Cycling the Annamites in Vietnam – Climb Every Mountain

We start the long, slow bike trip over the Annamite Mountains into Laos

This post is part of the story of our 19 months of cycle touring 16,000 km through 22 countries. If you want to know what cycling the Annamites in Vietnam is like, read on.

(Don’t miss: Our post covering everything you need to know before cycle touring Vietnam)

10,411 km so far

We began our mountain climbs in earnest today. Over the course of the next seven days we will ascend about 20,000 m through the Annamite Range, and climb the Pha Din Pass, which translates as Heaven And Earth, giving you some idea of how high it reaches.

This is going to test us, challenge us, tire us out, and afford us stunning views of the Vietnamese and Laotian countryside.

Slow Start into the Annamites

If you had been observing us this morning you might have thought we were a bit trepidatious about what the next few days have in store for us.

vietnamese woman and baby with scarf

This is the homestay grandmother in Mai Chau, who made this scarf.

After refilling my rear tire – which was almost flat this morning even though I just replaced the tube in Ha Long – we rode around the streets…

wooden house on stilts

House on stilts in Pom Coong / Mai Chau, Vietnam.

…and rice fields of Ban Lac and Pom Coong.

cyclist on rice paddy with mountains

Rice paddy ride with the Annamite mountains in the distance.

On our way out of town we stopped to take photos of a group of around 30 young people from Ha Noi who were all dressed in traditional Ban Lac clothing, and posing with their rented bicycles.

Tourists from Ha Noi, enjoying the traditional village way of life.

Tourists from Ha Noi, enjoying the traditional village way of life.

Naturally they asked us to join them, and we spent several minutes getting pictures taken, talking to them about where they were from, and giving them a card for our blog so they can share a picture with us. We will share it with you if they ever send it.

We also had to pick up water and stop at the bank before we could get going.

Definitely a slow start.

(Don’t miss: Our post about everything you need to know before visiting Vietnam)

As we climbed out of town, Jane saw that my rear tire was getting flat again already. We pulled in at a convenient spot and I proceeded to check my back tire for damage. Because the road was damp, I was actually able to see air bubbling out through my tire (they are a bit the worse for wear after 10,000 km) so I had a good idea where the hole was. While I took the tire off, a group of local men came out of their homes and businesses to see what was going on.

group of men watching stephen change his bike tire

Whatcha doin? OK, we’ll watch.

It’s always nice to have an audience as I patch a tube.

By the time my bike was road worthy again it was 11am and we had only gone 8 km.

Climbing Into the Annamites

Through mizzle and mist as thick as any day in Victorian London could throw at you, we climbed, and climbed, and climbed.

Tree in the ghostly fog, Annamite Mountains.

Tree in the ghostly fog, Annamite Mountains.

The ascent, to a height of 1200 m, was 35 km long and took hours. These long slow climbs are the most tiring kind of ride. They seem like they’re never going to end, and your legs don’t get even a little rest. We took lots of leg, photo, and snack breaks as we climbed.

Traditional stilt house in Moc Chau Vietnam

Traditional house in Moc Chau.

Reaching the peak was only the beginning. The downhill didn’t start until we rode another 30 km along the mountain ridge. This involved lots of small descents, followed by slow ascents.

We should have stopped for lunch before the final push up the mountain, but we assumed we’d find more places for food as we rode along. This was not to be.

Truck passing truck on the hill

Truck passing truck on the hill, coming straight for us.

Eventually the sun broke through the mist, so we stopped at the side of the road and broke for breakfast. Yes, breakfast. It’s what’s for lunch. We sat on the side of Highway 6 enjoying muesli and a stunning view of the mountains we were now very much in the midst of, as scooter drivers rode past yelling “hello” to us.

The sun stayed out for the rest of our ride, and the scenery was spectacular for the final push to Moc Chau. I will not be able to describe it properly, but I’ll give it a go.

First of all, there are the people. The people living in the Annamites of Vietnam wear clothes that include woven skirts, headscarves, and ornately finished tops similar in style to the traditional costumes they were selling to tourists in Ban Lac.

Ladies farming in their traditional clothing, near Moc Chau.

Ladies farming in their traditional clothing, near Moc Chau.

They wear these clothes when working in the fields, riding their scooters, or enjoying tea at the local tea house.

Most people are dressed this way, but some have adopted a more modern, western style. I wonder how the traditionalists feel about this.

As we rode, we were looking out across mountain ranges, fruit orchards, immaculately terraced rice fields, and tea plantations. There were plenty of grazing water buffalo, goats climbing the rough mountainsides, and birds singing in the trees. People all along the route greeted us with cries of “hello”, smiling faces, and a sense of joy.

dead rats hanging from a stick

Rat seller’s wares on display. There was a squirrel in there too.

Today was a perfect example of why we are riding our bikes, and not taking public transport.

Yes, it would have been much easier to be on a bus, climbing over the mountain, but we wouldn’t have seen the detail in the landscape, or the smiles of the people. We wouldn’t have stopped to wash our bikes with the family that run a market stall part way down the mountain.

small boy eating a snack in vietnam

Snack time in the Annamites near Moc Chau.

We also wouldn’t have had the sense of accomplishment that comes with having cycled into the Annamites under our own power, at our own pace, and without burning fossil fuels.

Sunset view from our guest house in Moc Chau.

Sunset view from our guest house in Moc Chau.

Even with the tough climb, or maybe because of it, today was a great day. Here’s to six more as we make our way through The Annamites to Luang Prabang.

Soundtrack: Chris Isaak, Forever Blue | Sivert Høyem & The Volunteers, Exiles | Marilyn Manson, Mechanical Animals  

1 comment

  1. Comment by Anh Thinh

    Anh Thinh February 25, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    Very beautiful picture! Thank you very much.
    Hope to see you ^ ^!
    I like your bike: D It was really big and beautiful :)

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