Days 1-2: Hanoi. Vietnam's beautiful and tranquil capital lies at the heart of the northern Red River Delta. It is a city of lakes and leafy boulevards that still retains an air of French colonial elegance. The fine coffee and perfect baguettes have led some to call it the 'Paris of the East', but Hanoi's dates all the way back to AD 1010.
On arrival in Hanoi, you will be met and transferred to your hotel in the old quarter. This ancient part of the city is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets each named after a trade or guild. Nowadays it is lined with tempting restaurants, guest houses, shops and cafes, but the past never seems far away. It is a charming place to either unwind or visit some its many attractions, among the most popular being the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. We will spend 2 days here before the hard work begins. Accommodation: Guest House. Photos from QT Luong.
Day 3: Hanoi to Son La. After an early breakfast we transfer Son La. It's a fascinating drive past many minority villages as we climb onto a higher plateau. We pass coffee and tea plantations before arriving in the late afternoon. Son La was once the site of a French penal colony where radicals and revolutionaries were incarcerated during French rule. The prison was destroyed by American war planes during the Vietnam War (or as the Vietnamese sensibly call it the American war) except for a lone peach tree planted by an inmate in the 1940s. Since then the prison has partially rebuilt and a museum opened. Accommodation: Hotel. Cycling distance: 42 km. Photos from QT Luong.
Day 4: Son La to Tuan Giao. The ride begins with a 5 km climb into the beautiful surrounding countryside. We pass through a patchwork of rice fields and plum orchards. After the 50 km mark we have a 12 km, 900 m lung busting ascent. The scenery makes up for the hard work as the rolling land erupts into stunning karst rock outcrops bristling with trees. The land is home to the Black Thai who originated in southern China. The women can be glimpsed working the fields in brightly colored dresses and hats, the children riding water buffalo and the men speeding along on noisy motor cycles. We finish the day with a thrilling 11km decent before we reach the town of Tuan Giao.
Accommodation: Guest House. Cycling distance: 90 km. Photos from QT Luong.
Day 5: Tuan Giao to Lai Chau. Once out of Tuan Giao the road deteriorates as we take a spectacular back road to Lai Chau. This road isn't well traveled, you first notice this by the increased curiosity and smiling faces and of the people, making this a day not to be forgotten. We cycle past rice fields and bananas plantations as we pass through small minority villages of Red Hmong and Kho Mu. There are two hard climbs to