Guest contributor and five-time Grasshopper Adventurer Melanie Curry shares her experience cycling the stunning, yet challenging, Ha Giang Plateau in Northern Vietnam and reflects on what it's like to tour with Grasshopper Adventures.
The morning after my husband Jared and I had completed our latest Grasshopper Tour in the far north of Vietnam my phone rang. It was Steve Grace, the Country Manager in Vietnam. We had a nice chat about our adventure and when I told him I would do anything for the company he said, “Ok, how about writing of your experience.” Wow, it was not what I was expecting but I accepted his challenge.
Steve asked me to pick one or two special moments on the Hilltribes of the Ha Giang Plateau tour, seven days in the mountains bordering China. One or two? Impossible. It seemed as though every moment was more incredible than the last.
The first thing that stood out; the Vietnamese people. So gracious, so welcoming and so friendly. I lost count of how many waves and "hellos" came our way as people passed us on their scooters or as we rode through villages. We got some looks as if to say "you guys are crazy!" It was also really special being able to stop at roadside stalls or in a couple of instances in people's houses for snacks. Every day offered real connections with the people there.
A funny moment? At one stop on Ma Pi Leng Pass, one of the ladies selling turmeric took an interest in my bike and asked to take it for a test ride! Why not? After a quick loop, she decided I was pretty cool, gave me a big hug and asked to have her photo taken with me.
The scenery? The tour description touches on the incredible scenery but nothing can prepare you for experiencing the sheer number and majesty of the mountains and karsts, or the color of the maize, tapioca and rice paddies. It sounds cliche, but it really seemed as though the scenery became more spectacular around every corner. After a while, I would have a little giggle to myself as I rounded a bend and say to myself, "Oh it's just another gorgeous view..."
The food. Our guide Thang looked after us in every way but outdid himself in terms of food. He cooked us delicious breakfast banquets on three mornings when he decided that Pho just wasn't going to be enough energy for us. And when I say banquets, I'm talking omelets, pancakes, pork in rice paper, egg soup, fruit, baguettes, cereal, Vietnamese coffee, the works! He also made us a delicious pork and vegetable noodle lunch one day too. We nicknamed him 'Chef Thang.' We never went hungry, that is for sure.
The Challenges of riding in the mountains? We often bugged Thang to know how much further to the top of a hill or how high was the next one. And every night at dinner we would ask about the hills coming on the next day's climb. Each time Thang would get a knowing, wry grin on his face and have a special Thang snigger. This told us everything we needed to know. But he was then very good at giving us accurate details so we always knew what to expect.
Getting to the top? There is no better feeling than getting to the top of a challenging climb in the searing heat and having icy cold face cloths and drinks waiting for you. And believe me, there were a few challenging climbs.
Why biking? When you bike you feel so much more connected with your environment. You see, hear, smell and feel so much more. There is something about being on a bike that breaks down barriers between people. People are open to smiling at you and saying hi, and it can open up communication, even if you don't speak the same language. You can stop whenever you like for photos, snacks, or a rest. It is a great way to combine our love of travel with our love of exercise and the downhills are so much more fun on a bike.
We loved seeing authentic Vietnam and being off the beaten path. Over seven days, we saw only a handful of other tourists. We really felt connected to the true essence of the country and the people.
Thank you Grasshopper and thank you, Thang. We have traveled all over the world and the Grasshopper experience is second to none. This was a trip my husband and I shall always cherish.
Melanie & Jared Curry are from Christchurch, New Zealand. They have now completed 5 tours with Grasshopper Adventures.