Friday, January 3, 2014

First Crash and Red Dzao massages (with happy endings?)

Day 9 - Wednesday, November 13
Distance - 140 kms = total for day ~ 6.5 hrs
Trip Odometer =  641 kms
Route - Dong Van south on Hwy 4C to Ha Giang
Hotel - Truong Xuan Resort - ~5km from Ha Giang (500,000d = ~$25)
Weather - Morning cloud, followed by mist, thick-dense fog and rain.  Afternoon dried out a tad at lower elevations but stayed cloudy with mist and rain on both mountain passes.

This was a longer day on the road as we wanted to push from Dong Van along 4C into Ha Giang.  We had some excellent riding, but unfortunately there weren't too many photos as the weather shit-out on both of the mountain passes we went over.  Just one of those things as you can't see much in Vietnam when the weather is filled with mist, dense fog and rain.  We felt lucky that we had a couple of days of great weather prior to this, but this is another stretch of road that I would love to revisit on a nice, clear day.  It is literally 'rolling the dice' with the weather, gotta take what you get, adapt and go...

(Hard to say good-bye to this Dong Van cutie... she was running the show at our hotel. )

The roads out of Dong Van were slick and wet and as we climbed higher and higher out of town, we got more and more into the misty mountain drizzle action and dense fog.  With that, the views disappeared and we started getting quite cold.  We both had layered with our rain gear right out of the gates in Dong Van, but high up on the first pass we had to slow right down as we couldn't see much in front of us due to the fog and it seemed to get colder and colder.  We pulled over, threw on all of our thermals that we had luckily packed from Canada, and we carried on down the slick roads.

Amanda pointing at a billboard with a stunning view of our surroundings.  I'm positive this was here to show us what it 'should' look like in this area.  Maybe it is misty and foggy most of the time??

As we approached the town of Yen Minh, we dropped in elevation and it started to clear up.  We were ready for a pit-stop, so we pulled over at a typical Vietnamese 'everything' store and I ordered up a Vietnamese coffee while the better half picked out some tasty crackers.  When my traditional cup of Vietnamese 'Joe' came to the table, she brought out x2 servings assuming we both wanted a cup.  Well, seeing that Amanda doesn't drink coffee, I took care of both of them and was right-jacked by the time we got back on the road.  It is very strong coffee with sweetened condensed milk in the bottom of the cup.  I was toasty, warm and jittery, perfect for riding the next stretch of road.

The road out of Yen Minh was great for an hour or so as the weather was holding.  Sections of the road remained wet with the odd dry patch here and there.

Amanda was riding ahead and I decided to pull over to shoot a couple of photos of these girls with umbrellas walking in the opposite direction from us.  I showed the girls the pics on my phone as they walked by and they had a good laugh.

As I pulled around the next corner, the first thing I see is Amanda staring down at her scoot, which is taking a nap on the side of the road.  She is standing there, staring at it in disbelief wondering how on earth her motoscoot could choose such an inappropriate time to take a nap.  I pulled up behind her and immediately asked her if she was ok and what had happened.  Sounds like a car had passed her which put her in the rhubarb a tad just on the edge of the road and as she tried to pull back on the road, the bike just washed out beneath her.  The road was indeed quick slick and particularly on the very edge where it was off cambered before the ditch.  

I picked the bike up and all looked good aside from a scuffed foot peg, a bruised ego and a startled heart.  Very lucky as she was rolling quite slow when she hit the deck and fell off the bike and also that there were no other vehicles or obstacles around.  

As we were regrouping and getting sorted to get back on the road, we had a few locals come by to see if we were all good.  I think this was the first-responder group in the area and it was like they were there all along, just monitoring the situation to make sure things were fine and that the tourists were ok.

A couple of the first responders at the crash site

Our first responder team at the crash site, wishing us a fond farewell and safe passage back on the roads...

Highway 4C continued down in elevation until the Song Mien river which we followed south for a stretch.  This was a really great section of road, we were very lucky it was dry and we were able to enjoy the curves and the views at the same time.

Stopping for a break above the Song Mien River just north of Tam Son.

Fueling-up in Tam Son

As we headed south from Tam Son, we again started up in elevation and yet again, progressed into misty mountain, foggy conditions.  We finally came across another mountain pass where there was a tourist centre and the works which we pulled into briefly.  We pulled in, didn't get off the bikes, and had a look at a large billboard map of the area and then decided to push down in elevation as we couldn't see much anyway.  As we were looking at the map of the area, this young couple pulled up to have a chat with us.  They were also tourists (from Saigon), and had rented a bike from Ha Giang - travelling in the opposite direction from us.  We had a quick hello and both carried on our separate ways.  

Our decent into Ha Giang put us into a literal 'snail's-pace' as we could barely see a few feet in front of us.  We continued down switchback after switchback along these roads and I was really wondering what the area would look like with clear conditions - I'm certain it would have been stunning.

We finally rolled into the Throng Xuan Resort around 2:30pm (roughly 5kms north of Ha Giang).  We decided to splurge and said YES! to the river-side, stand-alone bungalow option (a splurge at a whopping $25/night - as non-river-view rooms were roughly $15/night)

The young man at the front desk walked us to our room along a beautiful garden path and we followed behind him with our bikes which we were able to park alongside the bungalow.  After unloading the bikes and decompressing on the deck, I noticed a flyer from the hotel offering 'Spa Treatments' in an adjacent building.  We walked down to reception to inquire and 30 min later, we were brought down another path at the resort over to the Spa and Sauna building.  Perfect!

We started with a wet sauna together which was a great way to relax and unwind after a long day in the saddle.  After a full hour of sauna, we were collected and brought down another corridor of the spa for Red Dzao full-body massages.  Neither of us were too sure of what to expect for the massage, and whether or not we would be in separate rooms or the same room, but we decided to go-with-the-flow and try it out.  Two women promptly brought us each into separate rooms that were beside each other.  The massage was very interesting to say the least with unique techniques involving a great deal of palm-slap-knuckle-crack-pinch-and-pull motions that were very noisy.  I could hear the loud motions and noises in the room next door while experiencing the same thing at the same time.

Now, one never knows how things will transpire with an unknown foreign 'massage' and/or what the protocol or etiquette may or may/not be.  I was somewhat leery of the Red Dzao massage at first wondering if any sorts of attempts would be made for a massage with a proverbial 'happy-ending'.  I, myself escaped with minimal awkward advances whereas my better half did not.  Apparently, in the room right beside mine, my better half's much younger masseuse was hinting at a 'happy-ending' more than once.  I'm guessing that she was quite disappointed when she wasn't given the green-light to show the nice Canadian girl her mad massage skillz.  Hilarious.  

River side Bungalow for $25/night.... 'We'll take it!'

The resort restaurant was a great option for supper as we didn't want to ride the motos into Ha Giang town and search out food after our relaxing afternoon.  We had a set meal brought out to us with a few different courses including pumpkin soup to start, a dish of morning glory spinach, chicken and rice followed by a watermelon dessert.  It was delicious.

For our next day of riding, we had to re-visit our proposed and planned route.  Due to the heavy rains the past few days, we decided that our route west to Vinh Quang and then south to Bac Ha might be a bit more sporty and unknown than we wanted.  Also, seeing that we were days away from the famous Bac Ha market (which is on Sunday), it would be something we could pass on this trip.

It was always a tough decision to change the route slightly and therefore miss a segment originally planned for, but with a set number of days to travel it was something that was also necessary in order to achieve our final goal in time - Saigon, and it was still a long way off.

Next up - a very long day of riding from Ha Giang to Sapa

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