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 7/1 - 13/2 2012                          DIARY part 3

Maps                     Diary

Photos              Orchids


 Coming from the north-western Vietnam, the cold and rainfall part, the central northern Vietnam seems like a treat! The sights I'm after ,might be scattered over a waste area, but on a rented motorcycle, and some good weather, it is great adventure all over!

 19/1. I had to pull-over last afternoon in a rather dull city; Viet Quang or Bac Quang. Bread for breakfastNow, the expedition heads on, into the remote Gan River Range between Ha Giang and Bac Kan. Had a hard time finding supper, but breakfast is easy: Right in front of the hotel is a stand, and she have bread: A rare treat.

 My target for the day is Ba Be National Park. First, I do some high-speed transporting on familiar roads. It is not that cold, but rather misty. My three maps disagreed about where the back-road I want start, and when I reach the area, it seems like the locals have never heard of it!

 I have a mapStill rice and a list of way-points, and I start asking for directions in Pho Rang. Unfortunately, some I ask just go away, some points at the large-letter region name, and say yes-yes. Two claims we are in a small town some 250 kilometres to the north on this road, but most want to send me to Ha Noi. After having ping-ponging enough, I have to face it: I have to go the long way: 80 kilometres down to Klfanh Hoa, and see if I can find another road heading east. Brick factory

 A bit more back and forward, and after having asked a police officer (who pulled me over - he forgot that), I find the road. It looked lust like it went into a marked, but one can squeeze through. The road turns out to be marvellous! Large, tropical-forest-overgrown hills with patches of rice and other crops in-between. Right in the beginning, along a river, bricks are being made and burned. About noon the sun break through the mist, and the temperature goes up from 20 to 25C.

 I had Some live on the riveroriginal planned to use half a day to get to Ba Be National Park, but while driving on this road, I decides: The road is everything, the target nothing. Stop to admire and photo one fantastic view after the other. I only meet one car and a few mopeds. About 15 kilometres in, it is almost un-inhabited. The only signs of humans, beside from the road, are some small farmed areas in the small, flat areas in-between the large hills.House with clay walls

 Here are a new building style: Clay walls under a palm-leave roof. I cross some rather large rivers, and houseboats are fund along the brinks. In the bigger valleys, a few settlements with concrete houses can be found. In other places, brand new timber houses are being constructed on stilt. I stop at a marked to treat myself - and others - with a fresh T-shirt. 30KD, but I don't seem to find the time and place for any laundry these days. What I got washed at the hotel in Ninh Binh might be clean - but I didn't get it. I got someone else's. Unspoiled landscape

 The side of the hills are getting denser and denser, covered in tropical forest. Giant bamboo are found along the brinks, and giant brush palms in the The giant damhills. I do a few short walks, but I'm afraid times is running out, if I don't want to sleep in the open.

 Once again, I am having a hard time capturing the enormous landscape in one shot. And the light mist does not help either. Then, in a lonely stretch, a giant dam have been build. The young lake behind offers some great motives, and I have to make even more stops.

 A waterfall, which should be in any guidebook, is found on this road: It is, without anyThe waterfall question, the most beautiful I have seen. It looks like some brilliant artist have made it for a fairytale. It is in the shadow, and my attempt to capture it on photo fails.

 Nearby, a giant It is a orchid, sitting up thereorchid sits high up in a solitary tree. It actually looks like those with buds, I have seen for sale. Some of the flooded rice patches have been red, and I suspected some sort of water plant. It turns out to be a minute floating water fern - I think.

 Somewhere around Vinh Yen, known as Na Hang, I am guided out of a rather small road. Several checks confirms: It is the right way to Ba Be. It turns smaller and smaller, I really start to doubt, when I bridge is no-go for cars and motorcycles.  But the area is awesome! I'll give it a go, and enjoy it all the way.

 After a rather short time, I see no people at all! No chance a car ever been here, but the tracks after mopeds are clear. Well, unless they areSo idylic washed away in the many creeks. Here are fields of harvested crops, and tiny huts in the hills. I am gaining altitude, and bare limestone walls appears. A few settlements with wooden houses, but then they vanishes.Nice, new lake

 The track branches up in three, and I can't say which way I should go: Right, left or back? Half an hour later, of a really rough track with extremely steep hills, I meet two locals. They confirms: Ba Be is that way! It is, without any doubt: The most beautiful road I ever been on! If I have to sleep in my raincoat, hungry and cold in the roadside, it would have been worth it.

