V20 Extreme Northeastern Vietnam CX Traverse
This 28 participant trip is completely sold out, the only two remaining spots will be auctioned Crank It Forward! 2019! Don’t miss this once of a lifetime adventure experience! For non-profit purposes, the donated portion of this custom-designed trip is valued at $2,600 per person although it’s truly priceless and worth much more! Winning bidders supply their own air travel and non-included extra costs.
Who? Many of the participants are Boulder-based cyclists who have traveled to the Pyrenees, Dolomites, Blue Ridge Parkway or Northern California on previous Hobbini tours. This is a fun-loving, easy-to-travel-with, resourceful, competent group of cyclists. If this sounds familiar to you, you’d be a good fit.
What? A private, custom-designed, 2 week “Hobbini Global Cycling Escapades” adventure tour. 8 full riding days, 1 optional riding or trekking day, 2 transfer days, 1 sightseeing day in Hanoi, plus arrival/depart days and international travel. FULLY supported with cyclist guides/translators and vehicles for shuttles and transfers. Daily distances will vary based on route and individual rider preference from 15-75 miles. Multiple pace groups. Lots of climbing! CX/Gravel/MB recommended because of road surfaces.
Where? Extreme northeastern Vietnam. This route will carve a meandering course on small roads over mountain ranges and along river valleys through a region that is remote, mountainous, and stunningly beautiful. Until recently, this region that shares the border with China was restricted for travel and has escaped much of the impact of modern tourism. Terraced rice paddies and primary forests provide an attractive canvas as we wind our way up through vertiginous passes on the road less travelled. We launch and depart from Hanoi.
When? The year 2020, but check your calendar because that’s sooner than you think! Monday, March 16 arrival in Hanoi and Sunday, March 29 departure. Feel free to add extra days or destinations to your travel plans!
Lodging? A mix of hotels, ecolodges, and small village homestays. Lodging is booked for you and included in the tour package cost.
Food? Breakfast will always be included, plus several lunches and dinners. Dining out on your own is almost always $4-5 or less, plus alcohol.
Tour Cost? Your winning bid for the tour package, plus an estimated $500 in extras and $1,000 in air travel per person. Amazing value for 2 weeks of spectacular adventure!
Weather? Hanoi and lower elevation areas will be hot. But up in the northern highlands the temperatures will be mild, even cool and foggy at times. Late March has been chosen as the best combination of moderate temperatures and low average rain. In the higher towns, we can expect temperatures to drop to 50 or below overnight, while the day time temperatures should be 60-75 degrees. Rain is always a possibility, but we won’t be in the monsoon season. And yes, the humidity will be higher than Colorado!
Special Diet? Are you vegetarian, vegan or gluten free? Our tour host says no problem, but no guarantees of something in all of the little towns. It’s recommended to carry a little card in H’mong and Vietnamese that indicates your food preferences.
DAY 1: Hanoi Arrival
Upon arrival at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport, we’ll connect with our local guides/operators and transfer to our hotel. At some point today or tomorrow we’ll get our bikes built up, the shipping boxes will then be stored until our return.
The balance of the day is open. Hanoi is an exciting city, the pastime favored by visitors is to wander the narrow, densely populated streets to get a taste for urban Vietnamese life.
DAY 2: Hanoi Self-Explore, Guided Bus Tour or Guided Scooter Tour
It’s your day to enjoy as you wish. Hanoi is filled with enchanting and culturally significant sites, here are a few that could be part of your tour day…
— West Lake to admire the sixth-century Tran Quoc Buddhist Pagoda.
— Ho Chi Minh’s former house where he planned the movement that led to Vietnam’s independence.
— One Pillar Pagoda (built 1049), one of Vietnam’s most iconic temples.
— Hanoi’s bustling Old Quarter, the area of 36 narrow streets is a lively place to walk around while learning about Vietnam’s traditional ways of life.
In the evening we meet up as a group to have our full group welcome dinner at a specially selected fine restaurant in Hanoi.
DAY 3: Transfer Hanoi > Pan Hou Village
In the morning we depart the bustling city of Hanoi and transfer comfortably 6 hours by bus to Pan Hou Village. We’ll leave early to have time for afternoon activities. This transfer is mostly on a new highway so we’ll move right along with a smooth ride until we turn off onto the twisty backroads into the mountains.
