Yesterday was an epic day and surely today could not match it, could it?
Well, it could even have surpassed it. We were promised that the road would be good, which it was for the most part and the scenery equally as good as the day before but it exceeded it by some margin.
We left our ‘back-packer’ Eco lodge and headed back up out of our valley only to stop and look back at the sunlit view below against a backdrop of clouds in the mountains that was quite ethereal.
It was slow progress on mostly good road with rough sections and after an hour we had only gone 25k. The benefit of going slow was to enjoy the view into the valley from on high. Spectacular, stunning, jaw-dropping are all words that come to mind. We were losing height all the time, from 1200 meters following the hillside of the valley to the bottom at under 100m. 2nd gear bend joined 2nd gear bend all the way down past waterfalls coming in from the left.
We turned left onto Highway 2 and gosh, what a surprise, tarmac?
The wide road gave us a chance to revisit top gear, and even overdrive, for about 55kms to Ha Giang, a lovely town that is the capital of this district in Northern Vietnam.
North of the town the road reverted to single track but it took us into the hills and a Unesco rated ‘Geo-Park’. Quite what that meant was not clear but the whole area is forested limestone mountains that on occasion produce spectacular rock formations, not dissimilar to a lava park on a volcano.
The local people scratch a living from largely barren land at this altitude.
We were heading for ‘Heaven’s Gate pass which towered over the town of Tam Son nestled in a valley between dozens of limestone ‘molehills’ known as “Fairy Bosom”, a beautiful photo opportunity.
We followed the Mien River valley through a steep canyon and the road took as virtually to the Chinese border.
We climbed more hills and over passes to get views more fantastic than the last. Fortunately the weather was good so photos of the landscape were possible, but none sadly will capture the scale of this region. All the hills are ‘pyramid’ shaped which creates a fairy land quality to the scenery.
This country is mostly inhabited by ethnic people, principally the H’Mong, who to all intents and purposes look Chinese and are very bark skinned.
Women were working in the fields everywhere, whilst others were selling produce by the side of the road. They seemed to always have their children with them, which gave us the opportunity to hand our dried fruit and biscuits from our lunch packs.
Towards the end of our day we headed up the “Nine Turn Pass”, a helter-skelter stretch of tarmac that arrives at a viewing point and a great view of the turns we had done, as well as the ones to come.
We arrived in Dong Van after an amazing day to a new hotel that has all the hallmarks of Chinese influence. The good news was that there is a restaurant, the bad news that there is no bar!
One participant described the scenery in this part of North Vietnam as the most spectacular he had seen anywhere in the world. It is hard to disagree on today’s evidence.
All the cars arrived without any of the niggles of the day before, which is always good news.
Only two more driving days to go, and if they keep up the standard of the last two, we are in for treat and a great ending to our adventure.