Trip Report: Paul Brooke - 10 Days - Northeast Loop

Hanoi - Bac Son - Cao Bang - Ban Gioc - Bao Lac - Ba Be Lake - Hoang Su Phi - Luc Yen - Vu Linh - Thai Nguyen - Hanoi

Ride Details

1260 km
10 days, 9 nights
Dec / Jan 2022/3

Group Info

I started by myself and then, met Danny near Ban Gioc Waterfalls on 3/12-. We rode together until 3/16. *Recommended! > Take advantage of the tours offered. I would have not done and seen many of the things that I experienced if it had not been for Danny riding along with me. Next time I would book a tour. If I was by myself, I’d respectfully ask if I could join an established group.
Paul Brooke – 10 Days – Northeast Loop

Day 1: Hanoi - Bac Son

160 km
5 hours
Hard surface, dry
Overcast, cool
It was a non-scenic exit from Hanoi. Then, went past the Samsung factory. 70,000 employees? Really? Started to get interesting after Tan Thanh to DT243.
I spent the night at Duong Cong Chich Homestay. Nice, friendly place
Paul Brooke and the Honda XR150 next to one of the old signposts in Xuan Truong

Day 2: Bac Son - Cao Bang

170 km
6 hours
Hilly, dirt, gravel, rutted, potholes, construction to Cao Van Mich, then hard dry tarmac
Overcast, cool
Road began to climb with many switchbacks. Fewer people and traffic. Terrific views. Fun! It’s not a 6 hour trip to Cao Bang but with the many stops to take in the scenery, it adds up.
Buffalo dung is also a major road hazard. Be careful. Male water buffalo can weigh up to 2,500 pounds. They occupy the road indiscriminately and I was careful to avoid them.
Hanging out at border post no.621 is always fun!

Day 3: Cao Bang - Ban Gioc Waterfall

90 km
4 hours
Hard, dry tarmac
Overcast, patchy sunshine
QL3 takes you over the Ma Phuc Pass. The scenery is just stunning. Karst formations overlook rice paddies in a scene that could be thousands of years old. Wonderful road!
On the way to the falls, I stopped at Lan’s Homestay. The family was having lunch and I respectfully tried to keep my distance and wait until they were finished before I asked to check-in. They insisted that I have lunch with them. Friendly, inclusive and gracious people. The rooms were modern, well lit, and immaculate. Highly recommended.
Just one of the fantastic roads that you will find in Cao Bang

Day 4: Ban Gioc Waterfall - Bao Lac

180 km
5 hours
Often narrow, hard top, but lots of gravel, watch out!
Bright and dry, 20C
In places, the road began to resemble a large sidewalk. Mostly solid but gravel on the switchbacks that needed careful navigation. Listen and watch carefully for oncoming traffic. DT206, DT208, DT217. We detoured up a narrow road to Border Post 621. Photography is not recommended. Trust me.
A long(ish) day, particularly with major construction for the final hour before Bao Lac. It was a very exhilarating, challenging, satisfying and a downright fun road to travel on. Thanks, Danny! Checked into Sunny’s Hotel and had dinner.
Paul Brooke and the Honda XR150 in the middle of nowhere

Day 5: Bao Lac - Ba Be Lake

140 km
4 hours
A mix of construction and tarmac, steep inclines and switchbacks
Bright and dry, cool in the morning, warm at midday.
We began our morning with a great breakfast at Sunny’s. I played her the old Bobby Hebb recording, “Sunny”. She was delighted! (She has a washer and dryer, by the way). This morning’s trip departed the hard-top quickly and took us up a steep, dirt road above the city. It was dirt, gravel and construction equipment. A landslide had us pick our way carefully around the pile. Eventually, we regained the hard-top and drove around a newly completed dam and reservoir and took a picture with one of the local people.
The approach to Ba Be Lake was the first encounter that I had with larger scale tourism. We arrived at a very pleasant homestay that perched itself on the side of a hill. The bikes were secured in a locked yard and we settled into a good dinner with a terrific view.
Paul Brooke and the XR150 on some of the potholed roads in Ha Giang

Day 6: Ba Be Lake - HOang Su Phi

170 km
5 hours
The lake trail was narrow, moderately well traveled and dotted with potholes. We gained QL 279 which was a sealed hard-top road and made for easy travel.
Misty morning, dry lunch, cloudy afternoon
Two stops at coffee shops brought us past Viet Quang where we departed QL279 and turned north on the now infamous, to me, at least, DT197E. Pavement was only a suggestion as we climbed up the mountain. Tourist vehicles and delivery trucks would pass only to have to crawl over deep ruts and potholes so as not to break shocks, springs or axles.
This was 25 KM of thoroughly attention-getting road. At the near end (The road traveled all the way to DT117.) was, incongruously, a four-star retreat. We crossed a narrow suspension bridge and were greeted with hot towels and a refreshing honey-ginger-lemon tea.
Paul Brooke on the bamboo bridge on the way to Yen Bai Province

Day 7: Hoang Su Phi - Luc Yen

120 km
5 hours
Very muddy steep downhill, then, easy flat tarmac
Dry, warm 22C no rain
A fine dinner was followed by a good night’s sleep. I was awakened about 4:00 AM by the sounds of thunder and rain. I thought, at least the ride down won’t be dusty. It wasn’t. We lingered over a truly fine breakfast and then loaded up the bikes. It was mostly a muddy slide to the bottom and we proceeded with great care. To make the ride more interesting, we were enveloped in fog much of the way. Breaking out finally on the hard-top QL279 was a respite. Danny wanted to go cross country on a small lane to eventually cross the Bamboo Bridge. Google maps have been guiding us and I would say that they are 90% reliable. Wi-Fi seems to be very good over most of the north. However, the map did not describe this antique bridge of dubious construction.
Backtracking did not take that long and we found ourselves back on the 279. This is where Danny had to head back to Hanoi. We’d see each other on Sunday. I went West on 279 to DT 183, where I turned South, and had a pleasant 4 hour run, winding through small towns on a clear, dry, hard-topped road. The Xoi Farmstay was run by a delightfully kind and friendly family. A nice, simple room with a short walk across the courtyard to the shower was perfect.
Paul Brooke driving the xr150 through a dam under construction in Hoang Su Phi

Day 8: Luc Yen - Vu Linh - Thai Nguyen - Hanoi

150 km
6 hours
Warm, Cloudy, Showers
With the exception of a five km muddy patch of construction, it was about 150 easy km from Luc Yen to Vu Linh, to Thai Nguyen and back to Hanoi. Crossing the Cau Nhat Tan into Hanoi left me with a bit of melancholy that the trip was over. For me, the trip was never about arriving anywhere. It was about the journey - merely traveling across the countryside was the joy. The scenery was never predictable. It always took you by surprise. That was a reason for so many stops.
That, and the continuous ensemble of truly kind and gentle people. I hope to see some of them again. Also, the XR 150 was the perfect bike for me and performed flawlessly. I made sure to get it washed and bring it back the same way that it was given to me. This was my grand introduction to Vietnam and I’ll be back for more.



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