Our ecolodge for tonight and tomorrow, Pan Hou Village, is hidden at the heart of the High Song Chay mountains, located in a beautiful valley amid terraced gardens along the banks of a small river. Lodging includes traditional stilt houses that are very comfortable and look out across a gorgeous garden. The resort has beautiful landscaping lily-pad ponds, friendly staff, simple rooms with balconies, excellent restaurant, well-equipped bar area, excellent wi-fi in bar area and spa services (herbal bath & massage).
DAY 4: Pan Hou Village (Optional riding or trekking day)
Today we have options. If you are a biking miles hound, there are dirt roads heading back into the remote areas to the west and north. If you want to trek, you can head with a guide to visit a Red Dao ethnic village in the surrounding mountains. And if you want to kick back and relax, you can enjoy the highly recommended and reasonably priced spa with medicinal hot tubs and massage. This will be one of the V20 highlights, a lost valley almost all to ourselves!
DAY 5: Pan Hou Village > Ha Giang (Up to 47.5 Miles, 3,780 Vert)
Today we’re officially in the saddle on our primary cycling route, it’s Ha Giang or Bust!
We say goodbye to Pan Hou Village with a few miles of rolling terrain alongside the local streams, and then tackle the one and only long climb of the day, a 1,500 foot, 5 mile ascent up the climb known as Heaven’s Gate Pass (aka Cong Troi Pass) with views over terraced crops, majestic waterfalls, and rivers. Even in the mist that often hangs over the pass, it’s a sublime ride. Then it’s 10 miles down into the lowlands in the village of Tan Quang.
From Tan Quang on Road QL2 it’s a smooth and mostly flat ride north along the Lo River (it means blue, but usually runs brown!) for about 30 miles to Ha Giang which features plentiful tasty food, and a large market.
DAY 6: Ha Giang > Yen Minh (Up to 61.1 Miles, 7,551 Vert)
We depart Ha Giang toward Tam Son on Road QL4C, the road we will enjoy for the next several days of glorious riding. Just out of town we encounter forested limestone mountains that tower over the roads, while blue rivers run alongside. At about 30km we arrive at the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geo-Park, a UNESCO site since 2011.
Next, it is up the 10 mile, 3,000 foot snaking ascent of Quan Ba Pass (yet another pass named Heaven’s Gate!). The views back down over the meandering road are terrific, followed by a descent into Tam Son (aka Quan Ba), nestled in a valley between dozens of limestone molehills.
From Tam Son, we descend down through some severe switchbacks with remarkable views to the Mien River Valley. Crossing the river, we follow it north for about 10 miles through steep canyons. Along the way we encounter hamlets of wooden houses lining this bamboo-adorned valley. One more moderate 10 mile climb through a pretty, cultivated landscape close to the Chinese border awaits, before cresting in a cool pine forest.
Descending down into Yen Minh we’ll see the limestone forests of the Dong Van Karst Plateau in the distance, like the ramparts of giant castles. Yen Minh is a small and relaxing town, one of its few tourism sites is Vuong Palace, a Chinese-style mansion built by the local H’mong lords at the turn of the 20th century. Beyond that we’ll relax, eat and enjoy the awesome views!
DAY 7: Yen Minh > Dong Van (Up to 29.3 Miles, 6,018 Vert)
Before heading out on our bikes we’ll take in the incredible Yen Minh Sunday market, where sellers trek in from the many hill villages to sell their wares. It’s considered one of the best markets in this remote northern region of Vietnam.
The ethnic people in this area are predominantly H’mong, less savvy with foreigners because of the remoteness. All along this road are women and girls of all ages carrying heavy loads of wood, hay and crops on their backs.
The ambitious roads are impressive as they ride over and around the complex pinnacled limestone terrain, appearing like a stone forest. The land is treeless. Think of a Tolkein novel, or a Chinese ink wash painting.
Today’s first challenge is a 10 mile, 3,500 foot corkscrew climb known as Nine Turn Pass, that takes us right up into the limestone karsts, offering excellent views back down the valley. Trees are noticeably absent from the rocky slopes, and the terraced rice fields of the valley disappear as well.
From the summit, the road descends into a dramatic valley where there’s a small settlement clustered around a large stone building, the former palace of the H’mong king, built by the colonial French to keep the king happy. The whole building is surrounded by stone walls of over 1m thick.
