It might have only been 6.30am but we were keen to get going so the car park was a hive of activity
We are skirting the Chinese border today and the landscape is a continuation of yesterday’s epic grandeur, with the occasional typical wooden house nestled into the side of a hill.
And it did not take long before we stopped in awe of the site below us.
We climbed out of Dong Van for about 10 minutes and rounded a bend to see our route before us, a scar on the hillside that had been scratched from the mountain, overlooking the valley hundreds of meters below. Breathtaking in the mist, each bend needed another photo stop. We hugged the hillside for about 15 kms as the sun was rising higher in the sky and lighting the valley below.
That’s our road on the right!
We tackled the Ma Pi Leng Pass to a village called Meo Vac survivng somehow in this barren rocky environment.
Little patches of bamboo or sugar cane plantations clung to the virtually vertical walls of the valley all along our route and the sellers were more than happy to let us sample their wares.
Beyond Meo Vac the landscape changed entirely to be more green and lush and totally forested. Descending into the valley created by the river Gam we spied waterlogged paddies formed underneath a dam on the river.
In the valley we saw three kids waving to us and when we stopped they practiced their English. “Money?”. We gave them biscuits.
Though this group of kids were more than happy to just take our rally post cards home with them. These really have proved popular this year.
We crossed the Gam River heading for Dao Lac where coffee awaited.
Our cars lined up at the coffee stop.
We would now follow one road, the QL34 all the way to Cao Bang although the road was not straight. We ran along the Song Ninia river valley at a gentle pace with blissfully no traffic, possibly because today is Saturday.
We entered one village to obvious activity.
It was cattle market day! Apparently a good ox for working the fields sells for around £25.
Each valley is filled with exploitation on every scrap of fertile land.
How does one describe scenes like this?
Gosh we are going to miss lunchstops with backdrops like this! And crowds!!
In the town of Tinh Tuc we came across the largest tin mine in Vietnam and a colossal statue of Ho Chi Minh, irresistible as a photo opportunity for some, and a chance for our cars to be the star of the show for the locals again.
Then yet more breathtaking views in the valley beyond Tinh Tuc.
We had one last pass to tackle before arriving in Cao Bang and the road had recently been renewed so the driving was a pleasure.
The pass was not significantly high and emerged into a wide flat plain that came as something of a surprise, because it allowed us to use top gear for the first time in ages.
The run into town was simple and the town much larger than imagined, with a bustling market of spices and fish on display
The ‘Sunny Hotel’ is modern and the perfect stop before our last day tomorrow; the run into Halong Bay for the finish.
We did manage to pull off a pretty spectacular surprise for our event director Bruno (a very special man, without his organisation and support this trip would not have been possible) this evening. It came to light early on in the tour that he was celebrating a birthday, though it did take a bit of detective work on Jo’s part to find out the exact date. A plan was then hatched to surprise Bruno with a very special present: his wife Zani, whom we had last seen in Myannmar. Zani arrived today and was smuggled into one of the bedrooms, and then during dinner an announcement was made and Zani appeared.
Suffice to say it was an emotional moment!