Mu Cang Chai Latte

We keep riding after the failed robbery, deciding to spend the night in the next decent town.  Mu Cang Chai it is. The ride up is breathtaking.  So many cows drinking from streams and eating grass on the side of the peaceful highway.  There’s few cars, we have the road to ourselves.  My favourite part was when we climbed above the clouds.  I slow down behind the pack to just take it all in.

Highway QL32 to Mu Cang Chai
    Highway QL32 to Mu Cang Chai

The hot weather from months past vanishes, and we’re more in the trees than before.  It felt like I was riding in Northern California.  Kevin and I stop to take a look at the landscape, pulling to the side of the road while the others keep on riding.  Mountains, trees, and terraces on terraces.  These little girls slowly approach us with their hands cupped.  One kept saying something to me in Vietnamese, bashfully approaching us while Kevin and I shared the beautiful view.  I think she wanted money.  We shrug, hopping on the bikes and setting off.

We roll into Mu Cang Chai around 17.00 and find a hotel on the main street.  We pay 100,000 ($5) each for a huge room with 5 beds in it.  Kevin and David push 3 beds together to make ‘mega-bed’, while Andreas and I have beds to ourselves.

A curious little Hmong girl
    A curious little Hmong girl

I’m in front of the hotel, straddling my bike and impatiently fidgeting with all the levers.  I’m waiting for David and Kevin to come out–we’re going to catch the quickly approaching sunset.  Another Honda Win pulls up in front of the hotel, pulling into the free space beside me to park.  It’s a young Asian man, but he’s dressed Western and riding a Honda Win.  “Sup.”  I say to him with the obligatory head nod.  He responds with a neutral North American accent.

We get to chatting–both seated on our bikes.  He’s from Toronto–Wayne.  I tell him our plan to ride through the north, and he says “I don’t know if my bike could make it”.  Whoah buddy, pump the brakes–we haven’t known each other long enough for a cup of Vietnamese drip coffee to brew, let alone invite you to join the crew!  My finely tuned skeevedar was going off now for the second time today.

When Andreas dropped his bike in the mud, a bottle of cheap vodka exploded in his bag, soaking all of his clothing. He was outside now, cleaning his clothing in a bucket of water like a local Vietnamese person.  Kevin, David, and I said goodbye to Andreas, and left him with the Torontonian.

We ride down to a bridge to watch the sun set behind the mountains–it was beautiful.  As we stand on the bridge, we debate if the Vietnam flag shirts were a good idea this far north in Hmong territory.  These kids were refusing to take our picture for us, and we weren’t really feeling the love as much from the locals.  Right then this old Hmong lady hobbles by us and looks at our shirts, and then shoots us a dirty look and keeps on hobbling across the bridge. Debate settled.

The Sunset over Mu Cang Chai
    The Sunset over Mu Cang Chai

We return to the hotel, and see Wayne and Andreas chatting in the lobby.  He’s bragging to whoever’s listening that his room has a balcony.  Out of politeness, I drop him an invite to join us for dinner, and we resolve to shower and meet back up here in 45 minutes.  Wayne follows us to our room to see where we’re at–fair enough.  “Huh, there’s five beds here, I could save some money if I move down here” slips out of his mouth.  We all look at each other, and then Kevin yells “Mega-bed!!!” and jumps on mega-bed.  Mega-bed wasn’t going to be dismantled for this asshole.  I take a shower, but Wayne just lingers in the room while we’re trying to relax and get ready.  After 30 minutes he finally gets the hint and leaves us alone.

He’s waiting for us in the lobby.  We saddle up and set off on the motorcycles.  We ride a few minutes, deciding on this local place with a big PHO BO in the sign.  As we’re walking up, we see two white girls walking behind us wearing elephant pants–backpackers.  They tell us the Pho Bo is great here, and that the coffee shop next door has the best coffee–right on.   We haven’t met backpackers for days.

We’re standing four abreast, telling our robbery story to these girls.  Wayne lingers awkwardly behind us, interrupting our story at the climax to ask us what we want to eat.  We brush him off and then he goes in the restaurant ahead of us while we finish the story.

The stories over, and hunger pangs.  We part ways with the girls and walk in the restaurant to have Wayne intercept us at the door.  “Okay, so I ordered a bunch of food for all of us.” he tells us.  We all look at each other befuddled–what?  We all tell him we’ll order for ourselves–thanks.  I wanted that Pho Bo the girls were talking about. Our fast friend walks out of earshot.  “No cunt orders my food” says David.  

We wait around for the food and take shots of moonshine with some local Vietnamese man who was dining alone.  It was happy water, that’s for sure.  The girls were right, the Pho Bo was surprisingly good.  Still a seven out of ten on my scale however.  At some point the girls come into the restaurant and tell us that they were drinking with some locals at the coffee shop.

After dinner everyone goes back to the hotel, but Kevin and I hang back and drink a beer with a group of local Vietnamese men who didn’t speak English.  They’re posted up like a mailbox in front of that coffee shop. They keep taking pictures with me and my beard.  I let this one guy pose with my blue boating hat for awhile.  Wayne walks up to us after 5 minutes.  He was waiting that whole time by the motorcycles to ride back with us and then came to find us.

They love us, but the novelty wears off quickly and we head back to the hotel. It’s hard to hang out with people who can’t speak a word of English.  Kevin and I say goodbye to the Torontonian and then watch Top Gun with the rest of the boys.  We breathe a sigh of relief that we’ve rid ourselves of that asshole from Toronto and then pass out.  

We have to wake up early to head to Sa Pa.

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