For the last 15km into Dong Van, the road is chiseled out of the rocky cliffs and offers thrilling views and twisty roads. In the evening we’ll stroll, shop, and eat in Dong Van’s Old Quarter, the center of dining, shopping and culture.
DAY 8: Dong Van > Meo Vac (Up to 13.6 Miles, 2,929 Vert + Bonus Options)
Today’s ride offers quite possibly the most remarkable stretch of road in Vietnam. Get ready! But we’re not headed there first because we’ll instead use our morning for your choice of either strolling town or heading out for a 12km ride (or hike) on a stunning gravel and single track loop from Dong Van.
Now, with the morning trail riding behind us (or a trek), today’s afternoon ride is the short but stunning stretch along the Ma Pi Leng Pass, a staggering road clinging to the edge of a wall of limestone mountains, towering hundreds of feet above the craterous Song Nho Que River below. The pass is a spectacular stretch of road overlooking stunning rock formations, rice terraces, and gorgeous scenery. Ma Pi Leng Pass may be the riding highlight of V20!
And if anybody wants some extra miles (of course you do!), there is a midway 8.8 mile optional roundtrip from the highway down to the river, with a 1,500 foot climb back up.
We’ll wrap up today’s ride in Meo Vac which sits in a sheltered basin among looming limestone karsts. Meo Vac is a favorite little town with a good market, a new night market and good food.
DAY 9: Meo Vac > Bao Lac (Up to 45.4 Miles, 4,236 Vert)
As we have the past few days, we get back onto lovely Road QL4C, this time heading south from Meo Vac. Today has the distinction of having more descending than climbing as we drop down from the highlands. Yea!
Once again, the Song Nho Que River travels along with us. We’ll pass more gorgeous valleys, tackle a short climb and then descend a scenic pass to another gorgeous waterway, the Gam River. Known as the flowing hair of a sleeping, mountainous young lady, Gam River is revered for its beautiful, sapphire-like tone and natural setting.
Having descended from the highlands, it’s usually warmer and lusher here than in Meo Vac, perfect for the mostly flat final 20 miles of today’s ride. Our good friend Road QL4C ends in the village of Ly Bon, where it joins our new route QL34. This road also offers a beautiful route along a rich fertile valley, although the road is cut out of steep slopes. Several rivers converge in tonight’s stopover town of Bao Lac, making it a traditional place for voyagers to overnight.
DAY 10: Bao Lac > Cao Bang (Up to 78.6 Miles, 8,689 Vert)
Today offers a long and tough day on the bike for anyone willing to tackle the full distance. Riders can shorten the distance by shuttling out of Bao Lac or into Cao Bang or both.
For the first 36 miles from Bao Lac the road mostly climbs, gaining 3,000 feet. But because of the various ups and downs, there is actually 5,850 feet of climbing just to get to that high point of the day. Not unexpectedly, the descent is also irregular, with enough ups and downs to keep the legs working.
We’ll drop down through the decidedly unglamorous tin mining town of Tinh Tuc (aka Thi Tran) where large swaths of hillside have been mined, not unlike the molybdenum mines above Leadville on Fremont Pass.
Cao Bang is a likeable place on a promontory formed by the merging of the Bang Giang River with its Song Hein tributary. It is surrounded by lush forested mountains. And if you are craving western food by this time, they have pizza, although the local specialty is lap suon, a pork sausage.
DAY 11: Cao Bang > Ban Gioc Waterfall (Up to 51.9 Miles, 4,548 Vert)
Today we ride to the most westerly point of our tour, from Cao Bang to Ban Gioc Waterfall. And what amazing miles they are! We leave Cao Bang through lush countryside with bamboo growing over the road forming an archway of dappled sunlight.
This is the northernmost stretch of the fabled Ho Chi Minh Trail which runs the entire length of Vietnam. We climb Ma Phuc Pass, where the tarmac twists between limestone crags. Dropping down from Mu Phac Pass we roll through the town of Quang Uyen, where we can we can snack on homebaked pastries and drink tea from the street vendors. Leaving town, the landscape now features gurgling streams, bamboo groves, modest farmhouses and jungle-clad limestone hills.
