Motorbiking the Northwest Loop in Vietnam

What’s in a mean of transport?  When you fly you get there fast, seeing things from high above.  When you drive, you get there pretty fast with lots of storage.  When you bike, you slow it down a bit and have to put in some manpower.  When you walk, you get to smell the roses but might take forever.
Times like these made me wish I had a helmet camera.  The scenery of Northwest Vietnam is jaw droopingly gorgeous.  I fight to keep my eyes on the fast turning curvy mountain roads because there is always a beautiful landscape off the edge.  Alas, I only have pictures from where I stopped to take them, but I wish I had shots of everything I saw.  I wish I had pictures of the cows leisurely crossing in front of me and the chickens running across the streets for dear life.  Why are you crossing the road little buddy?  It seems pretty suicidal in a country full of zooming motorbikes and giant construction trucks.

I totally look ready to ride a scooter.

I don’t know if this is a very popular thing to do.  We saw five foreigners on the entire week long ride and one motorcycle tour group.  I did envy that one of them did indeed have a helmet camera.  The motorbike rental place had to give me a jacket in the only size they carry.  The female worker noted that it was large on me, but that women never rent motorbikes to do this ride.

The lush rolling green hills kept making me think I was riding through Ireland. The sweltering humid heat reminds me I’m in Vietnam.

The narrow limestone karsts covered in greenery are not just in Halong Bay, they’re all over the land too.

Riding curvy mountain roads means lots of breaks. This particular one involved enjoying Oreos and milk next to these farms creeping up high on the hillsides.  They grew corn all over hillsides, in whatever arrays they could fit.  I think it is the first time I haven’t seen corn in neat little rows.

Zoom in a little and you’ll see the hills covered in a patchwork of farms and the small villages all over the valley.

At some point we made our way into Red River Delta area. We didn’t stop anywhere with the really dramatic red cliffs near the water to take a picture.

We passed quite a few relocated towns as well.  They started multiple dam projects that have led to the sudden construction of large, new provincial capital towns that felt creepily like ghost towns.  All we saw were empty streets, free of clothes hanging everywhere and people lounging on every surface.  Who lived here?  Did anyone?

A lot of the roads were covered in dirt and rocks from landslides and construction. This one was under construction and causing a traffic jam so we waited with the calm Vietnamese people.

I wanted to but did not reach the Yuyuan rice terraces in China, good thing I caught the rice fields full of water reflecting the heavens here.

Rice fields stretch across hills. I’ve seen rice in all stages in Vietnam, from just planted to yellow and brown, heavy with grain. We’ve even passed lots drying on the road.

We got a flat tire right around here which gave me lots of time to take pictures of rain falling in a rice field.

A nice guy with a convenience store rolled the bike in question up a hill 200m with a flat and then made us lunch and took lots of pictures with us.

We found a random couch overlooking a gorgeous valley. Where’d the rest of this sectional go?

The bikes are always ready to go. I was less ready to go after a tumble into a foot deep trench of dirt and rocks, but scooters just aren’t made for that. That is contrary to what you see in this entire country.

The last day of riding before Sapa consisted of amazing rapids and this famous waterfall known as the Silver Waterfall.

The landscapes were stunning every day and I was shocked and pleased by how different they were every day.

Many of the best things we saw on the trip were the normal life moments for this area.  The ones that passed so fleetingly I did not have time to stop and take a picture.  The little girls riding overladen bicycles with other people on them, pedaling as hard as they could and hardly going anywhere.  Boys and old men who walked cows and water buffalo up the street.  Two of them shot imaginary gun slingshots at us.  Pew pew pew!  There were the naked toddlers, too young to know shame being carried, squatting to use the bathroom, or even wandering down the street with money.  Butterflies quickly flit across our paths in yellow, white, blue, green, purple and brown.

In the big city of Hanoi, it is an entirely different riding game.  Everyone travels like a school of fish, knowing where to be and reacting like an animal instinct.  Women will cover up every inch of their body with white hoodles with gloves attached.  They come in 4 inch heels and helmets that have ponytail holes.  Often I think they are trying to save themselves from everything except normal motorbiking safety.  It was hectic to figure out the rules of the city but once we hit that road, it was the most glorious ride in the world.  The only thing I’d change is I would do it on a motorcycle and not a scooter.

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