through Phu Tho several times and the landscape was as familiar like home to me. I only stopped once for photography and rode straight back to Hanoi. When I reached the city there was some weak sunlight coming out. The traffic was busy and it took quite a while to arrive back at home at 05:00 P.M. My great adventure always starts with a hot coffee and concludes with another one… right at home.

Deo Con between Son La and Phu Tho Province
Deo Con between Son La and Phu Tho Province