After Quang Uyen the road follows a freshly sealed 2 lane highway, winding back and forth up through the mountains. Before reaching the falls, we follow the Quay Son River as it ambles through a gentle landscape studded with limestone karsts, passing the occasional bamboo waterwheel which are still a mainstay of local agriculture.
Rolling first through the village of Trung Khanh, we soon arrive at Ban Gioc Waterfall, set right on the border of China (the river is actually in both countries). Considered the most beautiful in Vietnam, water crashes down 60 meters over 3 levels and stretches over 300 meters wide. You can take a raft out into the river to get up close, and possibly a bit wet! Bring the right footwear and you can take the slippery path to view the upper falls.
Time permitting, a small side excursion is the nearby and extraordinary Nguom Ngao Cave with its many stalactites and stalagmites. We will all shuttle back to Cao Bang in the afternoon for a second night.
DAY 12: Cao Bang > Ba Be Natl Park (Up to 75.8 Miles, 7,928 Vert)
This is our last official riding day and it’s once again long, long, long. But the shuttle will once again be standing by to shorten the day to match your personal tastes.
We depart Cao Bang, soon getting onto newly paved Road QL3 through a lovely valley. Winding through the mountains, the upcoming 50 mile stretch between Cao Bang and Na Phac is a dizzying ride through one of the most sparsely populated regions of the country. After leaving Cao Bang, there’s hardly any straight road, as we ride over endless mountains blanketed in thick forest. It’s no wonder this area has provided sanctuary for rebels, revolutionaries and bandits throughout the centuries. While weather at the start may be warm, we’ll go over some mountains that could be cool and windy on their summits.
The first climb is modest, with a quick descent back down to the Song Hein River at Bach Dang. The next climb is 12 miles long with plenty of short dips that leads to the border of Cao Bang and Bac Kan provinces. It’s down into the valley then back up for 5 more miles, then down, then up again. Get it?
After 50 miles and 5,800 feet of climbing (and descending) we arrive at Na Phac. This might be a great place to grab some bánh cuốn steamed rice flour rolls.
We’ll briefly enjoy a relatively flat section of road, but the climbing isn’t done. There aren’t any more big climbs today, just lots of up and down through the lowlands.
Cho Ra at Mile 69 is considered the gateway town to BaBe Natl Park. As we enter the conservation area and park the trees get taller and everything has a grander presence. We enter the park itself 7 miles later. Nature has a powerful presence here.
Designated as Vietnam’s eighth national park in 1992 and covering an area of about one hundred square kilometres, Ba Be is a region of astounding beauty, with rainforest, lakes, limestone peaks, caves, waterfalls and a sprinkling of ethnic minority villages, many of them part of the Tay minority. What’s often referred to as Ba Be Lake is in fact three interconnected lakes linked by wide channels.
We finish today’s travel inside the park itself, with lodging at comfortable, relaxed homestays that are famous throughout Vietnam.
DAY 13: Ba Be Natl Park + Transfer to Hanoi (Optional riding or trekking day)
What you do this morning is up to you, but start early as we need to hit the road by 12noon. After breakfast you might opt to take a boat trip, touring peacefully around the Ba Be lake then along the slow flowing river to enjoy the most stunning scenery of this national park with dramatic mountains, valleys, and natural caves including Puong Cave, with its spectacular array of stalactites and stalagmites. Rather than a boat, you might prefer to kayak. Another option is to trek to caves and waterfalls such as Hua Ma cave, one of the biggest and most beautiful caves
The park boasts surprising biodiversity, with some 550 plant species, 65 species of mammals, 353 butterflies, 233 birds and more than 100 types of fish. While some of the wildlife can be quite shy and difficult to spot, it’s common to see macaque monkeys, colorful parrots and herons near the banks of the lake.
Another option is to trek to caves and waterfalls such as Hua Ma cave, one of the biggest and most beautiful caves in Ba Be National Park. Perhaps a leisurely walk around a peaceful Tay ethnic village where the Tay people make their living from fishing and farming. And yes, you can also ride a bike.
The afternoon drive of 165 miles will take approximately four hours, down from the mountains and then through the flatlands of the Red River Delta to the big city of Hanoi. We’ll repack our bikes in the late afternoon before enjoying a grand meal.
DAY 14: Depart Hanoi!
You know the drill….a tearful farewell and shuttle to the airport to catch our flights back home. Participants may opt to stay for additional tourism of their own planning.