Day 13 - Sunday, November 17
Distance - 180 kms = total for day ~ 6 hrs
Trip Odometer = 1302 kms
Route - Son La - Mai Chau. South from Son La on Hwy #6, then off on Hwy #15 to Mai Chau.
Hotel - Mai Chau Inn (700,000d = $35 w/breakfast)
Weather - No wet! Cloudy and cold at elevation, and then hazy, sunny and quite warm once arriving to Mai Chau.
Our day started with a huge buffet (or as we call 'Jimmy-Buffet') breakfast at the Hanoi Hotel in Son La. The breakfast room was the size of a conference room at any hotel back home and it was packed. The night before I read a little about Son La and it turns out that it is the business 'capital' of the Son La province hence the packed buffet breakfast with loads of suits and the like.
Flamingo Travel in Hanoi where we rented the bikes suggested that we get the oil changed on the bikes every 1000km or so and seeing that we had rolled about 1100km when we arrived the night before, I figured our first stop after breakfast would be a place we could get the oil changed on the bikes.
We literally pulled out of the Hanoi Hotel, zipped down the road a few hundred meters and came upon a Yamaha dealership. It looked fairly empty and mellow in the shop section, so we pulled up and I motioned to the mechanics that we wanted the oil changed. They didn't speak any english and we obviously didn't speak Vietnamese, so it was fun communicating what we wanted. Both bikes were quickly brought in, Amanda's up on a hoist and oil was being drained. Not a very tough thing to communicate. I was also wanting to get a bit of slack out of my chain, so the mechanic quickly tightened my chain, lubed it up and that was that with my XR. Amanda front brakes felt really soft, so the same thing, the mechanic tightened that up after the oil change, all communicated with our gestures on the bikes.
It was lightening speed by the time we pulled into the Yamaha dealership, motioned what work we wanted done, took a few photos of the shop and of the 'shop manager', we paid up and were out the door... just like that. It was the quickest 10 minutes ever... and all the work, both oil changes, my chain slack and Amanda's brakes, the grand total was 180,000 dong = ~ $9 total. Excellent!
Both chains were lubed up and we were on the road again...
Loads of corn being dried in huge piles then sacked up - we passed a quite a few of these operations on our route south to Mai Chau. I think this guy was a few rice-wines in, he wanted to chat and he motioned for us to come on in and have a look. We politely declined as we wanted to continue south.
Farm equipment/people hauler - saw loads of these...
At our morning coffee-stop, we met these 2 Vietnamese models... they were hamming it up for the camera and then checking the pictures out, always with huge laughs and then more poses, it was a great time. The girls even shared their snacks with us. One thing I was meaning to load up on in Canada before heading over to Vietnam was stickers for kids, all kids love stickers. Unfortunately, it was one thing I didn't manage to do before leaving on the trip and I regret it, these Vietnamese kids definitely deserved some stickers from us Canadian kids. I guess we'll have to go back with stickers...
(Below)... a Honda Super Dream 'Family Vehicle'... hilarious what english words they had on most of the bikes - and yes, this 'vehicle' would definitely support a whole family... AND a couple bags of rice and a chicken or three...
It was a speedy day of riding from Son La to Mai Chau. The #6 was a main route linking the north west to Hanoi and surroundings. With that, we had more traffic than usual, but more traffic usually meant higher speeds and better roads, surprisingly not our favourite. At times we were averaging 50-60kph which actually got us places way quicker over the long run, literally 50-60 felt like highway speeds back home, it was strange, but we were really getting used to the slow, snail's pace that is normal for Vietnam on smaller, rural roads, a slower pace we came to love and enjoy. Much easier to smell the hibiscus and contemplate 'why the chicken crossed the road' when you are rolling at 30kph.
I had read that Mai Chau was a popular tourist destination because of the influence of the White Thai minority village in the area. Tourists would flock here in hordes to stay in traditional White Thai stilt houses, complete with modern conveniences such as flush toilets and WiFi. We zipped into the main village out of Mai Chau with intentions to find a stilt house. We did a few laps in the village and then ended up on the edge of town at a new family run hotel called the Mai Chau Inn, just down from the expensive Mai Chau Lodge. We checked into one of the lovely rooms and started unwinding and unpacking. It was a shorter day of riding so we managed some time to relax on our private deck overlooking the areas rice paddies, drinking a cold beer and chatting about our day. Even though we were traveling together, you spend so much time in your own helmet and inside your own head, that it was nice to catch-up at the end of each day.
(Above) Drafting a plan for the next few days to come...
We had to make a decision to see Ninh Binh and area for a few days (which was highly recommended by a fellow ADVer) or to zip south to see Phong Nha National park for a few days - unfortunately we couldn't do both... it was a tough decision.