Cycling in Northern Vietnam: Mu Cang Chai to Nghia Lo

DSC06496

The “J” of my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator profile is strong – I love the act and art of planning.  I’ve learned over time as a cyclist and guide, however, that an excess of planning often takes the excitement out of adventures.  Spontaneous events, serendipitous encounters, and unmapped trails will linger in your memory far longer than your cadence from point A to B.

Inspired by Alastair Humphreys‘ philosophy of microadventures, I set aside one of my final weekends in Hanoi for a bicycle trip in Vietnam’s Northwest.  My research went like this:

Thursday
Me: Mai Lan, where should I go cycling this weekend?
ML: How about Lao Cai? I’ll book you a bus.
Me: Sounds good.

Friday Afternoon
ML: I booked you a ticket with your bicycle to Mu Cang Chai.
Me: What about Lao Cai?

ML: Mu Cang Chai will be better.  You’ll arrive at 3AM and can cycle through the mountains to Nghia Lo. My friend said it is mostly downhill.  It might take you a day, maybe two.  Bring a tent just in case.

And with that I am on the redeye bus to Mu Cang Chai, a beautiful mountain hamlet along Route 32 eight-odd hours north of Hanoi.

I arrive in Mu Cang Chai as scheduled at 3AM – if only the bus had been a few hours behind schedule, I could simply get on the road.  Using my headlamp, I reassemble my bike and wander around the dark, breezy town.  I find my way to a guesthouse, wake the security guard and, to his amazement, book a room for “three-hours only.”

A few short hours later, I am back on the saddle and rolling through beautiful village of Mu Cang Chai.  The crisp mountain air rejuvenates my city lungs, while the sounds of cascading steams and distant rivers guide me from my half-slumber.  I shed layers as the sunrises and warms the world.  Cool mornings on my bike like this linger as spring for well-being.

Mu Cang Chai

DSC06371

As I depart the small village I pass women headed to the fields with children on the backs.

DSC06384

The road meanders along a river valley, affording beautiful views of the rice terraces below.  I take a rest about thirty-minutes outside of town to boil a spot of coffee and some oats and berries.

DSC06386

DSC06393

Caffeinated, I start a long 50-kilometer climb to a 1,700 meter pass.  At the time, however, I had no idea of the climb or road ahead besides the fact that I would arrive in Nghia Lo if I kept riding on Route 32 for another 80+ kilometers.  No point in fretting – I had signed up for a weekend of unknowing.  I had my hammock tent, some food, and time.

I just focused on the present.  And the present was awfully inspiring.

DSC06396

DSC06398

DSC06406

DSC06410

DSC06411

DSC06427

DSC06416

DSC06417

DSC06420

After hours of peddling, I finally reach the pass.  My reward is a roller coaster 25-km downhill into a terraced valley of rice and blooming wildflowers.

DSC06424

DSC06436

DSC06439

DSC06443

DSC06447

DSC06454

DSC06458

I stop for a spot of seasoned beef and rice in town before continuing downhill toward Nghia Lo.

DSC06459
DSC06473

DSC06479

DSC06496

With the sunsetting and Nghia Lo in view, I stop for a self-portrait on a small bridge.

DSC06531

DSC06503

All in, $28 for a nice little weekend adventure on winding roads in Vietnam’s rugged northwest – crisp mountain air for the soul.

Mu Cang Chai to Nghia Lo in Northern Vietnam

GPS tracks & map available via Garmin Connect

~ by responsiblenomad on January 27, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: