Thursday 26 April 2012

Rewarding Riding

We had another big day of riding ahead of us. We needed to get to Quang Uyen at lunchtime, eat a homestay lunch (read, big hearty meal), and then continue to Ban Gioc Waterfall, before riding back in time for dinner (another big hearty meal). Chung mentioned that the road was going to be quite rough, but after the ride between Bac Ha and Coc Pai, we were not as worried as we should have been.

It started out with a fun ride down the windy mountain road to Cao Bang. We moved on towards Quang Uyen, stopping at a locally renown blacksmith area, as Chung wanted to show us how local steel was worked.

Three men, all wearing light shirts and sandals, were standing around a single piece of hot glowing metal, beating it with hand-held hammers in a mesmerising, triplicated rhythm. It was fascinating to watch and listen, and at least two knives were made in the time we stood there, staring curiously. They used old truck leaf springs for their hardened steel properties, heated them up, beat them into the right shape and then sharpened them. We were impressed. Chung bought a cleaver for his home kitchen at a tourist price of 8 USDs, and we were tempted to get one ourselves but thought that Australian Customs officials may not approve.

Blacksmiths Beating out a New Knife - near Cao Bang
We continued along the smooth windy roads to our homestay in Quang Uyen where we met our friendly hosts, unloaded our bikes and stuffed down lunch. Pretty soon we were back on the bikes heading out of town.

Hills Towards China - On the road to Ban Gioc Waterfalls
Then the road surface disappeared. What remained can only be described as resembling huge uneven motocross whoops. It was incredibly rough, dusty and all formed by the hoards of massive trucks going to and from China. These we also had to dodge as we struggled over the rough terrain. But after over an hour of gruelling riding, beautiful Ban Gioc Waterfall just seemed to appear out of nowhere.

Grazing at Ban Gioc Waterfalls
It was a largish waterfall, where in the wet season it would grow to 300m wide with a drop of 30m. But what made it special was its photogenic qualities - the cascading falls of water dipping and flowing around shrubs, grass and moss, and beautiful contrasts of the white water against the shadows of the rocks. It is also interesting as the border between Vietnam and China runs right through it (Vietnam to the left, China to the right). We took a raft to get close to the falls, and there were plenty of rockpools and flat places around from which I could find many angles to shoot.

Man Fishing at Ban Gioc Waterfalls
Streaming Through the Forest. Ban Gioc Waterfalls
A Hidden Gem. Ban Gioc Waterfalls
All that was left was the bum-breaking ride back to the homestay …

Looking out the Door. Cute toddler at Quang Uyen homestay
Who Are You? Cute toddler at Quang Uyen homestay
The next day was an easy but hot ride through sunny, 37 degree weather. But we couldn't have asked for a more superbly appropriate destination - Ba Be Lake. Limestone cliffs surrounded a massive cool, clear body of water, which we happily dipped into before dinner. Add some photogenic rice paddies, what more could you ask for?

Laundry Day - Ba Be Lake
Rising early the next morning, I grabbed the camera and tripod to wander through the paddy fields. It was nice to be out there on my own. I found a spot and waited for the sun to do its thing.

Steep Cliff Panoramic - Ba Be Lake
I was there for about an hour and was able to catch this dragonfly that decided to land right next to me.

Catch of the Day. Dragonfly catching another insect - Ba Be Lake
It was another hot day and the planned boat ride across the lake was a welcome activity. It was butterfly season, and it was interesting watching rabbles of them flit between rocks and trees along the shoreline - there would have to have been millions.

A Sea of Butterflies - Ba Be Lake
When it was all too hot to bear we dived off the boat into the deep refreshing waters and relaxed, bobbing about in old lifesaving rings.

Ben relaxing at Ba Be Lake
It was an easy 50 kilometre ride to the next homestay. This one felt intimately genuine, as it was just a single family room; fire in the middle, kitchen just behind it, bed mats to the side, and a bucket bathroom out the back. We loved the place and our hosts welcomed us warmly with an amazing feast and many shots of home-brewed ruou (rice wine).

All in One. The kitchen, storage, wardrobe, guest bedrooms, dining and lounge room functions were all provided in the one, big room at this warm, friendly Tay family homestay - near Ban Chang
Grandfather helping with homework. Tay family homestay, near Ban Chang
After a good night's rest we packed up for the last day of riding. I was not looking forward to this. One part of me did not want this trip to end, and the other part of me really did not want to ride through Hanoi traffic again.

We survived the main highway of trucks, buses, fast drivers and dangerous overtakers. It was not enjoyable riding as we aimed to beat peak hour traffic, but we arrived safely, tired but happy. We really enjoyed our 11 day journey travelling over 1800 kilometres, and I would like to do it again someday in another season when the rice paddies change colour. Chung was a great guide and I would like to thank him for his patience, especially while I took photos.

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