Hanoi is the first city on our trip that is not ruled by the car. Instead it is ruled by the moped. They are everywhere carrying anything possible from families with 3 children to a couple of sizeable trees. They constantly beep their horns and pay no attention to traffic lights or one way systems. To cross a road you just walk slowly keeping eyes in both directions. The few cars around seem cowed into submission. The big problem is the fumes and particulates they produce making for very poor air quality.
We left our bikes boxed up for a couple of weeks and headed off to Cat Ba Island and Halong Bay by bus. Relaxing in a couple of nice homestays, kayaking and swimming . Halong bay was a lot busier but still very enjoyable and beautiful.
Cycling out of Hanoi was pretty easy. The roads are so congested that everything moves very slowly. We had bought a couple of masks with filters in and we needed them. We were heading for Mai Chau and on to the Vietnamese border. The road was flat to Hoa Binh then the hills started. The roads were OK, you get used to the constant beeping from the traffic and when we hit the main roads there was plenty of room. The hills were long and it was hot, despite this we were faster up some of the hills than some of the big lorries.
We stayed in a stilted house homestay in Mai Chau for a couple of relaxing days.
The road to the border ( the 15 and then the 217 ) were being “improved”. This seemed to consist of digging up a lot of the old road and knocking down cliffs to widen it. This made it very dusty and dangerous in places cycling under unstable looking boulders and bad surfaces.
People were noticeably more friendly away from the tourist areas, with children shouting their hellos and waving. The food was a lot more basic as well with Pho (noodle soup) and rice being the staples with small amounts of very tough meat and a bit of cabbage. Guest houses were cheap though.