We rode for 8 straight hours through intermittent rain back through the traffic/construction hell that is Hai Phong to stay ahead of the storm. We finally made it to the town of Ninh Binh(famous for its karst formations that you can take a slow boat through) and got a room at Khach San Hoang Hai. That night at around 2am the storm hit with full furry, 70mph winds and heavy heavy rain. The power went out and our room had huge ten foot tall windows on three sides which luckily didn’t break(which was very worrying while trying to sleep) but they did leak like a sieve leaving our floor soaked. When we got up in the morning roughly a quarter of the trees in town had been blown down(including one right across from us that could have hit our hotel, and our windows) and the local Vietnamese were out with their hatchets(hatchets, lol, not even an axe much less chain saws) at 6am trying to clear a path through the roads. We decided to stay another night to give them time to get the roads clear for travel, especially since we were headed for more remote areas.
When we left the next day, the gas gage was reading empty but I just assumed it must have been broken because I knew I had about a half tank when we arrived. However a few hundred feet down the road we ran out of gas. I bought some gas from a repair shop next to where we broke down and drove back to the hotel to inform them that someone had stolen our gas while stored at their hotel. The manager swore up and down this was impossible since they have cameras and refused to reimburse us. When I heard he had cameras I said “great let’s watch it from the time we arrived to the time we left and see what happened”, he of course refused. I called them thieves and stormed out and Victoria left a nice review on Google for them. All that for $2 worth of gas…. If they had half a brain they would have left a bit more so we were much further away rather than taking every last drop.
When we finally got back on the road it went from nice, to beautiful, to just absolutely stunning. The area near the border with Laos is mountainous with some tiered rice paddies, very cool. On the way to Mai Chau you climb and climb on a very well paved road and then when you reach the top you get a beautiful view of the small town below and then begin the long descent into Mai Chau itself, also on excellent road.
Once you get down into the valley it continues to amaze. You are surrounded on all sides by rice paddies which in turn is entirely surrounded by the tall green mountain peaks in every direction. Although there is a hotel and a guesthouse or two available the places to stay here are the homestays. This is where you basically stay at a family’s home which they’ve added a few rooms onto for travelers to stay. We got a room on stilts overlooking the rice paddies and mountains with a fan, an electric outlet, and bug netting for 200k dong ($9). Being at a higher elevation meant that the fan was enough to keep us cool at night for sleeping. In the town there are all kinds of hand made handicrafts for sale. This has been intentionally setup as a way to use tourism as a way to preserve traditional Vietnamese crafts in the area.
All and all the tropical storm added some unnecessary excitement to an already exciting trip and although Mai Chau was stunning we were excited to get to Laos so we just spent the one night.
Next up, our journey to Laos!