Hanoi is in a Tet frenzy, cleaning the streets, selling gift baskets, and having more chaotic traffic than usual. We spent a few days cycling around the countryside to escape...
Day 1: The word "muddy" doesn't adequately describe the state of us at the end of day one. Our bikes, our bags, and our persons (ah, the indignity) were hosed down before being allowed into the hotel. Still, we got out of Hanoi without getting lost, maimed or killed, no small feat.
Day 2: After a climb over a mountain pass in dense fog (cold, wet, miserable, etc) we popped out the other side into a stunning valley. Inadvertently ate dog meat for lunch - it's orange and fatty and tastes like, well, dog. We felt a little guilty and uncomfortable, especially as there was a dog sitting by our table staring at us, so we left most of it in our bowls. We spent the night in a fantastic village of stilt houses in the middle of rice paddies surrounded by mountains - very peaceful.
Day 3: Brilliant riding today on a small highway which we often had to ourselves. We followed a river valley, meandered through rice paddies dotted with karst cliffs, and were generally impressed by the scenery. Hit 4000km today! Arrived in a tiny town in the pouring rain, and again out came a hose.
Day 4: Ah, the innocence of us on day one - we didn't know what true mud was! Well, today we were enlightened. At one point the bikes wouldn't even move, so clogged were they with mud. After wrecking our brake pads we arrived at Cuc Phuong National Park where we spent an enjoyable afternoon in the freezing cold looking around the Monkey Rescue Centre.
Day 5: Another sodden ride, another hosing down. We stayed the night in Ninh Binh and convinced ourselves to get the bus back up Highway 1 to Hanoi. Although this proved to be no quieter or any less dangerous, we were at least warm and dry and not hosed down on arrival.
We're leaving here tomorrow (Tues) to fly to Hong Kong. In the meantime we're cleaning bikes (all that hosing and they're still not clean), and cramming in as much of Hanoi as possible. Yesterday we had the very weird experience of going to see Ho Chi Minh's body. This definitely rates at one of our top Vietnamese experiences. First we were ordered to arrange ourselves into two lines of two abreast, thanks. Our bag was searched and X-rayed, then we went through metal detectors. We were ushered through a huge complex by whistle-wielding guards (and they aren't afraid to use them!) and finally found ourselves at the doorway to the mausoleum itself. I (Claud) was pulled out of line and my bag searched again (maybe I have a shifty face??) before finally being allowed in. The interior was dim, the lights were red, and Uncle Ho was flanked by four guards. The man himself was pale and waxy, and the only noise inside was the shuffling feet of hundreds of tourists. Very bizarre, we are already looking forward to Mao.