 Then a few huts turns out, and some rice patches. In the fare distance, way down a valley, I see a town with brick houses, but there are quite a bit of descent to be made. When I finally get down, I only find a tiny village. The road goes through, but ends blind. I have driven around 20 kilometres on this path, and thought it would lead to something?A praying mantayOnly few huts

 Some boats are found on the edge of a huge lake. I am offered a boat-ride to Ba Be National Park, but he ask for 300KD. Rather steep, but he say there are a hotel. Well, that is what I think he say. I have quit my English: No one understands a word anyway. Another guy ask for a lift with his daughter and moped. It seems like I have rented the whole boat, so why not?

 Mopeds onboard, and we set of on the boat-ride for a lifetime! Vertical limestone mountains, dense tropical forest, fishermen, buffalos, giant fig trees and bamboo. On top of that: The light is perfect! Ba Be means three bays, and we sail through them from one end to the other. This is just so fantastic! I guess I end up with 150 photos of this tour. The captain offers tea, but I hardly have time to pour it up. Going sailingCAptain offered tea

 A group of cow-herons meets us, the sun disappears behind peaks of the limestone mountains, other boats with mopeds and locals meets us, and all too soon, we are at a tiny village. It could be Pac Ngol, but I am fare from sure. Anyway: It is surely a backdoor the the park!

 The guy I offered a lift show me a "hotel". Real cosy, made of dark massive boards and posts. I get a room with a madras on the floor as the only interior, but here is power, and I'm quite pleased to pay 100KD for a place to sleep. A short walk back to the landing, and I meet the hens, pigs, kids and dogs of the little settlement. Behind their houses, rice fields, which have been harvested for some time ago, offers their weed to the buffalos. 

 I find a more or less official tourist office.Some were tall The girl can speak a bit of  English, and she try to sell me guided- and boat tours, but end-up showing me a interesting track through the park. She also tells me, this haveI DID NOT CROSS THE BIG ROAD FOR SURE! been the first day of spring they have had.

 While we talk, it turns dark - close call this time - and I find a noodle-soup with fried eggs. Quite well spiced, and the fresh oranges are fantastic. I see a few of the 18 different species of bats which are found within the park. Back at my room, I start working on, what I feared would be more than the actual 297 photos. Cut them down to 100, and then I have to say STOP!

 I've been driving 233 kilometres, quite a lot of those in first and second gear, and a lot of time standing, due to the surface of the road - or lack of it...  While I work, the TV, frogs and cicadas compares. I have the TV as a winner. After it is turned off, the nature gives its best. I sit and work the usual 4-5 hours, before I try to sleep.

20/1. The park is famous for it cave: 300 meter, right through a mountain, 40 metres high (but I haveTasty buggers seen one, big one, that is enough), the 18 tribal villages (not really my cup of tea), some waterfalls (I'm covered) but the 550 plant species along with the 65 mammals, turtles, a salamander and a python draws, along with some of the birds and the 353 butterfly species.Morning at the lake

 I get up as soon I hear someone else awaken in the house. Pack my gear, and leave it along with the bike. Head down towards the landing to find some breakfast. Only the very last place is open, and I get a noodle-egg-soup and a coffee for 15KD. Not tourist price for sure! They have six plants on their lake-view porch, and scary enough, I am able to stick a Latin name to every one of them! African and Americans, that is. Dence forest

 I follow the trail I was recommended yesterday. A few mopeds passes me, on their way to a village along the road. Ba Be consist of two types of forest: The tropical evergreen and the special vertical limestone, which seems to be dominated byOrchid Ficus species, which are dormant now. The green parts are covered in vines and lianas, and only very little light penetrates to the ground, making it a bit deserted.

 I do a few shorter trips to the dense forest, and one serious one: Well over two hours, and I even find my way back! Unfortunately, I don't seem much of interest on this time consuming and hard trip. A few insects, an orchid which is dormant and without fruits and a lot of ants.Nice park!

