We stayed at the Him Lam Resort Hotel in Son La last night, a government operated hotel. The facilities were plain, clean, roomy, poorly lit, but quite adequate. Dinner was very good. Breakfast fell just short of sh___ty -- the service right out of a communist manual. We had the sparsest selection of food items so far on this trek and the waiter resembled a deer in the headlights. For Vietnam, this was an excellent illustration of free enterprise vs communism as all the other places we have stayed provided excellent service, still,it was all part of the experience.
The ride today was incredible, the scenery stunning. We rode 50+ km of almost flat road through countless terraced rice fields, by limestone hills and cliffs, through villages with busy street markets, by many Thai ethnic minority people, women and some children and men in traditional dress ( some women wearing their scooter helmets over their ornate head wear) The terraces were marvels of basic hydraulic engineering, their shapes and levels accurately placed to facilitate the irrigation necessary for rice production. all this done without transits or laser leveling, probably by eye and trial and error over many many years.
We were driven up Pha Din pass for which we were all very grateful. This was a steady climb for 30 to 40 km along hillsides and through valleys with fields cut and planted on steep slopes with the occasional house and small villages off to the sides. We had lunch in the village of Tuan Giao, and drove on past many more terraced fields, some of them supplied with water from water wheels placed in a river flowing through the valley. We drove to the top of Tang Quai Pass and then rode the last 30 km to Dien Bien Phu, mostly downhill, arriving at the beautiful and unique Him Lam Resort on the outskirts of town at about 3 p.m.
The ride provided many interesting events and sights for us to remember. We watched a 30 man crew doing the framework on a new home, saw some pot bellied pigs, noticed flowering poinsettia bushes, saw many Thai women wearing colourful head wraps. We saw Doug's upper lip, the first people in over 40 years to do so, as a language barrier contributed to his barber's mis-interpretation of his request for a trim and shaved the whole thing off!
We noticed the first two monuments to Vietnamese soldiers of the French War, probably more to come tomorrow
North Vietnam has proven to be more busy than many of us imagined, with many more cars in the traffic mix. The roads and village streets often have spilled gravel on the edges and are much dustier. There seems to be more garbage on the roadsides as well. The people are just as friendly and the children shout "Hello" or put out hands for us to touch in a sort of "high five" as we cycle past.
Another day of great cycling and memorable sights and experiences.
written by Ross