Thursday, January 9, 2014

When the road ends... 'I guess we get on the boat?'

Day 12 - Saturday, November 16
Distance - 234 kms = total for day ~ 9 hrs
Trip Odometer =  1122 kms
Route - Sapa - Son La.  Sapa west on Hwy #4D then South on #32 to Than Uyen.  West on #279 until road ended (not on maps) then on ferry south.  South on #107? onto #6 to Son La.
Hotel - Hanoi Hotel - Son La (800,000d = $40 w/breakfast)
Weather - Clearing out of Sapa with a mix of clouds.  Clear on Tram Ton Pass.  Into clouds at lower elevations.  Dry roads for most of day until nearing Son La then damp.

After our lovely rest day in Sapa, we awoke to clearing skies.  We had an excellent breakfast at the Sapa Paradise View Hotel (our hotel which finally earned it's name!), then we packed up and hit the road.

As I mentioned before, we were treated like royalty the minute we arrived to the Sapa PV Hotel and it continued until the moment we left.  One of the managers came outside to wish us a safe trip and a fond farewell.

Highway 4D crept up and out of Sapa and we arrived at the Tram Ton Pass in good time as it is situated roughly 15km from Sapa.  We had known that Tram Ton was Vietnam's highest mountain pass and my GPS logged it at just over 2000m in elevation.  And, just as the guidebook stated, it is often cold and foggy on the Sapa side and warm and sunny dropping into the Lai Chau side.  We had beautiful weather on the Tram Ton Pass.  

The road off the Tram Ton Pass was a pleasure to ride.  It had a great deal of twisty corners and beautiful vistas as we worked our way down in elevation.

Our plan for the day was to stop in Than Uyen, but the road was in such good condition that we arrived at roughly 11:30am.  We stopped for a bowl of Pho and decided to push on further south for the day.  I looked on our maps and decided that Highway #279 would be a good bet to work our way south to the larger town of Son La.

What we were about to experience was a highlight for me on our entire Vietnam adventure.

After working our way out of Than Uyen and along Highway #279 our road ended.  Stopped.  No more road.  Both my Vietnam map and my GPS showed Hwy #279 only, no lake, no boats.  This was true adventure.

Amanda asked if we were lost and I said I wasn't sure.  One of the ferry boat captains came up to us and nodded us to proceed onto his boat.  I said 'Son La, Son La'... and he nodded, 'Son La!', so we nodded together in confidence and proceeded to board his boat in confidence.  In actual reality, we had no idea where we were headed, but it was all part of the adventure.  

A quick video when we arrived at the 'end of the road'...

I have no idea where this boat is heading, but lets go!'

A video of our random ferry leaving the docks...

Coming off the ferry and not sure where we were, or where we were headed... all we knew was that we had one road to follow, so we followed it...

We eventually came to a large bridge crossing which showed on the map.  We knew we were on Hwy #279 and came to the conclusion that the valley further north where we encountered the ferry was probably dammed and flooded at one point and this didn't show up on the maps.

Crossing the Song Da river (more like a lake system)

We arrived to a petrol station to fuel up and we had these young police officers come and check out our loaded bikes - specifically my Honda enduro.  I pulled out my map book and asked them if the secondary road south #107 was suitable and then kept nodding yes, that was the best and quickest direction to go - that is what I took from the conversation anyway.

It was one of our longest days of riding yet.  We had been traveling for roughly 9 hrs by the time we arrived to Son La.  We found the 'Hanoi' Hotel in Son La just as it was starting to get dark.  We put our bikes in the secure parkade complete with night guards, and checked into the hotel.

I'm certain we could have found suitable accommodation for much cheaper in Son La, but the Hanoi Hotel was relatively easy to find and it was recommended in our guide book.  It was a first to enter an elevator and to press the '5' button which brought us up to our room.

The front desk manager suggested a restaurant for us to eat at which was conveniently right across from the hotel.  I can't remember the name, but it was very good, filled with locals and with great choices and prices, and of course, they had very cold beer.

This was one of my favourite days of riding.  We crossed Vietnam's highest mountain pass, we had great weather, our road suddenly and very surprisingly ended which put us on a random ferry boat and we had really exciting roads all the way to Son La.

Although the day was long, we both felt great after a long day filled with adventure...

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