 Back at the bigger track, I follow the lakes and a long detour up a river to a village. The sun peaks out, but the mist clings to the valley. I find a few interesting plants, along them some more giant orchids, of which I finally find a fruit! It sits six meter up, and it is quite some achievement to pick it!

 The sun gets stronger, and I have to strip my last fleece jacket! I reach the village, and it is a mix of traditional houses and a few more modern. Every She lives hereone have its satellite disc, but farming is still the major occupation. Rice and corn are left to dry, pigs are eating scraps, and the hens do their thing.

 I pass the river on a car-strength suspension bridge, and reach the other side of the lake. Some giant trees have survived, and now, the locals are asked not to cut them Crossing the riverdown, or go hunting. They are aloud to fish in the lakes, which should have 106 species of fish!

 Here are many different ferns, some on the ground, others epiphytic. A few climbing plants fools me at first, but they are not orchids. A few plants are flowering, among them a Ipomoea - but does it originate from here? A Fabaceae have huge clusters of flowers, not sure of its origin either.One more cave

 The village is full of great motives, and its inhabitants friendly or ignoring me. I can't figure, if I am so much out the beaten tourist track, or just way out of season? Ba Be should be a great site, but nothing show any tourism. Don't get me wrong: I like it that way!Ants - a lot of ants!

 I reach a vertical limestone wall, and find some great Ficus roots. A few of the many butterflies passes bye, but they tend to keep flying. No wonder; here are so few flowers. It is hard for me to recognise any familiar, but I am able to put a family name to quite a few plants. Roots of a fig

 A sign shows off to a cave, and a lookout tower. I do some of the demolished track, but it is not worth it. A single grasshopper and a plant covered in ants are the most interesting. I turn back at some limestone, covered in holes. Another, small orchid sits way up in a tree. I'm pretty sure it is a Vandoideae, but only a young specimen. The orchid I found a fruit on

 Some huge snail encasings are fund, but only dead ones. I think I have seen what the park can offer, unless I use weeks here. I reach the main entrance - which is deserted - and find a boat to bring me back to my bike and luggage. Only 20KD, but it is after all only 10 minutes ride. Ba Be is a nice place

 I re-pack my gear, which make my bag rather swollen! Only one fleece jacket and - unfortunately - the boots are not in it. If I just know, it would be warm and dry from now on - but I don't. Back to the landing, a new 20KD bill, and me and the moped are at the main entrance.

 The landscape, with steep limestone mountains and lush valleys continues, and I drive rather fast. It is one o'clock, and I might make it to Cao Bang (115 km) and further on to Ban Goie; a giant waterfall (+87 km). When I planned the tour, I thought it was lowland, and it would be fairly easy. It is actually only the first 32 kilometres to Na Phac. I have not seen any local "gas stations", and drive a bit around here, to fine some fuel.

 As I leave town, I meet the first of three passes. It turns into really highland, and very serpentined. The sky turns dark, and a few wind tears hit my face. I might as well dress for the occasion, before it gains strength. The temperature drops 10-15 degrees. The entrance to one of the markeds

 Then I reach  two even higher passes, the last one seem to last forever. I drive in around 1000 meters height, and even on the way down again, the temperature won't raise. It seems like the spring have not reach this side of the mountains. When I reach Cai Bang, I am freezing, and it is well over four. I have to find a hotel.

 First though, I have to find the city! Lonely Planet only show a tiny map with 10-12 roads on, but the Shoos at the markedcity covers a huge area, and have over 50.000 inhabitants. After I have passes the 1 km marker, I drive on a boulevard, but at a round-about, I have to ask for direction. When I find, what might be centre, I can't find a hotel.

 One leads me to the other side of the river, but here, I ask ten people; none can give me any hints. All the gear off, and the book up from the bag. Here are only four listed, one should be around the corner. It is, and despite it is twice the price, I book a room.A butcher at the marked

 The local markets are just around the corner, and I re-dress for city. Plenty of fresh vegetables and meat, all kind of household equipment and cloths. The last have my interest, and I get what I am searching for, probably way more expensive than necessarily. One shop have orchids, and here are several species, but none are flowering.The Tet tower The hotel had a few, one even flowering!

