67km, av. 15.6km/hr, max 47.9km/hr, time on bikes: 4hr 17 mins
Today’s ride is perhaps one of the most uneventful and, because of the dense low cloud that hangs around all day, one of the least scenic – even though we happen to pass over a spectacular mountain pass with amazing views down to Mai Chau, on a clear day at least.
Out of Mai Chau on Route 15 it’s flat for the first few km, before we hang a right onto Route 16, and start going up… and up… and up. It’s pretty relentless, for around 8 or 9 km, and there’s not much to look at other than all the entertainingly over-loaded motorbikes just about managing to overtake us. Tet is fast approaching so lots of people are heading home, and taking most of their furniture with them, including the kitchen sink, by the looks of it.
We stop at a roadside cafe and ‘viewing point’ to admire the fog, where we meet a very nice lad who introduces us to the saccharine charms of ‘One One’ sweet ricecakes, which we devour eagerly.
The road is near perfect and there are quite a few trucks using it. On the way down the other side, one huge American-style truck is having to take it really slowly (probably less than 20km/hr) – overtaking it as we speed down the mountain at 47km/hr is perhaps the most thrilling/scary moment of cycling so far! The amazing stretch of downhill goes on for about 10km and, when we stop for a pause to ‘re-calibrate’ our bones and bikes, the lorry (pictured) eventually passes by and gives us a honk on its horn. It’s like we’re in a friendly re-make of the Spielberg classic, Duel.
After that, there are no more mountain passes and the rest of the day flies by without much in the way of incident. Hoa Binh is similar to Mai Chau only bigger, and with plenty of accommodation options. We manage to find a room and bargain it down to 170,000. I feel bad haggling with a man who has his foot in bandages (from a motorbike accident, naturally), but he quickly makes up the mark-down in beer sales, so everyone’s a winner.