“Anyone fancy biking to Ba Vi National Park on Saturday?” The google group message dropped into our inboxes with an enticing thud. What Simon was proposing was a 50 kilometre ride along the Red River from Hanoi to the town of Son Tay. From there, we’d climb up Ba Vi mountain to the Statue of Ho Chi Minh on top.
The cycling group had talked about the trip for ages, but dates always seemed to clash. This weekend however, it seems like most of the Hanoi Cyclists group were free and raring to go.
Those up for the bike ride would meet at Veggies supermarket at 7 am, as is our normal Saturday morning ritual, and head out from Hanoi from there. Those other halves and little ones who weren’t up for the cycle would get a mini-bus together with our own bags and would meet us at Thac Da resort, at the mountain base.
Getting out of Hanoi was the usual story, trucks and motorbikes and cars and carts churning up dust and fumes that we rode straight head long into. But soon enough, we cut off the main thoroughfare and started the cycle along the dyke road skirting the long winding Song Hong, Hanoi’s Red River.
October’s oppressive heat was long gone and the cool November breeze eased us along the road. Toon, Simon, Paul, Laura, Michael, Richard and I rode side-by-side along the dyke, swapping stories, then swapping places so that everyone caught up one by one. At Son Tay town, we also stopped for our ritual coffee break to hear all the aggregate group gossip. We each ordered iced coffee with milk. And soon enough, seven cups of Vietnamese thick sludge filter coffees were dripping into ice filled glasses, hitting layers of creamy condensed, sickly sweet milk stuck to the glass bottoms.
The caffeine hit propelled us back on our bikes and soon we were making the turn off to Ba Vi Mountain. Up until now, the ride had been flat along the river, but now the signs of an uphill climb became apparent as the road started its ever so slight slope upwards. The mountain itself was however blanked out from our view. Only the map gave away the secret ascent that lay ahead.
And what an ascent. No one realised it was going to be 12 kilometres up with 1,300 metres of non-stop tarmac zig-zagging its way tediously upward. One-by-one, we dropped like flies. My water ran out. My mind switched off from total boredom. There weren’t even any resplendent views to take away the pain or monotony, just jungle crowding round on all sides looking out onto a wall of fog that hid away palm brushed paddy fields.
I put myself in granny gear all the way, cursing and sweating, sure that I could run up this mountain road faster than pedalling. Then, after more than 90 minutes of climbing, I eventually hit the top car-park. Richard was there, staggering around looking for food and water and the cars that were meant to meet us at the top. Within another 30 minutes, we had all arrived at the road end in various levels of exhaustion. None of us were in a fit state to climb the additional 300 steps up to see the status of Vietnam’s founder. We stayed instead at the car park, devouring all the food and drink we knew the words for in Vietnamese from the small gift shop and cafe.
Eventually the support cars turned up, and whilst all the lads rode at break-neck speed back down the hill, Laura and I decided to hitch a gentrified lift to the Thac Da resort instead, 6 kilometres away from the mountain base. At the resort, our partners and children were waiting there with egg fried rice and bottles of cold local beer Ha Noi (6,000 VND or 0.20 Euro a bottle!) to resuscitate our sore bums and tired legs. The resort was cheap and cheerful, less than 25 USD (450,000 VND) for a double room.
The next morning, Pete and I went for a quick run to loosen up the legs in anticipation for the ride back to Hanoi. We discovered a stone clad path winding up the other side of the mountain along a set of pools and pristine stream replete with waterfalls and pagodas.
It was a three hour cycle home, complete with puncture repairs and alpen bar stops. We arrived back in Hanoi at midday, just in time for lunch, a siesta, and 90 minute massage at the local massage parlour.
Great weekend away, excellent company, fabulous weather, cosy resort, good bike ride (apart from the mountain bit at the end), and very cheap beer – what more could you ask for on a November weekend in Vietnam?