Mon Cai to Huu Lung – 248km
Aiming for our first climbing destination Huu Lung, we started a mountainous yet scenic journey in northern Vietnam after we crossed the border at Mon Cai/Dongxing. It took us 5 days to cover the 248km distance.
This was probably the easiest section of cycling that we did in Vietnam despite the hilly terrain. People were generous and hospitable, and thanks to the lack of tourists in the area we were rarely quoted in foreigner’s price, which is double of what locals pay. Accommodation options along the way are mainly truck stops. Buying nonperishable grocery was a bit of a challenge for us, ironically because Vietnamese diet is even healthier – local people prefer fresh ingredients for their meals, but fresh leafy vegetables and freshly butchered meat are hard to travel with. Since most people cook at home rather than eating out, the menu in local restaurants is very limited – most of time it’s either bún (thin rice noodles) or phở (flat rice noodles), with either chicken or beef on top. Luckily the abundance of bánh mì made our diet easy and very enjoyable.
The road condition also improved since we cross the China/Vietnam border. The traffic on QL18 and QL4B was light and the concrete was smooth. Once we started on AH1, the road was heavily traveled by overloaded trucks blasting 100 decibel horns. Mercifully the road shoulder is wide and smooth.
Huu Lung to Cầu Treo Border Pass – 459km
AH1 turned into a nightmare when we were getting closer to major cities. We managed to avoid traveling through Ha Noi, however even traveling on the outskirt was bad enough – millions of motorcycles stopping and merging in traffic without caution, and the road shoulder disappeared so we had to hug the very edge of the road, which was filled with garbage and broken glass. Meanwhile, our view was blocked by a double fence and merging traffic from sided road rarely yield. The road condition was much better away from the major cities,but there was barely any scenery along the road at this point.
From Vinh, we started heading west on QL8A / AH15. The road condition from Duc Tho to Pho Chau was the worst we have come through so far. It was exceptionally muddy and hilly, and unfortunately it is the only route between Vinh and Cau Treo Border crossing so heavy traffic is common.
QL8A got better once we passed Pho Chau. But it was not an easy ride either. It was pretty much all uphill all the way to the border. The road work at the last 10km was horrifying, and the road between the Vietnam/Laos check points was infamously bad. Bad road condition was coupled with the typical climate in mountainous areas – misty, humid and cold. We strongly advice cyclists, either on human-powered vehicles or on motorcycles, not to pass this section under rainy condition.