Ha Giang Moto Adventures
John Halley and a badass lady named Emma Easton. When I relay this tale the first question / comment I usually encounter is “Wow! She rode on the back the whole way?”. No, she absolutely did not. In fact, I struggled to keep up. Tip: Find a partner who rides a motorbike.
What & Where?
Ha Giang province, the Northeast region of Vietnam.
Recommendations & Highlights?
• Eat all of the Vietnamese food and drink all of the Vietnamese coffee. This should be nonnegotiable.
• Find yourself some Bun Cha. For myself it was a transcendent experience. Yes, I am talking about food.
• Treat yourself to a full tank of petrol whenever you can. The petrol stations are often few and far between.
• Bring ample money to Ha Giang. The ATM’s can be finicky and a little unfriendly.
• The drive from Quan Ba to Yen Minh has two options, the laidback river route and the mountainous route. Do both!
Home: St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
Favourite activity: Hot yoga or snowboarding.
Favourite brew: Coffee, in many forms or Pinot Noir.
Favourite snack: The combination of peanut butter, coconut yoghurt and blueberries.
John Halley is a lover of the unknown who also enjoys the comforts and luxuries of home. He enjoys a happy medium between the two. Rather than experience one extreme and then the other, John enjoys finding a unique and creative mix of both. For example, he might be on the road in Northern Thailand looking for the Burmese border, but you can be sure mere hours before he was seeking the best coffee in town after having completed a meditative yoga session. Life is about balance.
He has become both a dive master and a specialty PADI & RAID scuba instructor, motorcycle toured through Northern Thailand, Vietnam & Indonesia, sailed from Colombia to Panama via the San Blas Islands and drank coffee of 5 continent. Next on the agenda is a road-trip through Mexico whilst learning to surf!
Damn, this was an epic adventure! If you ever find yourself in the wonderful and beautiful country of Vietnam, do yourself a favor and do not skip the Northern province of Ha Giang. I repeat, do not. It is shockingly and breathtakingly stunning. After exploring New Zealand I had little hope of stumbling upon more mind-blowing landscapes and scenery. Do remember, it did serve as Middle Earth. Well, this journey shattered all expectations and gave me a totally new perspective on this spellbinding Southeast Asian Country. If you happen to enjoy adventures, anything with a petrol engine and romanticizeboth travel and cuisine, please read on.
We started this journey in the town of Ha Giang. Most intrepid travelers cruise in for one evening and start the journey the following day. We prefer to settle in and explore. We spent three days & three nights here hiking, eating and enjoying brews with a wonderful Vietnamese family who owned and operated a newly opened establishment called the Historic Hotel. Our third day, as enjoyable as it was, was actually the result of some technical difficulties. After racking up a bill at our hotel (they used the honor system and charged guests at the end of their stay) and renting motorbikes on the promise of payment, we had some stressful moments trying to withdraw cash. The silver lining: I am now thoroughly in tune with every Vietnamese bank. In the end we used Western Union to appease our creditors. It is definitely wise to take ample cash when traveling to Ha Giang, especially if you plan to have a lush three days of eating Bun Cha and drinking Bia Saigon whilst enjoying the comforts of air-conditioning.
From Ha Giang we packed up our gear, enjoyed an overly strong Vietnamese coffee and cruised to Yen Minh via Quan Ba. The yews & views were almost overwhelming on this leg! We couldn’t cover more than 5km without stopping to grab some epic photos.
Regardless of your skill level on a motorbike, beware that this can be a daunting ride. The roads are narrow, curvy and unfortunately do accommodate large trucks who seem to fetishize horn beeping. Of course, this serves as a warning for oncoming traffic but it can be mesmerizing after a few hours, or maybe even minutes depending on your tolerance level. After navigating our way to Yen Minh we hunkered down for the evening, found some accommodation, parked the bikes and began the food and beverage tour. This is arguably the highlight of traveling for a romantic like myself. However, I will warn all of you bold adventurers that the food options are not as diverse as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. My recommendation is simple: find the locals and order some dishes whose names you cannot quite pronounce. I like to use the point and smile method, which goes like this: Step 1. Find a delightful looking dish on a nearby table and point to said dish. Step 2: Smile.
The following day we began our journey to Dong Van, which is situated near the Chinese-Vietnamese border. On route to Dong Van is the famous Lung Cu Flag Point, which boasts the largest Vietnamese flag in the country standing at 54 meters. This journey is definitely worth the 38 km detour (Each way). Get out there; snap a photo, but most importantly enjoy the winding road that seems to have been carved through the most impressive of mountain ranges.
On the ride back from Long Cu to Dong Van we were flirting with darkness and trying to make good time. A little dirty, fatigued and sufficiently tired we had sustenance on our minds. We found ourselves struggling to keep up with a Vietnamese gentleman on his rickety scooter when we were both shocked and appalled by the most horrific of screams. Of course we stopped to discuss. Our worst fears were confirmed. It was a pig very efficiently rigged to the back of his bike. As distraught as we were, the aforementioned gentleman deserved a certain level of acknowledgement for his ingenuity. We both agreed that pork, in any form, was officially off the menu that evening.
After arriving in Dong Van we once again settled in for the evening. Much to my dismay there were fewer food options. The Pho and Bun Cha are usually toast after lunch and you end up on the fried rice circuit. Again, I recommend the point and smile approach.
The next morning we awoke early with the intention of covering quite a bit of ground. Our motivation was a homemade meal of Bun Cha awaiting us at the Historic Hotel in Ha Giang. This might sound trivial to some, but at this point I had come to fetishize this specific meal of Bun Cha. This meal had been discussed for days. A seemingly endless discussion of steamy and delicious broth, ample noodles, fresh herbs and a plethora of grilled meats. This discussion began on our first day at the hotel, continued during our stay and we were continually tempted, or tortured depending on your interpretation, via WhatsApp and Facebook messages. It had become an ongoing anecdote that Emma and I would do anything for this meal of Bun Cha. They weren’t wrong. We had decided to tackle two days of riding in one day in order to experience this allegedly transcendent culinary experience.
Enough literary food porn, let’s get back to the journey. The road from Dong Van to Meo Vac was slow going. It was often down to one lane, there were potholes that would rival the best and many speeding trucks whose driver’s very lives seemed contingent on the beeping of their horns.The ubiquity of horn beeping was shocking! We weaved our way through many little villages while stopping along the way to enjoy some views, brews and yarns. With every stop usually came the obligatory and delicious Vietnamese coffee. With caffeine propelling us forward there was nothing standing between Ha Giang and us.
It was all worth it! The journey was capped off with the ever-elusive meal that we had been promised. The family pictured above, who prepared that wonderful meal, spoke very little English. However, they had a translator in the form of their eleven-year-old daughter. I actually referred to her multilingual talent as a form of superpower. She could say whatever she fancied with the only response / reaction from her parents being laughter or smiles. Cheeky little thing. She was the first and only Vietnamese standup comedian that I met. She seemed to be practicing her English routine on Emma and I.
We left Ha Giang with our adventurous nature fulfilled, our tummies happy and a new nickname. Henceforth, I will be known as Bun Cha.