 It becomes dark, and I start looking for supper. Now, I can't find not even a posh or crappy restaurant! While I search, I passes ten hotels! Finally, I find one with filled baguettes. One won't do it, but as I think it have an unpleasant ordure, I decides to have a second course. Next place is one in a long line of night marked stalls, which seems to serve exactly the same: Noodle soup with eggs and ten different brands of vodka. I only take the noodle soup with eggs.

 Their giant radio tower is lit up, kitsch but then again: It is almost Tet. Passes an ATM on the way home, and get 5 millions for the road - you newer know... A thing I haven't mentioned before, and which baffles me time and time again is: Wherever I pay for something, they always have changes - even for my 500.000 notes! 

 21/1. Find some quick breakfast next door to the hotel: Soup with eggs, minced meat and some white, slippery stuff that might be some sort of rice product. It is a cold, but dry morning - until I start climbing the mountains right outside town. I had put all gear on, except the poncho, and it follows now.

 The entire day will be among real pointy limestone mountains, called haystacks, or on top oLimestone, called Haystacksf the very big ones. Some of the passes are up in the sky, and the rain get real heavy up here. The first 22 kilometres are pretty good road, but then starts the problems. It might have been sealed, but that was a very, very long time ago! Even though some parts are sealed, they are covered in a layer of wet, brown clay, which is so slippery. Like driving on butter

 When I turn off in the next village, it get even worse: The surface is red clay, and it is - in the best parts - as ice. In the worse parts, it is like driving on ice WITH two flat tires. The bike just slide sideways without any warning. It is like driving on butter.- with lumps hidden underneath. Most locals I see, have been down in the mud, and I see around ten, who falls. Even the cows tip over! I manages to stay upright, but that might be pure luck!

 I stop a few times to photo either markets, limestone peaks, bridges, typical buildings and so on. But fare from as often, as when the sun were shining! One place, I have to do a bit of a de-tour: A most fantastic mountain, covered in conifers are enticing. Another place, It looked better...the combination of limestone, blue-greenish water and giant bamboo are astonishing - well, when you are there, not on photo.

 After having asked quite a lot around, I finally arrivals at the giant BanBan Gioc Waterfall - ar amny next to eachother Gioc Fall. It is on the border to China, and the boats that bring the tourists up close to it, have either blue or green roofs, depending on their nationality. The road have been an absolutely nightmare,  there have not been a single sign, all the souvenir stands are, just like the boats, abandon. Take more to spoil my day!

 I drive over some flimsy wooden bridges, and park rather close to the fall. It is actually many falls, right next to each other. The total wide is 300 metres, and most are around 30 metres high. And there are water in them! Found some bone dry in Australia, and since, I have been appreciated water in those things.

 The whole area are farmland, but by crossing the winter abandon patches, I reach the top of the falls. A clear, sunny day, this must be astonishing! Even on this cold, wet excuse for a day, it is great. I try to capture it with the camera, I found another fruit!while I explore the area.

 The vertical limestone wall that forms it, is covered in forest. I start - bit naive -to look for orchids, and behold: I find some. And not only that; they have fruits. I pick a single, believing they all are same species. It is not that easy, but while standing in deep, cold, white river water, I manages. I also find some bulbs, and what I think is a Psilotum nudum. A lot of different ferns, a Peperomiaceae and some agaves!

 It feels a bit strange, being here all by my self. I even get away using the boats to get a better angle. At the top of the surrounding mountain, a couple of nice houses are found. I ask for coffee in one, but he points to the other. Take some time to get through, but then they find the "Nestle-like" bag and some hot water. I have been fed these bags since I left the central part of the country. Better than their Vietnamese tea, if you ask me.

 After I have paid 5KD for the coffee, he wants 15KD for the waterfall, and he have the official ticket. Seems like a good barging to me! He could have asked ten times that much. Neither of these people speak or understand English.

 Here should be a cave nearby: Nguom Ngao cave, and he points me in that direction. Should be four kilometres back, and I didn't see anything onHere are the orchids! the way out. Half way, a tiny road without any marks leads into the fields. I ask the three young people, but even though I show them the name, no bells go of.

