Taking our motorbike up north is the best thing we've done, hands down. That's the sort of stuff that will change a person, ya know. Just being in the mountains with your boo and a backpack and a wholllle lot of rice fields. Someone told us about the northern loop when we were in Hanoi, they said there’s a path you can go by bike that will take you through some of Vietnam’s most charming little towns right on the border of China. And so a week later we did.
We'd been visiting pretty touristy areas for the majority of our trip up until this point. I mean, we've still been seeing dogs on the BBQ, and saying silent prayers in the thick of rush hour traffic, and we’re still resorting to wildy exaggerated hand gestures to communicate, but going just a couple hours north allows you to see people doing what they're meant to do in the place they're meant to do it. People tending to their crops, little girls leading water buffalo up a mountain by a rope, men sitting around smoking cigs and drinking coffee (wait...they're always doing that). And if you ever want to feel like Beyonce (or Britney circa '95) go to North Vietnam. Get up in those mountains immediately, because you are foreign to these people, too. And they will be really really excited to see you.
For a week our days were made up of insanely stunning scenery, some really sketchy roads but mostly surprisingly nice paved ones, and lunch stop-offs with locals that consisted of whatever they felt like feeding us. Our bike didn’t fail us once and we pet it and thanked it every single night after we got off even though we were covered in dirt and exhausted and both our asses were completely numb. People say it’s possible to do the northern loop in a few days, but I would recommend giving yourself at least 7 days. 9 would have been better. 12 would be good, too.
Our route went like this: Hanoi - Mai Chau - Son La - a town we never found the name of that we had no choice but to stop in because we couldn't make it to Lai Chau in time - Sapa. We had to skip Dien Bien Phu (but I've heard it's incredible!) because we wanted one more day in Sapa. But that's the beauty of driving yourself, because you can make your own schedule and go off the beaten path and wonder how in the hell your bike is going to make it over these roads and if you’ll ever see a gas station again.
And this is where I tell you pictures do this place zero justice, but here we go anyway:
See that strange but of white on our bike right there? That's toilet paper, because I managed to fall off our bike when it wasn't even moving, causing it to spill gasoline onto our sweet new green paint job. I tore my knee up a bit and now I tell people I'm in a gang.