Category Archives: Vietnam

Vietnam: Reflections

TOTAL DISTANCE: approx 690Kms

A very happy meal in SAPA, a day’s shopping there, a trip to the Chinese border & a train journey overnight to Hanoi where we spent 2 days sightseeing & shopping. Managed to get the camera stolen on the last afternoon but felt if that was the worst thing to happen then I was lucky & I did have a full memory chip apart from the camera.

All in all a real adventure & particularly in my 61st year & the oldest competitor to complete the Challenge. I bless all the training on the road & in the gym. I bless dear Jude for all the support, good food, supplements & vitamins I’m sure played a big part & all my mates who have encouraged & sponsored me & helped me raise around £17k (still coming in) for this challenge, which is the highest total, save the two Organisers.

THANKS TO YOU ALL (actually could say anything here as I’m sure everyone wandered off at about day 3).

Brian Frith

November 2007

Vietnam: Day Eight – TAM DUONG to SAPA

I actually gave thought to not doing day 8 given how hard day 7 was & also given that day 8 involved an early climb of about 10km, a descent of 15kms but then a long, steep climb from 750 to 200mts over a distance of 25kms at the end of the day.

However I’d come too far & 05.15 saw me sitting on the edge of the bed applying my Assos cream liberally to the chamois pad in my shorts & then theatrically throwing it into the bin with the ‘don’t need THAT anymore’. BIG MISTAKE – I’d put the bloody stuff on the wrong side of the shorts!! To then be told there was no porridge for breakfast & offered noodles or rice was almost the last straw, but I did manage an egg sandwich, a jam sandwich, some watery melon juice & a grim coffee so was not going to starve.

The weather was fine, the mood in the car park a mixture of nervousness & excitement as we were set to put this challenge to bed.

The scenery was stunning & got better & better & bigger & bigger & was at all times a wonderful & uplifting diversion. I decided also to use my new ipod shuffle, for the first time, for the days ride. That was to prove a good decision & I found great inspiration in the music, in particular odd tracks at random from a 13 year old CD from St Michael’s school choir featuring daughter Amy & her mates in some lovely diverse music.

The first uphill was fine & the downhill on good roads quite glorious & I am told speeds of 39mph were recorded.
Lunch was at the start of the final climb & even some local merrily wandering in our midst swing 4 dead rats failed to dampen appetites & the need to stoke up. I settled for a tin of tuna, a peanut butter sandwich, a couple of bananas, some dried fruit, a painkiller & a quick prayer.

Fairly early in the climb, I sat on the back wheel of Malcolm & a couple of the girls & just kept my head down so that there was no neck ache, no need to watch the road & no need to find a pace. However I found myself leaving ahead of them after a water stop so just carried on, feeling surprisingly good & indeed went to 2000mts & TRAM TON PASS feeling absolutely great & with energy to spare & St Michael’s singing ‘this song is for the children’. The ‘A’ team were of course already there & gave everyone a wonderful & inspiring welcome & indeed took to going back down the mountain some while later to help the weaker cyclists make the summit. This was indicative of the team spirit throughout the week, which saw the stronger members forever encouraging & helping those less strong.

Throughout the latter part of this climb, we had met cold air & mist & by the time the last of the riders made the summit, the weather was closing in & it was distinctly cold, with poor visibility.

After photographs, congratulations & tears we set off for the final ride, only to be stopped after 2 kms to be told we were not allowed to proceed until blasting of the mountain had been done. There was an hour’s delay before we set off in freezing fog, visibility down to 50yards & on unmade roads that were muddy, rutted & rocky. All this in contention with lots of trucks & cars. The only joy was that when the trucks then became completely jammed, we managed to squeeze through & head onto SAPA, the only hiccup being a shunt by Mo, which left him prostrate & dire looking on a wet, treacherous bend in the road. That slowed us all down & he mercifully got away with a few bumps & bangs.

We finally reached the football ground at SAPA & proceeded to reverse the actions of 8 days ago & took back our personal items & happily waved goodbye to the bikes, trudging off to the hotel in a scene of swirling mist that would do justice to a London Victorian street scene.

Distance: 71Kms

Vietnam: Day Seven – MUONG LAY to TAM DUONG

We were warned that day 7 was THE challenge day & given the days profile map, plus the one for following day 8.
Day 7 was about 80kms of undulating road, followed by a 15km quite hard climb.

Day 8 was a hard climb early followed by a particularly brutal & long climb to end the day.

