- Ride length: 830 km
- Difficulty: Easy
Day 1: Hanoi - Cuc Phuong, ~150 km, ~5 hours. (L, D)
Heading out of Hanoi to the southwest, we pass through picturesque limestone karst regions. We ride between the karst and through lush paddies down to Cuc Phuong National Park. On our approach to the park (the first ever national park in Vietnam), we pass through a rice-growing area inhabited largely by families previously resettled from within the park's boundaries. The park, standing on limestone karst, which marks the end of a chain extending from Laos, rises out of the landscape ominously. We continue through deep jungle to the centre of the park where we can enjoy the quite ambience of the park and stay in wooden bungalows in the centre of the park. Overnight in Cuc Phuong National Park.
Day 2: Cuc Phuong - Mai Chau, ~190 km, ~7 hours. (B, L, D)
In the morning, time permitting, we visit the park's impressive primate centre before heading out into karst country populated by Muong people in traditional villages. Then we take on a small jungle access road though the top of the park, all the way to Cam Thuy. Following the wide Ma river up to the Lao border region, we climb through some spectacular mountain scenery before descending into the beautiful Mai Chau valley. This is the territory of the Thai, Vietnam's most prolific ethnic minority. Mai Chau's tranquil valley setting, engaging White Thai inhabitants, wonderful food and superb rice wine make it a very relaxing stop. Here we stay with friends in a traditional Thai-style stilt house. Overnight in Mai Chau.
Day 3: Mai Chau - Phu Yen, ~170 km, ~6 hours. (B, L, D)
In the morning we embark on a road built by the French army which drops down to the Black River Reservoir. The 50-km route (the old French road) has plenty of challenging surface and is very remote. Then we hit the tarmac again and make a great decent to the banks of the reservoir and a ferry crossing. Once across we follow the banks of the reservoir past village all relocated before the flooding of the valley. On easy sealed road we approach the mountain settlement of Phu Yen, set in the middle of a vast valley floor of paddy fields. Overnight in Phu Yen.
Day 4: Phu Yen - Phuc An, ~120 km, ~4 hours. (B, L, D)
We cross over the very end of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range through untarnished rainforest towards Ba Khe. From there we continue on sealed road through renowned tea growing areas, where the hillsides are literally covered in plantations, all the way to the city of Yen Bai which sits on the Red River. From here it's a short ride to the edge of Thac Ba Lake, also formed by the construction of hydroelectricity dam in the 1970s. We leave the bikes behind and take a boat for an hour's journey across the clear waters to the Dao village of Phuc An where we stay for the night, enjoying Dao hospitality. Overnight in Phuc An.
Day 5: Phuc An - Hanoi, ~200 km, ~7 hours. (B, L)
After an early start we swim at a nearby waterfall before heading back across the lake by boat to collect our bikes. After breakfast we cruise southeast on Highway 2 and then branch off to the sleepy town of Phu Tho. We follow the edge of the Red River along the dyke, almost to the point where it merges with the Black River after which they flow together to Hanoi. By now we are very much in the lowlands of the delta plains and the north's main agricultural areas. Harvest time here is a sea of activity. Crossing the Black River by bridge, we pass through Son Tay and then return to Hanoi on the highway.
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