We started this cycling adventure in Northern Vietnam, in what probably used to be a small town or village called Sa Pa.
While the rice fields of Sa Pa are truly beautiful, progress, modernisation and tourism are rapidly beating this place into a very different shape.
Construction teams are everywhere, any time from first light onwards you should expect to be disturbed by the dulcet tones of a chop-saw, nail gun, power drill or hammer.
Vietnamese workmen and women genuinely seem to have been trained in quiet hammering.
I think it was the calls of “hello, shopping” from the hill tribe women and the theme park they are building at the top of mount Phan Xi Pan “Fansipan Legend” that made us really question the authenticity of this place now that big business has moved in.
Nature and tradition are being pushed out of Sa Pa in favour of fairy lights, karaoke bars and motorbikes.
We did not come on this adventure to see what everybody else sees, we want to get under the skin of every country we visit, get lost in places where no one speaks English and where the colour of our skin is so unusual that the locals feel the need to pinch it as if to confirm that we are real.
From our point of view, the good bit started when we reached the side of the mountain where the tour busses don’t go. We rebuilt our bikes, loaded our luggage onto our trusty steeds and headed north west, towards China and into the far north of Vietnam.
Northern Vietnam is mountainous and incredibly beautiful. Life in the regions that have yet to wake up to the tourist trade has probably changed very little since the Vietnam war. Families and communities are small and close knit. Strangers (especially funny looking ones) do not go unnoticed.
We had imagined it would be peaceful in the north but with a known population of almost 94,515,000 (June 2016) there is always someone nearby, watching from the jungle, building a hotel from the swimming pool up, harvesting something from the crack of dawn or failing that they are just about to overtake you on their moped.
The most peaceful place we found in the north was Mai Châu, we checked into the most beautiful stilt house Homestay there and were both feeling quite serene until the sun set and the mobile disco fired up. This particular disco was situated in the back of a large golf buggy and was playing without doubt the poorest quality Euro pop I have ever heard. Think 90’s one hit wonder b-sides covered by low budget Vietnamese X-factor regional runners up (yes they have their own version of x-factor here and it’s incredibly popular).
The mobile disco buggy was like the Pied Piper of Mai Châu, leading the rich high school students from Hanoi onto the jungle dance floor on the other side of the valley.
As we move south on our travels we have come to the realisation that there is a significant financial divide in Vietnam …and a higher proportion of flat screen televisions and smart phones the further south we travel. The up side of this is that we can attempt use our phones to make ourselves understood.
Please note google translate is a really nice idea but unless you keep the sentence you intend to translate very simple and to the point you should expect giggling, offence or complete and utter confusion.