Neither day’s prospects filled us with joy but we were certainly distracted in the morning as we followed the NAM NA RIVER through the most beautiful countryside, crossing it on an impressive built Chinese Suspension bridge.

The scooter brigade were not having the best of days that day & I saw a spilled load of fish & a large bullock, feet tied, who had unreasonably refused to stay on the back of his scooter. There was also a crate of dogs, possibly 5 or 6, packed so tightly that there was not a centimetre between them & just resigned, sad faces poking through the netting. Some lady was carrying a bamboo load as wide as the road – I’ve yet to work out what happened when she met an oncoming vehicle! There were also children in this region – probably no older than 5 years, miles from anywhere, carrying loads from their heads that we would struggle to cope with.

The final ascent was, at least for me, brutal & the 10km descent into Tam Duong did not bring the relief it might, as it was getting dark, the town was frenetic with traffic & once again, the hotel was at the far side of town & up a hill.
The CONG DOAN SON LA HOTEL was fine, but dinner was uninspiring & my mood particularly worrisome about what lay ahead the following & final day.

Distance: 110kms

Vietnam: Day Six – DIEN BIEN PHU to MUONG LAY

We are told that under prior schedules, today would be a rest day, but somehow not for us as it would interfere with the final day’s dinner in Hanoi & our chance to meet up with the trekkers. I shall leave the reaction of the Group to your imagination.

We followed the river out of Dien Bien Phu through lovely villages & under a clear blue sky. However & despite now being on decent roads, we had at least three shunts today with Ivan doing a spectacular somersault over the bars as he met a ramp at the end of a long downhill – end of his cycling & a busted shoulder. Made mental note to concentrate despite tiredness, keep a distance from the guy in front & look out for ruts, pigs, chickens, buffalo & trucks intent on stealing my bit of tarmac. We also have a number of people struggling to do the miles & others with D&V or bugs that are keeping them away from the bikes. Leader Andy is repeatedly saying he will pull people & bus them if, in his opinion, they’re not fit to ride. Please god, not me!!

We had a decent lunch at 55kms & of then a slow climb to 1000mts with two very deceptive ‘false’ summits – not physically or mentally easy to deal with in temperatures of low to mid 30’s.

We were now into countryside & views that were awesome & a reluctance to take photographs in the acknowledgement that there is no way one could do justice to the sheer scale of things. Sort of very green Alps scenery. We had kids once again cheering us on our way & I had a wave from a guy on a scooter with a large, live pig strapped onto the back seat!!

Finally arrived at a most peculiar Hemingway(esque) type wooden built hotel with four poster beds, dubious linens & bathrooms with strikingly green mould & rules (in a most peculiar style of English, for some reason) which stated that we were not to pick quarrels, carry explosives, use prostitutes or take drugs. Bugger – I might as well have an early night.

Distance: 102kms

Vietnam: Day Five – TUAN GIAO to DIEN BIEN

This was such a good place to leave & we made an impressive cavalcade through the town on decent tarmac, undulating roads & onto lunch at MUONG ANG. Certain of the group managed to latch onto activity beyond the restaurant kitchens (I use that term loosely – read big room, dirt floor & big log fire with ancient big cooking utensils) that turned out to be the slaughter of three dogs. We were informed that such luxury meat products were strictly for the locals & not wasted on Westerners, but I saw a marked lack of enthusiasm for the meat portion of lunch that day.
The weather was warm & sunny & I studiously stayed in the shade as long as possible over lunch.

The ride after lunch was a short steep climb, followed by a long downhill stretch where we managed to get spectacularly dirty & arrived at our next hotel (HOTEL HIM LAM), head to toe in dust & mud. Given that this was by far the best hotel so far we did look pretty incongruous but it didn’t seem to phase the local staff who hauled our bags off to wonderfully modern rooms with views of a lake & low lying mountains, not unlike the Scottish Lowlands. Tony & I were allocated a particularly good room in a Pagoda style building with quite spectacular views & these almost blinded me to the fact that it was a double-bedded room. By now, I have to admit to being rather fond of Tony despite his dubious sleeping habits which I’ve promised not to talk about (what goes on tour stays on tour – right) but his wife, Jane will know what I mean. However this was step too far & anyway I had a headache, so off we go again with the luggage (drop the camera out of the bag again – sorry Amy) & we’re established in your regular economy room but who cares – good beds, hot water & a decent evening meal

Distance 84kms