 I decides to try it anyway, and it is actually there, two kilometres down the road! Big, new building and empty souvenir stands. I pay 20KD, and are pointed out a small concrete path. It leads through a small pass, and it seems like more cows than humans are using it these days! On the way up, I notes a farmer having some orchids. No one home, and I just make a couple of photos. They are grown in bamboo and , as no surprise, The path to Nguom Ngao Cavedormant.

 The path leads over a large valley, which have been harvested. The limestone walls are almost vertical, and covered in plants. I spot a few, large orchids, but when the goats can't reach them, I guess I better not try! Giant golden letters show the entrance to the cave.

 I pass some buildings, but they seem deserted. At the entrance to the cave, the darkness begins. I can't switch the light on, and I don't dare going one kilometre under ground with my camera as only light source. Back at the buildings, I find another orchid garden. Here are fruits, and I wake up a young man, to ask him, if they are from around here, and if I can grab a few fruits. Nice formations in the cave

 He is a bit confused, being waken up, and me asking about orchids, but he confirms - by sign languish, they are local. I snap a few photos and fruits, and we head down the other entrance to the cave. It is a large cave, and well lighted. He walk slowly in front of me, and I admire and photo the cave. Some small passages, some huge chambers.

 As we get outside, I notes some huge orchids on a limestone, out on a field. I thank him, and head out there. It could be the same as I found at the waterfall, but then again: They have 900-2000 different species, and without flower, it is hard to tell them apart, except subfamilies. And when there are several fruits, I grab a single without feeling bad.Another orchid, and with fruit

 At the little pass, I meet the farmer, and he/she? wants to see the photos I took of the cows. We walk back together, and I ask if the orchid is local, and if I can pinch a fruit. They are local, and yes, I may. These are not exactly how I wanted to collect them, but what can I do, when the farmers have collected the plants! I could spend day, not finding any, and I am pretty sure; they are from the valley.

It seems like their cows, the few horses I have seen in this corner, the hens, the people, the dogs and the prices are significantly smaller that what I'm use to. Only the water buffalos seems rather big.More cows than humans

 Time is running from me: I wanted to reach Lang Son today, and see the famous nightmarket. Due to the slippery 50 kilometre stretch, I have to hurry. On top of that: I have to go just the same devilish 50 kilometres back! I see cows and people falling this time, along with mopeds. It have to be experienced to believe! I just realises: The endurance race "Dakar" is just for wimps who don't dare drive alone in unfamiliar and difficult territory!

 When I am finally out of it, I misses a turn, and end up at the Chinese boarder - Almost ended in Chinawhich IS marked! 11 kilometres back again, but the road is not bad. Only problem is, as with any other road I drive: You can't tell the debt of the potholes due to the muddy water in them. Several times, I am airborne.

 Many of the small villages I drive through have markets, and they are on the main road. You literally drive between oranges, hens, sugar-canes, pigs, baskets, fish and you name it. In the back, there might be an open building, housing Marked in almost every villagehousehold, plastic, cloth, electronics, shoos and  everything else, you might be able to sell to farmers. I have seen quite a few of these, and they seem to be very alike around here.

 I drive real fast, but have to give in, at That Khe or somewhere around there. The last 75 kilometres, after the mud-road have been huge mountains, and on top of some passes, the visibility was 10-20 metres due to the fog. I am still 65 kilometres from Lang Son, but it will be dark in 15 minutes! After having driven quite some around, asking for a hotel, I finally find one - in the back of a huge motorcycle sales shop.

 I did pass a large marked on the way, but I can't recall where, and I have seen markets enough for now anyway. Instead, I start the usual hunt for something eatable - and cooked. I have to go quite a while, before I find a place serving noodle-soup with duck. Back at the hotel, I get one of the guys to call the owner of the motorcycle, just to tell him it and I am fine - he asked for that, and it is nearly a week now.

 Back at the hotel, my bike have been given a much deserved high pressure cleaning. If I haven't seen it being done, I would have looked after the bike for a long time, in the morning! At the very cold and large hotel room, I go through the 170/56 photos of the day. Not much for 228 kilometres through hell, but without the sun, photos are just not the same!

 In the search for orchids and warm weather, I now drive out the the sea in the Northern Eastern Vietnam.

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